Tag Archives: books

One Day

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One day they will open up your books

and wonder what you were waiting for

 

They will read into your self contradicting sentences

And write out volumes of dusty literary criticism

 

They will look for patterns in your poetry

And catalogue your plosives, fricatives, dentals, bilabials, glottals.

 

They will search your diaries for imaginary passions

And friendships that went deeper than you claimed

 

They will invent exotic histories of your life

And label what must have been your diseases. 

 

They will forget that you were a person

Who made wishes on her candles every birthday. 

Three Days Down

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So far, grad school is awesome. 

There aren’t any of the superfluous meetings I had in undergrad. I’m not in the dorm, so I have peace and quiet in the evenings. I’m only taking a few classes that I love in stead of a lot of classes that are so-so. I get to work most of the day every day, which gives me plenty to do and keeps my bank account healthy, if trim. 

There are a ton of projects. Oh my goodness, so many projects. But they’re fun projects, so I’m not sure how stressed out I should allow myself to be about them. 

So far the story of my life is peace and quiet and books and other wonderful things. I have no reason to complain. 

Knowing me, I’ll find something. 

Accomplishments

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In order to make time slow down, I will reflect on things that somehow got accomplished this week. 

  1. Ran four miles, total. 
  2. Went without coffee for three days and counting without a single headache. 
  3. Made a movie trailer. 
  4. Moved (sort of) smoothly from reverse warrior pose to triangle pose to extended tree pose to warrior three. 
  5. Finished summer inventory at the library. 
  6. Cooked me some super awesome chicken. 
  7. Cut waaaaaaaaaay back on sweets. 
  8. Socialized. Of my own free will. Several times.  
  9. Started writing a short story. 
  10. And I’m one chapter away from finishing the one novel I’ve had time to read this summer. 

I’ve got a week to go. i wonder what else I can do. 

Shopping

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I’m in a dangerous line of work for a book worm. I work in a library.

I’m not sure if that makes me a librarian. I think you need a degree to earn that title, which is a degree I’m not planning on getting, at least for the time being. Just for fun, let’s call me a librarian. Yes, let’s.

My job is to find all the things. The missing things. The found things that got lost and wandered into the wrong place. The things that decided to be tricksy and stand in the wrong order in line.

I also make lists of things. I make lists of the things that are really, really lost and don’t seem to want to come home. I give this list to my supervisor at some point.

At some point.

But in the process of looking for the little lost books, I get…distracted. Perhaps this is a rookie mistake. But especially when I’m wandering through the section of kid’s books or health books or cook books or psychology books or knitting books I…well I have trouble. Their covers are so enticing. Their back-cover information so fascinating. Their tables of contents so juicy, I want to take a bite.

But I can’t. I have to persevere and ignore my hyperactive imagination, rubbing my hands together to ward off the frostbite in those meat-locker temperatures. I think about call numbers and barcodes. Nothing shuts my imagination down like a number.  

Nevertheless, I came home with a huge stack of books yesterday. One of the job’s perks is that we get first pick. If we see something we like, we get to take it with us and check it out to ourselves, stamp it ourselves, and wish ourselves a nice day without having to go through a mediator. It’s like shopping, but everything is free. You just have to bring it back when you’re done with it.

But the stack will grow. And that’s what I’m worried about. 

Good Start

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Here’s what I didn’t do today:

Blow up my place of employment through some tragic misstep originating from my typical first-day-of-anything nervousness.

Here’s what I did do today:

Spent hours hunting for missing books.

All in all, I’d say it was a pretty good day. I found some of those lost books. And I got to handle books printed in the 1800’s. I even got to smell them.

I barely spoke all day long. Of course, people asked me how my journeys have been this past month. And there was a lovely conversation about Doctor Who and Thor (mostly Loki but disguised as a Thor conversation–fangirls, you know how it goes).

I visited my apartment, into which I’ll be moving this week. Here’s hoping I’m settled in by Saturday. Settled enough to go buy groceries, anyway.

And I managed to avoid sugar all day long. except for that slice of cheesecake. Okay. so I didn’t avoid sugar.

But tomorrow is another day.

Quiet, and Other Things

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Hey, guys! I’m back!

Sort of. 

I’ve been typing for the last several hours, and I’m typed out. So tonight I’d like to share the first draft of a book review I’m writing for one of my (you guessed it) writing classes. Enjoy, luvs. 

 

__________

 

Introverts Unite! Individually

            Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking bySusan Cain. Random House, 2012. 333 pp.

            When asked to describe the ideal personality type, many would describe the typical go-getter: an easy conversationalist, an excellent networker, the most popular kid in class. For decades, culture has emulated outgoing people, painting introversion as eccentric at best and misanthropic at worst. From an early age, children are coached to “come out of their shells” and “get their heads out of the clouds,” especially if they prefer to spend time alone. American culture values highly sociable people, and those who are not are often told to “get out more.” Many believe that gregariousness leads to happiness and success, but quiet people inevitably fall by the wayside. These quiet people all too often feel as if their disposition prevents them from succeeding in life. Susan Cain’s book challenges this deeply-engrained cultural mindset.  

            Susan Cain is a lawyer-turned-author whose own “quiet” tendencies sparked her interest in the science of temperament. She was “her own first client” (15): a shy woman who thought she was worthless at negotiation because the dominant personalities at the table often bulldozed through her statements and opinions. But she discovered the power of asking gentle questions to dissolve a heated confrontation, allowing herself to rest confidently on the hours of careful research she had done alone. She turned the tide of a precarious situation not by “pounding the table” but by “sticking to her own gentle way of doing things” (9). She knew that introverts had their own quiet strength—a strength useful, even necessary, in a “loudmouth world” (9). She committed herself to researching the differences (and the strengths) of extroversion and introversion from a scientific and psychological perspective. The result was her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

            Cain’s research proposes that introversion is not a behavioral weakness, despite popular opinion. She begins by outlining the history of what she calls the “Extrovert Ideal”: the idea that the only way to be well-adjusted and successful is to be gregarious. Her research carried her from a rock-concert-like conference led by “the king of self-help,” Tony Robbins, to Harvard Business School, where only the best networkers make the grade. She also travels to the center of New Evangelicalism, Saddleback Church in California, where extroverted behavior is deemed the best way to spread the “good news.” Cain spends a whole chapter discussing the negative aspects of “New Groupthink,” a corporate layout that demands coworkers spend more time collaborating than generating ideas individually. Elementary schools structure their classrooms to encourage ideal (extroverted) behavior with group activities and an emphasis on vocal participation. American culture accepts that extroverts are natural leaders, but Cain’s study of introverted leaders like Warren Buffet and Eleanor Roosevelt says otherwise.

            Cain also studies the biology behind introversion. Temperament, she concludes, is with us from birth. She cites studies of “highly sensitive” children’s reactions to stressful circumstances, examining them on both psychological and physiological levels. MRI scans reveal that people of different temperaments process information differently. Extroverts act on their first instinct, but introverts are more likely to think long before acting. Extroverts are lured by approval and acclaim, while introverts often gauge their success on a different scale. Cain suggests these differences are not merely a matter of disposition, but genetic and chemical differences between the temperaments. 

            The last part of the book discusses how extroverts and introverts should interact. Cain suggests communication methods that will help the two temperaments understand each other. She draws her examples from real-life circumstances in both casual and intimate relationships. She devotes an entire chapter to parents of introverts, instructing them how to best encourage an introverted child to explore his strengths at his own speed. Many adults’ negative perception of their introversion began during their childhoods, when they felt too odd or too quiet to fit in or make friends. Cain hopes parents can encourage a younger generation to become the best people they can be instead of asking them to conform to the “Extrovert Ideal.” 

Librapsychoanalyst

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It’s amazing what you can learn about people from what books they read.

Working at a library is like getting paid to people watch. And not just watch—you get to study them. People-watching in a mall or another public place limits your view of a person to externals: what they’re wearing, who they’re with, what they’re doing, possibly what their voice sounds like. But in a library, you get to see what books they check out, and, by extension, what’s going on inside their heads.

A man with white hair, wearing a suit, checks out a stack of commentaries on Isaiah. He has a wedding ring. It’s probably fair to guess that this is a local pastor prepping for Sunday’s sermon or Sunday school lesson.

A shorter, young-looking woman with glasses checks out a stack of Ted Dekker books. She’s probably a high school student, since she still has the time to read fiction.

A jolly, well-built man checks out a huge stack of cookbooks. This one is no mystery; he compliments us on our selection of cookbooks and books about food and tells me he can’t wait to get cooking and only wishes his pantry were more well-stocked.

A harried-looking woman with crinkles forming around her eyes, pushing a baby stroller, checks out a copy of Making Peace with Your Mom and Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves: Healing Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families.

A young man, sharply dressed, sans wedding ring, takes out The Exemplary Husband, What He Must Be if He Wants to Marry My Daughter, and The 7 habits of Highly Effective Families.

It’s not my job to ask questions, other than “Did you find everything that you needed?” But this one question can lead me down one of two roads. One road end abruptly when the patron says “Yup” and leaves it at that. The other road can wind on indefinitely if the person chooses to tell me that she didn’t find everything she wanted, or why he chose those books, or why she came to the library today, or how much the place has changed since he was a student, or how her mother is critically ill, or how he can’t decide if he wants to be a lawyer or a pilot.

I am astounded at how often people decide that the most understanding and helpful person they can talk to about their problems is the person at the library counter. I’ve heard countless life stories since I started working at the UU library. And what stories I haven’t heard, I’ve seen unfold in front of me: the boy asking the girl to dinner for the first time; the unwitting deletion of ten chapters of a dissertation; the passing or failing of an exam; the reunion of best friends.

This, my friends, is why all writers should work in a library at least once in their lives. 

The Old Days

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One of the joys of being a library worker is getting to be one of the first people to handle the new books. Part of the UU library procedure for processing and shelving the new books is having a circulation worker (moi) check all the new books into the system once they’ve been through the labeling process. Once or twice a day, I presented with a huge stack of crisp, fresh, clean, gorgeous new books.

I get very distracted by the new books. Their newness is intoxicating. I thumb through the ones with the most interesting titles—I even fan through the books, holding my nose to the pages to smell that delicious book smell. Yes, I’m a nutcase. But I’m a happy nutcase.

Today, a whole new encyclopedia set found itself on the circulation counter. They were big, solid, hardbound books, as encyclopedias usually are. I’m not sure if “encyclopedia” is the right word for what these books were—they were destined for the reference section, and they came in three volume sets. Each set was dedicated to a decade—the 20’s, the 30’s, all the way up to the 2000’s. They were interesting books, and if I had allowed myself to get carried away, I would have sat there and skimmed all of them.

It occurred to me as I put these volumes on the shelving cart that the decades of my infancy, childhood, and adolescence—the 1990’s through the 2000’s—are now considered history. Those decades are historical enough to earn their own encyclopedias. The days of my early life have been converted to the pages of history textbooks. My children, should I ever have them, will view these as “the old days.”

I’ll view them as “the old days.”

Every once in a while, I get to listen in on the conversations of children and tweens when they happen to be talking about the decade before they were born. They’ve started referring to the nineties with the same sneering derision my peers talked about the eighties when we were younger. And in twenty years, the same sort of thing will happen—kids will find an old magazine from 2013, point at the outfit of the person on the cover, and say “Ugh! What on earth were they thinking in the 10’s?!?”

This of course brings to mind the question “Just how long does it take for something to be considered ‘classic’,” but that’s not what I came here to say.

I came here to say this: time is fleeting. It is accelerating under my feet, like a treadmill gone out of control. There’s nothing I can do now but run faster. I’ll blink, and I’ll be eighty. What am I doing today, on this page of my personal history, that will have made it a day worth living? 

Reginald’s Song

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There’s a Cheshire Cat moon

On this Wonderland night.

Let me be your March Hare—

Let’s go out anywhere—

The future is bright.

 

Oh, Alice, where did you go?

What rabbit hole brought you down?

When will you come back to me?

You’re the Tweedle Dum to my Dee—

Of all girls, you wear the crown—

You’re the Queen of my heart, you know.

 

Though the Jabberwock roars,

And the mome raths outgrabe,

I’m your Knight on a horse,

Dressed in white, but of course—

Alice, don’t stay away.

 

Oh, Alice, why can’t you see

You’re more than a game of croquet.

You’re my tea-tray in the sky,

My bottle-blue butterfly—

Alice, how else can I say

You’re all of Wonderland to me?

 

Though the dormouse snores

And the mockturtles cry,

I’ll never be late,

My important date—

Alice, don’t say goodbye.

 

The Briny Beach has too much sand;

Unbirthdays only make me frown;

There hasn’t been a frabjous day

Ever since you went away—

My world has turned upside-down.

Alice, won’t you take my hand?

 

There’s a Cheshire Cat moon

On this Wonderland night.

Let me be your March Hare—

Let’s go out anywhere—

Our future is bright.

Austenites

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone with sense and sensibility is probably a Jane Austen fan.

I just had to say that.

Perhaps “fan” is too strong a word. It is short for “fanatic,” after all. Perhaps “appreciator” is a slightly more inclusive word. Still, the fact remains: appreciate the works of Jane Austen, and you elevate yourself to the plateau of The Well-Cultured Soul.

A lot of people write off Jane Austen’s novels (or the films based off of the novels) as “boring.” The plot moves too slowly, they cry, or the novels deal too heavily with the trivial ins and outs and seemingly meaningless subtleties of the characters’ lives. These tend to be the same people who spend untold hours dilly-dallying around on Facebook. I have no further comment.

The Austenites are the quiet fandom. These are the kids who didn’t say much in class, but always got killer grades in English, particularly British English. These are the kids who know the value of spending hours up a tree with an apple and a book. Okay, it’s a little hard to stereotype the readers of Austen, because those who are tend to be interested in a lot of different things. Because they’re awesome that way.

The braver ones of us walk around with t-shirts that say things like “Team Darcy” or “Team Col. Brandon” “I must have my share in the conversation.” I may or may not be in the possession of one such t-shirt.

Jane Austen wrote the original nerdy love story. Think about it. I mean, you’ll hear the Austenites talking about what a heartthrob Darcy is (and, well, he is), but what is Darcy, really? He is an extremely shy and introverted man who is uncomfortable around strangers and has difficulty communicating his true feelings, or even unveiling his less-than-stiff-and-actually-incredibly-clever personality. Yes, he’s a bit of a jerk at the beginning of the story because he has a far too elevated opinion of himself (and many geeks do, let’s admit), but even at the end, he’s still as shy and adorably awkward at communicating as he was in the beginning. Just read the second proposal scene. Honestly. But we still love him. We love him because in his way, he’s a backward, nerdy underdog who has a massive crush on another introverted and quick-witted bookworm. Regency style nerdy lurve right there, folks.  

Austen also teaches us a few valuable lessons. I could park on this topic for weeks, but I won’t. For today, let’s stick with the tried-and-true “appearances can be deceiving” moral to the story. Case study: Wickham. I know I seem to be pulling all of my examples from one book, but she tends to use the same archetypes in different books to prove a point. Substitute “Willoughby” or “Frank Churchill” every time I type “Wickham,” and what I am writing will remain true.

When we first meet Wickham, he appears to be the all-caps Perfect Man. He’s handsome, charming, funny, has a good job, is nice to everyone (at least to their faces), and is very good at that whole smolder-stare thing that is apparently some kind of timeless tool for attracting women. Darcy (or Col. Brandon, or Mr. Knightly) isn’t nearly as appealing at first sight—he’s too stuck up, too old, too quiet, too whatever. However, as time and the plot progresses, we discover that Wickham is in fact a total scumbag bent on destroying the hearts and futures of the young women he victimizes. He’s a wolf in lion’s clothing. A snake in the grass. A charlatan. A philanderer. A Gaston compared to the Beastly Darcy. There aren’t words nasty enough to describe such men, so I’m going to stop there.  

However, this horrible man is crucial to the unveiling of the hero’s true character. If it were not for the misdeeds of the villain, the hero wouldn’t have a chance to step up and make everything right again. Darcy flexed his fiscal muscles to repair the reputation of Lizzie’s family. Col. Brandon coaxed the broken-spirited Marianne back into the sunlight using the power of his words and the words of William Shakespeare (at least he does in the film—and I don’t think it’s a far cry from what Jane Austen imagined). Mr. Knightly proved himself the true friend, who knew that flattery wouldn’t help Emma at all, and chose to tell her the truth about herself. I’m oversimplifying, but Austen’s point is this: ladies, just because the Wickham in your life seems to be exactly what you’ve hoped for doesn’t mean he’s what you need. You may, in fact, need someone who has all the goodness, instead of all the appearance of it.

Boom. You just got Austened. Truth universally acknowledged, right there.

Normally I would use my last paragraph or two to tie together my strands of thought and bring the post to its point. Trouble with this post is that there is no real point, other than to call the blogosphere’s attention to the awesomeness of Jane Austen and the existence of the Austenites. There’s a reason that classic literature is classic—with or without fancy clothes and elaborate language, people are the same kind of people that they are today. There are a lot of Lizzies and Emmas, Janes, Mariannes and Elenors, and Darcys, Bingleys, Brandons and Knightlys out there—and they all have their noses between the pages of a good book.

 

 

Poemcrazy: A Book Story

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My usual method of determining whether or not I should buy something for myself runs as follows:

I see something I like. I check the price tag. I evaluate the item fully to see if the price is a good one. I hold the object. I walk around the store for a while, looking at other things. I put the item back where I found it and leave the store. I will shop in other places for an hour or more. If the item has not left my mind as something I need or still really want, I return to the store. If it is still there, I call it destiny and walk to the checkout counter.

Back in May, I found a book at a used book store that’s outside of my state. Shopping in used book stores is usually a financial misstep for me, as I tend to want to adopt every book I see. At this visit, I found a book called Poemcrazy, a book on writing poetry by a teacher of poetry at some artsy university in the northeast somewhere. The cover was interesting. The chapter titles were interesting. The typeface was interesting. The opening few sentences were interesting. The fact that it was a lightweight book on writing poetry was very interesting to me, an aspiring and extremely amateurish poet who fell in love with the poeticized word this semester and wanted a chance to expand my skills. I was very idea-hungry at that point in the summer, and this little book seemed full of ideas. And it was only 6 dollars.

I didn’t buy it.

This book has been on my mind for over a month now. I told myself I could find it at a library somewhere. I never could.

But today I returned to that little book store with a different group of people and a different goal in mind. Remembering my shopping technique, I told myself that if the book was still there after a month had gone by, that book was meant to be mine. Sure enough, it was there.

I bought it this time. I’ve begun reading it. It’s charming. I have so many ideas floating in my head I couldn’t handle them all so I had to spend on hour journaling to get the words out of my system.

It only goes to show that good things come to those who wait. 

Daydream Believer

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Being a library worker is kind of a circular job. Maybe there’s a better word to describe exactly what it is that we do, but that’s the first one that comes to mind. We take books off shelves. We hand them to people. They give them back to us. We put them back on the shelves. Repeat.

Part of the job involves making sure that we still have all of our books. Things get lost once they leave our hands and fall into those of our patrons, there’s no telling if the book will be back or not. And, considering we have thousands and thousands of books, they tend to get mislaid.

So every year, usually during the summer, a little swarm of library workers are sent into the shelves of books armed with little thumb-drive sized scanners. Shelf by shelf, column by column, book by book, we scan every barcode in the building. Every. Single. One.

The repetitive motion of scanning the books is actually rather therapeutic. Every click of the scanner button is accompanied by a little “beep,” which is the only really unpleasant part of the operation. Most of the library workers can occupy themselves with music or an audiobook if he is so fortunate as to own an iPod. I don’t have an iPod, or any mp3 player of any variety. I have my head, and that is all.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I can replay happy memories in my head as I scan. Or cook up story ideas. Or hum little songs to myself (quietly, if there’s no one around). For whatever reason, I didn’t scan and try to brainstorm for a decent blog topic today, which is why you’re reading this instead of something more interesting.

I get distracted by the books. Today I scanned cookbooks, and had to resist pulling them off the shelves and thumbing through them, looking for ideas. Then there were sewing book with color pictures of very pretty dresses. Then a section of laughably repetitive books on “maintaining relationships”—one of which in particular amused me with its painfully honest title, How to Get Married. I was fine by the time I hit the section of books on business—nothing too enticing there. If I find a book that looks really interesting, I set it aside to read later. Today it was two books on smoothie-making, a book on cooking greens, a book on skin care, and a biography of Julia Child.

But when I’m just scanning, beep after beep after beep, my brain goes on vacation. It’s nice to have a job where that’s allowed on occasion. I couldn’t tell you what I thought about—I can’t remember. It was a lot of things, most of them topics stirred by the titles I read on the spines of the books. It skipped from road-trips to cooking to Paris to flavonoids to supplements to childcare to knitting and to Emily Post. Who knows what I thought about what, but the thoughts were there, resulting in several hours of productive, therapeutic daydreaming.

When it comes to inventory, it’s either daydream happily or be beeped to insanity. 

Antiquity

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There’s something about old books.

It’s undefinable, this something. Maybe it’s the smell: that odor of incense and burning leaves, mixed with the smell of ink—if ink has a smell.

Or maybe it’s the battered edges—the dog-eared pages, the pencil scribblings in the margins, the pages that are torn or missing.

Maybe it’s the covers. Some have finger prints on the dust jackets. Some are bent, or have that book “overbite” where the front cover juts out ahead of the bottom one. Some were bound in leather in the 1920s or earlier. Some are paperbacks.

Oddly, some used books are untouched. No bends, scratches, torn pages—they even have the original price tags. The books that no one has read are perhaps the saddest.

Maybe it’s that every time you pick up a used book, you pick up a part of someone else’s journey. Who knows what the last owner was thinking when he bought that book? Was he mourning the death of a loved one as he thumbed through that collection of Sandburg poems? Was she about to give Anna Karenina to her best friend when she discovered she already had a copy? When that student made that notation in the margin of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, had she eaten that night? How many hands has this book, this story, been passed through?

How many stories has this story been a part of?

Sometimes I wonder if, in the years to come, I’ll amble through a used books store and find a book I’ve written on a shelf. I hope that book will be dog-eared and underlined and bent, with signs of being carried around in pockets and purses, mulled over, re-read, and shared with dozens of people. I don’t care if it’s not on the best seller list. If one person—only one—liked my story enough to it a part of theirs, then, well, that’s enough.

An old book is simply that—an old book—a shell with words. But this undefinable “something” is the story within—and the stories we all hope to write for ourselves.

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