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23 Things: Twitter – Yes or No?

September 16, 2013

I hated Twitter for a long time. I thought it was yet another social media service full of people posting what they were eating for lunch, and talking about what they were buying. I though it was going to be a huge time-suck/time-waste.

Of course, I wasn’t actually using it. I’d picked up all these criticisms from other people (some of whom were using Twitter, and some of whom were just expounding on how it would destroy society).

But once I started using it, I figured out how wrong I was. I love Twitter. I love the freedom to sign on, browse my feed for a few minutes, find some interesting ideas, and then close it and do something else. I love the freedom to not read “everything,” and the variety of people I follow keeps my feed entertaining and educational.

My biggest worry in signing up for Twitter was whether I needed to have two accounts – one that was personal and one that was professional. I spent a long time researching other librarian Twitter accounts, and figuring out how other people approached this new social media. What I determined, was that most people seemed to mix the personal and the professional pretty freely on Twitter. And, interestingly, this mixing led to more interest in the person tweeting. If I know that a certain author I follow likes to eat cookies when she hasn’t met her writing deadline, she becomes a person in my mind, and I’m more interested in reading her tweets about writing, or about when her new books are coming out. Likewise, reading about the daily lives of other librarians makes the links they post more meaningful, because I understand a little bit about their background and interests. My PLN (Personal Learning Network) includes people who influence both my work and out-of-work lives, and it’s a balance I’m happy with.

I’ve also found myself using Twitter during large national events. When President Obama made his speech announcing that the United States had killed Osama Bin Laden, when the Boston Marathon bombings happened, and when the SWAT team closes down Sunset and Vine in Los Angeles, I’m on Twitter checking to see what other people are posting, and reading articles that are linked. I imagine it’s a similar impulse to turning on the news during a large event, but I like getting information from people in the area or who are posting additional information of interest (of course, up-to-the-minute tweets during large events can be inaccurate…I usually try to double and triple check information sources before passing anything on, and I always remember that eyewitness accounts can be twisted in interesting ways). But Twitter has provided another avenue of community for me, even if it’s around something more trivial, like what happened last night on Game of Thrones, or whether cronuts are really worth tasting, or what other people are thinking about doing after they get off work on a Friday afternoon.

My own Twitter feed is mostly retweets of interesting articles or tweets that I found entertaining. When I do post personal tweets, they’re often about something that happened at work or at home. I also have Twitter updated when I finish a book on Goodreads, and sometimes I’ll update from my running app on my phone.

I follow around 500 people (give or take…I freely unfollow whenever people post something offensive or a long string of things that aren’t interesting), but here are a few of the people I follow by category.

Feminist Writers and Activists

Soraya Chemaly – @schemaly

Shelby Knox – @ShelbyKnox

Professional Organizations

School Library Journal – @sljournal

ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom – @OIF

Librarians

Derrick – @geekandahalf

Heather Braum – @hbraum

Sarah Clark – @s_elaineclark

Buffy Hamilton – @buffyjhamilton

Runners

Keira Henninger – @KeiraHenninger

Jimmy Dean Freeman – @CoachJimmyDean

Authors

John Green – @realjohngreen

Justine Larbalestier – @Justinelavaworm

Veronica Roth – @Veronica Roth

Neil Gaiman – @NeilHimself

In short, Twitter has been a mostly positive influence in my life, and I’m glad that I was open to signing up for a new social media service. It’s definitely brought me more information from more diverse viewpoints, and has kept me connected to both local and global events.

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Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

September 15, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

First Line: It was only a duck pond, out at the back of the farm.

The Short Version: *indeterminate screaming* I love this book.

BOTBS (Back of the Book Summary): Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

My Thoughts: My journey to this book was a strange one.  I had read exactly one Neil Gaiman book before this one (The Graveyard Book), and I hadn’t liked it. I hadn’t hated it, but it just wasn’t a fantastic book for me. I (stupidly) assumed that a might not enjoy other Neil Gaiman books, and moved on.

Then people I followed on Twitter kept retweeting things from Neil Gaiman, who has an active, informative, and hilarious Twitter account. So I followed him. I started seeing tweets about his new book that had come out, and mentally wished it well but had no interest in reading it.

Until one day, when he tweeted a link to a review of the book written by his wife, Amanda Palmer. I was then introduced to the idea that I might like some of his books more than others. I also really resonated with her discussion of a life with two creative people (my husband is a musician, I write) and I knew from reading her review that I was destined to love this book.

And I did. From the very first page. In fact, I actually purposely tried to read this book very slowly (something I almost never do) in order to make it last as long as possible.  I think this is the kind of book that can be many different things for different people, but for me, it explored death, loss, childhood, and memory, and it somehow managed to be intensely personal and intensely universal all at once. Usually while reading a book, there will be a sentence or word every so often that jars be out of the book while I ponder the mechanics of it, or how the word wasn’t quite the perfect one. It never happened while reading this. Neil Gaiman is an epic master at crafting sentences that look quiet and ordinary, and then punch you in the gut when you’re not expecting it. This book catapulted to the top of my all-time favorites list, and will forever be mentioned when people as me what my favorite book is.

Who Would Like It: People who are fans of Neil Gaiman (although his works differ widely). Readers who enjoy magical realism, books about the magic of childhood, and those who enjoy lyrical and beautiful writing. Although it is being marketed as an adult book, I have had high school students read and enjoy it.

23 Things

September 13, 2013

The fabulous head librarian at my school (check out her blog!) decided this year that we should run a professional development course called 23 Things. Working with our lower school librarian and our Ed Tech team, we designed a 10 week course that will introduce faculty and staff to 23 different technology “things.” The idea for the course originally came from a program called Learning 2.0 run by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library to introduce their staff to new Web 2.0 tools. The framework went viral, and spawned other courses around the world. The best thing about the framework is that whoever runs the course can design it based on whatever “things” they’d like, allowing complete customization for the users.

I think I’m most excited for the social networking aspects that have been put into our version of 23 Things (Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest), but I’m also very interested in learning more about some video creation programs, as well as some programs that are specific to our school environment. But I think the most surprising thing so far (we’re only in week 0) has been the great interaction between faculty and staff in our Introductions forum. It’s nice to have a place where people can introduce themselves and find out interesting things about their colleagues, without everyone being forced to gather in one place at the same time. I love the Internet.

This blog will host some periodic updates from the course, as well as course assignments…and will hopefully encourage me to blog more regularly in this space! Keep an eye out for new book reviews – I finally got my act together this summer and really dug into some new books and authors. (Spoiler: Neil Gaiman is the embodiment of awesome literature)

Book Review: Every Day by David Levithan

July 5, 2012

Release Date: August 28, 2012

First Line: I wake up.

The Short Version: An extremely honest protagonist with no defined gender, sexuality, or body lives an extraordinary life.

BOTBS (Back of the Book Summary): Every morning, A wakes up in a different person’s body, a different person’s life. There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with – day in, day out, day after day.

My Thoughts: When I heard David Levithan had a new book coming out I was immediately interested. I’ve been a fan since reading Boy Meets Boy, but I didn’t know what to expect from this book. The summary was intriguing, but I was worried that it might read more like a novel written by many different characters than by a single narrator.

Of course, I shouldn’t have worried. A’s voice is so clear and recognizable that you hear it even when the A’s outer body has changed. A is a cautious character but always clear, direct, and honest with both the reader and himself.

Levithan also does a really interesting thing with A that is unique from any book I’ve ever read. The reader never knows if A is male or female. In fact, it doesn’t really matter much after awhile. Because A is in effect a soul, when A transfers into another body, A is still the same. The body however can be male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, trans or cis. A inhabits drug addicts, straight A students, mentally stable individuals, mentally unstable individuals, and everyone in between. It’s a really interesting look at personal motivations, and the difference between mind and body and how those two things interact.

The idea seems more complex the more you think about it, but Levithan managed to make it clear and unambiguous. I kept thinking of loopholes and ideas that might make A’s life easier, and by the next page Levithan would address them and give me new things to think about. I was really intrigued by the ending, and wondered if there was going to be a sequel, although there doesn’t have to be to enjoy the arc of this story.

I was also a little worried at the beginning that this would turn into a book where A tried to “fix” every life he entered. But his motivations are much more complex, and more human.

This book was really different from anything I’ve ever read, and it was refreshing along with being engaging and beautifully written.

Who Would Like It: Fans of Levithan’s previous work, body switching fans (Freaky Friday), fans of Across the Universe or those who like tragic love stories.

(Be aware, this review refers to an unpublished ARC and there may have been changes before publishing.)

Book Review: Amped by Daniel H. Wilson

July 3, 2012

Release Date: June 5, 2012

First Line: I’m standing on the steep slate roof of Allderdice High School, gripping a rain-spattered wrought iron decoration in one hand and holding up my other hand, palm out.

The Short Version: 

BOTBS (Back of the Book Summary): Twenty-nine-year-old Own Gray always believed the miraculous device in his brian had been implanted for purely medical reasons, as a way of controlling the debilitating seizures he suffered in his youth. But when the Supreme Court rules that “amplified” humans like Owen are not protected by the same basic laws as pure humans, his world instantly fractures. As society begins to unravel and a new class war is ignited by fear, Owen’s father, a doctor who originally implanted the “amp,” confides something that will send him on a harrowing journey – his “amp” has the hidden potential to do so much more than he imagined…and he is now in grave danger.

My Thoughts: When I read Daniel H. Wilson’s first book Robopocalypse earlier this year, I was struck by how well he explained technology and its affects on society. Normally I am less than thrilled by extremely technical science fiction, but he was able to seamlessly integrate descriptions into his story, and make them dramatic and necessary.

So I was very excited to see that he had a new book coming out in June. While Amped is not a sequel to Robopocalypse, it returns to the theme of our dependence on technology, and what that dependence will mean for us as a species. While Robopocalypse explored how technology might lead to our demise, Amped focuses on how technology might make us more (or less) than human, and the tension that can arise from a species-wide change.

The book is fast-paced, reminding me of a Michael Crichton or Dan Brown novel. I wanted to keep reading every time I hit the end of a chapter. The plot turns weren’t shocking, but the writing was pitch-perfect and the descriptions, particularly of the fight scenes, were darkly beautiful.

The main question of the book comes down to exactly what makes us human. Is it our human forms? Our human brains? Our relationships? Our choices? Can we be human if we are augmented by machines, and does that question even matter in the grand scheme of our existence? That Daniel H. Wilson manages to tackle such large topics within such a tight and fast paced novel is testament to his skill as a writer.

Who Would Like It: Fans of Robopocalypse, Ender’s Game, Michael Crichton, or Dan Brown.

(Be aware, this review refers to an unpublished ARC and there may have been changes before publishing.)

Book Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

June 30, 2012

Release Date: September, 2012 (Little, Brown)

First Line: In the town house at a fashionable address on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, every lamp blazes.

The Short Version: Sharp and philosophical supernatural mystery, by the fabulous Libba Bray.

BOTBS (Back of the Book Summary): Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City – and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, Broadway plays, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfeld girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will, curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult – also known as the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.

Will is haunted by the occult, and Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And they will soon discover something dark and evil has awakened.

My Thoughts: I was lucky enough to pick up an ARC of The Diviners while attending the American Library Association conference in Anaheim.  While all of my previous experiences with Libba Bray’s books have been good, I was blown away by how new and fresh The Diviners felt. Beauty Queens was a scathingly funny satire about the way our society views women, their abilities, and their accomplishments. A Great and Terrible Beauty, and the two books which followed it, examined the power and peril of womanhood in the Victorian era, mixed with a healthy dose of dark fantasy. The writing in A Great and Terrible Beauty was lush and celebrated the power of the feminine in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen since the Alanna books by Tamora Pierce.

But The Diviners feels very different. It is very much a city book, dark and glittering, with hard and sharp edges, and a narrator who is skilled at concealing her true self.

Like many books I’ve read recently, this one seems to resonate particularly with our current complicated political and moral landscape, and I loved this passage from the book:

She was tired of being told how it was by this generation, who’d botched things so badly. They’d sold their children a pack of lies: God and country. Love your parents. All is fair. And then they’d sent those boys, her brother, off to fight a great monster of a war that maimed and killed and destroyed whatever was inside them. Still they lied, expecting her to mouth the words and play along. 

While it’s a supernatural mystery and adventure, Libba Bray still manages to examine religion, good, evil, and the extremely complicated truths of humanity without ever sacrificing the pace or integrity of her story.

There are very few books which I can read without simultaneously trying to discover the way they were put together – the underpinnings, plot holes, and character motivations. But this was a flawless read. It seems to have sprung fully formed from the mind of its creator, and I can’t wait to read the next installment.

Who Would Like It: Fans of supernatural adventures, or fans of previous Libba Bray books (although the tone is very different). Anyone who enjoyed Maureen Johnson’s newest (The Name of the Star) would definitely enjoy this one.

 

 

(Be aware, this review refers to an unpublished arc and there may be changes before publishing.)

ALA 2012: Day Four

June 26, 2012

Last day of the conference!

We spent most of our morning in the exhibit hall, since it would be closing that day. Although I was tempted by the frenzied price dropping, I only bought a few books, mostly some children’s titles.

After a snack, we went to Battledecks. I had first attended Battledecks at CLA 2011, but many of my friends were uninitiated. Battledecks pits librarians against each other as they try to give a coherent presentation on 12 never-before-seen slides in 4 minutes. It was a fabulous program, and definitely a fun way to wrap up the weekend.

After that, we went to the Printz Awards! Given to the best YA book of each year, the books tend to be big hits with YA librarians and readers. We got to hear speeches from all of the honor authors, as well as the winner, John Corey Whaley. It was exciting and inspiring, and a wonderful final event!