Last night, I watched the final episode of the series Battlestar Galactica (BSG). I watched all four seasons over the past few weeks. I had heard of the show, but never thought about actually watching it. That is, until I saw this sketch on “Portlandia,” where the couple gets hooked watching BSG; so much so that they don’t get off the couch for days – they lose their friends, their jobs, their hygiene. That inspired me to find out what the joke there really was – to watch this all-absorbing show. I’d either love it, or I’d ‘eh’ it.

I liked it. I loved it. I had no idea it was so good.        !!

Photo source: Wikipedia  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BattlestarGalactica2003.jpg)

Photo source: Wikipedia BSG page

People who know me personally have had a nice time making fun of me for enjoying this show. So thanks for that, but I don’t care. So they had some made-up words (I really don’t need to hear the term “fraking” ever again) and the sometimes heavy-handedness of philosophical and religious ideas. But… there was a lot of good to take away from it, and I had fun getting into it.

In thinking about writing this post, I started writing out all the words of wisdom, the ideas, the strokes of brilliant insight I had about myself while watching the show. But it all seemed so trite when I actually wrote it down.

I think, for me, I took from this show what I needed. Thoughts about leadership, and acceptance of decisions made – whether the outcomes are good or bad… thoughts about knowing yourself, being strong in yourself, and coming to terms with it when you realize you’re not who you thought you were.

The other part of the show that got me was the music, man, the music. The drumbeats featured in various sequences were primal, gut-fortifying, heart-pounding… I find myself at work, at home, tapping pencils to the beats.

And, hey, there are spaceships and airlocks and the all-knowing DRADIS – the radar used on all the ships.

So yeah, Battlestar Galactica. I’m a fan. For my own reasons. Go find yours.

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2012 brought us the movie “Cloud Atlas,” based on the book of the same name. I don’t know much about it, but I was sent this link, to make me laugh: http://www.theawl.com/2012/11/ways-in-which-the-movie-cloud-atlas-has-changed-my-life

cloud-atlas-low_smallIt inspired me to then read Callanan’s The Cloud Atlas, which my library had (had it been out, I probably would have forgotten about it). I also wanted to read it to spite Cloud Atlas some. I just don’t have any interest in the book or the movie. I think its articlelessness is kind of pretentious, and maybe, just maybe, it seems a little daunting.

This one, The, is set in Alaska during WWII and years later, and goes back and forth, the past being related as a confessional. During WWII, the Japanese had started sending hot air balloon bombs overseas, to land and explode on American soil. This is a story about a man in the bomb squad who had to chase these balloons, and deal with a superior who was being chased by personal demons, and to learn to listen to a local shaman, whose beliefs were chasing his own. And there’s a woman they’re all chasing, in different ways.

Reading the Amazon reviews, you can see all the people who ordered the book thinking it was the one the movie was based on, only to find out it wasn’t… and it still got lots of positive reviews. It’s a really well-written story, interesting and haunting. There was one anecdote the shaman related about a man and wife whose child died and was cremated before they could mourn her according to their beliefs. The shaman helped the parents feel their child in the falling rain, and helped them say goodbye. This passage was simply told, and very moving.

It’s a work of historical fiction, but ultimately a story about the various relationships that get us through our lives, and how each one can teach us about ourselves, if only we let them.

photo (3)

The view from our (really good) seats: Richard and Doris Sugarman, Lydia Callis, Neil deGrasse Tyson, John Dankosky, Neri Oxman, and Neil Gaiman. Photo courtesy of Jonathan McNicol.

On Saturday, December 1st, I went to see a CT Forum event at the Bushnell in Hartford. It featured a panel of speakers being interviewed and engaged in a conversation about the night’s topic, Vision & Brilliance. John Dankosky of WNPR moderated the conversation between Neil deGrasse Tyson, Neri Oxman, and Neil Gaiman. Lydia Callis, the talented sign language interpreter featured in many of Mayor Bloomberg’s press conferences (interviewed on CNN, parodied on SNL), was onstage and was completely mesmerizing as she signed the speakers’ words.

The night was fantastic, the people on stage were really smart, really funny and really weird – I loved them all. I got to see Richard Sugarman spend half his introductory speech watching Lydia Callis interpret physically the words coming out of his mouth. I got to see Neri Oxman, a designer and Mediated Matter Director at MIT Media Lab, shred a silk handkerchief with her fingers, in a demonstration of things both iron strong AND fragile soft. And I got to hear Neil deGrasse Tyson talk about how human bodies are crazy because the entertainment centers are built next to the sewage plants.

But the thing that impacted me the most was hearing Neil Gaiman express the importance of staring out the window and letting your mind wander (he told a story of a science fiction conference in China, where they were learning how to daydream). Daydreaming, making up stories, being bored – all those things contribute to letting your mind forge new paths of imagination – and imagination is so utterly important. It leads to discovery and invention, sparks new ideas and opens new worlds for us.

I’ve read a good amount of Neil Gaiman’s works – it’s almost physical how you  feel the meandering thought in his books. He isn’t afraid to go down strange paths of ideas in stories; reading him can be like calisthenics for your mind.

Books of Neil Gaiman’s that have taken me on a wonderful mental journey include:

Coraline

Coraline – a story of a girl who finds a secret world where things are very, very similar to her own, but the differences are frightening. This was made into a movie in 2009 – I’ve seen bits of the movie, but read the whole book. It’s a juvenile/young young adult book, though kind of spooky.

American_gods

American Gods – this novel is an exploration of the various mythological creatures created by man and imported to America by immigrants who came here and believed in them. It talks about a coming storm between the old gods – Odin, Anubis, Anansi – and the new ones – media, celebrity, drugs. A man is released from prison, and is taken on a road trip by Mr. Wednesday – he eventually encounters these old gods and is sucked into the fight for their very existence. It’s fun to try and figure out which mythological creature is behind the moniker, and made me want to learn more about religious and mythological icons.

Anansi_Boys

Anansi Boys –  this is kind of a sequel/spinoff from American Gods. It follows the grown son of Anansi (Mr. Nancy) after he finds out his father is dead and that he, in fact, has a brother, who also was unaware of his father’s death. Like American Gods, there is humor and magic, layers of story and emotion… it’s a wonderful tale about family and humanity. 

Neverwhere

Neverwhere (listened to this as a book on CD narrated by Neil himself – it was fantastic, in every sense of the word)  A man rescues a street kid, only to find himself ignored by the rest of the world he once knew. To get back to his ‘real’ life, he explores the underbelly of London. I really enjoyed the playfulness of Neverwhere, which shone through even in its darkest moments, and listening to the author narrate the story was a special bonus. (I also watched the BBC TV series – it was not as good as the book; I just learned that the TV series was done first, then Gaiman wrote the book as a novelization and expansion of the TV show…huh. Well, well done, Gaiman.)

One thing the panelists kept talking about was the fact that we humans don’t create in a vacuum – we build “upon the shoulders of giants”… we build upon others’ ideas and take things a little further. And to me, the beauty of coming into the library and walking through the stacks of books is that you get to see what others have done, have written about, have experienced, and then build on that, go from there, incorporate ideas from different interests and come up with something completely your own.

AND — being inspired doesn’t necessarily mean fantasy… you can be inspired, taken on a mental journey, have your mind expanded by a short story, a picture book, a biography, a book on the history of a baseball team, whatever. Just let your mind go, and follow it a few steps behind – don’t scare it, don’t stop it, go with it. Check out this article on the huge benefit to reading for pleasure (or if you must have a silly acronym, FVR – for Free Voluntary Reading).

So tell me, where do you look in a library for inspiration?

I was looking back at the posts I’ve written over the past year, and came across one from almost exactly a year ago, written after Irene came through the area. THIS year brought Hurricane Sandy, and with her came much destruction to some areas.

For me, it meant being evacuated from the marshy area I live in (luckily, no house damage) and a loss of power for four days. In that time, I had a chance to test out my new iPhone 5 and a borrowed first-generation iPad. My i5 was really reliable in terms of connection and, ooh, the battery life! I was able to charge it in a short car drive, and then it’d last until the next day! That’s a far cry from my old HTC Evo. In between checking CL&P outage maps on my iPhone and playing with my daughter (no school for 5 days!!), I was also able to get some reading done… all on the iPad.

Just before the storm, I checked out a book from my library’s eBook download pageTimeline by Michael Crichton. I am a big Michael Crichton fan (Andromeda Strain is one of my all-time favorites). I charged the iPad up and kept it charged until Monday, when we lost power. From then until Thursday, the iPad retained enough of a charge for me to finish the entire book over the course of those powerless days.

Downloading ebooks and audiobooks to iPads and iPhones is really simple – browsing onscreen for books is a bit tricky, but if you know what you’re looking for and find it, checking out/downloading is a breeze.

I also recently read the whole of Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie on my smartphone. The reward of downloading a book the moment I think of having it is huge – it’s a heady power we can enjoy at our fingertips!

I thought perhaps this long biography (625 pages!) would be too much for a phone. My plan was to start it on the phone, then find a print copy to do my ‘real reading.’ But …  the phone is so much lighter than the book.

I was able to turn out the lights, and read the book on my phone in bed, set for white text on a black background, and with little taps of my finger, turn the page as I read. It was so simple and so convenient, and actually really enjoyable.

Format aside, this book was SOO good. Catherine the Great was a really interesting person who led a remarkable life. How she came to power and how she led reads in this book like a well-researched, well-written soap opera.

Despite all the digital reading I’m doing lately, I still love my paper books, and just finished a 545 page historical novel about Marie Antoinette (Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund). It’s another long book (despite her short life), but it must be – it covers the time from when Marie Antoinette was preparing to marry Louis XVI, and goes right up to her unfortunate end. This book is engaging and seems as well-researched as a work of fiction can be.

The novel’s voice of Marie feels real when compared with the actual letters she wrote (the letters, to her mother, are a regular feature of the novel). It could easily have been a frivolous novel, to match the lightweight charm of the subject, but takes Marie and her concerns seriously. The time in which Marie lived was amazing. The world revolted, discovered, changed, all while Marie Antoinette was growing into a woman. This fascinating story is told through her eyes, with clarity and sympathy.

However you’re into getting your reading done – online or digital device or in print, go for it. The library has stepped up to give you more of what you want, when you want it.

And we librarians can help you with the downloading ebooks and audiobooks to your reading device – be it an Apple device, an Kindle, a Nook, or even your computer. We’ve created handouts with simple step-by-step directions for a variety of devices. They’re accessible online or at the library, and we’re happy to help too. You can call us with questions or if you’re stuck on any of the steps. If you don’t have a device of your own, we lend Kindles and Nooks that are preloaded with book titles. You can play around with it, read a book, see how you like the feel, etc. Enjoy!

Can you name the Senators who represent your state? How about your Representatives? Do you know the difference between the Senate and the House?

A recent family discussion about how the roles and responsibilities of the House of Representatives differed from the Senate made me realize how LITTLE I know about the government and how it operates. I decided to give myself a crash course in Civics before the elections in November.

And speaking of November: Are you registered to vote? You can check here, and find out exactly WHERE you’re supposed to vote: http://www.dir.ct.gov/sots/LookUp.aspx

To begin, I checked out Twenty-Five Lessons in Citizenship by D.L. Hennessey. This is a primer on basic USA-ness. It gave me the overview of how the US was formed, wars fought, how the three branches of government interact and operate. It covers the Federal government, as well as County and City governments. It includes the text of Declaration of Independence, patriotic songs, Constitutional Amendments and more. It was dry in some spots, but really covered the basics, something I desperately needed. Our copy is a bit outdated, as it also told me that George W Bush was the President, but what kind of librarian would I be if I didn’t get online and let Wikipedia tell me that was no longer the case? Snap. I got this.

Next, I figured a little history of the US Presidents would be a good thing, PLUS I wanted to read something by Gore Vidal – he died last month, and I’ve never read anything of his – so I checked out his book The American Presidency. It begins with Washington, and continuing up to Bill Clinton, gives brief descriptions and highlights of the US presidents. It’s a quick read, by no means exhaustive in its historical detail, but a fun read for sure. Vidal has no shortage of facts, and no shortage of snark – he delivers both in this short, fun book.

I then read Jeffrey Toobin’s The Nine: inside the secret world of the Supreme Court. Holy cow this book was good. Seriously. I think ‘Supreme Court’, and I picture a bunch of black-robed people frowning at things. Blah. But they are actually real people, with real histories and feelings, underneath those robes. This book tells you about who they are, where they came from, what they care about and how they work. It talks about the historical cases the Supreme Court has issued opinions on, too. It was written in 2007 (and spent more than four months on the NY Times Bestseller List), and we’ve had three new judges appointed to the court since then (a crazy amount of new judges in such a short time) – it would be great if Toobin would write an update to the book or a sequel, that included these new judges and how their additions have changed the court.

Getting back to the original question that sparked this whole thing, I also wanted to know about the Legislative branch of our government. I came across this book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do by Robert Draper. It’s a year-in-the-life look at the House of Representatives, during one of the worst years Congress has had – the 112th ‘do-nothing’ Congress beginning in 2011. There were a huge number of incoming freshmen to the House, and many of them identified with the Tea Party. Draper’s book takes a look at a few key players and tells their stories during this year. For better or worse, the legislators that represent us are human – they have good sides and dark sides; they want to do good – they just have different ideas of what that means and what it takes. This book gives a great snapshot look into the lives of legislators, and tells their stories in a balanced, clear-eyed way.

At the moment, I’m reading Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco. This is a collaboration by these two authors – Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and Joe Sacco, an American Book Award-winning comics artist and journalist. The authors traveled the country, talking with and drawing the cities and people where poverty and crime run rampant. Places where, they say, political corruption and corporate greed has taken as much as it could from reservations, from towns, from the country, while giving back nothing, leaving the people faced with destitution, crime-ridden wastelands with no hope for any kind of future.

This book is bleak. And it knows it. And that’s its problem. This book has facts, but they get buried under Hedges’ heavy-handed call to arms. He wants to spur the revolution. He is a staunch believer in the Occupy movement (which occurred as the book was being written). I do wish he had toned the direct calls-to-arms down, and just let the story be told with facts – they are strong enough to speak for themselves. His comments will be off-putting to many, regardless of how right or left you are, and they almost make the facts feel opinion-y. It makes them too easy to dismiss. The drawings of Joe Sacco are powerful, and show the story told by the people. It makes the horror experienced by these people more real – the drawings alone are wonderful. The story the book tells is horrific. It makes you want to do something… until it tells you to do something.

My quest to know more about the political machine that exists today and how it came to be and to know more about the history of our country and the rest of the world continues… there’s so much to learn, so much to be done… I guess it starts in November with a vote. But it doesn’t end there. We citizens must hold those in office accountable – accountable to us, accountable to themselves. This is our country. We, all of us together, must make it one we are proud to live in.

It’s how I do.

As promised in my last post, I had the shirt made. Kind of looks like I took a marker to a shirt myself, but it really is a photo of the patron’s contribution to our summer reading board.

The other patrons’ contributions were great too – we got a lot of great input, book recs, illustrations.. we really appreciate everyone’s participation! Thanks to all who wrote on our boards!

Q: What have you been doing this summer?

A:

_____

Yup. Me too.

Someone wrote that on our paper display in the library where we ask “What are you reading these summer nights?”

I’m totally making that into a shirt. … Because it is true – I have been reading like a nerd all summer long, been plowing through books of all kinds.

I recently got back from a trip to South Florida… visited with friends, family, and most satisfyingly, the pool. In the 9 days I was on vacation, I was able to finish three books (and start a fourth). I do read fast, but they were also fairly short. Their length and interest-keeping ability was perfect for some distract-me-from-the-bumps-on-the-plane reading, some back-from-the-pool-and-totally-exhausted reading, and some it’s-vacation-so-I’ll-read-before-breakfast-at-10am reading.

I started After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh on the plane. It’s a collection of nine short stories that take place in the very near future. Each one explores the way we live after some major calamitous event occurs. Some events are more far-fetched than others (my eyes tend to glaze over when I read the word “zombie”), but it’s not the events themselves that are the focus so much – it’s the human reaction to them, how we adapt and continue, that is interesting . McHugh’s characters are undeniably sympathetic and human; they just happen to be in new and strange circumstances and settings. I couldn’t tell you what every story was about off the top of my head, but reviewing the contents of the book brings back memories from each story, feelings that stuck with me.

Once I finished Apocalypse, I picked up Sherman Alexie’s Flight. This story is about a lost and angry teenager called Zits, who is half white, half native American. He’s an orphan who has seen too many foster homes. He meets another foster kid, and they become good friends – the new guy helps Zits escape from a bad foster home, then puts him up in his place, an abandoned space-cum-shelter. He teaches Zits how to shoot guns and how to be angry. One day, Zits finds himself in a bank, ready to shoot into a crowd of people, just because. He’s ready to pull the trigger, cutting down innocent people waiting in line…

He does – and is instantly transported into the past – he wakes up in the body of an FBI agent who is about to do some dirty dealing with native Americans  in the 70’s, something which resulted in a lot of innocent Americans being killed. He wakes up in a few other people’s bodies, across various time periods and experiencing different points of view. By the end of this short novel, he realizes a lot of things about himself and life. The end seems a bit neat and easy, but the writing is sharp and the message heartfelt. Coincidentally, I was reading this book the same week of the Aurora movie theater shootings, throwing the events in the book and in real life into sharper relief. And, the review of this book in the NY Times was written a few years ago, shortly after the shootings in Virginia Tech. It seems eerie, the similarities of time, but probably really just a reflection how much violence takes place all the time.

The last book of the bunch was Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan. It was a quick read about girls in adolescence. It promised to tell parents how to navigate this treacherous land of female adolescence in this day and age. Each chapter covered a different topic relevant to girlhood: diaries, dating, menstruation, etc. “Covered” is putting it lightly, though; critics have not been impressed:

Jessica Bennet reviewed the book at the Daily Beast; Elizabeth Day weighed in at the Guardian;  and Emma Gilbey Keller gave her two cents at the New York Times.

I thought the book was OK, but in reading the criticisms, I see what they’re getting at. The main thing the book does is to highlight some pivotal moments in female adolescence, and identify some points where parents can pay attention and try not to screw their daughters up too much. Too bad the author only has sons, though – she may have had some real insight if she had had some, well, real insight.

On the way home from my trip, I started Emerald City, a book of short stories by Jennifer Egan. I’ve read everything else of hers and I really like her as an author. Her characters are all flawed, but sympathetic, because really, aren’t we all flawed? It’s how we find our own redemption that matters.  Her tales are a mix of poignant moments and everyday life. Two thumbs up.

Since then, I’ve read:


The Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics.
  An interesting history of the comics that began the comic book craze, it covers the time when comics were first printed in book format and goes up to the mid-fifties, when the Comics Code  was adopted as a way for comics publishers to self-police. Yeah, that happened.

Monster,  by Walter Dean Myers – a teen novel with an accused criminal as the main character. He’s 16 and awaiting trial. The book is written as if he were writing a screenplay about the trial – the kid is really interested in movies & movie-making. As the story unfolds, you can’t help rooting for this young man, who is jailed and in hell. He’s scared, although not necessarily innocent. You wonder where he got lost along the way, and hope to hell your kid isn’t going to end up in the same place.

I read Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. If you like Michael Crichton, you may like this novel. It’s a little thriller, a little biological mystery, a little spooky, too. It’s a pretty fast read, and takes place in the Natural History Museum of NY. Murders happen, chase scenes and conspiracies take place. It’s fun and was the basis for the 1997 movie of the same name.

Made it through both the regular printed novel and the graphic novel (GN)  version of the prequel to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game called Formic Wars: Burning of the Earth. It’s co-authored by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston, the GN is illustrated by Giancarlo Caracuzzo. I didn’t want to like the GN, so I read the novelized version of the graphic novel first – it was good. Better than I had expected (I Ioved Ender’s Game). So then I gave the GN a shot – and once I thought, Maybe I’ll like this, I actually did.

I recently finished The City & The City by China Miéville. This was really good, better than I expected, rich and gripping, actually. It’s science-ish fiction, slightly metaphysical, but really it’s a look at the boundary lines that separate two city-states in a made-up place in Eastern Europe. The two cities, really two separate countries, went through a split at some point, and the geography was divided in two, the people not allowed to see the other country’s citizens, buildings, cars, etc. Basically, anything that is in country A cannot be seen or touched by those in country B. A girl is murdered, though, and the investigation leads to evidence in both countries, plus a question of conspiracy involving a mythical third country. It’s crazy. But it’s good, and if you like detective novels at all, you’ll love the main character. This book is a detective story, it’s social commentary, it’s light criticism of academia – it’s rich and deep and grabs you from the start.

Finally, I just finished The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. I really liked the Bourne movies, and plan to see the newest “Legacy” movie that’s out now, but I wanted to get a little refresher and thought I’d give the books a try. I was not disappointed. The movie took out a plot that makes up most of the book – in it, an assassin called Carlos is hunting Jason Bourne in addition to the US government. It’s a fun read, though I get a little lost in the wordy descriptions of the fight scenes. Either way, Matt Damon was good in the book, too.

Phew. That’s it so far. So, yeah… that’s me, I’m just reading.