24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 5)

Abby Reads: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Balzer + Bray, 2016, 352 pages
YA Realistic Fiction

Jeff Garvin’s Symptoms of Being Human tells the story of Riley, a genderqueer* teen who struggles with their identity especially as they deal with their father’s political campaign, a new school, and all the usual challenges of being an American adolescent. To help deal with some of these challenges, Riley starts an anonymous blog about their life as a genderqueer teen. It’s not long before their identity is discovered by someone at school, though, and Riley has to contend with the harassment and bullying surrounding them.

Jeff Garvin uses masculine pronouns on his website and I saw him speak at the NoVa Teen Book Festival, so based on what I heard there and his site, I believe he is cisgender (which means he was born and assigned male at birth and identifies as a man). There’s quite a bit of contention around the majority writing about the minority. This is especially true when the content of the writing focuses on the specific issues involved with the identity at hand. It’s one thing to write, as a white man, for example, about a black man who is working through the grief of the death of a pet. It’s another thing to write, as a white man, about the specific racial oppression he encounters as a black individual in the throes of job searching. So, right off the bat, Garvin stats off with the deck stacked against him because Symptoms isn’t just about a teen who happens to be genderqueer. It’s about how at teen lives their life as a genderqueer individual.

That said, I don’t want to tear Garvin down for writing about a genderqueer teen when he is not one. He’s brought into the world a representation of someone who is rarely represented. And while we certainly can and should be doing a better job of representing all kinds of people, there’s something to be said for at least making a start of it, even when it might be misguided. Some readers who are genderqueer have weighed in on Garvin’s book, and I highly encourage you to read their thoughts rather than rely on my own above. Like Garvin, I’m cisgender and really don’t have the authority to speak at length on this. I’ll leave it at: this is potentially problematic and Garvin certainly gets some things wrong according to some readers who would know better. I think that’s valuable information to have going into the book, especially if you might find that content triggering.

But I’m never one to slam a whole book based on one aspect (I see that as an attack on intellectual freedom), so moving on from that one admittedly large issue – one of the main concerns Garvin had writing the book was how to make the lack of pronouns feel natural in Riley’s story. Garvin does not ever reveal Riley’s biological sex – nor does he need to. Garvin even avoids letting the perception of characters around Riley interfere with the lack of gender the readers experience with Riley. There are only a handful of lines where the lack of gendered pronoun feels obvious and unnatural from a writing perspective. Garvin avoids using the non-gendered “they,” too, which works well, most of the time.

None of this takes away from the rawness of Riley’s story. In a scene which graphically depicts an assault (warning, for readers who might want to avoid sexual assault content), the immediacy of the moment makes for a powerful passage that demands the reader’s attention and investment. The authenticity with which Garvin describes this scene helps bring it home and achieves an extraordinary amount of empathy in the reader. At the same time, the scenes following this one tend to be toned down in the authenticity and, frankly, basis in reality. The change which takes place in Riley as a growing human seems too stark a change for them (or most humans), and left me a bit disappointed in the conclusion.

One final piece is this: I did not find Riley a very compelling character overall. They lacked a personality I could get my hooks into. I suspect this has something to do with Garvin not wanting to inadvertently favor one set of traditional gender expectations over another and therefore vaguely indicate Riley’s biological sex one way or another. I can see how doing so might hurt the narrative, but with enough balance and editing, I think that could have been avoided. Still, Riley is a person who makes mistakes and, when they do have a personality, isn’t always reasonable or likable. This was a nice twist on the typical YA character who often cannot do wrong.

For an exercise in empathy and an opportunity to read about a group of people who are too-frequently overlooked, Symptoms of Being Human isn’t the worst place to start. I’d still recommend reading accounts from people who aregenderqueer. But sometimes, we’ve got to work with what we’ve got. In this case, Garvin’s novel seems to be fairly well-researched and he clearly is dedicated to giving these voices a platform.

 

*I am using this specific terminology because that is how Riley describes themselves in the book. I recognize this is potentially problematic due to the issues discussed in the second paragraph, but I hope with this note, readers will understand my intent.

 

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Hate List by Jennifer Brown
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010, 432 pages
YA Fiction

From a psychological and human interest perspective, I’m fascinated by extreme violence – serial killers, terrorism, school shootings. (Let me emphasize, though, that I do not condone this violence or anything of the sort.) I read a lot of web articles about these topics, have read through the Wikipedia articles for Columbine and Virginia Tech (among others) several times, and have even scrolled through fan pages for these events and their perpetrators on Tumblr (yes, these exist; they can have very graphic and disturbing content, though, so if you choose to seek them out, proceed with caution!) because the mentality of not just the murderers, but of their “fans” (and some truly are fans and sympathizers) is almost as interesting to me.

I’ve hedged, however, at fiction on these topics. I haven’t read a whole lot of it because I don’t often feel fiction can do it justice, or the author will have some ulterior motive and message (either on one side or the other), or it’ll just be too campy given the dire seriousness of these subjects. Despite this, I grabbed Hate List from one of my public library’s ebook collections and breezed through it in a few days. Hate List isn’t a perfect book, but it does have a lot of great stuff in it. Before I get into that, here’s a quick rundown of the plot –

Valerie, a high school student, is left entering school again after a long break that extended beyond just the summer months. Just before school let out for summer, her boyfriend, Nick, brought guns to school and killed and injured classmates and teachers. Stuck with feelings of guilt for a variety of reasons, and wondering what she could have done to stop it, Valerie thinks this might not have happened if it weren’t for the “hate list” she started with Nick. Now that she’s heading back to school, she’ll have to figure out who is willing to say “hello,” to her – forget about who even wants to be image1 (2)friends. Meanwhile, her family is falling apart and her therapist sometimes feels like the only person on her side.

Ultimately, Hate List was kind of campy. I won’t dance around that. Brown’s prose reads in such a way that suggests she doesn’t think her readers are ready for true realism. She does describe some of the violence that occurred through sections of flashbacks and newspaper articles written by a fictitious journalist, but it’s all very PG. And I don’t necessarily know that it has to be graphic and visceral to be less campy – in fact, a lot of that campiness came from the relationships and characters that, despite Brown’s apparent efforts (such as presenting characters who have personalities that conflict with the main character’s perception of those characters), are one-dimensional. The characters are, largely, what you would expect to see in a run-of-the-mill family comedy. The troubled father. The overly-emotional mother. The annoying-but-cute little brother. The angsty teen. The preps. The jocks. The popular kids. The outcasts. It’s all so predictable. In drawing her characters this way, I think Brown did something that’s actually a bit dangerous: she made an assumption about what a school shooter looks like and what the motive and the victims “causing” that motive look like.

This isn’t an academic paper, so I’m not going to bore you all (read: make the effort) to say why this is a problem. I’ll just say that I think Brown is perpetuating some pre-existing stereotypes around school shooters and school shootings that are harmful. By making the assumption that the outcast is going to take up a gun and kill the preps and jocks, not only is that trite and kind of lazy, it’s setting us up to fear people who are different. And I think we do quite enough of that as it is.

But moving on. Despite all of the stereotyping, I really appreciated Brown’s commitment to showing Nick as a full human being with more than one side. Yes, he killed and injured his classmates. But leading up to that, Valerie liked him for a reason. For the most part, he’s a likable kid. He’s a person. And rather than just designing him as a cold-blooded killer, Brown lets her readers sympathize with Valerie, which is the important thing. At the same time, the story becomes more believable because even those who are heartless, emotionless, cold murderers, history shows, blend in pretty well up until they get caught or are responsible for a major event. If you look at descriptions of famous serial killers, you’ll find many who knew them describe these people as charming, if maybe a little off. It all depends on the psychological diagnosis, and I want to stay away from making any generalizations or pretending I’m expert, so I’ll stop here – but ultimately, I felt Brown’s characterization of Nick was both important and at least semi-successful.

Hate List, at least for me, was a really quick read. I got through it in a few days, even though it’s a bit bulky in terms of page numbers. The plot is so-so and I felt there were some major things missing, like a place where a complete list of the victims are compiled (I think that would have had a much bigger impact; despite the obituaries and articles and other pieces of the novel, I never really had a good sense of how many people Nick had killed or injured – obviously one at all is horrendous, but the number of people, their class years, are important pieces to understanding subtext and a climate that isn’t stated explicitly). And, yeah, the book had a very ‘90s-teen-movie feel to it. But it wasn’t bad. It was enjoyable.

If, however, you’re looking for a really fast school-shooting read, one I read back in middle school (so, make of the distance since I’ve read it what you will) has stuck in my mind ever since: Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser. At the time I read it, I was so moved that I wrote the superintendent and asked that they make it assigned reading for all middle school students. I still feel it’s an important book, if perhaps a little dated now, and definitely worth a few hours of your and your loved ones’ time.

Meanwhile, check out other books on this topic here.

❤❤❤💔  out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Vintage Contemporaries, 2003, 226 pages
Fiction

I generally dislike reviewing books that have seen huge success or are New York Times Bestsellers or award winners or what have you. Anything that could be said of such a book has probably already been said and multiple times. I can’t promise this review will be any different, but I can say that I knew nothing about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time before I read it, other than it was a Big Deal.

Written by Mark Haddon, the novel is told from the perspective of Christopher, a fifteen-year-old with autism. When he finds his neighbor’s dog dead of a gardening tool to the torso, Christopher feels compelled to discover who killed the dog. Interviewing his neighbors, thinking through the events and the facts, and fighting his father all along, Christopher eventually comes to a realization that shakes his world. Now, his mother dead for some years, has found a way back into his life in a way Christopher can hardly believe.IMG_0344

The pace of The Curious Incident makes for an interesting novel. With Christopher’s straight and matter-of-fact narration style, the book reads more like a series of events than a traditional novel. Haddon masterfully weaves in his character’s personality and traits through the narration style, such as Christopher’s decision to number the chapters using only prime numbers. It is this level of detail as Haddon brings his readers into Christopher’s mind that makes this such a success.

Christopher’s reliance on objective detail helps to paint vivid imagery. Sounds, tastes, smells, and textures are shot out, round after round, to give the reader a full picture of Christopher’s world. When anxiety builds for Christopher, it builds for the reader, too. Haddon handles these sensory details so adeptly that they convey more than just the surroundings, but Christopher’s mental and emotional states. This is never truer than when Christopher tries to take a train and encounters the overwhelming aspects of buying a ticket, finding the right train, being on the train, and the volume of people in both trains and stations.

What made this book all the more interesting is that it is set in England. The cultural differences become especially apparent with Christopher as a more objective observer of cultural nuances. As Christopher inhabits a world seemingly designed against his preferences, he asks why over and over, leading the reader to ask whythemselves. Haddon achieves this without appearing overly philosophical or pretentious, which makes The Curious Incident so popular and successful.

For all its high-literary features, The Curious Incident is a very readable book. Its language is simple and offers a variety of topics that will likely reach out to its readers in one way or another. Though perhaps a bit unrealistic, the plot falls through Christopher’s eyes, making the novel a unique journey.

 

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Harm in Asking: My Clumsy Encounters with the Human Race by Sara Barron

The Harm in Asking: My Clumsy Encounters with the Human Race by Sara Barron
Three Rivers Press, 2014, 320 pages
Nonfiction Humor Essays

It’s admittedly been a while since I’ve read The Harm in Asking. I toyed around with the idea of not writing a review for it at all because, frankly, I have few positive things to say about it. In fact, I never even took a picture of the book because I was so sure I wouldn’t review it. However, I’m committed to reviewing as much as I read as possible and, despite being woefully behind in that, I have no real reason to not review Barron’s collection of essays. If you’re interested in the particulars of why I was less-than-impressed by this book, read on.

Barron’s essay collection is very like many other essay collections: she describes her various misadventures as a twenty-something living in New York City while pursuing the seemingly unreachable goal of a profitable career as a holder of a Bachelor’s in English. Barron suffers getting locked out of her apartment multiple times within a day, breaking a leg, and the horror of washing her landlord’s back on a regular basis among other tales. There is, in true white-girl-English-major fashion (yes, I’m aware I’m a white-girl-former-English-major), lots of alcohol involved. Overall, the theme of Barron’s collection can be summed up in two titlewords: privileged irresponsibility.

I get the whole self-deprecating humor thing. In fact, it’s something I love to do (and feel I’m pretty good at, if you don’t mind me saying so) myself. It’s my intimate knowledge of this particular brand of humor that leads me to believe Barron fails at it. While feigning self-loathing, Barron actually turns the hate on everyone around her in each of her stories, managing to blame just about everyone except herself for her problems. To her credit, she does sometimes admit to this and it’s sort-of-kind-of in her subtitle. But I found it to be a bit much. She’s regularly offensive, using long-outdated and consciously-insulting words for “jokes,” and isn’t above any category of slur. I could go on about why Barron’s take on humor is harmful, but I’ll leave the research to you (unless it pops up in the comments, in which case I’m happy to oblige). In any case, Barron’s essays felt condescending while she played the victim and everyone else was a villainous *insert racial/homophobic/ableist/sexist slur here*. It was disheartening. And this isn’t to say that Barron necessarily is condescending and plays the victim and all that — I haven’t met Barron. Her writing may be an act for all I know. This is merely how these set of essays came across.

If you can get past the general offense of Barron’s writing and take a look at the writing style, it’s really nothing remarkable. Overall, it’s not poor writing, but it also doesn’t tickle any particular sense to life. There are no especially clever turns of phrase, no heart-stopping similes, no exciting plays on words. The pace flows quickly enough and doesn’t feel disjointed or anything like it, but you’re not going to hold up this book as a piece of Great Literature.

Of the stories Barron tells, most of them are fairly similar if you take enough steps back. Barron thinks things are going well, she makes a bad decision, she complains about the situation she’s now in, she blames it on those around her, someone else solves the problem or she ignores it until it goes away (or it turns out to not really be a problem after all). With this predictable formula present in each story, it’s easy to become bored, especially as you’re inevitably turned off by one or more of her comments that somehow feel like person attacks even though she’s not saying any of this directly to you. I hate to come back to this issue and I know I’m what people like to call a “sensitive person,” but the ongoing offense became tiresome. Not only was it in poor taste, but it seemed to be a main theme and it just felt old and not funny and unoriginal. Because this was the foundation of so many of Barron’s stories, it’s hard to come away from the book with any sense of joy. If Barron’s collection is supposed to be a book of humor, I think she missed the mark.

I did manage to finish it, if only just, so it gets a heart for that. But nothing more.

❤ out of ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

Up Your Productivity: The 5 Lists that Will Rock Your World

One of the things I get asked most often is, “When do you sleep?”

Answer: At night.

But let’s back up a little bit. This question is typically prompted by some realization that I currently have three jobs (one full time, two part-time — though, to be fair, “part-time” is loosely defined here) and am enrolled in graduate school full time. I don’t say this because I want people to think that I’m some kind of amazing person who sacrifices everything for some vaguely-defined sense of success. Actually, I say it because I know you (yes, you) are perfectly capable of this, too. And not only that, but you can do it and still have free time. Yeah, I still have time for things I do for fun — though I can’t say that I spend that time as wisely as I do my “not free” time (read: Abby mostly scrolls through Tumblr aimlessly while watching Jane the Virgin in her free time, which is to say she is imprisoned by mindless entertainment that fulfills some desire to mentally engage with concepts regarding social justice, relationships, and funny memes).

Right. As I was saying. You, too, can achieve crazy amounts of productivity in whatever arena you like. You just have to follow me down the rabbit hole that is organization.

Now, to be fair, if you search “organization” on Tumblr or Pinterest, you’re going to find pictures of immaculate to-do lists, notes that have probably been rewritten about a dozen times to ensure a lack of mistakes and perfect handwriting (seriously, it will make you cry), and beautiful, expensive stationery. That’s not how I roll (although I wish I did). I do messy and relatively improvised — at least for my standards. Asides aside, let’s get started on my list about lists (are you surprised?).

1. Blackout

I first started using what I call the Blackout List in summer of 2013 during my internship at the National Science Foundation. It was my first experience working full time in an office and I felt like I needed a fresh organization method that would propel me through each day. As a Resident Assistant, I’d seen my supervisor with  her legal pad every day, crossing out  tasks she’d completed with a black Sharpie. It seemed to work really well for her, so I adopted it. I still use it today in my daily work.

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Blackout List

The Blackout List is for anything and everything I intend to do at work. I write up the following day’s tasks every day before I leave. My list currently works in three columns, mainly to save space. Each list has tasks I’m supposed to complete on a daily cycle, plus other tasks that are either completed on a less frequent basis, or are “fresh” tasks that are one-time things. Every day, you’ll see “newspapers” listed first on my list because I deliver newspapers every day. It’s not that I’ll forget to do that task, necessarily, but putting it on there helps me start the workflow for the day. I include bi-weekly meetings, reference requests, and long-term projects, too. Typically, I try to list the items in order that they should be completed, but as things get added throughout the day, I don’t worry too much about it. When composing the list, I always check my calendar for the next day to see what meetings and other unusual tasks need to be added. At the top of every list is “To Do” and the date in MM/DD format. This piece is highlighted in pink to offset it from the actual tasks.

Then the “blackout” part comes in. As each task is completed, I black it out — that is, I cross it out fully with a green highlighter (I find the permanent markers bleed through too much on legal pads). Whatever isn’t finished at the end of the day — long term projects, reference requests I didn’t finish for whatever reason, etc. — gets transferred to the next day unless it’s no longer relevant, in which case I either cross it out with a pen or leave it alone.

I love this method because it’s great for looking back to see what you’ve accomplished. You can see how long long-term projects took to complete, you can see what you worked on on what days, and you’ve got a record of tasks you did on a daily basis. This can be especially helpful for job searching later; filling out applications that detail your previous experience immediately becomes easier when you have a concrete list to pull from.

2. Priorities

The Priorities List was developed when I started getting more responsibilities at my full time job. Just before lunch time, I started lists that I called “Afternoon Priorities” so I’d be able to take off running when I got back from my break. When things get tough in school, I sometimes break out the Priorities List to help me get through.

The Priorities List lists only the most important tasks to be completed by the end of a given set of time (often close of business) in a single column. These tasks are all pending. Typically, I determine the level of priority for each task and do so by figuring out each task’s due “date” (or, how soon the item needs to be completed), if other people are waiting on the task to be completed, how long it’s been on the list, and other factors. Then, I design a key at the top of the list with three or four highlighter colors. The colors are listed in order of priority: first, second, third, fourth. What color I assign to each level depends on the day. I don’t currently have a standing color for each level. For the sake of explanation, let’s say I assign pink to first, yellow to second, and green to third. I then go through my list and highlight all of the first priorities in pink, again weighing the factors I described previously. Second priorities are highlighted in yellow and so on. Each task also gets a check box next to it to be checked when completed.

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Priorities List

And so I go through, hitting the pink tasks first, then the yellow, then the green. In some cases, I may skip to what I originally determined was a lower-level task because I need a break from one of the more intense higher-priority tasks or because it’s quick and can be easily checked off. I find that checking something off a list as being achieved boosts my motivation, so checking off a quick, lower-priority task can make accomplishing higher-priority tasks easier.

I find Priority Lists most helpful in two scenarios. The first of these scenarios are times in which I feel so overwhelmed with things to do that I don’t know where to get started. Writing them out allows me to visually assess what needs to get done and compare tasks to each other to find the most important things to finish. The second scenario is just the opposite — when I feel I have so little to do and can’t decide what to do with myself. By mapping out possible things to work on, I’m often able to find at least a few tasks that really need doing and, as a result, I’m no longer at a loss as to what to do next.

One final perk of the Priority List is that the order tasks are added to the list doesn’t matter. Because priority is designated by highlight color rather than physical location relative to other tasks on the paper, you can easily tack on more tasks to the “bottom” of the list and still highlight them as pink, or a top priority.

3. Bullet

You might’ve seen articles about the Bullet Journal circulating around the web. One of the great things about the Bullet Journal is its adaptability. For those of us who like to follow rules to a T, the creators of the Bullet Journal make it easy to move away from the original design by encouraging the adaptation of the Bullet Journal method as you see fit. I started out using the Bullet Journal method as it’s prescribed, but quickly found that it wasn’t entirely helpful for me. I then made a few adjustments and relied on it to keep track of my school assignments throughout the semester.

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Bullet List

For my version of the Bullet Journal, which I just refer to as the Bullet List, I make weekly lists rather than daily. My class schedule at San José State University runs on a weekly cycle, so each page is a new week. For this past semester, I had a class that “started” on Mondays, one on Wednesdays, and one on Thursdays. At the very top of the page was the week’s number for that semester. Fortunately, a lot of the course content is listed by week number, so it was easy enough to group classwork by week. My Monday class, Reference and Information Services, started each weekly list. I wrote the course information and the date range (INFO 210-10: 12/21/15 – 12/27/15, for example) as a header. Then I listed all of the assignments for that week in two columns. If there was a paper or some other kind of assignment with a deliverable, I added the due date for that assignment in parentheses after the description. Other assignments might be readings, discussion board post obligations, and research I needed to complete. Below that course would be the other two courses with similar headings. The next week started on the following page.

Throughout the week, as tasks were completed, they were checked off the list. Unfinished long-term projects got moved to the next week.

The Bullet List is pretty straight-forward as to-do lists go. It’s a slightly more-organized and time-sensitive iteration of the ordinary to-do list, but has the benefit of adaptations floating around the Internet that you can take and make your own.

4. To Do

Speaking of standard to do lists, I make about a million of them. Often, I take tasks from any of the lists listed (ha) above and dash them onto a piece of scrap paper. I use To Do lists whenever I need them. Some are long-term and some are short-term. I do have a little notebook where I keep two running To Do lists: one is a list of blog topics I want to get to, the other is a list of funny things I want to write about in the memoir that will probably be on another To Do list perpetually.

My standard To Do list is usually listed by bullets or dashes, and occasionally both if I have mini tasks within larger tasks. I try to keep the tasks in these lists boiled down to easy phrases like “laundry” or “homework.” Once something is completed, it’s crossed off — easy peasy.

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To Do List

While I use To Do lists more than any other list (probably), I actually take them less seriously. As I mentioned, I usually do them on scrap paper, so they have a more temporary feel to them. They should probably be called Should Do lists rather than To Do lists, but we’re all imperfect people and I’m too lazy to write out “Should” when I could write “To.” Anyway, I find the temporary “aura” of the To Do list makes it lower-pressure to complete. If I get to it, I get to it; if I lose the list, I lose it — I can always make another. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s an old standby. I approve.

5. Wunderlist

The Wunderlist is not actually something that I created. Wunderlist is an app that is accessible through Smart Phones, tablets, and computers. Unlike the other lists, I use Wunderlist for items rather than tasks. Right now, I have a lists for groceries, things I want (ie, a wish list), and gift ideas. Admittedly, I use Wunderlist on a superficial basis. I’m sure there are lots of great features that I don’t use, simply because I haven’t felt a need for anything beyond what I currently use it for.

I will say there are a lot of helpful things about Wunderlist that I do use. One of the best features is that Wunderlist allows collaboration. This has been invaluable for the grocery list, which I share with my significant other. Whenever he or I notice we’re low on something, we can easily add it to the list. Wunderlist has an alert feature that will let you know someone has added something to shared lists unless you turn that feature off. So, if you’re using Wunderlist for groceries and you see someone you live with has added “milk” and you happen to be going to the store on the way home from work, it’s easy enough to know with minimal communication that you should pick up some milk. Shared lists are on a list-by-list basis, so sharing a list does not mean you have to share all of your other lists, too. This has been great for me because I’m able to keep sharing groceries with my significant other without letting him in on my gift ideas for him.

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Wunderlist

In my experience, Wunderlist loads quickly (I have a two-and-a-half-year-old iPhone 4S, which tends to load other things rather slowly compared to newer phones) even on 3G, so it’s easy to access in grocery stores. Once you’ve obtained an item, you can tap it to check it off and the item disappears from your list. The list also notes how many “tasks” you’ve completed from that list. Lists continue to exist even when there are no items on the list. Each item can also holds more than itself. If you open up any given task item, there are slots for a due date, a reminder, subtasks, notes, files, and comments. You can also “star” that task if it’s particularly important. Tasks can be sorted alphabetically and the app organizes conversations initiated by comments on shared lists.

And the best part? All of this is free.

Bonus: Outline

There is one more kind of list that I use fairly frequently. I first learned, really, to do outlines when I was in sixth grade. My Social Studies teacher loved outlines for lecture purposes and had fairly strict guidelines about what an outline should look like. I’ve seen arguments for different formats since, but have stuck to the one that makes the most sense to me with slight alterations depending on the project. Microsoft Word has leveled list format suggestions, but here’s what I prefer (with increasing indents for each level — unfortunately this editor won’t allow that, even with spaces):

I. Dogs

A. Bodies

1. Heads

a. Mouths

i. Teeth

ii. Tongues

b. Ears

2. Legs

B. Personalities

II. Cats

Obviously this is very skeletal as it’s just for example purposes, but you get the idea. Some will argue you can’t have a sub-level if you only have one or two points (so, for every A, if you’re going to have a 1, you also have to have a 2 and 3). I think that’s phooey. Outline in a way that works for you and you’re doing it right. There will be no outline snobs here.

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Outline List

I primarily use outlines to write papers for school or, occasionally, get an idea of where I’m going with a particular blog post. (Yes, I did one for this blog post. No, it wasn’t in my standard format.) Like all my other lists, Outlines are helpful for propelling you forward, always giving you a “next.” Personally, I like to mirror my essays to an extent, so the Outline often ends up propelling itself forward. If I mention dogs, cats, and bunnies in the introduction in that order, I already know what my three main body paragraphs will be. Many people will probably argue that’s just solid writing practice, but there are arguments to be made for other effective techniques. I don’t pretend to be an expert on writing, regardless of how much of it I may do or pretend I do.

Lists are absolutely instrumental to me gettin’ stuff done. They provide clarity, direction, and a sense of accomplishment. There’s no way I could do even half of what I do without a good plan ahead of me. In fact, I honestly believe for every five minutes I spend planning and listing, I save another half-hour down the road. (And I’m not the only one who feels this way.) Time management and productivity are my things. It’s what I do well.

Oh, and sleeping? I also do that well — but only because I put it on my list.

What are your favorite methods of organization? Are you into any list trends? Do you have a Pinterest board full of beautiful lists? Do you hate lists? I want to know! Please share in the comments.

Abby Reads: Is Everyone Hanging out without Me? (and Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Is Everyone Hanging out without Me? (and Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Three Rivers Press, 2012, 222 pages
Nonfiction Humor Essays

I am embarrassingly unfamiliar with Mindy Kaling’s work. I mean, I know who she is and I know some of the things she’s been in, but I’ve never seen her in action. I know she was in and wrote for The Office. I know she’s got The Mindy Project going on. But really, that’s it. While I had planned on waiting to read this until I’d become more familiar with her other work, I decided there was really no point and jumped right in. I am now even more curious about her main works. Is Everyone Hanging out without Me? is fun, mostly. Kaling plays around with differDSC_0250ent styles and formats, she includes pictures from her life, her voice is very much her voice. But I was troubled by how cheaply she often pursued jokes, while at the same time berating comedians for going for low forms of humor.

While telling readers a bit about her past, how she got to where she is now, and airing general grievances about the injustices of life (trivial and otherwise), Kaling resorts to making light of sexual assault, mental illness, disabilities, Jews, trans* people, body image, and sexism. As Kaling is a person of a marginalized group (women of color), I was surprised to see all of this. I was disheartened at her use of slurs for people with mental disabilities. I was disappointed at her entire chapter on Jewish stereotypes because, “No, really, all my friends are Jews.” It’s all rather hypocritical, too, as she dedicates an entire chapter to why comedic “roasts” (in which a comedian targets a particular individual with some harsh words about them meant to be humorous — you can imagine many pieces on the Kardashians, for instance, and likely find at least a few roasts there) are inappropriate and pathetic attempts at humor. Okay, Mindy.

Despite my feelings about these issues, I did finish the book and it wasn’t all bad. Kaling has her funny moments and, when she’s not stooping to the likes of what I described above, she’s very good. Moments I wouldn’t expect to translate well in text worked. Small observations of life that, in the right light are hilarious, were riots. Kaling has the tools to do this well. She wouldn’t be where she is without her talent and skill. But the harm she does with jokes about how girls are all about getting their nails done and cupcakes (and much worse) is hugely problematic and severely knocked down my enjoyment of the book.

I found Kaling’s use of footnotes charming, if a little spare. Rather than feeling like an important piece of the way Kaling approaches comedy, they felt like an after-thought gimmick with so few sprinkled throughout the book. I’m also a fan of footnotes, though, as someone who uses too many commas and even more parenthetical asides, so maybe I’m biased.

Personally, I feel Kaling could have done better. The skill is there, the writing is there, the content isn’t.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Revolution of Sabine by Beth Ain Levine

The Revolution of Sabine by Beth Ain Levine
Candlewick, 2008, 224 pages
YA Historical Fiction

In Beth Ain Levine’s The Revolution of Sabine, Sabine’s revolution is not the only revolution going on. Sabine is experiencing the American Revolution but through a lens which is atypical for American readers. Sabine is a young French girl, struggling with the idea of traditional womanhood in Eighteenth Century France. Her coming of age becomes more difficult as, not only her headstrong attitudeDSC_0027 leads her to want something other than what her parents want, but the presence of Benjamin Franklin in France and his grand ideas. It doesn’t hurt that her governess’s son, Michel, has been hanging around more often and has plans to run off to the New World to help the colonies fight their English parent.  When Michel offers Sabine the opportunity to come with him, she’s torn. Does she leave her controlling parents or let the boy who’s grown on her more than she expected go?

Characterizations of the inhabitants of Levine’s story are rather flat. While the motivations of some of them are very clear (such as Sabine’s mother), their actions and descriptions cause a caricature effect, pushing their personalities to the extreme and making them somewhat unbelievable. Unexpectedly, one of the most reasonable characters seemed to be Benjamin Franklin, who makes brief cameos in the novel but does not get directly involved in the action of the events. Sabine herself is predictable as the but-I-don’t-want-to-get-married-mother teenage daughter typical of similar stories. Some of the characters mirror, in a superficial way, characters of a Jane Austen novel. Sabine’s friends provide the gossip-y ladies who care only for marriage; her potential suitor the
antagonistic and rude upper-class would-rather-get-the-plague-than-marry guy; the we-grew-up-together-but-we-aren’t-actually-related love interest; the actually-pretty-cool dad — you get the picture. All of this might be fine except these characters are recurring in historical writing and feel unoriginal.

Although Levine’s main character is sixteen or seventeen, the book feels more appropriate for readers ages nine to twelve. The content may be a little political for readers of that age, but the writing style fits right in with other books readers of those ages might be reading. The themes of the book are similarly very clear, leaving little room for debate. This may make the book a good candidate for younger students doing book reports or analyses, but for the casual reader, makes the experience somewhat uncomfortable. If Sabine had a theme song, it would probably be “Free Bird.” We get it.

The ending of The Revolution of Sabine isn’t totally predictable if a little anti-climactic. It’s a strange mixture of realistic and unrealistic that left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. It tied up the book as a whole with a shrug for me. This book had been sitting on my TBR list for several years and, ultimately, I didn’t feel like it was worth the anticipation and guilt I felt whenever I saw it sitting at the top of my Goodread’s list. This might be a great selection if you teach middle school English or are a middle school student. Beyond that, there are better options out there.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

In the News: Public Awareness of Library Offerings

In a recent article reporting on Pew results regarding the public’s relationship with their public libraries, Sarah Hatoum emphasized the struggle for public libraries to make their users and potential users aware of what the library has to offer. This is something I’ve encountered at my two part-time circulation gigs. Patrons come in, check out books, maybe some DVDs, and they leave. On occasion, a sign will catch their eye — “The library offers ebooks?” they ask in shock. “You’re having a seminar on writing a novel?” They ask for a slip of paper to write down the name of the app or the date of the upcoming event. “I had no idea!” We finish their transaction, and they head out of the library, practically wiggling with excitement.6355083001_dc97ac66b8_o

There’s no question that the library is offering things of interest to the public. For patrons with lower incomes, the library allows access to things they may not otherwise have. Can’t make a case for Netflix in your budget? We have DVDs (and you may even get the next season sooner at the library than you would on Netflix). Don’t have an at-home computer? Boy, can we help you there. But, from my perspective, the low-income members of the community are already very much aware of what the library has to offer. It’s making the case to community members who don’t use the library out of necessity.

I have a confession: I was (and sometimes still am) one of those people. I don’t take out DVDs from the library because (a) I’m fortunate enough that I can justify spending extra for Netflix and (b) my laptop (another thing I’m very fortunate to have) doesn’t have a DVD drive, so even if I didn’t have Netflix, I wouldn’t have the means to watch anything from the library. In college, despite being an avid library use in high school and before that, I stopped going to the library. I had just about everything I needed on campus — programs, social opportunities, educational opportunities, and plenty of reading to do. I didn’t even use the university library, to be honest, even for the space. I went maybe five times when it wasn’t class-required.

Part of this was because I simply didn’t have the time. Part of this was because I felt the local public library didn’t have much to offer my age group. Part of this was probably for a lack of effective advertising.

I am well aware that libraries do their best to advertise. It’s challenging to meet all types of groups in their advertising prime spot without breaking the bank. A lot of advertising takes place at the library or on the library website, but this is only good if you’re already using the library.

In my senior year of college, I started going to the public library with slightly greater frequency. I had the means to get there (a car) and had come into a bit of advertising that worked really well. The library came to my school, set up a table in the dining hall, and signed us up for library cards. Not everyone got a card, of course, but I walked away with mine and a sense of what the library had to offer. Setting up booths at various events and locations — colleges, high schools, local fairs, elections, and other public events — is a great alternative to flyers (which, let’s be real, no one reads). Once they’re in your library, you can wallpaper your walls with flyers if you like. Getting them in there is the key.

We did something similar at the special library I work at. Bringing our patrons to us, we held an open house, which we advertised through emails, email signatures, attachments to routed newspapers, table tents in the break room, and word of mouth. We had nearly one-half of the agency attend the open house (with the bribe of doughnuts, coffee, and the chance to win prizes). Each library staff member had a station. If attendees visited a station and got the spiel on the featured library offering, they got a raffle ticket for a coffee mug and Starbucks gift card. This resulted in a number of patrons signing up for routing lists they were previously unaware of and general increased awareness. Our reference statistics have increased dramatically this year, as well (though, admittedly, this may be more a symptom of overall increased workflow agency-wide). With a smaller set of people with which to work and more personal relationships with each individual, it is admittedly easier to get them into the library. But that doesn’t mean the open house concept can’t be adapted.

One final note, I think, is important to address. Many very interesting and provoking events at the libraries in my area are held during business hours. This makes sense, to some extent — the bulk of the staff is in-house during this time and with more staff comes greater flexibility. However, many potential patrons simply aren’t available at this time to attend programs. While at-home parents may opt to bring their child(ren) to story-time during the day, daytime programs on container planting aren’t ideal for most people. Evaluating the times programs are offered can bring a huge boost in attendance. Try different times, with a little luck, your library will become the community hub it’s meant to be.

Image courtesy of Photo Pin.

Fiction Re: 23 Animal Narrators for Us Critter-Lovers

You could say it’s straight from the horse’s mouth. Animal narrators aren’t just for children. You’ll find plenty of stories told by the creatures with whom we share the planet. Though a perhaps-risky endeavor, writing from the perspective of a non-human animal can provide a unique and poignant point of view. The trials of the world may seem far less important from an ant’s eye view while a dog feels, acutely, the pain of his person. Take a gander at these options if you’re an animal-lover who craves a different take on the human condition.

Please note that I have not personally read all of the titles myself. You’ll find the list in alphabetical order by author with links to purchase items in the titles. The narrating animal is indicated in parentheses following the title and author. Goodreads links are provided as well for further information. I encourage you to recommend additional materials or ask questions in the comments.Picture1

Featured: New Adults Need Libraries, Too

I know we’re out there, because I’m one of them: New Adults. This category, often used as a marketing demographic for publishers, has more recently been creeping into the periphery of public library service. The Arlington Public Library in Arlington, Virginia, recently hosted an “indoor recess” event as part of their summer reading programming, catering to twenty-somethings in the area. That same system (one for which I admittedly work) is also doing a series of “adulting” programs this fall. But what else can we offer New Adults of the Millennial generation who seemingly have everything from information to socializing to entertainment literally at their fingertips every minute of the day?

Thanks to I Need a Library Job for publishing my answers to this question and more. Follow the link to read the full article.

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