Read This: NYPL is ‘Shelving Its Past for High-Tech Research Stacks’

The books will begin arriving in April, and by the end of spring library officials expect to be using a new retrieval system to ferry the volumes and other materials from their 84 miles of subterranean shelving, loaded into little motorized carts — a bit like miniaturized minecars carrying nuggets of research gold.

To fit all the books in the allotted space, the library will have to abandon its version of the Dewey Decimal System, in which shelving is organized by subject, in favor of a new “high-density” protocol in which all that matters is size.

Question: What will the librarians do without Dewey!?

Read more at “Beneath New York Public Library, Shelving Its Past for High-Tech Research Stacks

Review: ‘The Sandman’ 9 & 10


The Sandman, 9-10
by Neil Gaiman

  • Date Finished: Nov. 4, 2015
  • Genre: Graphic Novels, Fantasy
  • Years: 1994, 1996
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Fall 2015, NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction Novels
  • Grade: A
  • Thoughts:

I thought I would have more to say about finally finishing Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series than I do. I mean, this is the series. And it’s the Neil Gaiman. People really, really geek out about this guy, about what he writes, and about these particular 10 books.

And for good reason! What can I say about The Sandman series other than…it was really, really good! Ever since I started the series back in May, I’ve enjoyed visiting the complicated and slightly disturbing world Gaiman has created for us, and I’ve particularly enjoyed getting to know our (anti-)hero, Morpheus. There’s a lot to this series, and it can be a challenge to keep track of all the seemingly disparate stories and threads. But when Gaiman brings everything together, there are these wonderful moments of literary clarity and brevity that leave you in awe of this story, Gaiman’s craft, and the medium he’s chosen to use.

However, while there’s a lot going on in this series, sometimes it felt like there was too much going on as well. I like how Gaiman has created a world where modern reality and history interact with mythologies both familiar to us and new. However, at times I found myself trying to read characters that I sorta knew about, but not really, and because of that, I felt like I completely missed two or three layers of subtext.

And oh, there was subtext all over the damn place. If you’re smart, this book has about 10 different meanings and themes. But I didn’t always feel very smart reading this (I guess I could have looked some stuff up, but sometimes, I just want to be lazy), and so I felt bad about the things I missed. I don’t always “get” everything in books, and I don’t normally feel bad about it either. But in the case of The Sandman series, I always felt like there was that one thing that I was missing, and it was that one thing that everyone was so obsessed with. And because I couldn’t get it to come together in my head all at one time, I felt like I was missing out.

Plus, I’m not going to lie: I got very weary of all the long-winded prologues and epilogues written by one Famous Author after another. I get it, Neil Gaiman is essentially a genius, The Sandman defined a genre, and we are forever in his debt, and by the way, he’s like the nicest guy too, blah blah blah. Neil Gaiman: the guy is pretty great, and everyone loves The Sandman. Got it. Reading these things in 10 books, though – it gets tiring. I could have just not read them (I think I did skip a few in the middle), but there were some Analysis and Critical Interpretation bits scattered throughout these pieces, and as part of the FOMO I was feeling, I felt that it was necessary to read them anyway. But man, that was annoying. Even my BFF Stephen King wrote one, and I couldn’t stand it.

However, I think the best way for me to reflect on The Sandman series is to read some other kind of critical analysis of it. Not as part of a prologue to one of the books, but something entirely separate. This series, as I’ve said, is so multi-faceted, and there’s so much to catch and miss, and Neil Gaiman is really really smart. It’s a great series, and I want to understand it as best I can. I want to re-read it someday. I want to own it. I’m giving these books an ‘A’ because they really were great ends to a great series, but I hope to someday give these books a solid ‘A+’. Bear with me.

Review: ‘Bad Feminist’

Courtesy of Buzzfeed

Courtesy of Buzzfeed

Bad Feminist
by Roxanne Gay

  • Date Finished: October 26, 2015
  • Genre: Feminism, Essays
  • Year: 2014
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Fall 2015, 100 Best Books of the Decade
  • Grade: A-
  • Thoughts:

(Preface: I like how, after almost two months of blogging silence, I write a rambling manifesto defending not blogging and not reviewing. A few days later, I finish a book and all I can think about while fixing dinner is, “Oh, and I’m going to say THIS in my review. And this!” Ho hum.)

I don’t want to say I’m disappointed, but I really thought I would like Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist more than I did. I’d still give it an A-, which equates to pretty damn good, however I think I was expecting an A++. Stars. Fireworks. Celebrations. I think I was expecting Why Have Kids? all over again – something righteous and political and feminist, something that speaks directly to me, something I can’t stop quoting and sharing, almost to excess.

This did not feel like that, unfortunately. And I say “unfortunately” because – well, I don’t know. I think it’s because it feels like the flaws I found reflect deeper flaws within myself. A limit to my understanding. A limit to my undying political liberalism and bleeding-heart-ism. A limit to how much of a feminist I really am. I worry that because so many people champion this book and its messages, that when I find myself recoiling from some of those messages, that something must be wrong with me. Why aren’t as offended by these things as Gay? Why aren’t I as righteous?

This is a pretty stupid way to feel because if anything, this book is about feeling like a, well, bad feminist. These were the parts of the book that I loved and identified with the most. Gay’s opening and closing arguments revolve around how a modern woman is supposed to reconcile the moral and political demands of feminism with who we actually are as women. And who are we? Well, we’re imperfect.

Maybe I’m a bad feminist, but I am deeply committed to the issues important to the feminist movement. I have strong opinions about misogyny, institutional sexism that consistently places women at a disadvantage, the inequality in pay, the cult of beauty and thinness, the repeated attacks on reproductive freedom, violence against women, and on and on.

No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. Like most people, I am full of contradictions, but I also don’t want to be treated like shit for being a woman.

I responded to passages like that with an emphatic, “GIRL.” I mean, can she sum up how I feel about my own feminism in any better terms? I do consider myself a feminist – very much so, despite the negative and inaccurate connotations people associate with the term. I’m not afraid to tell anyone about my feminism, and I am not ashamed to fight for the issues that matter to women. At times, I will even break my own rules about social media and be obnoxious about it on Facebook.

And yet, I am – in a lot of ways – totally your basic white girl. I am girly. I paint my nails. I like wearing skirts and dresses and heels. My husband and I tend to split our household duties along gendered lines, and it’s only sometimes that I’m bothered by the fact that Joel mows the lawn while I cook dinner and clean the bathrooms. Then I remember that I don’t like to mow the lawn, and let’s face it, I’m the better cook. And I go about my day. Ho hum.

At some point in my 20s, I reached a point where I came to terms with – and accepted – the ways I fell short of the ideals of my youth. I always thought I would be the intellectual and a super-successful career woman. I always thought that I would be completely up to date on both culture and pop culture. I thought I would be the kind of person to have a subscription to the New Yorker and manage to read each issue front to back, while also able to keep up with water cooler discussions of…whatever’s on Netflix or HBO right now. I thought I would find a way to make time for work and hobbies, while also keeping everything in my life neat, tidy, efficient, and effortless.

If only I could be superwoman. Throughout my 20s, I made several important discoveries about myself. I do enjoy intellectual work and pushing myself and the limits of my knowledge, but I’m never going to be a college professor. When I quit journalism, I realized the rigor of a highly-successful career was probably never going to be within my grasp. I asked my parents to stop my New Yorker subscription years ago and felt so relieved when I recycled all that un-read paper. And frankly, I do not have time to keep up with popular, long-form narrative television. Reading is enough for me. I am really terrible at chatting at water coolers, which is OK because I just avoid them.

I love that this book is about coming to terms with one’s highly imperfect self, and how despite all that, one can still call herself a feminist, even if she’s lacking in certain feminist categories. Like Gay, I am a big fan of the rap and hip hop. I won’t apologize for loving Snoop Dogg, even if some/nearly all of his lyrics are degrading to women. Pop music is fun, even if it plays to stereotypes. Sometimes, you just can’t care all the time.

But the thing is, I do care. I want to care more. I have to purposely avoid talking about the current attacks on Planned Parenthood to avoid throwing heavy things at people. Socially-defined gender roles piss me off, and I get very righteous when anyone asks why I, a married 29-year-old, don’t have children yet.

What I love about Bad Feminist is that Gay tells us it’s OK to be imperfect. That it’s OK to be a feminist and still be a human being with un-political tastes in music. It’s OK to be a bad feminist. Along those same lines, I shouldn’t feel inadequate that I can’t finish a New Yorker every month. I do not feel guilty that I don’t have highly ambitious professional goals to which I’m willing to sacrifice 70+ hours a week. I paint my nails, but I also chip them playing roller derby, and I couldn’t care either way. For all these things – for this sense of affirmation – I loved Bad Feminist. Thank you, Roxanne Gay.

And yet. There was something else in Bad Feminist, though, that I couldn’t find myself cheering for. There were things that I found myself recoiling from, in fact, and I wonder if the fault I find is with the book, or with me.

One reason the fault may lie with me is that I have to remind myself that I am a much different person than Roxanne Gay. We have had very different life experiences, and we are different people. She comes from a time and place and culture that is worlds apart from the life I’ve lived, and so there is no possible way that we are going to agree on everything.

However, given how strongly I identified with the central argument of the book (see above), I must have thought that we would agree on much more. I was dismayed to find that we differ on a lot of issues – like, a lot. I found myself rolling my eyes at times, while at other things responding (out loud, of course, because I’m weird), “Come on Roxanne. Why do you have to say that?” At times, when I found myself disagreeing with Gay on some key idea relating to feminism or racism, I would ask myself: “What’s wrong with me that I can’t agree with Gay? Or, what’s wrong with her argument? I mean, I feel like I should agree with her, because she’s so righteous about this. But I just can’t.”

Our opinions on Daniel Tosh, for example. I will not defend Daniel Tosh from accusations of douche-baggery. I’m sure he’s a dick. His jokes are misogynist, racist, and pretty dumb. Gay does not like him one bit. I can see why. However – even though I know I shouldn’t – I still find Tosh hilarious a lot of the time. Do I cringe when I laugh? Yes. Do I tell myself, “Oh God, I’m going to hell for laughing at that?” Yes. Do I laugh anyway? Yes, because sometimes stuff that shouldn’t be funny is fucking hilarious.

And so, even though Gay has told me that it’s OK to be a bad feminist, I read Gay’s diatribe against Tosh and I start to feel bad about myself because I like Tosh.0 (sometimes, when I’m in the right mood). I start to feel bad about calling myself a feminist.

And that thing is, when Gay doesn’t like something, she really doesn’t like something, and she’s heavy-handed in her opinion. In the essays where she rails against something, she leaves very little room for the other side. If you liked Kathryn Stockett’s book The Help, or the movie Django Unchained (like I did), you’re mentally defective and probably racist. Those kinds of opinions hurt, especially because I feel like I’m a pretty good judge of the books I read, and I’m not racist. I know it’s absolutely useless to play the offended white person, because frankly nobody cares. But what can I say? I’m white and I recognize what that means in terms of the privileges I enjoy. But still – it hurts. It alienates. You feel like, “Well, I try to understand and be open and fair. But I guess it doesn’t matter. Because of X reason, I will never be progressive enough.”

There were only a few essays where Gay made me feel this way, and it certainly put a damper on my enjoyment of her book. I also felt she was a little hypocritical when doling out judgment. It’s racist to find a small bit of literary value and enjoyment in The Help, but enjoying misogynistic rap songs is OK. I felt, at times, that Gay was not holding herself to the same standards espoused only a few essays apart. Perhaps if her disapproval wasn’t so mean-spirited. Perhaps if she at least tried to acknowledge the fact that some of her opinions are defined by her experiences and place in the world. Perhaps if she brought back some of the message from her feminism chapters, assuring readers that even if we don’t agree on this or that issue, it’s OK. We’re not perfect, and we’re all different. Just because one person finds something offensive, that doesn’t mean someone who doesn’t is a bad person.

In the end, all that matters is that we try – we try to be good feminists, good citizens of the world, good people. Our opinions are going to differ, and nobody walks through life morally and ideologically and politically and culturally perfect. But fight for the things you believe in, and fight for others when wrongs happen. If you’re doing that, you’re not such a bad feminist at all.

Three mini-reviews

Pillars of the Earth
by Ken Follett

  • Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Year: 1989
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Fall 2015
  • Grade: D
  • Thoughts:

Was it possible for this book to get any worse? Yes. If Ken Follett managed to make it longer than the 973-page atrocity it already is. Terribly cliched, silly, atrocious writing. There might have been something of value in the historical veracity, but I was so distracted by ALL THE TERRIBLE THINGS. Worst grade I’ve given a book since starting this blog- totally deserves it.

Song of Soloman
by Toni Morrison

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Year: 1977
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Fall 2015, 65 Books to Read in Your 20s, Newsweek’s Top 100 Books
  • Grade: A-
  • Thoughts:

This book didn’t resonate with me like some of Morrison’s other books, however its very searing realness did manage to imprint itself onto my mind in a very lasting way. The characters didn’t mean much to me, but the story of identity is one we can all identify with. Also, I will never be able to look at a tube of lipstick without thinking of a red puppy penis ever again – thanks Toni Morrison.

The Cider House Rules
by John Irving

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Year: 1985
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Fall 2015
  • Grade: A
  • Thoughts:

There’s something so quintessentially fall about reading John Irving. Irving’s books feel like the rustle of dried leaves, cozy sweaters, and steaming apple cider. The fact that this book takes place partly at an apple orchard helps that feeling immensely. In all seriousness, John Irving’s books have always felt like a comfortable place for me, and escaping into his prose and stories is always a journey I don’t mind making. This was probably my favorite of his books I’ve read so far, and one of the best stories I’ve ever read prominently featuring abortion. An absolute must-read for those looking to explore the nuance of a difficult subject and the decisions we all make about our lives.

Some things on a blogging hiatus

I am not going to lie: I have been in a blogging funk.

And not just a blogging funk, but a review-writing funk. Life has been busy, yes, and free time is always harder to come by in the fall, it seems. There’s been a lot going on in my personal life as well: more derby commitments than usual (start of the season + hosting a statewide tournament – yikes!), an unexpected but pressing home project (rebuilding a bay window – yikes!), and an uptick at work that leaves me feeling ever-so-worn-out when I get home.

Reading has been slower. I finished an absolutely terrible book back in September and it took me forever to read; my stubbornness and unwillingness to put down a book once I’ve started definitely bit me in the ass in a big way. After finishing, all I wanted was to read something else – anything else – FAST. I didn’t want to think about the bad book any more. I definitely didn’t want to write about it. Two books later, and I still haven’t caught up on reviews.

But then, I ask myself: why am I putting such pressure to “catch up” on reviews anyway? This is my blog, my space. I can do what I want with it, even if that means nothing at all. Does it make me sad when I don’t have the energy to write for myself? Yes. Does it make me sad when I don’t have the motivation to write book reviews, especially because writing about books helps me understand and absorb them better? Of course. Do I feel sad about all the reviews I’m not writing right now, since I won’t be able to re-visit my thoughts on the books I’m reading in the future. Yes.

But, you know, that’s OK. Because sometimes, I need a break. Sometimes, I don’t want to hang out here and just talk and talk about books. I’ve read some great, and not-so-great, books lately. And I don’t really feel like talking about them. Well, I’ll talk about them in person – I’m always up for that. But right now, writing about them feels like a homework assignment. And, I’m not in grad school any more, and I’m adult, so if I want to spend my evenings reading and then watching re-runs of Fixer Upper on HGTV, then that’s what I’ll do. (Love that show.)

(Also, I’ll start ALL the sentences with “and” and “but”, and no one can stop me! Weee!)

Given all that, I am still going to record the books I’m reading here – I think that’s easy enough. And I can do it at work, when things are slow (like right now!). Plus, I still like the idea of using this space for things other than books, and maybe, one of these days, I’ll feel like getting back into the swing of writing about those things as well. There’s been a lot going on that I could write about: fall clothes shopping, house repairs, cool quotes and fun links.

But again, I also think there’s something to be said for maintaining a bit of silence about one’s life. For not sharing all the things. My life is validated, and special, and fulfilling even when I don’t tell you about the food I cook, the clothes I wear, or share pictures of my home and cats. So many people have blogs these days – and those blogs are filled with such irritating normalcy – that I wonder: why? Why do you feel it’s necessary to take artsy pictures of your living room and plaster it on the Internet? Does it make you feel special? Does it make you feel better about yourself?

And then I’m like, oh shit. What the hell am doing? I can tell myself I do it for fun, and because I like to write, and because I think it’s cool and neat. But I don’t like to think that I’m using this very public platform as a gratuitous attempt at self-validation. I think I dress very nicely and have good taste in clothes, but I don’t need to act life a lifestyle blogger in order believe that. And I love reading, and think I read a wide variety of pretty great books, but I don’t need to be a book blogger to know that either.

So lately, I’ve been trying to just be – and act like – myself. Live my own private life, and not worry about how others perceive it. Not worry about how it looks on Instagram, or the elegant ways in which I could write about it. Just…do my own thing.

These are not good thoughts if you’ve been blogging off-and-on (mostly on) for more than five years. These are blog-ending thoughts. But I’m just going to let them settle and stew, and see where things take me. Who knows: I’ll probably be back here whenever I get bored and need an outlet. I’ll still record the books I read here, mainly because I have been blogging for so long, and this is a very valuable record of that reading life. But who knows what it will become, or where I want to take it.

I do know that I’m a little weary of pretending like I enjoy a public life. So, here’s to living a private life, not pretending to be more than I am, and sharing when it feels right.

Great Quotes: ‘Bad Feminist’

I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying – trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows, she knows, is terrible for women and who sometimes plays dumb with repairmen because it’s just easier to let them feel macho than it is stand on the moral high ground.

A series of four mini reviews

It’s been a rough, busy few weeks/months.

I won’t bore you with the details, but the end of July, August, and beginning of September has consisted of:

  • Projects around the house
  • A very sick cat (and a lot of stress)
  • A vacation in northern Michigan
  • A roller derby weekend trip in even-further-northern Michigan
  • Labor Day weekend in Cincinnati
  • A noticeable uptick at work in which I have, for the first time in years, felt compelled to work at home in the evening

I’ve been reading, but in shorter bursts than I’m used to. And I’ve definitely not been reviewing, which is always a disappointment, personally, given that these “reviews” are how I process the books the read, not to mention remember plot and the odd bits that stuck with me. We read so much over the years, it’s nice to have a record somewhere.

But then you let one book review slide, then you finish another book, and another … and another. Then, you realize you’re four books behind and it’s like … *throws up the hands*

So, in an attempt to catch up – and because I’m sort of stalled on reading at the moment, with my fall reading list not finished – here’s a quick look at what I’ve been reading this past month:

The Executionner’s Song, by Norman Mailer

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Year: 1979
  • Project: n/a (although, it needs to be part of the Big Books Project – more than 1,000 pages!)
  • Reading List: Pulitzer Prize Winners, Summer 2015
  • Grade: B+

The Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson

  • Genre: Travel, Humor
  • Year: 1989
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Summer 2015
  • Grade: B-

Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Year: 2009
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: National Book Award Winners, Summer 2015
  • Grade: A

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

  • Genre: Fiction
  • Year: 2014
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Summer 2015, 100 Best Books of the Decade (So Far)
  • Grade: A (a very surprising, thrilling ‘A’ at that)