While the vast majority of what I read is young adult literature, when I make time for “grownup books”  I tend to read particular fiction genres like fantasy / science fiction / mystery / horror, or else I read nonfiction.  I’ve been a fan of nonfiction books for many years, and true crime stories often have a special appeal. I’m easily swayed by excellent writing (In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt) and/or fascinating subjects (Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, celebrities, etc.).

I often find documentaries engaging and informative, even though a lot of them will bring me to tears and a lot of them make me angry.  I’ve walked out of the theater after watching some of these films feeling educated and frustrated at the same time.  Films like Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, Blackfish, and Capturing the Friedmans (directed by The Jinx‘s Andrew Jarecki) have pushed a lot of those emotional buttons in my brain.

If I’m flipping through the TV stations and I see an episode of Dateline, it can catch my attention within the first 30 seconds and then I’ll be hooked for an hour.  The same can be said for the Law & Order franchise with its “ripped from the headlines” stories.  Although in that case I might be multiplying that hour by however many hours the marathon is running … BUT I’m also factoring in who’s starring in each episode.  Is it an episode featuring Jerry Orbach or Vincent D’Onofrio?  Then I’m definitely sticking with it.  Does this episode feature Linus Roache as the super-annoying ADA?   Hmmmm … let’s flip over and see what’s on Dateline instead!  Or maybe I can find a rerun of 48 Hours, or even City Confidential!

And yes, I’m a big podcast fan, so one of the many podcasts I listen to is Serial.  I enjoy the format of listening to a controversial case unfolding one episode at a time, and that’s been another series that has been getting a lot of media attention lately.  I enjoyed the smaller scope of the first season (a 1999 murder case) and I found the transition to season 2 (a bigger case that was in the news a lot more) to be a little jarring.  But they just announced that they’re moving from a weekly to a bi-weekly format because they have so much new information coming in about the case of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, so I look forward to seeing how this will affect the story and if it can help uncover the truth about what really happened to him.

I’m giving you the background of my true crime / “true” crime reading, listening, and viewing habits so that you’ll understand my mindset when I first started watching the HBO documentary The Jinx about Robert Durst last year.  I watched the series week by week when it originally aired, and that inspired me to rent Andrew Jarecki’s earlier fictionalized treatment of the Durst saga All Good Things, which is what originally set the wheels of The Jinx in motion.  Then I recently read Jeanine Pirro’s new book He Killed Them All: Robert Durst and My Quest For Justice, and THEN I checked out The Jinx series on DVD and watched it all over again.  Along the way, my opinions about the Durst cases and the subjective reality of true crime coverage have been slowly evolving. (more…)

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On my free days I’ve been getting in a lot of walking outdoors, and I’ve got the sunburn and the sore muscles to prove it.  Over the last few weeks my boyfriend and I went to the Storm King Art Center in upstate NY (highly recommended for fresh air and culture!), and I went on several extended walks by myself.  One of them started in South Ferry and then continued up into Battery Park City and Hudson River Park, and the other one was through Inwood Hill Park and Fort Washington Park.

I don’t get to do as much walking when I’m at work (or I start to, but then my pesky patrons ask me questions which bring me back to the computer at the service desk).  So in order to make my step goals I’ve been lengthening my commute home at the end of the day by choosing to use train stations that are one or two stops away from my intended destination.  The fact that the train station that’s ten blocks away from my home just HAPPENS to be near a place that sells great burgers and shakes probably shouldn’t be held against me …

I’m getting ready to go to BookCon this weekend, so I’m firing up the librarian part of my brain.  And, you know, getting ready to pick up lots of book-themed free samples.  BTW, when I was visiting their website today to see what kinds of stuff I’ll find at the event, I came across one of the strangest weapons policies I’d ever imagined:

The following items are forbidden at BookCon:

  • Functional firearms (including air soft guns, BB guns, cap guns, paintball guns and pellet guns)
  • Realistic replica firearms (including reproduction, fake or toy guns that can be confused for functional firearms)
  • Functional projectile weapons (including blow guns, crossbows, long bows, silly string, slingshots, water balloons and water guns)
  • Sharpened metal-bladed weapons (including axes, daggers, hatches, knives, kunai, shuriken, swords, sword canes and switch blades)
  • Explosives (including firecrackers and fireworks)
  • Chemical weapons (including mace and pepper spray)
  • Blunt weapons (including brass knuckles, clubs and nunchaku)
  • Hard prop weapons (including props made of metal, fiberglass and glass)
  • Instruments that cause excessive noise levels like vuvuzelas, grenade whistles and grenade horns
  • Whips
  • Aerosol mustard

What the hell?  Vuvuzelas?  Aerosol mustard?  I’ll admit, these are all things I didn’t imagine could turn up at a book-themed convention.  Then again, if the con is being marketed as “where storytelling and pop culture collide,” I suppose that these loud / painful / unusual weapons could fall under the “pop culture” umbrella.

Speaking of books, I’ve been part way through several books for some time now, including (but not limited to) Surviving Santiago by Lyn Miller-Lachmann, We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach, and The Living by Matt De La Pena.  Last night (well, technically this morning) I finally managed to FINISH a book, which was The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith.  It took me a little while to wrap my head around it and unravel the storylines, but by 1:00am I’d finished the book and understood its awesomeness.

Pictures to come, and more comprehensive book reviews to come.  I mean, eventually, when I have some time to process and unwind for a little while.  Oh, and on a related note, I do have a week off in June, so that might be a good time to catch up with … you know … everything …

I had a couple of days off, and in that time:

I made some (okay, a LITTLE) progress on that article that’s due by the end of the week.

I worked on my website troubles but didn’t actually fix them.  I’ve hit a couple of dead ends, which mean that the technical people might not be able to fix my problems.  So I might have to rebuild my podcast and website … from scratch … which will totally suck 😦

I read a few books — Audacity by Melanie Crowder (awesome poem-format historical fiction), Displacement by Lucy Knisley (poignant graphic-format memoir in the vein of Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast), My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga (a poignant friendship / romance / tearjerker story), and The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi (gripping and paranoia-inducing).

And speaking of paranoia-inducing, I also watched some TV, including Citizenfour, which made me want to unplug all of my electrical appliances and never leave my apartment again.  I saw episode 5 of The Jinx, which almost made me fall off of my chair at the big reveal.  My boyfriend was watching with me, and he turned to me after the reveal and said, “I just got CHILLS!”  That was Sunday night, and then on Monday morning I woke to learn that there was a new article in the New York Times about the Durst case that referenced what we’d learned the night before.  Yikes!!!

Monday was my boyfriend’s birthday, and I had taken the day off to go shopping for cool and fancy things.  I went on a SOHO/NOHO shopping spree, where I went to Uniqlo to go clothes shopping for myself, then to Pearl River Mart for some unusual birthday gifts, then to Whole Foods for ingredients for Tuesday night’s dinner, then to Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken for Monday night’s dinner.  I went a little nuts in the food department …

Blue Ribbon Fried ChickenYeah, so some of that was going to carry over into Tuesday.

Oh, and BTW, the food was very good here, and the sauce selection was AMAZING (chipotle honey being a personal favorite!)  But the chicken wasn’t quite as good as the chicken at Root & Bone which was, like, TRANSCENDENT.  To be fair, Root & Bone is a sit-down restaurant and Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken is an upscale “order and pay at the counter” place.  They’re within walking distance of each other, though, so you can sample both and compare for yourself!

So today I caught up with several loads of laundry and then I did some cooking.  My boyfriend is a fan of lamb but I’m not, so I try to make it for him a couple of times a year and then arrange a dinner alternative for myself.  I made a Garlic Braised Lamb Roast for him (with some of those extra BRFC side dishes) while I had sushi.

After dinner we had dessert, I watched the latest episode of The Voice, and then I tooled around online for a while.  I caught up on work / email / committee stuff and also browsed around on Tumblr.  Which is how I found several library-themed Tumblrs like I Freaking Love Libraries, Vintage Libraries, and When a Librarian … [ETA: Oops — and I almost forgot Librarian Problems!]

It’s also how I stumbled across The New York Times Tumblr called The Lively Morgue.  It showcases just a fraction of the millions of pictures from the NYT archives, many (most?) of which were never used in the paper.  I’ve found a bunch of photos that are really cool (just a few of my favorites), and several of the pictures have led me to discover some fascinating stories.  Be forewarned … that Tumblr is kind of a black hole of browsing.

I’m sorry, and you’re welcome!

Tomorrow I go back to work, so I’ll be getting back in my “regular” routine again soon.  Stay tuned for lots of pictures I’ve taken recently that I still need to upload.  And yes, they’re mostly NYC pictures and food pictures.  How did you ever guess???

I know I haven’t posted any teen book reviews recently, but now that my committee work is done for a little while I had some time to catch up on reading for fun!

Nil by Lynne Matson Nil cover

I’d heard about this book from another librarian who told me it was one of her favorite teen books of 2014, and now I can definitely see why she loved it.  It’s the story of a girl who disappears one afternoon from a Target parking lot and finds herself transported to a very unusual place.  The island of Nil is populated by a variety of warm-blooded creatures, including cats, dogs, warthogs, hippos … and humans.  We see this amazing and dangerous place through the eyes of Charley, who just arrived, and Thad, who arrived 267 days ago.  This is a great page-turner filled with action, suspense, and romance, and it would be an excellent choice to recommend to fans of The Maze Runner.

Moon Knight: From the Dead by Warren EllisMoon Knight cover

This is a gripping and imaginative story about a masked vigilante with a black-and-white sense of justice.  The book is broken up into a series of stories in which we learn about Moon Knight and we see him use his detective skills, his fighting skills, and his mystical abilities to fight all different kinds of criminals.  He reminds me a lot of Rorschach from Watchmen, which probably explains why I found his character so dangerous and so appealing.  The artwork by Declan Shalvey is especially impressive, featuring black-and-white and color images that can capture the quality of a fever dream.  This is a Marvel graphic novel set in the Marvel universe, but you can enjoy it even if you don’t follow their other titles.

The Fourth Lion by Jeff Ayers and Kevin Lauderdale The Fourth Lion cover

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from co-author Kevin Lauderdale, but I warned him that if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t review it.  So you see, if I didn’t like it we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.  Okay?  Okay.

This is the story of a group of high school students who find themselves tangled in an international scandal … but they don’t realize that at first.  All Jake and his sister Kayla know is that Jake’s best friend Amar has gone missing, and that there are several confusing aspects to his disappearance.  The first is that Amar lent Jake a very unusual laptop shortly before he disappeared, and the second is that Amar’s father (the Indian ambassador) doesn’t seem to be overly concerned that his son is missing.  As the story unfolds, the cast of characters slowly expands and we see the teens using their collective brainpower to try to unlock the laptop’s contents and to figure out what happened to Amar.  The story is both exciting and smart, and the teenage characters talk and act like actual teenagers.  By which I mean they spend part of their time using the problem-solving parts of their brains and part of their time getting pleasantly distracted by their romantic interests.  Readers will enjoy watching the teen protagonists use everything from modern high-tech skills to Sherlock Holmes stories in order to solve the mystery.

Several weeks ago, I read an NPR article called “How Tinseltown Got Tipsy: A Boozy Taste of Hollywood History.”  And I thought to myself … Hollywood gossip, celebrity stories, and cocktail recipes?  That’s a book for me!!!

I reserved a copy of Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling Through Hollywood History through my library system, and as soon as I got it I started reading it right away. It’s filled with lots of gossip, stories, and alcohol-themed humor.

WC Fields on Drinking

The great thing about this book (or the problem with this book, depending on your point of view) is that the more I read it the more it inspires me to do.  Some of those tasks are small, like tracking down actors and actresses I didn’t know that well (Anna May Wong, Tom Mix, Ramon Novarro).  Some tasks are larger, like adding to my list of movies I want to re-watch or see for the very first time — Pandora’s Box, My Little Chickadee, Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, The Gold Rush, Trader Horn, Scaramouche, The Lost Weekend. Rasputin and the Empress, The Big Sleep, The Blue Dahlia, The Sun Also Rises, It Happened One Night

But the biggest thing this book has inspired me to do is MAKE MORE DRINKS.

Of All the Gin Joints

This represents a dangerous trend.

Some of the drinks listed in this book look fascinating but are simply not manageable.  Did you know that when John Ford couldn’t get a bootlegger to fill his liquor needs that he would go to his Navy friends instead, who would get him the 180-proof grain alcohol used to power torpedo motors?  And that you can recreate his “Torpedo Juice” drink by substituting Everclear 190-proof grain alcohol?  Yeah, well I’m not gonna try it.  I’m curious, but I’m not that much of an alcoholic.  Or that much of a masochist.

However, there were a couple of gin drinks that looked cool, including an orange blossom:

Orange Blossom History and Recipe

So yes, I just bought my first bottle of gin in over a decade, and I’m going to give that a try.  I also want to try shaking things, stirring things, pouring things over the backs of spoons (?), and making orange wine.  Wait, orange wine?

Orange Wine

Yes, orange wine!

This is my ongoing project for this vacation week — take a bottle of dry white wine, pour out some of it, add orange zest and sugar, and refrigerate it for a week.  I tried it with a clementine instead of an orange, so it will technically be clementine wine instead of orange wine, but it’s a similar principle.

Beginning the Orange Wine Project

So we’ll see how that turns out.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed this book and I might even end up buying a copy because I think it’ll have good re-readibility.  My only criticisms are of the illustrations (I know they’re caricatures, but does each person HAVE to look like we’re seeing them through a funhouse mirror?) and of the font size in the recipes.  I mean, you DO want me to put the right amount of sugar in my orange wine, right?

Anyway, it’s definitely worth reading and it would be a cool gift for your favorite fan of old Hollywood and/or classic cocktails!

My vacation time so far has been spent doing a bunch of different things:

I read Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Roz Chast Memoir

I picked up this book with a mixture of interest and trepidation.  Interest because I’ve been a fan of Chast’s cartoons for years, but trepidation because I wasn’t sure how soon after my own mother’s death I’d be able to emotionally handle the story of her parents dying.  It was an emotional story, and while I did cry a couple of times I actually found the story more funny than sad.  FWIW, it actually reminded me more of my grandparents’ old age and deaths (in their 80’s in nursing homes) than my mother’s (in her 70’s at home).  There were a number of times that Chast’s stories hit very close to home for me, but I think I could handle reading it in part because I already DID handle this situation in my own life and I know that it’s over.

I read Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz.

Welcome to the Dark House

It’s a new YA novel that started off with an intriguing premise and an exciting story about nightmares, an essay contest, and an abandoned amusement park.  But then as the story wore on, it got progressively more frustrating.  I don’t know if the author plans to explain what the hell was going on in the sequel, but I’m not going to stick around to find out.

I started another YA novel: Hungry by H.A. Swain.  I can’t tell you much about it yet, but I can share an example of my awesome visual humor skills:

Hungry

[This picture features several things that make me happy — a “Kronie” from Jolie’s Sweet Creations and sandwiches from Num Pang]

Other than that, I’ve spent most of my time moving into my new (old) apartment.  I’ve been spending a lot of time dealing with the kitchen, since we have lots of cabinet space there so I can start putting stuff away:

Lined Kitchen Drawers

[lined kitchen drawers]

Filling Up the Kitchen Cabinets

[filling up the kitchen cabinets]

Washing the Rocks Glasses in My New Kitchen

[washing my mother’s “rocks glasses” in my new kitchen]

We also did a LOT of shopping — at local hardware stores for window screens, at Bed Bath and Beyond for lots of things we NEEDED, at The Container Store for … well, you can probably figure that part out.  We also went to Bob’s Discount Furniture to get a bedroom set, which was a very entertaining experience not just for the novelty of lying down and testing mattresses in front of a stranger (aka a friendly salesperson) but for the packaging on the bedcovers that came with that mattress:

Dust Mite Protection Barrier

[AAAAAH!  Look at the dust mite!  He’s shaking his little fist in frustration!]

Another positive aspect of moving is finding stuff that I knew was in the apartment SOMEWHERE:

Night Vale Bumper Stickers

[These Welcome to Night Vale bumper stickers were originally supposed to be part of a Christmas present.  Now they’re going to be Summer Reading Club prizes, instead!]

Overall, it’s been a positive and cathartic experience, albeit a tiring one.  I’m still off work for the next several days, so my boyfriend and I will get some more moving done this weekend and then I’ll have a couple of days to do some more setting up at the new place.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Hyperbole and a Half cover

I first reserved this book because it was a nominee for best humor book of the year on Goodreads (and it ended up winning!)  So when the book arrived at my library, I was expecting a funny book, but when I started reading I discovered that while parts of it were definitely funny and even made me laugh out loud, other parts were more bittersweet.

Hyperbole and a Half Excerpt

Really, really bittersweet.

Don’t get me wrong; I definitely enjoyed this book.  I enjoyed the stories about Brosh’s dogs, about her family, and about her childhood.  I also … well, “enjoyed” isn’t the right word … I was incredibly moved by her stories about what it was like coping with depression.  When I first picked up this book, I assumed that it was going to be a traditional humor book and that it was going to be a quick read.  It turns out that I was wrong on both counts.  It’s definitely worth reading, and it was definitely worth challenging my expectations.  You can learn more about the humor and the mood of the book by checking out the blog that inspired it.

 

Maybe We’ll Have You Back by Fred Stoller

Fred Stoller cover

You might be asking yourself, “Who’s Fred Stoller, and why does he look kind of familiar?”  Well, I’ve known about him for decades, in part because when I was growing up in the 1980’s I watched a LOT of stand-up comedy on cable TV.  And as I became familiar with more stand-up comedians, several of them stuck in my mind because of their humor, their voices, or their looks.  Fred Stoller stuck in my mind for all of those reasons.

Fred Stoller

Over the years, I saw him appear on different TV shows, usually in shows that were run by fellow comedians.  I had several, “Oh, look!  It’s Fred Stoller!” moments when I watched shows like Seinfeld, Norm, and The Drew Carey Show.   In more recent years, he resurfaced in my memory as he appeared on different podcasts and as he promoted a movie that was based on a real-life friendship called Fred & Vinnie.

But it never occurred to me until I read this book what it would be like to be … well, I guess “semi-famous” might be the best word for it.  What it would be like to have people keep asking you, “Why don’t you become a regular on that show?” or what it would be like to have someone date you because of your IMDB credits.

This book was an enjoyable read, containing funny anecdotes about the big picture (trying to make a career out of a series of jobs spread out over years) and the small picture (trying to explain his career to his perpetually disappointed mother).  I also found it an insightful overview about what it’s like to work in television and movies.  You can learn more about Fred Stoller in this Huffington Post article about his new book as well as on his website.

 

Connecting Boys With Books: What Libraries Can Do by Michael Sullivan

Connecting Boys With Books cover

The first two books I mentioned were books I read because I heard about them and reserved them through my library system.  This last book basically fell into my lap because I was checking it in for a patron and thought … hmmmm … maybe I should read this.

Parts of this book are kind of dry and academic, which is to be expected when it’s a book designed for a specific audience with a narrow scope (You see that?  I used a librarian word there!)  It contains a lot of advice that is useful for librarians, but more that would have to get into the ear of library administrators in order to do any good because most ordinary librarians don’t have the power to change library policies. A lot of the advice ties into having the library provide a welcoming environment for boys, which might involve changing library policies.

For example, Sullivan recommends allowing eating in designated areas of the library, since patrons are going to eat anyway, and allowing them to eat in one area means that the candy wrappers will wind up in the garbage cans rather than hidden behind the books.  FWIW, I agree with this idea in a VERY limited way — for example, I’ll allow eating IF it’s in the program room and IF I’m there to supervise and IF every scrap of food-related garbage goes into the lined/covered trash bag afterwards.  However, I’ve heard many horror stories about “designated eating areas” at other libraries, including one at Another Branch Which Shall Not Be Named where patrons were walking into the building with pizza boxes, buckets of chicken, etc. and then leaving garbage everywhere.

He also recommends allowing board and card games in the library, which is something else that some individual libraries or entire library systems have banned at different times.  That’s something else that might be influenced by the particular patrons in your neighborhood.  Many branches in my system allow patrons to play games (either they allow it officially or they turn a blind eye to it), but I know of at least one branch that banned card games because the teens in their branch got so competitive and loud every time they played.  The book details how one library was so fixated on their “no games” rule that they had a patron who was playing chess in the library taken out by the POLICE for failing to comply with library rules.  So I think the lesson here is … um … pick your battles?

And then there are even more ideas for making boys welcome at your library …

Making Boys Welcome

Hang on.  I’m going to stand up on a chair and do WHAT now?  Oh, yeah, I could see how that could work.  And yet I could also see how that could go very badly very quickly!