Year-End Book Review

309 books read - GOAL MET (goal was 300, so met and surpassed)!  Full disclosure, this would not have happened without the picture books I "read" for MPOW's Mock Caldecott.   For lists and review links, go herehere and here (the totals on the review blog won't match these because I don't add the books I read for professional review or award committees).

And here's the 2015 reading analysis (2014 numbers in parens):
  • number of books read in 2015:  309 (304) 
  • best month: December/46 (tie between March and August/38)
  • worst month: April/13 (April/9)
  • average read per month: 25.75 (25.33) 
  • adult fiction as percentage of total: 17 (18) 
  • children's/YA fiction as percentage of total: 55 (58)
  • Advance Readers Copies: 191 (202) 
  • e-books: 5 (0)
  • books read that were published this year: 249 (233)
  • books that will be published in the coming year: 22 (25) 
  • five star reviews (aka "Must Read"): 30 (20) 
  • one star reviews (aka "DNF"): 15 (17) 
Even better, Mt. Bookpile is at 214, definitely heading in the right direction (last year I vowed to get it below 225)! The problem next year is that not everything can be listed/reviewed for professional reasons, so it may not appear that I'm meeting goal... somehow, I'll have to figure out a way to survive the disappointment. So I'll say "50" as my public reading goal, and 300 as my personal goal.  We'll see how that goes.

Notes from Mt. Bookpile

Whoops! In all the move-related stuff, I managed to skip the third quarter of the year so this round-up covers half a year's reading, not three months.  That's why there's "only" 147 books on it!  Those books without review links are either those I professionally reviewed or those I read for a book award.

  • You Don't Have To Like Me, Alida Nugent
Children's/Young Adult


It's not funny

I've always had a problem with people who casually use the words Nazi and fascist.  It wasn't funny when a popular character on tv was known as the Soup Nazi.  It's not funny when candidates and politicians compare others to fascists or say they're a mini-Hitler.  Those words refer to specific ideologies and a desire to dominate the world by wiping out "lesser" peoples.

And yet...

This summer I read Timur Verme's brilliant satire, Look Who's Back.  There are those who are really uncomfortable with this book, and I get that.  As I said in my review:
I fully understand the uproar over this book and the dismay of many at its popularity. Here's why I gave it such a high rating: having grown up in a survivor community, one that stressed all the times during the long history of the Jews when they were exiled or nearly wiped out of existence, the mantra of "never again" was repeated over and over. Yet at this remove, how someone like a Hitler could rise and start his movement again seems unlikely. Hence The Third Wave. And now this book.

Hitler's arguments about the Volk, self-reliance and how to solve many modern problems seem reasonable. Couple that with his charisma and lack of self-doubt... I never met Bill Clinton, but I've heard his charisma is extraordinary. Imagine if he felt as Hitler did.

So the high rating is less pro-Hitler and more pro-we need to watch out of those who spout these types of solutions, because it could happen again. Oh wait: it has. Rwanda. Bosnia. Sunni/Shia. Hmmm....
The problem is that the solutions are so reasonable.  We have a horrible disparity between the rich and poor, jobs are leaving the country and businesses are suffering.  What could be more reasonable than to Make American Great Again by getting rid of those thieves, murderers and rapists who are responsible for this - and while we're at it, let's get rid of anyone who really doesn't belong here because they didn't come through traditional immigration channels?  It's only reasonable.   And we're under attack by people who don't share our religion, who want to harm our country.  It's war, right? So it's it reasonable to prevent all of "them" from being here in the Homeland?  Let's just deport them. It's only reasonable.  Right?

That there's a major candidate, a bit of a buffoon who makes these outrageous statements and virtually no one in the mainstream media is calling this what it is isn't funny.  That people agree with these ideas and suggestions isn't funny.

You know what they way about people who haven't learned from history, right? 

I suspect we're already doomed.


Year end review/reflection

Review suggested by Laurie Hoff

The rules: The themes for this year’s review are flexibility, surprises, and positivity. Take a look back through your planner and/ or journal from this past year and ask yourself these questions:
  • What happened this year that was unexpected? (Good and not so good.)  MFPOW imploded, with nearly half the faculty and more than a few others leaving for other pastures; I started to look myself and found a new position.  It may have been me, it may have been other issues surrounding the whole "this place is doomed" motif, but my assistant and I ended things badly, barely speaking by the end of the year.  I did try to be professional about things but that's difficult when basic pleasantries are met with monosyllabic responses.  Apparently things are calmer this year (they did have to beg her to come back after I left; she'd resigned and had actually left before school ended).
  • How did you handle these unexpected situations? I tried to keep my disappointment and anger to myself, not just all "stiff upper lip" but really leaving the ill feelings at home, focusing instead on the students.  It did lead to serious weight gain and sleepless nights, so clearly things weren't going well.
  • Could you have handled them better? Yes.  Speaking with others about this, trying to get someone to act as mediator (not my supervisor, who I suspect instigated some of this) and getting help other than eating my way through it.
  • What did you learn about how to handle unexpected situations? Don't suffer in silence - find allies and confidants, and don't allow my health to suffer because of work.
Now that you’ve thought about unexpected things that happened, think about what else happened this year:
  • What were some good things that happened this year? (It’s okay if they were also on your Unexpected Things list too.) Finding a new job; losing some of the weight I gained; getting appointed to a committee I really wanted to serve on; moving with less stress than last time.
  • What were some things that initially seemed not good, but turned into or resulted in something good? (Think hard, and feel free to reframe events that you previously thought of as negative. What good came from them?) Dealing with a disastrous work situation, with both a horrific supervisor and supervisee, gave me the courage to get out of MPOW; I'm trying to be more sensitive to my current staff and recognize problems before they become really stressful for everyone involved.  Ultimately, I think this will make me a better boss!
So as you think about how flexible you were (or weren’t) in 2015, what lessons can you learn to help you have a more flexible mindset in 2016?

I wasn't that flexible, I just kept doing what I'd been - which very well may have contributed to the problem.  Knowing that ignoring someone else's unprofessional behavior in hopes that leading by example doesn't work, it won't necessarily be easier to try to make changes in what I'm doing but at least I'll have that intention.


J.J. Abrams owes me $10 and three hours of my life

(a rant with some possible spoilers)

A long time ago, in a SmallTown a couple of states away, my father insisted that I see this amazing (really!  A.Mazing!!) movie he'd seen.  He'd even see it again, just so that I could enjoy it.  Spoiler alert: I didn't.  But I went on to college and many of my friends wanted to see the sequels to this movie so I went along with them... less amazed, but whatevs (as those young'uns today say).

Then Thing One insisted I come see the New! Improved! versions.  Yawn.  Those light sabres didn't impress me the first time around and just because they glowed brighter this time out didn't mean I needed to spend money to see it. Finally, there were new movies, prequels to the original.  Poor Orphan Ani, all dark side and cranky with it.  More of my life gone.

Being a good Quew, it's only right to observe (Quakers don't celebrate, they observe - see? there goes Christmas... /bad joke) Christmas with a movie and Chinese food.  And apparently there was only one movie to see this year, the start of a New Trilogy.  But, you know, with old faces.  I wasn't thrilled but whatevs.  Tickets were bought, an hour of my life was wasted in the theatre watching poorly lit trivia questions, ads and trailers for tv shows and DVD releases.  Then, finally, lights down and...

One way I judge shows is by how long it takes for me to look at my watch.  Today? 14 minutes.

If you haven't seen the Force Awakens, you may want to stop reading.  But if you've seen Star Wars (the original; I refuse to call it "A New Hope" - no retronyms, thank you very much) you actually have seen this one.  It's more of an hommage to the original, with cameos by all the important players (including Darth's mask) than an actually new movie.  This did come with extra creepiness, as Han Solo makes googly eyes at a girl young enough to be (and I suspect will turn out to be) his daughter.  I mean, even the Death Star returned, a little bloated after a nearly 40 year absence but back.

The director of the next episode could offer me a piece of the action and I'd still stay away in droves.  Luckily for everyone involved, they'll still break box office records (but could someone please, please give me a tickets sold:tickets sold comparison, rather than $:$?  because I know I didn't pay this much to see the first one waaaay back in the 70s) without my paltry ticket missing.

YMMV.  I know my father's will.


Easing into the new year

Some of these are "leftover" from 2014, but good advice and thought provoking questions are still good advice and thought provoking questions no matter when they appear, right?

First of all, consider performing a personal audit as a way to reflect and plan for the year to come.  Another way to is to Release, Revisit and Renew.  Maybe use some of these tools to discover more about yourself (or to reaffirm what you, deep down, already know).

Then, choose one thing (just one) to simplify your life.  Since I'm already doing a number of these, perhaps 2016 is my year to really journal, not just bullet journal.  Five minutes feels like a good start.

More to come over the next few days...


Lazy thoughts

And with this we inaugurate what will be a monthly post, keeping this blog somewhat aliveThe idea and categories are from this blog.

I'm reading as many YA books as I can in preparation for my adult book award committee work that will start in January.  And at MPOW we have a Mock Caldecott committee going, so I've been reading more children's books than usual (while the Real Committee has a charge that goes up to Age 12, we're focusing only on books that might appeal to third graders).  It'd be nice to think I could clear off all of the Mt. Bookpile books from 2015, but that's not likely - plus I did buy some "reward read" mysteries over Thanksgiving Break that I'm going to parcel out during the coming year.

My tea "collection", almost all purchased at Un Amour des Thes.  What teas? The wonderfully smoky Caravane Russe. An Assam Second Flush. Hojicha Brancha Grille and a Vert Menhe Nanah. Then from Camellia Sinensis, a Macao Scenery that may just be my new favorite.  Many happy cuppas already had, and many more to come.

About work and my staff.  We're short-staffed, about to get shorter thanks to a mid-year departure.  And not everyone is stepping up, taking on more so that we're less stressed and behind.  I'm also thinking about staffing for next year, whether the team I now have is really ready to change the program and move ahead, or if we'll be needing to find new people who can do the necessary work. Some of that is out of my control, while other bits will need real tact and massaging. 

Fewer structured pieces.  I'm losing weight, so replacing them right now seems like a bad idea but as I shrink I'm starting to think about what my color palate and ideal wardrobe will be this time next year.  I'm also thinking about how what I wear to work has changed over the years: at my first school, pants were frowned on for women, while here, jeans are just fine (and don't get me started on bare legs! I'm still not comfortable with that, but it's less of an issue in the winter when woolen tights make my life much better).

Progress with my decluttering (see above re: wardrobe changes) and organizing. There's a nearly full box ready to head to Boomerangs and that's becoming a monthly trek.  I'm also making connections here in my new city and new POW. Life feels pretty full right now!

Winter.  Not last year's record-breaking snow, but it's 60 right now and it's the middle of December.  That's just not right.  Because in December, I have warm apple cider and apple cider donuts cravings and, well... they're just not the same if it's not nearly 30 and I can see my breath.  


I had no idea!

Croup is still a thing.

I knew whooping cough was making a comeback, but croup apparently never went away.  


Severe and terrifying?

A number of years ago, Thing Two said I was "severe and terrifying," a phrase that has, off and on, bothered me.  Then, a couple of weeks ago and again yesterday, a friend mentioned my book reviews and how they tended toward the critical.  Now, that's not saying the exact same thing but still...

Here's the problem: I don't do well with people who can't be bothered to try (several of Thing One's family never seem to have learned basic English grammar and their FB posts and emails make me cringe; a cousin who lives in near squalor).  People who apparently only get their news from NPR or Fox or Rachel Maddow or The Daily Show bother me because I hate siloed thinking - at a minimum, read or listen to one thing that doesn't exactly agree with you.  If your ideas and beliefs are so shaky that you can't hear the other side, that's a huge problem.  And I don't do well with books that are - to my mind - flawed.

Many years ago I had to read Ethan Frome which, up until the end, was a decent book. But that ending!  Really, suicide by toboggan?  (oops! spoiler alert)  Living in upstate NY, we knew that was impossible and implausible, however romantic the notion was.  A former colleague, to whom I'd complained about this years later, said that books only work if you can buy into the world and clearly, there was a break in that world for me.

Having a teacher try to convince me (and others in my class) that this wasn't a problem probably did get my back up.  And, obviously, that's stayed with me over the years.  So when I see a book that doesn't - for me, always and only for me! - set that world clearly, or when a character isn't as whole as they could be (or does something that seems implausible), I do tend towards the critical.  Perhaps a little severely so.  Recently this friend and I disagreed about a book that had one very obvious flaw if you really knew the world in which it was set (I happened to).  Was my review severe?  I'd like to think not, I'd prefer to think of it as realistic.

This tends to carry over into other areas, like when I see colleagues not pulling their weight or finding things burdensome when at other schools, it's far worse.  Over the past few years I've tried, really tried, to not be that critical in person, to let my irritation rest and to find a more zen approach to work.
As the new year approaches, a new year with several challenges personally and professionally, let's see how well that works.