Category Archives: Pop culture

Currently Reading

Now that the semester is over, I have had a little extra time for reading. Here are a few of the books that I’ve just finished or am currently reading:

Paint the Wind by Pam Munoz Ryan

This was chosen by the 5th grade book group for their December meeting (which, sadly, was cancelled due to snow).  This is one of those books that I had been meaning to read for years – the paint horse on the cover has been taunting my internal younger self ever since I added the book to the library’s collection – but somehow I had never gotten around to it.  I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed by the book; there was too much melodrama for my taste, and some of the plot points didn’t quite make sense.  But, I also know that my 5th grade self would have loved the book: horses! interpersonal relations! an earthquake!  I’m looking forward to discussing this book with the 5th graders at our January meeting; it will be great to hear their perspectives on it.

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie

I picked up this book at my local independent bookstore, The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, when I was there one day browsing with a friend. For the first third of the book I was skeptical, and frankly not a fan, but by the time I finished the book I loved it. It’s rare to find a well-done ghost story for middle grade readers, but this one delivers. It’s great to have this in my back pocket as a recommendation for readers who are looking for something a little spooky. (And, as a side note, this is the book that I stayed up until one in the morning reading as the snow fell outside in the season’s first big snowstorm.)

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

This is another book that I’ve been meaning to read for a while, since I’ve known many 5th and 6th grade readers who have gobbled up this series, and who keep reminding me that a new book in the series is out. I’m about two-thirds through the book right now, and I have been enjoying it. It’s an intriguing premise (which I won’t give away here, since half the fun is diving into the book without knowing what to expect), and McMann builds a well-thought-out world that feels eerily prescient at this point in our history.

The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris

This book is on the docket for this weekend, chosen by the 4th grade book group: we’ll be discussing the book on Monday. I’m looking forward to reading it, since I have a lot of respect for Neil Patrick Harris, and I’m hopeful that it turns out to be a good children’s book and not just another celebrity children’s book.

The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

This book is also on my schedule for weekend reading, since we will be discussing it at Tuesday’s 6th grade book group meeting. I chose this book for the group because I wanted to share this awesome series with this group of readers. As a children’s librarian, I mostly read just the first book in a series; it’s rare for me to read beyond a first series book since I’m always trying to have a broad overview of children’s and young adult literature. But I broke my own rule with this series, since I love it so much. I’ve read all twelve books in the main series, I’ve dipped into a few of the Brotherband Chronicles series, and I’ve read both of the prequels to this book. It’s been a few years since I’ve read The Ruins of Gorlan, though, and I’m looking forward to revisiting it.

And on the horizon for my vacation week which will begin a week from today are two books that I’ve dabbled in over the years, but want to read in their entirety now: Moab is My Washpot by Stephen Fry and A Cure for Gravity by Joe Jackson. Stephen Fry is amazingly smart and funny, and I’ve loved the bits of this book that I’ve read in the past.

And anyone who knows me knows that I’m a HUGE fan of Joe Jackson – I’ve seen him play live five times (twice this past May), and his songs and talent speak to me in ways that few musicians do. If you think that Joe Jackson is just his hits from the late seventies and early eighties, think again. Jackson is hugely talented, with an amazing touch on the keyboard, and the writer of lyrics that are simply amazing. (Yes, I used “amazing” twice in one sentence, but justifiably so!) At the time of going to the two concerts in May I joined a Joe Jackson fan Facebook group and noticed that a lot of the members talk about Joe’s memoir, A Cure for Gravity. First I requested a copy from a library in the CWMARS network, and both Jim and I enjoyed it so much that I went on the hunt for a hardcover copy to buy (the book is out of print). By some miracle I found a pristine first edition copy on Abe Books that – brace yourself – has been SIGNED BY JOE JACKSON. This, of course, became my birthday gift to myself, and I’ve carefully stored it in the middle of the pile of books next to my reading chair so that the cats, who have an uncanny sense of what is important and valuable, won’t chew it or throw up on it. I’ve been waiting for classes to end and this vacation to come so that I can read it cover to cover…my special treat to myself.

And I’ll leave you with this link to a sample of Joe Jackson’s writing, his latest entry in his “What I’m Listening To” blog. I was reading this entry last evening as I listened to Drums and Wires by XTC, which I’m proud to say I have on vinyl…and which hopefully we’ll be listening to tonight after work.

Nine years!

And the nine year anniversary of my arrival at the library has come (and gone) – happy anniversary to me!

A great way to celebrate this anniversary: the addition of a fantastic new program to the library calendar.   Book Buddies began last Wednesday, and is my most favorite library program ever.  Teen volunteers in grades 7 and up are paired with a younger buddy in grades 1 to 4 for shared reading and word games.  Last week, the inaugural week, everyone was having such a good time that I had to gently remind them that the one hour session had ended…five minutes ago.  The looks of complete surprise at a whole hour having passed already were testament to the fun that both big and little buddies had reading and playing together.

My greatest thanks to Jennifer for finding this awesome program.  In September, I said to her that we needed something new, could she see what she could find…and she came back with documentation and guidelines from other libraries that had already run successful Book Buddies programs.  Jennifer pointed out that this is exactly the kind of program that we need to be running, and she was so very right.

And one other new thing that we have added: a library Tumblr page.  I really like Tumblr for the library’s purposes – it’s much cleaner than Facebook, and you have more control over how your posts look (including fonts and such).  I won’t be replacing my personal blog page with Tumblr, but it has the right combo of hipness and accessibility for the purposes of the children’s room.  Here’s the link, if you’d like to take a look.

Movies…and lessons learned

Last night we showed The Rise of the Guardians for the May family movie night, to a relatively small crowd.  Usually I run the family movie nights on the first Friday of the month, but this year the Friends held their annual book sale at the library for the first time, which meant that we needed to make the large program room available to them for about a month for collecting, sorting, and then selling of the books.  So movie night got bumped to later in the month…and prom was last Friday night, so movie night got bumped to yesterday, the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.  Obviously, not as many people were in town for last night’s movie, so we had a smaller crowd.

I’ve been in my job for a while now, and sometimes I think that I’ve got things all figured out.  But then there are nights like last night where I realize that I’ve learned another lesson.  Last night’s lesson?  Next year, I won’t bother to run a movie night in May.  Not just because the crowd was smaller, but also because of all the things that I need to be accomplishing right before summer reading starts, and in times of stress like this, a movie night feels like time lost that could be spent stuffing summer reading bags or preparing for the elementary class visits.

But, more importantly, I realized last night that we’d wasted a great movie that could have been our opening movie for the summer reading program.  We hold two movie performance licenses at the library, but there are still a limited number of new release children’s movies that are covered by our licenses.  I really struggled to come up with five movies to show this summer, and I know full well that the two older movies that I chose to show in August will not draw as large a crowd as a newer movie would.

So last night was an if-only night:  if only I hadn’t insisted on showing a movie in May; if only I hadn’t chosen a hot new release to show at that May movie night; if only I had saved Rise of the Guardians for the June 21 movie night.  If only.  Lesson learned.  I’ll remember next year…

Grand disappointment

Alright, you Downton Abbey fans…you might want to stop reading right now.  I’m not going to provide “spoilers,” but I am going to talk about my grand disappointment in the conclusion of season 3 of the show.

I’ll wait while the die hard fans close their browsers…

Jim and I don’t have cable now, and never have; we get our television from rabbit ears and an older t.v.  So we are big watchers and supporters of WGBH, since the best free t.v. comes from ‘GBH – and if we’re not paying for cable, then I’m very happy to donate money to ‘GBH.  My most recent donation yielded the complete three disc set of season 3 of Downton Abbey, meaning that I’ve been able to view the episodes at my leisure, and ahead of the general public in the U.S.

Last night I watched all of disc three (Jim had a gig).  Three hours of Downton, Downton, and more Downton.  And, frankly, I’m angry, annoyed, and disappointed.  I’m not disappointed in what happened at the end of the season, since anyone familiar with entertainment gossip should have been able to figure that out on their own, but rather I’m disappointed in how it happened.  There are creative and interesting ways to bring a plot to a certain resolution, and then there ways that are predictable and maudlin and absolute cop-outs.  Season 3 of Downton ends in just about the worst plot cop-out I have ever seen.

Without giving too much away (although a quick Google search for any character’s name will provide all plot spoilers, since season 3 has already aired in England), I will tell you this:  the whole final three hours of the show are filled with ridiculous dialogue between two of the main characters that is the most obvious foreshadowing I have ever witnessed.  Blech.  And I was able to predict the exact plot trajectory with total accuracy a good two hours before it occurred on screen.  As the final scene unfolded, I thought to myself, “They’re really going to do it that way?  Seriously?  How totally stupid and predictable.  Yup, ok, here it comes – they seriously did that, didn’t they.  How absolutely disappointing.”  And [spoiler here], though I should have been sad and weepy at that last scene, my eyes were completely dry.  Not a drop of mascara ran.  Not a speck of tissue needed.

And I don’t think I’ll bother watching season 4 when it comes out.


Last night, as Jim and I were out enjoying the gorgeous night on our evening walk, he gave me the coolest bit of musical and children’s literature trivia:  the song “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” was written by Shel Silverstein.  Way cool.  And, how did I not know that already?!?!?

Winnie the Pooh

Last night’s movie night was hands down the sweetest movie night ever at the library.  We showed the 2011 film Winnie the Pooh, and the audience was full of younger kids (all under the age of five, I believe), some of whom had never been to a movie night before.  They were so sweet and so attentive and so wrapped up in the flow of this very gentle movie.  Lots of giggles when Pooh’s tummy grumbled, lots of delight when Tigger bounced and sang.

And from my adult perspective, I was impressed by how Disney constructed this movie.  Mid-way through the movie I went and checked the DVD case to make sure this was actually a new film, because it has the look, feel, and spirit of the older classic Disney movies.  The animation is lovely (the DVD case says that it’s hand-drawn) and the plot is gentle, with just enough tension to make things interesting, but not so much that younger children are anxious.  And I loved the way that the original text of the books is integrated into the film.  The text is almost a character in the film, as full page spreads of the original book (or a facsimile thereof, I’ll have to look at the book to figure that out) appear from time to time, and then the words and letters will move and fall and incorporate into the action of the movie.  My favorite bit was when the characters are stuck at the bottom of the pit they have dug, and then they use the words of the text to build a ladder to climb out.  So cool.

The best part of last night’s movie?  Everyone left happy, and got home in time to get to bed at a reasonable hour (a major benefit of a movie that’s only one hour).  That happy-and-bed-at-a-reasonable-hour includes the children’s librarian, by the way.  🙂

A day at the museum…

Jim and I made a visit to the MFA Boston today, partly so that I could see if I remembered the intricacies of how to drive to the Simmons College campus (which, apparently, I don’t), and partly to see the much-talked-about Chihuly glass exhibit.  The museum was crowded – really, really crowded – and after waiting in line for fifteen minutes to get our tickets, we decided to eat lunch first, before the masses also hit the cafeteria (the pizza was pretty terrible, unfortunately).  And then we made our way through the maze of the museum, which has changed substantially since the last time I was there several years ago, meaning that I was completely turned around and confused about how to get where we were going.  After some wandering we found the line for the Chihuly exhibit, and waited in line for a good half hour or more until we were able to get in.  The exhibit was definitely worth the wait: the glass is gorgeous, the colors stunning, the pieces he has created truly unbelievable in their scale and proportion and ability to defy gravity.  But the crush of people was a bit much for us two suburban types, and we buzzed through more quickly than we would have done if it hadn’t been so busy.  I was disappointed by the portion of the exhibit pictured here, simply because the room was stuffed with other people, humid and smelly with their body heat and dampness.  Jim lasted all of a minute in that room before requesting that we move along…and I was right with him.

I couldn’t help thinking wistfully of the time that Dad and Linda and I visited the Mauritshuis in the Hague ten years ago: there was a public transportation strike that day, and the three of us decided to hire a car and driver to get us from Noordwijk ann zee to the Hague.  Maybe it was the transportation strike, maybe we just timed things well, or maybe the Mauritshuis is always rather sleepy, but we were almost the only visitors at the museum.  I got to spend a good half hour in the company of Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” just me in that room with that amazing painting.  That was one of the best half hours of my life, being able to study and appreciate that masterpiece without other people to bug me, and I have a feeling that being alone with Chihuly’s glass pieces could be similarly memorable.  But there were just too many people, too many iPhones and Blackberries and other devices, too much photo-taking.  I wonder whether the people taking those photos were even looking at the art while they were able to, or if they were simply accumulating snapshots to upload to their Facebook pages – “Look where I was today!”

I’m glad we went, though; glad we ventured out of the ‘burbs and into the city.  (I can’t forget to mention that we used the library’s museum pass to get in, saving us $30 in admission fees – yet another reason to love your library.)  And in my next post I’ll let y’all in on the reason why I needed to refresh my memory of how to get to the Simmons campus…can you stand the suspense until that post is posted?

Summer’s here…

The class visits at the school are done, fairly successfully, I think; the school year ended on Friday; we had the first movie night of the summer Friday night – Gnomeo and Juliet; and the Ice Cream Social is on Tuesday.  Yup, summer has begun.

I really enjoyed my visits to the school this year.  The kids’ enthusiasm about the participation of the Boston Bruins in the summer reading program was fantastic, and amped up the excitement of my visits significantly (and this was before the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, too).  And the kids also seemed pretty psyched for a lot of the programs coming to the library this summer, which is always gratifying for the person who hired the performers…which would be me, of course.

Movie night, though – I’ll be blunt here:  what an AWFUL movie!  I absolutely HATED it!!  Too much Elton John music, bad animation (or should I just say “uninspired” animation?), and a schmaltzy plot.  Blech.  And the aggressively happy ending, in which Gnomeo and Juliet live happily ever after, unlike Shakespeare’s characters of similar names, simply nauseated me.  And made me think about Lori Gottlieb’s article in the current issue of The Atlantic, “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy“: let’s substitute a happy ending for this classic story and animate it with garden gnomes to spare our children the tragedy of the original play.  Blech.   I couldn’t wait for the movie to end, and I was really surprised when there was a lot of applause from the audience at its conclusion.  Talking with the four teen volunteers afterwards during cleanup, though, was encouraging, since all four of them seemed to dislike the movie as much as I did.

And then there’s the Ice Cream Social, coming soon to a library near you.  Jim hauled our chest freezer over to the library this morning so that we’ll have a way to store the eighteen gallons of ice cream that I’ll be picking up from Baskin Robbins on Tuesday morning, and I finished the Topping Shopping trip on Thursday; all that is left now is for the weather to be fabulous on Tuesday, and for the event to be over.  I have a love-hate relationship with the ICS; I love that the families that come to it have such fun, but I hate all the hyper-organized preparation, not to mention sheer physical effort, that goes into the event.  In my view, the best day of the year is the day after the ICS, when I have 364 days to go until the next one.  How grumpy that makes me sound!  Which I’m really not, I just dread the pre-event planning and post-event exhaustion.

So summer has begun, and I should get back to my summer reading.  One child in one of the classes I visited at the elementary school issued a challenge to me that I should try to read more than thirty hours this summer.  Yikes.  And this summer reading program is one week shorter than last year’s, and it was all I could do to get to thirty hours last year.  Time to get back to Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian.  Happy summer, everyone!


I watched a lot of movies last week (well, a lot of movies for me), mostly on my laptop so I could sit in my comfy chair by the cozy woodstove while I watched.  And, once I started feeling better on Friday, I picked up books again and buzzed through a couple of good ones.  So here’s the brief list of what I watched:

The entire series of “Manor House,” the reality t.v. show about modern people trying to live as servants and masters in an Edwardian manor house in England; all participants were required to live as they would have done in Edwardian times.  I enjoyed the series, but there were a couple of aspects that bothered me.  While some of the participants were heavily featured in the series, others were hardly mentioned, most notably the groom, Tristan.  I would have loved to have heard Tristan’s take on the experiment, and to see more of what his daily duties were.  And to see more of the horses, of course.  In addition to not enough coverage of the groom’s duties, and no coverage of the third housemaid’s life, I also felt like there was something lacking in general in the series.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I finished watching the three DVD set with a sense of wanting more – more footage of what everyone’s duties were, more insights into what people thought of their new lives (apart from the soap opera dramas, which got a bit boring), and more history of people who really did live in Edwardian times in manor houses.  I would have loved some primary sources, photographs and such, to give me more context.

On to a silly movie that I watched:  “Bride and Prejudice.”  As a Jane Austen junkie, I was worried that I’d hate this movie, a modern adaptation of the classic Pride and Prejudice, set in India, but surprisingly I didn’t hate it.  It’s fun and cute, with lots of gorgeous brightly colored clothes.  But some parts of the story don’t translate well to a modern telling:  Mr. Wickham as a hippy-ish backpacking guy who had gotten Mr. Darcy’s sister pregnant – well, that just doesn’t work as well as Mr. Wickham the status and money seeking creep who almost gets away with wreaking the reputation of the youngest Bennett girl.  And I thought the chemistry and conversation between Lalita (Elizabeth) and Will (Mr. Darcy) just weren’t crackling and feisty enough to carry the story.  Not a terrible movie, though, and not a waste of time to watch.

Then I watched “City Island,” a funky, funny, cool, and insightful movie about a part of the Bronx that I never knew existed, and a family that lives there along with their secrets.  If I say too much about the movie, I’ll wreak it for you, so suffice it to say that I definitely enjoyed it and do recommend it.

I started watching “The Secret of Kells” the day after my oral surgery, and had absolutely no patience for it that day; after five minutes of Celtic music and the whispering fairy voice and the animation, I gave up on it in disgust and annoyance and tried something else.  Happily, though, I gave the movie another shot on another day, and really really enjoyed it.  It’s smart, creative animation for grown-ups, well-drawn and conceived and totally engrossing.  Once again, I don’t want to say too much about the movie, since I enjoyed it all the more for knowing nothing about it prior to seeing it.

And, last but not least, “Megamind.”  I love Will Ferrell, which helped me to like this particular movie more than I might have otherwise.  It’s not fabulous, and I don’t like it nearly as well as the conquerable “Despicable Me,” but it was a good way to spend the morning on Friday; “Megamind” was the Family Movie Night choice for Friday night, and I was working the door and knew I’d miss seeing about two-thirds of the movie if I didn’t preview it ahead of movie night.  So it was worth seeing the whole movie, but I don’t think I’d go so far as recommending it.

And next blog post I’ll write about the books that I read…

Despicable Me

I’m going to make this post short and sweet:  I love, love, LOVE the movie Despicable Me.  After Friday’s movie night showing at the library, I have now seen it two and a half times – and I love it even MORE than I did after the first time.  I almost never buy DVDs for myself, but I’ve decided that I need to own this one.

And I’m not alone in loving this movie – the movie night crowd was the most attentive I’ve ever seen them.  Ever.  And there were some YOUNG kids in the crowd (two and three year olds) who lasted through the entire film without complaint or wiggles.  Best of all, there were some real fans of the film in the audience, who called out lines like:  “Lightbulb!!”  and “He’s so FLUFFY!!!”  It was a really, really fun time – the best possible way for me to see a favorite movie one half more time (I was on front-door-of-the-library-duty for the first half of the movie).

And the moral of this post is:  if you haven’t seen Despicable Me yet, you need to.  If you’ve already seen it, then you need to watch it again.