Tag Archives: reading

2020: A Hellacious Year Can’t Keep a Good Reader Down

23 Dec

The list of all that I missed thanks to this godawful year is lengthy, but who wants to dwell on all that? One of (several) silver linings it brought was extra time for reading. I’ve become a voracious reader over the past several years – prompted by a fear that I was losing my ability to concentrate as I grew older. Working at home for months, followed by a return to a sparsely-staffed library, meant I found myself with uninterrupted time more often than usual. At first, I found it boring, but then took advantage and I put aside tasks that I was working on, from time to time, and read some great books about scholarly communications, about measuring the impact of research, about data – all things related to my work – along with LOTS of things I just thoroughly enjoyed. I hope you’ve found some treasures to absorb yourself in this year, too. And thanks to the many authors who gave them to us. Here are a bunch that I read:

Work Stuff

I discovered Cassidy Sugimoto via a conference that I attended (virtually, of course) and really enjoyed her keynote. It prompted me to seek out two works she’s involved with on the topic of bibliometrics and measuring the impact of research. I recommend both for those who work in scholarly communications. Speaking of, Rick Anderson’s little primer on scholarly communication is one I could refer to friends and/or family who never really understand what I do as a librarian. Not that they’d find it all that interesting, but…

Stephen Few gave the world one of his usual big books this year. (Literally. He has a thing for large-sized books. The 2020 gift is his work, Signal.) I also found myself tracking down a couple of his “little books.” All involve looking at “big data” with a skeptical eye, something that I find myself doing often. We have certainly seen countless benefits of big data and open science during the global fight against COVID, as well as in vaccine development. We’ve also seen more than a few cautionary tales of the troubles of big data as big noise. A longtime key figure in the data discussion, Few steps up to say “hold on” just a bit. Good wisdom.

Georgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec’s fun companion to their wonderful, Dear Data, from a few years back is good fun. I throw this one in my bag at least every other week to work on one or two of the “assignments.” Data Feminism and Calling Bullshit are two excellent accessible academic reads. They prompt a thousand thoughts and ideas for action.

I’ve read (actually, I own) all of Alberto Cairo’s books on data visualization. His latest was a nice companion to others that I read, in terms of getting better at cutting through all of the noise, the falsehoods, the trivial, the bias thrown at us daily via news bits and misleading graphics. These are all skills we need to have – and that we need to teach – in the current world.

Finally, I read Matt Shipman’s book on scientific writing. Matt works in research communications and media relations at North Carolina State University. True story – our Twitter paths crossed someday, somehow, and in doing so we discovered that we both grew up in Petersburg, Virginia, and spent many, many happy years as kids at the Rodof Sholom branch of the Petersburg Public Library. We’ve become twitter friends over the years and I enjoyed reading this really insightful and handy reference book about the work he does. I learned some things for my own work, too.


If you’re a fan of the Talking Heads, Chris Frantz’s story of love and music will not disappoint. He and Tina Weymouth have remained together through all of the years of art school, of being in a groundbreaking band, of founding their own terrific group, and mentoring/fostering the careers of many others. Great love story.

I’m not sure what led me to Jimmy Webb’s memoir. I’ve long loved his work as a songwriter. After reading his memoir, I honestly think I’ll stick to listening to his songs alone. I’m not sure that I like him much as a person.

Natasha Trethewey and Allison Moorer have written two of the most powerful memoirs you can find. I don’t recommend reading them back-to-back, as I did. They are stories of domestic violence that ends in the worst way, and the long, arduous struggle it takes to rise from such circumstances. Both are brilliant wordsmiths and their stories will last with me for some time.

Book Club

I’m part of a truly great book club. We are a really diverse bunch of readers and it results in me reading lots of things (science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction) that I would never choose on my own. These are a few that quickly popped to mind this morning as I snapped photos from the shelves.

In a word, I LOVED A Gentleman in Moscow. We started it last December and I read it through the darkest weeks of the year. It was the best snuggle-into-bed-and-read-book. A beautiful story. I will read it again. I know I will.

Sy Montgomery’s, The Soul of an Octopus, brought me to tears. Really. It’s such an eye-opening adventure into the world of one of our most amazing creatures. Who knew? There are also dozens of fascinating YouTube videos about octopuses, as well as the beautiful Netflix documentary, My Octopus Teacher. Year of the Octopus.

We recently read Agatha Christie’s introduction to Hercule Poirot. It was only the second Christie mystery that I’ve ever read (Murder on the Orient Express being the other) and it was pure delight.

The Great Believers is our current pick. I’ll finish it in January, but about a quarter of the way through, highly recommend it. The characters are ones easy to follow. I look forward to how it all comes together.

Re-Reads and More

Allie Brosh returned in 2020 with Solutions and Other Problems. I pre-ordered it, read it the day it arrived, and then had to re-read Hyperbole and a Half. I laughed, I snorted, I cried, I shook my head at her talent. And perseverance.

Another election year and all of the social upheaval we’re experiencing these days (a good bit of it long overdue), found me re-reading Sarah Smarsh’s memoir, Heartland, as a means of keeping faith in the people of the “fly over” states. It’s also so much better a book than that Hillbilly Elegy. Smarsh is heads and shoulders above J.D. Vance when it comes to both telling a story and understanding humanity.

We are currently reading and discussing Ibram Kendi’s, How to be an Antiracist, as a library staff. It was chosen as the UMMS all-campus read. It is a 2020 read and act book.

The bird lover in me read Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s, Mozart’s Starling (perhaps the book that I most enjoyed reading this year) and Jennifer Ackerman’s, The Bird Way. Both of these authors have authored multiple books on nature in general and birds, specifically. And they are always excellent.

And I re-read the Ravenmaster’s lovely memoir while on a camping trip in October. I liked it just as much the second time around.

Finally, I was missing my old friend, Kinsey Millhone, the other evening and I pulled G is for Gumshoe off my shelf. I own A to … sigh … Y in Sue Grafton’s alphabet mystery series. RIP, Sue. I may re-read all of them next year. So good.

So, there you have it. As I said at the start, no shortage of good stuff this year. A few good listens, too:

  • Michael J. Fox, No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality
  • Anthony Boudain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2nd time through)
  • Gabrielle Hamilton, Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
  • Mary Stewart, The Crystal Cave: The Arthurian Saga, Book 1 (book club pick)
  • James Taylor, Break Shot: My First 21 Years
  • Jill Lepore, This America: The Case for the Nation
  • Blair Braverman, Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North (I combo-read and listened to this one.)
  • Ani Difranco, No Walls and the Recurring Dream: A Memoir (I want to read this, i.e. turn the pages, in 2021.)

What a year it’s been! I wish you all a very happy holiday season and a 2021 filled with good health, good friends, good work, good music, and good reading!

~ Sally

A Rose by Any Other Name…

9 Aug

Yesterday, I posed a question on my Facebook page:


I found the responses really fascinating and they got me to thinking a good bit about language, the words we choose, why we choose them, and the like. This is hardly a new fascination. I became a librarian, in part, because of my interest in cultural studies and linguistics; specifically, why research that involved females as subjects always stated such in publication titles, whereas the same involving males did not. Why were males the norm? Why could findings for men be generalized to the entire population, but the same never (or very, very rarely) be said for women? I was curious and it sent me down a path – and an independent study – that led me to discover that there are people within the field of library and information science who study this kind of thing. Who knew? And so I finished up my degree in exercise physiology and headed off to library school. Or something like that.

I asked the question about reading/listening to audiobooks because I was on the Audible website, trying to decide what audiobook to spend my monthly credit on and while reading the reviews, noticed that lots of reviewers referred to the experience of listening to an audiobook as “reading.”  A good number of my friends agreed, pointing out everything from the history of storytelling as a verbal act to the limitations of people with visual impairments. My friend and librarian colleague, Rachel, argued that it’s a “content/container issue,” that if we limit “reading” to absorbing a book through the eyes, then people with limited sight could never say that they “read” a book. It’s a valid point, though it also made me wonder if a person who’s hearing impaired would ever read a book and then say that they listened to it. Do people who are visually impaired recognize a difference between reading Braille and listening? And I also wonder about the neural pathways that form in the brains of individuals who have visual and/or hearing impairments, though that’s a topic that requires a lot more research on my part. It’s too much for discussion here.

People shared that they’re busy and/or have long commutes and if they didn’t listen to audiobooks, they’d never have the time to read anything. But still I wondered, why would you say, “I’d never read anything” when you admit that you listened? My friend, Matt, asked, “So what would be the right verb to cover either?” to which I replied, “How about just saying you listened when you listened and you read when you read?” Or something along those lines. Why do we need another word? Listening is listening and reading is reading. One is no better than the other, they’re simply different.

But do we really believe that? Do we believe that they’re the same? I did sense a slight tone of defensiveness about reading versus listening in some of the comments. I wondered if I didn’t unknowingly imply it when I posed the question in the first place. And I admit that I argued that we do place a lot of value in literacy, that we teach children to read for a reason. (For LOTS of reasons, actually.) So do I believe, deep down, that people who read books are just a little better than people who listen to them?

I wonder if I don’t think of reading as something that’s active, something we do, something we put some effort into, while countering it with a belief that listening is passive, somehow a little bit lazy? I think of the NFL Hall of Famer, Deion Sanders, who I once heard comment that he never quite understood the enthusiasm of fans; the exuberance of simply watching people play a game. “Playing is what’s fun,” he said, with a kind of, “Get up off the couch, lazy bones!” hint to it. I try to imagine everyone at work on Monday morning saying that they played for the Patriots the day before, instead of that they watched them. How nutty is that? Who would say that?

Maybe it’s some of this. Or … maybe I just prefer that people use the right word.

And it’s that last statement that’s stuck with me the most. A few friends commented that to say you’ve read a book when you’ve listened to it is lying. I find that a little harsh, though it’s exactly what White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said about the president when people said he lied about the Boy Scouts calling him on the phone. “I wouldn’t say it was a lie. That’s a pretty bold accusation. The conversations took place, they just simply didn’t take place over a phone call. … He had them in person.” It’s harsh. It’s “pretty bold.” And does it really matter, anyway?

One can argue that there’s a pretty huge difference between the President of the United States lying and people lying when they say that they read something when they, in fact, listened to it. I’ll go along with that. But maybe it’s the times that we’re living in that made me ruminate on this topic for a good 24 hours. There’s an awful lot of excusing people for poor word choice nowadays. And some pretty big consequences in doing so.

Thanks for reading this post. When I turn it into a podcast, you can listen. 🙂

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah…

16 Aug

… here I am at, Camp …  well … at Townshend State Park in Townshend, Vermont. Last week’s vacation spot. It was a wonderful week of camping, hiking, reading, drawing, cooking, and more. Just what a summer vacation is supposed to be. The only downside is that it was all of one week. Too short. Ah, well…

I read three good books while camping:

The latter two are books that appeared in my Little Free Library this summer and I decided after reading them last week that I’d add a “review” feature to my library. We’ll see how – or if – it takes off.

Three work-related books that were recommended and/or loaned to me lately include:

Not quite the page-turners as my vacation books, but worthwhile reading all the same. The first two give very practical advice, examples, and exercises to help one hone his/her data science and math skills, and Few’s book is like all of his others, i.e. chocked full of information and advice for effective data visualization.

And finally, a few interesting websites to peruse and enjoy:

A Snapshot of a 21st-Century Librarian (Adrienne Green, The Atlantic) is a terrific profile piece on Theresa Quill, a research librarian at the Herman B. Wells Library at Indiana University, Bloomington. If you, like me, struggle to explain your not-so-stereotypical librarian job to friends and family, point them to this article as a good example of how we’re pushing the boundaries and redefining our role(s).

Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine is a hilarious – and informative – podcast that I recently stumbled upon. Dr. Sydnee McElroy provides the medical expertise and her husband, Justin, the banter. Actually, they both banter quite a bit, making it an enjoyable program. I see that last week’s topic was cupping. If you noticed those round bruises on Michael Phelps body during the Olympics, you might want to listen to learn about how they got there (and if the science behind the practice is real).

Speaking of the Olympics, Dynamic Dialects is just a downright awesome site to explore how people around the world pronounce the same set of words. It’s great fun!

If you bookmark sites for free-to-use images, you’ll want to add the USDA’s Pomological Watercolor Collection to your list. One “Fast Fact” from the site – it contains 7, 584 watercolor paintings, lithographs, and line drawings of fruits and nuts, and almost 4,000 of those are apples. Imagine! It’s a beautiful resource.

The Open Notebook gives visitors a wealth of insight and knowledge about science writing, and also provides tools to help one become a better science writer. Interviews, Elements of the Craft, Profiles, and Science Blogging are some of its features. 

 Finally, someone once asked how I discover all of these sharable finds. Better put, I think she asked, “How do you find the time to discover them?” The answer is that I read a lot (stories from Twitter; magazines like The Atlantic, The Economist, and The New Yorker; a number of interesting blogs), I listen to the news via public radio and podcasts of interest, and I subscribe to several email newsletters including The Scout Report from Internet Scout at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Austin Kleon’s weekly post, Banana Data News, and Wait But Why. I like that with the exception of the last one (which arrives maybe once a month), these appear in my email on Friday mornings. They’re not overwhelming in length and never cease to offer up something that I find interesting and useful – kind of like how I hope you find my blog.