Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert

Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert

freeforallFree for All is an accurate depiction of life as a librarian in a public library.

Sometimes, the job is funny. Other times, it’s incredibly sad. If you’ve never worked in a library system, this book will reveal some of the secrets of a librarian’s day-to-day life.

Before I worked at a public library, I thought it was a quiet, organized mecca for students and bookworms. Now, that I’ve spent some time on the librarian-side of the desk, I know better. My idea of a library was far too simple.

It is a study hall, archive, playroom, home for the homeless, kitchen, bank, movie theater, video game store, newspaper kiosk and so much more. I guess the appropriate question is: what doesn’t a library do?

And a public librarian is so much more than just a librarian. She is a counselor, a computer wizard, a curator of excellent and free entertainment.

She talks to the lonely, uplifts the lost and helps the public navigate the dangerous waters of the internet.

Librarians are my heroes.

If I ever cease writing for a living, look for me at the library. Odds are, I’ll end up back there.

Perhaps some of the policies at Don Borchert’s library have changed, but at the time that he wrote this book, they charged 50 cents to put a hold in for a patron. This policy shocked me, as my library always offered that service for free.

Borchert cheerfully documents the difficulties with summer reading people vs the school year regulars. It’s a real problem.

If Borchert’s book is too edgy for you- he uses rough language and doesn’t hold back on some of his opinions- read Gina Sheridan’s I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks.

Both are excellent and realistic non-fiction books about the trials, tribulations, and, sometimes, life-enhancing satisfaction of working at the library.

Thanks for reading!

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You have the ability to create great things.

You have the ability to create great things.

flyahorseBook review of How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery by Kevin Ashton.

How to Fly a Horse takes many of the myths that I believed about creativity or the creative process and methodically takes them apart. Any perceived blocks are revealed for the fallacies that they are.

It is one of those great non-fiction books that educates the reader while simultaneously encouraging her to improve herself.

From the creation of a South Park episode to Coca-Cola, Kevin Ashton covers all sorts of ways the average person can, does, and should contribute to mankind through her own, innate creativity.

My biggest take-aways from this are Ashton’s descriptions and appropriateness of creativity (or lack of) within organizations. He writes about humanity’s need for the new while simultaneously pushing against it.

Here’s a quote about organizations that could be applied to any work place: “Organizations are made of rituals- millions of small, moments-long transactions between individuals within groups- and it is these rituals that determine how much an organization creates.” pg 225

Be aware of these rituals and harness them to be more creative.

And, on humanity’s propensity to reject innovation, Ashton explains this is not unusual but is actually the normal response to expect when introducing new ideas into your work environment.

Don’t be discouraged; be prepared. Create anyway.

I liked that he encouraged creation while also illuminating the many pitfalls, both internal and external, that one may encounter along the creative path.

Folks who enjoy How to Fly a Horse may also like Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding da Vinci’s Creative Genius or any of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. If you’re looking for another book about how to be more productive or creative in the workplace, I suggest Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?.

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. FTC guidelines: check!

It’s like ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ with jazz hands

It’s like ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ with jazz hands

lifeislikeamusicBook review of Life Is Like a Musical: How Broadway Can Help You Live Your Best Life 
by Tim Federle

Life is Like a Musical is a cute, self-helpish book, full of the wisdom Tim Federle gleaned from years of experience on the stage.

“Basically, think of this book as ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ with jazz hands.” Introduction.

Tim’s advice is common sense, but I appreciated it anyway. Make your weaknesses your strengths. Be nice to everybody. Pay attention. Don’t try to be a perfectionist, and so on.

He pairs these nuggets with his life stories. So, it’s part-memoir, part-self help.

“When Bob Fosse had a bald spot, he put on a stylish hat. Where’s your bald spot? Or blind spot? Or thing that you can barely accept about yourself? Go put a hat on it, and make it something wonderful.” pg 23. There’s nothing wrong with advice like that.

First off, the key to approximately 90 percent of adulthood is appearing more interested in something than you actually are. Seriously.” pg 31.

Truth bombs, people.

Don’t give your power away. Remember who you are: “Please, never forget you’re the leading character in your own life. Read that sentence again: You aren’t the supporting cast. You’re it, baby.” pg 48.

And most importantly of all, have a sense of humor about the whole thing.

“Forgive yourself when you screw up. Develop a sense of humor that allows you to snort-giggle before anyone else can.” pg 139.

None of us are getting out of this thing called life alive. We may as well make the most of it.

I enjoyed this book. I was also a huge fan of his drink recipe book mixed with classic book titles: Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist.

Recommended for people who are looking for a peppy voice to get them back on track and singing throughout the soundtrack of their own lives. This read will do the trick.

Thanks for reading!

Gnarr: How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World by Jón Gnarr

Gnarr: How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World by Jón Gnarr

gnarrJon Gnarr ran for mayor of the largest city in Iceland not because he had experience as a politician, but because he was a comic and was, at first, poking fun at the system. But then, he realized that politics as usual was getting his country no where. So, he took the election seriously. Imagine his surprise when he won.

“Leo Tolstoy once said, ‘Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change himself.’ But I feel that I have changed myself. I’ve done my homework. And next I want to try- just try, mind you!- to change the world. pg 6-7, ebook.

Iceland is unique in that it has a very small population of around 330,000 people. That’s about the equivalent of Santa Ana, California, or Corpus Christi, Texas. In other words, it’s not that big of a place.

“The most famous Icelander is Bjork. … Abroad, she constantly has to flee from fans and journalists who pursue her into every little corner, while in Iceland you run into her in the pool, on the bus, or in the shops. In general, she’s left alone. In Iceland I was famous by the time I was fourteen. I was a fourteen-year-old with a Mohawk and a ring through his nose, and this too was news.” pg 13-14, ebook.

Here’s the scene: Iceland is quite small, the entire country was in an uproar because of the banking collapse, and the people were more than ready for change. But, Jon Gnarr was not ready for politics.

“Thanks to Dad, the newspapers, and the constant discussions broadcast on radio and television, I developed an aversion to politics. Politics was dumb, irritating, and boring. pg 23, ebook.

A self-described ‘peaceful anarchist’, Gnarr was a comic and showman. He created The Best Party as a joke. But, somewhere along the line, the joke became a reality.

“Do you have to understand something down to the last detail before you can contribute to it? Do you have to be a scientist to become interested in science? … No. And it’s no different with politics. You don’t need to be a politician to have the right to participate in political life.” pg 41, ebook.

Even though he started to take the race seriously, Gnarr never took himself too seriously. And it worked.

“Every time another party made any election promises, we sat down together and discussed how we could top them. The Left-Green Alliance promised children and teens free access to swimming pools- our response was to offer free admission for all- with free towels included.” pg 54, ebook.

By not playing politics as usual, Gnarr and The Best Party won. I think he shows what’s possible when people bring a sense of humor and a desire to do good to the table. I think we can accomplish great things.

It just takes someone with a smidgen of imagination and a willingness to try.

Recommended for anyone who’s tired with politics as usual and for all the peaceful anarchists of the world.

Thanks for reading!

A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment by Scott Carney

A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment by Scott Carney

diamond mountainIn A Death on Diamond Mountain, Scott Carney has crafted an excellent examination of an untimely death, cult-like Buddhist practices, madness along the spiritual journey, and the dangers of extreme religious practices like multi-year, silent meditation retreats and fasting.

He also provides not only extensive backgrounds for all of the main actors in this tragedy, but also a dissection of the birth of Eastern philosophy in the West, including many different religions and belief systems.

This is the first non-fiction book that I’ve ever read that discusses potential negative effects of meditation.

In this eye-opening analysis, Carney talks about potential research bias in meditation studies. He mentions researchers habitually attributing consistently positive results to meditation and reporting any negative results as pre-existing conditions in the practitioners rather than a side effect of the practice itself.

I think that this is an indication that moderation in all things, including meditation, may be the best way forward. I was unaware of the potential, catastrophic consequences of abusing traditional spiritual methods.

The sad thing is that the tragedy detailed in this book could have been prevented.

The death of Ian Thornson reads like a soap opera.

Carney has written these dysfunctional yet charismatic people with such skill that their personalities almost leap off the page.

I pitied Ian’s mother while reading about her struggles to extract her son from what she felt sure was a cult. Then, when his spiritual search eventually killed him, I can’t imagine the pain that she went through.

I’m certain that any mother would be proud for her child to exhibit the sort of spiritual drive that Ian had, however, the extremes that he took it too were obviously unhealthy. Again, it appears that moderation is the key to success.

Readers who enjoy non-fictional survival stories like Into the Wild may enjoy A Death on Diamond Mountain.

This book could also appeal to readers who enjoy learning about Buddhist philosophy or meditation methods. It is a shining example of how not to proceed on the spiritual path.

Thanks for reading! I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads.

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

opposite ofI thought The Opposite of Loneliness was an excellent collection of fiction and non-fiction essays by Marina Keegan, a Yale student who died in a car wreck a couple days after she graduated from college.

My favorite essay out of the bunch is “Against the Grain” pg 157 where she discusses her Celiac disease and the negative effect that that had on her mother.

She expresses frustration with how ridiculously protective her mother became when they were finally able to figure out what was wrong. She talks about being embarrassed at holidays as her mom cooked separate pies just for her or at field trips when her mother brought along special snacks.

But then, she reveals how she saw an internet article about how having Celiac disease could negatively effect the fetus when the sufferer becomes pregnant… and it’s a light bulb moment for Marina. She suddenly understands that feeling, how she would do anything to protect that other person, her baby, and suddenly her mom’s behavior doesn’t seem all that crazy after all.

Of course, the absolutely heartbreaking moment for the reader is realizing that this particular dream will never come to fruition for Marina, but the fact that she even had that “ah-ha” moment is so powerful.

“My dog let out a small howl, twigs cracked in the woods, and something about the stillness or my state of mind reminded me of the world’s remarkable capacity to carry on in every place at once.”pg 34 I always had that feeling towards the end of the semester during college.

You’d work at this frantic pace, not giving a thought about your family or friends at home, then somehow in the lull between the final and actually going home, it would occur to me to wonder how my sisters had been for the last ten weeks or what my high school buddies had been up to.

I’d also forgotten that the world “carr(ies) on in every place at once.” Loved that sentiment.

“I worry sometimes that humans are afraid of helping humans.”pg 153 I worry about that too.

In that essay, Marina is talking about helping to save whales that were beached near her home. She talks about the time, effort, and money that is spent without consideration for the fact that only so many of the whales will actually be saved.

Then, when these whale rescuers go home, they do so without a backward glance towards the homeless on the streets, who are just as “beached” as the whales that they’ve been caring for all day.

“You feel like so many people are doing it and talking about it all the time like it’s interesting, so you start to wonder if maybe it really is.” pg 190. Marine was writing about how 25 percent of Yale graduates go immediately into banking or consulting positions that have absolutely nothing to do with their long term goals, but provide a quick paycheck in the short term.

Will they ever realize their dreams? If they make enough money, will they even care?

Life is about more than a paycheck. Marine Keegan knew that and her life had barely begun.

If you enjoyed The Opposite of Loneliness, I’d suggest Cool, Calm & Contentious, an excellent and serious collection of essays about life, or Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, a comedic collection of essays about life that are surprisingly insightful.

Thanks for reading!

It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell

It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell

itwasmeAndie Mitchell used food to entertain and provide comfort for herself during a childhood with an artistic but alcoholic father and absent (because she was working three or four jobs) mother. This is her journey through the rocky early years and realization that if she didn’t lose the weight, she was going to suffering serious health problems for the rest of her life.

“What begins as hating the cake for all its multiple layers of luscious temptation spirals quickly into hating myself and all my fat cells. I let myself down. I lament not having more control. pg 15, ebook.

Andie’s overeating starts during her childhood. Her mother went to work on the weekends and her father drank all night and slept most of the morning, leaving Andie to her own devices, which were mainly sugared cereal and cartoons.

I’d pull the box down and go about fetching a bow, a soup spoon, and the whole-milk carton from the fridge. I’d fill the bowl- cereal bobbing in milk to the rim- and make my way to the parlor. There I’d turn on the television and begin what would be hours of watching my favorite cartoons. One cereal bowl would empty without my noticing, and I’d replace it.” pg 27-28, ebook.

So, the loneliness was one of the reasons why she ate. The other was her father was emotionally abusive. She witnessed terrible scenes of him screaming at her mother and brother (Anthony). Andie internalized it and ate away her feelings.

If (my mother) fought back, (my father) roared louder. Or he’d throw something she loved across the room. But those were not the times my chubby body trembled. Those weren’t the times when my spirit split like the walls of our house. No, it was only when Anthony entered the room, when I heard his small voice try desperately to make itself bigger and less boyish, that the pit of my stomach twisted so violently, I couldn’t tell if I was hungry or about to be sick.” pg 36, ebook.

Andie’s mother loves her unconditionally, even when the doctor tells Andie that she needs to lose weight or things are going to get really bad for her. But, when Andie goes away to college, and her mother sees her again for the first time, she can’t hide her surprise at how large her daughter has become. And it is really painful for Andie.

“Until that day, that moment when I felt like a stranger in her eyes, she had been my sole source of comfort. She was the one who loved me unconditionally, who saw me as beautiful regardless. In the past when she noticed my weight, her worry seemed entirely empathetic, a way of loving me in my struggle. Now, it seemed grave.” pg 99, ebook.

Anyone who has struggled with their weight will find something to empathize with in Andie’s book. She wants to be fit, but she doesn’t know how to either eat or exercise in moderation.

Her journey may teach, encourage and cheer others on their way to a smaller size. Andie has been there and knows the daily struggles.

Thanks for reading!