bookstores, strangers, books, reading, librarians, kindness, be a better human, talking

Prying book eyes

On a recent library book binge, I brought home a hefty stack of books. My lovely housemate saw the stack, and asked me about one title: Being Peace by Thich Naht Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. She collects quotations and happened to have a few from his writings. She shared this one with me:

“Though we all have the fear and the seeds of anger within us, we must learn not to water those seeds and instead nourish our positive qualities – those of compassion, understanding, and loving kindness.”

Since I’m the Angry Librarian, this interested me, and we had a thoughtful conversation about how life and the workplace may bring out some of these very seeds and how we need to smile and shake it off.

In yet another library, last week I needed to print something before I went to the printer-haven of work, and popped into a public library I’d never visited. In order to use one of the computers, I was asked to provide a photo ID. I watched as the librarian wrote my name and guest pass number on a piece of paper, and brainstormed the many reasons they might wish to monitor who is visiting what sites within their walls. (I could only come up with potential issues arising from illegal activity.)

In my experience through library school and in the public library where I work, though, there is a current, obsessive trend with library privacy. My own library just switched to a different hold pick-up system, where customers can retrieve their items from a shelf and use self-check machines (grab-and-go style). Before this new process could begin, there were evidently many lengthy meetings about where on the book to put a sticker containing what identifying information. Should the sticker display the customer’s full name? Should the title of the book show?

As for myself, I fail to see how this conversation could last more than 15 minutes. And yet, it lasted. (The end result that was decided is the sticker will be arranged alphabetically by full last name and cover the title of the book. I know you were dying to know.)

Let me address, I did not like being asked for my identification in order to use a public computer. The implications did not jive with my knowledge of privacy. I fully recognize the importance of protecting online privacy–our and all libraries use some form of a program called Deep Freeze, which wipes all data from each customer login after they sign out. (Even still, sometimes that doesn’t work, so if anyone out there is worried about their digital footprint and who is looking at it, always manually sign out of your accounts, and under no circumstances store passwords on a public computer, as a principle.)

However, I just don’t think that people in public spaces can expect (nor can those public spaces guarantee) complete and total privacy. This is absurd and paranoid to me, as it seems counterintuitive to expect that no one will see (or that anyone would care) what books people are holding in their hands. And, not to mention, this extreme privacy doesn’t allow for every romance or friendship that started because someone was curious enough to look at what book the other was holding, and then take the bold and vulnerable (and sometimes well-received) gesture to start a conversation about it.

The frenzied desire to block all others out irritates me. I can’t help but feel that anyone in a public library is freely forfeiting at least a tiny bit of their privacy just by stepping into  a public space. How is carrying a book around any building not placing someone “at risk” of revealing its title? And, if someone is truly ashamed of their reading material, why would they request it to be held for them instead of venturing in and selecting it, by hand, by themselves?

I think back to a woman I had in my line at the bookstore when I was 19. This glamorous 30-something placed a small pile of books on the counter, barely raising her lips in greeting when I smiled and said hello. I, observing her gorgeous diamond ring, turned my eyes to the books. All three were about surviving the death of a spouse. I was shocked that such a horrible event could happen to someone so young and pretty, and I hoped I didn’t offend her or make her sadder during this, the symbolic purchase. Unsure how she would want me to act in this minor exchange, I tried not to widen my eyes and tried harder to eliminate any pity from my voice. More than anything, I was proud of her. Here was this young woman, whose own eyes (once I looked up from the ring) I could see were red and puffy. She was obviously not shopping for a gift. She was in mourning.

And she bought these books to help herself heal.

She did not buy them online, preserving her privacy as she sobbed in her pajamas. She very easily could have, and would have, if she were embarrassed of her emotionally vulnerable state, or concerned with how the young, desperate for adult life and love cashier or other browsing strangers would treat her.

Instead, she braved the world. She drove to us, got out of her car, located the section she needed, and from the shelf, handpicked not just one, but three books, in what I interpreted as her sadness and desperation morphing into resolve: a series of clear actions she took towards helping herself. I hope those books and all this time gave her what she needed.

And I am grateful for the spontaneous human connection that books, bookstores and libraries can provide. The fleeting moments with strangers where we mutually reveal something of ourselves.

We deserve to relinquish privacy on occasion. We need to leave room for vulnerability.

be a better human, books, giving, kindness, lists, reading, talking

Mothers, loving and liking them

In all my stages of employment (retailing, teaching, nannying, librarianing) I have worked with lots of mothers, and on some catering occasions, sometimes even worked with my own. I’m surrounded by them. Many of my friends are having their first or second babies, even more social media acquaintances. Maybe it is my biological clock waking up, but I’ve tuned in closer lately to how these women relate to and talk about their children: some combination of everyday responsibility, joy, exhaustion, stress and devotion. I like (and love a few of) these women, and I love hearing about their relationships with their kids through their eyes. Whether the objects of discussion are infants, tweens or twenty-somethings, their stories give me perspective on how at any given age I got along with my own fantastic momma.

So far the only nuggets of info I’ve shared about my mom are:

  1. She has told me for years to write a blog (and book).
  2. She nags me to take care of myself, which is sometimes annoying, but this happens because she cares about me, her firstborn and only daughter.
  3. She puts her unread hand-me-over books from her BFF Kathy on my bookshelf that she is babysitting for me quasi-indefinitely.

These are all true! But they are hardly the whole picture.

First off, though I do advocate reading all the books you own and display, bookshelves are a convenient place to rest them before you get to them. Mom does read books, but I have to physically put the book into her hands; I used to just tell her titles that moved me and that I thought she’d like, but she would lose the envelopes she wrote them on. I suggested she use the library. Then one August I visited to find a book with a NEW! MARCH! sticker and calculated that encouraging her to check out library books was doing a disservice to the library. When I librarian-ed her (ie. asking in a panicked tone, “what if someone else was waiting for it?” and guilting with “they probably had to assume it was lost and replace it!”) she took it back to its home. As a “senior” (in numbers only), she learned from that experience that she doesn’t have to pay ANY fines or replacement fees! And they let her keep the book, to boot!

She runs a little backlog of books I now buy for her. (I learned from the 100-page library book I checked out for her with my card and its ongoing 18 renewals and started buying them.) Prone to savoring books (or just getting through a few pages before getting too sleepy to continue), it takes her a long time to finish one book. This both drives me nuts because I want to talk about the books with her, and also epitomizes intentional consuming of the content. She may have a great time taking the book slowly, where I may have devoured it and moved on. (Or, she may forget what she read the last night and proceed to spend a fortnight on one chapter. Anyone’s guess.)

And despite the backlog, I continue gifting her books. (Viva las bookstores!) I know that when I have a profound connection to a story or concept or retelling of real life events, that she will respond to it also. The books I choose for her generally resonate with us on a personal level, topics ranging from a young person who experienced loss and how he carried on (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer–my mom claimed changed her life) to a nonfictional chaotic family that produces strong women (The Glass Castle and Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls–ditto), to an adult and his mother talking through life events he was too young to understand when they happened (The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper & Gloria Vanderbilt–seriously, start it already, Mom!)

I love being able to talk to my mom through the books we read in common. I love when she loves a book as much as or more than I do. I also love when we both dislike the same book (our first “official” mother-daughter book club selection H is For Hawk was more like D is for Dud/B is for Boring/O is for Overrated). Our shared opinions and similar sources for inspiration reinforce that I am something like her–even though sometimes that is not ideal, as in the case of this list that I have to recreate from memory because I wrote it out on a sticky note and lost the sticky note.

List of books I think Mom will like*

*and you might too!

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (fiction)
  • Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (fiction, bit of a mystery!)
  • What Unites Us by Dan Rather & Elliot Kirschner (memoir/USA)
  • My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem (memoir)
  • Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders (politics, USA)
  • A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren (politics, USA)
  • The book I’m purchasing for her, so it will remain undisclosed until she receives it

At any rate, my brother and I are super lucky to both love and like our mom. We are fans of hers not only because she cooks like I read: a variety of genres, super well, and all the time. Mostly, we are fans because she is supportive, sweet and loves us a lot. I wish she would read more, and she wishes I would cook more, so each of us should probably listen to the other and balance our book time:food prep time ratios. We don’t have a ton of traditions as a three-person family, but the approximately two that we have are perfect: banana cream pie for my brother’s birthday (and my gluten intolerance means I now get just the bananas and custard, aka the best part) and wrapping our secular presents on Christmas morning, five to fifteen minutes before exchanging and unwrapping them.

Though our in-person Mother’s Day celebration has to wait until the end of the month when I’m home, I hope her sons (biological and fur) treat her extra well this weekend. Being a mom is a big job, and it seems like it doesn’t get any easier with age, so, kudos to my mom, all the moms I know (and don’t). We kids, young or grown, may fight you on a number of things, you may always embarrass us, but we love you!

gf

audiobooks, be a better human, books, bookstores, kindness, librarians, reading, stuff, writing

Personal Libraries

My lovely, kickass friend has a bookshelf to drool over. It is, more aptly, a book wall. A wall of books, y’all. Technically, I think it is three separate taller-than-me-ceiling-height bookshelves, nestled tightly together. The shelves of titles are arranged in that oh-so-visually-pleasing color-coded way, with some books horizontally stacked and others standing up, perpendicularizing their names.

In addition to being kind and sweet, she happens to write books for children and teens too, and is a celebrity not only in my eyes but also on social media and in the book world. Her desk is positioned directly in front of the bookwall, and is the backdrop to her promotional, author-y videos.

Naturally, when I saw this bookwall, I stared at it for a long time, like you do when you’re a book person in any new book environment. In awe, I asked her if she bought all of these books. Some were gifts, she said, but she bought the majority. It is, after all, her lifelong collection of books.

I revere this bookwall. But I do not have my own bookwall.

I now have mixed feelings about this.

There was a time, directly after undergrad, when I moved to a city where I knew one person whom I never saw, that I spent much time and money I wasn’t earning in used bookstores because I was sad and didn’t even go to the library. I missed my library at home, knew that the one near me would not be as great, and I avoided it–solid life strategy–and wanted to OWN the books I would never read. I grabbed at any title I had heard of, books by any author I had read and liked, and I amassed an unreasonable personal library of unread titles, which I dutifully lugged around any time I moved. Hoarding because maybe-someday-I’ll-get-to-this. Because I-love-books-and-more-books-are-better. Because I-wanted-my-guests-to know-what-I-read-and-liked. Because I-can-lend-my-books-to-friends-and-maybe-get-them-back-or-excommunicate-the-friend-forever.

But.. Books are heavy. They are heavy, and not free to own.

Quickly after I moved away from that used-bookstore life, I learned to divest, not to carry extra weight I didn’t need. I chose to leave my two matching bookshelves in two different states: my trusty Civic, a moving vehicle with limited space, could move only one bookshelf at at time. One now lives in my dad’s tutoring center and stores test-prep books waiting for their pupils. The other lives at my mom’s and holds my own lifelong book collection.

Even though I’ve seen it (and arranged it–in no order, alphabetical nor color), I still love coming home to my personal library. I visit my mom, of course, but I also visit my bookshelf. I spot what new additions Mom has gotten from her best friend and placed on the shelf instead of reading. Other than her few, these books are the ones that made the cut. I have actually read and cherished them. They ARE personal.

(And before you go and get into pesky questions like “why, if all of your books fit on one bookshelf, did you need two?” or “did you buy enough used books you didn’t really care about to fill up an entire bookshelf?” which I will neither confirm nor deny, I’ll point out there are several items other than books I like to place on bookshelves, such as framed photos and tchotchkes.)

I have of late prided myself on managing my expenses, and this is tied directly to not buying myself books, which is tied directly to the library. With three library cards, I am elatedly spoiled, because I have access to almost any book and audiobook that I could want under the sun. When I check audio/books out, now it is because I will read or listen to them. It is a way of being more intentional with my time, my choices, and money. I, too, have been trying to declutter and have overall fewer possessions in my living space.

But, I feel guilty. Brick-and-mortar bookstores, independent and chain alike, are suffering. People lose their jobs when bookstores don’t make money. I felt sick, checking on my Barnes & Noble family as soon as I heard about recent massive country-wide layoffs. I make any excuse I can to buy books (AS GIFTS —  you’re welcome, people) from physical retailers. I feel compelled to support authors who write such wonderful books, and the bookstores who (yes, “who,” not “that”) sell them so they can continue to employ human readers who can recommend wonderful books to human readers.

Since I met her bookwall around tax time, my lovely friend mentioned that she as a self-employed writer can expense her book purchases. Buying and reading books is RESEARCH.

My mind was blown, and then it was made up. Many people close (and even some not close! Such support!) to me have flat-out told me to write a book. Mom’s been saying it for years, and I’ve blown it off. But, like, guys.. There is a career where I could support local bookstores, earn credit card points, support creative endeavors, AND gives me a tax writeoff for buying books?!?!?!?!

The question is no longer to buy or not to buy.

Nor is to write or not to write!

The question now is: where and when can I set down roots for my future bookwall? And, how will I choose to organize my personal library?

anxiety, audiobooks, books, meditation, reading

Audiobooks: A Cure for (my) Road Rage

I’m a Lake Woebegone driver: better than average, and I know it for absolutely certain. Some of you who may have doubts as to how much anger this librarian actually holds in reserve, sitting in my passenger seat as I drive from red light to red light past the strip malls of  Route 1 would give you all the proof you needed that I have given myself an apt name. The fury I dredge up on the road heats itself from only two sources: lack of safety and lack of consideration. Of course, when driving a 2,000 pound vehicle in New Jersey, there are plenty of combinations of them both.

During grad school in particular, my road rage escalated. I was taking a full-time course load, working two on-campus jobs, and driving down Route 1 to a third. Among New Jersey drivers… The anger that I felt (and still feel) when the driver in the car ahead of me goes under the speed limit is the emotional equivalent of nails on a chalkboard, because I am no-passing trapped and likely going to be late. Like, come on man/lady/fellow human, why do you need to make me hate you? I don’t know you! I would like to like you, but I DO know that I need to get where I’m going and I didn’t allot sufficient additional time in my day to do so!

Note: this impatience is doubled during what some states call “extreme weather events,” or what THIS Midwesterner calls “rain” and “snow.” I understand that when it is raining, you do not want to tailgate someone, but it does not mean to drive 10mph slower. Barring a typhoon or broken wiper blades, these conditions occur OFTEN and SHOULD BE familiar to you.

Is this starting to feel like I am a compassionless know-it-all who lacks empathy for my fellow earthlings? Are you saying to yourself, “maybe the person is a new driver! Or maybe they are elderly!” Yes? I actually don’t know that those two exceptions make any difference to my opinion, because I generally think that if you cannot handle driving under safe and considerate conditions, you shouldn’t be on the road.

Well, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that this level judgment and anger, not to mention the muscle clenching, increased blood pressure and faster heart rate that occur simultaneously, just aren’t good for me.

Enter: audiobooks.

I cannot emphasize enough the magical soothing effects of listening to a story or learning about an interesting topic, often read by the person who actually wrote the book. Focusing on the book’s content occupies the portion of my brain responsible for being cranky and annoyed. Listening to books as I drive also makes me feel uber-productive, because I’m making progress in consuming ALL THE BOOKS while doing something repetitive and boring I had to do. #winning #nerdalert

I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and mentioned many favorites in My Best Books of 2017 but let me take this moment to shine a little light on another one I read before last year.

DH

10% Happier by Dan Harris made me think about meditation for the first time without rolling my eyes. I knew a thing or two about pushing my own limits, and about racing thoughts and often uncontrollable anxiety and anger. Listening to Dan’s newscaster voice was great, and his dedication to sticking with meditation impressed me. It impressed me because at no point during my time with his story did I attempt to meditate at all. I just thought, “huh. Meditation makes him 10% happier; that would be cool” and after I downloaded one app (Stop. Breathe. Think.) that had a meditation to help me fall asleep, I carried on my merry (or fuming) path of least resistance.

Enter 2017, a year I have most frequently seen referred to as a “dumpster fire.” Personal stuff and the news made me unhappy, and when I reached my 30th birthday, I knew I had to change something. There are plenty successful, well-adjusted people out there, some in my circle, who are not overcome by the news. They consume the same information as I do, feel just as strongly about it, but do not immediately spray obscenities into their surroundings, nor spike their blood pressure. I needed to be more measured.

I read another book: The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe.

AP

This time…. I also didn’t do any of the suggested “practice” meditations as I read. But, I did put language to what I wanted: I want to control my emotions so that they don’t rule me.

It took pushing myself to attend a Kundalini yoga/meditation workshop at a local studio before I actually did meditate. And dang, people. It is not as hard as I thought. I don’t have to clear my mind or check in with every part of my body like I had always thought (and read). I just sit there and breathe (okay, okay, it is slightly more complicated than that). But it IS all in my head, all the roadblocks and the solutions. And the few minutes I set aside give me something to be proud of every day: I took the time to check in, to refocus, to decompress and lower my blood pressure. I took steps toward being one of those calm, cool people who don’t fly off the handle at the sound of 45’s voice.

I won’t start preaching, but I do think that we the (stressed) people need to take care of ourselves, and that meditation can help. It’s January and I’m still on the New Year/New Me train, but from here on out, I don’t want to rant, nor do I want to portray myself as a Pollyanna full of sunshine and rainbows. I just want to be 10% happier and re-gain my “edge.” Nerd/active citizen power!

And, if audiobooks and/or meditation and/or reading books about it still sound too hard, there are always tweets from the Dalai Lama.

Breathe easy, y’all. And leave 10 minutes earlier 🙂

books, reading

Read More in 2018

Goodreads.com is my magical external brain, and the kind folks there emailed me today to tell me to “Read More in 2018!” If you are unfamiliar, Goodreads is a website that enables you to connect with friends, see what they are reading, and, most important to this librarian: keeps a digital shelf of all yo’ books. I’m talking books you’re reading now, books you have read, books you want to read. (Look into my book brain; view my want-to-read shelf of 300 and understand what it means to be a professional book person.) This is how I keep track of my reading life, which often means adding titles and more titles because there are too many books to read in a lifetime.

I used to read one book at a time. Since being a library school student, I have started to read in a variety of modes (audiobooks and ebooks joined, but did not replace, the physical books) and now I read between 4 – 6 books at a time. This means one audiobook going in the car, one or more for when I’m doing chores around the apartment, and maybe a hardcover to take with me on errands and a paperback by the bedside. Plus or minus an ebook on my (work–shh) computer for when it’s slow.

All this to say, I read too much and I want to read less.

“Nonsense!” you say. “That is sacrilege! That is impossible! Reading is the best, most noble and rewarding activity a human can do! For a librarian to say otherwise is hogwash!”

I disagree.

I read 170 books last year, and that was too many for me. I did in fact set a goal with the Goodreads “Challenge.” My goal was 100. Librarians are surrounded (physically and in our emails/professional networks) by books, usually the newest and the buzziest. Since I was finished with library school and had a job (two, in fact!) and my own schedule, I wanted to challenge myself. And thus the goal was born.

During 2017, which was a rocky, upsetting year for our country in general and me specifically, I turtled. I pulled myself into my shell and I tried to keep out the bad stuff, which was most often any news coverage not presented in comedic form. If any of you are familiar with anxiety and/or depression, and/or feeling powerless over circumstances beyond your control, you recognize this as a counterproductive measure. Instead of going to yoga or on a run outside, I read. Instead of taking calls from or placing calls to my friends and family, I listened to audiobooks in my room. I forgot to do things that bring me joy, because I was sucked in to this habit of reading.

Not only was I strictly consuming books (too fast to allow room for digesting them), I wasn’t doing anything with the information. Occasionally, I would find someone who had read the same thing and talk about a book, or talk with my long-distance book club, but for the most part, I just wanted to move them from the digital “want to read” to the “currently reading” to the “read” shelves.

I became the antisocial kid cool parents worry about when they see their kid reading rather than playing with others. Reading is my comfort zone, and I did not step out of it.

Though not harmful, my reading was not healthy. I used my reading challenge as an excuse to not challenge myself professionally, personally and physically.

This year, my challenge is to read 100 books. No more, no less. A notoriously weak habit-breaker, I am sure in June I will find myself beyond the 50 book mark [LOL book mark, GET IT?], but as long as I’m better balancing my time, more intentional with all activities reading and otherwise, it will have been worth it.

Because I need to do, create, connect, rekindle and re-center (and not feel hokey or indulgent admitting it). Actively engaged rather than passively consuming. I need to talk with people, new and old. I know that reading makes me a better person, but it did not make my life better. It did not heal my anxiety or my relationships.

Only people can do that. Starting with me. Likely outdoors. Definitely out of my bed. There are more books than I could hope to read in a lifetime, so I need to stop trying. Life is waiting. Off the page.