Hello, My Name Is Blogbrarian and I Am Addicted To Technology

Not too long ago I came across a self-help quiz about technology addiction.   Assured that I was above such nonsense, I took it and found that I was mildly addicted, nothing to be alarmed about.   I felt sorry for those poor, crackberry souls who had failed the quiz and were considered addicted, tethered to an electronic device, desperately searching for wi-fi and unable to communicate without using text speak.  U no wht i mean? 

I was above it all.  That is, until last week when an ugly thing happened and it’s called:

My computer would not turn on.

I pushed the button and nothing happened.   I held the button down and nothing happened.  I unplugged it and plugged it back in and nothing happened.  Nothing.  Happened. 

I stared at the CPU in horror, willing it to give some sort of weak signal, such as a blink or a cough, that it was still alive.  Nothing.  And that is when the panic set in. 

My mind began racing.  It went through worst case scenarios and spit out things like: Ohmygawdthisstupidmachinewontturnonandihaveworktodoandhowamigoingtodoit?  Could it be fixed?  Was it the hard drive?  Had I done a backup recently?  How much do new computers cost? 

Now is a good time to add that I have a second part-time job and that requires me to work out of my house on my now dead computer.   The one that was I staring at and was not moving.

Then it occurred to me.  I needed that computer to work.  I needed that technology to run my life.  I needed a 12-step group, just as soon as I could access the website for the nearest meeting. 

I realize that I have an Android phone with internet access, but, really, I can’t conduct all my business using that tiny screen.  Plus, I hate the touch screen keypad and auto correct is just plain evil.  Which brought me back to that blasted computer, and the fact that I needed it and it wasn’t cooperating. 

Fear not, this story has a happy ending.  My Dearest Husband bought a new power supply for a mere $50, installed it and they all lived happily ever after.  That is, until the hard drive goes. 

Now, I wake up in the morning and admit that I need electricity to run my life, whether or not it’s good, right or harmful.  I still have a paper calendar in my purse to glance at the entire month but I see myself becoming more digital every day.  And, more dependent. 

Must run.  I dropped my electric toothbrush and now it won’t work.  Let me know if you hear about any electronic 12-step programs, okay?


Wait, Wait – Don’t Tell Me

I have had some very interesting encounters with complete strangers telling me very intimate details about their lives.   For example, there was the woman standing behind me at the supermarket checkout who admitted her counseling and antidepressants weren’t working.  Then there was the cashier who told me about the conversation with her doctor following the termination of her latest unwanted pregnancy.  Oh, and then there was a patron who came back from his trucking job to find his long time girlfriend shacked up with another ‘clown’.  

 All of these incidents (and more, which I have either entirely forgotten or blocked out) were equally horrifying.  They left me shaken, my standard closing line of, “Have a good day” or “Take care”, woefully inadequate for the situation. 

I used to think that I was the reason for these confessions.   I was convinced that there was something about me that made people spill their guts to an unknown person.  Maybe it was my midwestern dialect or the fact that I’m not terribly tall.  Maybe it’s that I’m unthreatening.  Maybe I give off a maternal pheromones.   Maybe it’s just because I don’t run in the other direction. 

However, after shopping this holiday season, I have totally rethought this phenomenon.  It has nothing to do with me.  People will just tell you anything.  Or, at least they don’t care if  you listen in.

There were three people in Target this past weekend who were talking on their cell phones.  Loudly.  Unabashedly telling all within shouting distance about their torrid, fascinating lives. 

There was the woman who was buying a gift for ‘Kathy’, whose baby was being baptized Catholic but she was actually Methodist (Is this still an issue?  Really?).    The man who leaned over his cart, as if he couldn’t walk without its support, gave a very boisterous speech about why his damn boss didn’t deserve a gift but, by God, he was going to buy one anyhow.   And, of course I couldn’t forget the woman who shared details about her last date with someone who didn’t interrupt much.

The next time you have something burning your soul that you must get off of your chest, please seek out someone responsible and kind to speak with, preferably in private.  I will post my desk schedule at the library if you really need it.  But, in the absence of a trusted friend, it’s apparently okay to grab your cell phone and walk proudly through Target (or Meijer, in a pinch) announcing to all near your darkest secrets. 

Remember what Mark Twain said: “Never tell the world your troubles.  Half don’t care and the other half are glad of them.”   Then again, Mark Twain never owned a cell phone, did he?

Awful Gifts, Just In Time for the Holidays

It’s almost time for the holidays.  Despite my best efforts to ignore it, the calendar is stating that Thanksgiving is next week and, therefore, Christmas is coming too.  (Incidentally, I love Thanksgiving.  It’s what follows that worries me).

Don’t get me wrong, there are many things to like about Christmas.  There are wonderful smells, fabulous recipes and the fact that you can wear green and red together and not look silly.  (Admit it- you’ve been tempted to pair those colors in April and changed your mind). 

Then, there is the gift giving.  I also realize that the gifts are symbolic of Christ’s coming as a gift to the world.  But, really, I think that the question here should be WWJB, and that stands for, “What Would Jesus Buy?”  Let’s look at some of the finest offerings of the season and see if they are gift worthy this year.


Meet Clocky, the alarm clock that runs away.    He looks very cute and friendly but, a minute after you press ‘snooze’, Clocky jumps off your night stand and rolls away, apparently beeping loudly so that you have to chase him around your room.   After which case you are not only awake, but highly annoyed.  Here’s my prediction:  this will be funny about two times.  I also predict that there will be a lot of broke-y Clocky’s in January.

Beer Holsters

 The image above is a beer holster.  That’s right.  No more walking aimlessly around parties, looking for a table to set your cold one on.  Carry your beloved beer close to the hip and rejoice for your hands free status.   Hurrah! Bar brawling just got a little easier!  

Arm Warmers

I know that this is a silly idea, but, what if you just wore a sweater and some gloves and skipped these altogether?  Nah, you’re right.  That would never work.

Elf on the Shelf

Hey, guess what?  These little guys have been around since I was a little girl.  Guess what else?  I thought that they were creepy and was scared that they walk around and get into elf-ish trouble while I was sleeping, despite their lack of feet.  You know what?  I still wonder about them.  I’m going to skip the shelf elves.

FIJIT Friends

I am not exactly sure what bothers me so much about this toy.  Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s advertised as a mechanical “BFF”, which is disturbing just in itself.  It also has built-in responses and jokes.  And it dances.  Except, it’s not real.  So, it’s just an annoying mechanical cylinder with a weird skin-like rubber coating.  Merry Christmas.

Pooping Reindeer Sweater

Ummmm…. Yeah.   There’s really nothing to say about this other than just don’t buy this.  Ever.  Jesus doesn’t want you to exchange bad sweaters in honor of his birthday. 

Four Books For the Price of One!

… and we’re back! 

So, how’ve you been?  How was your summer? How are the kids?  What have you been doing?

Michigan, despite being beautiful, is not known for its fantastic weather and it was a hot summer.  Hades hot.  Don’t wear makeup hot.  Sit inside and read hot.  In my case, however, it’s been walk your dog early in the morning or late at night and listen to your mp3 player or lay in bed and read with my Nook hot.   So I was able to get quite a bit of reading done.  

When I looked at the books that I’ve either read or listened to for the past couple of months, they all, except one, had one thing in common – they weren’t set in the United States.  Was this Freudian on my part?  Do I secretly long to travel around the world and visit other cultures?   

The answer is yes, of course.  However, this method of travel is way cheaper and less hassle.  Plus, I don’t have to come home to a messy house.  Don’t laugh- that is a consideration.

So, here we go.  We’re off to the Balkans, Brazil, England, Ireland.   Come on along and enjoy the ride – don’t forget your toothbrush.  Maybe you’d better bring along a phrase book too.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obrecht

Did you read “The Life of Pi”?   I did.  Then I threw it across the room.

I didn’t throw this book across the room because I might have broken my Nook and that would have been bad.  However, I was just as frustrated. 

The reviews about “The Tiger’s Wife” were remarkable.  They were glowing.  Téa Obrecht is considered one of the finest young authors to debut this century.  I was urged to read her literature and bask in its power. 

I will concede that she is talented.  In fact, there were a few passages that I actually highlighted because they were so lovely (did you know you could do that with an eReader? I found that out by accident when I was falling asleep with my Nook propped up on my stomach and my finger slid down the page instead of turning it.)  Her descriptions were beautiful and I could imagine the terrain of the Balkans before war and hatred tore it into bits. 

However, her stories were confusing and her characters were hardly developed.  I did not do my homework and read Salman Rushdie, which, apparently, was essential homework for understanding her stories.   I didn’t know that Salman Rushdie was going to factor into my summer reading or I would have glanced at his work.  Maybe. 

In the end, what I really wanted to know was where the hell was this book was supposed to take place, how the main character was supposed to be a doctor when the descriptions of the country were so third world and why I couldn’t determine which tales were real and which were ‘deftly woven’ into the story.  Just like The Life of Pi.  Which I threw across the room.  Which I really wanted to like too.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

I absolutely loved Bel Canto.  That was one of my very favorite books and it stayed with me for weeks. I still am amazed how opera, the jungle and a cast of characters from around the globe could make so much sense together.  I also loved the book Run.  Another unlikely combination of adopted children, ichthyology and Boston, but it worked and I still think about that book too.

So, given that her other books were so deftly woven, Time of Wonder, a book about drug companies, Minnesota, Brazil and missing persons shouldn’t be such a stretch for Ann Patchett, right?  Sorry, I’m going to have to say wrong.  Very wrong.  I’m not sure that it worked at all.   I’m not sure why she wrote it and I’m certainly not sure what it was all supposed to mean. 

Marina Singh a ‘damaged’ doctor and Minnesota native who works for the drug company, Vogel, bravely goes to Brazil to search for the body of her missing co-worker Anders Eckmann, who was reported to have died from a fever.  The report is written by Dr. Annick Swenson, who has been working on a fertility drug for years but who doesn’t think that it’s important to give weekly memos regarding her progress.  In fact, she doesn’t even give yearly memos, much to the chagrin of her supervisor, Mr. Fox (we never know his first name.  This bothers me). 

While in Brazil, Marina has to deal with toxic malaria pills, the creepy Australian couple who try their best to keep anyone from finding Annick Swenson and ‘bothering’ her, hideous creepy, crawly reptiles and insects and, most disturbing, the truth. 

I would love to tell you all about the ending of this book.  Actually, I think that you would find it most fascinating and you would be in a ‘state of wonder’ just like I am.  I am wondering why Patchett wrote this book, why her characters were so unlikable and why she ended it like she did.  I am wondering why I didn’t read the review, which likened it to “Heart of Darkness” and run in the other direction. 

However, I cannot spoil it for you.  You really have to read the entire mess and then decide for yourself what it’s all about.  State of wonder indeed.

Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

Now, let’s go back about 70 years to England.  Well, actually, let’s go forward around 40 years and then we’ll travel back over 100 years to World War II, Connie Willis style.

Connie Willis, queen of the science fiction time travel, is back and bigger than life.   Her two book series, Blackout and All Clear, have to be her biggest project to date.  Many of the characters from her book The Doomsday Book (not reviewed but highly recommended) are back in 2060 and planning to send several historians to World War II.  Mike, Elaine and Polly are all sent on their missions to the beginning of World War II to research life in a country under siege.   There they experience the horrors of blackouts, the difficulties of rationing in addition to the general uncertainty of living in a country at war in the 20th century.  They also experience a very different kind of fear when their ‘drops’ (or portals to the 21st century via time travel) don’t open and they are stuck in a very different world than their own. 

Since Connie Willis is one of my favorite authors, I am going to give her credit where credit is due.  She did an enormous amount of research for these two books, but therein lies the problem.  She made this storyline into two books.  It was longggggg…  too long.  ‘Where was her editor?’ long.  ‘I can’t keep this story straight!’ long.  ‘She could have chopped half of this story!’ long. 

In the end, Willis did tie up all the loose ends quite nicely.  There were even a few, ‘Ah ha!” moments, which is always fun.  I am also going to even suggest these two books if you are a WW II buff (plus, they did win the 2011 Hugo Award for best novel).  Just keep in mind that you’ll have to wade through an awful lot of unnecessary details to get to the heart of the story. 

The Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd

Hopping the pond to the Emerald Isle, Rutherfurd gives a history lesson of the Irish people by tracing the roots of several generations of families.  Readers follow the most ancient of Celtic families through the landing of the Norsemen, the travails of Brian Boru, and living conditions under English rule.  It was fascinating to learn the origins of many Irish surnames, and to get a sense of why the Irish are still such a proud people to this day. 

So, now that I’m back in the good ‘ol USA, I’ve picked a book set right here in Michigan.  Very Bad Men, the sequel to Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan is right on my bedside table, even as I type.  So far, it’s fantastic, and I only had to travel to Ann Arbor for this one.   There really is no place like home.

You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cleavage

I’ve discussed the sad state of science fiction art before.   I really don’t understand why such good books are given such awful covers.  General fiction covers look like art, mystery covers are fun and whimsical, romance is, well, romantic, and science fiction and fantasy book covers are just plain laughable. 

I think that the most hilarious covers feature women.  I really would like to know why women are portrayed in either slinky, Barbarella get-ups complete with bullet bras and six inch space boots or bizarre medieval wench fantasy clothes.  I’m not sure if that’s a social commentary or just really bad artwork. 

I saved some of my very favorites to share.   Let me know what you think.

The medieval warrior babe, also known as “She Who Coordinates Her Tunic and Boots”

The gothic ‘bad girl’ babe, also known as “She Who Managed to Find Fredrick’s of Hollywood in the 18th Century”

The space explorer babe or “She who wears her makeup to the intergalactic war”:

She who secretly keeps E.T. in her Native American replica hut:

She who is in love with her spacesuit:

She who likes to wear matching outfits with her space pet:

The Comfort of Re-Reading

If you’ve ever had (or babysat) young children you know that little people love to hear the same books read to them over and over again.  They also love to watch the same dvd’s and listen to the same music.  It’s predictable and comforting.  And, quite frankly, after the 20th time, maybe a bit annoying for the parent or caretaker.  That said, I have wonderfully warm memories of my children asking me to read them their favorite story ad nauseam. 

There’s a part of me that searches out comfort, just like my kids used to when they were young.  You know – that warm, fuzzy feeling that reading your favorite author, eating your favorite foods or being with your favorite people brings. 

That’s why I’m listening to “Sing Them Home” by Stephanie Kallos for the third time.   I’ve checked it out of the library this time every year for the past three years and, odds are that I’ll do it again next spring.  It’s becoming a ritual, which is also comforting.

“Sing Them Home” is a book that’s a bit difficult to describe.  When Hope Jones goes up in a 1978  Nebraska tornado and is never recovered, it appears that the lives of her three children may never recover as well. 

The eldest daughter, Larkin, an art history professor at the University of Nebraska, is a food addict who is private to the point of being aloof.  The only true friends that she has are her neighbors including John, who she secretly loves, Mia, his artistic wife, and their young daughter, Esme (who she also loves).   Despite the fact that she is successful in her professional life, she is sad and lonely in her personal one.

The middle son, Gaelen, is a weatherman who has two main interests: women and working out.  Neither of these interests, however, appear to help to heal the hurt that he keeps inside.  He’s a bit of an enigma too.  He drove away his very first love by cheating on her with multiple women.  Gaelen is as untouchable as his eldest sister.

The youngest daughter, Bonnie, is just plain different.   That’s putting it mildly. She talks to the dead (who, incidentally, answer back), collects and catalogs bits of trash and continues to look for her mother daily.  She doesn’t care that she never went to college like her siblings.  Nor does she care that she is living in a converted shed in the backyard of two spinsters.  She’s doing just fine, thank you very much.

The lives of these dysfunctional siblings are once again shaken as their father, retired town physician Llewelyn Jones, is electrocuted while playing golf in a thunderstorm.   They are thrown together to perform the Welsh rite of “singing the dead home” with the other aging members of Emlyn Springs, including Llewelyn’s long time mistress Viney.  At the same time, they are forced to face the parts of their lives that need mending.  

 If you’re thinking that I’m bizarre and you would never re-read a book when there’s so much else out there from which to choose, I accept your judgement.   Let me just point out that there is no diagnosis in the DSM IV for people who re-read books multiple times.  It’s not affecting the rest of my life, so identifying me as having OCD is out too.

I think that there are some definite benefits to re-reading.   I am convinced that I have picked up something new that I hadn’t paid attention to before every time I go back to this book.  Take, for example, the death of Llewelyn.  After listening to this book three times, I now wonder if he actually played golf during a thunder cell because he too wanted to die.   It occurs to me that maybe I was supposed to figure that out the first time I read it. 

As far as missing out on other books goes, not to worry.  I have another book on CD in my car, on my MP3 player and one by my bedside.  I also got a NookColor for Mother’s Day and I’m filling that up with more “must reads”.   Yes, there’s plenty out there to read and I’m all about new books.

Yet, there’s still that comfort in re-reading that brings me back to Emlyn Springs each May and “Sing Them Home” does seem like familiar in its own weird way.  Be it ever imperfect, I think there’s something to be said for feeling like you’re home.

The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden

Grab your toga, your sandals and a jug of your favorite wine – we’re going back to ancient Rome.  Bring your imagination too – this fictitious account of Gaius Caesar’s life as a young boy up until the time he becomes a professional soldier, is loosely based on the life and times of Julius Caesar and his buddy, Marcus (better known as Brutus). 

I mention this important distinction because, after reading reviews of this book on Amazon.com, it is apparent that many of the reviewers were miffed at what they call “bad history”.  One particularly unhappy reviewer stated, “I realize historical fiction bends the truth, but this was just plain horrible. Even worse, people will read this and think that it’s true because they don’t know any better.” 

Ouch.  Art thou calling me a plebeian? 

I think that there is a difference between not knowing any better and not really caring because it’s clearly labeled as  FICTION.  I wouldn’t write a historical thesis on the life and times of Julius Caesar based on this book – even a commoner like myself knows better than that.  I read books because they capture my imagination, not because they are necessarily historically accurate.  

Let’s quote another reviewer, shall we?  This one states, “Even children’s books on this subject matter reveal these gross errors in history.”  This reader apparently has his toga in a wad because Iggulden shouldn’t have pretended that this book was about Caesar.   To which I say, who cares?  If I wanted to read about the historical Caesar, I would have gone to the biography section and found a long, dry tome about the political climate of Caesar, his life and his the state of the Republic of Rome (see also, Rome, History, Republic 265-30 B.C.).

For the record, I thought that “The Gates of Rome” was an interesting glimpse at life in ancient Rome.  It was something different, the reader for the audiobook (Robert Glenister) was very talented, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.   There are three more books in this series, to which I say ‘exquisitus’ and more wine!