When memory slips away

My mom died ten years ago today.

Today at work, an elderly woman with dementia has nowhere to go, no one to see. We all – and I truly mean everyone who works public service at my large urban library – panic for hours that she will end up, still, when the library closes, with nowhere to go, no one to see.

She is in her 90s, dressed in hospital garb that is mostly hidden by a long winter coat tied snugly around her waist. She shuffles in a way I associate with dementia in someone younger (the physical signals of Alzheimer’s scream to those of us who know it well) but isn’t at all alarming in someone her age. She struggles with a walker and one of the largest wheeled-suitcases I’ve seen. Or maybe it’s the bright floral pattern that makes it command attention, seem so huge. She shuffles, struggles, smiles. One of our security officers immediately takes up conversation with her, taking over transportation of the ungainly suitcase. I think: I work with kind people. I think: Is this all she has? I think: How will she manage the rest of today – tomorrow, next week, any other day, really – without someone beside her?

maria in sound of music

In my mind, this is how she is,
in her mind.

The woman doesn’t know where she lives. She doesn’t know where she’s been or why she’s dressed as she is. She does, however, recall stories of her life and her friends from decades ago.

The police are called. Can the Crisis Team help? Four police officers arrive an hour or so later with the news that they’ll call the Crisis Team. But there is no guarantee that they will come. And, if they do, they might not be able to do anything.

Staff situate her at a table in the coffee shop area of the library and they bring her food. Everyone working on Level 3 keeps their eyes on her; staff from Level 5 periodically peer down from their overlook to check on her; other patrons and customers in the coffee shop are kind and gentle with her. It goes unsaid that we are all fearing the worst, that closing time will come and she will have nowhere to go.

Finally, two men from the crisis team arrive. We are jubilant. Something good will come of this. She will be safe. But then, inexplicably, the two men leave.

She is alone.

My colleagues jump into action again. There are phone calls to make, noise to be made. We used to have a part-time social worker at our library, but the position has been vacant for nearly three months. We have felt the strain, and when I say “we” I mean not only staff, but also dozens of people who come to the library each day looking for help getting housing, getting identification, getting on with their lives. Librarians do what we can to help, as we have been for years. But the need is so great and the systems so complicated, and, honestly, we didn’t know all the gaps there were in our service until we had a social worker alongside us.

This story has a short-term resolution and long-term devastation. The phone calls and strategizing work, and someone comes to bring her to a shelter and connect her with services.

I am relieved for her, but far from happy. This should not happen in our city. Not in anyone’s city. She is just one of many.

Why did I start this by telling you that my mother died ten years ago? Partly because she died of Alzheimer’s. Partly because the woman at the library reminded me of my mother with her shiny white hair, endearing smile, and the soft depth in her eyes as she seems to be searching for something she can almost reach—and then it slips away. And partly because I woke up with an unbearable sadness that compounded throughout the day.

This sadness is bigger than me, bigger than the people I know and talk to every day. I imagine that half the people in my world, particularly those I work with and interact with at the library, feel the same way.

I don’t know what to do about it.

 

 

Five murder-less mysteries to read now

2015-09-14-1442202994-5925631-mildredpierce.jpgNo murder, not even a crime; yet the 1941 novel Mildred Pierce is filled with suspense and tension throughout. I had no problem getting Joan Crawford (from the 1945 film Mildred Pierce) out of my head as I read because the real Mildred Pierce (well, the fictional Mildred, but the one in the novel) is younger and more complex than Crawford’s onscreen character — and the story is rawer. Not even Kate Winslet’s portrayal in the 2011 HBO mini series detracted from the vividness my readerly imagination brought to James Cain’s book.

“Mildred Pierce is the unicorn of crime fiction, a noir novel with no murder and very little crime,” mystery novelist Laura Lippman wrote in a Slate piece Continue reading

Girls, Girls, Girls! Coming to a book title near you

Post I wrote for Seattle Public Library’s Shelf Talk blog …

Shelf Talk

Girls Girls Girls sign glows in racy pink neon against dark night backgroundI made just one new year’s reading resolution this year: Read no books with the words “girl” or “wife” in the title.

A few days into 2016 and I failed with American Housewife by Helen Ellis (a pure delight to read and sure to be one of my favorite books of the year), followed shortly after by The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel (Denmark’s “Queen of Crime”). Now All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda and The Girlsby Emma Cline are stacked on my nightstand. In the 12 months prior, my reading list included: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll, Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girlby Carrie Brownstein and Not That Kind of Girlby Lena Dunham.* So. Many. Girls.

In the fiction world, publishers are still riding high on the success of

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Five ways to climb out of a reading slump

What if I told you that being a librarian had ruined me as a reader? Well, it would be a lie. Mostly.

About four times a year, I suffer a bit of a reading crisis. You could call it a reading slump if you’d like, but given that my day job involves connecting people with books, I consider it a full-blown bookish crisis. I feel an obligation to be up on what’s new; plus, shiny new books! If I’m preparing for a community book talk program, I’ll spend weeks and weeks of late-night reading specifically for what that audience might like. It starts to feel like an assignment.

Luckily, this happens only occasionally. Seasonally, in fact. And, luckily, I’ve found a few ways to climb out of the plotless, character-void abyss of a reading slump that comes after required reading. Here are five ways I’ve found to connect with books again, along with my personal book prescriptions.

2015-09-21-1442808647-13262-amyfallsdown.jpegChoose a different format. I’m not just talking e-book versus print here. I most often read new releases (hardcover, checked out from the library) or soon-to-be-released (which means digital advance copies on an ereader). My favorite format, however, is trade paperback. The size is great for bus commuting and couch reclining, the weight feels good in my hands, and I plain and simple just like this type of book best.

  • Rx: Amy Falls Down by Jincy Willett (2013). A novelist hits her head right before a reporter interviews her, and whatever she said (she can’t quite recall) has made her a literary darling in great demand for her wisdom on writing and publishing.
  • Prescription notes: I had checked this out twice in hardcover, but returned it both times unread. I was attracted to the redesigned cover (a basset hound!) and a blurb from super librarian Nancy Pearl.

2015-09-21-1442809231-1206812-mebeforeyou.jpegShop differently. I work in a building with close to a million books (Yes, I know! Bliss.) Yet I do most of my browsing online from reviews and Twitter. I’ve lost the “serendipity in the stacks” that lead to some of the best discoveries. Sometimes I just need to get out of my regular book selection space — computer screen and my workplace — and visit a book store or another library.

  • Rx: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (2012). A rom com with an unlikely relationship between a quadriplegic and the young woman hired to help him.
  • Prescription notes: That description didn’t exactly pull me in, which is why I hadn’t placed it on hold at my own library. It also was one of those books that I didn’t need to read, because it was so widely shared and read. Then one day, three years after it was published, I came across the book — a nice, clean trade paperback version of the book — on display at a different library branch. Sold.

2015-09-21-1442809077-7921702-weliveinwater.jpegRead short stories or essays by a favorite author. I was going to say “pick up a collection of short stories.” But what I’ve found is that to come out of this particular slump, I need assurance that an author’s style and voice will keep me going. I stick with authors I know I enjoy, but look for their shorter work.

2015-09-21-1442808911-9667220-alittlelife.jpegBase your next book on its appeal characteristic. Do you read for character, story, setting, or pure love of the language of writing? Sure, it’s possible you read for all four, or for different ones depending on your mood. But what’s the common appeal among your favorite books? For me, it’s character.

  • Rx: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015). I’m still reading this one, immersed in the lives of four friends who first met at college. I don’t ever want to come out of this book.
  • Prescription notes: This character-rich novel is such a satisfying reading experience for me, reminiscent of my other favorite character novels: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, and A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

2015-09-21-1442808998-9907064-bellweatherrhapsody.jpegAsk a professional. Talking to a librarian or a bookseller is the truest form of reading therapy. A good one will get you talking about what you like in books, and give you a book match based on clues you’ve given when talking about books you love AND the mood you’re in at the moment. Ask a friend for a book recommendation and you’ll often get one of her personal favorites; ask a librarian or a bookseller and you’ll get a suggestion tailored just for you.

  • Rx: Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia (2014).
  • Prescription notes: A librarian friend handed this to me, knowing I’d first be intrigued by the cover art and then enticed by the set up. If Glee and Heathers had a baby — and added a mystery — it would be this book. I read it in two sittings, and was back on my way to being the reader I am.

My quarterly slump is behind me now, and I’m off for a great reading season. Here’s hoping you are, too.

Free writing classes at Seattle Public Library

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 6.34.13 PMI’m so thrilled — and proud — that my library is offering a series of writing programs throughout Seattle this fall. And they’re all free. I worked with fellow librarians Andrea, David and Paige on proposing “Seattle Writes” as a pilot project last year, and this year we applied for grant funds again to make it even bigger and better. The result is fourteen creative writing programs and workshops and a panel discussion on writing for teens. AND through a separate grant and librarian team, Seattle Public Library is also offering free classes for indie authors on how to find outside help to polish your manuscript, how to format it for e-publishing and how to market it. AND through that same indie author program there is a self publishing contest with Smashwords. Three books will be selected to be added to the library’s collection.

Check out the full Seattle Writes offerings. I’m especially happy that we have programs that focus on writing picture books, writing funny for kids, and writing for teens. 

I don’t remember the title, but the cover was red …

I don't remember the title, but the cover was red ...

We get questions like this all the time in Reader Services at Seattle Public Library. I think I’ve been asked about blue covers more (“I read a science fiction book in high school in the 1980s, I think the cover was blue”), but I wanted to make a red display. I’m particularly proud of nailing the right red in the sign. One of my favorite displays that I made.

My favorite books of 2013 — so far

Halfway through the year and I have 11 favorite books published this year. It’s simply been a great year for books. Or at least for books that I like and can enthusiastically recommend to readers. Here the list of My favorite books of 2013 (so far)  in my library’s catalog, with the books in no particular order, but still looking all pretty and official (shiny book covers and it being in a library catalog and all).

Here’s the list as a list, with some order to it. By age group and then alphabetical:

Two middle-grade novels:
Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

Two YA novels:
Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Seven general fiction:
Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Truth in Advertising by John Kenney
The View from Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman
Tenth of December by George Saunders
We Live in Water by Jess Walter
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

I truly do love nonfiction, but this first half of the year was solidly fiction.

Summer reading when you’re a grownup

Does the kind of book you like to read change with the seasons? The idea of “beach reads” or that “summer reads” will be lighter, breezier has always seemed a little odd to me. The books I enjoy change more with my mood and my stress level, and even then there isn’t any real pattern.

For me, a beach book has always meant a book that I won’t mind if it gets a little sand or water on it. I would pack Proust for a beach trip if it was what I was reading right then. (This is easy to say because I have no intention of reading anything by Proust any time soon, so I don’t have to worry about dribbling a little iced coffee on it.) My criteria does make it less likely that a library book will make it into the beach bag; and I guess a paperback would be preferred.

My summer reading program avatar, complete with canine accessory and arms in a relaxed position.

My library has a summer reading program for adults. As you might imagine, adults aren’t motivated by reading certificates and stickers. And there’s that whole thing about “reading for pleasure should be its own motivation; you don’t need prizes.” But wouldn’t a little snack or a small cup of coffee be nice? A few years ago, anyone who logged reading three books and submitted a short (super short!) review form got a $5 Starbucks card. I don’t know if five bucks was necessarily a huge incentive to people, but it was FUN. And people were excited. They turned their forms in to librarians and we had a chance to chat them up about the books they read, and then offer suggestions of what they might read next.

Staff members could earn a coffee card, too. It may seem totally cornball, but I was thrilled when I got mine. I got myself an extra expensive concoction with my five dollar card, and I had a little thrill thinking “the library bought this coffee for me because they are so excited for me to be reading.” I didn’t actually think those words, but it was a feeling. I got a little charge out of it.

The coffee cards and short reviews were a big hit. Then there were a couple of summers where readers could enter reviews for a drawing to win either a “book lover’s tote bag” or, the next year, a Nook or Kindle. Still, people missed the coffee cards.

This year our adult summer reading program is all online. The incentive is badges. Really? Do people get excited about earning badges? About as excited as getting a sticker …  But you can make a a little avatar of yourself. This is mine (above). It’s the same as last year, except I spent an excessive number of minutes changing the color of my shirt. I have the same “accessory” as last year; an adorable dog that looks reasonably close to my dog, at least more so than the sheep option, which of course I tried, along with the goldfish and drumset.

The pleasure of an adult summer reading program, for me, has become changing features and animals on my avatar.