Witty librarian writes a strong memoir

So I finished reading Josh Hanagarne’s excellent memoir last week and am still feeling the urge to gush. This book just works on so many levels that I feel compelled to recommend it to a lot of friends, for all kinds of reasons. I’ve written a full review on my review website, Rated Reads, but I’ll share a bit more here.

First, I like to laugh, and this book made me laugh. Check. Second, I felt I had a bit of insider’s knowledge because Hanagarne was raised Mormon and talks a lot about Mormonism, such as scripture stories, the experience of serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a lot of other little cultural touchstones. Since I’m LDS myself, I felt I could really appreciate what he was talking about. At the same time, he explains things so well that readers who aren’t Mormon won’t miss out. I think he handles that really nicely. But I got a big kick out of some of his stories, like the one when he’s a young boy talking about Ammon and all the cut-off arms in his Sunday school class. (See my review on Rated Reads for more information or the original account in the Book of Mormon, Alma 17: 18-39, and you can better appreciate the humor).

I also enjoy learning about what it’s like to deal with particular life challenges. In this case, Hanagarne helps readers get a little idea of what it’s like to live with Tourette Syndrome. He explains it really well and makes it funny as well as informative. His way of telling his personal experience with this syndrome helps readers appreciate what it’s like without feeling sorry for him. We just get to know Josh, who has these annoying tics and outbursts.

He has loved to read for pretty much his whole life, his mom being the great kind of mom who took him to the library at a really early age and read to him and with him. So he talks about favorite books and authors. He is now obviously a librarian, and he shares stories about all the wacky people and situations he encounters working at a large library in downtown Salt Lake City. He so clearly loves books and being able to work in a stronghold of information (despite the wackiness) that it’s just great fun to read what he writes about books and libraries. Great quote from the book:

A library is a miracle

Last, and this ties in to my previous point about his faith background: he has struggled with faith off and on for a lot of his life, wanting to have the strong faith that his mother so clearly has and wants to instill in her family, but just not always “feeling it.” Faith involves both knowledge and feelings, essentially, and he talks a lot about how he has often wondered about what he feels and doesn’t feel in that regard. I liked that rather than being at a point of anger at God or bitterness about organized religion or the LDS faith in particular, he is at a point of just not knowing, of being uncertain. He wants to “feel it” and can cite several specific (and beautiful) examples of when he did have a prayer answered or a concern addressed by God, but for much of his day-to-day life, he just doesn’t feel a connection with the divine when seeking it through prayer or other religious activity.

Hanagarne shows no antagonism but expresses more of a sense of loss, of the “pieces of his life” not “fitting together” and meaning the big thing they used to mean. He worried that his mother, especially, would be angry or distraught (“I’d pictured a maternal rebuke, disappointment and tears, … a guilt trip…”) when he told her he was going to stop going to church because he wasn’t “getting anything out of it anymore,” but she just told him, “The older I get, the more I see that people just have to live their own lives and make their own choices. I’d be lying if I said I like this. I don’t. … But you’re my son and whatever happens, we’ll all still love you and that won’t change.”

I love how he expresses his search, his experiences, his feelings and non-feelings, and his uncertainties. I love his dialogue with his mother. It’s all so honest and real, and what I’d say is a view on an ongoing process. I love how supportive and still hopeful (I thought) and faithful his mother is as they talk.

I feel hopeful for him, too. He is blessed, and we’re all lucky enough to be able to read about his story, the warmth, the wonderful family love, the fun, all mixed in with the challenges of regular life and the specific challenges of Tourette’s.

Yes, ‘family’ channels have a responsibility to families

I wrote an article two summers ago for the Deseret News about “family friendly” TV shows. At the time, I was feeling particularly annoyed by the Disney Channel, especially the show “Good Luck Charlie.” Two years later, I still feel just as annoyed, and I’m pretty much banning the channel from our house.

Good Luck

I’m reminded again of this because of the latest information about the channel and this particular show, stating that the show will be adding a set of lesbian moms and their child to the show next year. Now, I’m not going to get into my stance on homosexual unions or parenting or anything like that. I will simply say that this is a hot-button issue and that the country is fairly close to evenly split on opinions about it. What’s at issue here is that probably half of the parents in this country (I’m just very roughly going to guess on this since the opinions still tend to be 50-50 on the topic of same-sex marriage) might have some reservations about this issue and may not be excited that a channel geared at young children is introducing this kind of controversial topic.

Now I got a comment on my original article two years ago, with the commenter saying that I’m essentially expecting all shows to reflect what I think reality should be, rather than what it is. And, of course, that’s not at all what I’m saying. Any channel out there can run whatever kind of programming it wants to. It doesn’t “have” to be responsible to any set of people or values or expectations of any kind. And I’m OK with all kinds of wacky non-realities in TV shows. I love fantasy and lots of situations that are far different from my own or what is “ideal.” Watching those can either just be fun or entertaining or acceptably escapist, or they can be informative and worldview-expanding. That’s great.

However, when a network is essentially setting itself up to be known for being “family friendly” or, in the case of Disney, building on a long tradition of expectations for that quality, I do believe it has some responsibilities. If you don’t agree with me about this, just stop reading now. You won’t agree with anything I say further. In the case of being responsible about portraying families to young children, I think it’s irresponsible to introduce some of these more mature concepts that parents would prefer to address themselves. I also think it’s irresponsible to portray parents who are mean, parents who are immature and just goofy, and parents who don’t seem to care about their kids’ welfare — NOT because these scenarios don’t reflect reality, but because on the DC, they’re played just for the purpose of getting cheap laughs.

I cringe every time I see the mom on that show put down one of her kids or plot against them or do anything else that belittles them. It angers me when they act like little kids themselves rather than responsible adults. (Again, this is not to say that parents can’t have fun and act childlike; it’s AWESOME when parents get down in the mud and play with the kids or color alongside them or swing with them at the park. I am saying that when they act like brats to get laughs, it diminishes the meaning and value of parenting and the importance of love and trust in family relationships.)

I’m putting our satellite service on pause for the summer, and when I take it off pause in the fall, I plan to block the Disney network. I don’t want my girls seeing that stuff anymore. And I doubt that Disney will care. The folks there clearly plan to continue on the path toward putting parents in a position of goofiness and un-respectability. I just won’t support them.

If I’m going to take a “personality” test, of course it’s going to be literary

So I was reading Josh Hanagarne’s blog, World’s Strongest Librarian, and he posted about using a fun little site called I Write Like, which uses an algorithm of some sort to analyze whose writing style your writing most resembles. Now I typically don’t get caught up in those cutesy types of things everyone posts on Facebook (which Jersey Shore person you’re most like or which reality show you’d be best on, etc etc.), but this certainly hooked my interest. I mean, I love to read, and I love to write. And having myself compared to a famous author can only stoke my writer’s vanity, right?

So I eagerly tripped right on over to the site and pasted in a few different paragraphs from my blog and from my reviews on Rated Reads. I clicked the “analyze” button and only had to wait a second for the site to spit out its conclusion: I write like Vladimir Nabokov. Ohhh-kaaay. Haven’t read any of his work, actually (no, I’ve never been interested in reading Lolita, thankyouverymuch). But it was a fun game to play.


I write like
Vladimir Nabokov

I Write Like. Analyze your writing!


Hanagarne noted that he hadn’t seen any female writers pop up so far, and my sample certainly lines up with that. Anyone else care to give it a shot?

When books disappoint

Watching a movie or reading a book that’s gotten a whole lot of hype can be problematic because they’re just set up for failure. How many things really, completely, amazingly, wonderfully live up to the expectations? Not many, in my experience.

But still, I read books that have received loads of attention and many glowing reviews. Because sometimes, the book really will meet expectations and I will truly be blown away.

Life After LifeUnfortunately, this was not the case for Kate Atkinson’s newest novel, Life After Life. (Incidentally, one of the earliest bits of information I learned about the book was that two new novels were coming out around the same time with the same title, and both had favorable buzz. I might need to check out the other Life After Life, by Jill McCorkle, and see if I like it any better.) I suppose I should have been warned off it by at least one sign: I had read Atkinson’s also-much-lauded Case Histories and was unimpressed. Eh.

In the case of this book, though, the kudos came in from all kinds of quarters, and the premise of the book was fairly original and intriguing: the main character is born and dies immediately. But then just one little thing changes in an “alternate time line,” one could say, and she lives. And she goes on a few years and dies. But something changes, and she gets to live instead. And on and on. Ursula dies over and over again in all kinds of ways, but then she lives in alternate versions. Cool idea. (To read more about it, check out my full review.)

Sadly, though, the ending left me cold. I felt it just didn’t conclude or bring everything together in a meaningful way, or give me any satisfaction as a reader. I hate that. I complained about it several times after I put the book down, to any family members who would listen. I went to Goodreads and tried to take solace in the few other reviewers who were equally disappointed and wondering why everyone else was giving the book 5 stars. Even then, I still wonder: WHY? Why all the glowing reviews? What did I miss? Please, somebody explain it to me. It’s these kinds of endings that make me feel stupid, that somehow I’m missing an important piece of the puzzle that would make the book meaningful. But no, I felt the same way with this as I did when I finished Cloud Atlas: disappointed, annoyed that there was no apparent Greater Meaning anywhere. Everyone said there was this payoff, this Meaning, this Message. But no, I sure didn’t see it. Right now, I’m just reading something simple, an easy book without any Meaning. That way I won’t be disappointed again. I can’t handle it again quite this soon.

How to make a bubble table. You’re welcome.

So it is the first day of the first full week of my daughters’ summer vacation. If you’re a parent, you may very well be like me in that just thinking about having the house full of children all day, every day, with no school or other activities to engage their attention makes you feel … well, nutty. I decided that this summer I would provide a few more fun things for them to do to keep them out of my hair and me outside the loony bin. First off, I went to Hobby Lobby and bought nine bottles of tempera paint in the good basic colors as well as two 100-foot rolls of paper, as well as a bag of assorted brushes. We’ve rolled out that paper on the tile in the entryway and the girls have had a good ol’ time. Now, granted, I’ve kept the paint and pretty much all non-Color Wonder crayons, paints, markers, etc. out of the room of the 6-year-old because even up until very recently she has not proved herself to be at all responsible with their use. So these paints are still not in her room, but stepping up to letting her use them was a bit of a leap of faith for me (control and clean freak that I sometimes can be). So far, so good.

Next idea: making a bubble table. Now, my girls were entertained for a good long time at San Francisco’s Exploratorium last fall just at the big bubble table. Exploratorium bubble table

They could probably have stayed there for the whole of our visit, but there were other children who wanted to use it. So I’ve been trying to find somewhere online that describes how to make one for home use. I searched on Pinterest and had no luck. So I came up with my own version. Here’s what we did:

First, for the “table” part: I wanted to have some kind of large but shallow metal containers that could hold the bubble solution. I finally hit upon using restaurant-grade serving containers, the kind that are used in big buffet tables. I was lucky enough to find three of a good size at our local Smart and Final. Buying three at a time also reduced the price for me on this visit, so each one was $12. Now, if you’d like to keep this DIY cheaper, you could use the $2 foil containers of similar size, but I figured I’d end up replacing those a lot, so the $12 per container was a good investment. I also had to have three because I have four kids, one of whom is old enough to not really need/want to use the bubble table. The younger three, though, definitely each need their own.

metal serving containers

Next, I wondered what in the world I’d use for large rings. The Exploratorium had big rings with handles on them, which I figured I wouldn’t find anywhere. My husband then became the genius when he came up with the idea of using tomato cages, like this one at the right: tomato cage


Using his wire cutters, he clipped off the circle parts of the cages from the long straight “stick” parts of the cage and left just a few inches of those straight pieces on the circles. Then he bent each down into a little curlicue that the girls could hold.

making a tomato cage into rings

Last is the bubble solution. I’ve found a few recipes online, including one that’s been circulating on Pinterest and Facebook that uses corn syrup. So far, I think I like the recipe that uses glycerin. But since I just set it up an hour ago, it may well be that any of the bubble solutions will work better tomorrow after having time to sit and mix nicely and evaporate just so. Here is a link to some recipes. As I said, I think I like the one that uses 1 gallon of water, 2/3 cup of dish detergent liquid, and 2 or 3 tablespoons of glycerin.

I set up my three metal serving containers on an old desk that’s on our back patio that my oldest uses for her art projects. It’s not pretty back there, but it’s fun and useful. At any rate, now that desk is the bubble table.

bubble table setup

bubble tableAnd I’ve been hearing a whole lot of happy squealing from three girls for an hour now. Yes! Score one for summertime mama.