It’s Saturday! That means I recommend a book that I think you’ll like. (Yes, you!)
Today, I’m recommending Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming by Jason Briggs from No Starch Press. And I’m recommending it…for adults!
That’s right! If you (yes, you!) want to learn how to code, Python is a great place to start. It’s versatile, easy to learn (relatively speaking,) and professional coders do use it in actual applications. Kids can absolutely learn to make basic programs using the fun and surprisingly practical projects in this book, but I’m not ashamed to admit that this is where I started my own coding journey…at the age of 30. Remember that Jeopardy! champ who taught himself everything using children’s books? It’s not a bad way to introduce yourself to something new. Personally, I’ve not only learned to love Python thanks to Python for Kids, but found myself well prepared for the infamously difficult Java classes at my college because I’d already learned a similar programming language.
This book is fun, hands-on, and wonderful for all ages. There are some knockoff programming for kids books from other publishing houses, but don’t settle for them. No Starch Press is the best. This book is exactly where to start for kids or adults, and there are follow-up books that will rocket your skills to the upper atmosphere, if not to the moon. I recommend!
Happy Black Friday, guys! The nice thing about being a book person on this questionable day is that you can really just buy books online if you want to take advantage of deals. You could even spend the day reading what you already have and decline to participate in the annual sensationalized commercial frenzy that smacks of classism and exploitation of the poor. Or, you could read my scintillating thoughts on the work of Joyce Carol Oates’s newest book, Pursuit.
I’ve been reading JCO since I was just a wee lass in the ninth grade. I have very positive memories of Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang and later Zombie: A Novel. Apparently, I didn’t rate either of them very highly on Goodreads, though. I wish I knew why. They’ve really stuck with me, but maybe I had some of the same problems I had with Pursuit.
This book presents us with Abby, real name Miriam, whose parents, Lew and Nicola, disappeared when she was a kid. Right from the get-go, she’s got some very odd trauma, which causes her enough mental distress that she wanders out in front of a bus. Coincidentally, (I’m sure,) she had just gotten married. This is the story of how Abbey/Miriam discovers what happened to her parents and why she’s in such distress.
Bad Guys Get Pages
This book didn’t dwell as entirely on the bad guy as Zombie did, but it sure did dwell nonetheless. The longest stretches of the story were from the twisted perspective of Abby’s father. This wasn’t necessarily a bad choice. It was certainly very entertaining. I think that what irritated me about it was how predictable Lew was. He was every scary thing: stalker, violent misogynist, addicted, jealous, murderous, delusional, untreated for his mental health problems, religious nut, probably a pedophile.
The only thing he didn’t have was a mustache to twirl and any real depth. Ultimately, Lew was just a mashup of male killer greatest hits and almost entirely defined by his relationship to the main character’s mother. There’s no reason that someone this cartoonish couldn’t be a villain, but if you’re going to write someone so over-the-top, you’d better have a good foundation for them. I have to believe it. I didn’t believe this.
Foil the Patriarchy!
At the same time, Oates goes out of her way to present Willem, Abby’s husband, as the ideal man. He’s sensitive, kind, gentle, patient – my goodness, everyone needs a Willem. But ultimately this makes him as two-dimensional as Lew. They’re obviously meant to be foils, but Willem doesn’t really function well in this role. He’s not really a very interesting dude, and anyway, he doesn’t really appear much compared to Lew.
I did wonder if Oates was trying to not-all-men this story by setting up Willem as an example of the fact that good guys exist. Theoretically, I’m into it, but Willem is even flatter than Lew! This dynamic would probably have required a bit more subtlety than a five-hour listen could convey, and because I know that Oates is capable of it, the slipshod nature of the Lew-Willem contrast really struck me as lazy.
OK, then Criticize the Patriarchy!
Oates does a good job of showing the patriarchy rather than just railing about it, as I tend to do once I wind up. Willem’s family is a good vehicle for patriarchal oppression, but I am also a sucker for well-meaning but toxic religious families in literature. Toxic masculinity suffuses the book as a theme, with Willem being an example of a good guy and Lew, of course, being an example of everything not to do or be. Abby/Miriam is a nice representation of a woman who upholds the patriarchy by maintaining silence to protect a man, which is, of course, a topical point. She’s also kind of a poster child for repressed and damaged femininity, literally haunted by the effects of the patriarchy.
The self-abuse and repression that she heaps upon herself to try and become this “good girl” she thinks she isn’t is very thickly laid. I liked it to a certain extent because I could relate to it, but it definitely didn’t strike me as the performance of a subtle literary virtuoso. As with Lew and Willem, I felt like Abby was the coloring book version of a good statement about overcoming the patriarchy. The outlines were great, but in practice, it turned out kind of flat.
Nicola is a piece of the feminist pie, too: the classic Woman Who Does It All, whose aggressor is a character who could be an incel parody. There’s a really excellent statement the be made here about how generations of women relate to one another in a patriarchal environment, not to mention how men sort themselves into ally or enemy categories in a polarized environment as reactions to empowered or helpless women. I think it’s interesting that Nicola, who becomes empowered, incites rage on the part of her partner, while Abby/Miriam becomes completely disabled emotionally and physically and thereby inspires extreme support and protectiveness from Willem.
I’m not sure Oates intended to suggest that bitches get stitches while violets get princes, but that was definitely what I came away with. Maybe it was meant to be ironic, or just a face-forward statement about what kinds of women men like. Maybe it was meant to be a statement about damage and how women and men need to come together to repair the past.
But What A Bone Structure!
Regardless of her relative ability to discuss feminism through the medium of a thriller, Oates can structure the hell out of a novel. Despite the story jumping between several different points of view, times, and situations, I never once lost the thread. That’s why I’m going to come down on the positive side for this book after all. It’s effectively a feminist thriller, and although I don’t think it’s the smartest thing Oates has ever written, I don’t think she meant it to be an intelligent treatment of male violence and female victimhood. I think it was just supposed to be entertaining.
So if you want a dark, entertaining book with a scary villain, a damaged heroine, and a kinda half-baked feminist message that works if you blur your eyes and squint at one corner of it, then Pursuit is probably perfect for you. Read and enjoy. It’s short enough to hold you over the weekend plane or train ride back home from the holidays.
May your families be healthier by far than Nicola and Lew’s. Happy Holidays, feminists!
It’s turkey time! Around this time of year, when debate turns to the possibility of zombies freezing solid, I like to throw a few dried femurs on the fire and ponder life’s great questions. This year, I’m wondering just how wide zombification has spread in literature. There’s Jane Eyre, of course. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, oh my.
Then there’s an entire army of zombie Christmas books. Twas the Zombie Night Before Christmas: A Zombie Kids Book, a heartwarming tale of how we hung up the stockings and “ate every mouse,” meets It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies!: A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols, a collection of undead holiday chestnuts fit for an Addams Family Christmas. Or, you know, a pretty good prank on the neighborhood for a fun-loving group of social anarchists.
Don’t forget the Zombies Christmas Carol, because Marvel Zombies: The Complete Collection Volume 1 wasn’t hilarious enough when it was fresh. (Poor Spider-Man. Truly, we have all eaten someone we loved in one way or another.) A Zombie Christmas: The Mike Beem Chronicles Volume One appeals because you should always help others at the holidays even with an apocalypse on.
Then there’s my personal favorite, a sequel of the oddly compelling Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament entitled I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus: A Breathers Christmas Carol. Any zombie fan who hasn’t read Breathers is cheating themselves, by the way. It’s a lovely book about community, sacrifice, and secretly eating your parents to preserve your way of life. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll examine your prejudices against the living dead.
But what about the Thanksgiving zombies? Well, there’s another Mike Beem book, A Zombie Thanksgiving: The Mike Beem Chronicles Volume Five, as well as Zombie Thanksgiving: A YA Paranormal Story and Gobble: A Thanksgiving Novelette of the Zombie Apocalypse. But that appears to be it.
This is weird, right? Zombies are the ultimate symbols of overconsumption, specifically of a consumption style that’s actively driving life on Earth into the ground. I can see why Christmas would evoke zombie tales aplenty – not only is it a very popular holiday, but the rabid, unremitting waste of the season is basically its own apocalypse. The metaphor’s not much of a stretch, is what I’m saying.
But Thanksgiving is, if anything, more food-focused. Why aren’t zombies more of a thing in November? The parallels are uncanny.
- The month starts slow. A few of the early infected begin to consume pumpkin spice and baked goods in quantity. Smart survivor types begin to stockpile food while it’s still cheap.
- Innocuous news reports about odd eating behaviors abound.
- As the month comes to a head, enormous numbers of people begin to travel. This is not unlike the zombie survivor’s futile flight from the plague, which only follows them because it is already endemic everywhere.
- No matter how prim you may be normally, you rip into a 3,000-calorie Thanksgiving dinner like you’ve never seen food before. You’re not consuming to survive, you’re consuming to consume. You are a zombie.
- Holdouts are cranky loners.
- Everyone becomes an eating machine in the end.
The zombie narrative is comforting in many of the same ways that a cozy mystery is comforting. There’s a structure, a plot that follows certain traditions, and usually a posse where characters fill certain roles. To a great extent, it doesn’t matter if the zombies win or the people win. (Although most of my experience suggests that people usually triumph in these stories.) The point isn’t the zombies – they’re the window dressing of our collective Jungian neuroses. The point is that it’s a comfortable pattern. And isn’t that what Thanksgiving is about, too?
It’s an odd holiday. People complain about it, but love it too. How like my own relationship with the zombie novel. As rote and repetitive as they can be, and as low as I find the literary quality of certain zombie stories, I keep coming back over and over again for that feeling of safety that I get when the first revenant reanimates inside of a zipped-up body bag. Maybe that makes me a bit of a zombie for zombie books. So be it.
Happy holidays, fellow shamblers. For just one day, let’s indulge without guilt. After all, there’s a certain bliss in being part of the horde.
Featured image from GirlZombieAuthors! Give them a look!
Hello, friends! It’s nearly Thanksgiving, so I’ll keep this short, sweet, and to the point. We librarians need to edumacate ourselves.
I’m not talking about increasing our focus on reference or becoming better at beeping the books. That’s the old way of thinking about specialties. These days we need to develop new skills, and that means continuing ed. Let’s pay librarians’ tuition and send them to school to develop some useful new skills! These skills don’t have to be specific to each staff member. Someone could develop two specialties or even triple up – this, after all, is libraries.
Here’s what I think we need the most right now.
We’re as much teachers these days as anything else. Patrons want to learn how to download apps and use Excel. The problem is that, aside from school librarians, we generally don’t know how to teach.
The education librarian would coordinate learning events in the library and, when necessary, instruct other librarians on how to be good teachers. When someone declares that there should be a Coursera run in the library, it’ll be the education librarian who figures that out.
Internal Communication Librarian
Librarians tend to be free spirits. Individualists. A herd of cats, you could say. And that’s great! Except it also isn’t. It also means that we trip all over each other in a group. Enter the internal communication librarian!
This person takes business classes and then manages meetings, makes sure that everybody knows what’s going on, and generally makes sure Person X talks to Person Y about Person Z’s project. Maybe they’d run an internal staff blog detailing the library’s news.
A lot of places already have this person – my place does. But too many do not! Some librarians need to take marketing classes and become library bloggers, social media experts, and advertising mavens.
Renfrewshire Leisure are recruiting for a School Librarian and a Primary Outreach Librarian. If you think either of these roles might be for you then don’t delay – applications for both close this week! Full details are available here: https://t.co/OL07ncgcRT
— CILIPScotland (@CILIPScotland) November 25, 2019
That’s me, guys! The IT librarian might come in with some IT background, but they could also get training as they work for the library. They don’t have to be hackers or whatever, they just need to know something about a motherboard and be ready to talk the lingo to tech support.
The IT librarian could double as the cybersecurity librarian. They’d track the institutional passwords and explain to everyone why they really do need to change every 60 days.
Seniors have particular needs. Sometimes, these involve mobility and vision accommodations that most of us don’t think of before they happen to us. At the same time, they’re big-time library patrons. Why not specialize a librarian to them the way we do with teens?
Graphic Designer Librarian
Libraries aren’t not going to need to do outreach in the future. That outreach isn’t not going to need to look good. Why not train someone to be the library’s professional artist?
This shouldn’t require an art degree, just a willingness to learn. The graphic designer would make clipart, zshuzsh up promotional materials, and keep library materials on-brand and looking neat.
We need librarians whose job priority is to watch for trends in the profession and in the wider world, and then test them out to see if they could be useful in a library context.
They should go to every conference, collect every business card, and build a weekly situational report for their institution that includes new social factors (“OK Boomer,”) new tech developments (foldable smartphone,) and the results of their own R&D. For example, maybe this is the person to test NFC stickers in the library.
Love your librarian? I do. Knowledge, guidance, recommendations, historians, and (wait for it…) unsung heroes of the tech world? Vote up this unique session to discover their critical role in tech. SXSW PanelPicker® https://t.co/sCsgXr0kAE #librariansintech
— AcqEditorJoan (@AcqEditorJoan) August 7, 2019
Special Needs Librarian
There are a lot of possible applications for this kind of expertise. Are libraries overwhelming environments for autistic people? I have no idea! I’m not autistic and have no training in that area. Are children’s books available enough to adults who read at a low Lexile? Once again, it’s a need that exists and we might be able to meet it if we train someone to be an expert on the topic.
This intrepid person’s job will be to learn languages. They should come into the library with at least two, but over the years, they will learn more. The library will send them to school to learn Spanish, French, Arabic, Mandarin, and anything else that could possibly come in useful. It won’t be their entire job, per se, but it’ll be a big chunk.
Now I want to hear your ideas. Comment with the librarian specialization you think we need right now! If you think librarians already have enough going on in their lives without more stupid school, comment about that too.
Happy travel day, library friends!
Special thanks to this awesome dude for our featured image!——-> Dollar Gill
I originally came from a small town in central New York. Cows outnumbered people approximately three to one, rural values dominated, and it’s fair to say that I left as soon as I could drive. I went to college in central New York, then grad school, and got my first job there. The place continued to not work for me, and about eight years ago, I moved to Massachusetts.
Weirdly, since I moved here, I’ve encountered several books that make me nostalgic for home. Not that they make me want to move back – I spent 25 years trying and failing to be a good fit for CNY – but because they terrify me. They’re frightening in the same way that I used to associate with some of the small towns I’d drive through on my way to work, and then also frightening in the way that I used to feel when people would tell me, without affectation or agenda, that I’d be back. Because everybody came back. That was just the way New York was.
I cannot describe the dread I’d feel when people would say this to me. It always felt prophetic. Reading home – specifically, reading horror about New York State – feels a lot like daring fate. Or pondering a return. It’s hard to say. I don’t know why the concept of living in a place that scares me is somehow so comforting.
My first experience of reading home was The Twilight Zone: Complete Stories. Little-known fact: Ron Serling may have based the show upon his upbringing in the Syracuse area. You can really see it in this collection, some of which were adapted and some of which weren’t. It’s…uneven in quality. By today’s standards for science fiction, anyway. Part of the problem is that what was fresh when Serling wrote these is now old hat. Maybe I’d be more impressed 40 years ago. But the eerie quality that carries them all is as spine-tingling as anything from Clive Barker, or so it seems to me. That sense that the rest of the world might be a myth or a delusion, that your neighbors could turn on you if the snow lasts a day too long, that you’re the alien is palpable in my childhood home. It’s a weird place and weird stuff happens there. If you’ve ever seen My Brother’s Keeper, then you know of Munnsville. It’s literally just a couple towns over from where I grew up.
I’m not the only one who thinks so. Mr. Splitfoot took my breath away with its treatment of mystic cults, restless ghosts, and asteroid strikes upstate. I think I was lukewarm about this book when I first read it, but I may need to read it again. I’ve been thinking about it for years. The plot revolves around a pregnant woman whose horrible lover tries to slip abortion drugs into her food, prompting her to follow her long-lost aunt on a pilgrimage to a mysterious house in the woods of the northern foothills. Believe it or not, it gets stranger. I loved it. Part of the action took place in Troy, for goodness sake. I skated in a roller derby bout there once.
Did Mr. Splitfoot appeal to me because I recognized the place names or because it pinned the haunting nature of the place where I grew up? It’s hard to say. I’m certainly haunted by central New York now. One of the central themes that I noticed in this particular book was that it was impossible to tell who was the ghost and what, exactly, was doing the haunting. At times, it seemed like the living were haunting the dead, that the dead were being haunted by their pasts, and that New York was haunting everybody.
Finally, did you know that The Legend of Sleepy Hollow takes place in New York?
In case you’re curious, Sleepy Hollow is here. So it’s not far upstate, but I count it because the easy, immediate way that Ichabod Crane loses touch with reality doesn’t strike me as superstition. I like to read the story as an examination of an intellectual man trying to escape the appetites and desires of his baser half, which eventually attacks the very thing that makes him superior – his imaginative mind – and makes it so he’s never heard of again.
I can relate to the fear of being erased, tracked down by a part of yourself that you want to dominate and instead falling prey to it. It is reminiscent of the person I was back home – angry, isolated, and steeped in my issues with nothing to do about it but pace around my snowbound living space. Sometimes I feel like that paranoid way of being is constantly riding behind me, and if I look at it too closely, it’ll attack. Maybe it’ll replace me after all. Is that what I’m running away from? And will I make it to the covered bridge on time?
It’s past Halloween, and therefore past the time of year when we can have fun being frightened. Now comes the really scary time of the year: the cold months. Even ensconced in our modern comforts, life is a little less certain when the snow starts to come down. You could skid on ice and crash. You could run out of food in a freak snowstorm. You could get snowed in on the highway without a sleeping bag.
So I do the New York things that remind me of home. I put on snow tires. I stock up on food in case we get a bad storm. I pack a down sleeping bag in my trunk.
I pack a copy of Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber. And I don’t look over my shoulder.
I would like to apologize to SupportAssist. I slandered its reputation for a problem that it did not cause.
That’s not to say that SA isn’t a ridiculous piece of badly programmed junk. It totally is! This past Wednesday, it merrily failed to update any applicable drivers on our public computers, which is fine because the infinitely superior Dell Command Update does the same thing. But in the particular case of Computer 43, SA’s problematic nature had been compounded by a bad motherboard. I hope. Because 43 hasn’t frozen since receiving a new one yesterday, so maybe, if I don’t tell any lies before Christmas, the real problem won’t end up being the hard drive or the processor.
I’m currently taking a hardware class, so I’m enjoying the intellectual challenge of identifying what exactly went wrong. Was it the BIOS chip? The CMOS? Oh the acronyms that could have gone wrong with the motherboard! It now makes perfect sense that freezing could indicate a motherboard issue – I already knew that BIOS or UEFI can cause that problem if they don’t update correctly. It makes me wonder if I ought to have tried flashing before calling in the warranty, but c’est la vie. The computer works and that’s sufficient.
It’s a little annoying that I can’t House my way to a magic diagnosis based on the evidence, but I’m still a nascent techie in many ways and I’m not going to go too hard on myself. The main thing I’m learning from my experience as a tech librarian is that if something’s only going wrong on just one computer, I should at least consider the possibility that it’s hardware-based. This kind of thing has happened a couple times before, not necessarily with SupportAssist, but in a similar pattern. (Problem on one single computer, fix software, problem persists, switch hardware, problem solved.)
I did think it was funny at the time that none of the other computers were freezing, but I chalked it up to SA being so wonky that it was actually inconsistent across units. Apparently, SA is the red flag to my bullish IT style. A diagnostic startup scan didn’t catch any problems, either, so now I know that can happen. And I need to be aware of my software prejudices, apparently.
I’m not sure I would have done anything differently if I’d guessed that the problem was hardware-based, but I still would have felt better knowing. If nothing else, I could have prepared the staff for the possibility that the computer would continue to freeze even after the apparent software problem had been managed.
If I wanted a secondary lesson, it would be that a library technology professional’s job is mainly to communicate. That means understanding enough about the computers to explain ongoing issues in a way that both makes sense and is not scary as well as developing the ability to interface with customer service in a way that works for everybody. I do think that I’m improving. I’ll say that 50% of the reason for this is that I’m in school and actively learning about computers. Knowing a bit, while remaining humble about the vast sea of knowledge to which you do not yet have access, seems to be key to a good working relationship with tech support. I’m also continuing to grow and mature as a person and a professional, which is causing my communication skills to improve anyway, and librarians as an industry are steadily becoming more tech-savvy, although we’re still way behind where we need to be.
For now, we have a new motherboard for good old 43 and everything seems ducky. No freezes yet. I’m almost ready to sally forth next week to a long Thanksgiving vacation with full peace of mind that this computer’s got a working motherboard.
Let’s hope it was just the motherboard.
You might be aware that I like to cook. You might also be aware that I’m a bit of a techie and in school for all the things techie-nological. Knowing this, you might well think that I prefer online recipes.
Well, not entirely wrong. I’ll often trawl vegan cooking blogs for seitan recipes. (Hail seitan!) But there are a few things that make paper cookbooks better in my humble techie opinion. Allow me to share these with you.
Any cookbook I own rapidly acquires its own unique set of stains. Most of these come from sloshings with liquid, an experience that sends my computer into an instant whirling dysphoria. My iPhone fares little better around water.
The fact that I can slosh a bunch of ranch dressing onto a book without having to worry about killing it is a relief and a pleasure. If necessary, I can also tear out pages and re-set them in a form more to my liking, for example, in a scrapbook of personal favorite recipes. They stand up on their own, too, and never fade to black at just the wrong time.
Nobody will ever take down the recipes from The Oh She Glows Cookbook. Even if those recipes prove questionable (and the tempeh recipe in that book is Very Freaking Questionable) they will never disappear or change. This is magical, especially since the vast majority of the recipes in there are amazing, particularly the saucey dressing recipes that know what to do with nutritional yeast. They should never be changed.
Recipes that work for food scientists don’t always work for me. For one thing, I do not mill my own carob. (Press? Harvest? However people make carob, I don’t do it.) So I often find that I need to get creative. This can be a matter of taste, too. I love This Can’t Be Tofu because hello, it’s a cookbook full of everything you can do with tofu, but there’s ooonnnneeee recipe where I sub in cumin and cayenne for curry powder. Guess where the note for that is.
There’s probably an app out there where I can index my notes and search them and stuff like that, but that removes a lot of the extemporaneous fun from the cooking adventure. What’s life without a few surprises from your past self?
Long Stories = Easy Skips
Every dish does have a story. That does not at all mean that I’m interested.
I like that cookbooks have talky sections. In many cases, I will read them for fun. However, I also like that they’re not gatekeepers of a recipe that should require maybe fifteen or twenty lines. I get why bloggers do this. Total respect. Seriously. But when I’ve got six hours to make 100 sugar cookies with my one bitty little pan, I can’t waste time scrolling frantically through your life story in search of the part where you talk about lemons vs. lemon extract.
Cookbooks get right to the point. I might read the author’s thoughtful words of wisdom when I don’t need to crank out cookies like my life depends upon it, but in the moment, brevity.
Similar Recipe Discovery
I like to eat some odd foods. Bugs, for example. Wheat gluten products. things made from pea protein. I will pizza just about anything. When I find a cookbook that caters to my unusual tastes, I snag it just because it’ll expand my horizons. Consider The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook. When I first got ground grasshoppers from my amazing grasshopper supplier, Bug Bit Farms, my only idea was to mix them into brownies. David Gordon gave me all kinds of new ideas, even though I don’t think he directly deals with ground crickets as an ingredient. I now try them in some soups, cautiously.
Regional and Temporal Authenticity
In my travels, I’ve found that the best recipes are often self-published by roadside diners and super-local places that won’t bother to market outside of their area. Bloggers will replicate the recipes after tasting them, but the real deal is to be found in books like Fisherman’s Wharf Cookbook. Incidentally, that’s a classic. You won’t find it in a library because it’s too old. (I wouldn’t find it in a library anyway because I mess up every cookbook I touch. I’m careful about this one, though.)
I got that book in a used bookstore in San Francisco itself, and the recipes are both simple and delicious. If you want’ genuine, get a cookbook from the area you want to cook about. Bonus: awesome memories every time you cook!
So you can pry my cookbook collection away from me when I finally eat myself to death. Until then, I’m going to keep building, raiding used bookstores and hoarding every good cookbook I find.