Just Giblets

Favorite Books Read in 2013 – #’s 11 & 12

3rd January 2014
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2013 – #’s 11 & 12

The next two books from my list were from very early in 2013.  Jennifer Haigh released a collection of short stories based on characters and locations from one of her earlier novels.  Laura Harrington’s debut was popular with libraries, and I read it because she was going to be on an author panel I put together at the Massachusetts Library Association.  They turned up at #’s 11 & 12 on my Top 15.

News from Heaven#12 – News from Heaven: The Bakerton Stories by Jennifer Haigh

Not having read Haigh’s Baker Towers, the novel in which the small Pennsylvania town of Bakerton debuted, I wasn’t sure if I’d be missing something when reading this collection of stories about people tired to that tiny, former mining-community. I needn’t have worried, Jennifer Haigh is a writer of consummate skill, drawing me in and giving me just enough information to understand the context while spinning a series of tales that show how important our upbringings and our community roots affect our lives. With stories spanning the 40’s era of war to present day, all the characters in News from Heaven have ties to Bakerton, PA, and each story has subtle ties to the others, truly making the reader a feeling of community among these characters: community across generations.  The Baker Family, founders of the once prosperous Bakerton mines, are ever-present in these stories, looming over characters’ shared histories. I was concerned, at first, that most of the stories were going to revolve around timid young women who are taken advantage of in a variety of ways, but I shouldn’t have worried, Haigh would never resort to such a limiting palette. Instead she creates a variety of experiences that exhibit strength, weakness, love, bitterness and a whole host of experience. I was particularly struck by ne’er-do-well Sandy’s story; a man with a gambling problem, racing to escape his roots who comes to a possible turning-point on his 33rd birthday. We later find out what becomes of Sandy in a subsequent story, and both stories add up to something powerful and moving. One final bit of praise, I just loved the meaning of the book’s title: a lovely, poetic image.

Alice Bliss#11 – Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

With Alice Bliss, Laura Harrington takes a fairly basic theme, the loss of a loved one, and creates a powerful coming-of-age story in a fully-realized community. When Alice’s father, Matt, enlists in the armed services and is stationed in Iraq, she is bereft. Her father is the one family member who knows her and understands her the best. Fully immersed in adolescence, Alice’s relationship with her mother, Agnes, is complicated, besides with Agnes is dealing with her own fears about her husband. Then there’s her younger sister, Ellie, who’s just too young to really understand what’s going on.

Harrington’s novel focuses on Alice, turning the loss of her father into a powerful transition to adulthood, but what is truly remarkable is the way she effortlessly slips into the minds of the many other important characters in the book who are profoundly affected by Matt’s absence. Matt leaves his family right at the beginning of the book, but his presence is overwhelming throughout. Through reminiscences Harrington brings Matt fully to life, showing how strong his ties to each of the females in his life, and how different.

Beyond the rich characterization of Alice and her family, Harrington does the same for the community they live in. Henry is the awkward boy next door, who has been Alice’s best friend practically from birth, and whose relationship with Alice is suddenly changing. Uncle Eddie is Agnes’ charismatic, devil-may-care brother who finds his role in Alice’s extended family evolving. Alice’s Gram who owns the local coffee shop must suffer her own loss while bolstering the floundering family. Even minor characters, like Mrs. Piantowski who bakes the bread for Gram’s coffee shop, or Mrs. Minty who has suffered tragedies of her own become startlingly real under Harrington’s skillful guidance. Rarely have characters in a novel come so alive for me. Harrington’s story follows a lovely arc, with the ending in particular, hitting a series of beautifully drawn notes. A truly successful debut from a talented writer.

posted in 2013, Authors, Books, Libraries, Year-end lists | at 10:51 am | 0 Comments
13th November 2009
by Scot

A Disgrace to His Profession

3 Dollar BillMaybe you’ve seen this, but a Purdue library science professor and government documents librarian has blogged An Economic Case Against Homosexuality. Yes, it’s as ludicrous as it sounds. I’m leaving this off my professional blog, as it has little to do with librarianship, other than the fact that Professor Bert Chapman displays no traits of a librarian, despite his blog title “Conservative Librarian.”

You’ll see a comment by me… two, if they approve my last one. Not that I doubt it’s rationality, but it’s close to the 2,000 character limit they put on comments, so it may be held in moderation. Or then again, it may have been flushed down the toilet. It’s in response to a commenter named Adriana who takes me to task for bringing up the taboo of the “facts” Prof. Chapman’s economic publication lacks.

Here is my follow up, in case they don’t publish it:


The facts Prof. Chapman presents, but does not cite are:

1. Not only does he not cite his source of data, but Prof. Chapman attributes US Government expenditures on AIDS to a support of what he deems “a homosexual lifestyle.” Though he recognizes that the disease is spread by many means, he still presents it as a moral issue. But regardless, a librarian must state where his numbers come from and what “expenditures on this disease” encompass.

2. He cites as fact that behavior he deems immoral taints our blood supply without support of fact.

3. Chapman also claims that rape of male inmates by fellow males is a drain on taxpayer dollars. Does he cite how many of the offenders are homosexual? It may seem unthinkable to you, but heterosexual males rape men. I see no citations to established facts to support his claims that homosexual men are draining US tax dollars in this way.

4. At long last, the educated librarian cites an external work, “Do Domestic Partner Benefits Make Good Economic Sense?” by The Corporate Resource Center. He claims that it is available on a web site, but does not provide a URL. He does not even qualify where this center is or what affiliation it has, if any, to a larger organization. I challenge anyone to find this work available on the web. For this fraud alone, Prof. Chapman should be censured, at the very least.

5. Finally, the learned professor closes with a long list of ways that heterosexual entitlements may be diminished by the acknowledgment of same-sex relationships. There are no numbers given. There are no longitudinal studies cited. There is only the fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) tactics of a frightened man with no other defense. The last paragraph reminds me of the FUD tactics of white families in the 1960’s who would incite neighborhood hatred against black families moving in, in the name of “decreased property values.”

I am not arguing against Prof. Chapman’s points. He has none.

The student furor over his blog post has led to calls for his dismissal from the university. Not surprisingly, this isn’t the first antigay blog post he’s written.

Update: I totally forgot to thank the dude who alerted me to this fiasco! Rob at wakingupnow.com is a really great blogger who has a fierce, but reasoned approach to civil action. Thank you, Rob. You set a good example.

27th July 2009
by Scot

Karaoke Dorkness

Okay, I’m surrendering all pretense that I’m not a dork. A friend of mine from college posted several Facebook status updates to his profile lately that redirected to a site called SingSnap. What is SingSnap, do you ask? It’s online karaoke. No more, no less. But just think about it… we habitual karaoke-ers pick out our songs at home. We rehearse them. We learn every nuance of the original recording. And then after we humiliate ourselves in public, we try to learn the quirks of the karaoke recording track so we can do better next time.

Imagine if you had that power at home. The power to record and re-record at will. The power to add effects to your stage performance. The power of karaoke-social-networking. Mwah-ha-ha-haaaa….

I even bought a gold membership for six months before actually saving any of my recordings because it adds reverb and compression to your voice recording. I’m a sucker, I know. But listen to my first lame attempt. I can do better, I know, but I wanted to get this up for my friends suffering from heat exhaustion at the Library Leadership Institute for Massachusetts. Reports say that they spent the day in a non-air conditioned room all day when it was 90 degrees outside. It may have been upwards of 105 degrees inside!

7th May 2009
by Scot

Visit from the Golden Pony

Last night, the golden pony came to Springfield, MA and pooped out a lovely evening for Michael and  I  me. (Thanks, Max.) We’re here for the Massachusetts Library Association annual conference and Michael, being Michael, lined up a truly stupendous array of guests to speak. So, last night we spent the late night hours closing down the hotel bar with:

I am so lucky that my husband is so fearless and is such a big dreamer. He gave me the wonderful gift of the opportunity to chat with Lynda and Thrity about menopause and to smoke with Talia and Michael Cunningham in the rain. Does that rock or what?

27th January 2009
by Michael

Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book Wins the Newbury Medal!

The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book

I just got back from Denver where I attended the American Library Association’s Mid-Winter Conference.  Lots of things happen at Mid-Winter… mostly committee meetings… but among these meetings, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) chose the winner of the Newbury Medal, instituted in 1921 and awarded to the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year.  This year’s recipient was The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  Neil’s in good company, with past winners including Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia to name just a couple.

Me and Neil

Me and Neil

Readers of this blog know that The Graveyard Book was #3 book of 2008, certainly my #1 children’s book of the year.  Who knew my tastes would dovetail with the Newbury committee?  The Graveyard Book tells the tale of Nobody Owens,  a young boy whose family is murdered, and ends up being raised in a graveyard by the dead, much like Mowgli was raised by the animals of the jungle in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.  It’s a wonderful story, an exciting fantasy adventure, and a powerful coming-of-age tale that is completely deserving of this honor.

Some of you may remember that I got my literary thrill last June at BookExpo America when i got to meet Mr. Gaiman, a thoroughly accomdating and generous chap who put up with my gushing and even posed for a picture with me.  You can read’s Neil’s amusing report on finding out about his Newbury win at his blog.  Oh yeah, and don’t miss CORALINE, the 3-D film adaptation of Gaiman’s outstanding young adult novel that opens in theaters near you on February 6.  Check out the first trailer for the film that Neil liked below.

posted in Authors, Books, Crush, Libraries, Year-end lists | at 9:16 am | 0 Comments
24th January 2009
by Scot

Time is Money

As y’all know, I am the Web Services Manager for the Boston Public Library. I make a decent salary, which is good cause the city is a pretty expensive place to live. And we have to live in the city if we work for the city. Residency requirement.

Y’all also probably know that the whole world is facing a budget crisis. And what gets hit first in governmental belt-tightening? Not the police or fire departments, of course. “Non-essential” services like those the library provides.

So, we’ve been doing a lot of financial naval-gazing of late at work and I was reminded of this Unshelved comic strip by Bill Barnes and “Gene Ambaum” (not his real name).

Unshelved 01-25-2003

Well, I decided to add up just how much my time is worth. I took the Boston city budget for FY 2008 and figured out what percentage went to the library. (That’s 1.6%.) Then I took the state budget, and since I’m generous, figured out how much went to all libraries in the state. (0.1%. I felt okay about using the figure for all librarys because a. It’s a really small amount and b. I wasn’t going to figure out how much sales tax I paid, so I figure it evens out.)

Next, I figured out how much I made from BPL after taxes. I divided that up by the number of hours I’m meant to work in a year to arrive at an hourly monetary value for my expertise. Next, I figured out how much I paid in city property and excise taxes. I also figured out how much I paid in state taxes from both my sources of income in FY 2008. ( I also teach a course at Simmons College.)

Well, what do you know? According to my figures, if we ran things by the amount of money a person puts into “the pot”, I am entitled to 70 minutes of my time a year. I would be entitled to a much smaller portion of the president’s time a year and a bit more of an entry-level librarians’ time. But I think it all evens out to about 70 minutes of staff time overall.

Now, of course, I am not recommending that we cut service off after any period of time per person. That’s crazy talk. But I do hear a lot of unusual, personal suggestions for changes in service from the same few individuals. Ironically, some of those individuals don’t even live in the city. Guess how much time I’d get if I lived in, say, Cambridge? About nine minutes.

What I guess I’m saying is that I hope people are ready to face the fact that their concerns are part of a larger collective. We pay taxes in order to fuel collective goals, not to make sure our tiny piece of ground is cared for according to our specific terms.

Anyway, food for thought.

30th November 2008
by Scot

New Library Service Ideas

Came across this blog post today. Got me thinking about how differently her experience would be if we had online communities on the library web site. As Web Services Manager for the Boston Public Library, its something I think we really need, but I sure hadn’t considered the direct user interaction she’s got in mind! Maybe we need to provide chat rooms too.


Since this post has been picked up by a few other blogs, I really guess I better be sure to point out that it’s entirely tongue in cheek. Well, not entirely. We do want to offer more user-participatory services on the BPL web site. But dating services and personals are not part of our current goals.

See? 😉   😉   😉   😉

posted in Blogging, Libraries, Web, Whacky People, Work | at 10:10 am | 1 Comment
3rd May 2008
by Michael

Augusten Burroughs has a lot of fans

Augusten Burroughs signs books for adoring fans.

Augusten Burroughs came to the Boston Public Library last night and it was one majorly successful event.  We filled the 350 seat auditorium and piled an additional 50 – 100 people in the overflow area who watched Augusten read on video.  Then they all had the opportunity to get their books signed and have their pictures taken with the very popular author.  This is what the BPL needs, more big author events that appeal to a young audience.  I’m on the case.

posted in Authors, Books, Boston, BPL, Libraries, Work | at 9:03 am | 0 Comments
20th April 2008
by Michael

Taking a Moment to Breathe

Hi. It’s Michael. Yeah, it’s been awhile. I’m the kind of person who sometimes forgets to take a moment and enjoy life because I’m too busy living it. There are pros and cons to that, but here, on a lovely spring day in Wellfleet (home of the famous Wellfleet oyster) I’ve decided to reflect upon the past month or so and say hello. It has been a particularly hectic few weeks and there’s more to come in the rest of April and May.

Award WinnersThe craze began with the lead up to the 14th Annual Chlotrudis Awards. If you’re reading this, I trust you know about the Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film. For those of you who don’t, you just need to know that it’s a film society that I started up about 14 years ago to teach audiences to view films actively. This past March 30 we celebrated out 14th annual awards ceremony at the Brattle Theatre with special guest Alberta Watson in attendance. We presented Alberta with an award for her career-so-far, and she was a delightful guest. Lots of fun to hang out with, very down-to-earth, passionate about the Chlotrudis-cause, and she gave a moving and heartfelt speech to boot. We gave out a host of awards, including Best Movie to ONCE, Best Short Film to Maria Gigante for GIRLS ROOM, and our own very special Buried Treasure Award (for a film that made less than $250,000 at the domestic box office and we feel deserves another look) to 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST. Also receiving a new awards called The Cat’s Meow, was board member extraordinnaire, Bruce Kingsley, without whom Chlotrudis might have dissolved during difficult times last year. (Maria, Alberta, and Bruce are pictured left). And on top of all that, we performed not one, but two fabulous musical numbers. Hopefully they will be online soon, as will pictures from the awards.

Preparing for the awards is a massive undertaking, and one that pretty much consumes my life for weeks prior to the event. Fortunately, in recent years, friends and fellow Board members have stepped up and removed much of the burden from me. Beth, Allison, Scot… there’s no way this thing would happen without you.

Shifting into work mode, anyone who has read the paper or listened to WBUR in the past six months or so know that there are big, disruptive things afoot at the Boston Public Library. This is not my forum to talk about work, but let me just say about the BPL in general, it takes up a lot of my time, both actual and mental. On the broader subject of librarianship and careers, let me mention last week’s trip to San Francisco to attend the annual spring meeting of the International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC). This was my first trip to ICOLC, which has been meeting for about 15 years, and for my job as Regional Administrator of the Boston Regional Library System, ICOLC is actually pretty relevant. Like any conference, there are moments where you wonder why you’re there, but overall, I learned some stuff, networked with a lot of great people, and really gained a valuable perspective about possibilities in my job. So while there was an emphasis on negotiating with vendors for consortial database licensing, I did get to generate some lively discussion on my favorite library topic du jour, using open source solutions in libraries. I’m still amazed at the resistance to even consider this among librarians, but it’s changing.

Chriso and meThe trip to San Francisco wasn’t all work however, as I got to meet an online pal for the first time. Chriso is one nifty fella. He’s the drummer for a very hip band; he’s a total superhero comic book geek; he’s warm, friendly and a super host; and he’s adorable as all get out. We got together a couple of times and he showed me some different SF neighborhoods, including the Armory building where he works, the Mission District, the Castro, Moby Dick, and a couple of cool comic book stores where we spent a lot of money. We also shared some way fun conversation about the high points of the Legion of Superheroes (where I discovered that he’s my long lost comic-twin) and muxtape. Hey, you nice boys out in SF… he’s single. (I used the picture Chris took of of us because it came out better than the ones I took.)

Sarah, Gianna and Scottie on Commercial St.Of course, when you’re out for nearly a week, returning to work can be hellish; and it was, but only for one day before I conveniently took off for a long weekend with my peeps (that’s hubby Scottie, and our best friends Gianna and Sarah) to Wellfleet on Cape Cod. Those of you who know me well know that the Cape (and particularly Provincetown) has been taking on a great significance in my life and may have a great impact on my future plans. Any chance to go to the Cape is a welcome one, so when a friend of Gianna’s offered us her vacation condo, we jumped at the chance. The four of us travel incredibly well together, and we’ve got a beautiful weekend to do it. True, we did spend a frightful 40 minutes or so meandering along backroads in South Shore suburbs after getting a little lost trying to find Route 93, Me and Gianna at Herring Cove Beachbut we took care of that and made our way to Wellfleet on Friday night. Saturday was a beautiful day, where we remarked on that oh-so Cape quality of light. It’s unique and just stunning. We spent the afternoon in P-Town, grabbing lunch, strolling and doing some shopping (both couples making some fun impulse puchases at M.G. Leather. Then we sent some time on Herring Cove Beach (we were not nude, as it was not nude sunbathing weather!) before returning home for tacos and a mini-David Lynch film festival. (We watched the European pilot for ‘Twin Peaks,’ which was pretty lame in our opinion, and Mulholland Drive.) And now it’s Sunday. What will we do today? It’s another beautiful day. We’ve got lots of movies to watch (like GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA and FOUL PLAY!) and an extra day off tomorrow. Of course, Gianna and Sarah aren’t awake yet, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Then it’s back home and the next couple of big events. Next week is the Independent Film Festival of Boston, which happens to coincide with both my mother’s birthday and my friend Mameve’s book release, just to make things even more hectic. And the week after that is the Massachusetts Library Association’s annual conference, which Gianna and I run. Maybe I’ll be able to take another moment to relax when that’s over.

posted in Comics, Friends, Libraries, Personal, Travel | at 8:40 am | 1 Comment
9th February 2008
by Scot

Even Starship Captains Need a Career Change

But I’m not so sure Mr. Spock is correct. Especially after the week I’ve had!

posted in Libraries, TV | at 6:37 pm | 0 Comments
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