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Emptying My Brain

So far, all things video game related have been going great. Except distribution-type stuff. We still need more games for onsite use, we still need the rest of our Wii controllers, we will ideally get another projector. But the programs are being attended by hordes of kids and the circulating games are coming back on time and undamaged and are going right back out. If I'm not careful, I'm going to turn myself into a gamer, though I swear I will never enjoy first person shooter games.

In other news, the biggest drawback of the holiday season seems to be that all of our friendly, neighborhood junkies are not taking their optimal cocktail of drugs, legal or not. Men more likely to fall of their chairs than start fights are doing both these days.

And I guess it's all taking its toll on the staff, because we're all tired and grumpy from doing five or more hours of desk a day. I am neither as nice nor as thorough as I should be when I'm on the desk that often, and beyond that it means I'm bringing stacks of work with me, which makes me seem busy and less approachable. I am trying to become better at what I will call the "roam and return" where I walk out into the stacks often and for short periods while keeping my eye on the desk, since it's still where the majority of people go when they need help and where I usually have to bring them back to for many questions. And I do tend to walk fast and that isn't approachable, so I'm consciously trying to slow myself down.

And in the interest of adding some color to this post, here's a graphic I made of my 16 favorite books read this year:

In the early part of the year, when I was reading almost a book a day for my YA class, I wouldn't have even thought about reviewing them all, though luckily I did keep track of them. When I thought about coming up with a list of my favorite books of this year, I was worried they would all be Young Adult books, so I was happy to find that only half of them are (but would recommend all of them to anyone). Also happy to discover that 4 were nonfiction (never a focus of mine). One is even a book of poems. None are strictly short stories, but two are made up of connected stories that add up to something less, or more, than a novel. For two of them I wrote and memorized booktalks in order to present them to a group of 9th graders in East Harlem. The biggest bias? 10 of these are in some way New York stories, even some of the ones I didn't read for my New York bibliography. Some were published this year, most weren't (five were galleys given out at BookExpo). But they're all pretty recent, a strange trend for me.

Heat - Bill Buford
This was a problematic, but still very worthwhile, book. I love food books, and I like reading and thinking about the history and development of food, and I also like Mario Batali. So I'm willing to put up with a writer and narrator who is sometimes a bit much and full of himself. It's worth it for the fact that he is amazing at recounting an experience, giving you the exact right details to feel as if you had been there.

The Game - Neil Strauss
I am intrigued by everything having to do with these people, and think that if this is what it takes to make annoying boys who want to talk to me less annoying, I'm for it. It's mostly just an interesting story, as well as a bit of an instruction manual. It may all be slightly objectionable, but the book acknowledges that and doesn't shy away from showing the negative side of things. Like I was talking to James about the other night, when books like The Rules come out, telling women how to manipulate men in order to snag a husband, it's called a misogynistic throwback for not considering that coming as we are is good enough, and then when books like The Game come out, telling men how to manipulate women into dating them, it's also labeled a misogynistic throwback for telling men that coming as they are is not good enough. Guess what? Manipulation, benign or not, makes the world go round, and you're not good enough to get through life without it. So then I also have to recommend this episode of Jordan, Jesse GO! where they talk about the book, but also talk to a journalist who went to one of the seminars. And while I can never get enough of those guys, they're also people I respect talking intelligently about the appeal of the book.

The Book Thief - Marcus Zusak
This is an amazing book that hardly needs me to go to bat for it, but it's really so beautiful and sad and wonderful and I just love it. I'm actually almost done with one of his earlier books, I am the Messenger, but have put off finishing it so that I can avoid having to figure out whether or not to put it on this list, also. While originally published as a YA book, it's crossed over, which is good and reasonable, but I wish Americans were as good at acknowledging that as other countries sometimes are. I think this appealed to the same part of my brain as The Tin Drum, the part of me that enjoys strange and surreal stories about the way people cope with war. Only, much more accessible.

How I Live Now - Meg Rosoff
Another wonderful YA author who is being positioned to cross over with her next book, being published in the States as adult, and in England as childrens. World War Three never sounded so idyllic, and then menacing and horrific, and sexy, and devasting. And sex with one's cousin never seemed so sweet and incestuous. And then again, it's a strange and surreal war story and I only hope that I can find the right teenager to give this book to.

The Abstinence Teacher - Tom Perotta
Of the two main characters in this book, one is designed to immediately have the sympathies of any "right" thinking, liberal reader, and the other to seem very foreign and unsympathetic. But their strange relationship and the strange religious ideas that separate them are treated with such respect that the undeniable humanity of them both is the most striking thing in the book, despite the critical eye that presents them to us. It won't challenge your ideas, but it may challenge one's ability to vilify those who disagree.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac - Gabrielle Zevin
Teenage girl falls and can't remember the last big chunk of years of her life, discovers things about herself that shock and change her, becomes a better person and eventually remembers all. But so honest and well written that it becomes believable and as more is revealed to both the character and readers our investment in her life and decisions grows. A likable girl who discovers she kind of sucked and making changes will be much easier with a new set of expectations and experiences.

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures - Vincent Lam
If I say that this is like a literary Grey's Anatomy will that make you read it? It's a novel made up of interconnected short stories, following a group of new doctors as they finish school and begin their hospital work. Hospital drama is overlooked in favor of the inner lives of the doctors and their personal drama. There's nothing soap operatic about it, just the internal struggles and disappointments of imperfect people placed in unnatural situations.

The Best Place to Be - Lesley Dormen
Technically, this is a very accomplished novel. The story takes place over the course of a woman's life, but without regard to chronological order. Each chapter recounts an episode in her life and gradually over the course of the novel, a complete picture forms. The pace of revelation is perfect. Like just about everyone else who loves to read, one of the pastime's biggest pleasures is when an author perfectly captures the nuance of a common experience, a feat Dormen pulled off repeatedly. A really lovely book.

Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List - Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
This is a sillier YA book, but such a great little world with wonderful messes of characters is created that I have great affection for it. Improbable things happen and you not only believe them, but you root for them. I can talk about this book from memory for 3 minutes and have done so in front of dozens of kids and colleagues. I've also gotten kids to actually check this out from the library. Naomi and Ely are that rare breed of fictional New York teen who are both super cool but wholly believable and screwed up in the way people actually are.

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City - Kirsten Miller
Maybe it's trite to repeat, but this really is like the tough New York girl's version of Nancy Drew. But much weirder. This book is awesome, and everyone should read it. The premise is that a team of extraordinary teen girls fight crime and explore the hidden city underneath Manhattan. I'm a bit biased because a lot of it happens around where I work, and it gives a lot of great history about the city, both real and related to the secret city. It also has a lot of girl power!ish asides teaching one how to do all the things related to what's happening in the book, but it's more often interesting than it is cloying.

Rats - Robert Sullivan
This is another book that's great for the history of the part of Lower Manhattan where I work. Also, rats are super interesting. I hate vermin as much as the next person, but I've always had a soft spot for rodents and so I enjoyed getting to take a peek at something so reviled (graffitied, spit upon) from the safety of home. This goes well with Peeps, a YA book I like a lot that didn't make this list, a vampire novel whose rationale is that vampirism is a parasitic disease spread like the plague.

Garbage Land - Elizabeth Royte
One of my favorite things about this book is nonessential and won't apply to anyone but me (and James and a few other thousand Brooklynites) and it's that the author lives down the street from me, so every bit of trash that she tracks follows the same path that mine takes. My garbage men are hers, her pipes flow into mine. Beyond that, reading this has actually affected the way I live my life and how I think about the things I dispose of. She gets a bit righteously Park Slopey sometimes, but for the most part her earnestness is effective and endearing. There is a lot of shocking stuff in here, but mostly it's interesting and geeky stuff. It's not preachy and she acknowledges the lack of good options and that often we're left to choose between two or three or ten bad choices. But it's good stuff to know.

His Dark Materials Trilogy - Philip Pullman
This series is kickass and after the first book doesn't even begin to resemble a reasonable children's story. It's all about killing God, but it's also scary and complicated and stars the coolest little girl. Everyone already knows they should read this, and as I read on the Best Week Ever blog, everyone should go see the (heavily flawed) movie just to ensure that the next two movies are made where they won't be able to pretend it's about fighting some vague authority and they'll really have to show all their cards. Because while I might be the most Christian atheist I know, I still love needling religious conservatives.

Fat Kid Rules the World - K. L. Going
Anyone with a soft spot for messed up little punk kids, or fat kids, or outsiders of any kind will appreciate this book. Or anyone who ever idolized someone who they were also kind of embarrassed of. Or anyone who survived high school because of the music they listened to. It's just wonderful.

Lord, is this a Psalm? - Jack Agueros
These poems about the joys and stresses of life in New York are simple and meaningful and good. This is my life or the lives of people I know (one of the great joys of living here is the range of people you become friendly or intimate with). And I'm proud to have successfully made a few other people read this, a tiny book of short, funny poems about religion, being Puerto Rican, and living in New York.

It's Kind of a Funny Story - Ned Vizzini
Theoretically, there might be a not-crazy person out there who wouldn't relate to this story of mental unhealth and time spent in the hospital psych ward down the street from me, but I'm not that person. And I don't know that person. Based on the author's actual experience in said psych ward, this is no indictment of the mental health system but instead a celebration of difference and difficulty and those of us who are beautiful messes. And it is more than kind of a funny story. I would recommend this to more kids, but it's never on my shelves.


New York City Public Librarians

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