What book are you reading?

UCLA recently got a new university librarian, Ginny Steel, who had her first day on Monday.  I appreciated that she had an all-staff meeting that very same day to talk to us about her plans and also to get feedback from us on our thoughts and priorities.  Much of the hour and a half meeting was questions from the staff.  I had one of those “yup, I’m totally in the right profession” moments when one of the questions from the staff was “what’s your favorite book?”  Where else but a library would you hear a question like that at an all-staff meeting with a new leader?  She answered the question in the same way I had when posed the same question a week or two earlier: how can you pick just one?  With all the great books I’ve read, there’s no way I could select one above the others.  When she said as much, the staff person asked her what she was currently reading.  She said a book about Chicago – I believe the title was The Third Coast.

I really like hearing what people are reading.  The only problem is that many times the answer turns out to be something very interesting, and then I look it up and it sounds incredible, so naturally I have to get a copy, and then it gets put on top of my ever-expanding pile of to-be-read treasures.  Nonetheless, I’m curious to know what you, the blog readers, are reading.   If there are still any of you left after my long blog absence!

Currently I’m in the middle of three books:

  • The Gold Bug Variations: I was reading this book while sitting alone in a restaurant for lunch, and the waiter asked me what it was about.  I was fairly certain that he probably didn’t want to hear the 10 minute-long microbiology, music, and literature lecture that it would take to explain the book.  So after a moment’s hesitation, I replied, “it’s about DNA, Bach music, and librarians.”  He said it sounded like something he would like, so I guess the was a good enough description.  I won’t bore any of you readers with the lecture either, but encourage you to check it out of you like fairly intellectual novels and any/all of the three aforementioned items.
  • Van Gogh: The Life: I was so fortunate to get to visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam recently, and it was quite an incredible experience, especially in how educational it was.  I obviously had seen pictures of many Van Gogh paintings before, but never so many of the real thing in one place.  I also only knew the broad strokes of his life – crazy, cut off his ear, etc.  The information that went along with the pictures revealed a much more nuanced view of his life.  I left feeling awed by the fact that he hadn’t even started painting until he was almost 30, and even more awed that he generally lacked any sort of innate artistic talent, and only achieved such great success as he did by creating prolifically and doggedly persisting at his craft in the face of constant rejection, even from his own family.  As soon as I left the museum, I got right on Amazon and looked for the best biography I could find, and found this one.  It’s a hefty tome – almost 1000 pages – but really an enjoyable read.  I’m not generally a biography person, but I’m really liking this.
  • Dry Tears: I also had a chance to visit the Anne Frank House when I was in Amsterdam, also a moving experience.  Earlier that year I’d read Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who had survived Auschwitz.  As with Van Gogh’s life, I really only had a general sense of the history surrounding the Holocaust.  One of the things I’ve never understood is how the Nazis ever got so many people to go along with such crazy things.  I stumbled upon an online course on Coursera, called The Holocaust, that includes readings on history and Holocaust literature, as well as movies and documentaries.  The course started Monday and I checked out the first few items from the reading list today.  This is the first of the books, and so far I’m finding it very interesting.  I don’t know if there’s really a good answer for why people did what they did at that time, but I’m hoping I’ll at least learn a little more about what life was like at that time.

So that’s my current reading list.  How about all of you?

the sweet scent of Actinomycetes (or why rain smells good)

This morning I walked out the door and caught a whiff of something I don’t smell often in Los Angeles – actinomycetes!

You know that “rain smell” that you can detect, especially on a day when it hasn’t rained in awhile?  That’s actinomycetes.  It’s a kind of bacteria that lives in the soil, and when it rains, the water hitting the ground aerosolizes the bacteria, creating that distinctive rain smell.  So the next time you catch a whiff of the lovely, fresh scent of rain, don’t forget that it’s actually tiny liquid droplets of dirt bacteria entering your nose. 🙂

we meet again, my blog

Hello again, world.  It’s been a very long time since I last wrote here – what a terrible blogger I’ve been!  I’ve got some excuses – namely a very busy work schedule and way too many really interesting books to distract me.  However, I’m back and I hope some of my old readers are with me.  And perhaps some new.

I was thinking recently about some things I wanted to blog about.  I was also thinking how I really admire those people who commit to doing something artistic or creative on a regular schedule.  I have a couple of friends who have done the photo-a-day for a year thing, one of whom (Jonathan Wilson – he’s quite talented) is now in the midst of his 6th year of doing so.  Of course there’s the Julie and Julia movie based on the blogger who cooked her way through Julia Child’s cookbook.  I briefly followed a blog called A Dress A Day by a woman who is literally making a dress every single day, then photographing it, then blogging about it.  Here I am, sitting here wasting time on the internet and doing crossword puzzles when I could have hundreds of new dresses in my closet if I just applied myself!

Since my closet isn’t really big enough to accommodate that many dresses, I thought maybe I should undertake something slightly different if I were going to attempt a year-long creative challenge.  And then I thought about how I hadn’t written in my blog for so long, and I put two and two together… could I write a blog post every day for a year?  Why not give it a try?  I figured the worst that could happen would be that I wouldn’t be able to do it, and it’ll be like that time I said I wasn’t going to buy anymore new books until I read the ones I already had (that lasted about two weeks, I think).

So, I say, here goes.  Let’s see if, starting now, I can write a blog post every day for a year.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be long.  It can be about anything I find that interesting that day, whether it’s a librarian thing, an incredibly nerdy science thing, a cooking thing, a knitting thing, an Ophelia thing, or whatever.  Or maybe just a funny joke or a picture I happen to like that day.  I’m sure not every person will find all the posts interesting, but hopefully many people will like at least some of them. 🙂