Friday, August 29, 2008 is a local website I just became acquainted with. What a jam-packed database of cultural events! It is maintained by the Houston Arts Alliance and is also part of a larger Artopolis network. Now if I only had more time to attend some of the events...

The site has a front page which shows you what's going on today, but what I find most useful is the calendar, which makes it easy to plan ahead. I am looking forward to a staycation in September, and I will be checking out Artshound for some field trips and special events. Among its many browsable categories are: Performing Arts, Visual Arts, Festivals, Kids & Families, Film & Video, Poetry & Literature, World & Traditional, Museums, Public Art, Special Events, Free Events, Outdoors & Nature. Then on a sidebar, we are offered more goodies: Classes & Workshops, News and Reviews, Artist Profiles, etc. Something for everyone (and it makes me glad to be a Houstonian, a city where most cultural events are fairly affordable)!

Friday, August 22, 2008


I took the plunge onto Facebook earlier this week. I seem to have gotten hooked rather quickly. It's nice to have a place to share photos of family and friends. I do have a Flickr account but I tend to park only my favorite artsy photos there. The fun thing about Facebook is collecting friends. The Facebook software helps you do that by checking against your email address book. It finds people you might know already on FaceBook and gives you the option to email other friends.

I used to think I didn't have time for anything beyond my personal email and this blog. But now I see it differently. I have lots of things going on which are not related to reading and the library, beyond this blog. I'm in a special interest group at my church, and if we all get on FaceBook, it will be another way to communicate and share. It's really fun to hop over to a friend's page and see their photos. You pick up on their back story, their connections, see their pets, etc. FaceBook makes it so easy!

Last month, many of us at HCPL attended a Library 2.0 event. Stephen Abram came to speak to us about the future of libraries. Among other things, he talked about how the younger generation stays connected beyond the college years. They don't lose their grade school, high school or college friends, despite the fact that relocation is a fact of life for most young professionals. They stay connected because of social networking tools like FaceBook and MySpace. The Internet has really rocked my life as far as reconnecting with old friends. And getting on FaceBook feels like the next step. I like the fact that I can personalize settings and decide who can see my profile; it is not automatically open to the whole world.

I read the Wikipedia entry on FaceBook to see what I didn't know about my new obsession. Plenty. That it was started at Harvard and grew from there. That it was redesigned only a few weeks ago, and has a new, "cleaner" look (I got there just in time). That there are over 7,000 applications that can be used on FaceBook, such as virtual gifts, events, games, all kinds of image generators. One application I signed up for on my personal FaceBook page is the Friend Wheel. Mine is in its infancy, so there are no links between my various friends yet, but it should be fun to watch the inter-connectivity grow. There is even a Marketplace on FaceBook, similar to Craigslist, except that you are only advertising to the friends who have access to your account.

Some of my footsteps into the Web 2.0 world have been faltering. I did not get into the virtual games. But FaceBook takes me another step further, and I'm grateful. It puts a bounce in my step and a grin on my face everytime I add another friend. I'm a convert and I'm evangelizing. Join up, join up - it's fun!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Potato Peels

If you are like me, your curiosity is piqued by the potato peels in the title of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I am only 70 pages into the book, and already I don't want it to end. I am burrowing in, trying to savor its leisurely progression (I have a tendency to read too fast). It is a charming novel told in letters. So far, I think it is a sure pick for the library's book discussion group.

Back to the potato peels... On the British island of Guernsey during the Nazi Occupation, the local people had little food to live on. The Germans took all their livestock. One clever islander developed a pie filled with mashed potatoes, sweetened with beets and lined with a crust made of potato peels. The Literary Society was at first a ruse some late night revelers made up to cover up their partying past the German-imposed curfew. Then it became a real book group, where islanders who previously read little, began to read a lot. It helped with the boredom of living under occupation.

The main character here is Juliet Ashton, a London writer who is in correspondence with various members of the Guernsey islanders. I felt sorry for Juliet when I read how she lost her book collection in the Blitz. Even though this book is set in the years right after World War II, in the lives of its characters, the war is very much in evidence. Homes are still in rubble, soldiers lost, rationing still in effect, etc. And on the island of Guernsey, everyone is still worried about a missing woman named Elizabeth who arrested by the Germans and taken away. Elizabeth helped start the Literary Society. So that is about as much as I know at this point, but I am raring to read the rest of it soon.

Annie Barrows finished this novel after her aunt, Mary Ann Shaffer passed away earlier this year. Shaffer was an editor, librarian and bookseller. Barrows is a children's author. Thank goodness she was ready and able to finish her aunt's book.

For read-alikes, see this list of Epistolary Fiction found on the HCPL website.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Leave Me Alone, I'm Maureen Corrigan

I'm late reading Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books, by NPR book critic, Maureen Corrigan. It was published in 2005. But now I'm promoting it to my most bookish friends, especially those that might relate to the author's Irish/Polish Catholic childhood, her New York City roots, her love of detective fiction, or her excruciating journey through a PHD program.

Corrigan weaves together elements of memoir and book commentary with sure handed ease. She uses the metaphor of adventure to compare life and literature. For instance, her maternal grandmother immigrated to New York from Poland. Coming to a new country, not knowing the language, was surely an extreme adventure. Corrigan's own adventures mostly took place between the covers of a book, especially through mystery fiction, where she found herself "raring to become one of the cheeky heroines". Then she and her husband went on a journey to adopt their daughter from a remote region of China, and she realized she was on her very own extreme adventure.

One childhood series that Corrigan analyzes is the Beany Malone series by Leonora Mattingly Weber, published from 1943 - 1969. I'm sure I read most of them published through the mid-60s. But I'd completely forgotten about them, so it was a joy to meet Beany again. Beany comes from a big Irish Catholic family, has freckles and braids, and she's a fresh air fiend and tomboy (rare in fiction then). How strongly this character comes back to me. In a chapter entitled "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition: What Catholic Martyr Stories Taught Me About Getting to Heaven - and Getting Even", Corrigan demonstrates how certain Catholic values are exemplified by the fictional Malones, including: self-denial, modesty, generosity and love of our fellow humans. Other books analyzed in this chapter include Karen and With Love From Karen by Marie Killilea and works by Dr. Tom Dooley.

Maureen Corrigan admits that some part of her always prefers to be reading, even when she is with the ones she most loves. Luckily, she married another insatiable reader and has been able to base her life on love of books. Repelled by the tone of most academic literary criticism, she is happy being a generalist, and therefore chooses to be a non-tenured academic. Reader to reader, I relate to the ultra importance of books in her journey through life. My reading fanaticism started around second grade and has never let up.

P.S. I was recently tagged in a meme by Felicia Mitchell, a friend in academia. The meme assignment: to list in a blog which book, DVD and music/audiobook I have most recently purchased. I am swamped with books at the library and mostly buy them to be mailed to my mother. Often I read some of them when I visit her. She really enjoyed the last one I sent her, Broadway Tails: Heartfelt Stories of Rescued Dogs Who Became Showbiz Superstars by Bill Berloni and Jim Hanrahan. DVD: It's been a long time since I bought one, but one for sure was: Wings of Desire, which I'd love to watch again real soon. Music: I have the sound track from the movie Into the Wild on order. I love Eddie Vedder's songs based on journal fragments left behind by Chris McCandless.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Blended Words

Recently I've noticed how many blended words seem to be appearing via the media. Something I read about the Flickr website which referred to the "Flickrverse" got me started. Flickr certainly is its own universe, so the word appealed to me. Next was the word "staycation", seen in the July 20 New York Times. I have enjoyed plenty of staycations myself. There's nothing like a week at home away from the workplace! Staycations have rejuvenated me any number of times.

I don't like blended words if their meaning is not immediately apparent. "Scuppie" for instance - said to mean a socially conscious urban professional (I had to look it up). The word itself sounds like something you'd use to scrape barnacles off a boat.

How about "Christmahanukwanzaa"? It's more of a joke than anything, but it still seems to be going strong. It may have started as a put down on social correctness, but it has become handy in a multicultural way. "McMansion" was coined as far back as 1990, referring to large, opulent cookie cutter houses.

I learned a new bicycle-related blended word: "fixie". I own a fixie but never knew so: it signifies a fixed wheel bicycle with single gear pedals chained to the rear wheel. You can't pop the wheel off. Fixies are popular amongst bicycle messengers in Manhattan, probably due to their sturdiness.

Research on blended words took me to some interesting websites. WordSpy keeps a running list of new words. And I found out that Rice University maintains a Neologisms database. Some of the words collected there are said to be particular only "within the hedges" of Rice University. An example would be the word "dingle", meaning a college dorm room meant to house two students, instead occupied by one.

The word "murketing" seems to be everywhere lately. Read this post from the What Is? website for a discussion of its murky meaning. I noticed a reference to the word in a July 27, 2008 New York Times Book Review article. Murketing can be non-obvious, a kind of sly branding that goes beyond even product placement in movies. Building a buzz is a big part of murketing - getting people talking about your product. Red Bull, for instance, sponsors many dance and kiteboarding competitions. Pabst Beer does not flash its logo at the skateboarding events it pays for, etc. You won't find celebrities in any murketing campaigns. The meaning of "murketing" falls on the negative side of the advertising spectrum, when I'm not sure its practices are really any worse than more obviously commercial efforts.

"Walkshed" is a good blended word, meaning the area that can conveniently be reached from a fixed geographical point, such as your home or office. I've mentioned WalkScore in a previous post, and the idea of living or working in a walkable neighborhood only seems more relevant as the gas price crisis continues.

A few more blended words: "Kindergarchy" meaning being ruled or dominated by your children. "Groceraunt" meaning a grocery store and sit-down restaurant combined, an example being the Whole Foods store in Scottsdale, Arizona. There are plenty of blended words describing the new and trendy dog crossbreeds such as "labradoodle" and "schnoodle". Blended words can be fun.

Many blended words survive the faddish slang/idiomatic stage and pass over into the mainstream language. Case in point: the word "blog". Once "blog" was a new word, contracted from "web" and "log". And now here it is, both a noun and a verb, a word that sounds a perhaps a tad abrupt, but one I'm rather fond of. Also there are many related words, such as "blogosphere", which seems to get across a bit of the bloatedness of the blogging world. On that note, enough said!

graphic by KAO - a Blended Words Wordle Cloud