This Year In Books (and Beethoven)

So hey.

The last time I posted on this blog was in August. My 2016-in-review post came up on my On This Day on Facebook this morning, and I’d made such marvelous plans for this blog. And then my brain just didn’t make it work.

The year got away from me, and it sucks, but I don’t see it getting better anytime soon. I hope to check in every once in a while, but 2018 is the year I’m supposed to be easing up on the extra commitments, so you might not hear from me very often.

So, what did happen this year?

I upped my game as a professional book person:

  • I completed a full year of twice-monthly Kissing Books newsletters (my Book Riot romance-focused newsletter, which is going weekly in 2018. I’m not freaking out; you’re freaking out
  • I started a column on then-Women Write About Comics, now-Bookmarked, which just as quickly ended as the Bleating Heart Press became one of those commitments that I sadly brought to an end this year
  • I’m sure there’s other stuff but I can’t think of it right now.

I read a bunch of books.

Even if it was far fewer than I read when I was doing the Goodreads Challenge, not adding that number was probably the best choice I made a couple years ago. I don’t have that number corralling me into reading when I don’t have the brainpower or energy for it, or pushing me to finish things I’m not loving just to have completed them. I still didn’t read all the books I’d hoped to, and whole swaths of books weren’t read because I had to focus more on romance than ever before, but I read a lot.

I finally made my chorus goal.

I have talked about my chorus performances here in Tucson, and this was the year I decided to audition for the Tucson Symphony Orchestra Chorus again, after my first audition when I first moved here went nowhere. (It was a terrible audition; I wasn’t completely prepared and I wasn’t in full voice because I hadn’t adjusted to the climate yet.) I still did some squawking, but I also brought my repertoire with me, which included two of the three masterworks they would be doing this season.

It’s fun rehearsing Bernstein’s Kaddish with people who haven’t made it through the complete product yet, because I was totally there five years ago. It doesn’t really sound right until you’re performing it with the orchestra, with the adrenaline of a full performance moving you along. It’s not quite the “Resurrection” symphony, but it’s hella high on my list of favorite things to perform.

I got better at being ridiculous.

I did some wild things in my musical comedy group. My next show is bound to be the most ridiculous I’ve been, but finding new and interesting purposes for the Belle dress I bought has been fun.

I finally caught up on Supergirl. Well, what’s on Netflix anyway.

I mean, I watched a lot of TV this year, which is why I didn’t make it to 200 books, probably, but Supergirl was one of the last things I did tv-related this year, so it really stands out for me. By the time I made it through Season 2, the first five episodes of Season 3 were gone from the CW app, so I’ll have to wait for the rest of it to show up on Netflix, during which time I will probably go in search of AU Kara/Mon El/Lena Luthor fics, because I am that person who just wants the three of them to love each other and be happy and be together.

Okay. Books.

extraordinary union

My favorite book of the whole year? An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole. I have touted this book far and wide, telling everyone about it, recommending it to people interested in historical fiction, or spies, or just looking for a new book to read. No one has come back and said they hated it. I (UGH) still haven’t read the second in the series, A Hope Divided, and now she’s got a whole new Avon series that I’ll have to get reading so I can squee about her continuing rise to romance royalty.

This book takes the cake for multiple reasons. First, look at that cover. When was the last time you saw such a magnificently crafted image of a black woman in a historical setting? A brown skinned, brown-eyed black woman? It’s a big deal, especially as we continue to hear about cover images for mainstream publishing in which the cover model was digitally altered to look more like the characters in the book.

Then, of course, there’s the story itself. Elle Burns is our heroine, the spy with an eidetic memory, currently pretending to be an enslaved person in order to gain pertinent information in the household of a Confederate senator. And the hero is a Scottish-American posing as a Confederate Officer who actually works for Pinkerton. Between them, there is intelligence, and witty banter, and amazing chemistry, and some pretty hot sexy times. Even with a mixed-race couple in the 1860s, though, this is no fantasyland. There is darkness, and there are intense hardships. Even then, you know that it cannot end with one of the two of them dying, or without the hope of them being together at the end. That’s why I love romance.

in other words lahiri

The last book I’ll finish this year is Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words (In Altre Parole), which is a fascinating read. It is a combination of memoir, travel narrative, and short stories, all written by the author in Italian, and translated by a different translator back into English. Lahiri’s reason for this is fascinating and totally understandable: she thought if she was the one who ended  up translating it, she might end up trying to improve the prose as it changed into English. Cool, huh?

I’m not done yet, but I hope to be by the end of the year. It’s been lots of fun seeing where my Italian is still good, and what words I’m not sure I ever knew—like sidewalk, how did I never know the word for sidewalk?

Either way, I’m glad I finally picked it up, and can maybe even include it in my Read Harder list.

Which I didn’t finish. Yeah. No Read Harder completion star for me.

I come to the end of 2017 with three Read Harder tasks incomplete:

  • Read a nonfiction book about technology
  • Read a book published between 1900 and 1950
  • Read a book I’ve read before

I definitely don’t have any books that will cover all three of those, and I’d like to try to get all three done sometime early next year. So even though I won’t have finished Read Harder in 2017, I’ll get the challenge completed…someday.

I like the Read Harder 2018 challenge, but don’t know if I’ll manage to complete it. I’ve already got my list of potential books, but you know how that goes.


And now, looking at the bottom of the page, BOY has this gotten long. I’m gonna stop now.

See you in 2018!



RDL: Beyond the eCourse

(Oh look, a post!)

Earlier this year, I completed an ALA eCourse called “Rethinking Digital Literacy.” If you read my posts during this time, you might be interested in this one. It’s mostly a follow up of that one.

(If you’re a regular follower and thought you might finally see something about books for the first time in months…sorry? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

Now that I’ve changed my position title to reflect my actual goals as an employee of PCPL (Digital Literacy & Learning, Online Resources Librarian), I have started to work my way down the line of tasks I set for myself at the end of RDL.

The first task was to draft a Digital Literacy Framework. I pulled ideas from several of the resources we were provided during the course, and a few others I found on my own, and have mostly made it through an initial draft. We’ll see what happens when it’s done.

The second task was to start a Digital Literacy themed blog series on my library’s website, and I’m happy to say that the first post went up today!

Some brainstorming with my officemates led me down the path of creating meaningful posts that hearkened to pop culture style, so it’s totally full of memes (thanks, Doug Belshaw) and has a clickbait style title.

Whatever, I had lots of fun.

Future topics include online searching, digital citizenship, and critical thinking in the digital world, and I’m super excited!

I’ll do some crossposting on occasion, but mostly I’ll be adding each one to my RDL page with links to the origial post on the library website.

(Also, feel free to peruse the rest of the online content while you’re there :D)

Digital Literacy 4lyfe! (or whatever the kids say nowadays.)

Ever After Box, four months in

photo of unboxed Ever After Happy Birthday Box

I subscribed to the Ever After Box in early January, having always been interested in the idea of subscription box, but in search of something that I would actually like every time.

Of course, if I had just googled “romance subscription box” I might have discovered it a little sooner. I might have even known it existed, but hadn’t decided to actually try it out until they announced their one-year anniversary box.

Because we all know what I really need is a regular source of books coming in every month.

But I tried out the first box, which included a couple books that I wouldn’t burn and some adorable little extras. There was a romance reading journal that I’d love to try out someday. Because I’m also good at maintaining journaling habits. (I’m not.)

photo of unboxed Ever After Happy Birthday Box
Image c/o Ever After Box


I still haven’t read any of those books, but I decided, hey I like it, I’ll just go ahead and get the three month subscription.

I skipped the March box, which was the shapeshifter box (and now I’m sort of regretting it because I have found a recent renewed interest in shifters), so in addition to the Happy Birthday box, I have also gotten the Fairy Tale box, the Librarians in Love box, and the Badass and Beautiful box, which I thought would involve more romances featuring superheroes, I’ll be honest.

But at least I got this cute little thing:

photo of Jess wearing a Wonder Woman bracelet
I might have put this on immediately after pulling it out of the box.

I like this box. I really do. Ever After Box, LLC is also run by women of color, which is another thing I really like about it. But the boxes don’t always reflect the company’s diversity, and three of the boxes have all included one book I currently own, with the fourth including one I’d already read.

But I really like this box and want to support my lady authors of color.

I guess I could just buy their books?

I have a while yet to continue being torn, until it really comes down to when I need to make a decision. The next box is one I was thinking of suspending anyway (Cowboys), so maybe I’ll do that and keep an eye out.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for an update on my reading life (and a million excuses for why I haven’t been writing as much!)

RDL Week 3 Part 2: Digital Literacy in “Digital Natives”

How do our evolving definitions of digital literacy change or remain the same as a result of our exposure to the varying thoughts offered about digital natives?

The concept of a digital native is interesting, but I’m glad it’s evolved over the past decade and a half. The idea of a “native” anything being completely fluent in something right out of the gate is kind of amusing if we look at it from any other point of view. In the United States, we can say that anyone born here or brought here as a young child is probably a native English speaker. Yet many of us don’t have a full grasp of the language until well into our teen years. I once substituted for a “Spanish for Native Speakers” class in the high school where I formerly worked, and these students had to really learn to read and write in a language they grew up speaking, without all the idioms and potential misuses of the language that happens in regional family vernacular.

With that in mind, my initial definition of digital literacy, “an ever changing consideration of sociocultural understanding regarding technologies and the uses of those technologies across an individual person or larger group’s life and experiences,” can probably still stand. In our various readings the idea of a Digital Native has not completely been debunked; it’s true that there are now multiple generations in which the use of technology and its outputs is nothing unfamiliar. But these digital natives are not automatically digitally literate, and they need to be aware that they are not. It can’t really be said better than Apostolos Koutropoulos summarizes at the end of “Digital Natives: Ten Years After”:

Learners don’t know what they don’t know, but if they come to the table from a position of superiority, like they are better than the so-called immigrants, they lose an opportunity to learn something that they don’t know that they don’t know, something that may be beneficial to them.

No matter what generation you were born in, the concept of digital literacy must remain the same. The definition that I produced at the beginning of this course supports the concept that digital literacy is fluid, depending on an individual’s circumstances and understanding—and that includes their age and socioeconomic status.

RDL Week 3: Leaving a Legacy

Our first assignment this week was to watch a TEDx by Alan November, a teacher from the Northeast:

We were then asked to consider the following questions:

What resources can we use to duplicate what November describes (e.g., transforming an existing space into a space that becomes a launching point for community-changing endeavors grounded in strong digital literacy skills)?

What are we (and can we) be doing to encourage our learners to use digital literacy skills in ways that “leave a legacy” (i.e., something that the learners can continue to own and share long after the formal learning opportunities conclude)?

What can we do in defining and fostering digital literacy to support work that has an identifiable purpose that is meaningful to our colleagues and our learners?

Let’s start with question 1: What resources can we use to transform existing spaces into a launching point for community-changing endeavors grounded in strong digital literacy skills?

In our case, the obvious answer is the library website. There are countless options for producing content that doesn’t take advanced skills, but that can also be linked to other spaces. This space is already available to our staff, but many are hesitant to use it beyond the simplest features. One-on-one and group learning opportunities, alongside the go-ahead to do what they want could probably go a long way towards bringing more of our staff to an advanced point of digital literacy.

One of the issues with formal learning as a whole is that it is done in limited space and time with limited staff. One thing that we try to do, but don’t always successfully complete, is having staff walk away with something complete that they learned how to create in that session. I can once again use the example of teaching staff to use the library website: when showing them content creation, is there time for them to make a list or review a book? If so, great! But if we’ve run out of time, that falls to the wayside. The best part of formal training and guided learning is the part where everyone in the room makes it through a search or a creation and walks away ready to do more. We need to be able to provide them with that part of the formal learning structure, even if it means taking out something in the guided, demo part of the instruction.

There are other ways we can ensure our learners “leave a legacy”, or feel they have purpose: make them the teachers. Give them projects that involve those digital literacy skills. Give them spaces that allow them to share and grow at the same time, and the time to learn and use them. Sure, we might have “train the trainer” models set in place for certain skills that need to be learned, but how often do we follow up on that learning?

As November says, peer exchange is really important. While it might be a little different with library staff than with sixth graders, the idea that people will give time to be sure their peers understand something is crucial. How do we foster this within my system, without it becoming yet again about who sits at the table alone vs. who has a mess of peers to consult? That’s a project to figure out right there. But one place to start is to be that peer, and to provide opportunities for those without more digitially literate peers to help them grow, whether synchronously or asynchronously.

In this course alone, the best thing to do is retain. Use what we have, and make it grow to the best of our abilities. Those of us working outside of the ecourses site already have spaces that can be used to exchange thoughts and ideas after this course is done; maybe we need a central space to continue the discussion.

There are a lot of great ideas that have come out. What do we do with them and how do we get them moving within the groups we’re most hoping to affect? Sadly, there are no one dollar barber shops in my future, but the web is open wide with possibilities.

RDL Week 1: Diving Into the Digital Literacy Pool

In my other life, I am a living, breathing librarian. I’m taking an ALA eCourse called Rethinking Digital Literacy to Serve Library Staff and Users. Here is where I will post a few responses and other “extended learning” assignments over the next month.


A condition, not a threshold.

On this particular day of the year, one can’t help but think of Doug Belshaw’s consideration of cultural literacy as it comes to digital literacies. “May the Fourth be with you” is definitely a meme that some understand and some don’t. Are those people “digitally illiterate”? Of course not. But they are conditionally out of the know for a particularly large moment in time.

It had been a while since I looked at the American Library Association’s official definition of Digital Literacy: “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” On the other hand, Belshaw is more into the idea of digital literacies: plural, context dependent, and socially negotiated. These two ideas don’t have to be mutually exclusive, as the former definition is more of a lofty pedagogy-style learning goal while the latter idea has more of a basis in action/reaction. Taking the idea that “those who will be most successful are those who embrace new ideas and adapt fluidly to new situations”, it’s good to think about how to get people to that openness, or at least thinking about finding it.

The most important thing to know is that digital literacies change over time. And we have to keep up with them, and change with them if necessary.

At my library, I am directly involved in developing an effective learning culture within the organization as well as building core technology competencies and the learning/training/staff development opportunities that go with those competencies. These things are all related, and can be supported by the ideas presented in this first week of digital literacy understanding. Belshaw’s concept of taking a person’s interests, and using them to guide their intrinsic motivation to become whatever version of digitally literate we consider to be the best one can definitely be utilized in those situations. But at the end of the day, our hope is that those interests are simply to learn more, as a learning organization, so that we can adapt as our customers do.

There’s lots to think upon here, including the vocabulary that can be used, definitions to latch to, and practices to consider taking up. As we move forward, I hope to come to a clearer understanding of how that might look for my library’s staff and our customers.  

RDL Week 2: What Others Have Developed

In my other life, I am a living, breathing librarian. I’m taking an ALA eCourse called Rethinking Digital Literacy to Serve Library Staff and Users. Here is where I will post a few responses and other “extended learning” assignments over the next month.

This week, we began by watching this video:

Upon finishing, we were asked to reflect on the following question:

What specific, identifiable digital skills and tools are they developing and using?

Here are a few that I can come up with after an initial viewing of the video and reflection:


  • web design
  • video design
  • wiki design
  • newspaper layout
  • broadcast recording
  • internet searching
  • web 2.0 media
  • social media


  • video conferencing
  • video recording
  • SMART boards
  • video design software
  • layout and publishing software and hardware

These are just initial reflections on one viewing. Do you see any others?

EDIT: I was looking through some work-related presentations and realized that there were key skills I neglected to mention, which are also part of digital literacy: collaboration, communication, critical thinking, project planning, creativity, curiosity, and initiative.