Saturday, February 07, 2009

There's always something happening and it's usually quite loud

cousins
What they're reading, left to right: Vincent Van Gogh, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Shaun White, Nancy Pelosi, Robert de LaSalle, Eleanor Roosevelt, and America Ferrera. (Not really.)

And what else, you ask? Does Your Neighborhood Librarian do anything other than cranky-talk about her gritty, cold, under-construction house anymore? Well, in conversation... no. Truly, I talk about nothing other than tile and flooring and the fact that we can't find the folder with all the permits in it.

But do I do anything else?

Why, yes! I read! I am writing a compare-and-contrast article on several series of biographies written for young readers, and so I am reading 94 books. NINETY-FOUR. Give or take.

Forty-four of the books in question are about the Presidents of the United States. I read about the bad ones first, of course: Nixon, Harding, Grant, and Bush. And then I read about the ones even my husband can't keep straight: Tyler, Taylor, Jackson, Johnson, Polk. I like having something to lord over him. I read about the first and the current, and then I read about my favorite: Woodrow Wilson.

Why do I like Wilson? Well, first of all, there's his Fourteen Points, the most idealistic set of foreign policy goals I've ever read. Look at Point Number Four: "Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety." Open to interpretation, sure, and an ever-shifting target, but a fine, easy-to-remember formula to adopt. Then there's the fact that he was an educator, and won the Nobel Peace Prize, and got married while in office. Plus, he just looks like a nice man.

I have read no fewer than three books about Ulysses S. Grant (drinker, poor judge of character, loved horses). I have read about Miley Cyrus and Marie Curie. Those two don't have much in common besides their initials and an abiding interest in radioactive isotopes (yeah that's a lie).

It's a lot of history to get at once. I have been led to wonder why the Confederate generals in the Civil War were just so much... classier than the Union generals. Seriously, Grant and Sherman? MISERABLE FAILURES before leading the Union army and inventing "total war". Thanks for that by the way, guys. Sure, I'm pretty happy about slavery being abolished and federalism maintained, but "total war" has been a pretty severe bummer for anyone experiencing it ever since.

I have been surprised by Susan B. Anthony's sense of humor, and appalled at Che Guevara comparing his baby girl favorably to Chairman Mao. Maybe Bob and I joked about naming our first child "Chairman Mao," but only because we assumed that he or she would take on all decision-making duties in our house upon arrival (and possibly cause our starvation) - not because we wanted him or her to LOOK like Mao Zedong.

I have learned that the dickiness of Steve Jobs is so profound that it has in more than one instance altered the trajectory of his life, and therefore cannot be edited out of even a biography for kids (note the brevity of that bio on Apple's website). I also found out that I have been taken to lunch and had my brain picked by his birth sister. I have learned that John Huston made Ray Bradbury cry. I have learned that Ellen Degeneres has striven for normalcy in her life, and that consequently, her life is quite boring. And that even Kanye West believes Kanye West to possess very little musical talent.

I have a new fun game: spot the smoker. This started when I saw a picture of Rachel Carson at her desk, writing. The first two fingers on her left hand were crooked-out in an odd but somehow familiar position, as if giving a surreptitious papal benediction. I whipped off my glasses and used my personal superpower (magnified vision 3" from my face) to ascertain that Yes! Somebody Photoshopped a cigarette out of that picture!

I used to read nothing but nonfiction. Plagues, crime, animals, Africa, cookbooks... the Dewey Decimal system was my oyster (oyster!). Truth is wild. Lately I read nothing but children's books. Eh, it's fine with me. The dialogue is funny and the plots move right along. But you know, nothing combines the real-life drama of nonfiction and the sprightly timing of children's fiction like a good kids' biography. And... I know 100% more about the Civil War (and Maya Angelou, Elie Wiesel, Frank Gehry, Rachael Ray and Hernando DeSoto) now than I did a month ago!