2014 Book list: 50 states

Any list of states that leaves out DC pretty much bugs me, but 50 books in a year is easier than 51, so I forgive the curator of this one. A novel for each state. I’ve read Alaska already (LOVE MICHAEL SHEA-BON-JOVI CHABON.) I’ve also read Maine, and of course I’ve read Maryland (also a big fan of Michener). I can cross Michigan off my list, as well, but I’ll get my Eugenides fix when Rhode Island comes around. And New Hampshire (In July I bought A Prayer for Owen Meany just to round out my John Irving collection). Finally, I’ve read South Carolina already as well, which leaves 44 books to read in the year. Yes, many of them are classics and it is EMBARASSING that I haven’t read them. Time to make up for that!


Sometime around late February last year, I saw a tweet that referred to “HLS.” You all know that I went to Harvard Law School, right? I mean, I don’t tend to boast about it, but I did, and I’m sure it’s opened doors to me, and so when I see the abbreviation HLS it catches my eye.

It turned out that HLS also stands for Hack Library School. There was a “Hack Library School Day in the Life” project the first week of March; you might recall that I participated? (You’d be forgiven for not recalling; I had forgotten myself!)

I’ve followed HLS fairly consistently since then, not that I’ve gotten any more used to it referring to something other than Harvard Law.

Starting today, I am devoting a substantial amount of mental energy to making my brain see “Hack Library School” when I see “HLS.” This is my obligation now as a 2013-2014 writer.

Dear resume: I shall be updating you. Get yourself ready.

My local library, Ralph Nader, and the government shutdown

I live less than 3/4 of a mile from the West End branch of the D.C. Public Library. This week’s cover story in the Washington City Paper is about Ralph Nader’s quest to stop the redevelopment of the land on which that branch is located. The redevelopment would (will) result in a mixed-use property with the library on the ground floor and residences above.

You have to read the article. There are some key points in it. Like the fact that every group that is actually composed of residents of the area support the redevelopment. And that these are groups that never agree on anything. The article does not say that I want to buy a condo above the library. (Can you imagine how awesome that would be?? I’d never be able to afford it, though.)

Land in the West End neighborhood is at a premium. The neighborhood is relatively close to two different Metro lines. There is a Trader Joes a block from the library and a Whole Foods only a few blocks further. It’s close to Georgetown. There are nice restaurants nearby. And so forth. Yet the library is a single story (there might be a second floor with meeting rooms? I’ve never been off the first floor) in this neighborhood that is so thirsty for density.

Nader, however, seems to be stuck in the age of the Carnegie library. Consider this quote of his from the WCP article: “It should have an architectural dignity, free-standing with good landscaping around it.”

Libraries are not built on the Carnegie model anymore. Nor should they be. Libraries are about access to information, not about the building. They should be welcoming, certainly. But welcoming does not equate to “free-standing with good landscaping.” Welcoming means helpful librarians and other library staff. Welcoming means books that people want to read and space where people can sit to work. Welcoming means working computers with useful software. Welcoming means hours that are convenient for people to use the library. And in DC, especially in West End where land is so valuable, a public-private partnership helps the library financially in a way to meet all of those welcoming criteria.

And while I’d rather not alienate any readers who might not share my politics, I cannot help but mention the government shutdown in the context of Nader’s crusade.

Jack Evans, who is the councilmember for my ward/the West End library’s ward), is quoted as having said this:

“Where I’d take issue with … the Library Renaissance Project is, at the end of the debate, you take a vote, and if you lose, you lose. And in this case the vote was overwhelming. Everyone came to an agreement that this was a good project. They were on the losing end of it and refused to stop. That’s where I would say wait, you gotta play by the rules.”

What does this remind you of? The Tea Party faction of the House of Representatives who were on the losing end of the Affordable Care Act and who have managed to wrangle an outsize amount of influence to shut down the government?

Ralph Nader probably wouldn’t appreciate being compared to the Tea Party, but that’s just too bad. Let us have our library and I’ll roll back the criticism.

2013 Reading update, part I-lost-count

Lots of Jewish holidays means lots of time for reading for fun. And my public library‘s fantastic holds system allowed me to have three of my four remaining 2013 books for the last two weeks (along with the have-to-read-before-the-last-book-on-the-list book).


The Yellow Birds. Heartbreaking. A good read, and if I’d put more effort into it, I’m sure that I would understand the canary allusion better. As it is, there is only one explicit mention of canaries, which I assume is the “yellow bird” reference in the title.

A Hologram for the King. Unsettling. And doesn’t really resolve, which just continues the unsettling-ness.

Why Does the World Exist? Thought-provoking. But there were factual errors (at least one, in which a philosopher was once referred to as being from Cambridge and once from Oxford–them’s fighting words), and logic problems, and too often turned to the question HOW does the world exist, so despite the thought-provoking nature of the book, I gave up on it.

Still reading Wolf Hall as preparation for reading Bring Up the Bodies. Reactions forthcoming.

Did you read any of these books? I’d love to hear different reactions to them.


The word of the year* is accountability. Primarily I intend this as accountability to myself. Less Candy Crush, more washing dishes. Less lazy, more action. Less procrastination, more goal setting on large projects. Less making to-do lists that I proceed to ignore, more making to-do lists that I don’t ignore.

Call it “I spent all that money on therapy; maybe I should have something to show for it?”

What I won’t do is subject you, my friends, to too much navel-gazing. No weekly accountability check-ins (that I’d probably forget to post, anyway), but hopefully some reflections on what it is to recognize victories and to overcome set backs.

Three weeks in to the year, reflection number 1:

My very first intention of the year was to commit to going to shul (synagogue) every Shabbat morning. The very first Shabbat was the day after Rosh Hashanah…and I slept through shul. I was disappointed in myself, but have turned it around. Of course I wasn’t going to miss services on Yom Kippur, I was awakened by three rambunctious children the following Shabbat staying at friends’ in the suburbs, and I committed to leading part of the service yesterday. Concrete commitments equal a greater likelihood of following through, even on those things that are important to me on their own. (Obvious? Maybe. But it helps to recognize it on my own!)

And reflection number 2:

I really need to get back to using a GTD tool. I hope I remember my password for IQTell!


*5774, the Jewish year that began on Rosh Hashanah, the evening of September 4.

Constitution Day!

It’s the most wonderful day of the year!

Did you know that my first serious career aspiration was to be a Supreme Court justice? (Serious, not realistic.) My passion in high school, aside from being passionate about being adored by my teachers, was the First Amendment. Specifically the religion clauses, most likely a consequence of my social justice ethical humanist culturally Jewish upbringing. A class assignment senior year led to the epiphany that I would enjoy being a lawyer, and it was not a far leap from that realization to the unrealistic goal of becoming a Justice.

I backed off from that goal years before it became an impossibility with a grade of B- in Constitutional Law, and have certainly found my place in the legal profession, so I have no regrets. But the Constitution remains–as it should–a document near and dear to my heart. More than once (I think three times, if asked to count) I have sworn to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.*

Today is the Constitution’s 226th birthday. That is amazing longevity. And while we disagree about what various provisions mean, the fact that the Constitution itself supports the existence and persistence of the debate blows my mind.

As I write this, I am thinking about a discussion that was had today about the meaning of Council rules that were adopted just nine months ago. Yet the Constitution has lasted 226 years. Awe.


*It is entirely possible that I swore to preserve, defend, and protect the Constititon during my Maryland Bar swearing-in. The judge reading the oath broke it into very long phrases and that one got jumbled between my ears and my mouth.

2013 Reading update

Shana tova! The beginning of the Jewish year (and of the school year) reminded me that I had 1. not made very much progress on my 2013 reading list, and 2. not written about some of the books from the list that I had read. So, here we go:

  • Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel (also Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel) — still to read. Placed hold at the library.
  • Building Stories, by Chris Ware — won’t be reading; library doesn’t own.
  • A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers — still to read. Placed hold at the library.
  • NW, by Zadie Smith — wrote about here.
  • The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo — I read this in the last week. HEARTbreaking. This is the true story of a slum in Mumbai and the things that youth do to survive. It’s a tale of poverty and the extremes in society. On a very practical level, it explained for me the many news posts that show up in my Google alert for “juvenile justice” that center on the question of a youth’s age. Kids in these slums really don’t know how old they are, which is so far out of my experience that I didn’t believe it was the case. And yet, it is.
  • Far from the Tree, by Andrew Solomon — still to read. Placed hold at the library.
  • The Passage of Power, by Robert Caro — wrote about here.
  • The Patriarch, by David Nasaw — Interesting to read about events involving JFK from the perspective of his father’s biographer in contrast with the perspective of LBJ’s biographer. Joseph Kennedy’s relationships certainly provide insight into his sons’ experiences with women not their wives. JPK really was not a good man in many respects.
  • Why Does the World Exist, by Jim Holt — still to read. Placed hold at the library.

When January comes around there will be a new reading list, with 50 (!) books on it; we’ll see if I do better with 50 than with 10.