Category Archives: Books and reading

A Library for Juana: The World of Sor Juana Inés, by Pat Mora

Library for JuanaWhen she was just a little girl in Mexico City in the 1600s, Juana Inés wanted to read all of the books in her abuelo’s library, but her mother said that she was too young. She asked endless questions, and skipped along making rhymes all day long. When her older sister went to school at her neighbor’s house, Juana begged to go, too. Her parents relented, and soon Juana was studying everything she could find and writing poems for her mother’s birthday. Later, living with her aunt and uncle in the big city, she kept her tutor busy teaching her Latin and many other languages. At fifteen, she became a lady-in-waiting at the palace, writing poems and riddles for the amusement of the court, amazing scholars with her learning, and reading as much of the royal library as she could. Eventually, the young woman decided to become a nun, changing her name to the now well-known Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

When someone mentioned her in a library meeting recently, I had never heard of Juana Inés, so after looking her up on Wikipedia, I checked out this children’s biography. I have often found children’s biographies to be quick, introductory sources of information that avoid getting bogged down with all the tiny details of a person’s life. They convey the central importance of the subject and are often very beautiful, as is the case with this volume, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal. Of course, Pat Mora could not delve deeply into the struggles that Juana had with the men over her in the church hierarchy who did not accept a woman speaking and writing about theological issues. Eventually Sor Juana was severely punished and lost everything. Today, she is known as one of North America’s greatest poets, earning the nickname “Mexico’s Tenth Muse.” Probably the most famous book for adults exploring Juana Inés’ philosophy and theology is Sor Juana: Or the Traps of Faith, by Nobel laureate Octavio Paz. Juana Inés is widely revered for her lifelong support of female education. Imagine the riches we have forfeited through the centuries because women were kept from learning.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Queen’s Thief series, by Megan Whalen Turner

the-thiefThis is a public service announcement from Reading Central. Megan Whalen Turner writes what is quite probably the best current series of books for young people. In any case, it is certainly my favorite. And while other authors put out a title every year—or in the case of James Patterson and his committees, a book every two weeks—Ms. Turner only publishes every four or five years, so when she has a new book, it is An Event. So, I am hereby announcing that the fifth volume of “The Queen’s Thief” series is due to come out this May.

Why am I telling you this now, rather than just writing a book review in May? Because you need to catch up! There are four books to read in the next two months, so get to it! I am just about to start re-reading the second one. In order, they are:

  • The Thief
  • The Queen of Attolia
  • The King of Attolia
  • A Conspiracy of Kings

Only the first volume, The Thief, seems to be a book for teens. The main character, Eugenides, who has been in prison for theft for several months, is suddenly yanked out into the screaming light of day and conscripted for a special mission with the Magus. A small group of men travel for weeks through rough terrain so that “Gen” can break into an ancient temple and retrieve a stone with mystical powers that can confer immortality on the sovereign who holds it, but can kill anyone who tries to steal it.

The setting is a group of small countries that resemble Greece several centuries after its golden age, with ruined temples and olive groves. So, although it has horses and warring monarchs, it is not at all like the scores of faux-medieval fantasies on the market. Furthermore, it is set in a re-imagined past, with bits of supernatural elements, such as gods and goddesses, but there are no vampires, zombies, or fairies. Rather, it is more a book of political intrigue. After The Thief, the series is more adult than teen, with marriages, diplomacy, spies, and assassinations. This is the perfect series for your kids who are advanced readers if you do not want them exposed to the more seamy side of young adult literature. The language is fine, there are no explicit sex scenes, and Turner does not seem to have an agenda of any kind. So refreshing! On the other hand, the vocabulary is rich, and the plot is complex and challenging.

Why is this the best series out there?

  • Eugenides is one of the most incredible heroes in literature. He has likeable and unlikeable characteristics, is much smarter than he lets on, and is completely unpredictable. In short, he is wickedly cool.
  • Nothing, absolutely nothing, is as it seems. You will be surprised. Turner’s writing is so complex and subtle that you will miss the hints she puts out there and will suddenly be shocked and need to go back and re-read. And…
  • It completely stands up to re-reading. I just finished The Thief for the third time, and I picked up details that I had missed before. It is such a pleasure to read.
  • It is appropriate for everyone, adults and teens, male and female. The only reason that tweens and younger may not be the best audience is because they may not understand it. Otherwise, it is fine for a family read-aloud.

I hope that is enough to send you to the bookstore or library. I was so thrilled to find out that I will have an opportunity to meet this author at SLJ’s Day of Dialog in May, and I hope to post a review of the latest volume, Thick as Thieves, before then!

Read on!

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Book Expo 2016

 

BEA vendor hall

Just a Tiny Corner of the Vendor Hall

Vast spaces with advertising banners flapping overhead, thousands of vendors tastefully hawking books and book-related technology, and many more thousands of women and men setting up appointments with their chiropractors on their cellphones as they juggle canvas bags of heavy books that they couldn’t resist adding to the piles of unread galleys they already have at home: it’s another Book Expo America.

BEA venueMcCormick Place in Chicago—the West Building, specifically—hosted us this year as we attended excellent sessions with esoteric names such as “Innovation in Children’s Publishing” and “The Story Starts Here: Humor Edition” while navigating escalators and paying outrageous amounts of money for water. BEA started as a conference for publishers and booksellers, particularly for the adult market. However, over the years they seem to be catching on to the fact that libraries spend a lot of money on books, and that the children’s market—especially the exploding YA segment—can be lucrative, too. Two years ago, in New York, there were just a few valuable events for me, but this year, I had a hard time getting to the vendor floor between sessions, although two exceptional events were added the very week before the conference.

Kwame Alexander hug

Kwame and me: we’re best buds.

By the late afternoon on Thursday, the day after the Day of Dialog and Children’s Author Dinner, I was beginning to flag. I had been rained on during the river architecture tour in the morning, had attended several good sessions at McCormick Place and had even done a conquering tour of the vendor floor. Somewhere along the way, I got wrapped up in a bear hug by the amazing Kwame Alexander, Newbery-winning author of Crossover. He’s expanded to picture books now! At the end of the day, the thought of walking across the indoor bridge to the Hyatt Regency for Scholastic’s Picture Book Event was daunting, but I figured I could nurse my blisters later. I’m so glad I made the effort! Three outstanding authors and illustrators greeted us there: David Shannon, Tom Lichtenheld, and Kate Beaton. All of these are much-loved authors, and you can imagine how much fun picture book folks would be.

Picture Book Panel

Kate Beaton, David Shannon, and Tom Lichtenheld

There were musical numbers with audience participation, reader’s theater, and hilarious slide shows. We received galleys of Shannon’s new Duck on a Tractor, Lichtenheld’s Groovy Joe: Ice Cream & Dinosaurs, and Beaton’s King Baby. I had to laugh when Kate Beaton talked about the stages of life on Facebook: you go for years in college when you have nothing but pictures of young adults partying, etc. Then suddenly, your friends get married and their posts are nothing but baby pictures, and you roll your eyes in disgust. Then your sister has a baby, and your Facebook page is nothing but baby pictures, too—but nobody else’s baby is as cute or smart as yours. They left us with terrific gifts, including a signed and illustrated print of all three book covers in a wooden frame, which is now hanging near my desk.

Thursday evening was all about the Sourcebooks cocktail party in the Hancock Tower that I wrote about in my first Chicago blog, so it was serious work, of course.

Torch Against the NightFriday started early, back at McCormick Place for the Children’s Author Breakfast. Let me just state here that the fees for the meals at BEA must go to the speakers, because the menus are a low-carber’s nightmare. Mini-bagels, sweet breads, and fruit. I had had some yogurt back at the hotel, just in case, so I started off this breakfast by popping the top off the coffee carafe and pouring it all over the tablecloth, my purse, and my slacks. I did manage to miss my colleague, thank goodness. The day did improve. Jamie Lee Curtis, who is one of the few celebrities to write children’s books that are truly literary, hosted a panel that included Dav Pilkey, Sabaa Tahir, and Gene Luen Yang, all of whom are brilliant and gave fascinating speeches. Ms. Curtis shared with the audience that her severely challenged son, who is now twenty, could not read until he met Captain Underpants, and so now she has a soft place in her heart for Dav Pilkey. She choked up, they embraced, and the audience wept and had more coffee. Ms. Tahir spun stories of her childhood as a bullied Muslim girl growing up in the American western desert, where her father owned a hotel. I achieved my objective of acquiring an additional copy of the much-anticipated A Torch Against the Night for a certain teen girl that I know who passionately adored Tahir’s debut, An Ember in the Ashes. Gene Luen Yang gave a rousing speech as this year’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, encouraging us to read outside of our comfort zones. I agree with him that our entire world would be a more peaceful place if we lived inside one another’s stories for a while and broadened our worldviews. In all, this author’s breakfast encapsulated the heart of children’s literature: innocence, suffering, laughter, and compassion.

After meeting a favorite author by chance on the vendor floor, sharing stories at a session with the Unshelved guys and other librarians, and setting up a shipping box to send all of my loot home ahead of me, I went to the ABA-CBC Children’s Author Speed Dating Lunch, and this, as mentioned in my last post, is where I geeked out. Here is how author speed dating works: all the participants are assigned to a numbered table, and the authors move from table to table, pitching their latest works for five minutes until the bell rings and they move to the next table and start again. Often, the authors are fairly new or even debut authors. It’s fun, and the tables are piled high with gift copies of their books, just in case you haven’t set up that appointment with your chiropractor yet.

David Arnold.jpg

David Arnold

I had never eaten a meal during speed dating before, and it was tricky. You can’t put food in your mouth while the author is talking, since that seems rude, so you’re stuffing forkfuls of salad in while they walk to the next table. Our second author had just sat down and was plunging into his spiel in a panicked manner, since he had just realized at his first table that the bell rings far too soon. Something he said made me think, “Oh, my gosh, is this…?” as I craned my neck to see his nametag while frantically trying to swallow my lettuce. Then I blurted out, “Oh, my gosh, are you David Arnold?” He stopped talking and nodded, wide-eyed, as if caught in the act of being himself. “Oh, I just loved Mosquitoland so much and forced so many people to read it!” KidsLogoORIGINALFILEI gestured to his new book, Kids of Appetite, and he started talking again. At the end, I asked him if he was signing galleys and got all the info about where he would be. In the meantime, the very dignified woman to my right took over all author comments, since I’m sure she was convinced that I could not behave in a professional manner. This turned out to be a good thing, since I could not say a word later when Arthur A. Levine, a publisher himself, sat down to talk about his new book, What a Beautiful Morning. I could not help crying the whole time, which made him tear up, so the woman on my right was probably in despair that our entire table would be disgraced. This luncheon turned out to be much more wonderful than I expected, so Friday was becoming an excellent day.

Kids of AppetiteAfter this event, I hauled my armloads of books up two flights and immediately got in line at the Penguin booth to get David Arnold to sign Kids of Appetite. There was another line for Sabaa Tahir, but when asked if I wanted to join it, I said, “Oh, I’ve already seen her” in a lofty manner and went to Arnold’s line. I was probably the oldest person in either line, but I probably spend more money on books than any of them, so I felt justified. When I got to the front, he remembered me from the luncheon, since I was so memorable to all the witnesses, and he asked me if I wanted the book to be personalized. I said, “Hey, I did not walk all this way and stand in a line for just a signature!” So he very nicely wrote a bit in it. (I have already finished this book and will post a review later. Hint: thumbs up.)

Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater

The very last session I attended at BEA was the APA Audio Authors’ Tea. Do you know what they served at this tea? Tea. Lipton’s. Regular or decaf. There were also some cookies that I ignored, but seriously, Lipton’s? When I went to Orlando for the Baker & Taylor Vendor Summit, they had a glorious selection of teas set out all the time between sessions. Here, I actually paid for the session and got Lipton’s. Oh, well, I really paid for the event because it featured (drumroll…) Maggie Stiefvater! There were others, too, of course: Terry McMillan, John Scalzi, and Michael Koryta, so no small potatoes. All were great, and discussed the special considerations that go into making recordings of books, which I have found fascinating since touring the Recorded Books studio a couple of years ago in New York. Maggie looks like a character in one of her books, and I hung on her every word. I am so glad that I was able to finish The Raven King—the last of the “Raven Cycle”— before seeing her, and I can’t wait to see what this amazingly creative author serves up next.

And that was it! I shipped off my box of goodies and joined my group of colleagues and my husband for that boisterous final meal of octopus that I wrote about in my first Chicago post. I was able to meet so many of my favorite authors, confer with other professionals, and continue to increase my respect for hardworking publisher reps, and throughout the week, several themes seemed to come to the forefront over and over again. I hope to write about those in a later post.

Thanks to all who made Book Expo America possible!

__________________

The very sophisticated photos of David Arnold and Maggie Stiefvater are from Google searches, probably by very expensive professional photographers. The photo of Kwame Alexander and me is from Baker & Taylor’s Facebook page, courtesy of Jill Faherty of Baker & Taylor’s Children and Teen Services.

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Day of Dialog 2016: Up Close and Intense

Day of Dialog logo

My colleagues and I flew to Chicago to attend Book Expo America, a huge annual gathering of publishers, authors, booksellers, and, increasingly, librarians. BEA lasted three days, the first of which we spent at the Day of Dialog, presented by School Library Journal (for professionals serving youth) and Library Journal (for professionals serving adults). BEA has been in New York for a number of years, but this year was hosted in Chicago, just to give us a change of scene.

Day of Dialog is a wondrously concentrated dose of information tailored specifically toward librarians and teachers whose work it is to push books on kids. SLJ knows just what we need, and presents individual speakers, panels of authors who address trends and issues in current literature, and panels of publisher representatives who fill us in on the hottest upcoming titles by their respective authors. Except for lunch, the participants stay in one room and just soak it all up.

Richard PeckRichard Peck was our opening speaker. At 82, he is still as sharp and witty as ever, and his remarks applied his seasoned wisdom to the edgiest current topics. Nothing is off the table with Mr. Peck! Years ago, while I was in graduate school, I carpooled with a school librarian who was having a tough time with a class of rowdy fifth-grade boys. She asked me for a title that she could read to them, hoping to get them interested in books. I suggested Peck’s The Teacher’s Funeral. Although the humor was down-home, I thought boys would really appreciate it. A couple of weeks later, she thanked me profusely. She bubbled over with good news about her boys, marveling that you could hear a pin drop in her class now, unless the boys were roaring with laughter in all the right places, and that they couldn’t wait to get to her class to hear the next chapter. We felt much the same way on Wednesday, hanging on his every word. You can get a taste of his speech on YouTube here  and here. His latest book, The Best Man, comes out in September.

There were great discussions on the making of children’s nonfiction, particularly illustrated nonfiction guaranteed to entice young ones into learning. If I may recommend a few, don’t miss Will’s Words, by Jane Sutcliffe, who invites us to explore the words and phrases introduced into our language by the bard’s works, Some Writer!, by Melissa Sweet, a biography of E.B. White of Charlotte’s Web fame, and Around America to Win the Vote, by Mara Rockliff, one of many excellent books on women’s suffrage coming out in this 100th anniversary year.

MG topicThe middle grade author panel was worth the price of admission for me. Middle grade books are the ones that we remember fondly from childhood, and almost all of the great classics fall here, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The Secret Garden. These new authors discussed the truth that we find in children’s literature and the sometimes overwhelming issues that children deal with, whether the adults in their lives try to shield them or not. Middle Grade PanelAdam Gidwitz described his new medieval novel, The Inquisitor’s Tale, which he researched while in Europe with his historian wife. Quite a leap from his Tale Dark and Grimm and Star Wars retellings! I am looking forward to this one. Jason Reynolds, author of As Brave as You (among others), held us spellbound as he mused on the themes that were common to all of us as we read stories of other cultures. As he said, stories are true when they explore the fundamental touchstones of life, such as family and the universal need to be loved. I had the privilege of hearing Jason again at the AAP Children’s Author Dinner that evening (see photo below) when he went into greater depth about his new book that explores a boy’s discovery that his grandfather, who has always been his hero, is totally blind. It is our response to life’s surprises that makes us grow bitter or grow into heroes ourselves. I have a feeling Jason will be a new favorite author for me.

Betsy Bird

Betsy Bird

During lunch, I was able to speak to Betsy Bird, purveyor of SLJ’s celebrated blog Fuse#8, about the fabulous Children’s Literary Salon that she had hosted a couple of weeks before. Presented with the topic “Death and Theology in Children’s Literature,” Nathan (N.D.) Wilson, of 100 Cupboards fame, and Jeanne Birdsall, author of the beloved “Penderwicks” series, discussed the Christian and post-Christian humanist points of view, respectively. SLJ has made this and other webcasts available here. I highly recommend this webcast, particularly for Christian teachers and parents, and for fans of C.S. Lewis who want to see the author lauded for his children’s and adult works. I confess that I watched it live in my family room, weeping and saying, “Yes! This is why we sacrifice for the children!”

YA PanelAfter lunch, Laini Taylor gave a wry and thoughtful speech about genre fiction, which I love, but which is often not valued as highly as realistic fiction. Her hot pink hair was also on display in the following panel of women writers of young adult fiction. Here’s a new statistic by Bowker: more than half of all YA fiction is read by adults!  I do know a lot of adults who read YA, but I thought my perspective might be skewed by my environment.

The day rounded out with a full panel of picture book authors and illustrators. I must admit that I was flagging by the middle of the afternoon, but certainly not because of the program. Another smashing success! Kudos to School Library Journal.

Jason Reynolds

Jason Reynolds

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) Children’s Author Dinner was held at the opulent Palmer House Hotel that evening, and in addition to another brilliant panel of authors, I was surrounded by terrific children’s librarians from around the country. All kinds of shop talk went on while consuming a scrumptious meal accompanied by generous amounts of wine. After dinner, the authors spoke about their books, which included picture books, graphic novels, middle grade fiction, and young adult fiction.

One of the great advantages of attending events like Day of Dialog and the authors’ dinner is that I learn which books the publishers are featuring this season and next season, and I will be sure to order all of these titles, if I haven’t already! That is their point, of course, but it is also the point for me. As a selector, I have learned over the years that if a publisher is pushing a title, they think it deserves to do well, and, conversely, if they choose to market a title strongly, it will do well as a result! This helps me to spend the taxpayers’ money wisely and get the books that kids will love. All of this is in addition, of course, to being starstruck by meeting the authors of my favorite books—my rock stars! Truth be told, I only geeked out once, and that was on Friday, which will be another post!

_________________

The image of the SLJ Day of Dialog logo was obtained from Google Images, as was the image of Betsy Bird. The other grainy, dreadful photos are my own. Apologies to the photogenic originals!

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Favorite Books of 2015

Newbery MedalThe Children’s Media Awards announcements will be this coming Monday, January 11th, which is amazingly early! I have not been able to read as much as usual this past year for many reasons, but some of the books that I have read are certainly worthy, so I thought I would weigh in with my faves from the past twelve months. Click on the highlighted titles for full reviews.

Hired GirlMy favorite children’s book was The Hired Girl, by Laura Amy Schlitz. This delightful historical fiction novel straddles that annoying fence between the Newbery and Printz age, but I consider it to be more suitable for the Newbery, so I’ll place it there. Other Newbery-age books that I found worthy of the medal are Echo, by Pam Nuñoz Ryan, and The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley.

Challenger DeepI found three teen books to be excellent this year, perhaps first of all Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep, the story of his son’s struggle with schizophrenia. I am shocked to discover that I never reviewed this book! I think that I read it just before my mother passed away last summer. Please check it out. As you can see, it won the National Book Award. The second would be Most Dangerous, by Steve Sheinkin, a nonfiction title concerning Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. My third would be Mosquitoland, by David Arnold. Any of these would be eligible to win the Printz Award, in my opinion.

Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary Schmidt, is worthy of either award. Most blogs are tending toward Newbery for this title, but I prefer the Printz because of the theme.

WaitingMy two favorite picture books this year were Waiting, by Kevin Henkes, and Lenny and Lucy, by Philip and Erin Stead. The Caldecott Award is given to the artist of the picture book, but these two jewels appeal to me on many levels, not just for the brilliant illustrations.

 

Boats for PapaUpdate!— How could I leave out the poignant Boats for Papa, by Jessixa Bagley? This thoughtful picture book came into the library the week I returned from my mother’s funeral, so I interpreted the story one way, but the author left the reasons for Papa’s permanent absence open, so that children dealing with a parent’s death, divorce, or other change will be able to find solace and closure here. I passed this book around and brought a whole department to tears. Beautiful.

I enjoyed many other great reads this year, but the quality of writing may not reach to literary award status. No one reads fine literature all the time, and a steady diet of deep and serious books can be wearying, just as a daily regimen of spa food might be thrilling at first, but then the longing for ice cream sets in. I almost never review a book that I couldn’t recommend to someone, so please have fun with all the other books that I reviewed this year, as well.

Looking forward to a 2016 with less pain (of all kinds) and more reading. Let’s see how we do on Monday!

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Librarian Shoulder and Other Hazards of San Francisco

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San Francisco as seen from the Pacific side of the Golden Gate Bridge

The last week of June, I made my way to California for the first time ever! The American Library Association held its annual convention in San Francisco this year, and I was thrilled to be invited to several functions by various groups. Since I left North Carolina when temps were over one hundred for days on end, I walked for miles on the waterfront (just days before Kate Steinle was shot there) and all over the city, reveling in sunny, mid-sixties weather. It didn’t occur to me that the sun is still sending out those UV rays even when it feels great, and I ended up peeling for a week.

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The Ferry Building, located at the “bottom” of the waterfront, now a foodie paradise with lovely shops. I walked for hours on the waterfront!

One of the best things about library conventions is that all of the publishers are there, handing out advance copies of their newest offerings. They know we can’t wait to get our hands on them, and they’ve become convinced of our canvas bag addiction, so I ended up walking for miles with canvas bags full of books on my left shoulder. By the end of my trip, I was having a hard time sleeping on my left side, and I ended up taking aspirin every night before bed. Little did I know how serious that would become after I got home.

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The iconic Phelan Building, which I passed every day on my way to ALA workshops.

Of course, the last week in June is Pride Week in San Francisco—every year. When I opined to someone that perhaps the American Library Association could have picked a more propitious week to pour several thousand librarians into a city that would soon receive 500,000 extra visitors for the Pride Parade, I was informed that the ALA holds its annual convention the last week of June every year. I can’t say that they should have held it elsewhere, though, because San Francisco is incredibly beautiful and easy to navigate, despite the one of the worst homeless problems I’ve seen anywhere—and I’ve spent a good bit of time in New York. The architecture, the Bay, the weather, the cable cars, and the variety of cultural influences all combine to create a charming city, and even though my hotel was lovely, I always wanted to be outside. Plus, it’s very healthful: considering that a salad costs $30, I lost five pounds that week!

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“When the lights go down in the city, and the sun shines on the bay….” Sunrise from my hotel window.

Getting outside on Sunday was a problem. I stayed at the Hyatt Regency, with gorgeous Bay views like the one above changing all day and night. I had an important meeting across town on Sunday afternoon, but when I got out of the shower and opened my drapes at 7:00 AM, the parade crowd was already forming, and by 9:00 AM, I could not get out of the hotel. No public transportation was running near us, so I sat back and watched for a few hours. Since the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage had been handed down on Friday, estimates were that over a million people had come to the city, double what had been expected. Some of the texts that I sent to my family back on the east coast were: “There is a very large, tattooed male motorcyclist below my window wearing a fluffy, lime-green tutu.” “There is man on the street below me wearing nothing but a hat—and it’s 58 degrees.” My sister texted back, “Where are the police?” I said, “In the float behind him.”

Around 12:30, the floats behind my hotel ran out, and the beginning of the parade moved down one block, so that the cable car beside the hotel started to operate again. I ran down and asked a native whether it went to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, and she said it would get me within three blocks. Great. I had intended to ride a cable car once during my visit as a touristy thing, but I ended up using them twice out of necessity. This car took me to the top of an impossibly steep hill, and then I had to turn left and mince my way ever so slowly down (and I do mean down) three blocks of sidewalks that had been grooved so that pedestrians would not fall on their faces and roll all the way down.

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“My” Cablecar

I made it on time to my 1:30 meeting, but when we got out at almost 3:00, the parade was still going on—five hours after it started!—and I ended up walking back to my hotel right through the parade crowd. Again, there goes my shoulder, but who notices the pain when there is a 300-pound, hairy man walking toward you, wearing nothing but a strategically-placed rainbow-colored sock? I just let him have as much sidewalk as he wanted.

The whole day was surreal. It’s like your hometown parade on crack. Here comes Pacific Electric and Gas, followed by Dykes on Bikes. There, in the convertible, is a local politician, doing her best Queen Elizabeth wave. Right behind her is the Bondage Group, carrying whips and waving the Bondage Flag. (Yes, there’s a flag.) Here are hundreds of Apple employees, all in white, and next comes the nudist group, carrying a banner that reads: “Saint Francis was a nudist.” Someone should tell the Franciscan Friars. Think of all the money they could save on those brown robes and rope belts. Some of these guys are far, far past the age when they should be seen in public naked. Do they not have any friends to say, “Dude, this look is just not working for you anymore”?

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The Pacific Ocean peeking through the trees at the Land’s End Lookout

After all that excitement, I spent my last day with my friend, Valerie, having the total tourist experience. We went over the Golden Gate Bridge, drove through Sausalito, and had dinner on the Pacific at sunset, each view more beautiful than the last. If you have not been to San Francisco, let me recommend June and July as perfect months to visit! I was not sure how I would fare, since I was still in deep mourning at the time, but there was enough beauty to salve my soul and enough activity to keep me attached to the living. But then, that was before I knew that I would pay for ignoring the pain in my shoulder when I got home!

To be continued….

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Dude, Paleo Is So Rad

I spend my days, Monday through Friday, staring at books on a screen. Then I come home and stare at actual books— or Book TV, blogs, or other reading material that feeds my addiction. In the course of a day, the publishing world marketeers have great fun with me, sticking ads for all kinds of books in my face in the hopes that I will buy them— which I do, to the tune of almost a couple million dollars a year, but only children’s and teens’ books. However, the ads I see are for all kinds of books, and if I’m particularly interested, I’ll look them up.

wild dietLast week, a new Paleo book came out, and since I am a low-carber, I had to take a peek. Paleo is a diet and lifestyle that emphasizes eating food the way our very distant (as in, pre-row crop agriculture) ancestors did, as well as strength training, rather than aerobic exercise. The new book is called The Wild Diet, by Abel James, and as I continued to search, I saw that Mr. James has a website with a blog and a long series of podcasts. I sent a reminder to my home email so that I could listen later, since I doubt that my employer would be able to see a connection between Paleo bio-hackers and Pete the Cat.

Abel James is known as the Fat Burning Man, as seen on his website www.fatburningman.com, where he tells his life story and interviews all sorts of other health-conscious types. I listened to the podcast with Mark Divine, a former Navy Seal and founder of Sealfit, and they talked about de-stressing and the importance of life beyond biceps and burpees. I also listened to the one with Dr. Alan Christianson about thyroid, since hypothyroidism seems to be an epidemic among women these days.

Abel James

Abel James

The next day, I looked around at Paleo in general and found Robb Wolf, who wrote The Paleo Solution Diet five whole years ago, and who also happens to have a website with podcasts, called, very simply, www.robbwolf.com. When I looked at his latest podcast, guess what! It was Abel James. Apparently, it’s a very tight little world out there in PaleoLand. James has a great story to tell, though. He was a sickly child, but his mother, who was a nurse, understood nutrition and herbal medicine very well, and he grew up to thrive. Then he went to work in D.C. for the evil food industry and had to eat the foods he represented, and consequently, he became weak and sick. His doctor continued to give him more and more medication, until he didn’t know if his symptoms were caused by a disease or his medication. (This is uncomfortably familiar to me.) He was also placed on a low-fat, “heart-healthy” diet and felt worse every day. In the meantime, his brother, who was tall and scrawny at 140 pounds, started lifting weights and eating the high-protein and fat diet common to body-builders, and gained 60 pounds of pure muscle. Abel started to do some research, tried Paleo, and is in the best shape ever. I found it fascinating that he could not tell the whole story in his first book, because he was still under the non-disclosure agreements that he signed for the food industry! I think he got to reveal more in The Wild Diet, just because enough time has gone by. Can’t wait to get the scoop there.

These guys are so smart, with years of scientific information about nutrition and strength training, but their world is so testosterone-soaked it is hilarious sometimes. They can go from a meaningful exchange about some obscure chemical in the body to a conversation that sounds something like this:

“So, we were out there bouldering, man,…”

“Dude, that is so rad.”

“Totally.”

By the time we got to the end of the podcast this morning, I was wiping tears of laughter from my eyes, but my husband thought it was great, which is so terrific! Let’s face it, most diet and exercise books are for women/ by women, so getting guys into caring about health is an achievement. Granted, most of these men are on the radical fringe of health, bio-hacking with measured amounts of coffee with coconut oil or “intermittent fasting,” which is probably not a spiritual exercise. However, they are getting into the deep weeds of biological research, and we can benefit from their discoveries without all the discomfort. Furthermore, what guy doesn’t want to hear about mud runs and dead lifts and bouldering, whatever all that may be? Totally.

Ladies, the Fat Burning Man website does have recipes and articles on misleading food labels and such, so it really is interesting. But guys, there is also a podcast called “100 Awesome Ways to Eat Bacon.”

Haven’t you clicked over there yet?

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