Bit Literacy in 2011

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because I think they set you up for failure–except for the year I vowed not to sing any Sheryl Crow songs–and I’m not making a formal resolution for 2011. HOWEVER, I am going to attempt to work more efficiently next year using some of the methods found in a book called Bit Literacy.

The author, Mark Hurst, is right when he says most of us have too many bits coming in and too few going out and he is also right when he says most of the problem is a lack of organization dealing with 0s and 1s.  I am certainly guilty of using my email inbox for storage and an oversized to do list.  I’m also guilty of walking around with another to do list on a legal pad–that I have to transfer to another piece of paper when it gets too long or too many items get marked off.  And I’m also guilty of having dozens of small post-its stuck all over the place at my desk.

The gist of Bit Literacy is that you empty your email inbox every single day and that every email is read or skimmed, then put in its proper place.  A large part of “proper place” is a task or to do list.  Mr. Hurst suggests using his own service,, to accomplish this task.  I am signed up for a trial and I do like the way it works.  I am also familiar with something called Remember the Milk and I’m going to check that out as well.  There appears to be a number of others, too, that I’ll likely peruse.  (I like to peruse.)  Since most of my tasks are going to be work-related, whatever application I use will have to be the easiest to use from my desk.

Bit Literacy also has organizational ideas for all other file storage, from pictures to text, and comes with a long list of recommendations.  Some are a bit elementary, like learning to type.  Others are a bit…optimistic.  The author suggests that most, if not all, documents be created in plain text and never really addresses the fact that Microsoft Word and other word processing software is used to make documents look a certain way.  I don’t think co-workers will appreciate getting long swaths of text from me or anyone else.  If humans wanted to read that way, Word wouldn’t have been created in the first place.

I have an efficient file system for personal and work media management, so I skipped most of Mr. Hurst’s recommendations for naming and locating files.  I also skipped his “media diet” section.  I have no intention of consuming fewer bits.  😉   I think overall the best ideas I’ll walk away with are those on email and to do list management.  I definitely plan to try them and hopefully I’ll be able to work more efficiently while also preserving records of the work I do.

(For the record, Mr. Hurst, I think it’s kind of crappy that you can download your book for free from the Apple iBookstore and everyone else has to pay.  Just sayin’.)

My Digital Reading Revolution

I’m on year three and counting with my Kindle–and still using version 1, because the SD card is just too big a draw to me to upgrade. My Kindle was a Christmas gift from my husband back in 2007 and it took no time at all to load it up with books and kiss paper goodbye!

Kindle 1 with skin from Decal Girl

No, that’s not how it happened at all.

I love gadgets and reading, so I adored my Kindle from the beginning for being the best of both worlds. I had no idea when I opened the box that I would eventually get rid of hundreds–hundreds and hundreds–of paper books in favor of digital versions. But that’s exactly what happened. I was kind of a book hoarder, ahem…collector, and my small apartment was crammed with somewhere in the neighborhood of about 2,000 books. This was a huge problem whenever I had to move, because books took up about half the boxes and friends were always reluctant to move them. I generally moved all the books by myself first, then called friends in later to help with the rest.

The Kindle was such a book-like piece of plastic that it didn’t take long for me to begin considering a purge. This prospect was helped along by our looming halfway-across-the-country move. I started taking a good look at my shelves and mentally dividing books into categories:

  1. Sentimentally Attached
  2. Manuals
  3. Good but Unneeded
  4. Why Did I Keep It?

That fourth category was a no-brainer. Any book that I couldn’t see a reason to have went to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. I said goodbye to a couple hundred books that way straight off the bat.  The Manuals category was also fairly straightforward; anything that was still relevant stayed.  Then I went to work on category one: Sentimentally Attached. It took several months to choose books for this category, but when I was satisfied, that left me with the largest category: Good but Unneeded. These were given away to friends, mostly (thank you Myspace and Facebook). Those that couldn’t find homes were released into the wild.  When it finally came time to move, I managed to cull the sentimentally attached group even further, down to fewer than a hundred books.  Among them are a book that includes a note from my great-grandmother and several favorites from my childhood.  We ended up packing just a few boxes of books to bring with us.

I didn’t intend to stop buying paper books all together, but that’s what happened.  I replaced some of my paper books by buying digital versions from Amazon or downloading them for free from Project Gutenberg.  Mostly I just moved forward–all of my new books were Kindle books.  What’s weird is I still love visiting bookstores and perusing the books.  I just don’t buy anything.  I make mental notes of what looks good and then check Amazon to see if they’re available for Kindle.  My recent acquisition of an Android phone now lets me read my Kindle books on the phone and it allows me to share books with my husband on his Droid.  I don’t think I could ever go back to plain paper now.

One wish:  Kindle support of EPUB files…

Best and Not Best Books of 2009

Best Books of 2009

What is the What – Dave Eggers
Where the Sea Used to Be – Rick Bass
The Hiding Place – Corrie ten Boom
Invisible Frontier: Exploring the Tunnels, Ruins, and Rooftops of Hidden New York – L.B. Deyo, David Leibowitz
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen – Christoper McDougall
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – John Boyne
Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking – Jeff Gordinier
The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University – Kevin Roose
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Cry, the Beloved Country – Edward Callan
My Year Inside Radical Islam – Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
Père Goriot – Honore de Balzac
Dune – Frank Herbert
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
Coraline – Neil Gaiman
On the Old Testament – Mark Driscoll
Geek Love – Katherine Dunn
Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
The Monstrumologist – Richard Yancey
Spud – John van de Ruit
The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death: Reflections on Revenge, Germophobia, and Laser Hair Removal – Laurie Notaro
Fanny Herself – Edna Ferber
More Fire: How to Run the Kenyan Way – Toby Tanser
Anthem – Ayn Rand
Already Dead – Charlie Huston
1984 – George Orwell
Beasts of New York – Jon Evans
Peter Pan – J. M. Barrie

Not Best Books of 2009

People of the Book – Geraldine Brooks
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers – Mary Roach
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
According To Jane – Marilyn Brant
My Life on the Run: The Wit, Wisdom, and Insights of a Road Racing Icon – Bart Yasso
The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare – G. K. Chesterton
Paranoia – Joseph Finder
Pygmy – Chuck Palahniuk
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
The Friday Night Knitting Club – Kate Jacobs
Towelhead – Alicia Erian
Dune Messiah – Frank Herbert
The Sari Shop Widow – Shobhan Bantwal
A Lion Among Men – Gregory Maguire
The Turn of the Screw – Henry James


Wicked by Gregory Maguire

I’ve been taking part in a reading group of sorts at the workplace and so have been told what to read over the past two months. But I rebelled as the holidays approached and saved a little reading time for something of my own choosing.

The something of my own choosing was Wicked by Gregory Maguire. It wasn’t an easy read; in fact, I learned a number of new words. (That’s somewhat refreshing, as it’s been a long time since I’ve had to keep a dictionary nearby.) I thoroughly enjoyed it and, unexpectedly, grew to love and admire the Wicked Witch of the West. I wonder if that was the intended result? I haven’t done a lot of looking about to see if that was what Maguire was going for with his little fantasy tale. (I do know that the witch’s name–Elphaba–was taken from the initials of L. Frank Baum, who created Oz.)

Maguire’s Elphaba is intelligent, passionate, misunderstood and ultimately, the victim of an unfortunate accident. Who knew that a green girl–whose birth is the combination of something called the Clock of the Time Dragon, an unknown potion, and an adulterous mother–raised by a missionary could end up in such a fix? She is philosopher and scientist, revolutionary and mother, lover and murderer. More than three-dimensional, this was a character I think I could really like, should our paths cross in real life. (I’ve overlooked the blue skin of a man, so I’m pretty sure I could overlook the green skin of a woman.)

Let me recommend Wicked to you, if you’re looking for something engaging and not-too-easy a read. It’s worth any effort you put into it. I miss Elphie already. I’ll probably end up re-reading it very soon.

I have to admit, I had never read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz before experiencing Wicked, so I was mostly comparing it to the movie. I got inspired, though, to read the original. To give it a little twist, I downloaded the book to my Palm from Project Gutenberg. There’s something ironic about electronically reading a book published in 1900. Anyway, I really enjoyed that book as well. It was interesting to contrast the book to the famous movie. As is typical, I liked the book better and I also liked better the Dorothy I made up in my head rather than the Judy Garland version.

I’ve decided to read the rest of the series–I think there are about a dozen of them. It could be that there are more plot twists in Wicked that correspond with the sequels. (Looking ahead to Ozma of Oz here.)

I’m off to see the Wizard…

A Trip to the Library

Today I saw a REAL librarian. Seriously. I’ve been to that particularly library hundreds of times and never laid eyes on this woman. Imagine if you will, a woman in her late fifties, tall with dark, but graying hair, pulled into a bun with a fluff of curly bangs. Thin, with dark eyes and wire-rimmed glasses, wearing a black skirt, red shirt and a black sweater draped around her shoulders. You know, all retro style. She gave me a friendly, but stern look as I passed and I’m pretty sure if she hadn’t been sitting in a glassed-in room, she would have put her finger to her lips and said, “Shhh,” just because she felt obligated. I was so enthralled by her that I almost ran into the police officer that was patrolling the religion shelves. Now why an officer was patrolling in the library at all is beyond me, but whatever.

To be honest, it has been probably a year since I darkened the doorstep of my library branch–long enough that my card had expired. (And I found out that I had a $4.00 fine, which they didn’t want me to pay because it hadn’t reached the $5.00 mark yet. Again, whatever.) It used to be that you had the option of using either the traditional card catalog or the computerized version. Now it’s the computer or nothing. I would consider myself a fairly advanced computer user, so it’s not that I’m intimidated by that or anything, but I think I really prefer the old card catalog. It’s sort of like hunting down a book. When you find the card, write down the number of the book, then finally find it…it’s like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You’ve accomplished something. And thumbing through all the cards makes you wonder who else had pulled that particular drawer. Were they looking for the same book you’re looking for? The same author? Were they old? Young? A college professor or some homeless guy? There was some mystery to it and some semblance of being part of a larger group of bibliophiles. Now it’s a computer search, just like if you Googled something. Big whoop.

I’ve always wanted to work in a library, so why I didn’t go get a degree in library science is beyond me. I really didn’t think of it and now I’m too lazy. Plus there are so few schools that offer it, I’d have to move somewhere. Again, too lazy. Plus plus, I have a feeling that I’d be stuck in classes learning things I already know with a bunch of frumpy women. It would be worse than nursing or elementary education. (As far as classroom diversity, I mean.) I’ve probably just insulted a lot of people with that idea, so I’ll move on. Anywho, I did try a couple of times to get library jobs here in my city. The first time I applied, no one even called me. The second time, I was asked to come in and take some skills tests, one of which was typing. I scored 72 wpm and was feeling pretty proud of myself, until I was told that was too fast. TOO FAST?! Yeah, they said they felt I was over-qualified and would likely become bored. I begged and pleaded, trying to convince them that it truly was a dream to work in a library, but no go. I would have been the best worker they’d ever had. Now they’ll never know.

My love for books started when I was an infant; my love for libraries followed shortly thereafter. I learned to read when I was three and was reading whole novels by the time I was six. I’ve read a lot of books. I own a lot of books. I would like to work with a lot of books. I thought about Barnes & Noble, but that’s not fun. Those are all new books. Libraries have old books and when you walk in you get that old book smell. It’s one of my favorite smells in the whole world. I have some really old books in my house and sometimes I open them up and put my nose right inside. They’ve been my constant companions for my whole life, so it’s comforting to me to do that.

One reason I like the library so much is because I remember going to check out books when I was little. I had a pack of three younger brothers and a mom I didn’t really get much time with. But every Thursday, she would drop them off at Mother’s Day Out and take me to the library. Just the two of us. And I could look as long as I wanted and check out any book I wanted. Of course I left with a huge stack every week to get me through to the next Thursday. At the time, we were living in a very small town with a very small library and I’m pretty sure I read every book in the children’s section. Probably about half of the adult section, too. I can picture every inch of that building in my mind…the riding toys under the card catalog, the shelf where the Bobbsey Twins books were, the corner where I found out how the Eqyptians mummified people, how much colder the water was in the fountain there than any of the ones at school. And the librarian always remembered my name and always seemed glad to see me. It’s good being a kid with a library card.

My parents never censored anything I read. Whether that was from lack of interest or ignorance, I’m not sure. Suffice it to say I read a lot of books that were hardly age-appropriate. I probably had a lot of ideas in my head I shouldn’t have had as a kid, but really, I don’t think I’m the worse off for it. My grandmother gave me my first dictionary–real, adult, college dictionary–when I was seven. (And I still have it and use it.) I loved looking up new words I was learning in all the books I was reading. It certainly helped me understand all the adult conversations going on around me and when I argued with someone, pulling out a few big words always helped make my point. Still does.

I didn’t know very many kids who were avid readers, but a few friends had started getting interested by the time we were in middle school, mainly because of the sudden popularity of Sweet Valley High. Never read ‘em. I had become particularly enamored with Edna St. Vincent Millay when I was in third grade and by middle school, I had moved on to other notable poets and had gotten caught up in reading biographies. I did a really extensive book report on Chief Joseph, accompanied by a miniature Nez Perce village (built by me) for good measure. By high school I had discovered Plato, the Brontes and Dorothy Parker. You’d have thought I’d never picked up a book before in my life, I was so excited. Once again, not for the first time and not for the last, it was like a whole new world had opened up.

That’s why I was at the library today…because I needed to spend some time with my old friend Dorothy. And really, that’s what authors are to lovers of books. They’re people who cared enough to put their thoughts, ideas, opinions and dreams down on paper, so the rest of us could share. We escape through them, we are entertained, we laugh, we cry, we learn, we think…oh, we think…

So a big thanks today goes out to all my favorite authors: Dorothy Parker, the Brontes, Jane Austen, Rohinton Mistry, Arundhati Roy, Judy Blume, Lois Lowry, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Sylvia Plath, Jack London, L. M. Montgomery, so many more I can’t even name them. Thank you for your blood, sweat, tears and courage. Thank you for not giving up when you got rejection letters. Thank you for listening to that little voice inside you that said, “Write! For the love of God, write!” And thank you for trusting in us, your readers, enough to give us these gifts that seem merely bound paper, but are so much more.

Now I’m going to read.