Posts by challengingthebookworm

When We Were Vikings

46205807Title: When We Were Vikings
Author: Andrew David MacDonald
ISBN: 9781982126766
Pages: 323 pages
Publisher/Date: Scout Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., c2020.

My favorite part of the article was about the strongest kind of woman warrior, called a skjaldmær. They are not Valkyries, but are almost as strong. Women don’t get chosen to be warriors very often in Viking legends. Girls at age twelve who were very strong and fit and could do battle with the same strength as the boys could become skjaldmær, which let them become warriors. I was not a king, so I wondered if I could be a skjaldmær. But first I would need to have a legend. (40)

Twenty-one-year-old Viking enthusiast Zelda MacLeish lives with her brother Gert, who takes care of her after their mom died and their father abandoned them. Zelda lives her life by rules, such as take off your shoes upon entering, Gert answers the door, and no talking about Gert with her psychologist Dr. Laird. But lately, things have been happening that Zelda needs to talk about. Zelda is thinking about taking the next step with her boyfriend (which Gert REFUSES to discuss). Instead, Gert’s been lying to her, struggling with going back to school, and working with some people that she doesn’t like. Deciding that in order to become a legend, she must be brave, defeat the villain and save her tribe, Zelda discovers along the way there is more to being a Viking than just sword and shield.

The descriptions that I read before starting this book made it sound like a good match for fans of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman or The Helpline by Katherine Collette. A woman with a strange obsession sets her life to rights with the help of understanding friends. I was honestly a little shocked upon starting the book by the number of swear words and crude language. It’s appropriate for Gert’s temperament and does lessen slightly as the plot progresses, but it was unexpected and the family’s favorite curse words — “Fuck-dick” and “Shit-heel” — are liberally scattered throughout the book.  While it makes me pause when considering it for a book discussion pick, I think if your book club can handle it they will find the same meaty discussion in this story of diversity and overcoming obstacles that my book club found. Also, I think some older teens could handle and benefit from Zelda’s quest to distinguish herself from her family and school.

For instance, there are refreshingly honest discussions about sex, whether it involves the promiscuous Gert or the more naïve and innocent opinions and lessons for Zelda. Zelda is dealing with the effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and navigating the world with a high functioning cognitive impairment. She visits the Community Center on a regular basis to interact with other impaired individuals, including her boyfriend Marxy. Typical of probably most sibling dynamics, Gert is squeamish about discussing the birds and the bees with his younger sister, and that dubious honor falls to his surprisingly grounded, African American ex-girlfriend Annie, whom Zelda nicknamed “AK47”. As the voice of reason, she helps Zelda see that her brother is struggling too, he doesn’t have all the answers, and some of the answers he does have might not be the right ones. In a climatic ending, AK47 is the one who rescues Zelda from her own attempts to rescue her brother.

Between AK47, Dr. Laird, and the gay community center manager Big Todd, Zelda’s tribe has a diverse support system that comes to her aid when she gets in over her head. As previously mentioned, Gert has his own struggles and issues but lacks that same support system. Both AK47 and Zelda try, but Gert isn’t interested in asking or accepting help. After their mother died, Zelda and Gert were sent to live with an abusive uncle, and Gert has engaged in some shady activities in order to first get them out of that situation and then keep them housed, clothed, and fed. He’s assumed a lot of responsibility for a young guy, and doesn’t want to burden Zelda with any of the specifics or logistics. When Zelda starts to realize the stress he is under, her attempts to help are either unwelcome or go horribly wrong.

Zelda’s own quest and search to become a legend have a noticeable influence. The smallest spoiler of those changes is that a member of her community center group pursues employment, but Zelda inspires others to reexamine their own lives. The open ending not only leaves readers to consider where the characters might be headed, but also reminds readers that the story is never over. There is always time to change your quest and make yourself into a legend, even if it’s just in your tribe’s eyes.

Things You Save in a Fire

Title: Things You Save in a Fire
Author: Katherine Center
ISBN: 9781250047328
Pages: 312 pages
Publisher/Date: St. Martin’s Publishing Group, c2019.

“That’s his deal: Apologize, and we all move on.”
“I can’t apologize,” I said. “And I won’t.”
She assessed me then. Was I really going to go there? Was I really going to dig in and not budge?
Apparently, yes.
“If you don’t apologize, I have to terminate your contract,” she said. “Chief’s orders.” […]
“What if there’s another option?” I asked.
“Like what?”
“What if I transferred? To another department?” (35-37)

Career focused firefighter Cassie Hanwell never dreamed she’d be moving across country to care for the mother who abandoned her and her father on her sixteenth birthday. But when a very public altercation with a public official lands her on the chopping block, it was either apologize (NEVER), be terminated (a formerly believed impossibility), or leave everything behind in Texas to move to a Boston firehouse and help train up a rookie. Cassie is competent, physically fit, and knowledgeable, but the parting words of her former captain are never far from her mind “Go above and beyond at every chance. Don’t back down from a challenge. Never admit to being hurt. Don’t have feelings.” She was prepared to face the hazing, but the, sexist, ill equipped, and poorly funded station that meets her is a far cry from her previous placement. So when she starts developing a friendship and feelings for the rookie, she fights for the only thing that has ever kept her steady; her duty to make a difference. But when work conflicts follow her home and Cassie discovers her mother was less than forthcoming about the state of her health, Cassie is forced to figure out how she can forgive what she can never forget.

Within the first few chapters you’ll figure out where this story is going. A case of forbidden, instant love is not hard to spot, and the mystery about Cassie’s history with the politician isn’t that surprising when it is finally revealed. That doesn’t mean though that you can’t enjoy the ride to the predictable end. Author Katherine Center infuses the story with a great sense of laugh out loud humor (mostly at the rookie’s expense) and a decent amount of heart. Cassie is holding justifiable grudges against her mother and the world as a whole, but has not led those set-backs hold her back. She’s a strong willed, strong minded, and just plain strong woman who sets out to accomplish things. Her strong beliefs about the firefighting profession place her character development, where she is set on doing whatever she can to being the hero to herself and to others rather then the victim or the villain.

Cassie’s mother, Diana, is also trying to come to terms with what happened a decade ago on her daughter’s sixteenth birthday and fix the resulting estrangement. She proposes to Cassie a method of finding forgiveness:

  • “Just saying the words ‘I forgive you,’ even to yourself, can be a powerful start.” […] ‘”Forgiveness is about a mind-set of letting go.” She thought for a second, then said “It’s about acknowledging to yourself that someone hurt you and accepting that.”
  • “Then it’s about accepting that the person who hurt you is flawed like all people are, and letting that guide you to a better, more nuanced understanding of what happened.”
  • “And then there’s the third part, probably the hardest, that involves trying to look at the aftermath of what happened and find ways that you benefited, not just ways you were harmed.” (112)

Owen, the rookie whose name we don’t find out until half way through the book in a humorous scene, also has a traumatic event in his past that he must forgive himself for and then seek forgiveness from others for the resulting aftermath. Readers find out that Owen really might be better suited for another profession, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to find his place in the station house. Another firefighter also has some deep seated pain that doesn’t make itself apparent until the end, conveniently adding a bow to the already predictably sweet and neatly wrapped up ending. The third book in a loosely tied series of books (remember How to Walk Away? The firefighter who rescued the main character in that one was Cassie), fans of light reads with heavier themes like Nicholas Sparks’ Safe Haven will enjoy this strong female lead who gets clichély blown over by love and forgiveness in a place she least expects to find it.

Between Two Kingdoms

Between Two KingdomsTitle: Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted
Author: Suleika Jaouad
ISBN: 9780399588587
Pages: 348 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, c2021.

“On my last morning in New York, lemon-colored light filtered in through the kitchen as I made coffee, the angry bleats of taxis and sighs of buses down below faintly audible. I tiptoed into the bedroom, collecting a few last articles of clothing and shoving them into my suitcase. As I zipped it closed, I looked over at Will’s lanky figure tangled in sheets, his face angelic with sleep. He looked so peaceful lying there that I didn’t want to wake him. A childhood spent on the move had made me weary of goodbyes. On my way out, I left a note on his shoes saying. Thanks for the unexpected fun. Inshallah, our paths will cross again someday.” (10)

Little did Suleika Jaouad know how predictive those words would be of what was supposed to be a chance meeting outside a party waiting for a taxi. Just days before her departure from New York to Paris for a paralegal position, she meets Will, who plays a unenviable role in her life after she discovers in Paris, at the age of almost twenty-three, that she has leukemia with a 35 percent chance of survival. Loosing her job, her apartment, and her independence, she travels back to New York and begins chronicling her struggles for The New York Times. While their relationship is inextricably linked to her diagnosis, it also isn’t the defining attribute of her story, as she struggles to regain the momentum that her life held prior to her illness and sets off on a 100-day, 15,000 mile road trip across country to meet the people who reached out to her in empathy, sympathy, and understanding. This memoir is about her struggles with guilt, resentment, sickness, loneliness, grief, and hope.

With the book release coinciding with the release of the movie Nomadland (based on a book by the same name) and the rise of the telework options, the appeal of the open road has never been stronger. But although a third of the book is about her travels across country, this should not be confused with a travelogue like Eat Pray Love or Wild. Instead, it’s about a person finding the courage to start over, start anew, and decide what she wants to keep and discard from what was left of her old thoughts and practices. “Before my diagnosis, the phrase “carpe diem” had always struck me as cliché, something you heard in that sappy Robin Williams movie or in college graduation speeches. Now, as the transplant neared, each day felt like a carpe diem countdown. I felt a need to make the most out of every single thing I did. Every day, every hour, was invaluable and not to be wasted.” (114) What no one talks about though is when the countdown reaches it’s end, and your still here, what do you do after? How do you keep going? Suleika is faced with those questions and more.

A decade ago, I read Hate List by Jennifer Brown, a debut novel which blew me away and conveyed the shifting and conflicting feelings of multiple characters in a fictionalized account of the aftermath of a school shooting. While the subject matter is very different, the two are similar in their skillful rendering of the multiple emotions and viewpoints. Readers can’t help but empathize with both Suleika, who is forced to give up so much at such a young, promising age, and her parents, Will, and other caregivers who exhaustingly try to provide what she needs while still maintaining their own sanity and strength. Suleika recognizes in hindsight the demands that her illness placed on everyone and the times she fell short in her appreciation of their care. However, she also struggles with defining herself separate from her illness, something she was never given the chance to do and which became more and more difficult in a relationship so rooted in the changes the illness had wrought on her. Readers come away with a deep admiration for Will’s selflessness, but also Suleika’s recognition (even if it is sometimes after the fact) of the trials and impact her relationship had on both of them

Readers will question her actions as much as Suleika does, but I think most will come to the similar conclusion that while she made them under extreme pressure, she did not make them in haste. She writes, reflects, and agonizes over decisions post illness in a way that is not conveyed in her description of pre-illness, possibly because she by then recognizes the weight they hold. Could things have turned out differently with different decisions? Most definitely. But the haste and ease and free-spirt of youth is harshly contrasted against the starker and bleaker time when her life is on the line and mortality is much more evident and pressing.

While Suleika’s illness is horrible, her wonder lust and resilience is enviable, and anyone struggling with their own hardships, conducting their own soul-searching, facing a similar situation of mortality in either themselves or in others, or simply wondering where life is taking them, should read this book and appreciate the thought-provoking reflection and introspection it provides.

nonfiction monday

This review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

The Ex Talk

Title: The Ex Talk
Author: Rachel Lynn Solomon
ISBN: 9780593200124
Pages: 338 pages
Publisher/Date: Jove Book, Published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, c2021.

“It’s so obvious,” he says. “It’s right in front of us.” Another sip of tea, and then he presses his lips together. “It’s almost simple. really.”
“What is?” Dominic asks, a note of irritation in his voice. It’s slight, but it’s there.
“The two of you. Cohosting Shay’s dating show.” […]
“I don’t even know where to start,” Dominic says between laughs , and okay, now it’s becoming excessive. He doesn’t need to laugh quite that hard about the show idea, does he? “Is this a joke?”
“Not a joke,” Kent says, and maybe all three of us have lost our minds. “What do you think?”
“Aside from the obvious, like Shay never having hosted a show . . . we’ve never dated,” Dominic says. (39-40)

Shay Goldstein has been a producer with her local public radio station for a decade, but has never been able to fulfill her dream of being on the air. With budget cuts looming, she’s pitches and idea of two exes hosting a relationships show. It’s a good idea, one that her boss wants her to co-host – except he also wants her to work with her newest colleague Dominic Yun, a fresh out of college journalism major who Shay can’t stand because of his quick climb to success and know-it-all tendency to cite his degree as credentials. No one likes the idea of lying, but after the first show is a smash hit they keep up the ruse, lying to their audience and coworkers. As their time spent together alters their feelings for each other, they both question what’s worse; the end of their careers if the secret gets out, or the end of their relationship if it doesn’t.

I’m not Jewish myself, but I find myself in a unintended reading trend of reading books featuring Jewish characters and themes. Around the same time I read this book, I also read The Other Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict, which fictionalizes Hedy Lamarr’s life, and The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Dann, which features the courtship between a rabbi and a lapsed Jewish ex-sex worker. Earlier this year I read Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland, featuring a Jewish family dealing with a crisis. I like seeing modern portrayals of religious individuals, ranging from those who may solely celebrate the holy days to those who find inspiration and spirituality in their daily faith.

It got me thinking that we hear about Christian Fiction and Amish Fiction, and librarians and publishers have webinars on the topic of reader’s advisory to that population. But maybe due to the community demographics where I work and have worked, I don’t hear many requests for a specific Jewish Fiction or Muslim Fiction or other specific religion genre. Is there a demand for it, or are specific religious denominations more vocal about their desire to have themselves represented? Some research reminds me there is the Sydney Taylor Book Award recognizes titles for children and teens that exemplify high literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience. There’s also the National Jewish Book Award presented annually since 1950 by the Jewish Book Council. Also available is the Arab American Book Award established in 2006 and the Muslim Writers Awards in the UK since 2008.

Now that I’ve gotten sidetracked by a small detail of the story, I’m focusing more on the rest of the novel. As a fan of NPR, I recognized some of the names and details that were worked into the story, and it was interesting to see the behind the scenes workings of the radio station, no matter how fictionalized it may be. The weekend trip that their boss sends them on, while the pivot point in their relationship, struck me as bordering on sexual harassment from an administrator. Their boss is allowed to shove them off to a remote location Airbnb at a moment’s notice to find out the intimate details of a coworker, and they rent a location with only one bed. Yeah, right. It’s an overly convenient cliché that I just can’t see happening in a professional environment like public radio, even with a questionable boss like Kent at the helm. Kent is passive aggressively prejudiced towards everyone in the office, and it shows in his micro-aggressions from ignoring the women’s ideas until a man voices them to calling Dominic a nickname he hates but that Dominic doesn’t correct out of fear for his job, and Kent’s down right sabotaging of his coworkers’ future prospects.

It’s no wonder though that Dominic and Shay get tapped for hosting a radio show, as they have the personality and professionalism to make it work. They end up starting a “degree jar” that Dominic has to pay five dollars to every time he mentions his degree, and it’s the little details that make it work. Dominic’s participation in the program is realistically reluctant, since he’s come to radio to break news stories, but it’s also the most unrealistic since he’s being pulled from a breaking political story that he discovered and feels like could be his big break. Instead, his ambitions end up taking a back seat to Shay’s long time ambition to be on air, even though “her voice” and how she sounds is a big enough concern to her that she mentions it in a planning meeting before beginning the show.

I see Shay committing to the program more then Dominic, although that might be because she has more on the line but also because the story is told solely from her viewpoint. It brings an immediacy to events as she recognizes her devotion to the station might mean nothing to management. Her devotion to others is also yielding few results at the same time all this is happening. Her long time friend Ameena is in the running for her dream job across the country, and Shay learns that Ameena passed up a previous opportunity out of feelings of obligatory loyalty towards Shay at the time as Shay struggled with her father’s death. Shay’s mother is likewise moving on with her life and remarrying, and Shay’s stagnation is weighing heavily on her mind, even though she’s recently bought a house and gets a dog at the beginning of the story.

Dominic by contrast exudes a confident exterior that belies his lack of experience, both professionally and romantically as he is younger then Shay by five years. The age gap is addressed, which I find both culturally accurate and frustrating that it needs to “be addressed” at all since romantic pairings with larger age gaps between an older male and a younger woman go unremarked upon in both society and other romance novels. Possibly due to their profession, open communication between Shay and Dominic abounds regarding likes, dislikes, what their “number” is, how to interact with each other both privately and publicly, and we see them be responsible adults when their first opportunity at coupling comes with no condoms in sight. Dominic owns up to his understandable abandonment of Shay at a pivotal moment in the novel, however I don’t think that saves his standing, which takes a hit in readers’ and Shay’s eyes.

Overall, readers are happy for Shay and Dominic, even if you have a hard time understanding how they get in the situations that arise, several of their own making. Though be honest, who else wishes we’d seen the quickie in Recording Booth C? Their solution to the book’s primary problem of Dominic and Shay keeping their jobs is idealistic and not very satisfying, but this book ticks a lot of the boxes regarding representation that are emphasized in modern romances and publishing today, and it’s a nice cultural crossover novel without beating readers over the head with it.

Encoding Space

Title: Encoding Space: Shaping Learning Environments That Unlock Human Potential
Author: Brian Mathews and LeighAnn Soistmann
Pages: 175 pages
ISBN: 9780838988251
Publisher/Date: Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, c2016.

This review is longer than most as I’ve quoted heavily from the book in order to remember some of the concepts presented. Possibly more note taking then actual review, if you’d like to preview more American Libraries Magazine printed an excerpt last year that prompted my interest in the title.

Can we create environments that inspire people to be more creative, collaborative, reflective, or engaged?

As libraries shape-shift in response to digital migration and other seismic changes, our spaces have emerged as experimental landscapes fostering personal growth and multimodal expression. Our buildings are active laboratories for human progress.

Our goal is to create opportunities for people to engage with multiple streams of information and data and to interact with each other in new and different ways. We want them to learn to break down complex problems and transfer skills, tools, concepts, and mind-sets across many different situations. (12)

Using research from studies from the marketing, retail, and psychology industries, as well as his own observations, Brian Mathews provides some aspirational and inspirational food for thought for librarians. Although written four years ago, it’s an eerily timely read as post-pandemic libraries are struggling to regain their footing in their communities after having to close their doors and reimagine their contributions.

Some of the aspects of design that he advocates for are not new, such as providing transitional spaces, adaptable furniture, and focusing on libraries finding their offered value “beyond the outputs they enable.” (23) His urging to “Anticipate needs – don’t just meet them.” (62) seems a little trite by today’s standards, as we find ourselves adapting to nothing anyone could anticipate. I also disagree with his assertion that “The goal of assessment should be to find more questions, not just answers.” (62) I understand his intent with that statement, that we should always consider the implications of our findings might impact other aspects and the pursuit of knowledge should never stop. However, as a manager and a community collaborator, there are times when I need answers, and regardless of the good intentions, more questions can slow down the process of moving forward.

These points do serve as a good reminder that we need to continuously think outside the box when encountering challenges. For instance, my library has been without internet the last two days. This not being my weekend to work, I just found out about it on Sunday night. My suggestion is that if it’s still down Monday morning, we utilize one of our hotspots to provide internet to at least the staff stations, and idealistically to the public stations as well. Mathews is encouraging this pattern of brainstorming and evolution in patrons and sees libraries as an instigator, an enabler, and a satisfier of patron curiosity.

The critical concept is that providing spaces, collections, and services is not enough. […] We embrace an active role in shaping the program, stimulating the activities, and guiding productive outcomes. (93)

“A shift from transactional mind-set to one that aims to be transformative. […] I’m more interested in a broader mission: improving well-being. Can we use our building to enhance people’s lives? […] Just as gyms advocate for fitness and provide pathways to a healthy lifestyle, libraries can promote personal and professional development and offer the means to cultivate curiosity and intellectual growth.” (114)

“Consider ways that you can expand people’s capabilities instead of just aiming to satisfy some of their needs.” (116)

“It is essential to build environments that are learner-initiated and learner-directed.” (126)

“People go to libraries for new encounters – new people, new ideas, new technologies, new directions, new possibilities. But I think there is also something subconscious happening. We go to libraries to become better versions of ourselves. […] We go to grow.” (139)

Libraries sure are trying to encourage that “grow” mentality. I’m thinking of all those mission statements that libraries use to expose values like imagine, engage, educate, entertain, inspire, etc. Mathews offers up as conversation starters four transitions that he encourages libraries undertake in order to meet those goals.

  • From Third Place to Magnet Place: The commonly held metaphor that equates libraries, parks, coffee shops, and bars as third places, spaces between work and home where people congregate. “Space becomes a place when it rises above being a mere utility. Places have social and personal significance. They mean something to us. […] It is through the process of accruing experiences that a space transforms into a place.” (17) Instead of being a “third place”, which Mathews argues doesn’t convey a sense of importance, he encourages us to think of libraries as a “magnet place,” where people can be drawn together, learn from each other, and attract and satisfy our sense of belonging.
  • From Commons to Community: Instead of focusing on the stuff that the library offers (the buildings, the bells and whistles, the technology, etc.) libraries should focus on the substance, the people who use us, and the state and shared experiences we encourage.
  • From Transactions to Transformations: In our data driven society, I think this will be one of the hardest for most professions. As quoted above, the previous trend shifted our thinking to quantify everything we could, from check outs to building visits, number of reference questions and program attendance. Now, as he quotes Scott Bennett “It’s not about providing materials (books, databases at your service) but about structuring motive and meaning to nurture the young.” (115) And while we attempt to act towards resetting the way we are evaluated, our community members may still see declining qualitative data as a sign that we need to “fix” something, when really what we are doing is changing our focus to meet the community’s needs. “If our focus is only on service then it restricts the interactions we can create. A service orientation positions us as a commodity rather than a catalyst. It keeps us busy, but passive.” (116)
  • From User-Centered to Learner-Centered: This is the transition that is the most academic library focused. His experience with academic libraries means that his assertions that people “visit libraries because they want to make a change” or “become better versions of ourselves” (139) skews heavily towards students pursuing degrees, information, or completion of homework. There are many people who visit my public library to print, check email, or get the latest best seller, none of which go towards bettering themselves but is more in line with completing a task or seeking an escape. Our best attended events pre-pandemic were those that were purely entertainment, such as live music performances or popular author visits. Mathews addresses that idea by encouraging libraries to learn from startups and offer a “wide range of specialized services” instead of “swapping out stacks for books for rows of computers, groups of tables, and soft seating [indicating] we’re becoming vulnerable and remaining passive.” (118)

As much as I want to whole-heartedly subscribe to Mathews’ philosophy of giving the people what they want, of enabling collaborations, provoking invention, and currying knowledge to the masses, he only briefly recognizes the very real concerns that a lot of librarians have regarding their future stability in the community. As we move forward, there is value in determining how best we can serve the community, but in this highly polarized environment we also, I think, must recognize and resign ourselves to the fact that limited resources mean we can’t serve every need.

The biggest takeaway from this book is how Mathews encourages a reimagining and a rethinking of the services we offer and the way we engage our patrons and the general public. I actually took a picture of this quote for future reference.

“We should be cautious when saying that libraries are about more than just books. Instead, I have been saying that we’re all about books and so much more. Personally, I think it is a better strategy to build upon our past, rather than dismiss it. Books remain a powerful currency. They represent knowledge, and we should continue to celebrate what they symbolize, even if it means more of them are being published digitally. This keeps us grounded in the ideals of reading and thinking. We can build other layers upon that foundation, but always honor the core. (151)

Mathews outlines four settings that I think can directly apply to libraries, both now and in the future, as they move forward in pursuit of their and their community’s goals.

  • Knowledge Showrooms: Stimulating environments designed to celebrate intellectual and creative endeavors. Examples include the World’s Fair, but I likened it to a Apple Store or a car dealership/showroom, where you can test out the equipment, see a demo, and perhaps borrow something for a few weeks.
  • Knowledge Studios: A collection of offices, labs, and service centers bringing together diverse projects. I likened this to maker spaces as they currently exist at many libraries, where you can work around and with people to develop something new and share information.
  • Knowledge Boutiques: Offers specialized services tailored to specific audiences, providing personalized assistance. Mathews uses the examples of data consultants and grant writers, but I see a public library offering this as technology one-on-ones or immediate assistance with accessing our databases, printing, or editing/creating a document.
  • Knowledge Salons: Hubs for intellectual gatherings and spaces that spark curiosity. Libraries encourage patrons to attend a lecture or experience an immersive exhibit, this style of learning can be seen at TED talks and conferences, although I get the impression that Mathews is hoping for a more interactive style in the future, like a focus group where people can teach and talk as well as learn and listen.

As I prepare to present on our minimalistic maker space practices (we don’t have one, but we use circulating kits to provide equipment to patrons), it’s interesting to note just how well libraries are already achieving these settings, but it also prompts new thought about what else we can do. And that seems to be the primary focus of this book, is asking the hard questions of “now what?” and not only “where are we headed” but also “where should we be headed?”. Concrete suggestions on how librarians can change their own way of thinking (and by extension the public’s view of them and their experience with the space/place) help start that process. In another passage his thoughtful suggestions on merchandising technology tools provide something that library staff can immediately implement.

I’m surprised that I want to buy a copy for myself as a reminder to continue to question and reevaluate our frame of reference and way of thinking. I recommend this book to anyone who is reevaluating their own library’s focus and initiatives and need to jump start a marketing, renovation, or strategic plan. I think paired with either Simon Sinek’s Start With Why or books on design thinking (full disclosure: very few of which I’ve read at this point but I used the concept with a former employer’s remodel project), it can be used to spark conversation between change/decision makers and inspire a rethink of community and patron engagement. Ideas presented in this book should be allowed to percolate and stew and be revisited. Who knows? Maybe in the process, we’ll unlock not only patron potential, but also a new library potential.

Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing

Title: Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing
Author: Olga Mecking
ISBN: 9780358395317
Pages: 250 pages
Publisher/Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, c2020.

Many people have asked me, what does niksen mean? Do I do nothing when I browse Facebook? When I sit on my couch and worry about my children? When I’m thinking about an article I want to write? When I meditate? The answer is no. You might call those things nothing, but in reality, they are not. These things are not niksen. To do niks does not mean to work, to perform emotional labor, or to be mindful. (6)

Olga Mecking ends up using synonyms and the words of others to define the concept of niksen, or — as this slim book is subtitled — “the Dutch art of doing nothing.” She quotes Elise de Bres’ explanation of lanterfanten, in that “you can just do as you please and there is no aim in whatever you do.” Another synonym is luieren, which she quotes a Dutch online dictionary as defining as “to consciously do nothing or not very much.” (28) While Mecking also mentions other similar movements, such as mindfulness and zen, she’s adamant that this is different because niksen is not meant to promote self-reflection, but rather a feeling of zoning out or comfort. Mecking repeatedly uses imagery like sitting on a coach with a cup of coffee or watching a sunset.

The minimalist presentation on the cover and small size of the book reminds me of Marie Kondo’s newest Joy at Work or The Happiness Institute series by Meik Wiking and is likely an intentional allusion that we’ve been seeing a lot of with lifestyle books. Think of Adam Grant’s books or the similarly titled Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee published ironically at the start of the pandemic and 2020’s stay at home orders. After beginning with a brief study of some of those recent movements that encourage self-awareness, slowing down, and focusing on the moment, Mecking spends each chapter focusing on a question or feature of niksen, including the Dutch culture, the difficulties of niksen, the biological benefits of niksen, tips on how to incorporate the practice in your own life, and finally but recognizably conversely, incidents when niksen might not be right for you. She digressed topics several times and quoted so extensively from “experts” and other sources that her bibliography was 16 pages long. While I appreciated her thoroughness and will likely seek out some of the books mentioned (Tony Crabbe’s Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much for one peaked my curiosity), it read more like a conversational thesis rather than a presentation of unique ideas. If you are looking for a how to guide, this is not it, as Mecking at one point admits there is not right way to do nothing and in fact that it might not work for everyone.

I think the last chapter is one of the more surprising but also one of the more beneficial to the book. Unlike most movements, Mecking recognizes that niksen won’t be for everyone, especially for those who are depressed and might require a reason to get moving, when doing nothing could get you in trouble, and if slowing down just doesn’t suit your lifestyle and personal preferences. I admit I might be one of those people, who has struggled during this pandemic to slow down and who feels the guilt that Mecking mentions early in her book that sometimes creeps in when we take time to slow down and do nothing. She encourages being unapologetic and owning the fact that you are “doing nothing” instead of compounding the stress that never ending busyness of most cultures, especially American, but there is little advice in how to do that.

However, I also recognize the benefits I experience when I do stop and smell the roses, gaze across the water at the beach, or simply go for a walk by myself. And that’s a point that Mecking tries to repeatedly make, that “doing nothing” will look different to people. For some, it will be literally sitting on the couch staring out the window or at a wall and loosing yourself not in your thoughts but in just being. For others, it will be coloring or walking or listening to music. It doesn’t even require solitude, as Mecking mentions having a niksen party where people are encouraged to not fill the silence that can naturally occur in a conversation. I think I most connected with equating niksen with the feeling of coziness and comfort, of crawling into fresh sheets and listening to the birds or staring at a fireplace without thinking about anything. Whether that’s the right interpretation doesn’t seem to matter too much to Mecking.

I’m going to end this review with a second quote from the book:

Many people get caught up in an almost reckless and stressful pursuit of happiness. I recommend that instead we strive toward something the Dutch do very well: contentment. They are happy, but not abundantly or extraordinarily so. Their happiness is generally more subdued, quieter. In fact, it’s contentment that comes from them having ample free time, feeling like appreciated members of a community, and knowing they have a stable support network to fall back on should disaster strike, for instance in the form of sickness or unemployment. […]

Niksen gives us time to reflect, tune out, and think a little about what we like and don’t like doing with our time. Niksen gives our lives meaning because it prioritizes what is important to us and encourages us to decide how we want to participate in society. (199-200)

I think, especially during the pandemic, we need to give ourselves that permission to sit and find contentment in whatever way fits our personality, our lifestyle, and ourselves and just…. be. In a way that is unrelated and untied to our profession, our productivity, or other people’s perceptions. For some people, this book will give you that permission. For others, it will spark skepticism instead of the acceptance that they might have been looking for. Mecking recognizes that, and doesn’t try to convince you otherwise.

The Confession Club

Title: The Confession Club
Author: Elizabeth Berg
Series: Arthur Truluv / Mason #3
ISBN: 9781984855176
Pages: 290 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

“I am curious,” Iris says, putting the cake on the table and then sitting down. “What book are you discussing?”
“Oh, this is not a book club,” Karen Lundgren says. “Newwwwwww.”
“What kind of club is it?” Iris asks.
No one says anything. But then Joanie comes in with a cake server, plates, and forks. She slices the cake into even pieces and passes it out. Then she says, “Okay, Iris, I heard you ask what kind of club this is. I will confess that we call it Confession Club.”
“We confess things to one another. Things that we did wrong or that we’re ashamed of.” […] “Talking about things you’re ashamed of is nothing to be ashamed of.” (pg. 51-52)

Continuing the loose ties between the stories begun in The True Story of Arthur Truluv and Night of Miracles, Elizabeth Berg provides several characters seeking redemption. Maddy, who we originally met in the graveyard next to Arthur Truluv’s wife’s grave, is now grown with a daughter named after the beloved woman. But Maddy has retreated from her husband and her home and returned to her former home to reevaluate her life. Although Arthur and Lucille are both gone, Iris has assumed the role of instructor with the baking school out of the house they all have loved over the years, but she is “plagued with ill-formed questions about where she is and why, with worries about how she will end up.” (pg. 17) The same thoughts plague John, a homeless man who might have found a new home in an abandoned farmhouse on the outskirts of town. These three people circle each other, afraid of making connections that may not last and the lacking confidence in their feelings and ability to make decisions, but each will play a role in building up their lives to mean what they were meant to mean and become what they needed them to become.

If you liked the first two books in the story, you’re invested enough that you’ll have to finish the trilogy. Maddy finds herself coming full circle back “home” to confront her father’s lackadaisical attitude in raising her and also to rediscover the feelings of home she found with Arthur. John’s presence in the community challenges readers presumptions more than the other character’s prejudices, as we only ever see him interact with Iris with any consistency. The story dips its toes into several weighty topics, including infidelity, assisted suicide, PTSD, and homelessness, but because it’s an Elizabeth Berg book we are given only a cursory opportunity to consider how we and the characters feel about these matters of the heart and mind before they story progresses. The moving lyricism from the first two is lacking in this one, but there are still times when you pause to think about how life has turned out for these characters, each of whom are dealing with the repercussions of their actions involving a current or past romance. Most of their problems, especially Maddy’s, seem to stem from an inability to communicate with someone, which contrasts against the backdrop of the “Confession Club,” which readers never become fully invested in as we see too little of the rest of the women in the club to connect with them. Book discussion groups could dive in to discuss any of those things, but the true point of discussion includes the evolving relationship between Iris and John, as we infrequently see a homeless person as self-sufficient as John or a woman as accepting as Iris.

Speaking of discussion questions, I choose this for our local senior book discussion group as Elizabeth Berg has become a group favorite since I introduced them to Arthur Truluv. Feel free to use any or all of these for your own book discussion.

  1. Iris maintains that she’s changed since moving to Mason. If you’ve read the previous books in the series, do you see those changes between books? If you haven’t read the previous books, how do other people change as the story progresses?
  2. “The adults sometimes talk about whether the charm they’ve found here can last, whether small towns can continue to retain their character, their kindness and basic sense of decency. They agree that it has something to do with the smallness of the population. It’s harder to be horrible to someone you see every day.” (page 36) Do you share these feelings about South Lyon? What do you think needs to happen for the South Lyon area to maintain as a small town?
  3. Which confession surprised you the most? Would you feel comfortable hosting a Confession Club with your friends?
  4. Maddy’s father tells her once that “I can’t help my feelings.” In response she remembers thinking “But you can help your behavior.” (page 78). Do you agree with Maddy, and why or why not? What is harder to control, your feelings or your behavior, and why?
  5. Maddy thinks “You can’t ask your children to save you. But they do it anyway.” (page 116) Do you agree with Maddy? Did a child save you at one point in your life?
  6. One of the last things John’s mother says to him was “Take risks, Johnny. Taking risks is just unmasking hope, you know.” (page 148) What risks do the characters in the book take and what risks do they avoid? Do those risks lead the characters to have a new hope?
  7. Maddy says “Bad news I can handle. I expect bad news. I’ve dealt with bad news all my life. Good news makes me cry.” (page 199) Which is easier for you to handle, bad news or good news? Why do you think it differs for different people?
  8. Toots says about the group that the club “shows that when you ask for help, you’re usually asking for it from someone who wants to give it.” (page 281) Who had the most difficulty asking for help? What did they need to ask for and why was it so difficult?
  9. Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be homeless? What are your thoughts? How did your impression of them or their circumstances change after reading this book? Would you have been as open to dating John as Iris was?
  10. What was your reaction to the novel’s ending? Was it expected or a surprise?
  11. Gretchen says “We’re all mean to our mothers. It’s a daughter’s duty.” Is that true? At another point, it’s said that “Girls don’t go after boys. Girls waited.” What other things were daughters/girls supposed to do or were expected to do? Do girls and daughters still live with those expectations today?
  12. Maddy reflects at one point on a conversation with Arthur while fishing about why people care what other people think. Arthur calls it a design flaw. What do you think?
  13. If you have read the whole series, which character’s story did you enjoy the most. If the series continued, whose viewpoint did you think would be featured?

The Year of Less

Year of LessTitle: The Year of Less
Author: Cait Flanders
ISBN: 9781401954871
Pages: 189 pages
Publisher/Date: Hay House, Inc., c2018.

“If I was only saving up to 10 percent of my income, where was the rest of my money going? Why was I continually making excuses for my spending? Did I really need 90 percent of my income or could I live on less? I had been asking myself similar questions at the end of every month for 12 months in a row, and I still didn’t know the answers. All I knew was that I seemingly had everything I wanted in my home, in my career, and in my life, and it never felt like enough. I was never satisfied. I always wanted more. But since more of anything wasn’t filling me up, maybe it was time to challenge myself to go after less. (xviii)

By her late twenties, Cait Flanders had paid off her nearly $30,000 of debt, but she was still having trouble finding happiness. So rather than trying to buy it, Flanders goes the route of “less is more” in search of happiness. She declutters her apartment, donating 70 percent of her belongings, institutes a buying ban that only allows purchasing consumables, and even at one point disallows mindless television consumption. She offers advice to others who want to follow her lead in finding joy without the overly promoted consumer culture that dominates today.

Reading this book during a pandemic and stay at home orders resulted in what probably isn’t a typical reaction. I found myself in a position where I along with most of the population were in a forced position of accepting less instead of intentionally pursuing less. We weren’t buying things because we weren’t doing anything or going anywhere and we were worried about spending too much, not because of a self-imposed challenge in an effort to better ourselves.

Instead of coming across as a self-help book, Flanders writing style mimics that of a memoir. We find out how she became absorbed by debt and alcoholism in her earlier years and she expounds repeatedly on her journey to do away with both vices over the course of the previous years. Her annual challenges, although more intentional and self-beneficial, reminded me of the social experiments of A.J. Jacobs. He “lived Biblically” for a year, Flanders lost 30 lbs. Jacobs read the encyclopedia, Flanders paid off her credit card debt. Jacobs goes around thanking everyone and Flanders stops buying anything and starts getting ride of everything. Flanders mentions Marie Kondo’s famous The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was published after she started her experiment, but by the time this book has published the idea of minimalism is not new. She borrows heavily from others, quoting concepts from several now famous TED Talks, like Brené Brown’s “Listening to Shame” (guilt equals “I did something bad” and shame equals “I am bad”), Simon Sinek’s “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” (find your why), and Andy Puddicombe “All It Takes is 10 Mindful Minutes” (change the way you experience/perceive life). There are other books that also discuss giving things up in pursuit of happiness, including The Me Without by Jacqueline Raposo, Essentialism by Greg McKeown, and The More of Less by Joshua Becker to name only a few (none of these I’ve read, but they were some of many listed on websites as books about minimalism).

By the end of the book, Flanders has gotten rid of between 75 and 80 percent of her belongings, saved 31% of her income, spent almost 20% on travel, and spent the remaining 50% on expenses, quit her job, cut down drastically on her media consumption, and started toying with the idea of homesteading and “simple living” practices. Was she successful? She certainly seems to think so. But was she successful in relaying the source and steps towards happiness in a manner that others could follow? That seems more debatable. Most of the book talks about what happened in her life not only during the year but also what previous life events led her to the state where she feels the need to get rid of everything. Some of her successes, such as finding a new job, seem less tied to her new found “less is more” philosophy and more tied to a belief that now she deserves happiness. She finds that happiness in pursuing more meaning in the stuff she did have, including relationships, travel, and career. While I agree with her that you can get more done when you cut out television spending 1/3 of the month watching television, that wasn’t tied to her shopping freeze. Her television binge began as a result of her parent’s divorce, and while cutting it out was tied into the book as part of the mindless consumerism she was trying to cut out of her life, it seemed like a detraction from the ultimate goal of the book. While watching television mindlessly probably doesn’t add to your life goals, it seemed like it – along with her other actions – were accomplished cold turkey. She simply stopped, which I don’t think is going to be solid advice for everyone trying to replicate the experience.

I was curious what other details or advice her blog offered (and how much of the book’s content was original versus already in her blog), only to discover that she’d decided less than a year after the book was published to “retire” her personal blog, deleting almost every post she’d ever written. The website that she totes at the back of her book as a “community” where you can “share your story” is still functional, but it encourages readers who make it there to search for the hashtag, which is primarily photos of her book in various settings. I don’t see any interaction between “community” members and little in the way of encouragement or aids.

Speaking as someone who has cut out television for over five years (no Netflix, no Hulu, no Disney+), dropping a form of consumerism does not lead to instant enlightenment after a certain amount of time, like Flanders seems to suggest in her “how I …” subtitle. You still may find things that mindlessly fill the void, like Internet or food. However, if you are conscious about your decision making, as Flanders recommends but gives no advice on achieving, then you may find the time to pursue the life you really want. While that state of satisfaction might take different forms for different people, readers will have to look elsewhere for a complete road map on how to get there. This book allows readers the travelogue of Flanders’ success, and that may be enough inspire some people to one day add that accomplishment to their bucket list.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

The Friend Zone

The Friend Zone.jpgTitle: The Friend Zone
Author: Abby Jimenez
ISBN: 9781538715604
Pages: 367 pages
Publisher/Date: Hachette Book Group, Inc., c2019.

It would have been cool. But men like Josh weren’t for me anymore. They’d never be for me again. Men who wanted pregnant wives and big families, sons that looked like their dads–these men weren’t the ones I could choose from. I could have Tylers. I could have more dogs. A bigger career without kids to distract me. I could have more disposable income and a clean house without crayon on the walls and dirty diapers to change. I could be the cool aunt.
But I couldn’t have children.
And I could never, ever, have Josh. (92)

Kristen and Josh’s first run-in (literally, they have a small fender bender) did not start things off on the right foot. But they laugh about it afterwards when they discover their best friends are marrying each other and they’ll be helping with the wedding planning. Both of them are attracted to each other, but they both plan to keep things casual. Josh is getting over a break up with a live-in girlfriend who didn’t want the baseball team worth of children he was hoping for.  Kristen is in a long distant relationship with a Marine and can’t wait for the planned hysterectomy that will end her long-standing war with her own body. Fate has a way of playing tricks on them and they find themselves drawn to each other over the two months of interactions. With Kristen putting up walls and Josh trying hard not to fall for her, it takes an emergency to make them rethink their situations.

For a debut novel, Abby Jimenez does a phenomenal job with character development, making not only Kristen and Josh but also their engaged friends Brandon and Sloan. I loved everyone. Kristen’s sarcastic humor, no-nonsense devil-may-care attitude, and a search for self-worth pairs perfectly with Josh’s steadiness, self-deprecation and his own uncertainties of being unloved. Their friendship evolves naturally, with both fighting the pull of attraction. There’s shared meals, conversations, and rides, all of which Kristen continually maintains aren’t dates. Both Kristen and Josh are honorable to a fault, and won’t make a move while Kristen is dating her Marine Tyler. It helps that Josh also served in the Marines, and has respect towards his fellow service man, but it’s obvious to even their friends that feelings are growing.

Writing the novel in alternating points of view allows us to see both sides, and both Kristen and Josh have such high drives to care for others that they inevitably sabotage their own happiness. Kristen has her reasons for not wanting to reveal her infertility to Josh, especially when he stresses his desire for a large family of biological children over and over again. Spoiler, when Josh finally finds out the facts, he reacts just as Kristen predicts, and Kristen is adamant that she won’t allow him to change his life goals for her. The dialogue is snappy, humorous, and just plain enjoyable.

It’s Sloan who puts things in perspective, just as she’s always done for Kristen. The friendship between these two girls is stronger than steal, and it’s required for the shocking turn of events about two thirds of the way through the story. I admire an author who takes risks, and writing the plot in that manner took guts. I never saw it coming (and I won’t reveal it here) but it’s heartbreaking.

Another gutsy move is including not just Kristen’s major health problems, but how the mundane and daily effects get incorporated into the plot. In what romance do you hear about a woman’s period except when she misses it and finds out she’s pregnant? We also hear about details like anemia, pain, and other health complications. There are frank conversations about her state of health (although not the one we want her to have until it’s almost too late), and the hoops she has to jump through and the compromises she has to make. Josh routinely shows his unflappability, going out to buy supplies for her, making sure she’s fed, and worrying about her. A common troupe in romances is we see the guy as big and strong and controlling and masculine. But in this, we see Josh who takes joy in caring for Kristen in whatever way she’ll let him. Kristen is an independent and opinionated woman, and Josh’s sensitivity  knows when to pick his battles and also how to react. Does that possibly make Josh too perfect? Possibly. Do I care? Absolutely not! They both pick up on the little things, like favorite foods and sleep patterns, and that daily companionship is so nice to see and what I want to see more often. You feel like you’re reading your friend’s story of falling in love and you’re routing for them the whole way while feeling their heartache at the same time. Kristen’s description of them just clicking together rings so true to me, as I’ve heard it from so many of my friends who find that same sort of comfort in their significant others.

Of the four, I think Brandon gets the least development, serving as an introductory tool for Josh and Kristen. However, we still see his kindness and devotion towards Sloan. It’s almost a running gag that the house they’ve bought prior to the wedding is falling apart, and every time we visit Brandon is being handed something to fix. Even though they are marrying each other, both Brandon and Sloan respect their friend’s requests for secrecy and don’t talk about their friend’s problems with their significant others, but that doesn’t mean they both know what the other one is doing. “That guy is so into you,” Sloan tells Kristen “And you know what else? Brandon won’t talk about it. You know what that means? It means Josh is saying stuff to him that he doesn’t want to tell me.” (83)

Pick up an Abby Jimenez novel today for a fresh voice in romance. She has a second book out already (The Happy Ever After Playlist) where we see the story of these characters continue and a third one (Life’s Too Short) in the works for April 2021, so I see this becoming a new hot name.

Chasing Cassandra

Chasing Cassandra.jpgTitle: Chasing Cassandra
Series: #6 Ravenels series
Author: Lisa Kleypas
ISBN: 9780062975041
Pages: 266 pages
Publisher/Date: Avon Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2020.

“There’s no need to worry. You’ll either meet someone new, or you’ll reconsider someone you didn’t appreciate at first. Some men are an acquired taste. Like oysters, or Gorgonzola cheese.”
She let out a shuddering sigh. “Cousin West, if I haven’t married by the time I’m twenty-five. . . and you’re still a bachelor . . . would you be my oyster?”
West looked at her blankly.
“Let’s agree to marry each other someday,” she continued, “if no one else wants us.” […]
“Lady Cassandra Ravenel,” West interrupted, “that is the most idiotic idea anyone’s come up with since Napoleon decided to invade Russia.” […]
I’ll be your oyster,” Tom broke in. (pg. 4-5)

Tom Severin is smitten and slain, his breath catching at his first sight of Lady Cassandra Ravenel. He wants her, but Cassandra is set on marrying for love, an emotion that Tom swears is a weakness and not in his small collection of possible feelings. Her family is also against the match, having first hand experience with his selfish business dealings and views Tom as someone who loves the chase and abandons the prize once won. While Tom and Cassandra recognize these differences and their divide, they also repeatedly find themselves in situations where they admire each other’s actions, humor, and intellect. When an overzealous suitor puts Cassandra in a disreputable position, will it be Tom or Cassandra who get what they want?

I was going to say that the witty dialogue , which I realize is typically not the reason people read romances, is a welcome distraction from this lapse in character development. However, that would be in accurate, as we do see growth from several of the characters, especially Tom. Cassandra’s family at one point apologies to Tom for making assumptions regarding his intentions. Tom is, in the beginning, routinely obtuse about plots of books mentioned by Cassandra, but he still reads them in an attempt to understand her better and figure out his own feelings. These misinterpretations are quite humorous, with Tom summarizing the points of Les Miserables as first “Never let your daughter marry a French law student” and then “It’s usually a mistake to forgive your enemies.” (168) Cassandra recognizes Tom’s condition, and tells him “Your heart is frozen because you want it to be. It’s safer for you that way, never to let anyone in. So be it.” (102).

Cassandra however also has to grow, as she seems willing to compromise towards a union with a gentleman of the proper breeding who obviously pursues her rather then a man she actually has feelings for who she is afraid isn’t able to return them. She discusses this predicament with her sister Pandora and Cassandra asks if it is possible to “talk myself into wanting someone”  which I think is quite different from what both Cassandra and Tom face in having to recognize and react accordingly to their feelings.

 It is highly unlikely that Cassandra and Tom, if they were real, would have ended up together after only their handful of short interactions. However, the pairing between them is intended to be a union of equals, and the discussions and negotiations that follow in order to get them to that place are what carries the novel. Readers looking for more than insta-love should look elsewhere, but on the flip side readers looking for steamy sex scenes might be disappointed as a true, uninterrupted, love scene doesn’t occur until you’re over two-thirds of the way through the novel. Prior to that is stolen kisses, roving hands, and compromising situations, which definitely build to a satisfying first time for both participants.

I would like to add that no matter how much Tom maintains that he doesn’t have feelings, he always seems to know just what to say. When Cassandra frets about her weight, Tom’s response is “The more of you there is in the world, the better.” and “Whatever size you are, I’ll have a place for every curve.” Awwwwwwww.


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