Chasing Reference: One Year Later

This week, Chasing Reference is celebrating our first anniversary. After meeting in person and beginning to plan this blog in January 2012, we quietly launched in April 2012 by posting about what the typical day is like for each of us. (Want to reminisce? Check out what Carrie, Heather, Amy, Sarah, and Emily were up to this time last year.)

In celebration of this anniversary, we’re taking the entire month of April to celebrate. Today we’re highlighting some of our personal favorite posts from the past year. It’s no surprise these also proved to be some of our most popular posts too. On Friday we’ll share our monthly What We’re Reading post. Starting Monday, we’ll be writing brand new Day in the Life posts each Monday and Wednesday. How much has changed in a year? Here are a few teasers:

  • one of us changed jobs (you can read all about her new job on April 17!)
  • there’s now a brand new Chasing Reference contributor (look for his introductory post on April 24!)
  • you’ll also be treated to a special guest post from our fearless adviser on May 1!

April will be full month of posting here, and May will mark a return to regularly scheduled programming with posts each Wednesday, as well as the first Friday of the month.

We’re also always looking for guests posts. If you’d like to contribute, send us an email with your idea(s).

Without further ado, here are some of our favorite Chasing Reference posts from the first year:

Last but not least, do you remember how we came to call ourselves Chasing Reference? It all began with C-H-A-S-E.

Thanks for reading. We hope you’ll continue on this journey with us for many more years to come.

What We’re Reading: January 2013

On the first Friday of each month, we share what we’re reading, which may include everything from magazines and blogs to novels and books for work or pleasure.

After spending the last month of 2012 frantically reading all of the books that had been lingering on my physical and virtual shelves for months (and years in some cases), I’m devoting January 2013 to reading books being published in 2013. I’m currently enchanted with Level 2, the debut dystopian novel by Lenore Applehans (out January 15th). After that, I’m also hoping to dive into Me Before You by Jojo Meyers and The Midwife’s Tale by Samuel Thomas. –Carrie

This month, I found myself lingering over the delightful book Pinned by Sharon Flake. Pinned tells the stories of Autumn, a star wrestler but struggling student, and Adonis, a model student, and the year they spend circling around each other, learning more about each other and themselves. Autumn knows her way on a wrestling mat, can calculate what moves she needs to make to win on that mat, but when it comes to school, and particularly reading, she feels lost, that her brain just doesn’t work right. Adonis has always strived to be the best; born without legs, Adonis has sworn that it will never hold him back, and he is consistently the top of the class, the most sought after student. As they each deal with private troubles- failing at school for Autumn and overcoming a past trauma for Adonis- they slowly find understanding in each other. Both Autumn and Adonis are richly drawn and fully realized, with unique and distinctive voices, and their stories compelling. I found myself lingering over the pages, enjoying the richness of their voices, the truth of their stories. Truly, a delightful read, and I look forward to reading more of Sharon Flake’s engaging work. — Heather

During the holiday season, I spent a good deal of time entertaining at home with family, friends, and colleagues. I enjoy cooking very much, but what I really love is reading about food. When it comes to food writing, my go-to sources include The New Yorker and Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. However, when I need to get down to the practical business of roasting, sauteing, and baking, I troll my favorite recipe blogs, such as Smitten Kitchen or Lottie + Doof. And, of course, I browse my cookbook collection. One of my favorite new cookbooks is David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert (2012). Yes, the desserts are amazing–I’ve already put about half of them on the table– but also the writing is hilarious; he introduces each recipe with either droll humor or a bizarre anecdote. To ease the burden of cooking all day, the authors of Bistro Cooking at Home (2003) and The Newlywed Cookbook (2011) offer details about how to prepare some of their dishes in advance. Lastly, in 2013, if you find yourself making dinner for foodies or guests of Mediterranean origin, then I would recommend Simone Ortega’s The Book of Tapas (2010) or The Silver Spoon New Edition (2011), a classic! –Amy

Like Amy, I’ve spent a lot of time lately browsing cookbooks and trying out new recipes. Mostly I’ve been baking up a storm.  My two favorites are the cinnamon scrolls from Yvette van Boven’s Home Made and layered biscuits from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day.  When not cooking, I’ve been really enjoying Jeffrey Toobin’s The Oath. Toobin’s book focuses on the often contentious relationship between the Roberts court and Obama administration, and between competing ideas about how the Constitution should be interpreted and applied to the legal questions faced today. If you’ve read The Nine, you’re already familiar with Toobin’s accessible writing style and extensive knowledge of the Supreme Court, both of which are on display in The Oath. –Sarah

Over the holiday break, I read Barbara Kingsolver’s page-turner Flight Behavior. The main character, Dellarobia is a smart and young mother of two who doesn’t have the opportunities you want her to have. Her parents died young, she got pregnant in highschool which thwarted her chances at college, and propelled her into an early marriage to a man she never would have married otherwise. Now, the mother of a kindergartener and a toddler, Dellarobia feels trapped. When monarch butterflies migrate to the mountain near Dellarobia’s home in Tennessee instead of migrating to Mexico, her life changes. The novel is equal parts domestic drama and environmental drama. I found myself rooting for the butterflies and for Dellarobia. –Emily

Now tell us: what are you reading in the New Year?

What We’re Reading: December 2012

On the first Friday of each month, we share what we’re reading, which may include everything from magazines and blogs to novels and books for work or pleasure.

As 2012 comes to a close, I’ve been frantically trying to read all of the books I’ve been meaning to read all year, particularly those I’ve purchased and those I’ve been on the library’s waiting list for months. I ended November with what turned out to be my favorite read of 2012 (so far): These Days Are Ours by Michelle Haimoff. It’s set in the spring of 2002 and follows Hailey, a recent college graduate trying to figure out what ‘normal’ is. It helps that Haimoff’s characters are the age I was in 2002, but this novel is smart, affecting, and an intimate portrait of both adulthood and post-9/11 New York City. Next up for me: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel, which has been languishing on my Kindle for over a year and Colm Toibin’s newest, The Testament of Mary. –Carrie

This past month, I immersed myself into two very different books. The first was Gillian Flynn’s very dark and twisted Gone Girl. It was an unsettling account of a woman’s disappearance on her five-year wedding anniversary. Her husband is the main suspect and as well as the novel’s narrator and his story is interspersed with her diary entries.  Nothing and no one in this book is what it seems, and it is an exploration of the dark side of humanity. It was truly chilling. Following Gone Girl, I delved into the strange and complex world of Crewel by Gennifer Albin. Crewel is a world of Spinsters, women who have the power to weave the very fabric of reality around them. With their power, they control every aspect of life in Arras. It is considered a great honor to be chosen as a Spinster, yet Adelice Lewys wants nothing to do with that life- she spends her days in dread of being chosen. When the inevitable happens, and she is chosen as a Spinster, she discovers that her vague misgivings and suspicions barely scratch the surface of the twisted reality of life as a Spinster of Arras. Albin’s creates a world that is fascinating, engaging, and compelling, weaving together a truly engaging story.  –Heather

After a month spent with agricultural fiction (“Neighbour Rosicky,” O Pioneers!, A Thousand Acres, etc.) , I forced myself leave the farm so that I could read Andrew Solomon’s brilliant book, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. I go into raptures thinking about the originality, scope, and importance of the arguments posited by Solomon. This book is about so much, including reproduction, diversity, identity, and tolerance. It’s kind of a big deal. Best of all, there’s a book trailer on vimeo. –Amy

This month, I enjoyed Rachel Maddow’s Drift. While I expected the book to be well-written and entertaining, as well as thoroughly researched (after all, Maddow has PhD in Politics from Oxford), I didn’t expect to end up thinking so much about the role of privatization in military decision-making and how the balance of power among the three branches of the U.S. government has shifted over the past 30 years.  I’ve also gone back and reread some classics in International Relations, as well as Jack Snyder’s “One World, Rival Theories,” which offers a broad perspective on the major strands of IR theory, and more interestingly, makes some excellent arguments for the ways in which theory can illuminate real-world events.  On the fiction side, I gave into my weakness for books about record stores and music fans, and have Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue next on my list. –Sarah

I’m reading Tobias Wolff’s Vietnam War memoir In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of the Lost War. It’s a welcomed addition to the well-trodden genre of the Vietnam War memoir. Wolff is unflinching and brutally honest as he recounts his time in Vietnam—a time when he’ll take desperate measures to watch the Thanksgiving Bonanza special on a color television. Wolff’s gallows humor pushes me through the most sobering moments of the book. I often find myself thinking about this book when I’m not reading it. I’ve also been reading lots of email this week from the fascinating RUSA-CODES discussion about genre fiction. –Emily  

Now tell us: what books are you squeezing in before the end of 2012?

Still Just a Bill: US Congressional documents and why you might use them

by Sarah Elichko

today i am still just a bill

In the spirit of the election, I’d like to talk about a topic some librarians fear: government documents.

Between the labyrinthine structure of agencies and committees to the prospect of navigating a different call number system (Superintendent of Documents or SuDoc), this huge category of resources can be intimidating to approach. Yet if you’re ever looking for statistics, maps, arguments for or against a policy (e.g. welfare reform), high-quality research, or information about a proposed law, government documents are a great place to start. And don’t forget: most US, EU, UN, and other government documents are available for free.

Now, I’m a bit of a government documents geek and I don’t expect everyone to share my enthusiasm for the EPA’s environmental justice mapping tools and compiling legislative histories. But I think that almost any librarian will find some basic knowledge of government information useful in their daily work. Previously on Chasing Reference, Amy highlighted the amazing resource of the recently released 1940 US Census. Today, I’m going to focus on US Congressional Hearings, which which can give you and your patrons a window into the workings of Congress and the process by which laws are made.

We’ll look at three questions: what do Congressional hearings tell you? How can you find them? What about finding older and unpublished hearings?

Continue reading

What We’re Reading: November 2012

On the first Friday of each month, we share what we’re reading, which may include everything from magazines and blogs to novels and books for work or pleasure.

After spending much of October reading 2013 releases (keep your eyes out for Tracy Chevalier’s new novel about the Underground Railroad and Quakers, The Last Runaway in February 2013), I’m devoting November to reading some backlist titles I’ve been meaning to read for years. First up: The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCrackenl. McCracken herself is a librarian, as is the novel’s main character. I’m only about fifty pages in, but so far I’m thoroughly enjoying the writing and characters as much as I am the library and librarian references. –Carrie

This month, I was delighted by David Levithan’s Every Day. Each day, A wakes up in a new body, lives a new life just for that day. A lives from moment to moment, day to day, always living in the present, and never dreams of the future. For A, there is no future, just an endless string of single days in new lifes. Yet, remarkably, in one day, in one life, A falls in love. Suddenly, A sees a need to look towards the future and live beyond just the present. Levithan’s writing style is warm and embracing, his characters gentle and realistic, his world insightful and thought provoking world. Every Day was an enchanting and wonderful read. –Heather

Around 8pm last night, I opened Amanda Choplin’s The Orchardist, reading one page and then the next, and so forth until it was long past midnight. That I am almost finished with the book should be no surprise to those of you that read Emily’s review of Choplin’s tense novel on September 7. Earlier in the month, I enjoyed Jane Smiley’s biography, Charles Dickens (2002). Although I wouldn’t describe it as an up-all-night page turner, Smiley writes a highly readable, streamlined narrative of a very famous man with a kinetic work ethic. It’s part of the fantastic Penguin Lives series. –Amy

I just started reading In America by Susan Sontag. I’m only 100 pages into the novel, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it. So far the book is as much about the creating of stories as it is about the story Sontag is telling, something Sontag pulls off beautifully. Maryna, the main character, is a famous Polish actress in the late 1800’s. Plagued with restlessness and fame, Maryna is desperate for change. I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds for Maryna. –Emily

What We’re Reading: October 2012

On the first Friday of each month, we share what we’re reading, which may include everything from magazines and blogs to novels and books for work or pleasure.

I’m reading Eleanor Henderson’s debut novel Ten Thousand Saints, which the New York Times placed on its top five fiction of 2011 list. I’ve been meaning to read it since it came out last year, but I finally picked it up as a playaway audiobook at the public library last week. Typically, I only listen to about one audiobook a month, but I was enjoying this novel so much, I picked up a print copy at the library to finish it more quickly. The story opens in a small Vermont town in the 1980’s with two best friends, Teddy and Jude, doing all they can to get high and find a way to New York City and its punk and drug scene. Henderson paints a fascinating picture of 1980’s Lower Manhattan and Vermont, and I’m utterly enchanted with it. –Carrie

This past month I was entranced by Maggie Stiefvater’s new novel The Raven Boys. Stiefvater writes with a skilled and deft hand, creating worlds and characters that draw the reader in, and The Raven Boys is Stiefvater at her finest. Filled with delightfully quirky and realistic characters, an intriguing plot revolving around the legend of an old Welsh king, and lyrical writing, The Raven Boys was truly a treat. Following The Raven Boys, I’ve delved into another wild and quirky world, that of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. It’s the story of a mysterious bookstore in the heart of San Francisco and the many secrets it hides.  I’m enjoying the quick and engaging writing, and the mystery behind the shelves–it draws a booklover in with the secrets it hints at. –Heather

I just finished Robert Harris’s The Fear Index.  This thriller follows the story of a hedge fund trading system that runs amok (i.e. develops an independent will no longer controllable by programmers).  I can’t say it’s the best book I ever read, but it was entertaining and engaging–perfect escapist reading.  Sci-fi and dystopian literature fans might enjoy this easy read that nonetheless raises interesting questions about consciousness and the role of technology. — Sarah

I’m reading Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken. In the book, she argues that video games can help us fix our world, or reality. She provides fixes to reality throughout the book and examples of games that improve our lives. McGonigal argues that games make us more social and creative, and games should be embraced as creative problem-solving method for the issues we face from our health to education and the environment. — Emily

What We’re Reading: September 2012

On the first Friday of each month, we share what we’re reading, which may include everything from magazines and blogs to novels and books for work or pleasure.

I may have finally caught election fever after the conventions the past two weeks, as I was inspired to pick up Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. Even though I remember the 2008 presidential election season vividly, it’s been both fun and fascinating to relive it. I’m particularly enjoying the parts about Iowa, as the 2008 campaign was the first one I spent living in Iowa and participating in the caucuses and the fervor leading up to them as both parties had wide open fields. I followed the campaigns closely, and Heilemann’s articles in New York Magazine were among my favorites. As captivating as current politics can be, I realize I appreciate a little distance to really understand the strategies, successes, and failures. I’m also still working my way through this year’s Booker Prize longlist in preparation for Tuesday’s short list announcement. My favorite (so far) of the longlisted titles is Deborah’s Levy’s slim, haunting novel, Swimming Home. It’s breathtaking, heartbreaking, brilliant and destined to be a modern classic–if it can only find its audience. –Carrie

This month, I have found myself immersed in the words and worlds of author Maggie Stiefvater, a fantastic author who is actually visiting my library later this month–so exciting! I’ve been reading her fantastic Shiver series. The books–Shiver, Linger, and Forever–are a compelling re-imagining of the werewolf legend. In Stiefvater’s world, werewolves are real, but they are not the slavering monsters that change at each full moon. No, these werewolves turn into true wolves when the weather turns cold. They spend their Spring and Summer season as human, and Fall and Winter as wolf. Eventually, every werewolf reaches a Spring where they do not change back into a human, and they remain a wolf until the end of their days with only the barest recollection of their human selves. The series introduces us to Sam, a werewolf approaching his final season of change, and Grace, a human who was bitten but never changed. The two meet and sparks fly, but can love last as winter approaches? Stiefvater writes with a beautiful, lyric hand that creates a wonderfully atmospheric read. She is a skilled writer, and I am looking forward to starting her new series, The Raven Boys, and immersing myself in her words and worlds once more. –Heather

This month I returned to the oversized stacks to look at pictures. Sarah Sze’s Infinite Line (Asia Society) reveals the relationship between her concept drawings and the dizzying, architectural installations that she ultimately creates. Sze’s delicate work may also be viewed in the September 2012 issue of Sculpture. Corey Keller’s exhibition catalogue, Francesca Woodman (D.A.P./SFMOMA), is a haunting collection of the young artist’s influential self-portraiture, beginning with her work as a RISD student and followed by images produced in Italy and New York before she committed suicide at age 22. Fame and accolades also arrived posthumously for Vivian Maier, a Chicago-based nanny who shot outstanding street photos during the ‘50s and ‘60s. Her curious, naturalistic photographs were collected and presented for the first time in Vivian Maier: Street Photographer (powerHouse Books). –Amy

Lately, I’ve been enjoying John Jerimiah Sullivan’s Pulphead. Fellow Chuck Klosterman fans will probably like this collection of essays on widely varying aspects of pop culture (e.g. interviewing Bunny Wailer at his home in Jamaica) and the author’s personal life (e.g. the story of his younger brother surviving a freak electrocution accident).  Sullivan is a talented storyteller and although some of the pieces are less memorable than others, it’s a fun read that (for me) has been perfect for the hectic start of the fall semester.  –Sarah

I’m on the verge of finishing Amanda Choplin’s novel The Orchardist. The Orchardist is set in Washington in the very early 20th century. Talmadge, the orchardist, lives a quiet life, until two young and very pregnant girls start stealing apples from him. As Talmadge discovers more about these girls’ troubled lives, he decides to give them refuge in his orchard, forever changing his quiet and calm life. This book is tough to put down! –Emily

Now tell us: what are you reading this month?