Are you a font barista?

Ask me what I love about being a school librarian, and we’d have quite a lengthy conversation. However, in the top tier of my favorite aspects of school librarianship is the unpredictable nature of our work day and task list. Every day truly is a new adventure, bringing fresh opportunities to serve kids, teachers, and administrators in your building...

{See my original post on the American Association of School Librarians Knowledge Quest blog}

American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers

A few years ago, Nancy Jo Sales took on a bold and, some would consider, terrifying task. She spent hundreds of hours interviewing over 300 girls between the ages of 13 and 19 for one purpose: to uncover the digital life of American teens, with an explicit focus on that of teenage girls in America.

Her book is a rich yet raw synopsis of those interviews, revealing major fractures in American culture that both teens as well as those who work with them must face in order to survive – physically for some, and emotionally for all. Though many of the details and scripted exchanges between interviewees can be quite shocking, I found this book to be one of the most essential for anyone who is working with teenagers or young adults. Well-written and logically organized, it provides exceptionally valuable insight into the mindset of this age group.

Sales explains that the oversexualization we see of girls these days takes root in the tech bro/bro-grammer/frat boy culture that exists in Silicon Valley. All current popular social media apps and nearly all social media apps altogether are created and managed by tech executives, 83% of whom are white males. She makes valuable points about the clear connection between the tech industry’s frat boy culture and the rampant sexism found in many apps on the market (Two she mentions are Hot or Not and Titstare; others include MakeMeThinner, ShakeThatBooty, iControlHer, etc.).

This is also related to the normalization of pornography in modern society, which is damaging to females of all ages and specifically to the formation of healthy attitudes toward and understanding of sex among teenagers. Sales reports a rise in sadomasochism toward girls in both what is produced as well as what is searched online. Social media sharing apps and internet connections on smartphones has created wide access to and consumption of pornography among teenagers, but their built-in cameras have also sparked an unbelievable amount of pornography creation. Many teens aren’t just looking at porn, they are also producing it through sexting.

The girls Sales interviewed shared the rampant prevalence of boys asking girls for nude pictures of themselves, or the boys sending genital pics of their own as an invitation for the girls to do the same. The legal system is confounded by this. Sexting does equal the creation, solicitation, and distribution of pornography, which is a serious criminal offense. Yet, local law enforcement officers are overwhelmed by the sheer number of teens engaged in it and do not want to criminalize young juveniles, especially when labeling these kids as sex offenders would create lifelong consequences. It is also interesting to note that many girls with whom Sales spoke reported that the prevalence of sex available online is causing a breakdown in traditional courtship and dating relationships. Teenage girls and young women spoke of being treated like an option to guys rather than a priority. This is certainly indicative of the declining numbers of monogamous relationships we see in American society today.

Even if you remove the sexual aspects of how teens are using their phones, it is important to understand the depth of the emotional attachment they have to their devices. In 2015, 88% of teens ages 13-17 had a mobile phone, and 92% of teens were going online from a mobile device daily. Girls reported sending 30-100 texts per day. As one teen described the constant distraction this causes, “Texting is like someone constantly tapping you on the shoulder and you have to look” (pg. 61).

Beyond the distraction of texting, girls also reported that although they feel that social media is destroying their lives, they won’t just leave it because then they believe the consequence would be social death. I found it very interesting that the interviewed girls were all painfully aware of their inauthenticity on social media. They agonize for hours over selfies (taking 50 just to get the one they finally post), filters, hashtags, captions, and the underworld of what a girl can communicate by liking/not liking or commenting/not commenting on a friend’s or acquaintance’s (or even enemy’s) post. Every single post is a contest of likes, which frankly sounds both exhausting and miserable.

It is no surprise that girls suffer extreme mental anguish from the drama that unfolds through social media and texting. It is both amazing and terrifying the power social media has over teens, and especially teen girls. Eating disorders and other forms of self-harm are increasing exponentially, and optional reconstructive surgery for young girls is also on the rise. When “flawless” perfection is the goal, depression and anxiety are guaranteed side effects.

Sales also touches on parenting in the digital age, though briefly. I found her comments on the effects of parents’ oversharing their children’s intimate details a bit underdeveloped, but then again I personally believe this is a topic that warrants its own study and book altogether, as I believe the impact of parents oversharing the details of their children’s lives is exactly what has caused our teenagers to struggle with oversharing sexually online. Sales reports that 92% of American children have an online presence before they are two years old, which is a point of concern in the areas of safety and privacy at minimum. On a deeper level, however, I see this as a direct correlation to the social media crisis we see our teens struggling with today.

Cyberbullying is another focus of this book, and Sales refers to suicides caused by cyberbullying as cyberbullycide. Again, girls are more often victims than boys in both cyberbullying and related self-harm. Most of the cyberbullying that occurs focuses on insults that accuse “promiscuity or perceived promiscuity” and the girl’s physical appearance (pg. 129). Exclusion from parties or events (and then the public exhibition of that exclusion through posting group pictures on Instagram) is one of the more passive-aggressive forms of cyberbullying. There is also an unprecedented number of incidences of girl-on-girl violence, many of which are published to video-sharing sites like Instagram, Vine, and Youtube.

At one point Sales delves into the history of photography altogether, from its conception to the point of availability of cameras for the general population. The invention of the Instammatic camera brought amateur photography (and selfies) into the hands of all people. That event, along with Kodak’s marketing campaign in the late 60s to create and preserve memories in which the customer looked good, marks the creation of the mindset that “cameras are tools for creating an idealized self” (pg. 78). The invention of smartphones and social media apps did not create this mindset, but they have certainly thrown fuel on the fire.

The increasing reliance upon apps and the phone world version of a social life is reducing our teenagers’ abilities to communicate face-to-face with one another or with adults. Basic communication skills, interpersonal skills, and nonverbal cues are being lost by teenagers and young adults. This changes how we teach as well as how we participate in discussions on deeper-meaning issues.

The work of Sales in her research for this book proves that while communicative technology is not the problem, an unbalanced focus on it (by teens, parents, and adults in general) is. It provides an understanding of just how deep and dark the social media world can be for teenagers, especially for girls.

My own reflection of this book is that of appreciation that Sales went where few have dared go before in her study and exposure of the raw world of teen social media. Understanding the weight of what teens experience in the digital world helps me serve them better. I know to choose instructional strategies that incorporate more face to face discussion among my high school students, to help fill the widening gap in their ability to converse. I can be a better advocate for teens in helping others understand their emotional and intellectual mindset in today’s modern digital culture. I can also design events and programs for my school that help teens understand this reality about themselves, and to challenge that reality through a more balanced approach to their social media use as well as developing a deeper perspective.

Because this book is so full of interesting observations, I highly recommend that anyone studying the field of technology as it relates to instruction read it carefully. On a personal note, I found myself in utter horror over the undertone of sexism in the tech and social media world. As the mother of three girls, it concerns me that in today’s “modern” society, the primary tools being used for socialization exhibit the antithesis of empowerment and feminism for young girls. We are taking huge steps backward as a society in relation to progress for women. Maybe providing flip phones for my daughters, at least through middle and early high school, isn’t such a bad idea after all…

Sales, N. J. (2016). American girls: Social media and the secret lives of teenagers.

Father's Day 2017 - Gift Guide for Dads

2017's day for dads is just around the corner, and many of us are in gift-planning mode. I love to buy gifts, and if I could spend every dime of our money just buying stuff for people that would almost be a dream job. But for many people, buying stuff for dads is tricky. Most of the men in our lives tend to be pretty simple creatures, and an awful lot of them suffer from the "if I want it, I'll just get it myself" type of mentality. That can be...notsohelpful to those of us trying to surprise them with wonderful things they will both love and actually use. 

Here are a few suggestions for those of you on the prowl for great stuff. 

There are few things more manly than a good piece of Saddleback Leather. I wrote about them back in 2015 and not much has changed in 2 years, except now we have more favorite pieces. They sent me this Leather Pouch Wallet (ours is shown here in Tobacco) in exchange for an honest review. It is one of their newest designs and secretly I love this one over all their wallet options because The Captain likes the wallet part and let me have the pouch part. You guys. It's like a double gift in one little package - something for him AND something for you! The wallet is sufficient to keep his cards and cash (LOL - like we even carry cash) organized but not too big as to bulk up his pocket space. Dudes can be weird about that. This one is available in several colors and you can order it directly through the Saddleback site. Several of their products are even available on Amazon. 

  • Moonshine Cologne - I slid this one on and off the list a few times because I can be such a selfish monster, but this is hands down the best smelling cologne ever. It has such an earthy, manly but not musty scent and I love it because it is so different than all the other colognes out there. Matt has worn it for years, and apparently I'm now mature enough to share the scent with others. You're welcome. 
  • Kayak/gear - We live in the Birmingham, AL area which has a magnificent supply of options for fun in the great outdoors. I gave The Captain a kayak for Christmas (well, I wrapped up a Barbie kayak and then we picked it up from Dick's Sporting Goods later), and he has really enjoyed it. My best tips here are two-fold. 1) Do your research. Check out sites like this one and this one to figure out what specific type will work for your person. OR 2) Don't do your research. Just wrap up a Barbie kayak and let him get what he wants later. Either way, the dad you're buying for ends up a happy paddler. 
  • Timbuktu bags - These things are rugged yet metro. They're sleek but also have pockets aplenty. They're really cool bags/backpacks/messenger bags that are extremely well made. The Captain loves his messenger bag and backpack, and as someone who travels A LOT he knows a lot about the best/most convenient bags out there. 
  • He Reads Truth  - For those of you with dudes who are interested in Bible study and application, this site has some very modern resources...and a great sale to boot! 
  • Uncommon Goods - This website is so fun and quirky I just cannot even stop the browsing. From manly hygiene kits to the coolest cocktail set ever (and by "ever" I do mean "ever on the planet of Geekdom") to this totally random and unbelievably awesome steampunk kinetic key holder. Welcome to the World of Random! At least you know you can find something he doesn't have on this site! 

Happy shopping, amigos! Now go! Go find him something fabulous! 

Best books of 2015

You guys, I read so much last year. So much. More than I have ever read in one year...except maybe 2004 when I was in library school and had so many lit assignments I would literally be listening to an audio book while also reading a different book. It was every bit as crazy and ineffective as it sounds, but skimming two books at once became a whole thing for me in grad school. I usually set my reading goal somewhere around 30-50. Last year I went for the big 75...and blew that goal out of the water, I am proud to say! It took every ounce of reading focus I had, y'all. I was listening to audiobooks on my daily commute, reading ebooks through Overdrive on my phone and Kindle, reading books on my iPad, and also reading my way through the monstrous stack of books beside my bed. I read classics, nonfiction, emerging lit, young adult fiction, biographies...everything! It was a literary buffet.

*Image from Unsplash under CC0.

*Image from Unsplash under CC0.

My 2016 goal is...100 books. One HUNDRED BOOKS. The hecto-fecta. If I pull this off, I may need a t-shirt like those marathon runners. Or perhaps a car sticker. Keep your 26.2, babe. I'll take the One-Zero-Zero hecto-fecta.

Best books I read in 2015 (I tried cutting it to a Top 10, but it was just too painful. Top 17 is the best I can do.)

Each of these made my list for a unique reason. For some, it was purely the quality of literature. For others, it may simply have been the significance of the book in literary history. Regardless, they're each worth your time!

P.S. I've mentioned my love for Goodreads a time or two already. If you're a reader or want to be a readers or don't know what to read or just want to know what people who do read read...hop on the Goodreads train. For avid readers, it helps you organize your books into categories, whether simple - think "books I want to read" and "books I already read" - or complex ("dystopian with female protagonist featuring a global natural disaster") and...the best get recommendations from other actual people, not just what Amazon or the brick and mortars want to sell you.

What were your top 10...ish books in 2015? Fellow bloggers, please leave your links in the comments!

Go Set a Watchman (Harper Lee)

July 14, 2015

12:01am - Go Set a Watchman automatically downloads to my Kindle. 

12:02am - Harper Lee begins the hasty process of dismantling all I thought I knew and loved about my favorite book in the world.

I am going to boldly state here that the release of Harper Lee's second book is most likely the literary event of my lifetime. There is no story more beloved than To Kill a Mockingbird, no characters more revered than Atticus Finch and his children. There has been an abundance of criticism over why Lee has chosen now to publish a second book, widely described as what was actually her first book and published today in first-draft form. Thick are the questions and mistrust over whether or nor Ms. Lee is in full enough possession of her mental faculties to even have truly given permission for this work to have been published. There are accusations about greedy caretakers and cunning attorneys. The release of the story is wrought with controversy.

To that, all of that, I say...none of it matters.

What does matter? Three things.

1. The story. Watchman isn't the first book to be published under a cloud of suspicion, nor is it the first publication to be met with controversy. It'll really earn its wings when it gets banned somewhere. It's probably just the only time the general public has been aware of it, given the immense popularity of the author's first novel. This dabbles in the actual review portion of this post, but Go Set a Watchman and To Kill a Mockingbird are now mutually symbiotic. The complexity of Watchman shovels layers onto Mockingbird's characters who were previously accepted as without flaw.  

2. The author. Folks, I have read some bios and some legal briefs and have conducted some personal interviews concerning Ms. Nelle Harper Lee (Sorry, I know my Mockingbird.), and there is one thing I know beyond all faintest fog of doubt. The woman is brilliant. She's observant, she's keenly aware of how twisted the nature of human beings can be, and she has never - not in 50+ years - ever not known how to protect her book. She has sued individuals, the city of Monroeville, organizations...she has fervently defended her personal rights, her personal privacy, her rights as an author, and the rights to her Mockingbird for decades, and she has done so very well. I have lots of theories about why she chose NOW to publish, but the most important part of this point is that Nelle Lee has proven a thousand times over that legally, she knows exactly what she is doing. How odd for the world to have begged this woman for years to pleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease let us read more of her work, she gives it to us, and we question her for it! And honestly, the controversy has only drawn more attention and sales for her, so I wouldn't at all be surprised if she purposely orchestrated it that way. Read a little about her and you'll see that option is not so far-fetched.

3. The legacy. It's interesting the number of people who keep saying they won't read it because of what they've heard or reviews they have read, but we are talking about the most widely anticipated novel of the 21st century. In as little as two years, the publication drama won't even be remembered because it will be entirely swallowed up by the hugeness of the actual story. By the time my girls are old enough to read To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman will be widely accepted not simply as the sequel but also as the true complementary companion to Lee's first book. It enables readers to consider the characters and plot more deeply. To refuse that now is just...not understandable to me.  

So what of it, then? Well, I'll tell you what Go Set a Watchman was for me.

*Semi-spoiler alert. I didn't read a single review before I read it, and advise that same course. I won't come right out and mess up anything for you, but I would prefer you NOT read this part before you read the book for your own little self.

Go Set a Watchman is set about 25 years after To Kill a Mockingbird. Some things are exactly the same in Maycomb, and some things are wildly different. Little Scout in all grown up but she's still Ms. Jean Louise to most people. She has a suitor who's crazy for her and rather a good match, someone Jem or Atticus would have chosen for her should she ever have allowed it. We get a bigger, more complete picture of the Finch family from Calpurnia and Atticus to Aunty Alexandra and Uncle Jack. Those who were absolute pains in little Scout Finch's neck are those she depends on most as Ms. Jean Louise.

The book spans the few weeks Jean Louise is in Maycomb, come home for a short vacation from her busy life in New York. We follow her as she makes some disturbing discoveries about Atticus, combined with perfectly familiar reminiscent tales about what she, Jem, and little Charles Baker Harris were up to for their adolescent years. We get to see how Jem continued to look out for his baby sister and how Atticus's parenting shaped both his children. We get so many questions answered..such as what Scout's teenage years were like for Atticus as a single father, or what had actually happened to Scout's and Jem's mother.

There's so much reference back to Mockingbird that you are tempted to feel safe with these characters, because in To Kill a Mockingbird, everything was somewhat okay, because at least Atticus is honest. At least Scout has Jem. At least Scout has Dill. At least Scout has Calpurnia. At least Scout can have her questions answered clearly, because at least Scout has Atticus.

But what if she didn't? In Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee answers that bigger question and shows us what happens to Jean Louise Finch when the man she once worshiped isn't who she thought he was. Harper Lee answers that question and she scars the hearts of readers in unexpected ways as she writes about race relations, daddy issues, segregation, privilege (racial and socioeconomic), and love.

That makes us as readers, as Mockingbird fans, really uncomfortable. Because all that is good and right with Mockingbird is wrapped up in Atticus Finch.

I think I might know why Harper Lee waited so long to publish this book. Maybe she couldn't bear the thought of destroying the Atticus we all thought he was. Of taking a man we admired as simple and wholesome and good and just, and complicating him all up so that nobody can figure out what he is anymore. Or shoot, maybe she just put a timer on it and was like, Imma just publish this in 2015 if we aren't all teleporting to Mars by then. Because, really, who knows?

I do know that Go Set a Watchman does exactly what I was hoping her second publication would do, which is to prove she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. Rumored nastily to have been a total fraud, Harper Lee convinced me the very moment I finished Mockingbird in the 9th grade that this lady is not just an author but a writer, and that writers have to write...they can't not write. I have believed for all this time that Harper Lee has piles of written work, she just didn't want to publish yet. I believe the first-draft claims, because there is some looseness to the work as a whole, a few scenes we could do without. But the writing style, the literary patterns are so similar in Watchman that I found myself smiling and highlighting like crazy just because I recognized the cadence of her work.

And it is beautiful. 

Don't you think?