Tag: Book review

Book Review: The Coach’s Guide for Women Professors

The Coach’s Guide for Women Professors Who Want a Successful Career and a Well-Balanced Life
by Rena Seltzer

Book cover










Seltzer is a consultant and coach whose work is primarily with academics. I stumbled across her book somewhere recently and then had it sitting on my bedside table so I couldn’t ignore it as I am occasionally wont to do with “improving” books.

All told, it’s about a three hour read–so you’re not committing to a long text here. And Seltzer recommends tackling it by whichever chapter you need most right now, rather than reading start to finish, though she acknowledges that many people will and will want to read it that way. Her examples are drawn from her clients and she provides extensive references to further research in this area, which I appreciated.

What I found most powerful about the book were her “Into Action” sections, which summarize what has just been suggested into immediately usable ideas or activities. Some are questions, others are referrals, others are thought provoking.  The best chapter, for me, was the How to Have More Time. Seltzer points out some obvious things (one occasionally needs a clue-by-four, I’m certainly among them) such as the statement Everything Takes Time.  It was something I hadn’t really considered to the forefront–we say “oh that’ll just take five minutes” or “I can do that in an hour, it’s nothing.”  But it isn’t. It’s always more than five minutes and it’s frequently more than the hour we’ve allotted. And that’s still an hour that adds up. It’s rare that I can find an open hour of time on my work calendar and a spare hour at home certainly is few and far between.

Seltzer also point out areas where women are particularly challenged: perceived as not being a faculty member because we’re female; not listened to– where others are; expected to be more nurturing; assumed that we’ll take a higher level of service on.

There are some aspects of the book that don’t quite line up with librarian duties.  I’ve written before about being a faculty member and being a librarian and the challenge of being in a “service profession”  where I’m lumped in with other service professions and therefore not always given the same level of support as those other services might offer a “regular/real/normal” professor.  And I can’t imagine actually skipping department meetings, a time saver recommendation, without there being a lot of questions. Also, Seltzer isn’t worried about running a physical space, which is a primary concern for librarians, nor the same kind of advocacy of role of the library–trying to expand into more professor’s classes to teach, etc etc. That said, librarians aren’t her primary audience so it would be unreasonable to expect that to be fully addressed.

Seltzer spends a great deal of time talking about early or impending motherhood. This is a regular concern in academia.  However, I found her emphasis on it a little too exclusive. While a majority of women will become mothers at some point, not all of them in the tenure track are also dealing with newborns, which seemed to be Seltzer’s overarching expectation. Comparing it with my own current department, it felt a little tone deaf–of the four peers with children in my immediate department undergoing tenure now or over the past five years, all of them had children in high school or above.  The other four women didn’t/don’t have children. I can’t speak for anyone’s immediate child-bearing plans except my own, of course.  We’re an exception, I’m sure, but it struck me as another instance of being told that because I don’t have children, I shouldn’t be having any  problems in terms of finding time to write or produce scholarly work or extra labor or what have you and I found that particularly off-putting.

Seltzer does address varying cultural issues that arise and put other pressure on women, family who do not understand the workload, community norms that don’t align with academia, etc.  She also points out how community can serve as extra support, particularly for minorities who feel isolated in their work environment.

Overall, I found the book useful and a couple of coworkers, spotting the cover, have already asked to borrow it and I do think it’s worth the recommendation.








Book Review: Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

*I received a copy of the ARC from the publisher in advance of the publication date. I signed up to receive it through their promotion as sponsors of Unshelved.*

Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series has definitely been a favorite on my shelves for a few years now. Her first, Soulless, has been read over and over and I’ve introduced it to several friends, the Philosopher included. With witty repartee, steam punk Victorian aesthetic, and a healthy dose of pragmatism from the heroine, they are very enjoyable books and I’m glad the vampire/werewolf/steampunk craze did not totally overwhelm us before her books came along.

But now that Parasol Protectorate has concluded, I’ve been waiting with some trepidation for Carriger’s next forays.

Etiquette and Espionage is a move into teen literature and that can often come with challenges for adult authors. Readers of Carriger’s other work will find some familiar characters, younger versions of themselves but thankfully, not all of them. Carriger, so far, is finding a story for these characters, rather than taking a side character, aging them down a few years, and taking off in directions that don’t align with the adult work, a trap I’ve seen other authors fall into.

Unlike Soulless, which could stand on it’s own as a story, Etiquette and Espionage was obviously about world building. We met characters who will grow and develop; we were given hints at things to come; and we learned about the school.

I enjoyed the frivolity of the book, adding in handkerchief and eyelash fluttering lessons in with more practical education. If the Regency and other historical romance writers I frequently favor are anything to go by, these may well have been actual subjects for the finishing of some young ladies, but it’s presented in such seriousness that one can’t but take it lightly.

While there are some small events in the story, overall the work felt like a prelude and that is my only serious complaint. I think once all four books are out (three more are to follow), I’ll want to read them together as though they were one longer tale rather than short snippets. I am looking forward to the next on though and to Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate Abroad series due out this fall–which will take on the next generation after the Parasol Protectorate.


Data Friday: Facilitating Access to the Web of Data (Chapter Review)

Recently, I saw a request for reviewers for  CILIP for Facilitating Access to the Web of Data: a Guide for Librarians by David Stuart.  I’m not a part of CILIP, so I can’t be the reviewer (I assume, if I’m wrong, someone please let me know!), but I tweeted interest in the book and the publisher was kind enough to send me the first chapter and let me know that they should have an American published copy soon.

Stuart provides a very readable introduction to open data, walking introductorily through open science (and how it’s not just a comparison between open and closed), open access and the various levels, moving into e-science and e-humanities, and open source/open notebook science –using software to provide a quickly understandable comparison between proprietary and open source (e.g. MS Office vs. Open Office).  He’s quick to point out the big players: governments, academia, and the commercial sector–pointing to times where commercial entities have been able to use data and crowdsourcing to their advantage and how APIs help them reach broader audiences, but also pointing out how scandal from improperly scrubbed data quickly arises. He spends three pages looking at government data (one of the biggest sources) and identifies some of the data portals governments have provided and reminds us that these data sets are likely to have local interest. Finally he touches on types of data libraries collect and how we may be able to allow users to wrangle it for the applications they’re already using.

What I like thus far is that he is very much aware of his audience and is constantly tying it back to how libraries can be a part of it, what their role might be, where we can help. He identifies how resource heavy professional curation of data and digital resources can be–which may be a role, as well as  encouraging “the opening up of academic research data through freedom of information requests.” (9)

Also, he likes to start sentences with “Whilst”

I’m looking forward to getting to read a full copy of the book soon.





Book Review: Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way

It’s a five minute book review! I used to do those for Teen Librarian at La Crosse, she and I often had pretty different reading preferences and it would give her ideas on books to booktalk that she might not have time to read.

Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way
by Michael Young

I have to admit, one of the reasons I recommended this for purchase was that I was really interested to find out how Young would incorporate Genghis Khan. To burst a few bubbles (including sadly, my own), it’s not quite as targeted on the Mongolian parallels as it is on management of people, business planning, financial planning etc. While this makes for a slightly less blood-thirsty read, it does make for a more practical book and, ultimately, an enjoyable one.

Young offers a no-nonsense look at managing a dental practice, raising questions that young dental students should certainly be addressing in their classes, but are presented here neatly and in a very readable fashion. Have the first year dental students really thought about hiring a practice manager, a receptionist, or making sure they’ve ordered enough supplies? Are they considering that they may need to fire people that they have worked with every day?  Young raises questions like these.

This book was published in the UK and as a result there are things in here that will not apply to dentists in the US. Even so, there’s more that is relevant than not, and it gives the reader a different perspective on how things are handled abroad, hopefully raising questions about American equivalencies.



Let us then evoke Anathem

When Stephenson’s Anathem came out a couple of years ago, I was extremely excited. Sibling-the-Elder bought me a copy and just as soon as I had a few minutes, I was going to charge into it.

It is now 2011 and I’ve just finally finished it. This was the first book that I’d read start to finish on a Kindle, a DX that I borrowed from work. My ringing pronouncement on the e-ink format? It was okay. I really disliked not having page numbers, missed being able to flip back and forth easily, and just didn’t feel like I was making progress. I didn’t realize there were fully explained calca at the end nor a collected version of the dictionary terms that are scattered through the book until I got there. I would have preferred to read the calca in context and several times I wanted to bounce back to the beginning for a look at the calendar but wasn’t at ease with it.  The text would go from vertical to horizontal if it didn’t like the angle I was sitting at, which I found annoying, and ultimately, it still felt like screen time.  It does weigh less than the hardcover though and I haven’t had to charge it.

Despite its physical weight (the hardcover is nearly 3 lbs) and length (960 pages), Anathem is one of Stephenson’s more accessible texts.  Creating an alternate world, he poses questions about religion, math as a different kind of religion, monastic living, secular versus religious power (though he poses it as secular vs math–so, secular vs science), youth succeeding to responsibility, nuclear weapons, and how we as humans would deal with an alien presence.

At the most basic level, Stephenson presents you with a coming of age tale: beginning to question one’s abilities, losing trusted mentors, first love, learning to rely on friends and recognize that they too are coming of age and skill.  But his world building goes far beyond that, poking not so gentle fun at the general populace and fixation on entertainment and a drug that keeps on always happy and distracted. Only those who raise their own food are immune from the “All’s Well” permeating the regular diet and keeping one distracted. Combined with the recent dietary lectures I heard at AAAS*, it was one of those things that make you think about going home and throwing out everything in the pantry and trying again.

Though at some point I’m sure I read a summary or cover flap, I went into the story without any clear memory of those, which let me read without expectation. I really had no particular idea where Stephenson was headed and I can’t say I was anticipating a number of the things that happened.  While there was the somewhat standard Stephenson “let me world build for you for a while before we really get rolling”–it wasn’t to the same depth as it was in the Baroque Cycle, where I slogged through 300 pages, hoping and praying that eventually he’d get to something resembling the adventures I was hoping to find. But with that trilogy, I was dealing with an introduction to a 2700 page epic–instead of this mere 1000 pages.

But Stephenson continues to capture my attention and transport me to his world. Leisure reading time is at a premium right now and I saved Anathem for the morning and evening commute. As this is at most hour of reading per day, it took me a lot longer than it might have otherwise.  But once settled into a seat on the train, I crawled right back into Arbre and the world of the avout. There were multiple trips where I got off at my place of work and looked around, wondering where the maths of our time were–for they were more than our mere universities, though there was a component of that as well.

Stephenson chose to create some of his own vocabulary for this world and I’ve already found it creeping into everyday use. Coming back a cluster of coworkers, I brightly inquired if they were having a convox–not realizing until about five minutes later that I’d used a word that doesn’t exist in everyday American English. And over dinner with the Philosopher**, who has also recently finished Anathem, I took exception to something he said and led off with “Let us assume for the sake of argument…” and began a traditional Dialog. Though I can’t say I planed him, that I managed to pull an avout conversation into a discussion of the use of the word “on” probably has forever labeled me a Stephenson FanGirl in his eyes***.

By the end of the book I was exhausted. While accessible and an interesting adventure, one can only take so much quantum mechanics before breakfast or at the end of a long day. And I was starting to feel bad about myself, here it was taking me weeks to get through this book. I’m a fast reader! What was wrong with me? (Note that I had to keep reminding myself I was reading this tome for usually no more than an hour a day.) Now that I’m finished, I’m amazed how much faster “regular” books seem to go.

Of course, I’m also eying Mongoliad again, remembering that I’m 20 chapters or so behind….

*Pay no attention to the AAAS blog posts sitting in draft….
**Who needs to start writing his Master’s Dissertation
***Not that being a FanGirl is a bad thing at all.