Category Archives: books

An Open Letter to Dave Barry

Dear Mr. Barry,

Where to begin? I suppose the most logical place is this: I swear I am not making this up.

I’ve been a fan of yours since I lived in Miami in the 90s. Your ability to sum up the absurdity that is South Florida while maintaining an air of unwavering loyalty always brought a wry smile to my face: It might be crazy, but it’s OUR crazy.

I saw you play as part of the Rock Bottom Remainders one year at the Miami Book Fair. The show was in what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse on not-yet revitalized South Beach. It still ranks as one of the most enthusiastic live performances I’ve personally witnessed. There is no denying that you were having a blast, power strumming chords to that perennial crowd favorite, MacArthur Park. Hahaha – just kidding! It was La Bamba. And possibly Wooly Bully.

I’ve taken part in the Tropic Hunt and the Post Hunt. One of the only overt exhibitions of civic pride I ever witnessed in Miami happened when the crowd united in anger against a team from North Carolina that won the Tropic Hunt one year in Coconut Grove. I’m pretty sure the winners were ferried to an undisclosed location across Biscayne Bay in order to give them a head start in fleeing the city ahead of an aggrieved yet highly motivated mob. Woohoo, Miami!

I proudly (word choice?) performed as part of the Kazoo Processional that led guests to dinner at our local Chamber of Commerce Signature Event the year that you were the Guest Presenter. Let’s just say I am not one of the world’s naturally-gifted kazooers: to this day I have no idea if my cheeks hurt so much afterwards from steadily sustained laughter or from honking out “When the Saints Go Marching In” eighty-seven times in a row.

I’ve read several of your books, most recently Peter and the Starcatchers. I’ve laughed out loud at your columns, especially the Year in Review and the Gift Guide. However, if forced to choose one of your most notable literary achievements, it would have to be the naming of the title character in Naked Came the Manatee: it’s hard to go wrong with a manatee named Booger.

Recently, a friend wrote to tell me that you were coming to Annapolis, Maryland for a book signing of your newly released Insane City. I was excited all the way up until I remembered I’d committed to making a presentation that day, clear on the other side of the state. Even though Maryland isn’t Florida, where travelling across the state can take up to three days depending on traffic in Orlando, it was still enough to prevent me from making the event. My friend magnanimously offered to get a copy of your new book signed for me.

The following Tuesday, I entered my office to discover the book sitting on my chair. I was elated and extremely grateful. Rumors suggest I may have run a celebratory lap around the first floor of the office with the book proudly held over my head.

On Thursday I brought the book home. I took it out of my bag – worried about it getting crushed or torn there – and placed it in the middle of the dining room table. The large dining room table. My husband and I went to dinner and returned less than ninety minutes later to find the book laying open on the floor. The cover had been removed and – how shall I put this? – artfully redesigned by Shiloh, Mischief Dog. He even ate part of it.

Here’s a photo of Shiloh refusing to look at the camera when confronted with the Evidence of the Crime.

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Now I don’t mean to start any trouble, but the copy of Stephen King’s Wind Through the Keyhole sat on the same table for several days, untouched. Shiloh also ignored a copy of the Post Magazine, temptingly opened to the column Gene Weingarten wrote for the 2012 Post Hunt. In Shiloh’s defense, we’d only had him for about a month at that point, so it’s entirely possible that he wasn’t yet aware that the table existed.

Even so, I think you’ll agree that the evidence is crystal clear: he loves your writing SO MUCH he decided to eat it. In the words of Maurice Sendak, “I’ll eat you up, I love you so!” He’s a pretty deep dog with what appears to be a rare appreciation of excellent fiction.

It is, however, equally plausible that he loathes your book. Alternately, he may have confused it with a dog treat. Or a plush squeaky toy.

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He’s kind of difficult to interpret, when you get right down to it.

Sophie, our Main Dog, was appalled by the entire episode. If she had opposable thumbs, she’d waste no time in contacting her congressional representative and formally requesting legislation to reclassify Shiloh as a cat.

The good news? You’re in excellent company. Shiloh has also eaten a paperback  and nibbled the corner of Terry Pratchett’s Nation audiobook cover, both on loan from my the Howard County Library System.

That brings me to my request. No, I do not need you to send me another signed copy of your book. I’d be delighted to buy myself a replacement solely for the cover, or even to enjoy the copy I have sans cover but lovingly drooled upon by my misguided yet well-intentioned rescue dog.

If you happen upon this message and are so inclined, I’d like to ask you to consider helping to promote our local libraries. They are top-notch, but – as with all libraries – there are programs that need support in order to continue. I’ll be raising money this weekend as a Celebrity Bartender during Evening in the Stacks, their annual fundraiser that supports two exceptional programs: A+ Partners in Education and Project Literacy.

And who knows? Maybe one day Shiloh will be ready to take part in their DEAR Program (Dogs Educating and Assisting Readers), in which third graders improve their skills by reading to attentive dogs.

But only if we can keep him from eating the books.

In closing, I’d like to thank you for the laughter. It’s made a world of difference. According to this Alert Reader, at least.

And I swear I’m not making that up, either.

Sincerely,

Mickey

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Filed under authors, books, dogs, laughter, Shiloh, writing

Evening in the Stacks: Sparkle and Spurs

I walk in the doors and inhale, smelling the slightly sweet, dusty scent of old paper. I walk straight to my favorite section and stop in front of a particular shelf, pull down a book and smile at the soft crackle of the plastic-cased cover as I ease it open and begin to read. An hour later my parents  wander into the crowded maze of ceiling-high shelves to find me sitting right there on the linoleum floor, my nose inches from the pages, utterly absorbed.

I’ve always loved reading. For as far back as I can remember, I’d routinely walk around reading, completely unconcerned about bumping into walls, objects or people. I couldn’t travel without at least two books: a main book and a back-up book (being caught someplace with nothing to read ranks somewhere between “trampled by a herd of rabid cows” and “forced to listen to Kevin Costner attempting a British accent” on the Avoid-O-Meter scale). I was one of the only kids I knew whose parents would encourage her to put the book down to go outside and play.

My first library? The Miller Branch of the Howard County Library System.

It looks a lot different these days, but then it should. It’s been rebuilt twice since I was little to keep up with the growing and ever-changing needs of the community. I firmly believe that my overdue fines alone helped finance the second building – checking books out was great fun. Returning them? Not so much.

So why am I telling you all of this? Simple. This year, I’ve been asked to return as a Celebrity Bartender for Evening in the Stacks: Sparkle and Spurs being held at the Miller Branch of the library. How cool is that? I’m definitely going to need your help, though.

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“But Mickey, we didn’t know you were a celebrity!”

I’m not, but I’m happy to perpetuate the myth for the purposes of supporting the Howard County Library System. I’m selfless like that.

“But, Mickey – do you even know how to bartend?”

Yes, of course! And by “yes” what I actually mean is “no.”

I’ve never worked in the service industry, preferring to focus on retail during my formative years because, let’s face it, retail is far more forgiving of sarcasm. If you want to know about  pressure treated 2x4s or how to fold a shirt for a shelf display, I’m your woman. The good news (for me, anyway) is in order to level the playing field, we’ll only be pouring beer and wine. Even I can’t screw that up too badly. Right? Right? Hello?

If you can join us on Saturday, February 23 from 7-11 pm at the Miller Branch, it’s sure to be an amazing evening.  During the first hour, all six Celebrity Bartenders (Dick Story, Vicki Goodman, Tom Coale, Pam Klahr, Paul Skalny and I) will be serving drinks simultaneously at the Antler Bar. I have no idea what that means, but I have to admit I’m intrigued. And it will all be in good fun, because we’re really not all that competitive:

Okay, so we’re a little competitive.

If you can’t join us, you CAN virtually tip your favorite bartender by going to the Evening in the Stacks page, clicking on the “Donate” button under Celebrity Bartenders and filling in the name of choice when you click “Add special instructions to the seller.” I think I speak for ALL of the Celebrity Bartenders when I say that the name you MOST want to virtually tip begins with Mickey and ends with Gomez. Just a thought.

Hahaha! I’m joking!

Kind of.

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In all seriousness, the most important aspect of the event is supporting two outstanding programs: A+ Partners in Education (which includes the STEM Program, Battle of the Books, Spelling Bee and Rube Goldberg Challenge) and Project Literacy, a wonderful and successful adult literacy education program. So please consider donating – it really would mean a great deal to me.

To get you in the mood, so to speak, here’s a photo of spurs (not mine), boots (mine), my dad’s Akubra hat from Australia, the guitar I need to start playing again and two book recommendations:

Territory by Emma Bull, a retelling of the events that unfolded once upon a time in Tombstone, Arizona.

The Dark Tower by Stephen King, a series featuring the ultimate gunslinger, Roland Deschain of Gilead.

If I make it through this year’s event, perhaps next year I’ll ask if I can return as something far, far cooler than a Celebrity Bartender: a Celebrity Librarian.

Stay tuned!

And thank you kindly for considering my request to support my favorite library system.

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Filed under authors, books, fundraising, laughter, non-profits, writing

This Celebrity Bartender

I’ve been invited to serve as a celebrity bartender for this year’s Evening in the Stacks, which benefits the Howard County Library System. Before I forget to mention it, the event is on Saturday, February 25th from 7:30 – 11:30 pm at the brand new Miller Branch, which is really quite spectacular. The photo to the left is of the reading froggies just outside the front entrance – completely adorable, but then I’ve been a frog fan-girl since Kermit.

Let’s go ahead and start with the celebrity part.  Whaaaa? I was about 99.9% sure the invitation came to the wrong person (I’m still not entirely sure I won’t be turned away on the evening of the event – “Icky WHO? Not on the list, sorry!”). To be included with the folks serving as celebrity bartenders this year is humbling, to say the very least.  The list includes Mary Kay Sigaty, Dennis Lane, Candace Dodson Reed, Dick Story and Vic Broccolino.  In other words, I am way, WAY out of my depth.

And if you know me, surely you’re saying to yourself, “Self? Are they crazy?! What on earth does Mickey know about bartending?!” And you’d be right to ask that.  Very right, indeed.

You could fit my total knowledge of bartending on the head of a pin and still have plenty of room left over for countless enthusiastic angels swing dancing their little wings off.  But that’s the fun, right?  (Not the swing-dancing-angels-part, the not-having-any-idea-how-on-earth-I’m-going-to-NOT-embarrass-myself-bartending-part.)

The theme this year is Masquerade, based loosely on the Venetian concept of masques and celebration.  Here is a photo of Venice to get you in the mood, so to speak:

And had I not just attended a masquerade party this past weekend, this is the mask you might’ve seen on the evening of the event:

It’s pretty. It’s from Venice. It’s also a pain in the wazoo to carry around, and I almost took out the eyes of several guests when I wasn’t paying attention.  So that’s out.  As they say, it’s all fun and games until you poke someone’s eyes out with a Venetian mask when you’re trying to raise money for a favorite cause.

Here’s the fun part – I’d love for you to join us.  It’s going to be a LOT of fun – amazing food, music, silent auction and dancing.  Even better?  The bartenders will be competing for tips.  And THE BEST part? You can add to my electronic tip jar ANY celebrity bartender’s electronic tip jar before the event even starts if you won’t be able to attend in person!  It’s super easy, and you can use PayPal.

Just visit the webpage for Evening in the Stacks and scroll down until you see this:

Click on the giant yellow Donate button and you’re off!  You can use PayPal (Did I mention that? So easy!) and simply enter the name of the bartender you’d like to support into the Tip Field.

Just in case you can’t see it, here’s a slightly modified version to help you decide which name you should HIGHLY CONSIDER typing into the “Tip Field” section for your donation:

And please note, electronic tips will be accepted until noon on February 25th. 

Seriously, I do hope you’ll consider supporting me.

More importantly, I hope you’ll consider supporting the Howard County Library.  If you love books or reading or learning you know that you simply can’t beat a good library.

This event is being held at the branch where I grew up – where I first discovered reading, where I used to sit right down in the aisles to read a favorite book, and where I donated most of my allowance for decades of late fees.

Hope to see you there, but if you can’t make it, I hope you’ll consider a small donation to support a favorite cause.  Thanks!

Proceeds benefit the Library’s educational initiatives, including A+ Partners in Education and Project Literacy.

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Filed under books, fundraising, non-profits

Book Review: The Future of Nonprofits

Book Review:  The Future of Nonprofits:  Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age by David J. Neff and Randal C. Moss

The Future of Nonprofits - coverWhen I was asked to review The Future of Nonprofits, I’ll admit that I was a little reluctant. I typically prefer to read and review fiction.  The information I use to stay current on nonprofit and volunteer trends comes from blogs, webinars, articles, workshops, podcasts, and a variety of sources and generally doesn’t include books.

I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for years, though, both as a leader of small nonprofits and as a resource to nonprofits of all sizes.  I’ve observed recent trends in the sector and struggled to adapt, and I’ve watched others do the same.

As I started reading The Future of Nonprofits, a funny thing happened. I’d find myself referring to it in conversations, or working key points into discussions and presentations.  In fact, I’ve been recommending it to board members, community leaders, and local nonprofit staff, saying, “It’ll be available soon, you should definitely consider picking up a copy.”

What makes this book different from the gazillions of others written for nonprofits? It’s timely, it’s relevant.  It provides genuinely insightful and helpful advice, observations and strategies, scaled for nonprofits ranging from large to small.

  • It explains the differences between strategic planning and “futuring”, and why future scanning is so crucial for nonprofit success.  For smaller organizations that might not have the resources to future scan, the authors suggest ways to create a nimble and flexible organization poised to quickly make the most of new trends.
  • It scrutinizes business management strategies that nonprofits are beginning to use (Lean, Six Sigma and TQM) and it carefully considers which aspects could work for nonprofits and explains why others won’t.
  • It offers case studies and interviews – many rooted in social media – as a means to gain a deeper understanding of the successful transition from idea to reality.
  • It suggests people and organizations to watch and follow – sector leaders across a variety of platforms that will enable the reader to stay connected long after the book is finished.
  • It provides concrete suggestions for embracing innovation from start to finish and removing barriers to implementation (favorites include sample job descriptions and interview questions targeting innovative qualities for staff members).
  • It predicts trends for both nonprofit fundraising and communications. (Seriously worth the read for these alone.)

What doesn’t this book do?  It doesn’t bombard you with lofty ideas and leave you flailing around as you try to implement them (or, more likely, as you immediately get frustrated and give up).

The authors understand that one of the most difficult aspects of change is actually DOING IT. Neff and Moss acknowledge that creativity is important (and many nonprofits have developed successful systems for generating new ideas), “But the real leverage is in the back end: the ability to execute ideas. Ideas will only get you so far.”  (from The Future of Nonprofits).

There are only a couple of downsides to this book that I could find.  The first is that, while the authors intentionally tried to scale to a range of nonprofit sizes (and they did a great job), the process may seem overwhelming to smaller agencies.  I’d encourage smaller nonprofits to give it a chance, and to consider the fact that their very size may make them more nimble and better positioned to put some of the ideas into practice quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

The second is that some folks who could truly benefit from the book may not read it, or may dismiss it because much of The Future of Nonprofits challenges the, “This is the way we’ve always done things.” mentality.

“…as long as we hold onto our preconceived notions of what our constituents want and how they use our products and services, we will be forever tied to our existing offerings.”  (from The Future of Nonprofits)

As nonprofits, we need to embrace feedback.  Even better, we need to listen and learn where the gaps are and objectively think about ways to better serve our constituents.  We need to embrace change (or at least learn not to fear it).  And we can do this by trying our best to keep up, or we can choose to approach it strategically through some of the lessons shared in this book.

Is now the right time for innovation?  During a prolonged economic crisis?  Shouldn’t we hang on to our limited resources with both hands, and focus exclusively on providing core services?  According to Neff and Moss, this is exactly the wrong approach to take – first of all, what better time to embrace managed creativity than during challenging times? Second, it’s almost impossible to regain an environment that embraces innovation once it’s been stifled, even with the best of intentions.

In the words of the authors:

“The bottom line is this book is going to help your organization do more relevant things faster, less expensively, and drive key business metrics.” (from The Future of Nonprofits).

I couldn’t agree more.

More information on the book is here:  http://www.thefutureofnonprofits.com/

Quotes from the book used with permission for the purposes of this review.  Book cover image from Flickr, some rights reserved under Creative Commons.

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Filed under blogs, books, fundraising, non-profits, social media, technology

Never Judge a Book by Its. . . Nevermind

Purely for entertainment purposes: if you have a blog hosted by Blogger, run (don’t walk) to the Layout Section and click on Add a Gadget.

When I first did this, I added what turned out to be fairly standard gadgets. Blog roll, archives, followers, labels (changed into Magical Tag Cloud), blah blah.

So tonight I’m thinking, these can’t be the ONLY gadgets available, can they? And the answer to that is, in fact, a resounding NO.

In taking another peek, I discovered that there is a gadget for pretty much EVERYTHING ON THE PLANET.

An extremely partial list:

  • Jon Stewart Quote of the Day (I was one click away from adding this one, I have to admit.)
  • Useless Knowledge
  • Sticky Notes
  • Weather Forecasts
  • BBC News Feeds
  • Digg
  • Sunset of the Day
  • Calorie Calculator
  • Periodic Table (Strangely compelling but no.)
  • Smiley of the Day (Please.)
  • Dog Health Tip of the Day (You think I am making that one up. I’ll wait here while you check. Go ahead. Seriously.).

There was one gadget that I was looking for. . . a gadget that lists my favorite or recommended books with pictures of their covers and links to buy them online. Given that information, can you name one gadget that I was not able to find? I’ll bet you can. . .

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