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(c) 2015 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2015 Christiana Lambert

Once upon a time I was a small-town girl living in a lonely world—well, while attempting to get my career started in the metropolitan area where I have since lived for over 31 years. I first came to Denver to study book publishing at the (University of) Denver Publishing Institute, returning a month later for good.

I didn’t find many openings in book publishing so I set out to information-interview the local publishing companies. After one such interview, my car (of the same vintage I was—young for human years, but old in car years) broke down at the side of the road—fortuitously by a gas station that still had working mechanics on site. The young mechanic got me back on the road (for free!) and I returned to the faraway suburb where I was staying with my mother’s friends during my initial job search.

Fast-forward (slow-forward?) almost 30 years and I answered a job post (through the Publishing Institute’s job listing) for the same company I visited right before the car’s roadside drama. Morton Publishing is still in the exact same location, although expanded, yet the people interviewing me were much younger than I was, including one I knew from yoga. I did not get that position but later that year Morton contacted me about doing freelance proofreading for them as they went through the busy preparations for the annual textbook releases. Completed two books for them in 2014 and four in 2015.

This loop in my life looks even more orchestrated when I think about how I met and married a man who owned a house less than a mile from Morton. I have lived and socialized and worked out in the same community as where the company is for almost 28 years. For 11 of those years I have attended the yoga class where I originally met someone who would eventually work at Morton because another student—who later joined our yoga class—worked at the company.

Over the years I’ve deviated from my original dream to work in book publishing. I began in magazine publishing, but fell into (and learned to like) numbers work there. I reasoned that I could do numbers work in a variety of industries, so I moved into a financial reporting business. At one time I was even an accountant—and, yet words kept calling me. I eventually wrote articles and compiled detailed charts for magazine articles. And then—through that yoga class—I connected with an author who needed an editor for two projects over many years.

And, now, I start a job as assistant editor at Morton in just over week. As my daughter pointed out, “It took you 31 years to get that job.” Right—while the company was growing, and while I was adding to my skills as well as raising a family.

Don’t stop believing.

(About the photo.)

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(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

Still trying to erase some of the pictures I’ve viewed over the past few weeks, but so far to no avail. When I agreed to proofread a biology textbook, I forgot about my aversion to certain kinds of critters—including the kinds I can’t see and especially those that are always looking for a good host or hostess. I should be thankful I only saw a scorpion and a salamander in my dream, right? Yes, in my house I am known as Princess Mia—a reference to Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series and how Mia is always certain she has whatever disease she is studying in her science classes.

Perhaps this ability to think too much about living organisms is the real reason I avoided studying science like the plague. Yes, that statement is not only a cliché but also another reminder that there is yet another reason for me to panic—thanks to wet conditions, the plague is alive and well and thriving in local critters—and has killed two people so far here in Colorado. This year we’ve also got rabies, tularemia, and West Nile disease. Don’t forget Hantavirus either. Not only has our state reported three fatalities but I also saw a mouse in my house this very day. We’re all going to DIE . . . and if not from that mouse, then from some random bear and her very hungry cubs who can’t find enough chokecherries thanks to the bad timing of the most recent fall and spring freezes.

And for certain I’m never going to walk barefoot again in my back yard. I have dogs, for goodness’ sake, and who knows what all might be living inside them. And all the dust bunnies inside the house that I considered annoying but harmless are probably just full of living and breathing and thriving dust mites?

After reading all those chapters filled with pictures of microorganisms, parasites (that can grow how long?), reptiles, and insects, I was almost relieved to see those photos of the fetal pigs. Almost—but I did concede to proofing that chapter after I ate my dinner. Because uncooked pigs can host what? Don’t get me started, right? And the human chapters were the best because these chapters were just overviews of properly functioning systems. After what I’d seen in previous chapters, a little drawing detailing the human reproductive system was almost nothing on my personal gross-out scale.

I need to get back to experiencing the world in my usual more-ethereal way—one where I am in the world but not of the world too much. Or at least when I get to choose to see what I want to see and to ignore what I most certainly do not want to see. Would be so much easier if I hadn’t just spotted that mouse this morning—oh Lord, save me from an active and informed imagination. Eek—it’s time for gloves and masks and disinfectant—just picture that.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Wondering if I dropped off the face of the Internet? Still here, but was limiting most of my Internet visits to searching for references for my most recent work project. And, boy, did I need references!

I realize that you’ve probably heard me yammering about the value of the liberal arts and how important I think it is to study a variety of subjects. I really do try to live the liberal arts; however, I do have to admit that some subjects are natural fits for me, while others continue to be a bit of a struggle.

But struggle is good for the brain, right? And my brain should be so much fitter than it has been after the last two weeks of proofreading a chemistry textbook.

Yes, chemistry was the course that derailed my quest for becoming valedictorian. You could say that chemistry was the teacher that started me on the road to understanding that education is not about the marks you get, but about what you learn. You can struggle with the concepts of a subject, but still learn quite a lot about what they mean, even if you don’t have the aptitude or desire to learn more.

Despite having a father who was a pharmacist and despite having a high school lab partner who is a big name on the Genome Project, my understanding is not as developed as I’d like. I was really glad my son Jackson was available to help me with some of my questions—even if I was asking more for my own understanding than for what was needed from me in the scope of the assignment. Finally I had to concede that I was letting past emotions get in the way of the work—I acted as if I personally had to know how to solve the equations even though my job was simply to look for discrepancies. People with deeper knowledge than mine had done that work—and I could check their work by using references.

After my asking several questions, Jackson said, “You really don’t get this (chemistry) like you do most things, do you?”

No, but I got it enough not to be bored while working through the textbook—which shows that I am much more interested in learning for learning’s sake than I was when I was chasing grades. It’s safe to say that while I am much better at understanding the theoretical aspects of beginning chemistry now that I am older, I am still not likely to understand the hows as well as I understand the whys.

I’m still not going to grow up to be a chemist—and that’s OK.

“What’s next?” you ask. Astronomy, baby. Seems my (lifetime) liberal arts education is taking a decided trend away from the arts and toward the sciences right now. To infinity and beyond! Yup, the sky’s the limit—or limitless—or something like that—and all sorts of other metaphors I won’t even pretend to understand. If you don’t hear from me for awhile, it will only seem as if I have fallen into a black hole.

Odds of my growing up to be an astronomer? As likely as odds of my becoming a chemist—which is zilch. Odds of stretching my brain? Somewhere further on the spectrum of possible than if I just stick with what I already know.

And, thus, I’m mostly leaving you with pictures. Well, other than of relaxing activities such as my delicious nap today and my soak in the tub—I will spare you those images. Thank goodness for small favors, right?

Christiana petting giraffes on our trip to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

Christiana petting giraffes on our trip to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

Running.

Running.

Road trips.

Road trips.

Reading.

Reading.

Singing in church.  (c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Singing in church.
(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Walking dogs.

Walking dogs.

Now, off to grab 40 winks–or more.

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

My high school employed a stereotypical mean librarian—if you can believe the tales told by my classmates. Nellie looked like our mascot—a bulldog—and you could just imagine her walking down the halls—forcefully, of course—to the rhythm of “Marian the Librarian” without the good looks and amenable personality of Shirley Jones in The Music Man movie. Luckily, I didn’t have much free time in my schedule so I mostly avoided the school library in lieu of the town library where the librarians were more reasonable.

Most libraries have been my refuge, not stale places where the slightest sound brings about censure. From the dark small town library of my earliest years—a cool retreat on hot summer days—to the bright larger town library of my preteen and teen years to the modern, industrial library where I studied almost daily in college, libraries have seemed a pretty good mix of quiet enough yet not so stuffy I couldn’t make a little noise myself. However, the new library is much more of a gathering place. For now the stacks and stacks of books remain, but for how long?

For some the library is like a coffee shop only larger. They ignore the signs about turning off cell phones to walk among the aisles talking—sometimes in volumes louder than normal indoor voices—to invisible listeners in a manner no different than if they were talking in private as is so common pretty much everywhere these days. And when they encounter their friends, they shout across the room, having complete conversations without moving closer together.

In college I went to the library to keep myself from turning to all those pressing problems back in my room—you know, such as toenails that needed to be clipped or posters I should rearrange on the walls or snacks I just had to find—and to limit the distractions from my likely cluttered personal space. Today I go to the library to keep from doing just one more thing here or there (or at least thinking about doing those things), searching out snacks, and feeling distracted from looking at all the clutter at home. Plus, I take pleasure in turning off my cell phone so, for once, no one will contact me.

Oh sure, I enjoy having short conversations with friends I might encounter, but I always try to keep my voice volume not much stronger than as if I were, say, a sports announcer for golfing events. I’m not trying to emulate an auctioneer—everyone does not need to hear every word I say.

Truly, I don’t need to ensconce myself in a tomb-like little room to get myself to focus. In fact, I don’t want to do so. I’ve never really been the sort to take myself away to some study desk—I can study and/or work with a little commotion. After all, I was successful at managing to study in the somewhat social atmosphere of a college library before I became a mom who had to write by the side of wherever my kids were doing activities such as music and sporting lessons and practices. However, I always preferred the more muffled noises from something such as swimming lessons to the loud ki-yaps from the sidelines of taekwondo classes.

Since we live in a new era, both of what is considered proper manners and of how we approach literacy, I’m the one who is going to have to adjust if I still want my library to be a refuge. That’s why, after I plugged in my laptop at a table yesterday, I also plugged in my ear buds and went to the beach, so to speak. The waves on the shore pounded—gently, of course—just enough to cover up for noises from people who are either young enough never to have had the misfortune of being shushed by someone like Nellie or who have buried deeply the somewhat discourteous lessons the Nellies of days gone by were trying to teach about courtesy.

The next time a young man wants to ask me if I have any hand sanitizer or if a couple starts an argument by me or some guy stands nearby shouting into his Bluetooth about nothing in particular, I am turning up the waves. No, I cannot hear you now—la, la, la, la, la.

If I can get to and stay at that beach, I can still also journey anywhere else my mind chooses to go. And that has always been the true magic of libraries.

(c) 2007 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2007 Christiana Lambert

My reading pace has slowed down because I am—still—reading a fictional history book on Richard III called The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman. Just trying to keep up with the labyrinthine political shifts of the time period is tough business—I know because I’ve tried before to understand what went on during the Wars of the Roses. Even though the author is a historian, I feel compelled to keep checking historical sources as I move through the story, especially since the recent discovery of Richard’s remains adds nuance to what the author understood about Richard’s life and death.

I spent a few years working with a local author who was creating a family history based on family documentation as well as legend. He was looking for an editorial advisor to help tie together a project that would have to include a lot of fictionalization from few facts and yet still sound credible. The stories and people needed to be historically sound enough not to distract the reader. That’s no easy task while writing about a focused historical period but it becomes exponentially harder for such a book as his that eventually spanned a millennium.

The author is an amateur historian, so I worked diligently as his fact-checker to make sure that what he did mention came from verifiable sources. However, I also found that certain time periods, such as the Wars of the Roses, are a quagmire of dissension among experts, let alone amateurs such as he and I are. My advice? When in doubt, focus more on the mood of the times than on the precision of what happened—after all, he only had one chapter to write for each relative whom he considered pivotal in the family’s direction.

By studying the cultures of different eras, we learned to understand quite a bit about how much people are shaped by the times in which they live and thus go on to create appropriate scenarios that suited the period during which each relative lived. Imagine being a knight in Westminster Abbey at the coronation of William the Conqueror or what it was like to live when the Black Plague was stalking the people.

As with many families, his family’s heritage can only be proven from the early 1600s. The mystery of how a young indentured servant appeared in colonial Massachusetts will likely not be solved since the early details of his life appear to be lost to history. The author can show that his DNA strongly suggests that he is related to this boy—and to many other descendants from that boy. Additionally, the family does possess certain artifacts that suggest a connection to the family while in the Old World. Using what he knows of family legend as well as of the time period, the author is able to create a reasonable back story for how this boy might have come to arrive in the New World.

The history of his family is part of the history of western civilization and/or at least of the British Isles as well as of the colonization and expansion across the land that would become the United States of America. Thanks to the historical research needed to finish the project, I especially enjoyed helping him to bring this book to publication.

For me, reading historical fiction is a great way to learn about times that possibly don’t even interest me until I am drawn into the story of what it was like to live while that history was happening. Ultimately, all stories start from real life.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

I have an odd educational background: I not only earned a liberal arts bachelor’s degree in what we used to call English literature and Spanish (language), but I also followed that with a master’s degree in business. I am both seduced by the concept of standards and assessments in education, as well as a little frightened by how they can be used to narrow the scope of our educational topics and pursuits.

Oh, if we could only rely on just studying a certain percentage of this in order to achieve a certain percentage of that—for all students in the same way.

In an operations class titled Quality and Productivity, we MBA students studied how to tighten up processes in order to achieve the maximum production with the least amount of quality failures. However, we also learned that what worked more uniformly for manufacturing equipment and delivery systems was not so easily perfected in the service industries where the people we served might muck up our systems—because they had different needs and/or wants.

Education is a service industry where not all learners take in information in the same way and not all learners come from the same backgrounds. Nor should they if we want to continue gathering perspectives that show us insights from diverse viewpoints.

The Common Core Standards have specific suggestions regarding the balance between reading nonfiction and fiction sources. The thought is that by increasing nonfiction reading in secondary education, our students will be better prepared to understand the rigorous reading required in higher education.

I grew up reading—fiction—during every free moment I had and went on to choose to read more fiction as part of earning my degree. But reading fiction was more than just amusement for me—I learned that there was a way bigger world out there than just what I was experiencing in small town Nebraska—or than what I was learning in my classes. Sometimes what I found in my fiction stories caused me to read more—nonfiction—about a region, time in history, or concept.

Reading stories taught me to love all reading so much that sometimes I even cracked open the encyclopedia (yes, back in the Stone Ages when there was no Internet) or the dictionary for fun. Nonetheless, a lot of my classmates would have run screaming from most nonfiction reading, required or otherwise.

Some people almost have to be tricked into, first, reading at all, and second, starting to care about the bigger picture about the times and people in a story. They have to be drawn into what is happening before they can begin to figure out if they can trust a narrator or how a situation is portrayed. It’s quite naïve to expect those people who don’t choose to seek out reading to find their information only from the most applicable (nonfiction) sources. If you can barely get them to read in the first place, you’re going to have a very difficult time getting them to read nonfiction and read it well.

Like many schools today, my high school focused more on math and science courses. Truth is the school didn’t have a rigorous language arts program—I would have liked to have any standards in place for those classes. When I got to college I discovered I had missed out on most classic literature. I like to think my own “extracurricular” reading taught me not only how to interpret literature, but also how to apply my fiction-reading skills to understanding nonfiction texts in subjects such as philosophy, history, psychology, and political science.

The Common Core language arts standards focus on nonfiction reading may work for some student populations and not for others—does it make sense that there is only one nonfiction/fiction mix that will work to help all students across the United States reach the targeted standards? Or might states, schools, and teachers know better what the individual students in their classrooms need to study in order to meet the targets?

Repeat after me: students aren’t widgets. (But what are widgets anyway? Oh wait, I never cared enough to look that up.)

Dick Lange reading to Scott & Trina Lange, approx. 1966

Dick Lange reading to Scott & Trina Lange, approx. 1966

I’m the kind of reader who often just grabs books from the shelves at the library—mostly based on the covers, of course—instead of reading reviews or searching for books I might like. Maybe it’s actually the English major in me who had to read whatever the professors required, but it’s not the best technique. Do I really want to read another Moby Dick or a Tom Jones for fun?

More often the books that most disappoint have much fewer redeeming qualities than those classics. What I really hate is a book where I can’t bring myself to care about a single character and/or where the ending provides not even the slightest glimmer of hope. Although I’m not looking for unflawed characters or the sappiest of happy endings, I don’t need hopelessness either. If I want to find tales of doom and gloom, I can just look around the larger world or even my own personal realm and not waste my time reading.

The local library here in Englewood has started a program that just might save me from myself—or at least from my random reading habits. Good Books, Your Books provides readers with a personal advisor (from the library staff) who recommends books based upon a reader’s answers to survey questions and personal follow-up questions.

So far my advisor, Children’s Librarian Hillary Cole Davis, has been spot on with her recommendations for me. She’s found the right mix of serious and not-so-serious reads for me. I can handle a little murder, mayhem, abuse, and/or estrangement, as long as growth follows. On the other hand, I also like to intersperse the deeper reads with something a little formulaic and humorous—as long as I still need to bring my intellect along for the reading ride.

Stretching from the modern-day disparate locales of Wyoming and the English countryside to turn-of-the 20th century rural New York State to the divided England of the Wars of the Roses, the settings of my reads have been just as diverse as before but the stories are more suited to my tastes.

Our public libraries are fighting to stay relevant in an age filled with access to overwhelming amounts of information—and they succeed best when they help us to filter out the excess noise and find not only what we were looking for in the first place, but also a few surprising discoveries along the way.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

About a decade ago my local library sponsored a different kind of a book club: one where people talked about the different books they had read recently. After one woman described how much and why she hated one particular book, I knew I had to read it! (Yes, I was that kid who would get up to eat just one Lay’s Potato Chip just to prove that somebody could eat just one Lay’s Potato Chip. And, by the way, I really loved Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, just as expected.)

My husband Sherman and I read books aloud to each other at night—it’s a great way to spend time together—and have someone else keep you from staying up reading all night. Usually we take turns being the Sensible One in the matter. Thanks to reading together this way, we really do have our own little book club, although quite frankly, with the craziness of our own lives, we have been more attracted to formulaic mystery book series than ever before. These days we often don’t want to care about the person who is the Body in those stories that much, if you know what I mean.

You’re probably asking why I’m writing certain phrases in caps. I’m going to blame the most recent book we read—the one we just can’t stop discussing: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Turns out there are a lot of people out there on the Internet who can’t wait to tell you why they hate this book, which probably explains just why we couldn’t put it down, even now that we’ve finished it.

Now, maybe one of the things we like about the book is that the narrator seems to think in that oh-so-very-wordy way people who have ADD do. Let’s just say maybe we speak that language, if you know what I mean. Or, maybe, as Sherman suggested, it’s a lot easier to read that kind of language out loud versus silently. True, Sherman has a lot more trouble reading the long sentences than I do. I may be not only experienced but also gifted in Speaking ADD. That’s not bragging, is it? (I think I just admitted that the only reason I can follow this language pattern is because it is so familiar to me.)

The book runs over 500 pages so you know we didn’t get through it quickly, even if we were a wee bit obsessed with reading it. Lucky for us, after we’d been reading it for a couple weeks, we went on a close to 950 mile-round-trip road trip by ourselves. But reading it took longer than planned because we kept stopping and discussing the “what ifs” of the plot. We did not finish the story by the time we arrived home, but, since Sherman had taken off the day after we returned, we finished the book the next morning.

Now, of course, we both want to reread various sections and keep discussing possibilities.

Apparently the possibilities are one of the reasons many people hate this book—which is funny since at one point in the book one of the characters talks about how Americans despise ambiguity in their literature, preferring instead to tie up stories into neat little endings. Maybe it’s the English major in me and the computer science major who studied a lot of Philosophy in Sherman, but we don’t expect to know all the answers at the end of a story. In fact, maybe we like the chance to dig into the possibilities—trust me, I always preferred essay tests over multiple choice and/or True/False tests.

The final chapter really is a Final Exam, tying up the theme that began in the form of a syllabus with required reading. Some readers suggest the author is pretentious for sliding in erudite references throughout the story. They expected something different from a story with a narrator who is a gifted student attending Harvard and who was raised a little too closely by her professor father?

Hey, I enjoy many stories written for the masses, but when someone can throw literary references into tales with compelling plots, I am especially hooked. Believe it or not, but many of us continue to apply the lessons from college days to our everyday lives—heresy in these times when so many are suggesting students should only study practical degree programs such as engineering, science, and business—as if the liberal arts do not apply in any way to lifelong learning, especially in the work place.

And, if those critics read closely, they’ll see that though the narrator read constantly, her canon ranged from high brow tomes to books with numbers on them that she could find in any grocery store.

What she learned was that in so many ways Life is literature and vice versa.

Anyway, I remain intrigued by the book and am not quite ready to stop thinking about the imaginary people and happenings created within it—and the clues as to Who Really Done It and why.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert, view of the main Denver Public Library building

This week would have been so much harder for me if it weren’t for libraries.

Such a quiet week here in the Lambert household, mostly because I’m the big talker around here and I’ve been down with a cold. Whine, whine, whine, right?

Guess I put so much energy into getting my spaces organized that my body—shocked—decided it had had enough.

And so, after a busy day on Tuesday when I had helped a new friend (insert sad face) with some of her own organizing, i.e. packing, in addition to doing my usual Tuesday activities, I went to bed knowing that I needed to take Wednesday easy—or else.

Which I did. Good thing I had behaved myself over the weekend and waited for my down-time. You see, when we ran into the library to read Consumer Reports prior to buying a washer, I found the fresh-off-the-presses book I had been waiting to read. But, this time, I made myself finish my organizing projects before I allowed myself to read more than a chapter or two. You see I am just that addicted to reading that I have to give my reading good solid boundaries, especially if the book itself is the kind most people—even non-addicts—can’t put down.

Wednesday morning, after I had slept longer than usual, my Kleenex box and I retreated to the big chair (along with my dogs, from time to time) to read Joshilyn Jackson’s a grown-up kind of pretty. For once, it really made sense that I keep reading throughout the day. I needed to slow down.

Which I don’t really do when I read. I Just. Have. To. Know. At least this is not a physically taxing obsession—unless I lose sleep reading. Still, I felt really disappointed when I had turned the last page of the book. Not only had I satisfied the curiosity over how the story might end, but also I still felt sick—except I no longer had something to distract me from my discomfort.

I am glad I am feeling better today, but now we’re having a huge snowstorm. Wouldn’t this be another great day to snuggle into my chair with a book? There is always an excuse to read, isn’t there?

This time I don’t have any unread fiction books at my ready, so it’s back to the salt mines for me—at least until tonight because we will be amusing ourselves with movies brought home from the library. Although my husband kept looking at websites this morning to see if his work was cancelled, he forgot to check his email. So even though he had to slog his vehicle back and forth through the blowing snows, he did get to run into the (still open) library while he was out.

Thank goodness public institutions still exist that can provide me with access to research—or allow me to take off on flights of fancy to get me through sickness, snows, and even gloom of night. Hooray for libraries!

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert