Between the Lines Book Club: Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler

between the lines book club logoMay is (almost) here and it’s time for a new book club book – Vinegar Girl, by anne Tyler. Set in Tyler’s beloved Baltimore, this book is a modern retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. It’s part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Series, in which authors such as Margaret Atwood,Anne Tyler, Jeanette Winterson, and others write modern re-tellings of Shakepeare’s plots.

In Vinegar Girl, Katherine lives with her eccentric scientist father. Her father has a Russian research assistant whose visa is about to expire. Dad wants Katherine to marry the assistant so that the assistant can stay in the country. Hilarity ensues.

Please note that this month we are meeting a little early – on May 20th, 2017, at 10:30AM, Arden Dimick Library. Attend in person, or leave a comment!

Advice for Scientists from a Fan

1*kwiNY-8vonJm3sIBdwogAwHay fever could not stop this family of a biologist, a kid who is interested in EVERYTHING, and a writer from attending the Sacramento March For Science. It was a wonderful event that I was proud to have participated in.

I lurked on the March for Science Facebook thread on and off as this march was being planned, and Science People, as a friendly layperson, I have Thoughts.

1. Get intersectional.

You are not practicing science in a vacuum. You are practicing a field which does not have a glowing history with women, people with disabilities, people with color, or people who identify as LGBTQIA. Face this history. Educate yourself on it. Stop saying that science should not be political – it is political and it has always been political. Stand up for vulnerable populations with your bodies and your voices, and help both professional and laypeople understand the ethics which should be guiding science today, and what science today teaches us about poverty, racism, sexism, and so forth. This is part of your job.

2. Reach out to the public – nicely.

The world is full of people who don’t know about science. Many of them are not idiots – they just never had a chance to learn. Stop making Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse  Tyson do all the work! Be confident, be proud of your accomplishments and your knowledge – but don’t be a snob. Maybe you can analyze the genome but you can’t unplug a toilet. We all have our areas of expertise.


I know, you are scientists, you are always learning. Learn about things that aren’t in your field – it will make your science more effective.

In the weeks leading up to the march, many worried that being inclusive would be too political. The fact is that not being inclusive is also political. There is no neutral ground, and there never has been – our choices about who is allowed to practice science, how we conduct it, what we fund, and how we interpret and use findings has always been shaped by political and social factors. The findings themselves may be neutral – gravity is real whether I choose to believe in it or not. But the field in which those findings are discovered is not and cannot be a neutral one because we are people who function in a context of other people.

Any scientist, but especially those interested in science advocacy, should have at least a passing familiarity with some of the issues historically and currently that shape the way vulnerable populations might look at the scientific field. For instance, scientists should know something about the history of eugenics and forced sterilizations in the United States of America. They should know about the American history of using African-Americans for scientific research without their knowledge or consent. They should understand at least something about historical efforts to “treat” homosexuality as a mental illness. And of course, scientists of all genders should understand the struggles women face with sexual harassment in STEM fields today.

Understanding social issues makes science better, just as science has the potential to make social issues better. The march was a powerful step (no pun intended). Keep going!




Between the Lines Book Club: Harold Fry and other Pilgrimages

between the lines book club logoThis month we have been reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. You can join us at Arden Dimick Library on April 22, 2017 at 10:30 for discussion and snacks, or leave your comments here!

Here’s how wikipedia defines a pilgrimage:

pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone’s own beliefs. Many religions attach spiritual importance to particular places: the place of birth or death of founders or saints, or to the place of their “calling” or spiritual awakening, or of their connection (visual or verbal) with the divine, to locations where miracles were performed or witnessed, or locations where a deity is said to live or be “housed”, or any site that is seen to have special spiritual powers. Such sites may be commemorated with shrines or temples that devotees are encouraged to visit for their own spiritual benefit: to be healed or have questions answered or to achieve some other spiritual benefit. A person who makes such a journey is called a pilgrim. As a common human experience, pilgrimage has been proposed as a Jungian archetype by Wallace Clift and Jean Dalby Clift.

If you are interested in the concept of the pilgrimage as a literary device, here are some books to look at:

Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan – a Christian allegory written in 1678. Trivia alert: the March sisters get copies of this book and strive to emulate it in Little Women.

The Pilgrimage: A Contemporary Quest for Ancient Wisdom, by Paulo Coelho – this is a companion book to his famous novel, The Alchemist. In this story, the author travels along the road of San Tiago, in Spain.

The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffry Chaucer – A ribald collection of 24 stories about pilrims on their way to Canterbury. The stories were written between 1387 and 1400.

Hyperion, by Dan Simmons – inspired by Canterbury Tales, this science fiction novel tells the stories of seven pilgrims who tell each other stories during a long space voyage. Through their stories, the reader is introduced to the world of Hyperion and the Time Tombs which the pilgrims want to visit.

March for Science

1*kwiNY-8vonJm3sIBdwogAwThis coming Saturday, April 22nd, will be the day of the March for Science. The march will be held in Washington, D.C., with sister marches being held around the world. For information about marches in your area, check the March for Science webpage under “Marches.”  I hope many of my readers will attend – you do not have to be a scientist to march, only someone who believes that science is important.

The Trump administration has taken unprecedented budget cuts in science funding as well as reversing policies based on science. From the March for Science webpage:

The March for Science is a celebration of science.  It’s not only about scientists and politicians; it is about the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world.  Nevertheless, the march has generated a great deal of conversation around whether or not scientists should involve themselves in politics. In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: can we afford not to speak out in its defense?

People who value science have remained silent for far too long in the face of policies that ignore scientific evidence and endanger both human life and the future of our world. New policies threaten to further restrict scientists’ ability to research and communicate their findings.  We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely.  Staying silent is a luxury that we can no longer afford.  We must stand together and support science.

The application of science to policy is not a partisan issue. Anti-science agendas and policies have been advanced by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they harm everyone — without exception. Science should neither serve special interests nor be rejected based on personal convictions. At its core, science is a tool for seeking answers.  It can and should influence policy and guide our long-term decision-making.

Need inspiration?

Between the Lines Book Club: Rachel Joyce Talks Sequels

between the lines book club logoTechnically, Rachel Joyce’s novel, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is not a sequel to her book The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Instead, it’s a parellel story. In Harold, Harold goes on a journey to visit his friend Queenie, who is in hospice care. In Queenie, Queenie tells the story of her time in hospice and her relationship with Harold from her own point of view.

In this piece for The Guardian, Rachel Joyce explains how she came to write Queenie.

The Guardian: “Rachel Joyce: my unexpected followup to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: It’s not easy to write a life-affirming book about a woman dying in a hospice, but The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy was a story I just had to tell.”

44 Reasons for Happy

IMG_2291.jpgI had a birthday and my family spoiled me rotten. In honor of the day, here’s 44 things I’m happy about. what brings you joy?

  1. Big Trouble in Little China: Don’t panic! It’s only me, Gracie Law!
  2. 30 Rock: “Because society!”
  3. I’m not proud of this, but the fact that someone called Trump a loofah-faced shit-gibbon does make this list.
  4. My electric blanket.
  5. My cats.
  6. My and dog under the covers
  7. My heating pad.
  8. Eva Green’s existence,
  9. “Penny Dreadful: “Enjoy the fairy lights!” “I always do!”
  10. The Great British Bake Off.
  11. Victorian Sensation Literature. Secret babies! AMNESIA!
  12. Feminist comics
  13. The French Toast at Tower Café in Sacramento.
  14. Book clubs
  15. Tee Turtle
  16. The unexpected revelation that kids between the ages of 12 – 14 are actually super interesting and fun.
  17. The Internet.
  18. Internet blocking apps, because the Internet is a double-edged sword.
  19. Wikipedia.
  20. The Cast of The Force Awakens
  21. Gravity Fallsmaxresdefault
  22. Feminist, anti-racist interpretations of the Lovecraft mythos
  23. Jane Eyre
  24. Antibiotics
  25. Soap
  26. Chris Evans and his tweets
  27. Intersectional Feminism
  28. Daffodils
  29. Equal Exchange Hot Cocoa Mix
  30. My bed.
  31. As always, this photo:5185
  32. Gillian Anderson
  33. The Schuyler Sisters!
  34. Weird Westerns and Gothic Noir
  35. The blue pillow I put behind my head while I cuddle my daughter.
  36. My daughter!
  37. My husband!
  38. Family and friends, online and in person.
  39. Complaining about Percy Shelley and Lord Byron
  40. Dorothy Parker
  41. Iced tea. Not sweet tea. Iced tea.
  42. The fact that 2016 is over.
  43. Reading in a hot bath.
  44. The public library.