2015 in Books, November

  • Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
    • Fantastically good writing. Honestly, when I read the blurb on the back of the book I wondered how anyone could write a novel based on a man walking between the World Trade Centers on a tightrope. The plot was not what I was expecting, but it was expertly executed.
  • How Buildings Learn: What Happens after They’re Built by Stewart Brand
    • This architecture book was one I read for work. Part of the big idea of the new exhibits I am working on is that the use of the mansion building has evolved over time to fit the needs of its users. My research is leading me to the conclusion that this is true both architecturally and philosophically. Brand made me think about buildings in a whole new way, which had the added benefit of making me love my old house even more.
  • Queen of the Turtle Derby and Other Southern Phenomena by Julia Reed
    • As a general rule, I will read any book that promises humorous essays about the region that I love. Some of Reed’s essays fit the bill and others were not quite my style. It was also odd to read stories written about New Orleans pre-Katrina. I have gotten so used to post-Katrina NOLA discussions, that it was hard to get into a pre-flood mindset.
  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell
    • As with the other Rainbow Rowell books I have read recently, this one made me happy. It’s a fast book, and a reminder to not take people we love for granted.
  • Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders
    • I won a copy of this book from The Penny Hoarder, which I was super pumped about. While I already do a lot of the things that Gunders suggests in her handbook–like utilizing the freezer, canning, composting, and making stock from food scraps, I found some good information. For example, her explanation of food expiration and best by dates made me rethink my approach to some of my kitchen staples. I also appreciated the reminder to think about food as precious and something that should be used to its fullest capacity. It’s easy to forget that mindset when living in the land of 24-hour grocery stores. We have a food-secure household, and for that I am very grateful.
  • Elite Women and the Reform Impulse in Memphis, 1875-1915 by Marsha Wedell
    • Background research for a project at the museum. We recently reframed the concept of a gallery that we are redesigning to include a panel about the suffrage movement in Memphis. Wedell’s book does not deal exclusively with the suffrage movement, and it comes before the time period the exhibit will cover; however, I believe in casting a wide net. She gave me background information about the women who were active in the community in a well-researched format.
  • Broken Harbor: A Novel by Tana French
    • Tana French is the reason why I do not read other mystery novels. She sets the bar so high that I have a difficult time finding other authors who can entertain me as well as she does. This is the fourth book of hers that I have read, and, like the others, she kept me guessing and twisting with the lead detective until the end. If you like psychological mysteries, you should definitely give her a read.

What exactly do you do?

Other than questions about how old my baby is, the most frequent thing I get asked is, “What do you do?” I generally assume that people mean “what do you do to make money” so I generally leave out the part about being a mom and cooking and raking leaves and reading books and playing peekaboo.

I do a couple of different things. Sometimes I teach classes. I’ve taught history and museum studies classes at three of the universities in Memphis where I’ve taught online and in the classroom. My favorite class to teach is introduction to museum studies. It’s one of my favorite subjects, my students generally have great ideas and it is lots of fun to share something I’m passionate about with people who mostly feel the same way.

My main money-paying gig is as a museum professional. I work in exhibits, and I’ve spent the past several months doing primary research for a major redesign at my museum. I’m compiling a massive narrative that we will use to write the panels and labels. I also find photographs and other images that we can use and secure the use rights for them, which includes figuring out who owns them. As an offshoot of this ongoing research, I’m reorganizing our staff library and museum archives and digitalizing the card catalog so that it’s usable. (I say “I,” a volunteer and amazing intern are helping tremendously.) I also use a lot of my research to write the museum’s blog, which I repost here when the posts go live because I’m proud of them.

I also help install and deinstall exhibits. Since I’m not super strong and my coworkers are much better at using power tools, I tend to help condition report artifacts when it’s time for a new exhibit. I can mount labels, and I’ve been known to have curatorial input. I firmly believe that I have the best job in the museum.

While both of those jobs are personally and financially fulfilling, I also love the job that pays in smiles, slobbery kisses and drool. Museums are great. And so are babies.