think like a freakStep up to the “retrain your brain” challenge. When the authors of Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, offer to share their unique insight into decision making, seize the opportunity. “Readers seemed to think no riddle was too tricky, no problem too hard, that it couldn’t be sorted out. It was as if we owned some proprietary tool – a Freakonomics forceps, one might imagine – that could be plunged into the body politic to extract some buried wisdom,” write Levitt and Dubner in their new book, Think Like a Freak. Experts on how to look at data differently, Levitt and Dubner have inspired readers to abandon preconceived notions and embrace nontraditional analysis of economic, political and social phenomena. I recall a fascinating question the authors had posed in their first book: Is it true that one’s name plays a part in determining one’s destiny in life? Thanks to Freakonomics, readers gained understanding of the significance of baby name selection. We learned what names tell us about parenting, economic mobility, and social stereotyping. I am ready to be a Freakonomics insider and exercise a similar approach to my own world.

Levitt and Dubner take us behind the scenes of their research techniques. They explain how to find the most useful questions, understand the data we use to answer the questions and apply effective techniques to implement a solution. Their ideas can be implemented in analyzing personal as well as global issues. When thinking about solving a problem, consider how a “freak” would do it. Do not think “right” way vs. “wrong” way. Instead, be conscious to seek out new information. Do not be satisfied with data that merely confirms a bias you already have. Be wary of traditional wisdom. Distinguish between correlation and causality. Persevere to find the root cause and do not settle for the proximal cause.

Freaks realize the importance of recognizing and acknowledging what they don’t know. Admitting you don’t know an answer not only takes the pressure off, it allows you to seek out the information needed to make a successful decision. Besides, to gather useful information, you have to ask the right questions…to know what you don’t know. Take your time and dissect a problem by asking and answering small questions. Levitt and Dubner argue that few problems are solved through focusing on just one big question. 

Thinking like a freak requires we accept that humans are motivated by incentives. As we train ourselves to use the brain of a freak, we learn that the majority of people make decisions that value personal gain over the greater good. This is not a negative statement, rather it is an insight that helps us understand how people think. Knowing this, we then use the power of reward as we work toward our goal. A freak also knows that data-accurate stories motivate people. The power of a telling a good story is, in part, enticing the listener to put him/herself in the other person’s shoes. The other part is including data to focus the listeners’ attention on facts. 

Freaks maintain their ability to think like children. They avoid the constraints of prejudice and willingly confront even the most obvious assumptions. As Levitt and Dubner point out, proof of this concept is that children are more skilled than adults at figuring out magic tricks. This is because, unlike adults, kids are not set in their ways and burdened by presumptions. Also like children, freaks are not afraid to have fun. Why suffer while you study when you can enjoy the journey instead?

I invite you to further explore Think Like a Freak. Learn intriguing skills such as teaching a garden to weed itself. Analyze whether knowing when to quit is just as important as deciding to proceed. Become a Freakonomics insider.

Cherise Tasker is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Central Branch and has a background in health information. Most evenings, Cherise can be found reading a book, attending a book club meeting, or coordinating a book group.


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Reserve this item at Howard County Library SystemMoving can be one of the most fun (yet daunting) tasks a person ever has to face. You have to research until you find the desired new home, go through all of your belongings, and pack. The stress starts early and lasts until you’re fully settled in your new place.

I recently moved into a new apartment with a close friend. I thought the search was the tough part- and then, came the packing. I have a lot of stuff. A LOT of stuff. When I started tearing apart my closet, I found school assignments from elementary school. I felt like a hoarding mother with a soft spot for nostalgia. I knew I was in for a long and stressful process. After a while, I realized that getting rid of stuff wasn’t necessarily the issue. However, looking through everything and deciding what to keep was quite overwhelming. I had to ask myself a series of questions in deciding what to keep: Why do I have this? Where did it come from? Why is this valuable to me? How long have I had this? Do I need it? Do I use it? Would someone else benefit more from having this? These are just a few of the many questions that you can use to determine an item’s value. In Downsizing Your Home with Style, we’re invited to shift our perspectives from “I’ve got to get rid of this stuff!” to “What can’t I live without?” You’re not sacrificing your beloved belongings, you’re reducing your things to the “best and most loved.” That’s not a bad way to look at things.

Like I mentioned, I have a lot of stuff. Not only is there an abundance of stuff, but it’s all quite awesome. Whether it’s an item that was gifted to me or something that I found at a thrift store, I keep my belongings in good condition. This actually makes it more difficult when deciding what to get rid of. First, I offer belongings to friends who I think will appreciate certain items and give them a good life. Then, I take the remaining “give-away” items to a local donation center. Rarely, but on occasion, I may sell some things to make a little extra money.

Here’s another tip: upcycle! When you have an item that you absolutely can’t part with (and have no reason to keep) you can re-purpose it! Upcycling is a great way to hold on to a beloved item and actually get use out of it. I’ve found many creative ways to re-use otherwise trash-worthy items. One of my favorite re-purposed items came from a busted bass drum – which is now my bedside table. I have also used old and broken jewelry to make new jewelry and hair accessories. Repurposing items is fun! Plus, it can help you save money.

The other important thing to keep in mind is having an organization system. There are plenty of containers in various sizes sold in stores to aid in this process. This might be a possible opportunity to repurpose something! My roommate and I recently bought small hooks (cup hooks) and pieces of half round molding to make a wall mounted necklace rack. Total cost? Less than $3. Organize Your Home is filled with great tips on keeping your belongings organized no matter what room you’re in or what it is you’re trying to accomplish – like moving your household!

As stressful as moving can be, it is important to keep the end goal in sight. With plenty of research and organization you can find the perfect home and feel confident in the amount of belongings that make the move with you. While you might not need all of your old school assignments, it’s alright to gather all of those old band t-shirts and make them into a brand new quilt!

Laci Radford is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the East Columbia Branch (while her home branch, in Savage, is being renovated). She is a music lover, writer, and an avid reader. She enjoys attending concerts, plays, and other forms of live entertainment. Her favorite activities include scoping out unique items at thrift stores, bonfires with friends, and having tie-dye parties. She is studying Psychology and plans to become a music and art therapist sooner rather than later.


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Female boomers in the U.S. make up a tad over 50% of the current population. And they are, healthier, wealthier, wiser, and making more lucrative investments than men. At least, according to Stephanie Holland of Sheconomy: A Guy’s Guide to Marketing To Women. But publishers and their authors don’t necessarily pitch to their vibrancy.

Library customers who make up the above statistic come in every summer asking the frustrating question: “Aren’t there any good books out there where the main character is – well – over 45?”

And the answer is: “There are! And you’re going to have a heck of a good time reading them!”

Julie and Romeo by Jeanne Ray

Julie Roseman and Romeo Cacciamani (both over 60 years old) are rival Boston florists whose families share a decades-old grievance. The fact that no one is precisely sure why or when it began doesn’t matter. In fact, all that Julie can remember from childhood is her father spitting on the floor if anyone dared utter the name “Cacciamani.”

Bitterness between the families only intensified when Julie’s teen-aged daughter, Sandy, and Romeo’s son, Tony, tried to elope. Fast forward almost 20 years: Julie’s divorced, Romeo’s widowed, and the Roseman-Cacciamani feud continues to simmer. Until Julie and Romeo meet at a job fair.

Suddenly, all hard feelings – not to mention the arid climate of post-menopause and erectile dysfunction go out the window — or at least the door of Romeo’s cozy, walk-in flower cooler where the two — well – combust. Hysterical!

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Suffering Downton Abbey withdrawal? If so, consider this well-mannered English confection (replete with hedgerows and high tea).

When his brother dies, staid widower and retired schoolteacher, Major Pettigrew, can only seem to express his grief to Mrs. Ali, a warm and affable Pakistani shopkeeper (and widow) whom he’s known for years. But sorrow has a way of making one ‘see’ someone anew. Especially when there’s a shared delight in discussing Kipling.

Slowly but surely, their world begins to eclipse everyone – including small-minded neighbors and self-serving relations. Everyone but them.

There is nothing, Simonson reminds us in this endearing tale, like the rich patina of mid-life love.

A Year by The Sea by Joan Anderson

And finally, not fiction, but a sobering memoir. And by a grown up, now 64.

While 26-year-old Cheryl Strayed, (Wild), may have clue-lessly walked the Pacific Crest Trail in toe-pinching hiking boots, and thirty-something Elizabeth Gilbert showed readers the way toward becoming a pasta-eating yogi in Eat, Pray, Love, memoirist Joan Anderson chose a far less glamorous path to self-discovery.

In her mid-fifties, her husband of many years informed her he was taking a job offer out of state – one that would necessitate selling their family home. Joan’s reaction, after a pragmatic assessment of her life (or rather shelf-life as wife and mother) was not what anyone in her family expected. She headed for Cape Cod.

There, a dilapidated summer house would become her unlikely ‘muse’ for the next twelve months. The best part of Joan Anderson’s life was far from finished.

Lucky us.

Aimee Zuccarini is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the East Columbia Branch. She facilitates several book discussions and writes the book reviews for The Maryland Women’s Journal.



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Female boomers well into their middle-years are unfazed by much. They’ve lived and seen it all – except (and frustratingly often) when it comes to themselves as the main character inside those sherbet-colored book jackets that the Library of Congress keywords “men-women-relationships-fiction.”

Escaping, at any age, into an addictive read is good for the psyche (less calories than M&Ms) and a woman’s right. But if AARP membership is looming, and the main character is once again 22 and trying to come to terms with a hole in one of her Jimmy Choos, not so much.

“Once in a while,” my 56 year-old hair dresser remarked recently, “I’d like to see me reflected in one of those beach reads. I mean, I may be an ‘old hen,’ but I can still make soup!”

Well, here are some books that may make her shout, “Winner! Winner! Chicken dinner!”

Blue Rodeo by Joann Mapson

If you’re like Maggie Yearwood, and limping away from your car wreck of a marriage, what better place to ease the pain than the ancient mountain village of Blue Dog, New Mexico? That’s Maggie’s mid-life plan anyway – especially as the move now puts her closer to a school for the deaf – and her embittered son. More than that, she seeks isolation as the only possible cure to her artistic impotence. At least, until a little Navajo/New Age Karma puts her in the path of luckless sheep rancher, Owen Garrett. Gritty and chile bola hot, Mapson’s second novel is filled with distinctive voices who have weathered life and love, but are ready to go around a second time. Messy, sexy, and true.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough by Ruth Pennebaker

It all begins when Joanie Pilcher’s ex calls to say his 20-something girlfriend is pregnant. If that isn’t the icing on the cake (which already consists of an opinionated live-in mom, Ivy, and an angry adolescent daughter, Caroline), Joanie doesn’t know what is. Maybe her therapy group will – although their whining and complaining is secretly getting to her as well – not to mention, her boss who keeps reminding Joanie how lucky she is to have any job at her age. Meanwhile, bewildered Ivy tries to grapple with a world suddenly moving at warp speed. Walking into a boutique, the saleswomen inform the septuagenarian that she may be too old to appreciate their merchandise. Ivy’s kiss-off? Shoplift a scarf – which promptly lands her in jail. At the same time, Caroline, who suffers the realization that she is invisible at school, channels this rage into dying her hair pink and convincing herself that she has multiple personality disorder. All of which begs the question: can this wacky dynasty be saved? NPR commentator Ruth Pennebacker delivers with an ending that’s both predictable and satisfying. Like milk and cookies.

Aimee Zuccarini is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the East Columbia Branch. She facilitates several book discussions and writes the book reviews for The Maryland Women’s Journal.



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Books have the power to make you feel…

“Engaging with fiction,” says professor emeritus of cognitive psychology, Keith Oatley, “is an empathetic act. We are not just book-reading, we are mind-reading. We experience emotions, our own emotions, in the circumstances of a character’s concerns, plans and actions.”1

In so doing, readers undergo a kind of “emotional transportation;” the impact of which, after reading significantly critical novels, like Americanah or The Book Thief, can linger and make sense of the real world for days afterward.2

Indeed, fMRI imaging can now confirm this correlation between literary fiction and empathy; but at an exciting cellular level. 3

Picture busy mirror neurons lighting up in a kind of knee-jerk reaction while you lose yourself in the tender narrative of a wistful Francie Nolan; (A Tree Grows In Brooklyn),4 or the young Marine lieutenant, (Matterhorn), struggling to define his place in the Vietnam War.

“Fiction is not just a simulator of a social experience, it is a social experience.”5

And it’s good — not only for the well-being of the reader — but for what it can render and reflect for all humanity.


Aimee Zuccarini is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the East Columbia Branch. She facilitates several book discussions and writes the book reviews for The Maryland Women’s Journal.


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5847802511_e74b43baa7_bLadies and gentlemen, boys and girls, gather your glitter and wave those rainbow flags proudly- LGBTQ pride month is upon us yet again! Pride events are annually recognized in honor of the struggles and victories of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) community; the most significant of these struggles being the Stonewall riots that took place in Manhattan, NY in 1969. Thanks to the brazen courage of the activists and political renegades who set the modern day gay and lesbian movement into motion (such as Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon, and Harvey Milk), many of us have claimed the right to live every beautiful shade of our lives out in the open and crave to celebrate that simple fact with our fellow human beings.

While many of us are lucky enough to live in countries where being ourselves and loving whom we choose is possible, sadly, not all of us are so lucky. When there are men, women, and youth still being persecuted, imprisoned, and/or murdered in many parts of the world for how they identify, for whom they choose to love, and for how they choose to express themselves, the concept of pride takes on a bigger significance. Currently, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association provides information regarding LGBTQ rights (or lack thereof) within the international realm. For instance, their website features a color coded world map that denotes countries where homosexuality can fetch up to 10 years imprisonment or even death.

The psychological and emotional stress of knowing one’s life is threatened by the laws and beliefs of one’s own country can scar a person in unimaginable ways. When we consider personal health and well-being, mental and emotional health are significantly important components to that puzzle. Living in a society with legally established modes of discrimination can affect a person, and may lead to anxiety, depression, self-harming behavior, or suicide. According to an article published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), titled Prejudice, Social Stress, and Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations: Conceptual Issues and Research Evidence, the prevalence of mental disorders in the LGBTQ community are precipitated by stigma, discrimination, experience of prejudiced events, expectation of rejection, concealing (i.e “being in the closet”), and homophobia (especially internalized forms).

A loving, honest, and safe environment should begin at home first and foremost. Life gives us each our fair share of challenges, and tests our will, our strength, and our well-being over the course of a lifetime. LGBTQ identified individuals must face even greater challenges when they are exposed to discrimination at home and within the society they live in from very early on. Imagine, just for a second, how you might respond in a world that did not fully accept you for something about yourself that you could not change. Sometimes all it takes is a compassionate heart, and the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, in order to gain some sense of another’s struggles from beyond the confines of our own perspectives.

There are various kinds of support available to LGBTQ individuals, and their allies, located in the US, and the Washington/Baltimore area in particular. Organizations, such as Chase Brexton, Human Rights Campaign, Whitman Walker Health, Equality Maryland, and the Fenway Institute’s National LGBT Health Education Center, are prepared to provide LGBTQ individuals with health and/or legal resources. Knowing that there are professionals and organizations equipped with the skills to serve the LGBTQ community is effectively beneficial, and lends great peace of mind.

Pride is a chance to collectively celebrate with members of an extended family and allies, with courage and love, knowing that we are each part of one human family. We have the honor of gathering and celebrating, as we fondly remember those who fought relentlessly so that we may be where we are today and have the rights we are entitled to. To my fellow LGBTQ family, and strong allies, I say, let us continue showing one another love, respect, and support. Life may be hard, but it’s most certainly short. Let’s embrace ourselves even more fully and celebrate all that we are, and all that we have yet to achieve. Happy Pride!

When Jinelee De Souza isn’t channeling her inner super-heroine at Howard County Library System as an Instructor & Research Specialist, she’s doing so at the gym, during impromptu photoshoots with her bff, and everywhere in between.


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