If You’d Been Born in a Different Decade…

This is pointless and, as many pointless things are, pretty entertaining. And it tickles all my most ticklish geek-bones…. yay!

Time has taken the updated Social Security Administration’s list of popular baby names and created a most elucidating widget. You plug in your name, birth year, and gender. It figures out what rank your name had in that year (for example, my name was the 35th most popular girl’s name given in the year I was born). Then it references the popularity lists for all available decades and tells you what your name would have been, if you had been born then, and if your parents had chosen the name in the same rank spot. Because, obviously, parents pick baby names based on which “place” they’re in, not the way they look or sound or what they mean or who else has them. 🙂

That doesn’t make a lot of sense when I write it out, does it. I should just show you.

So basically, my name was the 35th most popular girl’s name in 1980. If I were born today, and my parents gave me the 35th most popular girl’s name, my name would be Leah.

Applying similar standards to the entire decade, going back a century:

  • If I had been born in the 2000s, my name would have been Bailey (haha; that was my grandmother’s male doggy’s name)
  • If I had been born in the 1990s, my name would have been Christine
  • If I had been born in the 1980s, my name would have been Susan (really? I don’t know anyone my age named Susan…)
  • If I had been born in the 1970s, my name would have been Renee
  • If I had been born in the 1960s, my name would have been Lynn
  • If I had been born in the 1950s, my name would have been Elaine
  • If I had been born in the 1940s, my name would have been Ruby (and how cute would that have been, with red hair?)
  • If I had been born in the 1930s, my name would have been Bernice
  • If I had been born in the 1920s, my name would have been Eva
  • If I had been born in the 1910s, my name would have been Marion
  • If I had been born in the 1900s, my name would have been Jennie (interesting; I don’t think of this as being a “vintage” name)
  • If I had been born in the 1890s, my name would have been Nora

I decided to do the same trick to Ryan. Turns out his name was the 14th most popular name in his birth year. If he were born today, his name would be Aiden and I would have never dated him based on that alone. 🙂

  • 2000s: Christian
  • 1990s: Kyle
  • 1980s: Kevin
  • 1970s: Paul
  • 1960s: Ronald
  • 1950s: Stephen
  • 1940s: Gerald
  • 1930s: Raymond
  • 1920s: Arthur
  • 1910s: Fred
  • 1900s: Arthur
  • 1890s: Albert

So if you like names as much as I do, you should go find out what your other names would be, and share your favorite (and its decade) in the comments. I think if I had to choose one of my alternative names, I’d throw way back to the 1890s (Nora, which is an increasingly popular name right now on its own) or possibly try Elaine (1950s) on for size. Not sure why but those are the two that are appealing to me right this moment. And obviously Ryan would have to be Arthur.

Review: Mummies: The Newest, Coolest & Creepiest from Around the World

Cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.

I picked up Shelley Tanaka’s Mummies: The Newest, Coolest & Creepiest from Around the World because it was featured on a “spooky book” shelf and because it looked like a fun, quick read. I wasn’t expecting to get completely wrapped up (ha ha) in it, much less to be murmuring “Wow!” every time I turned a page.

Published in 2005, Mummies is a 48-page illustrated nonfiction book at an 8.2 grade level. It meets the reader right where we’d all start when opening such a book: “Mummies… Right away we think of the ancient Egyptians.” Tanaka immediately pivots, explaining the broader definition of mummies and sending us around the world from Egypt to Chile, where the earliest mummies were found.

This is a book about death and corpses, and it neither sensationalizes nor flinches away from this. In a straightforward manner that will appeal to any reader (but probably especially young guys) Tanaka explains how ancient Chinchorro people skinned and dismembered their dead before reconstructing the bodies with the aid of sticks, fur, feathers, and clay.

She explains how the Inca performed human sacrifice by immobilizing/killing and leaving their “most beautiful and healthy children” in mountaintop tombs, where they were frozen and preserved so perfectly that their blood — even their eyelashes! — are still in place centuries later.

Readers learn about peat bog mummies in Ireland, the Iceman of northern Italy, medieval mummies as far north as the Arctic Circle, 4,000-year-old mummies preserved by heat and sand in a Chinese desert, and of course the famous Egyptian mummies.

Tanaka also brings mummification into the contemporary world by telling about researchers who reproduced the Egyptian techniques on a man who left his remains to science, and about Buddhist monks who mummify themselves before dying! She also talks about famous political mummies Lenin, Mao, and Peron, and about the plastinated mummies currently touring the country with exhibitions like Body World and Bodies: The Exhibition.

Mummies is full of glossy, full-color pictures of mummies, coffins, artifacts, and corpses — including an actual-size photo of the shockingly well-preserved face of an eight-year-old girl, and a far number of skeletal remains. Somehow they didn’t strike me as especially disturbing or disgusting, although I’m sure the majority of adolescent readers will be delightedly grossed out. And if they’re anything like me, they’ll find themselves intrigued, wanting to learn more about non-Egyptian mummies, making surprising connections to history and cultural geography, and probably passing the book around to all of their buddies. I read several sections out loud to my husband and son* and can’t wait to feature this book more prominently in our library collection.

* My son (who at seventeen months old has relatively little prior knowledge of mummies) leaned forward and kissed the picture of an ancient bust of Tutankhamun seen above, then stole the book from me and spent several minutes intently flipping through the pages of desiccated ancient corpses. As recommendations go, that seems like a pretty solid one.

It’s Monday! (Er, Tuesday!) What Are You Reading?


Reading Update

Today is October 22. It is Tuesday, not Monday. Oops.

This year so far, I’ve read 59 books. I still haven’t adjusted my book-a-week goal and may not; I may just keep reading and see where I end up. It’s not as if I really need any motivation to read a lot right now; I’m desperate to dive into my ever-growing pool of to-read books!

Currently Reading

I’m actually not currently reading anything, because I just finished this book:


The Astronauts Wives Club is nonfiction and tells the little-known story of what it was like to be married to astronauts during the 1960s. It is arguably not very well-written (there are too many women and too many unconnected anecdotes thrown in toward the end, like an unorganized box of snapshots) but I found it fascinating. I’m a fan of things about history that most people don’t think about, especially when it is written very accessibly, as I rarely have mental energy these days to really work at a book. I don’t suppose I was surprised to find the astronauts depicted as pretty childish.

Next on my docket are some titles from our school library: The One and Only IvanCounting by 7s, The Misfits, Zebrafish, and As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth. I’m also toting around a copy of For Us Surrender is Out of the Question: A Story from Burma’s Never-Ending War that I’d like to read if my brain cells ever get lined back up. We have some students who are refugees from Burma (Myanmar) by way of Thailand, and I would like to know more about what’s going on in that part of the world. I think I’m going to start with Ivan; it looks like a fast read.
To Read

Review: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and DisappearedThe 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

My rating: 5 out of 5

Joseph Stalin. Mao Tse-Tung. Winston Churchill. Robert Oppenheimer. Sigvard Eklund. Charles de Gaulle. Presidents Truman, Johnson, and Nixon. Sonya the Elephant. Conceivably, if you lived a hundred years — the right hundred years — and were the right guy, and were in the right places at the right times, you might just interact with all of these people. In fact, if you were the right guy in the right places at the right times, you might conceivably have a pretty significant impact on some of these people and the big things they did with their lives.

Allan Karlsson, as it turns out, is the right guy. But when this quirky, amusing, intelligent novel begins, he is also a hundred years old, fed up with life in a nursing home, and anxious for a stiff drink. The novel opens with his undramatic escape from the Malmköping Old Folks’ Home and takes a sharp left turn into the twin stories of Allan Karlsson: his present-day adventures as he flees across Sweden, pursued not only by police who want to save him but crooks who want him dead, and his astonishing life story that shows the reader how Allan Karlsson became the man he is today.

The 100-Year-Old Man bills itself as a Forrest Gump story in the back cover copy, and that’s not a bad way to characterize it, at least on the surface. Like Gump, Karlsson has — largely through sheer dumb luck — found himself a player in a disproportionately large number of major historical events. Also like Gump, Karlsson has navigated these events devoid of political or economic motivation beyond simple survival and a “why not” attitude. Unlike Forrest Gump, Allan Karlsson is a brilliant explosives expert, and this expertise propels him beyond the sidelines straight into the action. Without intention or motivation, Karlsson drives and changes the course of history itself. Jonasson’s novel paints this now-unassuming centenarian as the pivotal figure in multiple international conflicts, assassination attempts, intrigues, and conspiracies. Yes, The 100-Year-Old Man is kindred to Forrest Gump, but it also shares genes with Catch Me If You Can and perhaps even Water for Elephants; heck, there might even be a wee dash of Douglas Adams in there.

The result is a novel that I was reluctant to put down, that I recommended multiple times to the people around me as I read, and that was chock-full of passages that I just couldn’t help but read aloud. For example:

If it is possible to become stone-cold sober instantly after having just downed a whole bottle of tequila, then that was what Vice President Harry S. Truman did. The news of Roosevelt’s sudden demise meant that the vice president had to conclude the pleasant dinner with Allan and fly immediately to Washington. Allan was left behind in the restaurant to argue with the headwaiter about the bill. In the end, the headwaiter accepted Allan’s argument that the future president of the United States was probably reasonably credit-worthy and that, in any case, the headwaiter now knew his address.

I greatly appreciated Jonasson’s dry humor, the somehow believable absurdity of both storylines, the fascinating gallivant through 20th century international history, and the unabashed way in which Jonasson drew present-day Karlsson as a vivacious and personable protagonist despite or even because of his advanced chronological age.

I love it when I stumble upon a book by accident — or perhaps its the book fairies, or fate, or angelus liborumi — and it turns out to be a real winner. This particular book was crammed into a shelf of used crafting and home decor books in a crowded corner of a thrift shop in a small Idaho town; I’d already gone through the entire book section but had returned while waiting for someone else in my party to finish shopping. The book’s bright orange cover caught my eye; the ridiculous title and its placement made me think it was going to be an interesting nonfiction, perhaps in the sociological vein, and then the first few pages convinced me to gamble a dollar on it.

In all honesty, I was initially skeptical of this book based on the highly scientific fact that it was written by a Swedish author (originally in Swedish, naturally). I had failed to make it through the first chapter of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I had the erroneous idea that Jasper Fforde’s books — which I desperately want to like but cannot — were of Swedish descent as well. From these two disappointments I had drawn the conclusion that I Dislike All Swedish Literature, which is approximately as fair as stating that one dislikes all meatballs based on the frozen nuggets available at IKEA. I’m glad that, despite the word “Swedish” emblazoned several times across the cover, I gave this novel a chance. It’s one of my favorites of the academic year thus far, and definitely one I hope to share with others. Heck, this book would be equally appropriately recommended to my highly educated book club friends and with at least some of my 17-year-old students. I may have to track down a second copy for my classroom library!