Monday, November 30, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

My reading is a little bit of a mess right now!

I think I have four books going:
  • Flood of Fire, by Amitav Ghosh, which I've been reading for months and working through very very slowly,
  • The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb, a favorite of mine as a teen that I'm re-reading. I got stuck though. It's such a strong suspenser that it's hard for me to read even though I know how it ends, 
  • The Cities of Salt, by Abdelrahim Munif, sitting on my nightstand and which I've been reading at the pace of 3-4 short chapters a day,
  • The Musical Brain, by Cesar Aira, a book of short stories I've stalled on, and
  • The Lost Estate, by Henri Alain-Fournier, an unusual coming-of-age story that almost feels like a fairy tale. I like though.
Okay that's five. I went home for the week that included Thanksgiving and picked up a few galleys at my old workplace, which have been added to the TBR shelves, but I did manage to actually read one book, albeit a short one, Pedro Mairal's delightful and bittersweet The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra. That'll show up on this year's favorites list for sure.

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday Salon: Thankfully Reading

Well this Thankfully Reading challenge has been fun. I haven't read a ton, although I did get about 1/3 of the way through my book, The Lost Estate. It helped me make reading a priority this weekend and I enjoyed the daily challenges.


Thanksgiving was nice. We went home to Boston for the entire week; my husband had some business appointments during the beginning of the week, which is what made it possible for us to spend so much time at home. While he was having his meetings I visited with friends and just enjoyed being back. I even managed to have an acupuncture treatment and a massage from a spa treatment gift certificate I found while packing. That was nice!  The weather here was good, basically cool and dry except for Saturday which was close to a washout. We did some Small Business Saturday shopping and some other shopping too.

We're back in NYC now and this week coming up is going to be a lot of regrouping, unpacking, cleaning and household things. I have a couple of new-to-me things to do in New York and I'll be sure to keep you updated on those as well. But the Christmas tree is going up, I have some donations to donate and I'll decorate the apartment for Christmas too. Yay!

Now I'm going to read some more and order delivery for dinner like a good New Yorker.

What are you doing this Sunday?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Disney World Part 3: The Travel Binder

I am kind of a planning geek.

And Disney is like the Olympics of travel planning. I swear I did more work to plan our 8-day trip to a Florida resort than I did to plan our 2-week drive around the coast of Ireland.

And I needed a place to keep all that paperwork. Hence the binder.

I did not take a picture of my binder but I just used a regular old 3-hole binder from the office supply store. You can go all disco and get a Disney-branded one if you want. I took various documents and print outs (more on that later) and slipped them into top-loading clear plastic sheets made for 3-hole binders and I was off to the races.

My binder was arranged to tell the story of our trip start to finish.
  • Flight details from New York to Orlando,
  • Master Disney reservation sheets, printed from My Disney Experience, showing all hotel details, dining, FastPasses and special tickets,
  • Resort map,
  • PhotoPass locations for places not in the parks, including our resort,
  • Day-by-day calendar of all park hours for the week we were there, with all dining reservations noted for each day, so we could see each day at a glance,
  • Park maps and touring plans (including FastPass times) for each park in the order we planned to visit, so Magic Kingdom map and touring plan followed by Epcot map and touring plan, etc. I also noted dining on the touring plans.
  • Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party guide,
  • Flight details from Orlando to New York,
  • Extra plastic sheets for anything else that might come up.
I also included the following in my binder:
  • Starbucks gift cards to use on the trip,
  • Envelopes filled with tip money for the hotel staff,
  • List of addresses for postcards,
  • Luggage tags,
  • Various personal things like my husband's anniversary card and the nail wraps I wore at Disney.
See my wraps?
My biggest source for printouts like park maps and park hours was the very awesome blog WDW Prep School. You can find it here. The single most useful printout was the day by day calendar. The funnest were the Mousekeeping envelopes. You don't have to buy her binder supplies to print out anything but these resources will really help you get prepared.

I pulled out my touring plans and park maps each day for my park bag. Those did not survive the trip!

Maybe I overdid it, maybe not, but everything I did helped smooth the way for a trip that was truly awesome!

Next week: On the ground at Disney.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thankfully Reading- Which Book Are You Thankful for in 2015?

Today's Thankfully Reading challenge is talk about the book you're thankful for this year.

I don't know exactly what it means to be thankful for a book. Maybe that you're glad you read it, or it affected you somehow. Like changed your life or something? Nothing has really changed my life this year in terms of reading; reading has been a low-key thing for me and more of a personal thing than a public thing, since I'm no longer working in the book world and have fewer opportunities to share what I'm reading.

My favorite book this year is Andrew Ladd's What Ends, because it's one of the books that reminds me why I love reading. It combines unforgettable characters with a vivid setting and lyrical, luminous writing alongside a plot about both coming of age and coming apart.

I'm also thankful in a more general sense for the novels of Cesar Aira, an Argentine writer whose books are very different from Ladd's. Aira's books mix absurdity and profundity, philosophical musings with rambling plots and wrap it all up in words you can't let go of. His books keep me on my toes, keep me laughing and turning pages and thinking.

This year I've read several of Aira's books and the one that stands out the most is The Conversations, about two friends trying to figure out what was going on in a movie they saw on TV but didn't really pay attention to.
 Check him out!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thankfully Reading

Thankfully Reading Weekend starts officially tomorrow, but let's get started a little early.

Thankfully Reading Weekend is hosted by Jenn at JennsBookshelves.com and celebrates the fine art of staying in and reading. I do this all the time, of course, but as the holiday season kicks off it's important to take time away from the rushing and madness and just enjoy the season.

I'll definitely be out running around this weekend, but I know there will be time to read, too.

I'm starting with The Lost Estate, a coming-of-age French classic published in the early 20th century and written by Henri Alain-Fournier, who was killed in World War 1. The French title is Le Grand Meaulnes and it came out in 1913. It appears on The Guardian's 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read as one of literature's great love stories. I'm only a few pages in but I'm enjoying its lyrical writing and rich sense of place. I'll let you know how it goes as the weekend progresses! I have two other books on deck should I finish this one soon.

Are you participating? What are you reading?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Reading!

Monday, November 23, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well, the winner in the what-book-will-I-read-next contest was Pedro Mairal's short but so-far-delightful The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra.

I decided to take the approach of reading lots of short books between now and the end of the year. The Missing Year is about a man whose father dies and is left to sort out the past. The father, Juan Salvatierra, was an artist whose sole creation was a huge painting made of continuous scrolls of canvas. Salvatierra, as his son refers to him, worked on this project his entire adult life and now his son wants to find a single scroll that's gone missing, representing a year in his father's life and work. The son is trying to complete the work for its own sake and because he and his brother want to find a museum to house the work. This search takes him on adventures that recreate his father's life and help illuminate his own. The story takes place in Argentina.

I'm about half way through right now but it's a short book and I expect to finish it in a day or two. It's just a delightful little book and I can't wait to watch the rest of it unfurl, so to speak.

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Salon: NYC Tenement Museum

So the big thing I did this week was a visit to the Tenement Museum, a fascinating place in the Lower East Side featuring the history of immigration and assimilation in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Using a partially-restored apartment building where immigrants lived, and walking the streets of the Lower East Side, guides tell the stories of real people who lived there and using their stories to illustrate the larger history of the period. My friend and I did the architectural tour and then a building tour. It was so much fun! The guides were really terrific and we learned so much. One of the apartments even featured things that the actual tenants owned, donated by their daughter years later. (We were not allowed to take pictures inside the building or I'd show you.)

But I could take all the pictures I wanted outside, and whenever I take one of these walks, especially on the Lower East Side or the Village, I'm always on the look out for street art. It's not Bushwick, but there's still a lot and it pops up everywhere.

Oftentimes businesses will also feature intentional fun decoration too. I don't keep track of addresses because it's such an ephemeral art form and I feel like that in order to enjoy it properly you should stumble on it- you shouldn't go looking for it in specific places.

That is, unless you're on a tour. Then the guide should know where to find it! But I love the serendipity of it.
Of course that one is my favorite! Anyway it was a really fun afternoon (the whole thing took from 1:30-5:30 so it was a pretty full few hours of walking) and I can't wait to go back and do more.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Disney World Part 2: ADRs and Dining

Tonga Toast at the Kona Café
We spent 8 days at Disney and Disney's diverse dining options made planning some great meals a high priority. We like to eat out and Disney has so much to choose from, so it was a little overwhelming at the beginning, but I realized quickly that getting restaurant reservations lined up was the first big part of planning a Disney vacation.

You can pay for meals out of pocket or use a dining plan, which allows you to pay upfront for credits you apply to meals onsite. There are five tiers of dining plan and we chose the Deluxe Dining Plan (really the middle tier) which offers 3 dining credits plus 2 snack credits per day. Everyone warned me that this was more food than we could eat, and yes, they were right, and yes we'd do it again. For us it took away the anxiety of worrying about prices every time we sat down.

Disney table-service restaurants can be hard to book and you need to make your reservations (ADRs or Advance Dining Reservations) as soon as you can, ideally six months to the day before your arrival. To prepare, I used my guides, my internet research and some TripAdvisor reviews to pick our restaurants, then I made two lists:
  • one list showing where we would eat breakfast, lunch (on some days) and dinner each day, and
  • a list of meals in the order that we would book them online through My Disney Experience.
I chose restaurants roughly around where we would be each day. When we planned to go to Animal Kingdom, for example, I booked something easy to reach from that park. And so on. Coordinating dining with park plans means less running around- and that makes a difference!

My Disney Experience is the portal through which you plan your Disney vacation. You can do hotel, restaurants, FastPasses, special events and more.

Everyone said to book the most popular reservations as soon as you log on, and book them as far out in your trip as you can. So if you want to go to Be Our Guest for dinner, let's say, book it first but make the reservation for the last day of your trip. Do this because when you go online exactly 180 days from your arrival date (your ADR date), you can book dining for your entire trip, and the days at the end of your trip are going to be available to fewer people than those at the beginning.

The night before our ADR date we opened up a bunch of browser windows to My Disney Experience. We got up at 5:30 am the next morning, had a light breakfast and coffee and got down to business on two laptops simultaneously at 6am sharp.

Fire performer at the Spirit of Aloha Luau at the Polynesian Resort
Twenty minutes later we had all of our desired dining reservations.

I realize not everyone will take this kind of approach, but it worked for us. Among the reservations we got were
  • Chef Mickey breakfast for our first day; Akershus, Ohana and 1900 Park Fare later,
  • Tusker House for lunch on our Animal Kingdom day,
  • Spirit of Aloha dinner show on our last night,
  • Be Our Guest for dinner. We were able to book BoG for breakfast when it became available for our dates later in the early fall.
  • Jiko, Narcoossee's and Flying Fish for dinner.
Except for Tusker House and Tony's Town Square on our first day, we did not book lunches in advance. We both agreed that would be too much and wanted to be able to wing it a little in the parks. We were able to walk into Yak and Yeti in Animal Kingdom on our park-hopping day, which was pretty great, and had a nice variety of meals during the week. We also tended to book breakfasts early and dinners late, to minimize rushing around.

Try the Grey Stuff- It's Delicious! It's offered for dessert at Be Our Guest.
Overall I thought the Dining Plan was a good deal for us. Nothing is going to be cheap at Disney and the menu prices are outrageous generally, so having most of the food paid for up front was nice. The only thing I would do differently is try to use more of the snack credits. We did use some at the end for treats to take home and I am still enjoying those, I have to say.

The nicest meals I had were at Narcoossee's at the Grand Floridian and Jiko at Animal Kingdom Lodge. We ate at Narcoossee's on our first night and it was lovely to dress up a little and have delicious seafood in a Nantucket-style classy-casual place. Then we just got on the monorail and did a nighttime run around the Magic Kingdom. What could be better?

Next week- the travel binder.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Book Club Names

If you're in a book club, how did your club get its name?
  • Do you name it by region, like the Queens Literati, a local club in my borough,
  • Or by what you read, like the Booker Prize Book Club?
  • Do you pick by the gender of the group's members, like Dashing Divas or Book Club for Men?
  • Or age? Like Young at Heart?
  • Or maybe just something quirky and random that describes your unique group?
I'm kind of fascinated by this topic and how it impacts the book club's appeal and possibly even longevity. Does a blander name mean more people can relate to it, or does it mean that it doesn't present a specific enough identity for folks to cling to?


Or, what happens when you go off topic? Like when the Booker Prize Book Club decided to stop reading Booker Prize-nominated books exclusively? What happens then? Should that club get a new name?

Book club naming is definitely an exercise in branding. Can you name your club something if another club is already using that name? I don't mean to ask this in terms of copyright but more in terms of etiquette. Is there etiquette around choosing a name that's already in use?

I can't recall having been part of a club at its inception, so I've never had to name a club, but the question came up because the bookstore where I used to work is forming two young-adult book clubs, one for teens and one for adults. I tried brainstorming some names but I was torn between names that were too age-specific and possibly unappealing to the adults especially, and names that were cool but not specific enough to the topic. What would you name these clubs?

Have you ever decided not to join a club because of its name, even if the topics or affinity interested you?  I've been in several over the years- one for local alumnae of my college, one that was religious and I tried a couple of library book clubs and MeetUp groups in NYC. Some of them have stuck longer than others, but naming always seems to be an issue. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review: GHOST LIGHTS, by Lydia Millet

Ghost Lights, by Lydia Millet. Published 2012 by W.W. Norton & Company. Literary Fiction.

Ghost Lights is the second volume of Lydia Millet's "Extinction" trilogy and like many second volumes it serves as a transition from the first to the third. The first book, How the Dead Dream, tells the story of T., a man who goes from capitalist to conservationist and then gets lost in the jungles of Belize after a storm destroys a resort he's trying to build. The second book picks up the action after T.'s disappearance but is told from the point of view of Hal, the husband of T.'s assistant Susan, and Hal is a ghost light of a kind, a transient figure who is seen and then disappears.

Hal has never had a high opinion of T., but he volunteers to go to Belize to find T. after Hal finds out that Susan has been having an affair with a younger coworker and that their daughter is working as a phone sex operator. Confused and feeling like a ghost in his own life, he makes the trip thinking it will just be a chance to get away and that he won't find T. at all. He feels like an invisible presence in the life of his family, whom he doesn't recognize anymore.

Millet is an excellent writer, kind of like a mid-career Margaret Atwood before speculative fiction took over her canon. Ghost Lights isn't as flashy as How the Dead Dream, or the splendid final volume of the series, Magnificence, which I read when it came out and plan to re-read. Those two were unforgettable for me, and I can't say I loved Ghost Lights though I think it plays an important role in the series. It is a crucial pass-through point, not just answering questions asked in the first book and setting up the third, but spotlighting a man who feels unobserved in his own life, a shadow of what he imagined he would be. Hal is a man who's been passed through, passed by.  It is a quiet and quietly profound study of family, mid-life crisis and what happens when you realize the people you love aren't what you assumed they were, and find out they are the people they have always been after all.  If that makes sense, I strongly recommend the whole series.

Rating: BACKLIST

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, November 16, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finally finished The Big Green Tent, by Ludmila Ulitskaya, which I think has to be my favorite book this year by sheer size and volume. It's going to take me a bit to process it but it was really, really good.

I'm still working on Flood of Fire but I only have like five chapters to go. So any day now!

As for what's next, I've got a few things in mind. I did start Cities of Salt, by Abdelrachman Munif, about the discovery of oil in a fictional Persian country, and I'm enjoying it very much. It's another chunkster but it moves and I'm reading 2-3 chapters a night before going to sleep.

Since Big Green Tent was my "purse book" I'm open to new candidates, though I think I might indulge in a quick César Aira to cleanse my palate before another big book. I kind of want to read the new Patrick Modiano, So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood. Or maybe I'll burn through some shorter novels for a while and clear some space on my bookshelf- for new books! What do you suggest?

And what are you reading this week? Tell me in the comments!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Salon

Another week, another- what?

I couldn't even tell you. Event-wise, there were three highlights- my husband's office annual dinner, seeing a Doctor Who episode on the big screen at the Museum of the Moving Image and the annual Momo Crawl.

The Momo Crawl is an event when Queens residents and others gather in the Jackson Heights neighborhood to walk around to the 20+ purveyors of Tibetan food in a six-block radius to eat as many soup dumplings as we can in three hours. Participants include food trucks, sit-down table service restaurants, walk-up counters and basement buffets. This being New York, there is even a Tibetan restaurant inside a cellphone store. My group was the first to pick up maps from organizer Jeff Orlick, who used to conduct food tours in Jackson Heights; this was our second year doing the crawl and at least the third that it's been going on.

Trays of momos awaiting hungry crawlers!
So the way it works is, you pick up a map from Orlick, then go around on a self-guided tour of momo discovery and pay $1 for each momo you eat. Most places had a variety to choose from, usually chicken, beef and vegetarian, and the veggie option could be anything from chives to a mix to potato depending on the place. One restaurant's momos had a kind of curry filling and another had what I swear was lamb. But everything was yummy and one restaurant even had little dessert cakes made from barley flour, yak cheese and butter that they gave out for free. We started early and had about ten momos each.

The annual dinner was fun also. My husband is a First Amendment lawyer and works for an organization that supports journalists; his organization's annual dinner featured documentary films as the subject of a panel and included some very thought-provoking material. Also the food was very good and I got to rent a pretty dress so that was fun.

Later this week we're planning to see "Spotlight," one of the films featured at the dinner, which is about how the Boston Globe broke the story of the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal in the Boston archdiocese, and get started on Christmas cards. Because it's getting to be that time!

This week I have a bag of books to donate at Housing Works, a big charity bookshop in Soho, and a trip planned to Manhattan's quilt shop, The City Quilter.

What are you up to today?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Disney World Part One: Gathering Information

Before this year I'd never been to a Disney park, but for some reason I got a bee in my bonnet and when my husband and I were talking about where we might go on vacation for 2015, Disney was the winner.

This conversation happened in February and being the person I am, I started doing my research right away. I made a Pinterest board and got to work, and of course the first thing I realized is how much information is available on the internet. Blog posts, discussion boards- you name it. I read so many, about dining, about rides, about hotels, about planning. I pinned a bunch of sites and then I went to the bookstore and came home with two books, Birnbaum's 2015 Walt Disney World, The Complete Walt Disney World 2015 and got a detailed look at a third in the bookstore,The Unofficial Guide.

The Birnbaum book is the official guide- meaning the guide that Disney publishes about Disney, and as such it contains virtually no opinions about the parks besides "everything is awesome." It does have good information on Orlando hotels and attractions that are not Disney-related though, but for us, the wholly uncritical point of view was not helpful. If you want more opinions, I recommend two books, The Complete Walt Disney World and The Unofficial Guide.

The Complete Walt Disney World 2015 helped me a lot in planning FastPasses and picking attractions to make a priority. And it helped me a lot to just get to know what to expect overall. The opinions in this book are those of the authors, an Orlando-area couple who spend enough time at Disney to write books about it. The presentation included lots of photos and the book was easy to use. After the fact I found that my take on things wasn't always the same as theirs, but their opinions and commentary were still really helpful. I couldn't have done my planning without this book.

The Unofficial Guide is like the encyclopedia of Disney World. I didn't buy this book because I had already bought the other two, but I wish I had and if I go again I will. Not only does it have lots of opinions from its readers (maybe too many?) but it has some really helpful workbook pages to assist you in planning the nuts and bolts of your trip. It also has extensive coverage of non-Disney attractions and hotels in the Orlando area.

For our next trip I would also purchase a book on Hidden Mickeys, those images of the mouse scattered throughout the park that are fun to hunt down and find. I thought that was too much detail for the first trip, and I'm glad I didn't get hung up on it this time. I do think looking for the Hidden Mickeys would be fun next time, though!

Other great places to get information include Pinterest and the Disney discussion boards. The Disboard Disney Discussion Forums in particular are amazing and comprehensive, and you can get real-time tips and tricks from folks who have extensive Disney experience- and may be in the parks right now. If you have specific questions that the books don't cover, the Disboard is a great place to get answers.

Come back next week for part two of planning- ADRs!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: CECILIA, by Linda Ferri

Cecilia, by Linda Ferri. Published 2010 by Europa Editions. Literary Fiction. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.

The story of a Roman woman who becomes a Christian martyr, Cecilia is absorbing historical fiction about rebellion and finding yourself. Set in the second century A.D., Cecilia starts when its title character is about 15 and still living with her parents, noble Romans involved in public life. Her mother is bereft following a series of miscarriages and early deaths of her children; her father is distracted and Cecilia is left to her tutors, her friends and mostly to herself. She dreads marriage and soon finds herself questioning her society's values and looking elsewhere for fulfillment.

The book is immersing but really takes flight once Cecilia becomes involved with a local group of Christians and starts to navigate this new world and her place in it. They become like a new family for her, after her marriage has faltered and her relationship with her parents strained. But like any family they are fractious and fight among themselves as they all try to figure out what it actually means to be a part of this fledgling religion. I liked that these people don't have it all figured out yet, that they struggle and experience doubts and conflicts. Cecilia finds her calling in service to the poor, and she tries to set aside the internal politics of the new church and focus on this central mission to give her life meaning. Watching a woman of her class living the word of Christ, Cecilia reflects "...I understood that if prayer is words, the word is not a dead letter but life and love. She was a rich matron, and now she has callouses on her hands from so much work and blisters on her feet from all the miles she walks to visit the needy."

But what she's doing is illegal in Rome, and she is soon called upon to denounce the faith or risk
execution. Her family tries to intervene, but what will be her ultimate fate? That's not really a mystery but watching her approach it is fascinating and moving, and it makes me want to visit the church in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome, which was the real-life Saint Cecilia's home and is dedicated to her. Through the twists of history she is the patron saint of musicians but this book a rumination  of her life rather than her legend. I recommend it to readers of literary and historical fiction and for adults who read YA for the way it examines the life and mind of an adolescent.

This is my 16th book for the 2015 Europa Challenge. You can visit the blog at EuropaChallenge.blogspot.com.


Rating: BACKLIST

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Book Links

Fun to find out Irish-Canadian author Anakana Schofield has won the Shadow Giller Prize for her novel Martin John. I haven't read it, but I did read her earlier novel Malarky and really enjoyed it. I will have to find a copy of Martin John sooner rather than later.

BookRiot Live took place in New York City this past weekend. I didn't go but from Twitter it seemed like a good time.

The New York Times released its list of the 100 Best Illustrated Childrens' Books of 2015. Check it out here.

Here's a Forbes article on Amazon's new physical bookstore. What do you think? Personally my dream would be to go there, find a book I wanted and tell the booksellers I was going to buy it from one of Seattle's many fine independent bookstores. After taking a picture of it with my phone. Then I'd ask to use their bathroom.

Tired of bummed-out dystopian novels? I know I am. Here's an article on a movement to bring optimism back to the conversation.

Here's a great article from the Observer about one of my favorite writers, Massimo Carlotto.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Salon: I'm Back

So I changed up my logo back to my original picture, because the black color scheme and nighttime photo were depressing me. I know it's not "BB in NYC" anymore but that identity doesn't suit me. I'll always be a Boston girl no matter where I live.

A couple of other things are changing. The Europa Challenge is ending at the end of this year. I've run this blog challenge for five years now and diminishing participation has convinced me it's time to call it quits. Part of a good social media strategy is knowing when something isn't doing what it used to do. It's been a lot of fun. I've met some great bloggers, read a lot of wonderful books and getting to know the Europa Editions team, in particular visiting their offices both in NYC and in Rome, has been a real treat. Some of the most compelling reading I've done in the last 10 years has been under their banner, and I'll still be one of their biggest fans. If anyone wants to take it over from me, just let me know and I'd be happy to hand over the reins.


I'm going to try to make my blog more community-oriented and participate more in the larger blogging community. Somehow I've lost sight of that over the past few years. For starters I'll be taking part in the Thankfully Reading event on Thanksgiving weekend. I won't have a ton of time to read but I should have some, and I'm looking forward to sharing it with my fellow bloggers. It's hosted by Jenn at Jenn's Bookshelves and should be fun. And I hope to be getting back to the Sunday Salon community, too.

I added an Etsy link to the top left of the blog too, so if you're interested in any of the things I make and sell, take a look. There are purses, pouches, jewelry and lots of other items too, many with bookish fabric or themes. I also do a lot with Doctor Who and other novelty fabric. Check it out!

I've been going through my old reviews and taking out buy links and doing other updates. My goal is to have my blog affiliate-link-free by the end of this year. And I'm taking another break from Facebook, so if you follow me there and I haven't been liking your posts lately, it's because I'm not reading any.

The more things change the more they stay the same!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

First Ornament of the Season

I found a tutorial online somewhere to make this little felt donut. It was supposed to be bigger but I wanted mine to be ornament-sized so it could go on my tree. It took under an hour to make and was a great excuse to use up some beads and felt. I can't wait to make some more ornaments!

What are your crafting plans for the holiday season?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

What Should Readers Expect from Writers?

Kate Tuttle over at LitHub.com  wrote an article asking what writers owe readers- that is, if writers have an obligation to answer fan mail, help with school assignments and be otherwise available to their readers via social media. Social media has created a new breed of Internet-celebrity author (Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood for example) and opportunities for access that didn't exist before.

In the past, a student had to research where to send a physical letter to an author, who might choose to respond or not. When I was in high school a friend sent a polite letter to a local literary A-lister and got a curt postcard "I don't do student papers" in response. The kid told the story around, and it influenced my opinion of that author, but there was nothing anyone could do beyond tell stories. Nowadays readers have blogs and social media followings of their own, and any slip from grace on an author's part can be broadcast indefinitely. That said, the question of an author's obligations to his or her readers isn't new but technology has certainly changed one's sense of proximity to the other.

For some readers, seeing an author on our Twitter feed is like celebrity spotting; it makes our day when a favorite author deigns to acknowledge our existence. When Margaret Atwood replied to one of my tweets, I was beaming for hours. A friend was thrilled to get a private message from a favorite writer only to be bummed when it turned out that the author had been hacked and the message was spam. Another friend was excited when a famous author commented on her daughter's blog, cementing that little girl's fandom for life.

On the downside, this visibility can inflate expectations and someone might presume an intimacy that doesn't exist. Some people think that these authors are actually their friends.  Students might think that all authors are available for homework help at all times. No one wants to be jerk, and fans only do it out of, well, fandom, but I think everyone needs to manage their expectations a little.

Fans need to realize that authors have limited time, and their social media time is work more than it's play. It's a tool most people use to an end, like building professional relationships or advertising their work, and it takes time away from what they really want to do- write. So does answering homework questions. People sometimes feel (I have) that because you know an author's work that you know the author- but you don't. You may know the books, but you don't know the author, and more to the point, the author doesn't know you. You are a stranger to that person. They appreciate your well-wishes and kind words, but they don't always have time to be your friend. Think how you would feel if every day you opened your email to find messages from strangers asking for things. Little things, big things, but things that take time and keep you from your work. It might start out as fun or nice but after dozens if not hundreds of them, maybe it stops being that way after a while.

I'm not going to tell writers how to proceed; I think that decision has to be individual. Whatever they do it might be a good idea to have a strategy in mind or even a formal policy stated on their website (and other social media profiles) and adopted consistently. For some that might mean avoiding social media all together. Or sticking to following fellow professionals as opposed to readers. For others it might mean a friendly form letter to use in response to homework questions, maybe one that points to other resources. Still others will want to embrace interaction and make it part of their day. It's tricky because one author might be open to helping and unintentionally give the impression that others might do the same; some have assistants handling their fan email and create the illusion of accessibility where it doesn't exist.

At the end of the day though I think it's up to readers, as well as their parents and teachers, to set realistic expectations and teach appropriate boundaries. And writers can do their part to let readers know what to expect. Readers need to understand that writers are doing their job, and that social media is part of that job. It's nice when authors interact with their readers but nobody should really expect it- just try to be grateful and enjoy it when it happens.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Review: HOW THE DEAD DREAM, by Lydia Millet

How the Dead Dream, by Lydia Millet. Published 2009 by Mariner Books. Literary Fiction.

T. is a lifelong capitalist who discovers young the joys and rewards of accumulating money for its own sake. He hoards small gifts, scams neighbors and eventually grows into a successful real estate developer, a kind of Donald Trump in miniature. He has trouble connecting with other people though and when his central romantic relationship ends with his girlfriend's sudden death, he falls into a strange spiral of self-destructiveness that ends with his disappearance in a Belize jungle.

This is but a summary of Lydia Millet's lovely and strange novel How the Dead Dream, first in her "Extinction" series. All three books concern the relationship of three modern Americans to the natural world. Each book in the series is told from a different character's point of view as the action moves forward. This book starts with T., whose full name we don't learn until the second volume, Ghost Lights, and his childhood and family. His parents appear to have a conventional marriage until his father up and abandons the family leaving T.'s mother distraught and confused, and T. angry and confused. Then she moves in with her son. T.'s relationship with his father resonated with me; Millet conveys T.'s frustration as his father cuts him out of his life then steadfastly refuses to deal with the mess his actions have created. T. forges connections, too, for example with Casey, the daughter of his assistant Susan. Casey was disabled in a car accident and at first T. sees her as an object of pity and his friendship with her as a good deed on his part:
He needed Casey, he thought, because he liked her company, because her presence made him more than he was without it, but he could not deny that at the beginning he had also believed he was doing her a favor. That was where his arrogance had been. It was a mistake to think that because someone had fallen down, someone was injured or sick or less than complete, you were giving more to them by your association than they were giving you. It was a bad mistake.
Thus grows his awareness that he is not at the center of his own life. Then his girlfriend Beth's death and harm that comes to his beloved pet complete his sense of powerlessness and push him so far outside of himself the reader is left wondering if he will ever come back.

T. grows from a self-centered existence to one where he knows he is part of a larger world, learning to love, learning to accept loss in all its forms, even the loss of one's definition of self. It's not just a didactic tale of capitalism versus environmentalism but how we fit into the world, the natural world and the world of other people and how our losses mirror bigger changes. Millet reminds me of Margaret Atwood before she went post-apocalyptic, and this is a book whose politics emphasize the personal alongside an awareness of the larger issues at stake.  It's a book about identity and the forms it takes, about learning from the world around you and learning from yourself and others, about including the whole world in your world to achieve balance and presence. It's a fascinating and beautiful novel and a challenging, unusual and moving series I can't recommend strongly enough.

I'll be reviewing volume 2, Ghost Lights, soon, and you can find my review of Magnificence, the third volume, here.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Red Pencils for the Red Wedding

One of the things that drives me a little crazy is the phenomenon of what I call the "attractive nuisance." This is a book or a series of books that is, in my opinion, marketed to all the wrong people. Today I was browsing in one of my favorite NYC bookstores when I came across the The Official A Game of Thrones Coloring Book. This is just wrong, guys.

One time when I was a bookseller, a woman approached the counter and asked me where she could find "that kid's book Game of Thrones." Um, Game of Thrones is many things, so I've been lead to understand, but a kid's book it is not. It has a lot of graphic sex, graphic violence, incest, all manner of abuse and degradation- in some cases worse stuff than what shows up on the TV series. Which is also not for children, by the way.

I explained to this customer that while it's none of my business what she wants to give her 10 year old, there are some issues that she might want to be aware of. Like the incest and the rape and graphic beheading. She reacted like it was my fault the book wasn't suitable for her child. No, it's just that someone has lead you very very astray.

And creating a coloring book isn't going to help matters. I get that coloring books are a big fad for adults right now and that's great. Not only does it help bookstores sell fun gifts but it helps the colored pencil market too, so everybody wins. But a Game of Thrones coloring book? It's just going to attract more inappropriate attention.  I took a look through it and I didn't notice any gross beheadings to color in, which is good and bad. Good because who wants to color that in, and bad because it might mislead more parents into thinking that just because something is a fantasy series and on TV that it's great for their kid to read.

I have the same issue with things like The Oatmeal books being front and center on the gift tables. Heck, when I was a librarian I had to dissuade several parents away from Joann Sfar's wonderful-but-for-adults graphic novel The Rabbi's Cat, because duh if it has pictures it's for kids, right?

Well not everything is for kids and none of the things I've mentioned in this post are even a little appropriate for children, at least in my opinion. But like I said, what you want to give them is not really my business.

Monday, November 2, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well, I finally have some progress to report! I'm not done with my chunksters yet (it would help if I picked them up every once in a while) but I did finish Linda Ferri's historical novel Cecilia, about the Roman woman who became a Christian martyr. I have a review drafted and plan to put it up later.

Anyway now I'm reading The Night of the Hunter, Davis Grubb's Depression-era thriller about a serial-killing preacher hunting a stolen fortune. It's so good, you guys. If you don't believe me, read Margaret Atwood's essay, Why I Love Night of the Hunter. Also, the movie is fantastic. It's creepy enough for Halloween but used to show up at my local revival theater for Christmas, because it ends at Christmastime.

Both are well worth your time. I'm savoring my re-read of Hunter. I first read it as a teen and had never read anything like it before, and now that I've read more crime fiction and some comparable titles like Nightmare Alley, I'm getting a new perspective on it.

What are you reading this week?