Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Monday, April 28, 2014

Readathon Wrap-up Meme/Survey

All y'all are probably sick of hearing about the readathon, especially those of you who didn't participate. Please excuse me for one more post about it, a bit of housekeeping. I promise not to talk about it again until October.

Wrap up meme/survey for Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon:
  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Probably the hours right after I finished my first book. I wasn't ready to jump into another book and was feeling like I could drop out. Going for a walk, playing with my dog, doing some cheering, and reading around on participants' blogs helped me eventually move into the second book.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? We Have Always Lived in a Castle by Shirley Jackson is an engaging, short read that would appeal to both literary and genre readers as it has a bit of everything in it. Ditto for Vlad by Carlos Fuentes (which would also appeal to those who are into translated/international literature).
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? This was my first readathon and I thought it was perfect. I was just blown away by all the resources and encouragement provided by the hosts and participants and the intense feelings of fellowship. Having a better plan/schedule for myself would be good.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? The cheerleader spreadsheet was totally groovy. It was great to see who was on what team and have the links to everyone's blogs. What an amazing resource.
  5. How many books did you read? Two very short ones.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson and A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? I enjoyed them both equally. Lame, but true. I think Jackson probably has broader appeal.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? I don't understand the question. :)
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? I was a cheerleader and enjoyed it very much! Have a set time with a time limit to cheer--I got sucked into Twitter and blogs and didn't balance my own reading very well.
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? Extremely likely! I think I'll always be a cheerleader, even if its #teamrogue. I can see being a co-host.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sunday Salon: A HUGE Week in Books

What a big book week this has been! First off there was World Book Night on Wednesday. I gave out copies of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. This novel is categorized as young adult historical fiction, but its a good read for adults, too. Its the story of two young women who serve during WWII. One is from England, one is from Scotland. One is a commoner, one is an aristocrat. One flies planes, one does special missions.

Its like a classic spy novel in that you don't know what's going on and things eventually come together. Lots of historical detail, lots of literary references. One of my favorite details is the use of a new invention, the ball point pen, that the Royal Air Force (RAF) buys for pilots to use in the air. Prior to this invention it was pencils (with their breakable leads) and fountain pens (that leak and need to be refilled more often).
Giver box, picked up at R.J. Julia Bookstore.

For the past two years I gave out WBN books to staff and outpatients at the Hines VA Hospital in IL. Since I moved and am still getting grounded, I wasn't sure where to go. Haven't yet clicked with the VA Hospital nearest me, so I decided I'd simply go around town. I handed some books out on the town green, at a rest stop off I-95, and to a few to employees at the new job I just started the day before WBN.

At the town green I had a wonderful conversation with a husband (who looked like a gnarled old sea captain) and wife (who was trying to manage their rambunctious new puppy) about reading. The wife talked about how, as a child, she was dyslexic and didn't learned to read comfortably until she was much old than the other kids. At the rest stopped I approached a guy with a USMC sticker on his pickup. As a USMC vet myself, this gave me an easy shoe-in to start a conversation. Turns out this gentleman was a retired colonel and Vietnam veteran.

Couple on the green walking way with their free book after chatting about reading. Next year I need to take along my partner who is a photographer and get more pictures! I'm too buy talking with folks to remember to take pictures.
Only two people turn me down this year, which is pretty amazing. One guy just laughed nervously, obviously didn't want to talk, so I moved on. The other guy was rather grumpy and said he had more books than he knew what to do with, so no, he wasn't interested in another book. I could easily sympathize with the latter. And the point of WBN is to give to folks who aren't already big readers. Its not always easy being a giver, but you just smile and move on.

Can't wait to see what books will be in the offering for WBN 2015! Visit the World Book Night website to learn more and see how you can get involved next year.

Then, on Saturday, it was time for Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon! This was my first time participating in this longtime event.What a great time, what a luxury to be able to clear a whole day to do nothing but focus on reading and connecting with other readers.

I learned, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that reading multiple books in a day is not my cup of tea. I already kind of knew this about myself as I've always been a one-story-a-day reader. I rarely start a new book on a day I finish a book, especially when it comes to novels. I need time for a story to sink in and for the mist of it to clear out of my head before I dive into something new. For the fall readathon I think I'll chose a big, fat novel, like War and Peace or Les Miserables, and see how much of it I can read in a day.

Yesterday I read Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle and Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It. Excellent reads, very different on the surface, but both explore issues like familial relationships, gender expectations and roles, how lives are created and maintained, and--in a big way--what it means to help others. It never ceases to amaze me how even the most oddly combined books can have common themes.

While the reading was good for me yesterday, what was also great was meeting so many new bloggers and readers on Twitter and Instagram. There was also action going on through Tumblr and Facebook. Check it out and consider giving it a whirl yourself in October!

Thanks for reading! I hope you had a great week in books and have a good book in your hands for the week ahead!

Readathon Check-In #2

I'm a one story a day reader. I've known this about myself for a long time. I rarely start a book on the same day that I finish another. Sometimes when a book I've read touches me deeply, I might take a few days off reading before I start a new novel to give my brain time to assimilate and further understand what I just read. Or, I'll read nonfiction.

If I'm able to do Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon in the fall, I think I'm going to read War and Peace or some equally long novel and see how far I can get into it rather than try to read several shorter ones. Don't get me wrong, today has been wonderfully relaxing. To be able to put aside an entire day for nothing but reading is a luxury.

After finishing my first book for the readathon, I went for a walk to clear my head.

Reading location #2. After the walk I decided to read outside a bit, but first Lola insisted we play some catch.

I just finished book #2, A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. It's a complex story about two brothers who obviously love one another and how they communicate. The story is told by the older brother who isn't sure how to help his younger brother who likes to drink, fight, and is accumulating deep gambling debts. Fly fishing, thinking like fish, and knowing how to read a river help the narrator figure things out. This is one of those stories to be savored. There are some interesting comparisons that could be made between this story and James Dickey's Deliverance on American manhood, wilderness vs. civilization, and male friendships

It's midnight now. Not sure what I'm going to pick up next, but I'm going to try to read for at least a few more hours. Confession: I already fell asleep once for about 15 minutes.

How you all doing? Staying awake? Any great book discoveries?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Check In #1: Dewey's 24 hour Readathon

I am so ridiculously happy to be participating in my first Dewey's 24 hour Read-a-thon! I'm on eastern time, so my goal is to read from 8 a.m. on Saturday to 8 a.m. on Sunday. Back in the day I was a night owl, but these days I'm more of a morning person, so if I read past 2 a.m. it will be a miracle. (I'm usually snoring by 11 p.m.)

My first reading spot of the day, where I usually begin each day with a bit of reading. I had images of myself whipping through books like nobody's business today, but so far I've read 146 pages in, um, eight hours. Like my dog, today I'm easily distracted by birds, squirrels, breakfast, Twitter, etc. (Well, my dog's not on Twitter, by you know what I mean.)  I made it through my first book slower than molasses on a cold day, but I loved every minute of it.
My first Book of the Day was Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Live in the Castle. I wasn't planning on reading this one, but after Allison (who blogs at The Book Wheel) suggested it on Twitter last night I couldn't get it out of my head. I was saving it for a rainy day or this fall or something. I don't know. Wow--what an awesome book to start the readathon with! Like everything I've read by Jackson, I felt compelled to immediately begin re-reading this one as soon as I finished it. While it didn't dethrone The Haunting of Hill House as my favorite Jackson story, it is an excellent read and one I will no doubt re-read.
First snack of the day. I was going to try to leave the "unhealthier" snacks for after dinner reading, but once I know there are chips in the house, they don't last very long! I just started working for a natural food market this week, so I'm hoping that being around healthier food will help me kick my chip habit (Doritos are my favorite, but pictured above are potato chips). However, as it is #readathon day, I've decided to pretend there are no divisions such as healthy vs. unhealthy snackage. Carrots and hummus are also in the menu.
And how cool is it that I won a door prize at hour 5?! My first prize pick was The Sun and Other Stars by Bridgid Pasulka because my blogging buddy BiblioSue recently recommended it. I also recently picked up Pasulka's first book, A Long, Long Time Ago & Essentially True based on BiblioSue's recommendation. Well, actually, we were in a bookstore and she handed it to me and told me to buy it, so it was more of an order than a recommendation, but that's how book bloggers roll....

Over 800 people are participating in today's readathon! Check it out over at Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon or if you're on Twitter check out #readathon. We're trending internationally, which means book nerds are the cool kids!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday Salon: The Dreaded Reader's Slump

Good things happened this week:
  1. Book Bloggers International. I was a featured blogger this week! Check it out here.
  2. Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon: I committed to reading for 24 hours next Saturday (4/26) and I volunteered to be a cheerleader, too. This will be my first read-a-thon and of course I'm pondering what books to pile next to my reading chair. Join us! Last I looked there are already 259 readers signed up!
A not so good thing (or maybe its just a neutral thing) happened this week, too:

The dreaded reader's slump hit.

Perhaps it's the spring weather that's making me a restless reader, but last week I had a hard time settling into a book.

I'd been (I'd say 'happily,' but its not that kind of book) reading along in Suite Francaise when a gruesome scene halted me in my tracks. I will eventually read on in this novel and still have it listed as 'currently reading' on Goodreads, but I needed to put it down for a while. Kind of like how Joey in "Friends" would put The Shining in the freezer when things got too intense.

So, I downloaded Nevada Barr's new mystery, Destroyer Angel. I'd been awaiting its release, but after taking three days to get only a third of the way into it, I abandoned the book. I realized I just didn't care about the characters or their situation enough to read on. And it seemed like Anna Pigeon isn't very involved, up through the point I read anyway. I've enjoyed Barr's Anna Pigeon series since it started in the early 1990s and was both surprised and bummed that I wasn't able to lose myself in her latest offering. I will try it again sometime in the future. Has anyone read this one yet? Is it just me?

After that disappointment, I thought I'd try a guaranteed page turner: Dan Brown. Who doesn't love Dan Brown? (Wait, don't answer that question.) My partner bought me Inferno last spring to read while I was recuperating from some oral surgery. Due to an allergic reaction to both the antibiotics and the pain medication, I didn't get any reading done that long weekend. Then we got busy with moving prep and moving, and I decided to keep the book for a special weekend. Well, this was that weekend and Inferno did not do it for me. I made it halfway through the book before I gave up on it. It seemed repetitious and dull. Again, is it me? Anyone else read this one and love it? Should I give it another chance?

Desperate for a novel to get in to, I tried my own advice of reading an old favorite. (I had already taken my "get out into nature" advice and "take a day drive" advice that I give people when they're in a reading slump.)  I pulled Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried off the shelf and read the lead story. That gave me back my reading mojo. It is so amazingly good.

Have you ever had a reading slump? What do you think causes it? Do you think it could come from too much reading? Too much serious or trivial reading? How do you get through it?

Coming up this week:

The big deal this week is World Book Night on Wednesday. I'm handing out Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity. This will be my third year as a giver, but my first in Connecticut. Are you a giver this year? What title are you handing out?

Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Booktopia Vermont: Day 3

Steve Himmer
Sunday morning was the final event of Booktopia Vermont. Author Steve Himmer joined Ann, Michael, and a few dozen Booktopians back at the Northshire Bookstore for a discussion on the topic Reading Like a Writer.

What does it mean to read like a writer? How do you do it?  Can you ever not read as a writer after you learn how to? Where do audiobooks fit into this mix?

I really enjoyed this discussion. It seemed that everyone was pretty much in agreement that English majors and voracious readers tend to read for the story, character, and themes. Sure, such readers are often struck by a beautiful scene or sentence, but digging in and unpacking how such a beautiful scene was constructed to understand how it caused that effect is not something most readers get into. At least not most of us who were in the room nodding in agreement. Writers do dig in. Steve mentioned that he'll re-read books important to him several times to see how the writer does what he does in order to learn those techniques.

So when writers read they see things readers don't necessarily pay attention to although readers will/might feel these things. This is neither good nor bad; it just is. Author Matthew Dicks was in attendance and made the comparison to a friend of his who builds houses. The friend walks into a house and sees every thing behind the walls, he no longer just appreciates a pretty room. In fact, may not be able to simply see only a pretty room anymore. The point being that writers, as story builders, see the underpinning, the structural beams holding up the created story.

This analogy resonated with me. I thought about when we bought our first house. Like most first time home buyers we were so naive--we were all about the style of the house, how we would inhabit its space, where it was located in relation to what was important to us. Looking for our second home was a different experience. We were still concerned about the style, the space, the location, but we also knew what to look for in terms of structural soundness, health of the mechanicals, proper drainage, etc. I can still appreciate a nice looking house, but I'm also more aware of the nuts & bolts and potential issues a house may have.

P.S. Duffy
One of my favorite comments came from Penny Duffy who said (and I am nowhere near as eloquent as she was when she said this) that during a first draft the writer is writing like a reader--writing to get the story, images, and characters onto the page. Then, during subsequent drafts, the writer is reading like a writer--looking for opportunities to apply the tools of the trade in order to transform the draft into a seemingly effortless story for other readers to enjoy. I hope I got that right. It makes perfect sense to me.

Once writers intimately understand how a story is constructed, can they ever read for pleasure? Steve said he reads outside of the genre he's writing in for pleasure. For one, he isn't comparing technique, and two, he isn't being influenced by content that's similar to what he may be writing. Not reading a book that's on the same subject you're writing about is the easiest way to avoid charges of plagiarism. I have heard that's why Patricia Cornwell doesn't read mystery/thriller novels (and she was accused of plagiarism in the past).

Matthew Dicks said he finds that listening to audiobooks makes him less critical of the writing. He simply listens and enjoys the story. A Booktopian said the exact opposite happens to her, that she is more analytical when listening to audiobooks. Interesting, right? I wonder how much these opposing reactions have to do with learning styles. My critical tools go out the window when I'm listening to an audiobook. If anything bothers me its usually the narrator's voice. I'm more of a visual and tactile learner than an auditory learner.

This brought up an experience that Kelly Corrigan had. Her latest book was already typeset and she was recording the audiobook version. Through reading her work out loud, she found all sorts of changes that she wanted to make. 1,100 to be exact. And since the book was already typeset she had to pay for the changes to be made, but she did because they were that important. Bruce Holsinger told someone that he cringed a bunch of times at his own writing when listening to his book in audio. So note to writers: read your work aloud! [Cayt, if you're reading this, remember how you told me to do that last year?? You're brilliant!]

I could go on and on about this session and how awesome it was, but hopefully the recorder worked and you'll eventually hear it on Books on the Nightstand.

If you're interested in learning how to read like a writer, check out Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them. I have the book and started reading it earlier this year, but got a little overwhelmed. I think I'll go back to it, but take it much more slowly. Its not only for writers, but for readers who want to learn how to read more deeply.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Booktopia Vermont: Day 2

The highlight of the day for me was attending Gail Caldwell's afternoon event.

Gail Caldwell and Michael Kindness
I adore Gail's memoir, Let's Take the Long Way Home, and am looking forward to reading her new one, New Life, No Instructions 

But first, some shots from around town (Manchester, Vermont).

Future home of the Manchester Community Library.

Ye Olde Tavern . . .
. . . wining & dining since 1790 (website).
Flying Cow Signs (website)

The American Museum of Fly Fishing (website). Notice the marble side walk. There's lots of marble around town. I'll have to ask someone about that tomorrow.
The view up Main Street from the Northshire Bookstore.
The Northshire Bookstore runs on solar power. How cool is that?
#shelfie in Northshire. Some day I'll own my own cow.
And here we are at the big Saturday night author event. Ann and Michael say a few words to a standing room only crowd. It appeared that all 85 Booktopians and lots of folks from the community attended.
Bruce Holsinger read us Caedmon's Hymn in both Old English and modern English. So beautiful.
Gail Caldwell: "Writing is a solitary act of faith."
John Demos. His new book is The Heathen School: A Story of Hope & Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic. An earlier book of his, The Unredeemed Captive (1995), is still selling strong at Northshire. In fact, they've sold more copies of the book than any bookstore in the country. I'm embarrassed to admit I bought that book when it first came out and I've yet to read it. I just moved it toward the top of my TBR list!
Rupert Thomson: now a posh author, but once upon a time he was the winter caretaker of Miriam Margolyes's (Professor Sprout) house in Tuscany.
P.S. (Penny) Duffy talked about the inspiration for writing stories, the fire that a writer feels to explore a subject.
Kelly Corrigan. Shoplifter. Wow, is she funny! Glitter and Glue is her new book.
The one canine in attendance fell asleep a time or two, but overall seemed to enjoy the evening as much all as the humans in the room. Each author spoke for about 10 minutes and afterwards signed copies of their books. Ann and Michael recorded tonight's event and will eventually feature the authors on Books on the Nightstand. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Booktopia Vermont: Day 1

What is Booktopia, you ask?
"Booktopia is a series of three annual reader/author weekend events, held at various locations around the US in partnership with great independent bookstores."
Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness of the podcast Books on the Nightstand started Booktopia several years ago in Manchester, Vermont. They have have since included more locations throughout the US, but each event is capped off at 85 attendees and 6 authors in order to keep the experience on the intimate side. And one of the three events, I'm told, will always be held in Manchester in partnership with the Northshire Bookstore.

This year the Vermont event sold out in six minutes. I was on the waiting list and was invited to come on Wednesday. I lucked out! This is my first Booktopia, but some attendees are old hands.

Here are some pictures from Day 1:
Bibliophiles queuing up, waiting for the doors of the First Baptist Church to open. This year the author events are held inside this church and in the Northshire Bookstore, which is the blue-green building in the back.
Ann and Michael kick things off.

Bruce Holsinger, author of the Chaucer historical thriller A Burnable Book, and P.S. Duffy, author of the World War I novel The Cartographer of No Man's Land, discuss historical fiction.
Rupert Thomson reads from his new novel Secrecy. This novel is also historical fiction, set in Florence in 1691. This is not the Florence of the Renaissance days, but a dark, repressive Florence where pleasure is outlawed. A composer friend of Thomson's may be turning this story into an opera.

Here's a shot of the Northsire Bookstore (on the left) and the First Baptist Church (on the right).
I also attended the Yankee Book Swap which was held at the Inn at Manchester. For this event attendees were asked to bring a wrapped book of their choice, either a favorite or even a gag book. The books were placed on a table and we were each given a lottery ticket. When your number was called you chose a book and opened it. The person who gave that book said their name, where they're from, and why they gave that book. There are folks where from Seattle to Florida and everywhere in between. It was a nice icebreaker. The second person to open a book on down to the last, were able to "steal" a book from someone else if they preferred a different book, and then at the end the first person could "steal" any book they wanted. There was some stealing going on and lots of laughter. 
The book I gave was Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, one of my all-time favorites, and the book I received was Night Film by Marisha Pessl.
Manchester is a New England resort town in the Green Mountains of Vermont. I'll have more time to explore tomorrow and Sunday and will try to share some pictures each day.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Going to the Birds in Connecticut

A squirrel dangle-dining outside my window.
For my birthday last month I received a gift certificate to The Audubon Shop in Madison, CT. The primary mission of my first visit was to find a squirrel-proof bird feeder.

Although we had a bird house in our yard where we lived in Illinois, we did not feed the birds. Our yard was postage-stamp-small and the squirrels already liked to torment our dog, Lola, so there was no way we were going to put out something like seed to tempt them to hang around even more.

One squirrel in particular would run back and forth along the top of the six foot fence we installed (our dog's a jumper) or just sit one a nearby branch or garage and chatter at her. We  worried about Lola's welfare as she ran full speed and flung herself at the fence to get at the cocky, urban squirrel. Lola's head and shoulder cleared the fence...if she ever hooked her arm over the top, she'd have been able to scramble over and come closer to having squirrel for lunch.

But I digress.

Here in Connecticut we have a larger back yard and also a front yard that also lends itself to a bird feeder. My Mom's BFF Marge bought us our first bird feeder as a housewarming gift. The squirrels here do not harass Lola (knock on wood). They seem to consider her a threat and run away like proper squirrels should when faced with an attacking mammal over ten times their size. However, squirrels being squirrels, they do go for the bird seed. So off to the Audubon Shop I went.

They carry several several squirrel-proof bird feeders at the shop and I purchased the one the owner recommended. Then I spent time browsing the hundreds, if not thousands, of bird-related utilitarian and decorative things. Included in the thousands of things is a fabulous selection of books on birds. They have books on birds from all over the world. The owner, from conversations I overheard, is an international birder and often jets off to exotic locations for the birds.

The book that I was most interested in finding was one that could help me identify all the new-to-me birds here in Connecticut. The large stack of Birds of Connecticut Field Guide drew my eye.

It's a pocket sized book (4.5 x 6 x 0.5") and seems like it will wear well. The paper is slick photo-quality stock that beautifully shows off the colors of birds. When you open the book the left-hand page is a full-color picture of the bird--usually of the male with a smaller photo of the female inset off to the side. The right-hand side is dedicated to details about the bird: size, characteristics of male, female, and juvenile, nests, eggs, incubation, fledgling, migration, food, and a 'compare' category that tells you what birds may be similar. At the bottom of the page is a note from the author that highlights some interesting fact about the bird.

Colored edges makes it easy to start looking for the bird you're trying to ID.
The introduction has helpful information for the beginning birder about bird basics, nests, migration, and how to best use the guide. The bird categories are broken down into color categories and within each color category by size so that you can try as quickly as possible to locate the info on the bird you're trying to identify.

So far I've identified the Dark-Eyed Junco, the Tufted Titmouse, and the House Finch. 

Stan Tekiela is the author of many books on birds, mammals, and nature. 
Visit his website to check out the books on birds for your state. 

This small guide was obviously created with the user in mind and I cannot recommend it enough for the new birder.

Birds of Connecticut Field Guide
Stan Tekiela
Adventure Publications, Inc., 2000
Source: bought it, use it everyday.

Lola in her new yard. The green feeder behind her is the new squirrel-proof bird feeder. Notice we also now have a squirrel baffle on the little wooden feeder. Disclaimer: I love squirrels and think I may have been one in a past life.
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