Friday, May 31, 2013

Missing India and other ramblings from my week

india calcutta bookstore
Photo by Carl Parkes

Do you ever have the beginnings of all of these random thoughts in your head but lack the energy to develop them further? That's totally me this week! Instead of trying to cram them onto Twitter or saving them to develop further, I just need to dump at least one of these here and reclaim some brain space.

This week I got invited to speak in India--all expenses paid and in three weeks. I passed on the opportunity, and it killed me. Folks, I'm pretty sure this is what adulthood looks like. India has been on my short list of countries to visit ASAP ever since I returned from Taiwan, but the thought of the big meetings I have coming up and projects to move forward and personal shit I need to keep together had me saying no. I'm still stewing on it. It has me wondering if I've lost the ability to be impulsive and fly by the seat of my pants. During the past twelve months, I've passed on Korea and London, too (granted, London was a little weird). I don't want to ever lose that part of me. With this latest no, I've promised myself that next time will definitely be a yes.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Pop Culture Travel: Searching for Mystic Falls and Henrietta, VA

I'll use pretty much any excuse to go exploring. Ever since we saw the map of Mystic Falls pop up on the screen of The Vampire Diaries, Scarlet and I have talked about looking for the part of Virginia that inspired the town. Once I read Maggie Stiefvater's description of the fictional Henrietta, VA in The Raven Boys, I knew we had to head to the Charlottesville area to film a quick video (improv style, very).

P.S. I recommend immersing yourself in the world of young Blue Sargent and her family of psychics. Stiefvater gives Blue a combination of confident individuality and the self doubt of someone trying to find their place in the world and navigate first relationships, believable and with enough of a backbone to be a role model.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Behind the Bookshelf: Interview with a bookseller, Scarlet Rose


Meet Scarlet Rose. This native Virginian can be found among the stacks at your local Barnes & Noble by day and local musician by night. She can sometimes be found blogging at SVR and "I loved it!". I consider her my resident Teen (she read the Hunger Games series and John Green before it was even a thing) expert, and word on the street is that she's penned her own book we might get to read one day.
What are you currently reading? Thoughts on it?
What am I NOT reading is more like it. Every so often I get excited (and impatient) about several books at once. I’m currently in the middle of Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, Swamplandia! By Karen Russell, and The Sun Also Rises (Audio CD) by Ernest Hemingway. However, against everything I’ve always said about the series and my prior book taste, I have begun Game ofThrones by George R. R. R. R. R. Martin. This is SOLELY because I love the show. I never would have started this if I didn’t love the TV characters so much. The last book I finished was Someday, Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham and it was awesome!
What books are you most looking forward to this year?
EASY: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater and Allegiant by Veronica Roth.
Did you set any reading goals for 2013? If so, what are they?
I set both quantitative and qualitative goals. I always want to read more books than I did the year before and while I failed at that in 2012, I set a goal of about 40 books for 2013. I’m already behind. And while I think all books serve a purpose, I also wanted to try to fit in a few classics this year, but so far that might just be me reading The Great Gatsby over and over. I guess The Sun Also Rises counts, right?
What three characters would you invite to the bar for a drink?

At first thought, my list is: Jordan Baker, Jessica Wakefield, and Gansey (from The Raven Boys). I can easily think of a few more (Ron Weasley, Four (from Divergent), Matthew de Clermont (from Discovery of Witches), but I think those might be more appropriate for my “After Drinks Party.” *winkwink*

If you could convince any two authors to write a book together, who would it be? Why?
Wow! Maybe Judy Blume and John Green because I think they’re both so defining in the genre for which they write. John Green could have easily written Are You There God, It’s Me Margarat and I would totally believe it if you told me Judy Blume wrote Paper Towns.
What's the most annoying book you see flying off the shelves?
As a genre, I’d say Manga. I hate it. I hate it so much. But book wise? Definitely that cat series for Young Readers. I have an intense dislike for books about animals and this one just looks horrific. Whenever kids ask for it I want to shake them and yell, “BUT WHY AREN’T YOU READING HARRY POTTER?!”
If you could give people one piece of advice to prep them for entering a bookstore, what would it be?

The short answer is: Do your research. 

Now, I plan on expanding:
I’ve worked at a bookstore for 10 years now and I’ve heard pretty much everything. I can tell the difference between the casual shopper who can’t remember a title/author and the shopper who came to the store for a specific book, but has no idea what it is. 99% of people have either a smartphone or a computer so do a quick google search and find out the author/title!

On that note, why do so many people call bookstores? Aren’t we in the internet age? Use the “Find In Store” function. People are so weird. I avoid the phone at all costs! Follow my lead!

“Which book is better?” Really? You’re going to ask me which book on diabetes is better? That’s a nametag around my neck, not a stethoscope. Google it! It’s funny, though, because on the rare chance someone asks me about a book in an area I know well (education, music, YA), they don’t want to listen. Someone recently asked me about a Praxis book and I replied saying, “When I took the Praxis II…” and it was in one ear and out the other. I generally am pretty clear on whether I know something 100% and if I don’t.

“What’s that song that goes, “blah blah blah?” Ohhh, that song! Yeah, no, google it.

“I want a fiction books that take place in castles!” “What!?” DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH! That’s not asking for a book recommendation, that’s asking a very specific question.

“There was a book in the Post, but I can’t remember the name.” Then go back to your paper and write down the title. OMG!

I could really go on and on here as even just one day working in a bookstore gives countless examples of people being a holes. Do I sound bitter? Maybe I am. I do really love books, though.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Thrifty DC: Farmer's Markets


This month the Washingtonian magazine published it's guide to the season's farmer's markets. This is a prime opportunity to combine a low-key outing with pesky grocery shopping. So many things are being produced in and around this region that I can easily get any staple I need at a local market. I also consider the people watching and chance for colorful pictures to be entertaining, but maybe I'm just easily amused.

How would I spend $20 and while away a Saturday?

9AM     City of Falls Church Farmer's Market      free entry

In addition to your standard fruits, veggies, eggs and dairy, they've got things like baked goods and coffee. All of my favorite things. One of the regular vendors is Atwater's. I've been known to pop by their Catonsville location for a fresh-baked loaf of bread when I'm up there for work and definitely recommend them. 

I've never been, but their website also mentions a monthly chef series.

Afterward, I'd recommend a walk over to Cherry Hill Park. It's right next door to the farmer's market and the perfect place to snag a picnic table and do some reading.  

One of the great things about living in the DC metro area is the abundant number of ways to entertain yourself for relatively low cost. It's so easy to focus on the more expensive restaurants or the must-see show, but the area has so much more to offer. I don't know about you, but I'm at my most creative when I'm feeling a bit skint. So, while I'm encouraging myself to save and shifting from the indulgent winter to simple summer pleasures, I thought I'd share a weekend (Saturday or Sunday) expedition each week that won't set you (or me) back more than $20. I plan out some of these to-dos for myself, so why not share it with others. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Thrifty DC: Art Museum Day


One of the great things about living in the DC metro area is the abundant number of ways to entertain yourself for relatively low cost. It's so easy to focus on the more expensive restaurants or the must-see show, but the area has so much more to offer. I don't know about you, but I'm at my most creative when I'm feeling a bit skint. So, while I'm encouraging myself to save and shifting from the indulgent winter to simple summer pleasures, I thought I'd share a weekend (Saturday or Sunday) expedition each week that won't set you (or me) back more than $20*. I plan out some of these to-dos for myself, so why not share it with others.

I was psyched to learn that this Saturday is Art Museum Day, aka the day that the few museums in DC that charge will open their doors for free! That just might be tempting enough to get me to go into DC on a weekend during tourist season.

How would I spend $20 and while away a Saturday?

10:00AM     Corcoran Gallery of Art                             free

One of my favorite museums but one I don't get to very often. I'm looking forward to seeing David Levinthal's War Games exhibit.

11:30AM     Todd Gray's Muse                                       $4.00

Grab the pea and potato samosas at the cafe as I fight my way back outside.

12:15PM     National Museum of Women in the Arts       free

I've actually never been to this museum, and it's just far enough off the well-tread tourist paths that it might not be overrun.

*Let's keep it real. I'm not going to the trouble of adding in transportation costs.

Monday, May 13, 2013

My story as told by water, part IV


As light ebbed from the cobalt evening sky, I thought not about the damp bangs, pasted to my forehead by the humid, post-storm air, or the inky darkness that began to envelope us. Instead, my attention was solely focused on the gentle whir of the cast net as it sailed through the air, its splash as it met its mark on the Choptank River and the notion that this might be one of the coolest, weirdest Friday nights I’ve had in a while.

I try not to talk about work a lot on here, but every now and then I'm just so thankful or blown away by an experience that I can't stop myself. Friday was one of those experiences. Spring is spawning season for migratory fish, and once the water starts to warm up a bit, herring, shad and other migratory fish begin to make their way up rivers along the coast looking for a little loving. 

When the guys from Maryland DNR asked if I wanted to come help collect herring eggs [to grow baby (technically fry) herring to stock other rivers], how could I say no?

Standing along the banks of the Choptank, we cast about on the hunt for the elusive female herring whose eggs were ripe. The window can be incredibly narrow; also, it was really hard to type the word 'ripe'. We fished this 25-foot section of the river for more than three hours and only found two females who were ready to get down. The male herring were plentiful.

What came next was far more ritualistic (even spiritual) than the laboratory exercise I imagined. I kept thinking I'd be taught some kind of fertility chant (I wasn't). Seated on nearby rocks and lit by headlights on the state truck, both roe and sperm were milked from the few herring collected and combined in a stainless steel vessel. One of the guys stirred this strange mixture with a turkey feather while river water and a special powder were added. This process continued until only the fertilized eggs remained in the river water. These were moved to their new nursery (aka a sealed plastic bag and cooler-type contraption) and immediately driven by a third member of the team to their temporary home at one of the state hatcheries.

As I watched the truck speed away, I couldn’t help but feel even more alive, maybe even a bit more womanly (yes, a little odd). I silently bid these new little herring farewell and promised to keep fighting to make their new home in the Patapsco River as hospitable as possible.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Behind the Bookshelf: Interview with a bookseller, Marie Hviding


When I transitioned to non-profit work, I took a job at my local Barnes & Noble to earn some extra money. For five years, I spent my evenings and weekends selling books (and sometimes coffee). While my romantic fantasy of working in a bookstore might not have meshed with the reality of working for a corporate giant, I wouldn't trade those years for anything. My reading tastes expanded, learned the joys of the Advance Reader Copy, and met some of my best friends. Book people, for the most part, really are the best.

Want some of that insider bookseller knowledge? I've lined up interviews with some of my favorite current and former booksellers and can't wait to share them with you over the coming weeks. I'm kicking off this series with Marie Ann Hviding (above). Marie lives in Boston and just finished a degree in Library and Information Science (you know, just to complement her degree in literature). She blogs over at BatGirl. I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I do!

What are you currently reading? Thoughts on it?

At the moment, I'm reading Stephen King's "The Wind Through the Keyhole". It's an extra novel inserted into his Dark Tower series. In theory, I'm annoyed. I waited for King to finish off this series before tackling it, because he was so erratic in publishing the series. I loved it and thought that he took some huge risks, did some crazy things, and threw in a gigantic meta element which totally blew me away, but he also gave it a definitive ending. I admire when an author has the courage to finish a work and walk away, so I was annoyed that he felt the need to go back. All of that being said, I'm really liking it. It's Stephen King, so it moves fast, and his Dark Tower writing has this hybrid vibe that blends the epic quest with King's folksy, familiar, "I'm just a guy telling you a tale" voice.

What books are you most looking forward to this year?

I've been very out of the publishing loop for the last two years, but there are several books that were either just released, or are due out by the end of 2013 that I can't wait to get my hands on:

  • Margaret Atwood's next book: Everything Atwood writes is awe-inspiring and makes me feel lucky to live in a world where she writes books and I get to read them but "Oryx and Crake" and "The Year of the Flood" were completely unhinged, gut-wrenching genius, that left me emotionally drained and I can't wait to see how else she intends to destroy me. 
  • "The 5th Wave" by Rick Yancey: I find post-apocalyptic fiction irresistible and this one has been getting tons of buzz and intriguing reviews. 
  • "Benediction" by Kent Haruf: His novel "Plainsong" is one of the most beautiful and moving novels I have ever read and this returns us to the town of Holt, Colorado. Time spent here is always time that gives me hope for mankind. 
  • Finally, I won't lie, I can't wait to read Dan Brown's "Inferno". I know people love to bust on "The DaVinci Code", but really, I thought it was a lot of fun, and throw Dante and Florence into the mix? I certainly can't resist that. 
Did you set any reading goals for 2013? If so, what are they?

Reading Goals? Mostly I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to read for the sheer joy of it. I always try to keep my reading well-rounded, so I'll be looking for something fast and fun, followed by something big and epic that I can get lost in, and then maybe follow that with something challenging to spark my brain. My usual reaction when I finish a book is to read something very different next. Also, I keep thinking that I'm ready to tackle David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest". Maybe this year I'll actually do it.

What three characters would you invite to the bar for a drink?

I'm going to cheat and invite 4 characters for an evening of drinks, because I couldn't bear to uninvite one of them once I got them all in my head: Gus McCrae from "Lonesome Dove", Eleanor of Aquitaine from Sharon Kay Penman's historical novels, Ford Prefect from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", and Hermione Granger from "Harry Potter". It's an odd mix but I think one which would be interesting and provide an evening of cleverness and fun.

If you could convince any two authors to write a book together, who would it be? Why?

I've got nothing for you with the two authors. I can't seem to wrap my head around the concept of what kind of Frankenstein's Monster I would want to create with that kind of power. The only time I've seen it work successfully in my opinion, was Peter Straub and Stephen King's collaboration on a couple novels. I think they were successful because their styles are pretty similar, but I don't think the result was anything that either one couldn't have achieved on their own. Perhaps something where the reader was getting two sides to a story from a male and female point of view. That presupposes that men cannot write women and women cannot write men and I think that's a limiting way to look at things, but for the sake of argument, let's have Henning Mankell and Elizabeth George put Kurt Wallander and Barbara Havers together to solve a mystery. Both are solid writers with well-established characters who could hold their own ground and ideally not be absorbed by the other.

What's the most annoying book you see flying off the shelves?

Annoying book flying off the shelves? I don't know about that. I try not to judge things I haven't read, so usually it's more a matter of confusion. I just don't get the appeal of some titles because they don't interest me. I do worry about the popularity of books that seem to be about nothing more than pretty girls acquiring ... stuff (boys, clothes, money), but I hesitate to judge without really reading them. I worry that we are setting up our young women for lives of mental poverty.

If you could give people one piece of advice to prep them for entering a bookstore, what would it be?

Be open to possibility. Don't be afraid to try something new. Don't be afraid to read something that nobody else is reading. Don't be afraid to be attracted to a book just based on it's cover. BUT, take some time before you commit to a book. Read a few paragraphs, in fact read the first couple of pages. Don't blindly follow others, decide for yourself whether a book is right for you or not.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Another First Friday in Richmond

First Fridays in RVA

1. Happy hour at Penny Lane Pub
2. Dinner at Sticky Rice (the original is the best)
3. Galleries along Broad Street for Art Walk

Sunday, May 05, 2013

That's what she read...take 2

This is my friend, Ravena. She reads a lot. She also can't help but vamp for the camera.

Back in October 2011, Ravena and I tried to combine a book club with book review podcasting. The combination of trying to figure out how to host audio and a series of less than impressive books (because who wants to hear 3-4 negative podcasts in a row) led me to shelve the idea. Now, thanks to SoundCloud, we're giving the podcast idea another go and revamping the format. Instead of reading the same book and doing a more in-depth review, we're going to focus on a general discussion of our current reads, any interesting publishing news we've heard, and chats about upcoming titles we're excited about.

Listen to our most recent podcast on your computer or via the SoundCloud app and let us know what you think! This was kind of a spur-of-the-moment recording, so things should only get better from here. :-)

Keep your eyes peeled later this week for another new book-related feature.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Charting my coffee trail

Beach in Santa Barbara

You know I've got a caffeine problem when I'd rather talk to you about all the coffee shops I visited than the beaches I saw (not that they weren't spectacular). Let's list this one out!

1. Starbucks (a couple along the way)
2. Urban Coffee Lounge, Kirkland, WA. Love, love, loved this place. I'm so jealous that Terra essentially lives right above it. I would marry both the salted maple and the honey cinnamon lattes. They also have a fantastic looking selection of baked goods (including vegan and gluten-free offerings) and breakfast sandwiches (get the lumberjack).
3. Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Portland, OR. Routinely on best coffee lists. I'd been here before and knew my stimulant needs would be solidly met.
4. The Human Bean, Grants Pass, OR. I wasn't impressed with the coffee, but it was inexpensive and got the job done. It was one of many coffee kiosks along the highways we drove. Such a fan of how they seemed to thrive along the west coast.
5. Java Hut, Crescent City, CA.
6. Pour Girls Coffee, Laytonville, CA. Solid coffee. Cute marketing.
7. Peet's Coffee & Tea, Palo Alto, CA. Good latte. A guy I used to work with always had coffee shipped from Peet's. It was fun to finally visit and give it a try myself.
8. The Cow's End Cafe, Marina Del Rey, CA. We thought we were in Venice. Oops. I couldn't really enjoy this cup because of how windy it was.
9. Silverlake Coffee Co., Los Angeles, CA. This cup tasted amazing. Perhaps this can be somewhat attributed to the fact it had been a couple of days since I'd had a cup.

Beach at Carmel-by-the-Sea

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Top 10 eats of the epic west coast roadtrip

Food tourism is a fun way for me (and most of my peeps) to explore new places when traveling and definitely part of my pre-trip research. That said, none of the places below (well, Voodoo I'd been to before) were on my list*. Instead, they were a combination of recommendations and kismet. These were definitely the best meals of the trip (because don't be fooled into thinking there weren't sad stops at places like Quiznos in the middle of nowhere Nevada and Arby's in the middle of nowhere Oregon and Lara bars and grapes from our bag of snacks).

If you're ever in Portland, find a way to try Tasty n Sons. Though small, it's a welcoming restaurant full of comfortable decor, great lighting and friendly waitstaff.  They recommend ordering family style and sharing, and I have to say that everything we tried was indeed tasty. Best asparagus I've ever had. If you really want to keep the fun going, head downtown to Ground Kontrol and play some classic arcade games. First Awakenings and BurGR also led the pack. I'm still thinking about the amazing english muffins and scramble (below) that I couldn't finish.

 I'll subject you to tales of my favorite coffee places later ;-)

Bacon-wrapped dates, asparagus with bacon and egg, polenta with peppers and Italian sausage, and chicken and dumplings at Tasty n Sons in Portland

Inside this box lies a donut called a vegan cock 'n balls. @ipinkgirl
Voodoo Doughnut in Portland 

Blueberry wheat germ pancake at First Awakenings in Monterey

More brunch at First Awakenings
Burgers at The Habit in Santa Barbara
We enjoyed some phenomenal Mexican food in Santa Barbara on our last day in CA.
Mexican food at Casa Blanca in Santa Barbara
Brunch at Five0Four in Hollywood
Meatloaf po'boy at The Gumbo Pot at the Los Angeles farmer's market

More food porn. #burgr
Gordon Ramsey's BurGR at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas
Pizza in Kingston, WA
Pancetta & Pear pizza at Brix Wine Cafe in Juanita, WA

*Really bummed I never made it to Delancey in Seattle.