Tuesday, July 30, 2013

That's What She Read, episode 5 (the bonus edition)

Perched atop her bunkbed at Ace Hotel.

This girl happened to be in town doing a series of photoshoots at the beginning of the month, and I just happened to crash one in order to get her on the podcast! There was a break for lunch when the talk turned to books (as is apt to happen when book people get together). I decided to pull out my iPhone and to just start recording. Fortuitous, I tell you!

We talk Ender's Game and the controversy surrounding Orson Scott Card, Watership Down, and much, much more. As long as we can avoid eating noises (major personal pet peeve), we're thinking a periodic podcast dinner with friends may be in order.

Click here to listen to our silly antics or stream below.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Three rock star e-newsletters you should subscribe to now

I love email. Several of my favorite relationships went from average and satisfactory to having a real intimacy and closeness thanks to the conversations and dreaming we did over email. Of course, these days it can be hard to keep up with all of the email coming in. Up until three or four months ago, I was deleting 15 to 20 emails--ones like Groupon, Terrain, and Artomatic--every morning without even opening them. Fed up, I finally spent 30 minutes doing a digital purge and unsubscribing to all of the newsletters and updates I kept automatically deleting. I figure I'd given them enough of a chance to wow me.

Three fabulous newsletters that remain are listed below! When I see an update from these rock stars, I almost always stop what I'm doing and dig in. I draw inspiration from the links and thoughts they share, even if the topic may have nothing to do with whatever I'm currently working on. In fact, it's often better if it doesn't.
  • Austin Kleon's dispatches tie directly back to what he's currently working on, reading, watching, etc. His voice is one that really resonates with me, and his reading recommendations never steer me wrong. 
  • Marc Schiller's Bond/360 updates are letters chock full of advice from an experienced marketer. The best thing about Schiller is his no-nonsense, no-holds-barred attitude. He doesn't coddle and is most likely smarter than you. He is also one of the geniuses behind Wooster Collective
  • Kam of Campfire Chic's newsletters are motivational. Her focus for the year is bravery, and she's pushing her followers to make their own brave choices. Stories of her outdoor adventures always encourage me to step away from the computer. 
The way in which these newsletters complement the authors' websites and/or other online outlets inspired me to try my hand at creating my own. I can't promise to keep a regular schedule (this might even be the only one), but I will try to keep it interesting and a bit more raw than the blog. I also like the idea of an outlet to talk about things that just may not be appropriate for this space. We'll see.

Sign up below to get the inaugural issue. I talk a bit about coping with shyness, as well as give you the low down on what I'm watching and listening to.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Day in the Life, 07.23.13

I got the wild idea the other day to document my daily activities a la the well-known Ali Edwards project. I usually get distracted by these type of projects because they remind me of how beige (the colors, not what I'm actually doing) day-to-day life can be. Still, I love peeking into others' lives when they do them, so I thought I'd offer a look behind the veil at my Tuesday.

Day in the life, 07/23/13
I spent a few minutes in the early morning catching up on email and Twitter. If shared stories or links on Twitter catch my eye, I usually allow myself to read a couple before really buckling down. One of the first things I tackled on Tuesday was reviewing a map of boring locations for one of my projects. You wouldn't believe how much back and forth was involved in finalizing the location of just one of those dots. At least they're pink ;-)
Day in the life, 07/23/13
I usually fill whatever water bottle I have laying around a few times during the day and, lately, have been swearing by the Mio that has caffeine. I convinced myself it was enough of a pick me up to review a sediment coring plan on another of my Maryland projects followed by more emails back and forth with the engineer, geomorphologist, and partners to finalize things.
Day in the life, 07/23/13
Sometimes I forget to take a break and make sure my plants are watered.
Day in the life, 07/23/13
This is one of my coworkers. She wasn't really a fan of this particular photo, so let's keep it between us. We met to discuss prep for our yearly audit. Because I have a number of federal grants, I always like to make sure my files are in order :-/
Day in the life, 07/23/13
Later that afternoon, I headed to Crownsville, MD and the Maryland Historical Trust. My intern forgot to put some important archival photos in the mail, and it was pretty urgent that our state historic preservation officer get these.
Day in the life, 07/23/13
Day in the life, 07/23/13
I ended the day by swimming a few laps at the gym. This is the gym buddy.

What does an average day look like for you? I want to see your day in the life!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Gold star guilt


You guys, I know we all like Goodreads, but am I the only one that gets stressed out by the pressure to rate things? The unfilled stars stare back at me, somehow begging to be gold. If I happen to give a new read four stars, should I revisit that last four-star book because it really wasn't as good as the new read? Will my friends, who happen to be more generous star givers, know I did like the book if I only give it three stars?

The ways in which I love, like or hate things are nuanced and often more subtle than a simple 1-5 can portray. I was listening to the Book Fight podcast the other day and heard them equate three stars to a 'meh'. Argh! I'm a fairly tough scorer in all that I do. I give three stars to books that I like (four=so good, five=OMGSOAWESOME). Less than 30% of the books that I've read make it above a three, and yet, there are some pretty damn good books that make it to three stars.

Perhaps it's because a small part of my job is ranking and scoring grant proposals, but I sometimes feel compelled to develop a set of criteria by which to judge all of my reads and come up with equitable scores. Ridiculous! Maybe I'm just a dork. No one else does this, right? Also, while I'm ranting, why can't I give partial stars? You don't want to know how many times I've tried to click half a star just to see if it will work.

How do you rate books? Do you give fours and fives with ease?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Behind the Bookshelf: Interview with a bookseller, Ravena James


Meet Ravena, a bookseller's bookseller. This lady is passionate about books and will think nothing of spending hours with a customer, trying to find the perfect book for them. She also refuses to give up on her belief that there is a piece of fanfic or graphic novel for everyone. When she's not working at the day job, she slings books at a local Barnes & Noble on Sundays and Wednesdays and harbors a not-so-secret desire to open her own bookstore one day.

What are you currently reading? Thoughts on it? 

Calculated in Death. It's the latest by J.D. Robb and since this is by far my most favorite author I believe it's amazing. This is book 44 of this series if I'm not mistaken and while some authors manage to ruin characters or resort to the worst sort of Mary Sue by this time, J.D. Robb still manages to have well plotted stories with characters that we're always happy to read about and murders that are just grisly enough to leave your wondering how mankind has managed to survive this long.

What books are you most looking forward to this year? 

Oooh, this is a hard one. The next JD Robb one (there are two, one around my birthday, the next one in the fall). Beyond that, the book I was anticipating for this year came out in March and I devoured it thusly, so there's nothing else that I've looked up that I know is coming out this year. Authors that I'm hoping (and probably are) pubbing stuff this year that I'll pick up: Lauren Dane, Megan Hart, Jaci Burton, Cynthia Eden, and Inez Kelley to start. And then there's the fanfic...don't even get me started.

Did you set any reading goals for 2013? If so, what are they?

Every year I say I'm not going to do this and then in the back of my mind I do it anyway. So what's floating there is 150 books. I always reach it, but I don't always log it like I say I'm going to, but this year, I'm trying really really REALLY hard to log it.

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

Dee Ann Smith (though she would hate it and would sneer at me for it), Cony, Eric Northman (as penned by EIM). The first character Dee Ann Smith is from Shelley Laurenston's Big Bad Beast. Cony is one of the two male parent set from The Englor Affair by J.L. Langley, and Eric Northman is from True Blood/SVM series by Charlaine Harris, but rewritten into fanfic by EricizMine.

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

This is a dream for me...a far long denied dream. I would love to see what Darynda Jones and Ilona Andrews would cook up. The brand of crazy that they write from would blend so well in my mind. Both write heroines who will do the wrong thing...will own doing the wrong thing and will persist in doing it, but will do the wrong thing if it means saving the life of someone else. They also have the weirdest shit happen around them and never bat an eye.

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

50 fricking shades of gray. And I'm sorry to say I bought this before I did enough research for it. While it's doing wonders for opening up the erotic romance genre, it's spinning such horrible horrible lies about the BDSM world and how relationships play out there and shows it more as deviency than an actual choice...and then the writing is the worst sort of purple prose that I've ever suffered through.

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

Know what you want, but, be open to trying something you've never read.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Top 5 Kevin Costner-Ugly Cry Marathon Picks

Over the past couple of weekends, I've been a bit indulgent with my time, spending more than a few hours* beating the heat at local movie theaters. Toward the end of White House Down (don't judge), I sat in the dark theater, tears sliding down my face as Channing Tatum's onscreen daughter stands on the lawn of the White House whipping an American flag back and forth (uh...spoiler alert?). The idea for this post came as I realized I'd been silently composing an email to my friend Allie to put that morning's tears in perspective.

You see, I am a crier. My tear ducts betray me when I'm angry, happy or sad; during shows, commercials or especially moving So You Think You Can Dance routines; while reading books or listening to storytelling podcasts; or (*drumroll*) while at the movies. It's a familial trait**, so I tended not to think too much of it until the afternoon I found myself watching Swing Vote with Allie. Instead of silent drops that can be discreetly brushed away, my fist was practically shoved in my mouth to quiet the moaning, ugly sobs emanating from my body. I was aware of exactly how embarrassing and ridiculous I was being, and yet, I could do nothing to stem the flow. I'm pretty sure Allie thought I'd finally had a nervous breakdown.

Later, I realized the link between many of my more extreme movie-crying experiences is Kevin Costner. So, without further adieu, I bring you my top five Kevin Costner-Ugly Cry marathon picks.

1. Swing Vote

2. For Love of the Game

3. Dances with Wolves

4. The Guardian

5. The Bodyguard

Yes, I'm the sap that is to blame for the fact that the hard-hearted masses must suffer through scene after cheesy scene pandering to the most base emotions.

*White House Down, World War Z, The Heat and Pacific Rim
**Lord help those of you sharing a couch with my family during holiday movie season.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Do something

Photograph of the Civil Rights March on Washington, 08/28/1963
Photograph of the Civil Rights March on Washington, 8/28/1963, c/o The U.S. National Archives

The richness of last night's meal, enjoyed over a leisurely dinner with friends, seemed like a mistake less than hour after I arrived home. It congealed in my stomach, threatening to resurface as I caught up on my Twitter stream.

"NOT GUILTY! This is an abomination. Shameful. "

"Trembling & sick after hearing this dehumanizing verdict. Time for solidarity & mobilization to fight racism in all forms. "

"Regardless of what the law says, one thing is true: If George Zimmerman had just stayed in his car, Trayvon Martin would be alive."

George Zimmerman was acquitted? Wave after wave of sickness, shame and anger washed over me. Also, trailing not too far behind was the heartbreaking fact that I wasn't surprised in the least. Our track record is atrocious. Actual policemen seem to be routinely acquitted of shooting unarmed African Americans; the verdict in Florida is just another indictment against all of us for not DOING something.

Yes, DO SOMETHING. "Thinking good thoughts" or feeling bad or even ranting to your Twitter choir does nothing to abate the actual problem. Yes, you need to have your personal house in order. If you're white, you need to recognize that, no matter how downtrodden your life may seem, you are afforded certain privileges and allowances that folks of different races are not. Yes, I'm sure you can think of a counter argument. Just stop. You are. I am. Now do something about it. Speak up. Talk to people outside of your circle. Change won't happen when we just sit around wringing our hands with folks who feel the same way. Observe the world around you. Start with the place where you work. When you see a wrong being done, say and do something. Don't just assume someone else is doing something about it.

Get uncomfortable. I can tell you from experience that rocking the boat will lead some folks to lash out. Learn to embrace it. Social change isn't swift, but it must be fought for...over and over and over because those who preach, teach or even just allow hate continue to indoctrinate new generations. Some things are worth fighting for.

I'm writing this as much for me as for you. We all need to open our mouths, take those steps, get our hands dirty. I know where I can start. Do you?

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

That's What She Read, episode 4 (updated audio links)

Episode 4 of That's What She Read is live and ready for listening! Ravena and I chatter about our latest reads (links below), as well as tangents like judging a book by its cover. 

In the latest episode of That's What She Read, Ravena talked about two of her more recent reads, including Cynful by Dana Marie Bell and The Favor by Megan Hart. I gave quick reviews of Lost Code by Kevin Emerson, Faithful Place by Tana French and The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved by Hunter S. Thompson, as well as a mention of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (current read).

Download and listen to the latest episode today (or, you know, whenever ;-)).

The song we sampled at the beginning is Lovely 2 C U by Goldfrapp.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

My story as told by water, part VI

Kennebec River
Not Spring Creek but a pretty river nonetheless.

In high school, my friend Cindy and her family had what they called a ranch where they went to escape the city. Really, it was just some land they owned and included a mobile home, deer stands and a four-wheeler. Running through a corner of the property was Spring Creek, the place where my adventure began.

One summer day, Cindy invited me and Jennifer (the other member of our triumverate) to come out to the ranch and hang out. I think I've been pretty transparent about the fact that I wasn't an outdoorsy person and wasn't raised by an outdoorsy family. I've always loved being near water though. Wearing our swimsuits and dragging our inflatable pool float/loungers, we made our way down to the creek shortly after arriving. Leaving our floats along the bank, we swam out to a larger raft in the center of the reservoir, the cool water providing much needed relief from the unbearable Texas sun. I remember laughing, talking and sharing as we lay on the raft. We weren't really lay around in the sun-type girls, however, and were soon craving a bit more adventure.

Three giggling, chatty girls decided then and there to become explorers of the Texas wildlands, navigating Spring Creek as if it were the mighty Nile. Lying prostrate on my float, using my hands to paddle along, I followed the others out of the reservoir and into the narrowing creek. Long grass and weeds along the bank would occasionally brush against my bare leg, violating my personal space and sending a shiver up my spine, and periodically, I would have to brush channel-spanning cobwebs from my face. This might be the first appearance of the coping mechanism I like to call my nature blindness*.

I can't say how long we were out there. Looking back, it feels like we spent hours paddling along before we finally decided to stop. We found a shallow, cobble-lined section of the creek in which to sit. As conversation buzzed around me, my eyes focused on the water at my feet. Tiny black things clung to the rocks, and leaning in closer to the surface, I struggled to figure out what they were. Looking down at my thighs, I noticed a couple of the same things clinging to me. My head seemed to detach from my body and float above me like a balloon as it dawned on me what I was looking at. Without thinking, I was on my feet, slapping, dancing and flailing about as I tried to get the baby leeches off of me.

I can't tell you what happened after that or how we got back to the ranch. Perhaps self preservation has wiped these memories all eternal sunshine-like. I just know that for at least one afternoon I felt like a fearless explorer capable of great feats. You know...until the leeches came along.

*Nature blindness is my apparent ability to not see things in nature that scare me (e.g., spiders, snakes, bugs).

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Behind the Bookshelf: Interview with a bookseller, Suzanna Hermans


Hey, gang, I'm super stoked about today's interview! Suzanna Hermans is co-owner of Oblong Books & Music in Millerton & Rhinebeck, New York and co-founder of The Hudson Valley YA Society. I first stumbled across Suzanna on Twitter in a quest to follow more smart book people and am so glad I did. In addition to being a self-confessed cat lady and theatre nerd (both huge positives), her stream (and the Oblong Books sister stream) is chock full of book goings on and recommendations. Really, she's fabulous.

Also, what better way to celebrate Independence Day this week than to support our independent bookstores?! I'm going to spare you guys the full-on soapbox rant I'm itching to give and will, instead, leave you to read the interview below. Seriously, though, Suzanna has some great recs; just click on any of the titles to learn more about the books and pick up a copy from Oblong.

What are you currently reading? Thoughts on it? 

I'm halfway through Maggie Stiefvater's THE DREAM THIEVES, and it's fantastic. She really takes the characters to the next level in this one. I had listened to THE RAVEN BOYS on audio, and the narrator was fantastic, so I was torn between reading the ARC now or waiting for the audiobook. My impatience won out!

What books are you most looking forward to this year?

Oh my goodness, there are so many! I'm excited to read Trish Doller's new book WHERE THE STARS STILL SHINE, since SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL was a favorite of mine last year. Same with Jennifer Shaw Wolf's DEAD GIRLS DON'T LIE. Her last book, BREAKING BEAUTIFUL, blew me away. And I've already read it, but Rainbow Rowell's FANGIRL is the book I'm most excited to hand to my customers!

Did you set any reading goals for 2013? If so, what are they? 

I don't set formal reading goals, mostly because I really need to read across all genres and age groups. I buy all the books for my store, not just the YA books. I read as fast and as widely as I can, but my heart belongs to YA!

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

WOW. That's a great question. Eleanor from ELEANOR & PARK, Blue from THE RAVEN BOYS, and Karou from THE DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE. It would be a kick-ass ladies night.

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

I'd love to see what would happen if Sarah Dessen & Ally Carter teamed up, or Kristin Cashore & Libba Bray. Why? I love all of their books so much, and (as far as I know) they have yet to partner up to write a book with someone else. But these two-author books can be big hits or BIG misses, so they'd really have to work hard to pull it off.

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

I'm cool with all kinds of books. If the book that gets someone to love reading is a super-commercial ghostwritten book, that's fine! I don't care what people want to read, as long as they're reading.

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

Give yourself time to browse. From tiny stores to large, let yourself be immersed in the store, and explore all the sections, even ones you tend to ignore. Bookstores are all about discovery, and if you haven't found the perfect book, ask a bookseller. We recommend books all day long, and love to help readers discover their next favorite book.