Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Behind the Bookshelf: Interview with a bookseller, Rachel Cho

Meet this week's Behind the Bookshelf interviewee...Rachel Cho. She's a bookseller at my local Barnes & Noble, and despite some of her advice, I promise she doesn't bite! Is that the face of a biter?

Rachel also taught me a valuable lesson in that not all interviews go as planned. :-)

What are you currently reading? Thoughts on it?

Currently, I'm reading a teen fantasy novel, Raven Flight by Juliet Marillier and the well-known children's title, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. What I really enjoy about Raven Flight is the Gaelic mythology theme. There are so many different fae creatures; it's fun to read about fae other than the ones with wings.

What I've got to say about Rick Riordan is that he is a great writer. Some of the time, reading a children's book, you notice that things have been dumbed down so that children are supposed understand. What he gets is that it's really unnecessary for children's authors to do that. As you read, it's as if the words just smoothly roll off the page.

What books are you most looking forward to this year?

I don't know exactly what books to look forward in the year because I'm not really paying attention to the release dates to any of the series that I'm following. I guess you could say that since I work in a bookstore, when it comes out, I'll see it on the shelves. I also tend to read ARCs, so that throws all on-sale dates off.

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

I don't set reading goals. I just read what interests me. And when I have the time.

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

Tyrion (Game of Thrones). I haven't read the books, but I have watched the series. He is definitely someone whose stories I would enjoy just listening to. This question is a troublesome one because, normally, I'm actually quite content with the characters in their books. There aren't many that I want to take out of their environment and into mine.

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

I think to get two authors to write together would be quite difficult. Nor can I think of any authors where I want to see that happen.

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

The Fifty Shades of Grey series. Even though this series isn't flying off the shelves like it did last year, people still ask for it. I don't really dislike the series with a passion, but this series didn't deserve the popularity that it has. Not only is it essentially fanfic, it's horribly written. Not just plot, but genre as well. She just didn't get anything right.

I also really dislike prolific authors.

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

Unfortunately, I can't just give one. Be PATIENT. Be POLITE and COURTEOUS. Have all your information ready when you ask for help, not spend five minutes digging through your bag or going through your phone when the bookseller probably could have helped someone else in that time.

99% of the time you don't have the title and/or author correct. So don't tell the bookseller that they're incorrect, when they've GOOGLED it and the computer shows the correct title/author.

There will be lines. There'll always be lines. DEAL WITH IT.

Bookstores/libraries DO NOT contain every single title in the world. There isn't a building large enough to contain them all. Seriously, have some common sense and be realistic.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

Weekending, a river walkabout


It felt so good to get outside this weekend. Scratch that. It felt freaking awesome to get back in the river this weekend. The minute my hiking boots hit the water, the tread slipping slightly, my body seemed to reboot.


Dropping temperatures, lower river flows and the autumn equinox coincided with my somewhat spontaneous need to find wilderness and minimize the number of people and buildings in my immediate vicinity. Luckily, I found two friends who didn't think I was completely insane for wanting to hike through a river. They focused their questioning of my sanity on my insistence that we strike out before sunrise.

Still, they acquiesced. The car was loaded with caffeine, river shoes, cell phones, apples, and a very excited Serena as we headed toward Baltimore and the Patapsco River. Once there, we transformed into intrepid explorers, searching for the perfect walking sticks among woody debris and setting important walkabout rules (i.e., crotch deep is our limit and what we use to determine the point we'll turn back).


The Patapsco's sand and rock strewn bed provided stable footing for our trek with depths that ranged from ankle-deep and higher. The water itself was clear and crisp. Rock and sand outcrops provided an interesting change of pace and the opportunity for treasure hunting. However, the sections where the water flowed faster, sliding over rock in a series of riffles, were my siren song.

What's your siren song?


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Returned

What would you do if, one day, a deceased loved one suddenly reappeared, the same age as when they perished and as if nothing has gone awry? If it were possible for Abraham Lincoln to suddenly return to the White House to find Barack Obama in his stead? This is the world that author Jason Mott drops us into in his debut novel, The Returned

All over the world, the dead are returning, seeking to reclaim the lives they left 10, 20, sometimes 100-years ago. A soldier who died in battle reappears in the parking lot of a rural gas station. A famous artist who only received recognition and acclaim posthumously returns to the woman who breathed life into his art. Despite its fantastical premise, the story Mott spins is altogether ordinary in so many respects. It begins with the return of Jacob Hargrave, the eight-year old son of Harold and Lucille, both of whom are now in their 70s. As is wont to happen, the story quickly spirals as the number of returned continues to increase and as both their loved ones and the government struggle to come to grips with what this means. For Harold and Lucille, as well as their friends and neighbors, it’s the uncertainty of these people who have re-entered their lives and whether they truly are the people they seem. No good can come from government bureaucracy, prejudice and fear. Before long, the entire town of Arcadia is a detention facility for the returned.

Mott’s strength lies in character development. While I was interested and the story held my attention throughout, I was never more invested in The Returned than in the last quarter of the book when Lucille exhibits poise, strength and self-righteousness that I’ve been telling myself must be very Joan of Arc. In order to avoid spoiling the end of the book, I’ll leave you with just a tease.

“She was dressed in an old, blue cotton dress that came down, flat and even and with no flourishes, almost to her ankles. It was the dress she wore for doctors’ appointments when she wanted to let the doctor know, right from the beginning, that she wasn’t about to accept any news she didn’t particularly like.”

Bottom line? Despite a few critiques I’ve glossed over here, The Returned is worth a read.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Comic Virgin Chronicles: Wonder Woman

When I last left you, I had ventured down to Annapolis Comic-Con in an attempt to further infiltrate comics culture and pick up a few issues of the recently rebooted Wonder Woman comic. After my failed attempt to wrap my head around the Avenger's enterprise, I needed something written this century and with a clear, surmountable way to "catch up". While friends and shop owners recommended several more modern series, including Walking Dead, it was my nostalgia for Lynda Carter's 1970s Wonder Woman that led me in a different direction.


I was really young when I watched the series, so my memories are largely incomplete pieces of conversation and hazy snapshots. Warm, fuzzy girl-power thoughts are largely what's left behind.

Large, tall, solid, big-boned, fat. These are adjectives I've been familiar with my whole life. Sitting on the couch with my mom, I remember her giving me Lynda Carter as a reference for what my adolescent body could morph into as it made its way to adulthood. Luckily, at the time, I had no idea that was a former Miss World and, instead, took it to mean a tall, strong kick-ass woman with a flair for costuming. In other words, I could be amazing.

My thoughts on the rebooted comic next time...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bookish weekend update


Do we really have to go back to work tomorrow? I feel like I need two more days to de-stress from last week and make headway on some personal projects. I know the weekends aren't really supposed to be about accomplishing things, but if I'm good at anything, it's guilting myself into using my weekends to try to turn my list of ideas into reality.

I have about 10 things on my personal world domination plan and held "business meetings" with some of my co-conspirators this weekend! Ravena and I met at Jireh (above) to consume copious amounts of caffeine and chat about expanding That's What She Read and a new website we're plotting. On Saturday, Scarlet and I headed to McMahon's to plot a new podcast dedicated to the Gilmore Girls (I really do think we're probably this country's foremost experts on the topic) and a long-awaited sequel (by us) to our film, Reader's Advantage. Oh wait, am I supposed to do that blogger thing where I'm cryptic and make it sound important? ;-)

Do you see that biz meeting drink below? Silver Patron on ice. The only reason I ordered it was because one of the books I'm currently reading is The Drunken Botanist, chronicling the plants behind the world's liquors, and I just finished the chapter on agave. According to the author, if I get real tequila made with 100% pure agave, I should be able to sip it without any help from salt, limes or senor margarita mix. I was laughably nervous! I'll write more about the book later (am participating in a special book club with the author in October), but turns out it really was kind of sippable.


My other big weekend accomplishment was going a little crazy at the used bookstore. How could I not?! I was dizzy with excitement once I found two recent releases that are high on to-read list. I went back a day later for a business book I'd forgotten to look for. Beads of sweat sprang up on my brow at the thought of what I'd find. [I really, really hate that I perspire when I'm nervous :-(] I didn't find the book I was looking for, but I did score the trade paperbacks below for $2.15. Insert happy dance!


What did you get up to this weekend?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Special "Week in the Life" Behind the Bookshelf

Barn Collage 2
Barn Collage 1

I would normally post a Behind the Bookshelf interview on Thursday, but I thought I'd post a Week in the Life/Throwback Thursday/bookseller mash-up instead.

How did I stay sane while spending all of my free time at the bookstore? These guys! I hope you'll forgive the circa 2005 photos. I can't seem to find the originals and only have these crappy scans. Whenever the retail side of bookselling got to be too much (i.e., mean, messy people), they were always up for shenanigans. I love these guys.

Wednesday: Week in the Life

Week in the life, 9.11.13

Week in the life, 9.11.13

Week in the life, 9.11.13

Week in the life, 9.11.13

Week in the life, 9.11.13

Week in the life, 9.11.13

Week in the life, 9.11.13

Let's be honest. I was rethinking a workshop I'd registered for in Smithfield, Virginia until I realized it would mean I'd have a different setting to photograph for Week in the Life. Don't get me wrong, the workshop was still relevant. I was just having a hard time convincing myself it was smart to spend a day away from this week's to-do list.

I went to Smithfield for the rivers. The town is situated along the James, not far from Norfolk, Virginia Beach and the Atlantic Ocean. I had no idea that it was also some kind of ham mecca. Trina, the sweet waitress at the cafe where I had lunch, recommended a couple of dishes they are known for. My appetizer, Piggly Sticks, is ham pimento cheese, set in an egg roll wrapper and fried. Holy hell. Trina also recommended the Smithfield Packer, saying folks often said it was the best sandwich they'd ever had. It was a sandwich--really more a conveyor of all things pig...smoked pork, bacon, sausage, cheddar and a fried green tomato--that made me consider going vegan*.

I'm ending my day with some juice and a little reading.

*It made me more uncomfortable than the time I inadvertently had pig anus at Pig in DC.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday: Week in the Life

Week in the life, 9.10.13

Week in the life, 9.10.13

You guys! This is difficult. I'm having trouble diverting time and brain power to photographing my day. Plus, if I'm not in the field or gallivanting to meetings, I spend between 9 and 12 hours at my desk. I talk on the phone, text, email, write, plan, read, research and think. None of these lend themselves to photos. I don't leave for lunch. My primary diversion is the constant cycle of filling my water bottle and emptying my bladder. So, I bring you the retrolicious bathroom at work.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Monday: Week in the Life

Week in the life, 9.09.13

Week in the life, 9.09.13

Week in the life, 9.09.13

Week in the life, 9.09.13

Week in the life, 9.09.13

Week in the life, 9.09.13


I spent the entire day on the phone. If I wind up tethered to my desk all week, you guys are going to become pretty damn familiar with everything cluttering my view. Note today's colorful outfit and lack of bloodshot eyes (that is no longer the case). It must be Monday!

Monday was all about connecting with colleagues and partners on update calls, knocking out those annoying tasks you find a way to de-prioritize for weeks and kicking my feet up at the end of the day. I kept switching back and forth between reading (Watergate by Thomas Mallon) and watching Gilmore Girls (season 3). Mondays are also good commuting days because both Book Fight and Book Riot release new podcasts!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Sunday: Week in the Life

Week in the life, 09.08.13

Week in the life, 09.08.13

Week in the life, 09.08.13

Week in the life, 09.08.13

Week in the life, 09.08.13

It's Week in the Life time again! Personally, I enjoy the chance to throw up photos of my week and keep the posts simple. The challenge, of course, is to seek out variety in my day-to-day life.

I started this morning off with a quick trip to Maryland to check up on some volunteers. The rest of the day was spent tooling around my apartment, reading, cleaning and prepping fruits and veggies.

On being happy (the anti-self help post)

Toward the end of August, Tara Gentile sent the following question out into the universe.

My heart screamed 'hell yeah'; however, before I could hit reply, I stopped myself.

I can't write that. People will think I'm humblebragging. Everyone on the Internet seems to hate their job and wants to escape the "9-to-5". Who am I to love my work? No one wants to hear about you feeling good about what you do.

Thankfully, my tough, sassy side prevailed and said screw that.

Sometimes I feel like the Internet is filled with people on the verge of midlife/quarterlife crises, writing about the need to compete with people's seemingly perfect online lives, Facebook depression, escaping their cubicle jobs working for the man, finding themselves, blogging burnout, etc. Trust me, I get it. I do. But, it's crazy to think that I should feel guilty about loving my job and that I want to keep kicking butt and taking names. No more!

Marianne Williamson says it best...

"...We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same."

I may not make a lot of money, but I thank God every day for allowing me to do what I do. Even on the shittiest, most stressful of days, I know the challenges keep me sharp and creative and that I get to make a positive impact in the world. When one of my big projects wrapped up a couple of years ago, I got a little teary (I get a little teary a lot) because I realized that, if I were to die right then, I would be okay. I'd seen something through to completion. I'd done something* to change the world for the better. That felt a bit like freedom.

It's not about bragging. It's about being thankful, joyous. It's about showing others that it's okay to be happy.

So, yeah, the work I'm doing is something I'm happy to be known for.

What work are you proud of that you want to shout from the rooftops?

*This isn't to say that I'm complacent or don't dream of bigger, better, more. Far from it!


Thursday, September 05, 2013

That's What She Read, episode 6

Have you guys heard of Death to the Stock Photo, an Allie Lehman project? This is one of the images they've provided!

The sixth episode of That's What She Read is up on Soundcloud! Click on the link above to stream from the Website or app. You can find links to the books we discuss and also listen on the podcast below.

We kept this month's episode short in anticipation of finally shifting to iTunes next month. Woohoo!

Serena's books 

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
At the Fairmont by Peter Orner (Recommended Reading vol. 16 no. 3 by Electric Literature)

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell 
Improbable Women by William Woods Cotterman (out October 2013)

(looking forward)
Parasite by Mira Grant (out October 2013)

Ravena's books

The Angelini Series by Jory Strong: Skye's Trail, Syndelle's Possession, Mystic's Run

Inked Destiny by Jory Strong

(looking forward)
Thankless in Death by J.D. Robb (out September 2013)

Monday, September 02, 2013

Paddling the Potomac River in Cumberland

canoeing the Potomac


our ragtag canoe crew (including several find civil servants)

I am a woman of few words after this long holiday weekend. I've been poring all I've got into a writing sample for a residency I'm applying for.

Luckily, I have some fun pictures from Friday evening. I drove up to the North Branch Potomac River earlier that day to meet up with a few local partners. Part of the project I'm working on involves an effort to get increased river access for anglers and recreational boaters. We decided to get out on the river and show everyone just how much fun it really is. :-)

Despite the heat, it was a beautiful day. Did you get out on the water this weekend?