Thursday, March 5, 2015

Announcing The Book Blogger Buddy System 2.0!

2015 got off to a rocky start in the book blogosphere. There’s been some real negative energy, and our sense of community feels a little shaky. I’m excited to be part of a group of veteran bloggers responding to this challenging climate by re-launching the Book Blogger Buddy System.

The Book Blogger Buddy System is on Tumblr

The Book Blogger Buddy System, as originally launched in October 2012, was designed to foster direct connections and mutually supportive relationships between bloggers by playing "matchmaker" between pairs of bloggers with compatible interests, Buddy System 2.0 wants to bring that back, with a focus on creating mentor/protege matches between more- and less-experienced bloggers.

The Book Blogger Buddy System’s new home on Tumblr reflects a new emphasis on sharing experience and expertise. It’s a Q&A forum where you can submit questions about any and all aspects of book blogging--critical, technical, social, ethical--and get thoughtful, knowledgeable answers and advice. We hope it will be a place where newer bloggers can find guidance from blogging vets, and where vets can trade information with each other. The matchup form is live and linked at the Tumblr, too. Please submit your info if you're interested in a match--and once you've done that, please be patient! It may be a little while before we move ahead with that phase.

It's fitting that the Book Blogger Buddy System is launching as a group project this time around. This is the team behind the Tumblr:

Florinda, The 3 R's Blog
Teresa. Shelf Love

Come visit the Book Blogger Buddy System. Check out our mission statement, and bring your blogging questions (and answers)!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sunday Slowdown: Watch This Space...

The following conversation took place on Twitter this past Thursday. The results of it will be made public in the very near future, so please follow the people involved to make sure you see what comes next. (Yes, this is one of those annoying announcements that an announcement is coming.)

I really wasn't looking for a new project--especially not now--but I am very pleased that the Book Blogger Buddy System is getting the chance at a second life, and I'm looking forward to sharing the details with you soon!

The Sunday Slowdown on The 3 Rs Blog
As for life in general...well, I guarantee you that my family is not sorry that February is over! Paul is starting March free of the vacuum drain tube and with a closed wound on his left arm. He'll have those stitches out in another few weeks, and after that, the only remnants of the melanoma story should be a scar and semiannual skin checks from his dermatologist. And we have our fingers crossed that Kate will be discharged from the hospital this week! Her test results have been looking good, and if that holds, she may be cleared to continue treatment as an outpatient. These are all great gifts for Birthday Month!

The Weekly Winchester

Texted to Kate this week: two photos at the park, and two in the living room

The Weekly Winchester: the dog at home and out, February 23-28

It's supposed to rain on and off today, and I am hoping for a lazy day of reading, relaxing, and maybe a little writing...or napping. What do you have planned for this Sunday?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Principles, Plagiarism, and Pressure: Or, Superwoman Is Not a Book Blogger (And Vice Versa)

A well-known book blogger took her site offline at the beginning of 2015 after a confrontation over reviews that she had plagiarized from other blogs and media websites. Nearly two months later, she published an apology and attempted to explain her actions:
"(Y)ou deserve to know the truth and I need to be the one to tell it. My blog has been shut down since the beginning of January when it was discovered that I had plagiarized numerous book reviews both on my own blog and in guest posts on other blogs. The hurt and disappointment I caused to both good friends and the blogging community at large cannot be quantified and as I write this post I continually feel how inadequate any apology really is. And yet as inadequate as it feels, an apology is still an absolute necessity. I want to tell everyone that there is no excuse whatsoever for my actions. None."
There are a lot of words on the Internet. While that makes committing plagiarism easier than it's ever been, I do think some of it is genuinely accidental. A language has only a limited number of words that can be strung together to discuss a particular thing, and chances are that sometimes the same words about the same subject may be put together in almost the same way by different people. What appears dishonest may very well be--sometimes--an honest mistake.

But when you know where you found the words you're using, not crediting them to their original writer is dishonest--and writing on the Internet also makes it easier to avoid plagiarism. Adding quotation marks to the text you copy-and-paste into your document is simple enough, and linking back to where you found it is far easier than footnoting your sources ever was. And in that respect, I agree: there is no excuse for plagiarism.

"Superwoman is not a book blogger" The 3 Rs Blog
...and book bloggers don't have to be superwomen.
(banner image via pixabay)

The majority of individual, hobbyist book bloggers are women, and so it's appropriate for us to consider how this hobby affects our lives as women. The apology post continues (with emphasis added):
"I was feeling overwhelmed with life, kids, work and I honestly couldn’t keep up with the demand of reading and reviewing books. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I didn’t want to say I had too much on my plate. I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t be 'Superwoman.' I couldn’t say 'I can’t do this anymore.' My site had grown so much faster than I ever imagined it would and I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t think I could step back. I didn’t think I could say 'Time Out.' So instead? I started taking short cuts – multiple times. I knew better but it seemed easier than to say 'I can’t.' It was stupid and honestly I don’t know how many times it occurred. Now I desperately — fervently wish that I had spoken up. I wish that I had taken that step back and said 'I can’t.' I wish… well wishes don’t change my actions. It was that silly fear of not being Superwoman that stopped me from speaking up."

Particularly in the early stages when you're trying to grow a blog and make a name for it, it's not hard to get in over your head. You're excited about the new opportunities and the exposure, you don't want to hold yourself back, and you jump at nearly everything and almost never say "no." And if you have little else claiming your time and attention, that may work just fine for you.

But very few of us have "little else," and most of us eventually realize that something--and probably more than one "something"--has to give. Realizing this is healthy, and taking appropriate action to reassess your priorities and reclaim what really matters demonstrates strength. There is strength in knowing, and respecting, your limits. (Maybe it’s not the kind of strength you’d associate with Superwoman, but we’ll get to why that doesn’t matter.)

With ten years as a book blogger under her belt, Andi knows something about dealing with the pressures, and says:
"There's been a lot of discussion lately about plagiarism in the blogosphere. Plagiarism that erupts from being overwhelmed, desperate. I can tell you from 11 years of teaching...that's a very common cause. Let's just stop all the Wonder Woman talk right now. None of us are Wonder Woman. Most of us are overwhelmed at some point in the day or when we can't sleep in the middle of the night, and we have to be kinder to ourselves and come to terms with fluid priorities. With letting some things go."

And Becca would like to see Superwoman "die a fiery death":
"I totally get feeling overwhelmed. I completely understand how intense the urge is to deny that you cannot do it all. And I do not know where this bullshit idea about women needing to be able to do all, be all, have all came from but it needs to die a fiery death.
"It is okay, I repeat, IT IS OKAY TO STRUGGLE. YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. I AM NOT A FAILURE. WE ARE HUMAN. And humans need to take breaks. Humans need to step back and reassess. Humans are not robots."

I can tell you a little about where that "bullshit idea" comes from. One of the defining debates of the last forty-odd years of feminism is the one over "having/doing it all:" nurturing happy, healthy families while having fulfilling, productive careers and making ourselves a priority; being caring neighbors and active community members; and keeping our homes and lives looking great. It's not just a matter of having/doing it all; it's having/doing it all all at the same time. An idea once intended to be inspiring and empowering has instead become a source of dissatisfaction and desperation, and desperation seldom leads to good decisions. Again, from Becca:
"(I)t breaks my heart that women have been taught that our worlds will implode if we cannot hack everything. We are taught that we must be everything to everyone - the doting wife, the stay-at-home mom, the breadwinner, the maid, the friendly neighbor, the perfect employee, the PTA president, the spin class master, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker. If men were forced to be all these things, we would've learned about their implosion long ago. Let's be real. We are strong but we are not invincible."
In short, Superwoman isn't real, and her myth has no place in book blogging. (And if she were real, she'd know she had too many "super" things to do to be able to blog about them, too.) Even the occasional woman who seems like she could be her is probably just putting up a better front than most. Even the most talented jugglers drop things, and no one can fake it forever. Eventually, anything under too much pressure cracks.

And really? A book blog doesn't matter nearly as much as your principles--let alone your relationships--do, and it is not something worth cracking under. We do all women a disservice if we make a practice of behaving like it is.

Thanks to Kim for her contributions to this post as sounding board (and copy editor).

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Sunday Slowdown: Everyone Is Tired

We all really need a slow Sunday; I wouldn't be surprised if all of us make time for naps today, around whatever else happens.

The Sunday Slowdown on The 3 Rs Blog: recapping the week past and looking at the week ahead

Reading, 'Riting, and the Rest of it...

I am reading and working on a Shelf Awareness review today, the break in between two very busy weeks at my "real" job. Spencer has a lot of schoolwork, and Paul just needs some resting and unwinding time. His healing process post-melanoma surgery is going more slowly than we expected, and the last few days have been especially frustrating on that front for him.

And we'll probably have some TV time, too. On that note, two of the highlights of my winter TV viewing will go out the week, and I am sorry to have to say goodbye to both Parks and Recreation and Agent Carter as of Tuesday. (We DVR both shows, though, so we may be able to prolong them just a tad longer.)

Kate is continuing to respond well to her cancer treatment; the blood counts look good, and her spinal fluid is clear of leukemia cells. I learned from my reading of The Emperor of All Maladies this week that leukemia cells can "lurk" in the brain even after they have been cleared from the blood; since the brain can't be tested directly, the spinal fluid acts as a surrogate...and it had good news!

The "biography of cancer" is actually an ideal audiobook for me to be reading right now, but I think my next one will be a lighter choice. I bought Nick Hornby's newest, Funny Girl, earlier this month, and learned a few days after I got it that the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast is doing a "book club" show with it some time in March. I'd like to have read at least some of it before that happens.

I've given myself a little pass to do a partial "mark all as read" and clear older posts from my feed reader at the beginning of each week--it helps, and I'm sure I'll find out some of what I've missed via the blog posts I do get to read. (I don't think I'll be writing many of them this week myself.)

The Weekly Winchester

This week's picks of the daily dog pics I've been texting to Kate:

Weekly Winchester dog photo collage on The 3 Rs Blog

 What's going on with you today?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book Talk: GOLDEN STATE, by Stephanie Kegan

Golden State: A Novel
Stephanie Kegan (Twitter) (Facebook)
Simon & Schuster (February 17, 2015), Hardcover (ISBN 1476709319 / 9781476709314)
Fiction, 304 pages
Source: ARC from publisher, via Netgalley

Book discussion: GOLDEN STATE by Stephanie Kegan (fiction)

What would you do if you had reason to suspect your brother—once brilliant and promising, but now reclusive and strange—might be a terrorist? How might it feel to realize that the objects of his attacks were, indirectly, the legacy of your father? Where do you go when questions like these fragment your family? These are not questions most of us are likely to confront, but Natalie Askedahl, the protagonist/narrator of Stephanie Kegan’s novel Golden State, has to deal with them all.

Set in Northern California in the mid–1990s, Golden State’s plot is clearly drawn from the case of the Unabomber, with Natalie’s older brother Bobby as the Ted Kaczynski figure, acting out his daddy issues by attempting to blow up–literally–the acclaimed state-university system his father helped build.

Although the “Cal Bomber” has been sending explosive packages to California universities for several years, Natalie is shocked into new awareness of his existence when one of them disrupts her daughter’s visit to the Berkeley campus, and when her sister Sara off-handedly wonders if the bomber could be their brother, Natalie starts digging. What she finds sets a Federal case in motion, and sends her family spinning out if control.

Debut novelist Kegan weaves some provocative questions–questions of family dynamics and legacy and moral responsibility–into a fast-moving legal procedural narrative, but the novel overall feels a bit underdeveloped. The Askedahl family’s deep California roots aren’t made to feel as significant to the story as we’re told they were supposed to be, and there are some issues with consistency of characterization. That said, this a highly readable novel with good book-club-discussion potential.

(As an aside, this is the second novel titled Golden State that I’ve read in the past year, but I don’t think they’re likely to be mistaken for each other.)

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Book description, from the publisher’s website
All her life, Natalie Askedahl has been the good girl, an obedient team player. Growing up as the youngest child in one of California’s most prominent political families, she worshipped her big brother, Bobby, a sensitive math prodigy who served as her protector and confidante. But after Bobby left home at sixteen on a Harvard scholarship, something changed between them as Bobby retreated deeper into his own head. Now that Natalie is a happily married, with a lawyer husband, two young daughters, and a house in the Berkeley Hills, her only real regret is losing Bobby.
Then, a bomb explodes in the middle of her ideal-seeming life. Her oldest daughter is on the Stanford campus when one person is killed and another maimed. Worse, other attacks follow across California. Frightened for her family, Natalie grows obsessed with the case of the so-called Cal Bomber, until she makes an unthinkable discovery: the bomber’s infamous manifesto reads alarmingly like the last letter she has from Bobby, whom she has seen only once in fifteen years.
Unable to face the possibility that her sweet brother could be a monster and a murderer, is confronted with a terrible choice, about who to sacrifice and who to protect. The decision she makes will send her down a rabbit hole of confusion, lies, and betrayals that threaten to destroy her relationships with everyone she holds dear. As her life splits irrevocably into before and after, what she begins to learn is that some of the most dangerous things in the world are the stories we tell ourselves.
From Chapter One (a Kindle screencap)

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Book Talk: BLUE STARS by Emily Gray Tedrowe (via Shelf Awareness)

Blue Stars: A Novel
Emily Gray Tedrowe (Twitter)
St. Martin’s Press (February 17, 2015), Hardcover (ISBN 1250052483 / 9781250052483)
Fiction, 352 pages

A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (February 6, 2015). Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and compensated me for the review they received and posted.
Book discussion: BLUE STARS by Emily Gray Tedrowe (fiction, 2015)

The questionable healthcare and housing conditions with which Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital confronted wounded veterans of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their families, were the subject of countless news stories in 2007. They also serve as the framework for Emily Gray Tedrowe’s novel Blue Stars, which traces the experiences of two very different families brought together at Reed by their wounded soldiers.

It’s 2005, and Ellen Silverman is a literature professor at the University of Wisconsin, the widowed mother of adult children Jane and Wesley and legal guardian of Michael, a high-school friend of Wesley’s. At Jane’s nineteenth-birthday dinner, Michael offhandedly mentions that he’s enlisted in the Marines. Jane is simply furious, while Ellen’s responses to his departure for training and later deployment to Afghanistan are more complicated. When Michael’s foot is nearly blown off and he’s shipped back to Walter Reed, Ellen knows she has to go to him, but she’s unsure of what else is expected of her.

Meanwhile, personal trainer Lacey Diaz is married to an Army-reserve captain, and most of her friends in the Bronx are fellow “mil-wives.” They all know that deployment is likely sooner rather than later, and they’re ready to support the troops and each other. But not long after her husband Eddie ships off to Iraq, Lacey learns the hard way that much of the official support system for military families is sadly inadequate. By the time Eddie winds up at Reed, brain-injured and blinded, Lacey has grown accustomed to advocating and arguing with administrative types, but the hospital presents a new set of challenges.

Tedrowe structures Blue Stars with alternating chapters, taking her time with Ellen and Lacey’s individual experiences until they converge at Walter Reed. At the hospital, these women, so different in background, make a mutually-helpful alliance that advances into the sort of friendship that blooms in shared adversity. Blue Stars is a timely and engrossing novel of the challenges faced, and connections formed, on the home front during wartime.
Book description, from the publisher’s website:
Emily Gray Tedrowe has written an extraordinary novel about ordinary people, a graceful and gritty portrayal of what it’s like for the women whose husbands and sons are deployed in Iraq.
BLUE STARS brings to life the realities of the modern day home front: how to get through the daily challenges of motherhood and holding down a job while bearing the stress and uncertainty of war, when everything can change in an instant. It tells the story of Ellen, a Midwestern literature professor, who is drawn into the war when her legal ward Michael enlists as a Marine; and of Lacey, a proud Army wife who struggles to pay the bills and keep things going for her son while her husband is deployed. Ellen and Lacey cope with the fear and stress of a loved one at war while trying to get by in a society that often ignores or misunderstands what war means to women today. When Michael and Eddie are injured in Iraq, Ellen and Lacey’s lives become intertwined in Walter Reed Army Hospital, where each woman must live while caring for her wounded soldier. They form an alliance, and an unlikely friendship, while helping each other survive the dislocated world of the army hospital. Whether that means fighting for proper care for their men, sharing a six-pack, or coping with irrevocable loss, Ellen and Lacey pool their strengths to make it through. In the end, both women are changed, not only by the war and its fallout, but by each other.
From Chapter One:

“Ellen Silverman adjusted the cookbook stand so she could see the page in between bursts of chopping vegetables. Beneath the spattered plastic shield was a new collection of essays about Edith Wharton she was to review. (It had been years since she’d needed to refer to a cookbook.) Each time she scooped a handful of peelings and carried them to the garbage can Maisie, their twelve-year-old golden retriever, lifted her head to assess her chances, dropping it back to her paws when Ellen returned to the counter. Black bean chili sputtered on the stove, a chocolate torte from the bakery was in the fridge, and after the salad was finished all she had to do was set the dining-room table. Her daughter Jane’s nineteenth birthday wasn’t until the end of next week, but since her son Wes would drive back to school tomorrow, they were celebrating tonight. It was good luck that Michael was also free. His motley jobs—snowplow driver, parking-lot security, landscape—made for an unpredictable schedule.”

From Chapter Two:

“Lacey Reed Diaz unzipped her Yankees sweatshirt and laughed. ‘So I just strip, right here? Three o’clock in the freaking afternoon. Totally sober.’

“‘That’s your own fault.’ Martine drank straight from the champagne bottle. ‘Let’s see it, girl.’

“Lacey took a deep breath, dropped the sweatshirt on the floor, and shimmied out of her jeans. ‘I get called a lot of things, but you know—’ T-shirt over her head, she tossed it aside, with a flourish. ‘Prude ain’t one of them.’ She closed her eyes and struck a pose to the cheers of her friends, the snap of the shutter.

“It was called ‘a boudoir photo shoot.’ Somehow the classy French word made it sound more trashy. The upshot was $250 split three ways bought ninety minutes of studio time with one photographer, one ‘set assistant,’ one bottle of cheap champagne, and a handful of six-by-eights plus the hi-res digital files. It had been Mart’s idea, of course. The week their husbands got the official orders—they had all known another deployment was coming—she booked it, using an online coupon to reserve the second-floor studio on Baychester. Lacey said what the hell, and they somehow roped in devout, petite Felicia.”

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sunday Slowdown: Progress Reports Edition

On The 3 Rs Blog: Slowing Down on Sunday

Reading, 'Riting, etc.

For the first time ever, I'm using a tracking spreadsheet for my reading this year, and this week I realized a benefit of it that I hadn't previously considered. It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes I finish a book and find I have little to say about it; I'm recording those books in the tracker, but I don't have to review them. This is a huge change in approach for me, y'all. At this point I only plan to use it with books I acquire for myself--books I receive for review consideration will still be reviewed if I read them--but I'm amazed by how freeing this is.

On the other end of the spectrum are the books that rate not only a Book Talk post, but also a Reader's Journal. I have a feeling that the audiobook I started this week, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer--the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner by Siddhartha Mukherjee--may be one of those. At any rate, it's a very timely choice for me.

The Family Health Report

Paul still has a healing wound in his left arm and a vacuum drain under it from his melanoma/lymph node biopsy a few weeks ago. The drain will stay until the flow of lymphatic fluid slows to 5 milliliters per day, and the would will be closed when the skin gets a little stretchier. Neither of these things can happen soon enough for him, as you might imagine, but he's waiting it out.

Kate has responded exceptionally well to her first week of chemo. As of yesterday morning, there were no leukemia cells in her blood at all! The drugs now have to work on the bone marrow where these cells are being produced, and that's a tougher fight, but we're all encouraged by the early success and hope it bodes well.

I wrote a post a few days ago for the people who've asked what they can do. I hope you'll take a look at it, and consider sharing it if you think my suggestions are good ones.

The Weekly Winchester

I have been texting Kate a picture of Winchester every morning since she started chemo, because whose day isn't made just a little bit brighter by pictures of cute dogs? (That's why I subscribe to The Daily Puppy email.)
Here are the ones I sent her this week.

The Daily Winchester collected & collaged for the week of February 10-14 (www.3rsblog.com)

Are you reading, 'riting, or doing anything else interesting this weekend?