Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Post #1001 - The 1000-Post Celebration Giveaway!

1000 posts is a major milestone for a blog, so it seems only right to celebrate it. And bloggers love to celebrate with giveaways, right?

I have three gifts for my readers, but you'll have to choose which one you'd like at the time you enter:

#1: ARC Fiction Package

These Advance Reader editions have only been read once, and are in good condition. The links are to my reviews. Restriction: The winner takes them all - no picking and choosing! Open worldwide.

The Unit by Ninni HolmqvistThe Unit
Ninni Holmqvist

Perfect Life: A Novel by Jessica Shattuck

Perfect Life
Jessica Shattuck

The Weight of Silence
Heather Gudenkauf

The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne

#2: "A Life Well Read" Reading Organizer

I'm keeping the one I was sent for review (posted 9/16/09), but I'll get you one of your own! (Sorry, but this giveaway is open to US addresses only.)

Product details, per the company website:

Each elegant A Life Well Read “box set” includes:

  • An elegant, premium-quality keepsake box in the shape of a book which fits easily on your bookshelf to keep your personalized impressions for years to come. Share them with family and friends anytime!
  • 50 pre-printed note cards to use as bookmarks and also record your “a ha’s!” about your favorite books.
  • 5 pre-printed (and 7 blank) dividers to organize your note cards into an evolving reader's journal of your best book content
  • 56 elegant bookplates to personalize your books in your own personal library.
  • 24 color gift labels to add a personal touch to your gifts of books to friends, family and fellow book club members.
  • 3 double-sided gift-giving reminder cards which help you track to whom and when you gifted a book
  • A classic, heavy weight ballpoint pen which fits neatly into your keepsake box so you are always prepared to capture a lifetime of reading!

#3: LibraryThing Lifetime Membership

I gave away one of these last December and it was surprisingly popular, so I thought I'd do it again. This is for those who might prefer to keep their book records online, and may be used to upgrade a current free LT membership. It can also be given as a gift to someone else. Open worldwide.

How to enter:

Leave a comment on this post, including the following information:
  1. Your e-mail address
  2. The prize you'd like to win (you can enter only one of the three giveaways)
  3. Where you read The 3 R's (feed reader/home page, Twitter/Facebook link, direct visit, etc.)
  4. Optional/if you can remember: how long you've been a reader here
Any entries that do NOT contain the first three items will NOT be counted.

Bonus entry #1: Tweet the link to the giveaway post on Twitter. Leave that information in a separate comment.
Bonus entry #2: Post the giveaway on your blog (sidebar is fine). Leave that information in a separate comment.

The giveaways will close two weeks from today (October 14). Winners will be contacted by e-mail and announced on the blog.

Good luck, and THANK YOU for sharing my 1000-Post Celebration with me!

Post #1000 - The 3 R's Greatest Hits!

Nine hundred ninety-nine posts ago, this blogging adventure began, and I hope it goes on for another 999 (at least!).

For post #1000, I thought that it might be fun to see what posts have been the most-viewed on The 3 R's during its history. Even though the first post here was March 16, 2007, stats don't start until June 3; there were 11 page views recorded that day, and 9 of them were my own, which is probably typical for those first few months.

Not counting giveaways, these are my Top 10 posts in terms of page views, according to Google Analytics:

From The I-Don't-Get-It Files: Eight is more than enough (February 4, 2009)

 (This post reacting to the "Octomom" story got picked up as "related content" to an item on CNN.com, and is by far my most-viewed thanks to that.)

Factors for a successful marriage - the Pew Survey (July 2, 2007)
 (This reaction to the survey mentioned in the title still gets hits pretty often - "factors of a successful marriage" seems to be a fairly popular search term!)

Welcome to BOOKWORMS CARNIVAL #14 - You're Never Too Old! (August 13, 2008)
 (This is the only Bookworms Carnival I've had the opportunity to host. The kidlit/YA topic attracted a lot of participation, including some of my non-book-blogging buddies, and I'm pleased that it's one of my most popular posts.)

Book Talk master list
 (This post is accessible in the linkbar above my blog header, and I try to remember to update it every time I post a new review. I'm glad it gets some use...but, come to think of it, its numbers are probably skewed because a lot of those visits are my own! I'm counting it anyway, though.)

Basically, it's a question of style - a clothes call (March 5, 2008) 
 (This was linked in one of Susan Wagner's fashion posts on BlogHer.com, which continues to send the occasional visitor back to it. There's one more reason be part of BlogHer, folks!)

Quick, change the station! Ten songs I can't stand (March 17, 2009)

 (I think this may have been the last time I participated in Ten on Tuesday, but it was a fun one to wind up with, and it seems to be a topic that resonates with people - no musical pun intended! I think it's also one of the snarkiest things I've ever written.)

The office gift exchange (December 20, 2007)
 (This one seems to get a good amount of search traffic, and not just around the holidays.)

Book talk: "Firefly Lane" (February 14, 2008)
 (I'm not sure why this is my most-visited book review, but thank you, Kristin Hannah fans!)

Book bloggers say goodbye to Dewey (December 2, 2008)
 (This round-up of book-bloggers' tributes to a beloved leader of our community was a labor of love.)

The "responsible" child (?) - A parental perspective (September 6, 2007)

 (This reaction to a post suggesting that it's more "responsible" for adult children NOT to go out on their own after college was my most-viewed post during the blog's first year.)

These may be my most popular posts in terms of page views, but they're not necessarily all personal favorites. Let me throw a few of those in here, too!

From the "reading" category, five commentaries inspired by books: 

Drama/class (August 31, 2007)

A current-events-inspired YA-literature flashback (September 18, 2008)

Book/movie, chicken/egg...the "which comes first?" quandary (February 25, 2009)

Husband and wife...and wife...and wife...and wife...(June 17, 2009)

Flights of fantasy and (science) fiction (June 23, 2009)

Selected "'riting" and/or "randomness" - some favorite older posts that may be new to you:

Geeky girls and cool moms (October 1, 2007)

The Anniversary Waltz: Random things about our wedding, part 2 (October 19, 2007)

A clean slate - or should I say a clean sink? (November 7, 2007)

My dream guy (January 17, 2008)

It's the same old song, and it's getting older (March 7, 2008)

Whose college education is it, anyway? (April 2, 2008)

Road Trip Diary, days 1 & 2: Heading for Yellowstone (July 1, 2008 - first of a four-part series, including links to the other posts)

My moment of Zen, or how I learned to stop worrying...sort of (July 30, 2008)
Tuesday Book Talk: The Festival! (April 28, 2009) 

My BlogHer'09: Yes, it actually WAS a conference! (July 29, 2009)

This post will listed in the Pages index under "Popular/Favorite Posts," so new visitors can easily see a sample of what goes on around here. And if you've missed any of these posts yourself, I'd love to have you check them out and comment on them!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The goal of avoiding blogging burnout (belated Geekery and BBAW leftovers)

Lots of things catch my eye as they make their way around the blogiverse, but sometimes it takes me awhile to get around to doing something with them myself.

Part of the "assignment" for the final day of Book Blogger Appreciation Week was to consider blogging goals:
"Tell us in 50 words or less where you want your blog to be by the next BBAW!"
Since it's no longer BBAW, to heck with the 50-word limit! And I've mentioned previously that I have a conflicted relationship with the whole idea of "goals:"
"It's not that I don't have goals, but as an attempting-to-recover control freak, I try not to get too caught up in them. And when I do have them, I tend to keep them to myself - telling someone about them, or writing them down, means I'm accountable for them now and have to take them seriously."
I also think it's important for goals to be something that will be achieved primarily through my own actions, so I feel the need to keep them pretty conservative. Goals that depend heavily on action from outside factors are goals I can't control...so maybe it's better to just call them "hopes" instead.

I'm actually pretty pleased with where my blog is right now. I like the new layout; I'll probably still tweak it now and then, but I don't foresee big changes for awhile. My subscriber base has grown a lot over the last year, and I hope to see that continue - I care more about cultivating a regular readership than spiking my search-engine traffic, although I doubt I'll ever get tired of seeing which posts Google Analytics says are visited most. Aside from the subscriber numbers, I've gotten much less hung up on my stats in the last year or so, and that's a relief.

My biggest hope for the blog is to engage with that readership better. There's a small group of regular commenters here - and I love y'all for it! - but I'd always like to see more people de-lurk and join the conversation. I respond to all comments on the post where they're left since I do feel that's more conversational, but sometimes I'll e-mail back too. I'm just not sure exactly how to get more folks to come in and comment. Let me know if you have suggestions on that - if there's a magic formula, I'd like to know what it is!

I'd like to think my writing has improved over the two and a half years I've been blogging here (along with the year I've also been contributing to the LA Moms Blog), and that's an ongoing thing (what we call CQI at my workplace - "continuous quality improvement"). I will try to make my book reviews more concise, and I want to write more "think pieces" reflecting on themes and topics in my recent reading - I've been enjoying those. I think my content has become more bookish recently, and I'm happy with that, but this is never going to be an exclusively-books blog. I like being a "hybrid blogger" who can go off in any direction.

At the end of BBAW, Unfinishedperson brought up the question of burnout in Weekly Geeks 2009-36:
"Personally, after such weeks, I feel almost burnt out and think, 'Why am I doing this? I'm not getting paid for this.' Do you ever feel the same way after weeks like the ones mentioned above? If you do, what do you to counter it? How do you keep going? Do you take a break from posts after that, or do you just 'soldier on'?

Or if you don't feel burnt out after such weeks, why not?"
I think that not being exclusive in my content is one thing that helps me avoid burnout, really. If I don't have anything book-related to talk about, I'll post about TV...or something in the news...or music...or something my dog did...or come up with an unnecessarily wordy response to a meme or writing prompt. I do all my post-drafting in Google Docs, and I open a new document whenever I get a post idea. Luckily, I haven't run out of those documents yet. One of the great things about BBAW was that it did offer prompts for daily themed posts; they were optional, but helpful, and gave me the opportunity to prepare my posts in advance. When I've found enough time to write that I have posts scheduled out for several days to come, I feel pretty good.

Something close to burnout hits me when I don't have that nice backlog of posts, however - but I usually call it "anxiety." If I haven't finished any books lately, there aren't any reviews to write, and there are times when I just don't find inspiration in my usual sources for prompts. That's when all of this starts to feel too much like work, and I just get stalled. Unfortunately, those occasions often seem to coincide with a time crunch, and that can lead to one of my "you may see a little less of me for awhile" posts. But I never seem to end up going away for more than a few days at a time. I'm sure part of the reason for that is fear of disappearing readers, but truly, I just can't keep myself from doing this for very long. Most of the time, it's just too much fun.

I get more burnt out sometimes with reading other blogs than with writing, I'm sorry to admit. But I've changed my Google Reader habits a little recently, and that's helped; I've also chosen not to feel guilty about judicious use of the "mark all as read" button.

I think "avoid blogging burnout" may be a pretty good goal, actually. What do you say to that?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Talk: "The Last Bridge," by Teri Coyne

I received an Advance Reader's Copy (ARC) of this book for review through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program. The book was published in July 2009 and is currently available in bookstores.

The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne

The Last Bridge: A Novel
Teri Coyne
Ballantine Books, 2009 (hardcover) (ISBN 0345507312 / 9780345507310)
Fiction, 240 pages

First sentence: Two days after my father had a massive stroke my mother shot herself in the head.

Book description: After a ten-year absence, Alex 'Cat' Rucker returns to her Ohio hometown because of a letter left on her mother's kitchen table - a suicide note, carefully preserved in a Ziploc® bag, that reads:

'He isn't who you think he is. Love, Mom'

While Alex tries to repress the memories of her brutal childhood - an abusive father, her estranged (and possibly illegitimate) brother, and the first love who would do anything to save her - she must face just how shattered she still is. At each step Alex confronts her biggest fears, realizes the impact of her choices, and inches closer to redemption. Can she embrace her vulnerabilities, talents, and desire for love, or will the revelations of her mother's cryptic note prove too overwhelming for her to bear?

Comments: Teri Coyne's first novel is a fast read, but far from an easy one. She has given her protagonist, Alex "Cat" Rucker, a slew of issues, and a storyline that's meant to force her to start confronting them. The title refers to an actual bridge on her family's property, but it's also a reference to the bridges Cat has burned - and those she hasn't quite been able to.

Cat (real name Alexandra, nicknamed "Alley Cat" as a child, later shortened to "Cat") has spent the last ten years trying to leave her hometown and family behind. She's been in and out of college and a series of dead-end jobs, and the one constant in her life has been alcohol. But if you don't deal with your baggage, you just keep bringing it wherever you go. When she's called back home with the news that her mother has killed herself and left a suicide note addressed to Cat, the baggage comes along.

Her mom's final message, "He isn't who you think he is," could apply to several men in Cat's life, and could be literal or metaphorical. Cat's father, who is now in a coma, singled her out for unwelcome attention from the time she was a child. Her brother Jared, named after her parents' best friend, tried to protect her, but they haven't spoken in seven years. Addison, the son of the aforementioned best friend, has his own history with Cat, and the guy from the coroner's office seems to have known her mother surprisingly well.

Cat's a vivid character, one with a heartbreaking history and a frustrating present. I found her sympathetic, complex, and not always likable. Her way of dealing with the horror is not dealing, and while it's understandable in a lot of ways, it got tiring for me to keep seeing her getting close to something and then running away, sometimes literally and sometimes into a drunken stupor.Eventually she does push through, though, and it's rewarding. There's real hope for recovery and growth.

Teri Coyne reveals increasingly dark family secrets throughout this well-paced, fairly short novel, but I felt that she left some unanswered questions. For me, the biggest of these was exactly what motivated Cat's father to single her out for his abusive attentions - why not her sister, or why not both of them? And while I found Coyne's spare writing style appealing, and appropriate to the story she was telling, there were parts I would have liked to have seen fleshed out a bit more. Still, she has given us a suspenseful, character-driven page-turner, and I'll be interested to see where her writing career goes from here.

Rating: 3.5/5

Other bloggers' reviews:

If you've reviewed this book and I've missed your link, please leave it in comments or e-mail me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com, and I'll edit this review to include it!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Weekend Review 9/26: Travels across the Blogiverse this week

I know where I stand in this debate, but haven't figured out how to articulate it yet: are families bonded by blood more "real" than families that aren't? Also, the good and bad of single parenting in the suburbs

Your blog is where you're free to express what you want to share - and to keep what you don't want to share to yourself.

Feedback and failures, successes and soul-searching - you don't have to know the first thing about BBAW to understand where Amy's been

How to improve the travel experience - for your fellow travelers

A few days late for National Punctuation Day: a new grammar guide

Letting other people have experiences so you don't have to: eating those brined eggs-in-a-jar

New Arrivals in my Google Reader

Nick Hornby's new novel Juliet, Naked is out next week, and Popdose has the first chapter! (I may be buying this one for the Kindle - can't wait!)

Thoughts on reading with kids and growing readers from a life-long reader and new stepmom

Do book bloggers tend to stick to the non-controversial?

As blogging and social media blur the divisions between readers and authors, can we still be objective when we review their books?

Ten signs that you might be a book blogger; some ideas about promoting new book blogs

How would you like to, literally, live in a (former) library? (Got a spare $2.7 million lying around?)

LibraryThing nails down the difference between geeks and nerds

On tap this weekend:

  • Trying to stay cool as our triple-digit Southern California heat wave continues
  • A little writing, a little more reading
  • The return of The Amazing Race

...and my stepdaughter's 15th birthday - with chocolate cake!

It's the first weekend of Fall - hope you won't be raking too many leaves!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bookkeeping, Challenging, Still Reading.: A TBIF special edition

BOOKKEEPING: The Reading Status Report

Book reviews posted this week:

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, by Lizzie Skurnick

Next reviews scheduled:
Catching up on some outstanding LibraryThing Early Reviewer commitments (which are now not at all early):
The Last Bridge, by Teri Coyne
The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway

Currently reading:
Goldengrove: A Novel, by Francine Prose (for an upcoming TLC Book Tour)

New to my LibraryThing "To Read" collection:

Believe it or not, NONE - and it's been two weeks since my last status report!

New additions to the Wishlist*:

Mistress of the Vatican, by Eleanor Herman
Sweet Life, by Mia King
Dervishes, by Beth Helms
Travel Writing, by Peter Ferry
City of Refuge, by Tom Piazza
The Accidental Bestseller, by Wendy Wax
What I Thought I Knew, by Alice Eve Cohen
Crossing Washington Square by Joanne Rendell

*Inspired by this week's Tuesday Thinger, I have officially set up a "wishlist" collection on LibraryThing. I went back through this summer's TBIF posts and added all the books I'd mentioned in those - you gotta start somewhere, right? And it's probably way past the time I should have done something like this - I found a couple of books I'd listed as "new additions to the Wishlist" two or three times, based on different reviews! Clearly, I need to stay on top of this stuff better - hopefully, this will help.

News Flash: In which I join a reading challenge!

I mostly avoid reading challenges, since just trying to get the reading and reviewing done usually tends to seem challenging enough all by itself. However, I'm signing up for this one since it fits in with the only other challenge I'm doing. I still need 5 books to meet my goal for the 2009 Read Your Own Books Challenge, so I'm hoping that S. Krishna's Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge during October and November will help get me there!

Challenge details:
This is a challenge that is aimed at getting through those books that have been sitting on your shelves for months, even years!

Anyone who wants to sign up!

Any non-review books that are on your shelves and/or review copies that have been on your shelves for over six months.
Crossover with other challenges is welcomed, even encouraged!

This challenge will run from October 1, 2009 – November 30, 2009.

Here – at S. Krishna’s Books!

This challenge will work a little differently than other challenges. Instead of picking a set number of books to read during this time period, you will pick a percentage. This means that a certain percentage of the books you read during these two months will have to qualify for this challenge. For example, let’s say you pick 40% and you end up reading 10 books in October and November. 4 of those books would have to qualify for this challenge in order for you to complete it. I am setting a minimum percentage of 20%.
My goal will be 25%. Since I'm not a speed reader, and I do have some review and tour commitments for the challenge period, I'm not stretching it too much.

Wish me luck, y'all!

*Still Reading and Remembering: Read-Along with Me and "Alice"*

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
A few of you expressed some interest in joining me in reading Still Alice (by Lisa Genova) next month. I'll be reading it in connection with my participation in the Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk in Thousand Oaks, California on Saturday, October 17, and I'd be more than happy to have your virtual company! (Our walking team would greatly appreciate your donation to our cause as well.)

My plan is to read the book during the week leading up to the walk and post my review on the Monday after it (October 19). If you'd like read along with me, please let me know in the comments to this post or e-mail me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com. Please post your review on the same day that I do. I'll cross-link all of the reviews here, and post some questions to discuss in comments.

Will you read along with me, please? Let me know! And if you've previously read/reviewed Still Alice, I hope you'll join in the discussion on October 19!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lost and (reluctantly) Found (Weekend Assignment #285)

Karen's Weekend Assignment this week is a timely one for me, since I'm actually trying to lose something I hadn't wanted to find again after losing it once before:

Weekend Assignment #285: Tell us about something important that you lost.

Extra Credit:
Tell us about something you found.

I lost weight. It stayed lost for a while, but I can no longer ignore the fact that I've found it again.

Just about six years ago, my sister and I joined Weight Watchers together. She'd recently had her second baby. I had no similar excuse for the gradual packing on of pounds that had sent my weight to the highest it had ever been (well in excess of my peak weight during my own pregnancy nearly twenty years earlier). I embraced the Weight Watchers Points Plan, and within six months - not long before my 40th birthday - I had successfully shed 25 pounds.

I've never been much of a joiner, but WW's mix of structure and flexibility, in addition to the accountability and group support, really worked for me. My motivations were a mix of health and vanity. I was having issues with my blood pressure and general fitness; also, I'd recently had to buy some clothing in a size 12. (I'm 4'8" tall - 25 pounds may not seem like a lot, but on my frame, it literally makes a big difference.) Given my lifestyle at the time - single, doing my own cooking and rarely dining out, and not really answering to anyone but my dog - adapting to the WW plan came pretty easily, and I didn't find it terribly difficult to lose the weight and keep it off. I knew that I'd have to stay attentive to food all the time, and that there were foods I was better off avoiding if I didn't want to deal with the consequences of indulging in them, but I was confident that I could do it.

After a successful six-week "maintenance" period after I reached my weight goal, I became a Weight Watchers Lifetime Member. However, it turns out that a "lifetime" is a long time to maintain one's eating and activity discipline, and the pounds have slowly found their back to me. My lifestyle changed a year and a half later, and while I don't blame my husband for my own failings, becoming part of a couple changed some of my habits. I got lazy, in more ways than one. We dined out too often. Desserts became a daily routine again instead of a sometime treat. My walks with the dog got shorter. The fact that my husband can't stand cooked vegetables gave me an excuse not to make them, and let's be honest - salads just get boring sometimes. And I stopped going to Weight Watchers meetings - it was actually nice to get back that hour of my Saturday mornings.

So I wasn't surprised by what I learned when I recently tried out my family's Wii Fit for the first time: even though I was still (mostly) comfortably wearing a size 8, my weight wasn't too far below where it had been when I originally started on Weight Watchers, and my BMI was well up in the "overweight" region. (I know BMI's not particularly reliable for those at extremes of the height range, but still.) And once I actually know the facts about something, it's a lot tougher for me to ignore it.

I still don't really want to start going to WW meetings and tracking points again, so I'm starting by just trying to get back to the principles. I'm re-focused on eating more protein and fewer carbs. I seldom take second helpings, but I'm paying more attention to portion sizes (and using the smaller plates that fill up faster). I'm eating more salads, and going back to cooking vegetables - I'll have one or the other as part of dinner every night. (My husband doesn't have to take any of the cooked veggies, but it would be nice if the kids did.)  Desserts are not part of the daily routine anymore, but more physical activity is. Even if it means getting up earlier, I'm taking the dog for longer walks on weekend mornings again. And I'm finally joining the rest of my family on the Wii. I actually like the step-aerobics and yoga routines on the Wii Fit, and since I still refuse to keep a scale in the house, regular "body testing" by the Fit will help me track how I'm doing. (If you're "overweight," the Wii Fit plumps up your Mii avatar. It's not pleasant to watch.)

Since the Wii Fit wanted me to establish a goal, I'm shooting for losing 10% of my current body weight within 6 months. In pounds, that's only about half of my original loss six years ago, but I'm fine with a conservative start - and if I'm making progress, I can always become more ambitious. But if I can lose that weight again, I'm going to work harder to make sure it stays lost this time.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Am I too old for "young adult"? Are you?

One thing that surprised me when I began reading more and more book blogs is how many bloggers were regularly talking about books classified as "young adult" - and I wasn't reading book blogs written by teens (although there are plenty of those around). Most of the readers and bloggers were women - some younger than me, some roughly my contemporaries - and many of them didn't have tween or teen children of their own. They were reading these "YA" books themselves, because they wanted to - and they were loving a lot of them. And I didn't get it.

I devoured YA lit in my own middle- and high-school years, but it's been a long time since it felt "right" to read it. Other than the notable exception of the Harry Potter novels - which I tend to forget are written for a young audience, since most of the fans I know are fellow so-called grown-ups - it's a book category I've shied away from, and it's been hard to articulate why. I think I have a clue now, though.

As I recently devoured Lizzie Skurnick's Shelf Discovery, a "reading memoir" of young-adult literature that will ring many bells if you were a pre-teen or teen reader between the late 1960's and early 1980's, it wasn't hard to remember reading many of the books she discusses for the first (or second, or third) time. It wasn't hard to remember how I felt when I read them, too.

I chose many of those books at the time because they were about girls my age who were having experiences I could relate to, or experiences I wished I could have (or experiences I really hoped I'd never have, but wouldn't mind reading about someone else having). I was drawn to realistic, of-the-moment fiction, and to novels that tweaked reality without seeming too much like fantasy (which is where Madeleine L'Engle came in, I think). But the main drawing card was that the stories were about girls who were like me, or girls I'd like to be.

Young-adult literature shaped who I was, and who I was becoming, during those years. Some of what I read then still influences who I am now. But I'm not all the same person I was then, and it's taken a lot of work and growth to get to the person I am now. There are things I really don't want to revisit about who I was then...and I realize that's part of why I've shied away from returning to YA literature. There's a certain discomfort level for me in books that might make me feel like I'm fifteen again, since sometimes it seems like it took long enough to stop feeling that way.

Then again, the YA books that book bloggers are introducing me to now aren't the ones I grew up on. They're not books I would be approaching with memories or nostalgia, since I haven't read them before. And most importantly, I'm not fifteen any more, so why should I assume they can affect me as if I were? As Ali of Worducopia put it:

Adolescence is a crucial and fascinating stage of life--teens are an archetype of our power as humans to transform. I don't want to be sixteen again, but the challenges people face at that age still have relevance to me as an adult. My response to them is different than it would be if I were younger, but no less legitimate.
My Friend Amy reminds me that "young adult literature" is just a marketing concept anyway:
What makes a book a young adult book? Lack of violence? No. Lack of profanity? No. Lack of sex? No. All of those things can be found and at times in abundance in young adult novels.

Simplified language? No. A dumbed down plot-line? No. Young Adult novels contain some of the most beautiful language I’ve read as well some of the most riveting heart-wrenching plots.

What makes a book a young adult book? One simple thing. A teenage protagonist.

In fact, many authors do not set out to write a book for young adults, they write a book, and later on learn that it can be marketed as a young adult book. Others, of course, do have teenagers as their primary audience in mind. So there’s a quite a mix in what you’ll find shelved under Young Adult.
I've read plenty of "adult" novels with prominent teen characters. I'm interested in books with some substance to them, no matter who the intended audience is. Shelf Discovery refreshed my memory about young-adult literature that had that substance, and can still speak to me; perhaps I've been unreasonably denying myself the opportunity to see if it's there in this generation's YA lit. And since I have Suzanne Collins and Beth Kephart waiting on one of the TBR shelves, maybe it's about time I found out.

BookBlips: vote it up!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Book Talk: "Shelf Discovery," by Lizzie Skurnick

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading - A Reading Memoir
Lizzie Skurnick (blog)
Avon A (HarperCollins), 2009 (paperback original) (ISBN 0061756350 / 9780061756351)
Nonfiction/books and reading; 448 pages

Opening Lines:
"I can't remember the book that made me into a reader. (God knows this would be a better story if I could!) All I can remember is that first I wasn't a reader and then, suddenly, I was."

Book description: Remember that book you read at that time in your life when everything seemed to be going crazy—the one book that brought the world into focus and helped soothe your raging teenage angst? Lizzie Skurnick does, in a book inspired by and expanding on her "Fine Lines" articles about memorable young-adult literature on Jezebel.com.

Comments: It's been too long since I've started reading a book within a day or two of buying it, but I couldn't wait to dive into this one. However, let me get a quibble out of the way first: the subtitle of this book, "The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading," is using a very loose interpretation of "teen." There are quite a few books discussed here that feature pre-teen protagonists and are more likely to be shelved as "middle-grade fiction." In fact, quite a few of the book covers pictured are Dell Yearling editions, and my recollection is that those were recommended for ages 8-12; Laurel-Leaf Library was Dell's young-adult line. I had plenty of books from both collections on my shelves back in the day.

Setting that aside, though, Shelf Discovery is a thoroughly enjoyable trip back through the books you may have grown up with - and the ones that helped you grow up - especially if you were growing up during the 1970's and '80's. Lizzie Skurnick has been discussing YA literature, and how it's influenced the women we've become, online for a while; those essays are expanded here, and joined by guest contributions from Laura Lippman, Meg Cabot, Jennifer Weiner, and others. The book is divided into ten genre/thematic sections, including tearjerkers, thrillers, romances, "issues" literature, and the adult, "dirty" books that we really were too young for; the essays themselves are labeled "book reports" or, for less-remembered titles, "extra credit." (By the way, "essays" is too dry a term to describe the writing here, but it fits the form.)

Some of the books talked about here have been touchstones for a couple of generations, like Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, and Forever... Blume's fiction is featured in multiple articles, actually, as is Madeleine L'Engle's. L'Engle's "holy trinity" of teen heroines is discussed at length, with the premise that all of us were either a Meg (Murry), a Vicky (Austin), or a Polly (O'Keefe). (I was a Meg, definitely. Vicky always had too many boys flocking around for me to relate to her. Speaking of boys, how could I have forgotten Zachary Grey, the Heathcliff of my youth - or is he the non-vampire Edward Cullen? Oh, that's right, I can't stand boys like that. I probably blocked him out.) Then there are the books that were very much of their times, like Go Ask Alice (a "drug user's diary" that isn't even a real diary!) and Paul Zindel's My Darling, My Hamburger (which I also mentioned in this post last year).

I re-encountered many books that have stayed with me over the years, was reminded of some I'd forgotten, and came across others that I hadn't heard of before. Some of the books in the last category came out toward the end of my own YA years (I graduated high school in 1982), and it seemed like when I checked in on that part of the bookstore a few years later, many of the books I remembered - books with some substance to them, in addition to engrossing stories and memorable characters - couldn't be found any more; it was all Sweet Valley High. (No offense.) But perhaps I was wrong back then. Many of my book-blogging, YA-lit-loving friends would tell me that I'm wrong about the YA books that are out there now. Reading Shelf Discovery has been a strong nudge in their direction.

Recommendation: For women who were avid girl readers, especially those in their 30's and 40's who enjoyed the contemporary youth literature of their time.
Rating: 3.75/5
Book #15 of 20 for the RYOB 2009 Challenge

If you have read and reviewed this book, please leave your link in comments or e-mail me at 3.rsblog AT GMail DOT com, and I'll edit this review to include it!
BookBlips: vote it up!

Monday, September 21, 2009

There's a first time for everything (a belated Weekend Assignment)

The title of this post may be misleading - I don't think this actually is my first belated Weekend Assignment. But since Book Blogger Appreciation Week took over the blog last week, I asked Karen for an extension on this one:
Weekend Assignment: #284: Tell us about your first day of...well, anything, really. It could be your first day in school, your first day as a legal adult, your first day in a new town or dating that someone special - you get the idea. This time out I'm looking for tales of new experiences, not new possessions. (The latter was last week!) What made that particular day memorable for you?
I've actually written about this particular "first" before, but it was about a year ago and it may be a new story to some of you.

My first date with the man who became my second husband was excellent, as first dates go. (Can't say I've had too much practice, but going by what I've heard...) It wasn't a fancy, sweep-me-off-my-feet kind of excellent, but it was a that-went-really-well kind of excellent, especially since it wasn't just my first date with him; three years after my divorce, it was my first date, period.

A few days after Paul and I were "introduced" by an online-dating site, we were e-mailing each other several times a day, and we had decided we wanted to meet in person. We planned lunch at a local mall for the following weekend - we had to work around his custody schedule, and I wanted a little more time to correspond in the meantime. I like to be prepared when I meet people. We chose the location - an Italian restaurant in the mall - and the time - Sunday at noon - because they were pretty casual and open-ended. If things went well, we could wander around the mall afterwards and talk more; if not, one or both of us could manufacture a shopping errand.

I arrived first, and settled on a bench near the mall entrance (with a book, of course) to watch for my date's arrival. I'd only seen a couple of pictures of him, but they were enough for me to recognize him in Target the day before our lunch, so I was quite sure I'd know him when I saw him. (I e-mailed him about the sighting at Target after I got home, to confirm that it was him; he said later that he thought it was a good sign that I didn't want to call off the date after that.)

He impressed me right off by having actually made a reservation at the restaurant. We talked easily over lunch. The e-mails we'd been exchanging had been quite chatty, and we knew enough about each other already to ask good questions and follow up on things we'd mentioned previously. After we'd split the check for lunch - at my insistence, we did this for our first several dates - we weren't tired of each other yet, so we decided to walk around the mall and talk some more. We landed on another bench and stayed there for a couple of hours, until both of us were feeling parched and decided we needed drinks. Even though I'd wanted us to split the cost at lunch, I didn't reject his offer to buy me a lemonade when he got himself a Coke. We took our drinks to yet another bench, where the conversation kept going until we realized we'd been in each other's company for five hours, and we probably should think about calling it a day - once we'd traded phone numbers, that is.

I wish I could remember everything we talked about that day, but after over four years together, a lot of it flows together now. We talked about our kids. We talked about how we'd grown up. We tried not to talk too much about our exes. We talked about movies and TV, music, and even books we'd both read. We made each other laugh, and we impressed each other by catching one another's random pop-cultural references - which have remained a daily part of our conversation, by the way. (I do remember the way that, after one such catch on my part, he grinned approvingly and said "You are quick!") We confirmed what we already sensed from our correspondence; we saw much of the world from a similar perspective, and we had a lot to talk about. We were definitely clicking.

Five hours later, we both knew our first date wouldn't be our last. We hugged goodbye (the first kiss was on the second date), and went off in separate directions - for the time being. Till our second date - dinner, three nights later - at least. And we're still talking about everything.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Weekend Review 9/19: The BBAW Hangover Edition

Announcements: Memory Walking again

I mentioned this as part of yesterday's post, but it was buried a bit there, so here it is again, because I'd really like you to know about it:

If you've been reading here for awhile, you may remember that my mother died of Alzheimer's at the age of 69. This year is the tenth anniversary of her passing, and as has become our tradition, my sister and I will remember her by participating in our local Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk along with our families. My mom died on October 8, and the Walk will take place on October 17. I'm also planning to read the novel Still Alice, by Lisa Genova, which is about an early-onset Alzheimer's patient, during October a way of tying my reading to my cause.

If you'd like to support our family team in our efforts to raise funds to help defeat this disease, I have a donation page - there's a link to it, and our team's progress, in the right sidebar of the blog now. Many thanks for your consideration!

# Also, if you'd like to read Still Alice along with me, let me know in the comments and we'll work out some details! (You'll have to get your own copy of the book, though.) #

New Arrivals in my Google Reader: *Book Blogger Appreciation Week Collateral Damage Edition*

Tales from the Reading Room
Steph & Tony Investigate!

More musings about the blogs that go away, particularly those that close up shop after conferences; speaking of conferences, some changes are afoot for BlogHer'10 (August 6-7, 2010, New York City)

I said some stuff about the Kanye West/Taylor Swift thing on the LA Moms Blog, but it was said much more forcefully and directly here.

I was fascinated by this account of a successful Visian ICL Implant vision correction procedure. My eyesight is too bad to be corrected with LASIK, but I may be a candidate for this, and Trisha is the first person I've encountered who has had it done.

Pros and cons of co-parenting after divorce

No one's hair is meant to be petted (unless they have four legs, that is)

The change of seasons is usually a good time to re-assess your wardrobe

I didn't participate in Wendi's Tuesday Thinger this week because of BBAW, but these 8 helpful blog HTML codes really are helpful (I've implemented #7 already). Also, created by Trin of Bloody Bad: A Book Blog: a matched set of social-media icons! Plus, thanks to Jackie at Farm Lane Books for the scoop on creating a feed of blogs that link to yours!

Police reports in LA don't look much like these (heck, they'd need their own newspaper here!)

Blogthings Quiz of the Week - from the "Well, duh!" Files

You Are Carbs

You are a very energetic and seductive person. You tend to be driven by your impulses, and people often find you tempting.
Often your energy is brief and almost manic. You have a lot of ups and downs if you're not careful.

When you take care of yourself, you feel alert, balanced, and satisfied. You can live a very balanced life if you play your cards right.
When you don't take care of yourself, your life is a nightmare. You can be moody, cranky, and unpredictable.

(If this had come back as "You Are Fat," I'm not sure how I would have taken that...)

A BBAW look at the past year in the book-blogiverse, as only Raych of books i done read could tell it; a special BBAW tribute to Dewey, who is still mourned and missed by the book-blog community she was such a vital member of

It's been years since I used the library very much, but it's always been good to know it's there. But in some schools, and even in some cities, budget cuts may be taking it away! (WAIT: Philly libraries got a stay of execution!)

It's never too late for your first time...with Judy Blume

Have you found your religion - or something like it - in books?

Would you sign up for a Dead Author Blog Tour (or a "classics" book-blog tour by any other name)?

Happy Rosh Hashanah to those who are celebrating it!
And for the rest of us....ARRRR, me hearties! It's Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Reading Plans and Goals (Weekly Geeks 2009-35, BBAW Day 5)

This week on Weekly Geeks, Terri asks about reading plans for the rest of the year:[WG Relaxing URL[5].jpg]
It's hard to believe we're approaching the last quarter of 2009. Soon those of us in the northern hemisphere will be curled up in front of the fire (or solar heater) with our favorite wintry reads, and those in the southern will be off to the beaches with their summer books.

Do you have a plan of what you're going to read the rest of the year? Have you had a master plan all along? If so, have you stuck to it? What helps you to decide what you're going to read next? Challenges? Book groups? Or do you have the luxury of closing your eyes and picking any book off your shelf?
I never used to be one to plan my reading, and I still don't like to do it very much, which is one reason I don't usually participate in reading challenges (except for the one I'll mention later in this post). However, accepting review books usually means accepting responsibility to post their reviews in a timely manner, and that has caused me to plan my reading more than I used to.

My first priority is catching up on the reviews for books I've received from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program, since posting those on LT affects my getting more books from them! I got one of them up there this week, and then I have just two more to get done:

The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne (already on LT, scheduled to post here 9/28)
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (currently reading)
Loved Me Once by Gail Hewitt

I have one book to read and review for an October TLC Book Tour spot:

Goldengrove: A Novel, by Francine Prose

There are two ARCs in the TBR stack that are scheduled for autumn publication, so my goal is to post their reviews close to the time they'll become available. Both are memoirs:

The Possibility of Everything, by Hope Edelman (just published this month)
Lift, by Rebecca K. O'Connor (November publication)

I still have to read five of "my own" books - meaning books that weren't sent to me for review, since library books aren't a factor in my case - to achieve my goal of 20 for the 2009 RYOB Challenge. I usually don't plan for this one, other than trying to make sure I get a couple in after a streak of review-book reads, but there is one book already on the calendar for October:

Still Alice, by Lisa Genova

Still Alice by Lisa Genova I've asked my sister to read this novel about an early-onset Alzheimer's patient along with me, and I hope to entice her into posting a guest review or discussing it with me here on the blog. If you've been reading here for awhile, you may remember that my mother died of Alzheimer's at the age of 69. This year is the tenth anniversary of her passing, and as has become our tradition, we will remember her by participating in our local Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk. My mom died on October 8, and the Walk will take place on October 17; reading this novel during that month is a way of tying my reading to my cause. (And if you'd like to support our family team in our efforts to raise funds to help defeat this disease, I have a donation page - there's a link to it, and our team's progress, in the right sidebar of the blog now.)

Aside from these commitments, I have other review books to get to and plenty of my own books on the shelves - I just hope to read whenever I can, and whatever I find appealing.

Today's official BBAW Blogging Theme is "setting goals." Although it was intended for blogging goals, I think this discussion of reading goals isn't completely out of keeping with the spirit of the day.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

BBAW: A Reading Meme (but not the "official" one)

Yesterday was the "official" BBAW Reading Meme Day, so I'm late, but I didn't want to miss out completely. The BBAW Blog has a list of short-answer questions for participants to answer if they choose, but I'm going be different as well as late; I'm responding to another meme entirely, but it does concern reading and blogging, so I'm counting it anyway.

Many book bloggers have already addressed the questions raised by author Shannon Hale in her recent blog post, "How to be a reader: book evaluation vs. self-evaluation" - it was even the inspiration for last week's Weekly Geeks assignment -  but I'm just getting to them myself, so please bear with me here.

Hale wonders if online book reviewers are more focused on subjectively rating the books they read than on objectively discussing them, and how that may affecting our reading experience:
I wonder how the focus on rating is affecting, even transforming, our individual reading experience and attitude toward books.

In my opinion, there are more interesting questions to ask myself after reading a book than what I would rate it. What was the author trying to do? Did she succeed or fail for me? What devices did she use to create her tone, to reveal characterization, to paint a world? And not to say that evaluative questions are all wrong either.

For example:
I loved this book so much. What was it that resonated? Would I have loved this book as much ten years ago? Five years ago? Will I keep loving it in the future? Where am I in my life that this is the story I wanted and needed?

I reacted negatively to this book. Why? What is it about this story or characters or style that hit me so strongly? What does that say about me?

...I believe a story is 50% the book's role + 50% the reader's. I like to read to learn about other kinds of people, go far away, experience things I would never know or see. But I also like to read to see my own reality more clearly, understand my own world and own self better. By limiting a reading experience to "how awesome the author is" or "how lame the author is" I'm denying myself a full reading experience. I'm shutting out possibilities of how I personally grow and change after reading a story. I'm denying my essential role as reader in the storytelling experience.

...So, I wonder if book evaluation is trumping self-evaluation. I wonder if we get so caught up in gushing or bashing, shining up those stars or taking them away, that the reading experience is weighed too heavily on the side of the book itself and not enough on the reader. After all, reader is more important than book. Reader is the one who changes from reading, not the book. Reader is the one who lives the magic of storytelling.
She poses some questions for book reviewers in connection with her premise. I'll take them one at a time:

1. Do you find that the anticipation of reviewing the book has changed your reading experience? 

Yes. I think it's made me more attentive and analytical as I read, and I definitely think that's a positive thing. The main reason I started doing book reviews in the first place is because I had a hard time remembering much about what I read and when I read it. That's much less of a problem now - partly because I can always go back the review to refresh my memory, but also because I'm more engaged with my reading as I'm doing it, and my mental muscles are more involved.

2. Are you rating the book even as you read? Or do you wait until the end to sum it all up? 

Sometimes. It depends on the book, and it's more likely to happen with a book that's making a very strong impression: "Wow. This is going to end up with at least a 4 out of 5." Most of the time, though, I don't think too much about the rating until I've got most of the review written, because I really try to keep it consistent with what I say in the discussion.

3. Does knowing you'll be reviewing it (or rating it) publicly affect which books you pick up in the first place? 

No, that's still governed by whether I'm interested in reading a particular book. I don't intend for that to change, ever.

4. Does the process of writing the review itself change how you felt about the book? 

Sometimes it does, but it's generally more of a clarification than a dramatic change. Articulating my impressions of the book - themes, characters, plot elements, quality of writing - has a way of making me more aware of my response to the whole of that, and of my reasons for responding as I did.

5. What is your motivation to assign a rating to a book and declare it to the world? 

When I first started posting reviews, I didn't use ratings. One of my early readers (who, sadly, has disappeared from the blogiverse since then) asked me to start assigning ratings, and I've continued with it because I think readers find it helpful. I know that I find them helpful when I read other people's reviews, but more so when they're associated with a good discussion of the book's content and the reviewer's thoughts about it. A publisher's description, plus three sentences and a rating, really doesn't do much for me. I want to know why the reviewer responded to the book as she did, and what motivates that rating. Going back to what Shannon Hale said, I'd like to know how the reviewer experienced the book as a reader. That's much more useful to me.

6. If you review a book but don't rate, why not? What do you feel is your role as reviewer?

There are certain books I won't rate. Most of the time, they're nonfiction and don't have a narrative arc - they may be prescriptive books about how to address certain issues, and I just don't see how meaningful a rating is for books like that. In those cases, I'll include a recommendation about the audience I think might benefit from reading the book instead of giving it a rating. I think my role in reviewing books that may not be suitable for a rating is primarily to share information about them, and also to discuss how I experienced them as a reader myself, which affects the recommendation.

What are your thoughts on reading and rating?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Product Spotlight: *A Life Well Read*

Disclosure: D&D Creations, the developers of this product, provided me with a sample for review purposes (the product retails for $29.95 plus shipping). I received no other compensation.

I always wanted to be someone who kept a reading journal. I made a few half-hearted attempts, but they never stuck, and I never had much success at keeping records of what I read until I went online, where this blog and LibraryThing both serve that purpose. If I were still looking for a way to keep a reading record, or if I wanted to supplement it with an off-line method, I think that A Life Well Read could be just the ticket. It's a beautifully packaged reading journal and library organizer all in one.

Like the best organizational systems, A Life Well Read is designed with a combination of structure and flexibility in mind. It comes with 50 cards that can be used as bookmarks while you're reading a book, and as a journal once you're done. Record when you received and read the book, your rating, and your notes on one side; the other side is a "library card" listing the book's lending and book-club history. Use any or all of these areas as you choose. There's not a lot of space for detailed reviews, but you can write down quotes and impressions as you read; if you're reading for a book club, make some notes about the meeting discussion or things you want to make sure you talk about; the lending history is useful if you can't remember exactly who has that book right now.

You don't have to use the card system just for books you've read, either. There are literally a dozen ways you can file the cards - five are pre-printed on the category dividers, while the others are up to you. For me, the "Books on Loan," "Books I Want," and "Books to Give" would be the most useful; the book cards even include three designed just to list books you want to give as gifts, and to whom. The box also includes self-adhesive bookplate stickers to label those books you're loaning out, and gift labels to attach inside the ones you're giving to others. The whole thing comes in a sturdy bookshelf-sized box, and even includes a pen for making all of those notes.

At this point, I don't think that a system like this will replace my online one for tracking what I've read. However, I can definitely see using it for "Books I Want" and "Books to Give." I don't catalog my wish list right now, but thanks to other book bloggers, it's growing all the time - and it's currently scattered through weeks (and months) of my TBIF posts. It would be great to have it in a more accessible and useful format. And since I do often give books as gifts, it would help to have a place to write down those "this would be a great one for so-and-so" inspirations so I could find them later. Speaking of gifts, I think that A Life Well Read would be a great gift for book lovers who aren't currently keeping a reading journal, either on- or off-line, since it's so flexible and easy to use.

There's only one thing I really think this system needs - additional book cards. There are 50 cards in the box, and for many of us, that won't last long. (Fortunately, refill cards are available for just $4.95 for a set of 25.) But right now, and through October 15, the A Life Well Read boxed set is available at a 25% discount for readers of The 3 R's (just use that dedicated link).

Thanks to Deborah and Debra of D&D Creations for the opportunity to test-drive A Life Well Read. If you decide to give it a try yourself, I'd love to know what you think - and don't forget to use that discount link!