Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Salon, Post-Thanksgiving edition: Bookkeeping, Bookmarks, and more

The Sunday Salon.com

Does the holiday season take a big chunk out of your reading time? Between weekends spent shopping, decorating, and socializing and the normal daily routine, I find that I have fewer opportunities to settle down with a book, unless I can squeeze in a day off here and there (which I am doing a couple of times before Christmas, and possibly more once I know what my son's travel plans for the holidays are). My immediate reading agenda is to get through the next couple of reviews I have scheduled, and then I really want to goof off a bit - read for the challenges I'll be starting, and/or read just whatever I feel like. That would make it something of a reading holiday, I think!

What sort of reading plans do you have between now and the end of the year?

✩✩✩✩ Speaking of plans...the Southern California book-blogger contingent is planning to get together around noon on Saturday, December 5 at Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City. We'll have lunch at the adjoining Aroma Cafe, browse (maybe do some Christmas shopping?), and chat about blogging, books and whatever else comes to mind. If you can make it, we'd love to see you there! ✩✩✩✩

BOOKKEEPING: The Reading Status Report

Reviews posted this week:
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

Next Reviews Scheduled:

When She Flew, by Jennie Shortridge (for TLC Book Tour December 3)
Lift, by Rebecca K. O'Connor
New to my LibraryThing "To Read" collection (current count - 252):
Thanks to Nicole at Bookreporter.com, an entire series for review, by Laura Pedersen:

New additions to the Wishlist*:
None...and that may be a good thing

Challenge Updates/Conclusions:
Read Your Own Books Challenge (RYOB 2009): Pledged 20; Read 20
Completed as of 11/24/09
I'm glad I signed on for this one, and I think liking it so much may be one reason I'm cutting back on accepting books for review. In the same spirit, but with a slightly different twist, I've decided to join the  2010 Reading From My Shelves Project hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea. That challenge has the additional requirement that participants must pass on their books once they've read them, and that's something I normally do anyway. I will pledge to read 25 books for the challenge (which can cross with other challenges), which happens to be the just over the minimum of 20 allowed, but I'm now feeling a little more confident about a slightly bigger commitment.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge: Pledged 25% of books read in October and November to qualify; Read 4 out of 9 books that qualified (44%)
Completed as of 11/4/09
I guess I could have closed out this one sooner, but I wasn't sure how much more I might accomplish in November. I did better than expected, but most of that is directly due to participating in the 24-Hour Readathon last month. I'm also choosing not to count an e-book for this challenge, since it doesn't actually occupy a shelf.

BOOKMARKS: Reading-related Reading

It's been a year since we lost one of our leaders...and still, the book-blogging community continues to grow and expand, and to follow her light. We still remember, and we still miss Dewey (and sadly, we can't even access her blog archives any more...)

Considering the inclusion of "fluff" in the literary diet

A contrarian approach to a school-wide book ban

The kind of behavior that gives book bloggers a bad reputation

Thanks to Lisa at Lit and Life for the "Over the Top" Award! There's a quiz/meme that goes with the award and I'll get to that later, but since I'm infamously negligent about acknowledging awards, I wanted to get to this one before I got too distracted :-).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving - now go eat your turkey!

I'm unplugging from the blog for the next few days - there will be no new posts here until Sunday!

Thanksgiving will be fairly low-key. None of our kids will be around, but my husband and I are hosting my dad and a friend of his for dinner. I'm roasting chicken breasts - yes, chicken, you read that correctly! - and potatoes, with some other veggies and a salad, and baking an apple crisp and a pumpkin pie. We'll probably watch a movie after dinner - most likely something Christmas-themed, since that's allowed as of today!

I'm at work tomorrow, but the commute should be light and the office will probably be quiet. My mother-in-law is coming to visit until Sunday, and I'll still get some extra weekend time - I'm taking the day off on Monday!

If you're celebrating Thanksgiving Day in the USA today, I wish you a happy feast with family and friends, and I thank you for stopping by to say hello! Now, get off the computer and enjoy your day :-).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thank you, 21st Century! (Weekend Assignment #294)

Karen is still thinking about holidays with this Weekend Assignment:

Weekend Assignment #294: Thanksgiving is upon us, and it's traditional to ask what you're thankful for this year. But let's tweak that a bit. As we prepare to finish off the first decade of a new century, let's take a moment to appreciate the good things that have come about since 12/31/1999. What aspect of living in the 21st century are you most thankful about? I'm talking technology, medical breakthroughs, favorite tv shows, even people and pets born since the ball drop of nine years ago.

Extra Credit: What are you most looking forward to as the century continues?

I'm glad Karen's taken a non-traditional approach and a specific focus to this, especially since she's asking about the last ten years. The last few months of 1999 were some of the most difficult ones of my life, and the new decade got off to a rough start as well. My life has gone through many changes since then - new state, new jobs, new family - and I'm very thankful to have come through it all to arrive where I am today. But I'm also thankful I don't have to discuss all that emotional stuff right now.

Still, it's hard to pick just one thing to answer this question, so here's a Fave Five, in no particular order:

E-Readers: I never would have said this until a few months ago, but my Kindle has truly made me a believer. I don't think e-books will replace the traditional kind for me, but the Kindle made carrying books with me a lot more convenient. Since e-books tend to become available at the same time as hardcover editions, and they cost less than most trade paperbacks, I don't have to wait so long for some of the books I really want to read, either!

Implantable lenses: I'm not a candidate for LASIK vision correction, but the implantable collamer lens (ICL) might be a viable alternative to the glasses and contacts I've worn for almost my entire life. I haven't had the procedure done myself, but I have recently come across someone who had a great experience with it, and I'm thinking I might like to make this my 50th-birthday gift to myself.

The iPhone: I don't have one, and I don't really think I want one, but I certainly believe it's enhanced the gadgets and goodies available for more traditional cell phones. However, my husband's had one for most of this year, and he swears he can't remember how he got along without it. If I'm with him, and he's with his iPhone - which is nearly all the time - it's the next best thing to having one of my own.

The DVR: I never could master "time-shifting" with a VCR, but we've had a DVR since late 2005, and it's truly changed the way we watch television. We've effectively become our own programmers. We rarely watch anything when it's actually scheduled on TV. This does have the drawback of interfering with watercooler discussions the next day, but it's more than worth it to be able to avoid the commercials.

Blogging: The early ancestors of today's blogs were being born in the late '90's, but the explosion of the form to what we know today seems to have happened in just the last few years. Free software that's easy to access and use has opened the Internet to the less tech-savvy, and anyone who has something to say - which seems to be almost everyone - can create their own place to say it, and easily find others to share the conversation. I started blogging in earnest in the spring of 2007, and I wish I'd gotten into it sooner. I can safely say it's changed my life more than anything in the last few years, other than getting married.

What 21st-century development are you especially thankful for?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

(E)Book Talk: "The Help," by Kathryn Stockett

Disclosures: I purchased this to read as an e-book on my Amazon Kindle. *The purchasing link at the end of this review goes through my Amazon Associates account.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Help
Kathryn Stockett
ISBN 0399155341 / 9780399155345
Fiction (historical/literary), 2009
Kindle e-book edition

Opening Lines: "Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August 1960. A church baby we like to call it. Taking care a white babies, that's what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime."

Book description: Twenty-two-year-old Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

Comments: In September, The Help was voted "Best Book Published So Far in 2009" by participants in Book Blogger Appreciation Week. It was one of those books that it seemed like everyone was either reading or wanted to read, and it was hard to find anyone who had a negative reaction to it. Books like that make me very nervous. I'm afraid that I'll be the lone voice of dissent about them...or worse, that I'll just think I like them because I'm supposed to.

As it turns out, I've made up my own mind about this novel...and I'll have good things to say about it too. It's rare for me to finish a book and immediately want to start reading it again, but I had that reaction to The Help. Kathryn Stockett's first novel is thoroughly involving and engaging. It drew me in immediately and kept me reading compulsively; I was trying to read a couple of other books while reading this one on my Kindle, but they had to take a back seat.

I'm both drawn to and cautious about novels set in the South; drawn to them because I lived there for half of my life and still love many things about the region (flaws and all), but cautious because a lot of Southern stories seem to be almost deliberately, self-consciously "quirky," and that just annoys me. The Help takes place in that flawed but real South, not the exaggeratedly eccentric one. Its characters are well-drawn and developed, and its situations are pulled from real life in a challenging time - Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960's, as the civil-rights movement was beginning to build. While slavery had ended nearly a hundred years earlier, the world was still black and white, and people's places in that world were pretty well fixed, while their relationships were more complex than they might appear to be. Yet change was simmering, and it scared people - even people for whom it might mean better things.

The basic plot of The Help might seem a bit unlikely, to be honest. Recent college graduate Skeeter Phelan has no marriage prospects and is actually interested in a career as a writer, but her prospects for that aren't good either. Her only opportunity is a weekly housekeeping column in the local paper...but as a white, upper-middle-class Southern girl, Skeeter has no experience with domestic chores. Like everyone she knows, her family has always had "help" - a black woman who was charged with cleaning, cooking, and child-rearing. Skeeter would ask her family's maid to help her with the column, but the maid she grew up with has mysteriously disappeared, and she hasn't gotten to know the new maid well. Instead, she obtains permission from her friend Elizabeth to go to Elizabeth's maid, Aibileen, with her questions for the column. Her conversations with Aibileen begin to open Skeeter's eyes to more than just housekeeping, and they're eye-opening for Aibileen too. Never forgetting the risks to their lives and livelihood, Aibileen and her friends begin secretly collaborating with Skeeter on a book to tell their stories.

The Help is an excellent example of a character-driven novel, and Stockett has created some vivid and indelible characters, particularly the three narrators, Aibileen, her best friend Minny, and Skeeter. I grew to love them all, but I think Minny was my favorite. Stockett made an interesting, rather controversial narrative choice in using dialect for the first-person narration by Aibileen and Minny; she also made a smart choice in writing Minny's dialect a bit differently. I didn't really find it necessary, having enough familiarity with both black and white Southern voices that I probably would have "heard" each character's voice as intended without the dialect, but not every reader will bring that experience to the book, so I think using it was effective.

I grew to love this book more as I progressed with it, I didn't want it to end, and I definitely want to read it again, although I'm not going to forget it any time soon. I'll look forward to Kathryn Stockett's next novel, but even if there isn't one, she's made a big mark on the literary world with The Help. It's a thought-provoking, well-told story with characters I cared about, and it's a novel that's going to stick.

This completes my 20-book pledge for the Read Your Own Books (RYOB) Challenge 2009. (Since it was an e-book, I won't count it for the Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge.)

Rating: 4.25/5

Buy The Help at Amazon.com

Find more reviews of The Help with the Books Blogs Search Engine

Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Bloggers' Top 10 of 2009 (Weekly Geeks 2009-43)

(Well, I wasn't sure if I'd have a post up today, but what do you know? Here's one after all!)

I hadn't expected to start thinking about my end-of-the-year book choices quite yet, but Weekly Geeks is a little bit ahead of me:
This is a guest post by Jackie of Literary Escapism who has graciously offered to organize the Book Blogger Top 10 again this year.

Welcome to the Weekly Geeks Book Bloggers Top 10 of 2009!

You always see these “Top Whatever” lists that the newspapers/publishers put out and, for a second year in a row, we the book bloggers are going to put out our own Top 10 list. This week, the Weekly Geeks team and I are asking you to come up with your own Top 10 Books that were published in 2009 (books that were reprinted or re-released are not eligible, sorry).

Now, the idea is to only choose books that were published in 2009, regardless of what country you live in. If a book was released in the US in 2008, but released in your country in 2009, that's okay. I know there is still a month in a half left of 2009, but if you know there is a book coming out between now and Dec. 31st, then it’s still eligible.

This year, I am also asking for something a little more specific. When you submit your novels, you must include the genre it is from as well. Last year, when I was trying to categorize everything, I had to guess on a lot of novels and I know there were some people who disagreed with my choice.

You'll have two weeks to come up with your list before I begin compiling the voting booths. Then we'll put it to a vote. Last year, we ended up with over 1300 individual voters and I know we can make it just as big this year.

So what are your top 10 books of 2009?
This may be the first time I've actually read more than ten books published in the current year, so I'm not ending up with a "default" Top 10 list. Some of these will most likely be in the running for my personal "Books of the Year" lists too, but those will be drawn from all of the books I read in 2009, regardless of the year of publication. However, just to preserve the suspense and make you come back to find out about those later, I won't tell you which books those are.

My Top 10 of 2009 includes both fiction and nonfiction, and is listed in the order in which they were read; the titles are linked to my reviews, which are excerpted below as well.

Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni (memoir, rated Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni4/5): Some of the memoirs by journalists that I've read have felt more like a reporter's work than someone's own story - there's almost too much detachment. Honeymoon in Tehran does not suffer from that sense of distance. While I thought that Moaveni documented the political and social climate in post-September 11 Iran well, it felt - appropriately - like context for her own experience; she strikes an excellent balance between the personal and the political.

Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, by Ayelet Waldman (personal essays/memoir, rated 4/5): The book is an interesting combination of memoir and essay; each of the eighteen pieces in it (there's a significance to that number which is explained in the Introduction) revolves around personal incidents which Waldman relates to her own reflections and opinions on parenting and society. Her opinions are strong and expressed with eloquence and passion.

The Unit by Ninni HolmqvistThe Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist (fiction - speculative/dystopian, rated 4/5): The Unit takes place in a modern society where, if you make it to the age of fifty (if you're a woman - it's sixty for men) without becoming a parent and/or pursuing a socially-beneficial profession, you are considered "dispensable." You're not "needed" - relationships with spouses, siblings, and even pets don't count, nor do many jobs. However, there are still a few things you can do for "the community;" the Unit will make all the arrangements for them, and they'll make your life quite comfortable in the bargain.

Admission, by Jean Hanff Korelitz (fiction - literary, rated 4/5): Fiction in an academic setting frequently appeals to me. However, despite that, I saw this as a "domestic" novel; the suspense and drama in the story are of the everyday, character-driven variety, and much of the plot wasn't hard for me to anticipate. I like that too, though, so it wasn't a drawback. But I think one's reaction to the novel depends on how one feels about Portia, ultimately. I liked and related to her, and felt that her personal growth over the year spanned by the story was believable.

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, by Lizzie Skurnick (literary essays/memoir, rated 3.75/5): 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 a girl 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. 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."

Still Alice by Lisa GenovaStill Alice, by Lisa Genova (fiction - women's/literary, rated 4/5): I had postponed reading Still Alice because I was pretty sure it would be a difficult book for me, emotionally - and it was, but not quite in the way I expected it to be.  It got under my skin, and it's stayed on my mind. It made me sad, although it didn't make me cry; but more than that, it scared the hell out of me. I was engrossed and moved by Alice's story, and I feel that it gave me a lot of insight into Alzheimer's that I didn't have before - but knowing more has made me more afraid of experiencing this than I was before, too.

The Possibility of Everything, by Hope Edelman (memoir, rated 3.75/5): Domestic drama frames this The Possibility of Everything by Hope Edelmanstory, but its heart lies in the family's experiences with a hospitable inn-keeping family, their explorations of the rainforest and the ancient ruins of pre-Columbian Central America, and their visits with two healers.  Edelman's writing is conversational and full of detail, and her style is open and intimate; I found her voice appealing. I've never been especially curious about visiting Central America, but her descriptions of the sacred Mayan ruins made me think I'd like to see them. She brought me along on a journey with her family, and I never felt like an intruder. She revealed her self-awareness and shared her doubts and failings frankly; I was able to understand and empathize with them, even though I don't think I would have addressed things the same way.

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins (fiction - young-adult/dystopian, rated 4.25/5): Katniss returns to the Hunger Games in the Quarter Quell, an "all-star" edition held every 25 years and played by previous winners. The premise of the Games themselves fascinated me. It's the ultimate high-stakes reality-TV show, literally. They're broadcast around the clock throughout the country, and the tributes become overnight celebrities who gain sponsors and renown as their numbers dwindle. The contestants may form alliances or mark each other as immediate targets. Some of them are playing out a storyline that may or may not have been fully revealed to them, and they're all being manipulated and orchestrated by the Gamemakers who oversee everything. It's Survivor + Big Brother with some Lord of the Flies and a touch of Lost mixed in, and I couldn't pull myself away from it.

The Longest Trip Home, by John Grogan (memoir, rated 4/5): John Grogan is a born storyteller with a conversational writing style, and I found myself laughing out loud in numerous places while reading The Longest Trip Home, particularly during the first two sections. The last section of the book is more reflective and emotional, and readers with aging parents may feel it keenly. Grogan's issues with the Catholic Church particularly resonated with me, because I have similar ones of my own.

The Help by Kathryn StockettThe Help, by Kathryn Stockett (fiction - literary/historical, rated 4.25/5): I've just finished reading this, so my review isn't posted yet...but it probably doesn't matter, because you'll be seeing this one in many book bloggers' Top 10 lists. Kathryn Stockett's first novel is a vivid, fascinating, and memorable story about the black maids who keep the houses and care for the children of the white housewives of Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960's, the complex connections between them, and how the burgeoning civil-rights movement is beginning to change them all. This is another case of "a hundred book bloggers could be wrong, but they're not" in their praise for this novel; The Help is a must-read.

Which of these have you read? Let's discuss them in the comments, and tell me some of your 2009 favorites!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Salon 11/22: Bookkeeping, Bookmarks, etc.

The Sunday Salon.com

Audience Participation: Blogger Input Requested!

This is a new one:
I've been contacted by the author of an in-progress book on blogging professionally who would like to include interviews with some book bloggers who have found business success with their blogs.  She's actually looking for book reviewers here, not people who’ve used a blog to promote their own books, and "success" can be defined as meeting whatever income and/or recognition objectives you've set (acknowledging that very few blogs make tons of money).

That's the dream, isn't it? If you're someone who has achieved it - or you know of someone else who has - please e-mail me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com and include the blog URL. I'll write back with more info and, if you're OK with it, refer you to the author!

This is an encore from the past week:
If you're a Southern California book blogger or author, have you given your input on a new site to help build up our connections to each other? If you missed the post about that this past Tuesday, or just haven't responded yet, please read all about it and take our very short survey!

It's the season to find Reading Challenges for the coming year, and I seem to come across a new one every day! You can try looking both inward and outward on one of the four paths in Bibliofreak's World Religion Challenge, or looking back to re-read a book you've read before (liked it or not) in Aarti and Kristen M's Flashback Challenge.

And then there's the challenge that might be the most challenging of all...unplugging. This may be the one I need to join more than any other. Jen of Devourer of Books is hatching this one:

I was talking on Twitter with Candace from Beth Fish Reads about the need for all of us to take a break now and then.  A lot of people chimed in that they had a hard time stepping back from their blogs, Google Reader, and Twitter.  Part of the reason for it is that many of us have become good friends, but we don’t live near one another and don’t talk on the phone, so we need blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and the rest of it to keep up with one another.  I know that more than one person said that they felt like they would miss out on something if they turned off the internet.  Maybe we all just feel like we need permission to unplug ourselves.

Well, Candace and I are GIVING you permission.  More than that, we’re CHALLENGING you to unplug sometime between now and the end of the year.  The holidays are a great time to spend with family and, even though I know sometimes the blogging community feels like family, take some time off to spend with your IRL (in real life, for those of you who don’t know) family.

Here are the rules: there are no rules.  We’re just suggesting that you pick a time between now and the end of the year (or anytime, really!) to unplug.  Turn off Twitter, don’t blog, etc.  If you need to give yourself a Twitter limit instead of turning it off, sure, whatever works for you.  Choose a day, a week, evenings, whatever, but unplug, relax, and fight blogger burnout.  Also, don’t worry about having posts go up when you’re unplugged!  If you have some and want to pre-schedule, okay, but don’t kill yourself trying to get some up, that defeats the whole point!

It seems appropriate that there's no official sign-up for this, since it's more like an "un-challenge" - but this is where I'm letting you know that I'll be participating.  Here's how I plan to unplug:
  1. Reduce posting during the coming week and through Thanksgiving weekend, and again between December 20 and New Year's weekend
  2. No Twitter except for morning and mid-day check-in; no Twitter at all on weekends (if there's something you really need me to know about, e-mail me - the address is in my profile!)
  3. Use the "mark all as read" button in Google Reader daily/as needed to clear posts and get offline no later than 8 PM
I can totally picture myself fudging #3, but that may be the thing I need to unplug from the most. so I need to make the effort to stick to it. Regarding the second item: I do enjoy Twitter, but if I spend more than a few minutes at a time there I start feeling stressed, constantly refreshing and looking for new @replies. I'll miss some fun conversations, I'm sure, but the bigger things eventually get blogged about anyway (which goes back to #3). My built-in hedge for #1 is that I normally get posts written ahead of time as it is; I'll just be able to spread them out a little more. (Besides, for me, "reduced" posting is probably going to be more like 3 or 4 posts  in a week instead of 6.) However, since I actually don't have one ready for tomorrow yet, this comes along at the perfect time - if I don't get one prepared today, I'll feel a lot better about it!

BOOKKEEPING: The Reading Status Report

No reviews this week, and still multi-tasking on my reading - yeah, I really do need to get unplugged for a bit!

BOOKMARKS: Reading-related Reading

Overnight sensations are rare in the writers' world

Thoughts on the relative literary merits of young-adult literature as reading for "regular" adults

The Amazon Vine review program, as discussed in Publishers Weekly: this may be the only time I've seen concern that "free" books may be reviewed too harshly. Hmm. (via @mawbooks on Twitter)

It's been just about a year since the book-blogging community lost Dewey, and Kailana proposes marking that anniversary with a community-building challenge.

The book club meets the bad apple; the book blogger addresses the self-published author

Just in time for your holiday wish list: reading-themed jewelry at The Well-Dressed Reader! (via Booking Mama)

"Black Friday" and the official start of holiday-shopping season are just a few days away. (But with online shopping and stores open seven days a week, isn't every day between now and December 24 a "shopping day"?) From the blog for the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, via Shelf Awareness, here are a few reasons you might want to get an early start on Buy(ing) Books for the Holidays:

1.  We have not yet started playing Christmas music.
2. That feeling of self-righteousness over starting so early translates into treating yourself to something as well.
3.  You can make a list of all the things you want, so that you can hint liberally at Thanksgiving.
4. If there’s a hardcover you’ve been eyeing, you have time to read the whole thing before giving it away.
5. We have free gift wrapping.  By Christmas, you’ll forget what it was you bought.  Aren’t surprises great?
6.  It’s much easier to stick to your budget when we aren’t serving you eggnog like we do the week before Christmas.
7.  All versions of The Night Before Christmas are still in stock.  You won’t have to settle for that one weird one left over on Christmas Eve.
8.  You’ll bring smiles and joy and a twinkle to the eye of your favorite local, indie bookseller.

Bunch of Grapes is located on Martha's Vineyard, but if you can't make it there, some of these might apply to your favorite nearby independent bookstore, too!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Week-End Review: Travels around the blogiverse this week

Audience Participation: Blogger Input Requested!

Two items - one regional, one worldwide:
  • If you're a Southern California book blogger or author, have you given your input on a new site to help build up our connections to each other? If you missed the post about that earlier this week, or just haven't responded yet, please read all about it and take our very short survey!
  • Become part of a very ambitious project to collect one single favorite post from bloggers all over the world, no matter what they blog about (as long as it's in English) - pick out your own from your 2009 archives, and then find out about how to include it in The Golden Haiku!

New Arrivals in my Google Reader

Becca's Byline
Bookstack (also by Becca)

Dispatches: Links of the Week

(Not a huge collection this time - I've been having trouble keeping up with my blog-reading this week!)

Money may just be the one thing that's too personal for mom bloggers to blog about. Somewhat related: There are many great reasons to start blogging - making money really is not one of them

Reporting on Blog With Intergrity's webinar with the FTC

Some people are spending this month writing novels...and some people will be their editors

Should we tell them the truth, or let them keep believing?

Kids and their potty talk - such a bad influence! Somewhat related: watch out for those (Freudian?) slips of the tongue

The apocalypse had BETTER not spoil her birthday!

"There's No Treatment For That," via Not Always Right
Tech Support | Torrance, CA, USA
Customer: “Hi, I had my computer looked at there, and you guys said that it’s running slow because there are probably bugs in it. Well, I sprayed some bug spray in it and now it won’t turn on.”
Me: “Ma’am, when they tell you bugs, they mean computer viruses, not an actual bug.”
Customer: “Well, what can I spray it with to get rid of the viruses?”

Some people's computers need to be repossessed. Now.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A few words about wordy writing women

 If you pay any attention to the book business and the mainstream media, you've heard the uproar about the list Susan McDougal In-Store Appearance At Barnes & Nobleof Top Ten Books of 2009 that Publishers Weekly announced a couple of weeks ago. Aside from the fact that it came out with nearly two months left in 2009 - is it like the award-eligibility period for the Grammys, where 2009 also includes the end of 2008? - people noticed pretty quickly that the list didn't include any books by women writers - no novels, no poetry, no genre fiction, no nonfiction of any kind. To be fair, the extended "Best Books of 2009" list, which breaks down by genre and is included in the above link, does have books by women listed in nearly every category; it just seems that none of them were able to make the Top Ten cut - which is, of course, the list that gets all the attention.

On the Chicago Moms Blog, Susan Bearman reacted to the announcement:

I'm a writer, and I can't turn a blind eye to the fact that the recently released Publishers Weekly list of the Best Books of 2009 did not include a single female author. Not one. In fact, all but one of the authors on the list was a white male — not that there's anything wrong with being a white male author. I'm all for them. I'm all for any author achieving any form of success in a publishing industry that is struggling mightily to survive.

So, why is it such a big deal, that a top 10 list doesn't include any female writers? It's a big deal because it shows that women are still not held in the same regard as men who do the same job. PW claims that they "ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz," but what makes these guys "the best"? Any top 10 list is fraught with subjectivity, so not including a single female author on such a list is making a statement — to the world, to writers and readers, and especially to our daughters — that women writers just aren't good enough...To me, the PW list represents the idea that a woman's voice, a woman's story, a woman's experience is less valuable than a man's.
I don't pay all that much attention to publication dates, and chances are that I won't read some of those "Best of 2009" books until 2010 - or much later, given the state of TBR Purgatory. But as I try to narrow down the best books I've read in 2009, women authors are most certainly in the running:

Gods Behaving Badly, by Marie Phillips
The Senator's Wife, by Sue Miller

The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist

Admission, by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Goldengrove, by Francine Prose
Still Alice, by Lisa Genova

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, both by Suzanne Collins

I'm currently reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett on my Kindle, and I already know it's going to be part of this group too.

The books I put on my "potential" reading list for the Women Unbound Reading Challenge are not only about women, they're all by women as well, and that's just one of the reasons I'm excited about doing this:

The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew-- Three Women Search for Understanding, by Ranya Idilby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner
Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, by Susan Jane Gilman
Olive Kitteridge: Fiction, by Elizabeth Strout
American Wife: A Novel, by Curtis Sittenfeld
Losing Kei: A Novel, by Suzanne Kamata

I've added a few other titles as I've checked out other challenge participants' lists (there are over 75 so far!):

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, by Gail Collins (in TBR Purgatory, Kindle division)
Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, by Diablo Cody (in TBR Purgatory)
Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith and/or Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith, both by Anne Lamott (in TBR Purgatory)
Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation, by Elissa Stein and Susan Kim (NOT in TBR Purgatory - yet!)

Again, they're all books by women and about women.

Just for fun, I checked out my LibraryThing statistics to see the breakdown between male and female authors in my collection; over 70% are women. This doesn't surprise me in the slightest. I've always been drawn to books about women, and I tend to feel that women have a slight, innate advantage at writing those. That's not to imply that men can't write good female characters; I really think it's more of a style preference, to be honest, and I'm sure it's connected to the types of books I most like to read (general/literary fiction and memoirs).

I'm not looking to start a "girls vs. boys" argument here, or carp about "fairness," or claim that women are better writers than men just because they're women. I'm not trying to say that women deserve recognition for their writing any more than men do. There are plenty of women who write crap, and there are plenty of men who do the same. But there's no shortage of women creating good literature either. All I'm really getting at here is that if the same quality standards are applied to all books regardless of the sex of the author, I just think it's questionable that not one woman wrote a Top-Ten-quality book this year.

In any case, I think it's clear that I support, and seek out, the work of women writers. The fact that none of them are represented in PW's Top Ten Books of the Year certainly seems like an oversight, at the very least, and just plain farfetched, in truth. (You can search Twitter under the #followreader and #fembook hashtags for more lively discussion about this and related issues of recognition for women writers.) What do you think?

photo credit

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sights and Sounds of the Season (Weekend/Wednesday Assignment #293)

Is it beginning to look a lot like Christmas in your neck of the woods?

Weekend Assignment #293: Halloween is behind us, Thanksgiving ahead, and Christmas advertising has begun. So how about it? When do the holidays begin for you? Do you avoid thinking about Christmas and Hanukkah until after Thanksgiving, or is any time after Halloween okay? Is it time for Christmas lights in your neighborhood, and do the neighbors agree with you? How about Christmas music? When does that become okay, if ever?

Extra Credit: Have you bought any holiday presents yet? If not, when do you think you'll start?

When do the holidays start? Too frickin' soon, that's when. Long before I'm ready for them.

Now that we have the Grinchiness out of the way...

When my sister and I were little, we used to start playing the Christmas records in August. My mother was far more patient with that nonsense than I would be. Now, if I start hearing holiday music before the end of November, it's "rushing the season." There's a lot of Christmas music that I actually like - I just don't want to listen to it, or sing it, until the calendar is edging into December. And I really don't want to walk into Target on Halloween - in the morning, before anyone's been out trick-or-treating yet - and see the Christmas-decoration department already set up in the "seasonal" corner of the store. However, since Target didn't bother to ask me how I felt about it, I did indeed have to see that a few weeks ago.

I do have fleeting thoughts about the holiday season as early as the spring before. It's usually because I've come across something that will make a fine Christmas gift for someone and I want to make sure I don't forget about it (although if I actually buy it then, I may forget where I stashed it by December), or because I'm looking for a Christmas-tree ornament to commemorate a vacation (ornaments and refrigerator magnets are my favorite travel souvenirs). I also tend to start bugging my son about his holiday-travel plans somewhere around mid-September, but that's mostly because I know he's a master procrastinator - and now that he's working and living on his own, I don't buy his plane tickets for him any more. Aside from that, I try not to give too much thought to the holidays until early November, and that's still mostly thinking - I'll do my best to avoid doing much about them for a few more weeks.

We have just gotten started on our Christmas gift shopping, but my mental window on the holidays won't officially open till Thanksgiving Day. The stores may be decorated already, but we probably won't start to see lights and lawn decor around the neighborhood till then. Around here, though, it almost doesn't matter - no matter how ornate your decorations are, or when you put them up, it never looks all that much like Christmas in Southern California.

not even at this place, affectionately known around town as "The House That Threw Up Christmas"

We may be putting up our Christmas tree quite late this year - possibly not until a week or so before Christmas - because my stepson's birthday is in mid-December and his party is planned for the weekend of December 19. Birthdays near Christmas tend to get shortchanged, and we don't want the holiday to take attention away from him on his own celebration; besides, we'll probably need the space the tree would be occupying. But we can start doing some of the other holiday decorating any time after Thanksgiving - and we can also start watching our favorite holiday movies! Watching A Christmas Story on Thanksgiving weekend has become a family tradition. Avoiding stores as much as we can on Thanksgiving weekend is also a tradition.

Are you and your house getting into holiday mode yet? Tell me about it here, and you still have time to tell everyone about it in answer to this week's Assignment question. Here are the guidelines:
  1. Please post your entry no later than Friday, November 20th at 6 PM. (You can also post your response in the comments thread, but a blog entry is better. )
  2. Please mention the Weekend Assignment in your blog post, and include a link back to the lead post at Outpost Mâvarin.
  3. Please return to the lead post after you've posted, and leave a link to your entry in the comments below.
  4. Visiting other participants' entries is strongly encouraged!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Southern California Book Bloggers: Your input, please!

If I had to list all the things I love about blogging, "community" would be very high on the list. I've found several  communities that feel a bit like home, but the book-blogging community is extra-special to me, and not just in its virtual form; I appreciate that I've been able to get to know some of my fellow Southern California book bloggers in so-called "real life" too. But I know there are a lot more of you that I haven't had the chance to meet yet - and probably even more than I don't even know are in SoCal in the first place. I'd like to see that change, though; I'd like to see even more connections forming within the SoCal book-blogging community. And I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who feels that way.

One of the SoCal book bloggers I've been lucky to get to know is My Friend Amy. Most of y'all know her too, I'm sure - founder of Book Blogger Appreciation Week and community-builder extraordinaire!

Amy recently approached me about an idea to start a blog/community site for those of us who live in Southern California and love to talk about books online - bloggers and authors especially. I'd love to see something like that - a "community hub" for the region, where we can help promote the reading life of a place that tends to be better known for other forms of entertainment, as well as get to know one another better (online, and possibly offline as well) - so I'm more than happy to help her out.

But it will take a village to build this village! We need to know who's out there, whether you'd like to be part of a site like this, and what you'd like to see there. If you're a book blogger or author based anywhere in Southern California - San Diego to Santa Barbara to San Bernadino to all points in between (we're rather flexible on the geography, but want to be clear that we're definitely not talking about just LA and the OC) - we'd like to hear from you, and we've got a little survey right here. The responses will go into a spreadsheet and help us get a feel for the interest in this - so please let us know that you're interested!

Amy is posting this survey today too, so please respond at only one of our blogs! Your information will help us figure out where to take this project next, and we'll update you on that soon. We hope you're as interested in strengthening the SoCal book-blog community as we are!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Picture this: a modern family portrait

Family Eating Picnic by Lake
Not long ago, my stepson brought a flyer home from school. It informed parents that on the evening of Picture Day, the photographers would be back at the school to take family portraits for those who were interested. Of course, the flyer came home the night before this was supposed to happen, so there wasn't much time to plan. Besides, he and his sister would be at their mom's house the night of the photo event, but the notice came to his dad and me, since it was sent home on one of his days with us.

Families like ours aren't unusual anymore, but they can - literally - be a bit tough to picture.

We have snapshots of the four of us, but formal portraits have a certain significance. When my husband and I got married, we did get a few photos done of the two of us together with all three of our respective children - his two, and my one. In my thinking, that's our little family portrait: his and mine, all evened out.

Picture this: you can read the rest of this post at the Los Angeles Moms Blog. Since it was selected for national syndication last week, you were also able to read it in the newspapers - in print and online - in such far-flung locations as Medina, Ohio; State College, Pennsylvania; Boise, Idaho; Charlotte, North Carolina; Rock Hill, South Carolina; and Sacramento, California. If the links are still working, you may still be able to read it on the news sites, but you can only comment on it at the LA Moms Blog - and here, of course!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Salon, 11/15: Bookkeeping, Bookmarks, etc.

The Sunday Salon.com

I should know better, and yet every now and then I attempt it anyway. I'm currently reading polygamously - I have three books going at once. Technically, it's four books, since one of them is a special edition containing two novels, but I've finished one of the stories in it; however, I won't review that one until I finish the book itself. (I'm being a stickler, despite the fact that it may mean I won't post a review this week at all) However, that's the only one I've managed to finish lately, and I feel like I can't even count it. Here's what I have going right now:

Lift: A Memoir, by Rebecca K. O'Connor (ARC)
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (on Kindle)
Heaven to Betsy/Betsy in Spite of Herself, by Maud Hart Lovelace

Yes, I was reading two of these in my update two weeks ago. This is why I usually don't two-time books, let along triple up on them - it takes me so much longer to finish any of them! I find it quite dissatisfying to divide my attention this way, although it's slightly easier when one of the works in progress is an e-book; since I feel like I don't have enough time for reading as it is, I'm making it harder on myself to choose how I want to spend it when I give myself too many options. And eventually, one book will pull me more strongly than the rest - right now, it's The Help - and then I'll feel conflicted about neglecting the others. (Note that I don't feel guilty - I don't attribute human feelings to my books and think that THEY feel neglected - but I'm questioning my choices every time.)

So, why do I do this to myself? This time, it came from not wanting to choose between review responsibilities with deadlines and reading something I just didn't want to wait for, so I tried to have it all. I think post-Readathon euphoria/exhaustion was a factor too. And although I'm finding it frustrating - as I usually do whenever I attempt this sort of thing - I may need to keep it going for another few weeks. How do those of you who multi-book make it work?

Once I get through this, I'm going back to being a serial reading monogamist - one book at a time for me! That is, until I forget how badly I manage it and try multi-booking again. If I mention that I'm doing that, would someone please remind me of what I said today?

BOOKKEEPING: The Reading Status Report

New to my LibraryThing "To Read" collection:
For review:
Matters of Faith, by Kristy Kiernan (received from the author after an introduction on Twitter - thanks to @DarryleP, noted social-media slut matchmaker!)

BOOKMARKS: Reading-related Reading

Reflecting on the expectations we bring to reading; discussing the possible reactions other people - particularly authors - may have to our reviewing

None of Publishers Weekly's "Top 10 Books of 2009" were written by women - say what?!?

Just in case you ever need to know: five ways to survive in a dystopia

Does what we re-read reveal who we really are?

The confessions of a "Twilight Mom"

New uses for old books? Also: paper and "plastic" (e-)books - is peaceful coexistence possible?

Reading Event News

Get into the holiday (eating) spirit with Bermudaonion and Booking Mama's Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies! (OK, maybe it doesn't sound like a "reading" event, but there is a cookbook involved, so I'm counting it!)

Have a "mini-readathon" the weekend of December 4 - read for 5 hours straight and help Jennie celebrate the 5th anniversary of Biblio File! You can even do it as part of Bethany's "make-up" 24-Hour Readathon, hosted at Dreadlock Girl on December 5 (she had a schedule conflict with the 24-Hour Readathon in October, but didn't want to wait till the next one in April!).

If you can't wait till then, and you're not too busy over the Turkey Day holiday, celebrate the Thankfully Reading Weekend with Jenn's Bookshelves, Devourer of Books, and Beth Fish Reads! These ladies will be virtually hosting this reading respite at the Book Blog Social Club. Beth F says:
Thankfully Reading Weekend will start on Friday, November 27 and end on Sunday, November 29.

There are no rules to the weekend and no prizes; we're simply hoping to devote a good amount of time to reading, and perhaps meeting some of our reading challenges and goals for 2009. We thought it'd be fun if we cheered each other on a bit. If you
Thankthink you can join in, grab the button and sign on to Mr. Linky. If you don't have a blog, use the comments!

During the weekend, come back and link any Thankfully Reading Weekend posts to the Mr. Linky we'll put up on Friday, November 27. Feel free to link as many posts as you'd like. On Sunday will put up another Mr. Linky for your wrap-up post.

We'll also be checking in on Twitter using hashtag #thankfulreading. Join in for the weekend or for only a single day. No rules, no pressure!

International readers: Just join in, no need to be celebrating the U.S. holiday. Remember that there are no rules.
We'll have a houseguest that weekend - hi, Mom-in-law! - and I'll be working on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but I certainly hope to make some time to read over those three days! How about you?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Week-End Review, Friday the 13th: This week around the blogiverse

Happy Friday! Here's what I have to share with y'all this week:
  • seven new-to-me blogs
  • a collection of links that are a bit more thought-provoking than usual (must be something about autumn - the cool weather and short days must make some of us more reflective)
  • a timely Blogthings personality quiz, and
  • a Customer of the Week (fortunately, not my customer!)
Also, if you haven't already told me your favorite cover songs and your thoughts about living online, I'd love your feedback on those two posts from earlier this week!

New Arrivals in my Google Reader

Readers Guide to...
Bookworming in the 21st Century
The Evening Reader
Livingston, I Presume
Katherine Center (author blog)
Spiritual Pedicures (author blog - Elissa Stein)
Classics Rock! (a blog of popular songs with literary connections)

Dispatches: Links of the Week

A couple of days late for a Veterans' Day reflection - and let's remember the four-legged veterans too

Arguments in favor of keeping a place for the arts in education; facing the reality that there's just not enough education money for every program that deserves it

Talking about a taboo, and questioning a "stigma"

There's no "return policy" for children

Peanut allergy "myth"? This mom - and her daughter - say no

The "b-word" (and the "f-word," too) - and don't worry, the post is pretty much profanity-free! (Are you curious - and confused - now?)

A quick primer on how affiliate links work; the (inadvertent) cultivation of colleagues

A message to teens regarding something my 15-year-old has learned the hard way: cell phones are not machine washable!

It's been my favorite browser for at least half its life: happy fifth birthday to Firefox! (Yes, even on my MacBook, to my Safari-using husband's befuddlement...)

And in honor of this week's 40th anniversary of Sesame Street:

You Are Bert
Extremely serious and a little eccentric, people find you lovable - even if you don't love them!

You are usually feeling: Logical - you rarely let your emotions rule you

You are famous for: Being smart, a total neat freak, and maybe just a little evil

How you life your life: With passion, even if your odd passions (like bottle caps and pigeons) are baffling to others

*Well, maybe...except for one thing. I pay good money NOT to have that unibrow!*

For the Birds, from Not Always Right:
Pet Store | Keene, NH, USA
Customer: “Your bird bit my kid.”
Me: “Well, the birds can’t reach their beaks through the cages. Did your son have his finger in the cage?”
Customer: “Yeah. Well, there’s nothing telling you not to.”
Me: “Sometimes they get scared when you poke your fingers into their cages, and the only way they know how to tell you is to nip you.”
Child: “Oh, okay. I bet he was just scared.”
Customer: “You should put up some signs in here telling people your birds bite!”
(I show the customer the signs posted on each and every bird cage asking customers not to poke fingers into the cages as the birds may bite, as well as the additional two on the doors entering the bird room.)
Customer: “Well, that’s stupid! How do you know I can read?”

Knowing how to read is one thing...knowing how to think is apparently something else entirely.

Have a great weekend!