Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Salon: The "marching on" edition

The Sunday 

Musings on March, or reading through Birthday Month:

Since I've given up book-buying for Lent (see below), I won't be adding much to TBR Purgatory between now and the end of March, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, Easter doesn't come until a week after my birthday, which means I'll have to delay gifts to myself (or using bookstore gift cards that I might receive - hint, hint) just a little longer, which is not necessarily a good thing.

This is the first month in 2010 that I am not committed to any book tours or scheduled reviews, other than the one I've set for myself with The Sparrow Read-a-long. After several weeks of having my reading planned by my calendar, I'm feeling a little at loose ends. It's not like I don't have a shortage of books on hand, which is why giving up buying them for six weeks isn't as tragic as it sounds (but please have no doubt that it IS a sacrifice!).

I have all of the "pending review" books without a date commitment in one place...and I would hate to tell you how long some of them have been there. I have set aside the books I plan to read for the Women Unbound Challenge, and have knocked off a couple of those already. I haven't segregated the books on my list for the Blogging Authors Reading Project, but I've made a little dent in that too. I had put aside the books I chose for the Shelf Discovery Challenge, but haven't even begun reading for that, and it ends next month - I'm also two books short of the six required!

Anyway, it seems like a month without specific review commitments would be a great opportunity to chip away at all those challenges, and that's my plan. However, most of the books on my TBR shelves don't fall into any of those categories - and they call out to me too. I'm torn. I find that I like the structure and focus that reading from challenge lists and my review calendar give me...but sometimes I'd like to ditch them. I really don't want to wait until all of my commitments are met before I can read at random, and yet the idea of reading without that structure is inspiring something it rarely has before - guilt.

Have you experienced that too? Have you found a balance that works for you? Or am I over-thinking the whole thing?

BOOKKEEPING: The Reading Status Report

Reviews posted since last report:
The Wives of Henry Oades, by Johanna Moran (TLC Book Tour)
Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, by Susan Jane Gilman (Women Unbound, RYOB Challenge, Memorable Memoirs Challenge)

Next reviews scheduled
Janeology, by Karen Harrington (Blogging Authors Reading Project)

New to my LibraryThing "To Read" Collection:
My Lenten book-buying ban remains unbroken so far! Any additions here between now and Easter will be books sent to me for review, and since I'm accepting fewer of those, there won't be too much activity in this section of the Status Report for the next few weeks. However, the Wishlist section will probably be bigger than usual; it's what's called "pent-up demand" in economics.

Having said that, here's one for review:
The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, by Kelly O'Connor McNees (for an upcoming TLC Book Tour)

New additions to the Wishlist:

**Not-yet-published books - can I wish for ARC's?
Red Hook Road, by Ayelet Waldman (to be published July 2010)
Husband and Wife, by Leah Stewart (to be published May 2010)
The Nobodies Album, by Carolyn Parkhurst (to be published June 2010)

BOOKMARKS: Reading-related Reading

Alternatives - well, procrastination tactics - to writing that book review; reviewing review requests, from both sides of the e-mail

Self-promotion mistakes authors make, and how they kill the magic; writers make jobs

101 reading suggestions for your book group; might we suggest some narrative nonfiction, as Kim does in her new recurring feature? (Here's her first list.)

Discussion: When's the "right" time to review an ARC - early for buzz, or later, nearer publication, for buyers? (Personally, I tend to go with the second option. I like to read about books when they're actually available.)

Book discussions: Insights from Heather J., Anna, and Dreamybee's group read of The Handmaid's Tale (another one on my TBRR - "to be re-read" list); Vanessa and friends discuss The Help with author Kathryn Stockett and Katie Couric

When did you last choose to read a book you thought you'd hate? Amy wants to know.

What goes on behind the doors of the school library

Have a great reading week!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Week-end Review: Links from all over!

My Questions of the Week this week concern comments, and I hope they will generate some!

1) Has commenting activity been slow on your blog this week? It's definitely been quiet here, and I'm hoping it's not something I said!

Two out of four posts since Monday got no comments at all, which is always disappointing. But if I'm not the only one in the blogiverse who's not generating much conversation lately, it will be easier to shrug it off and hope for better times next week!

2) If you're responding to the first question, you'll be discovering the topic of the second: I've installed a new commenting system here - how is it working for you? I originally tried out Intense Debate in the fall of 2008, but had to remove it after about a week. Comments dropped to near zero, and I found out that the ID gadget was causing page-load problems for users, and even crashing their browsers. A comment system that prevents comments just won't do!

However, some other bloggers have recently installed ID on their blogs and really like it, so I thought I'd give it another shot. I'm running the blog on a different template now, and it's been over a year since I first tried it, so I was hopeful things would work together better this time. So far so good on that score...but I'd know more if I were getting more comments! I do know that people with Wordpress blogs seem much happier to use it, since it resembles their comment management system much more closely than Blogger's.

My only real complaint so far is that my blog posts don't show all the comments - those that came via the feed URL aren't going to the original post at its URL. (Basically, if you clicked over to this post from a feed reader, look at what shows up in the address bar - if it includes "utm_source=feedburner" and a bunch of other stuff, it's not the post's permalink URL. To get that, you have to click on the post's title here and re-load it.) Apparently, ID does not connect them.

I've contacted ID Support about it - we'll see what happens, if anything. Ideally, all of the conversation about a blog post should occur ON the post, don't you think?

Dispatches: Links of the Week

A quick snapshot of who's using what on the Web; considering the characters we create for ourselves on the Web

Conference-going tips for the introvert

Can you still be happy with your life if you don't "follow your dreams"? Speaking of dreams, sort of: sleep advice - from the cat

Why parents should never say never - especially before they become parents; why she really isn't "SuperMom"

A child's contribution to the health-care debate

New Arrivals in Google Reader

The Definition of Insanity is Repeating the Same Action and Expecting a Different Result, via Not Always Right

Retail | Franklin, TN, USA
Me: “Thank you for calling [store]. How may I help you?”
Caller: “I saw [doctor] last week, and was calling about my test results.”
Me: “I’m sorry, sir. You have the wrong number.”
Caller: “Oh, sorry.”
(Not 5 seconds later, the phone rings again.)
Caller: “I saw [doctor] last week and was calling about my test results.”
Me: “Sir, I’m afraid you’ve dialed the wrong number again.”
Caller: “This isn’t [doctor’s] office?”
Me: “No, sir, this is a women’s clothing store.”
Caller: “Oh, sorry.”
(5 seconds later.)
Caller: “I saw [doctor] last week and was calling about my test results.”
Me: Sir, you’ve called [store] again.
Caller: “**** it! I’m calling the right number, why do you keep answering?”
Me: “Sir, the office number is very close to ours, so maybe when you’re dialing the numbers, you’ve been accidentally hitting a wrong key?”
Caller: “What numbers? I’ve been hitting redial!”

Blogthings Quiz of the Week:

You Would Make an Okay 1930's Wife
You have some of the attributes of an ideal 1930's wife... but you probably didn't intend it to be that way.
You don't buy into retro gender roles, though you do embrace your femininity at times.
A 1930's man may find you passable, but you probably wouldn't want anything to do with him.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The perception of danger and "The Possibility of Everything"

NOTE: I originally reviewed Hope Edelman's The Possibility of Everything (with appropriate disclosures) in October 2009. I'm revisiting it in connection with the Silicon Valley Moms Group Book Club discussion of the memoir across its own sites and members' blogs (originally scheduled for today), which will feature a Q&A with the author.

"It's a phase. It'll pass." Those five words, repeated over and over, got me through some of the quirkier stages of my son's early childhood. The most memorable of those periods  is the couple of months around his second birthday when he chose to have juice with his meals - poured onto the same plate as the food. But he ATE it that way, so I bit my tongue...and eventually he tired of all his food tasting like grape juice, and went back to keeping it in its cup.

Granted, I prefer to avoid confrontation whenever possible, but experiences like that one have taught me that there are times when the "ignore it, and it'll go away" approach to problems actually has some merit. If no one's really being hurt by the situation, sometimes calling too much attention to it just drags it out and makes it bigger than it needs to be. The "if no one's being hurt" condition is key, though, and not every mom will define that the same way - some may see danger where others don't.

On her personal blog, 455 Girls, author Hope Edelman talked about the danger she perceived from her two-year-old daughter Maya's imaginary friend, Dodo:

"(O)ur daughter...had series of 'friends' at (the age of two). This alone was not a problem. I had an imaginary companion as a child; my sister did, too. Ours came and went freely, and appeared completely benign. My daughter, on the other hand, talked about one of her 'friends' constantly, in a manner more articulate and detailed than one might expect a two-year-old could manage. She described with utter conviction the island where he lived, a whole world she claimed she could see. As the months progressed, my husband and I became more than a little concerned.

Creativity or delusion? We couldn’t tell.

'It’s a normal developmental phase,' the pediatrician assured us. 'She’ll grow out of it,' the therapist with whom we consulted said. When my daughter's behavior became mildly aggressive and she attributed her actions to her 'friend,' we were told this, too, was within the normal range. But we were the ones who’d witnessed our daughter’s development every day since her birth. We felt that something else was going on, that the rote explanations we were given somehow weren't adding up.

Our quest to help our daughter eventually brought us to Maya healers in the Central American country of Belize. The trip yielded inexplicable yet effective results--a wholly unexpected outcome for a self-professed cynic like me.

To say some readers have disagreed with the parenting choices I made puts it mildly. Some have labeled me over-reactive and overprotective. The more blunt ones have called me a total nutcase.

What can I say? I also questioned my judgment, my motives, and my sanity nine years ago, and again as I wrote the story down (in the memoir, The Possibility of Everything). What kind of mother, I wondered, allows her imagination to tumble into such extreme and dramatic territory? Why couldn’t I sit back and let the 'friend' disappear on its own?"

The Possibility of EverythingHope Edelman discovered that her young daughter had a new imaginary friend when she was bitten on the leg by the child, who blamed it on "Dodo." Imaginary friends can be disruptive, but the changes in Maya's personality and behavior since he turned up were particularly unsettling to her mother. Maya became increasingly challenging - beyond what might be expected during the "terrible two's" - and Hope's concerns were escalated by a history of mental illness in her family. She was also frustrated by a perceived lack of support; her husband was working incredibly long hours with a start-up, and she still felt isolated and out of place from their recent move to Southern California for his job. Following professional advice didn't seem to help; the only thing that briefly improved the situation was a ritual performed by the family's Nicaraguan nanny, who believed "Dodo" was a malignant spirit. For that reason, and despite her own deep skepticism, Hope and her husband Uzi arranged to bring Maya to visit a shaman during the family's winter vacation to Belize. Uzi was truly open to "the possibility of everything;" Hope wasn't really as open, but she was disturbed enough by their situation that she was willing to try something unconventional.

I first encountered Hope Edelman over ten years ago, when I sought out her book Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss shortly after my own mother died. When she asks "What kind of mother allows her imagination to tumble into such extreme and dramatic territory?," it's a question she touched on in her earlier book; one of the effects of early mother loss can be a tendency to catastrophize. I saw this in my own mother, who was left motherless at six years old - and even though I didn't lose her till I was in my thirties, I was certainly influenced by seeing it in her, and I struggle to keep my own tendencies toward it under control. The "ignore it" approach is probably, at least in part, my equal and opposite reaction to "making a HUGE deal out of it."

I didn't see any danger in juice-soaked chicken and rice, but another mother might have - and if my son had stopped eating (or if that unappetizing habit hadn't gone away on its own), I wouldn't have been able to keep ignoring it. I don't think I would have seen the danger in my child's imaginary friend that Hope Edelman did, and even if I had, I doubt I would have gone to the lengths that she and her husband did to deal with that danger - for as long as I could, I probably would have told myself "It's a phase. It'll pass." But apparently, for Hope, "ignore it, and it'll go away" just didn't feel right, and ultimately, as mothers, I think that's what it comes down to - defining the dangers, and trusting our feelings about what's right for our kids.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Testing the ability to comment

This post is to test my installation of the Intense Debate Comment System. I tried it back in 2008, but had issues with it - too many people told me that their browsers were crashing when they came to the blog to comment, which totally defeats the purpose! However, several blog-friends of mine have recently implemented the system and are loving it, so I thought I'd give it another shot.

Feel free to leave a comment and tell me what you think!

Book talk: *Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress,* by Susan Jane Gilman

Disclosure: This book was purchased for my personal collection. *Purchasing links in this review are connected to my Amazon Associates account; I will earn a small percentage of any sales these links generate.

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman
Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Clueless
Susan Jane Gilman (blog)
Grand Central Publishing (2005), Paperback (ISBN 0446679496 / 9780446679497)
Memoir, 368 pages

Opening lines (from the Introduction): "This is a book about growing up ambitious and engaging in some spectacularly imbecilic behavior."

Book Description: From the author of Kiss My Tiara comes a funny and poignant collection of true stories about women coming of age that for once isn't about finding a date. In Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, she describes what it's like to grow up a woman in the contemporary world. In sharp, observant essays, she writes about the awkwardness of adolescence; the constant, dull pain of peer pressure; the serfdom of entry-level employment. The ring of truth; a dash of laughter.

Comments: It seems that I struck gold in the book section at Target one day a couple of years ago, browsing while waiting for a prescription; I came home with Susan Jane Gilman's Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress and But Enough About Me by Jancee Dunn. I read - and loved - Dunn's memoir a while ago, but didn't get to Gilman's until I put on my reading list for the Women Unbound Challenge...and now I'm kicking myself for not reading it sooner. There are similarities in topic and tone between the two books; they're both about women who grew up in the Northeast during the 1970's and later became writers. My reaction to Gilman's book was also similar to my response to Dunn's; I identified with it strongly, laughed out loud frequently, enjoyed it tremendously, and would love to spend an afternoon just hanging out and talking with the author.

Susan Gilman grew up in a "transitional" (pre-gentrified), mixed-race neighborhood on the Upper West Side of New York City during the 1970's which reminded me of the transitional neighborhood about an hour's drive away where I did some of my own growing up during the same time period. But Susan was quite a bit more adventurous than I was, and her upbringing was more influenced by the experimental culture of the time - family transcendental-meditation classes, for example. As she moved into her teens, drugs and sex became the most frequent areas of experimentation, as she became consumed with terror that she'd be the only girl in her high-school class still burdened with virginity at graduation. (No spoiler, but her fear was unfounded. However, it did ring a bell with me. I was in high school around the same time, before HIV and treatment-resistant STDs, and there was a sense among at least some of my classmates that they'd "get it over with" sooner rather than later - possibly at a party like any of the ones Gilman describes and that I was too much of a "straight" to be invited to.) College was more of the same, but as she developed her writing career through a mix of freelancing and offbeat staff positions - writer/reporter for a Jewish weekly newspaper, communications director for a freshman Congresswoman - she became obsessed with different things.

Despite what I've mentioned in the previous paragraph, though, this is not a party-girl memoir. Gilman consistently places her experiences within the social and cultural framework of their times, reflects on them with insight and affection, and doesn't spare the embarrassing details. But Gilman's "cultural framework" includes a feminist consciousness which the reader can see emerging as her story builds, culminating in the essay that lends its title to the book. She's not the first woman who's fought to reconcile her feminism and intention to be the "Anti-Bride" with the longing to feel "like a bride" upon meeting the wedding-industrial complex, she's not likely to be the last, and her efforts to come to terms with the trappings of gender roles and The Big Day definitely struck a chord.

Susan Jane Gilman has some great stories to tell, and an engaging and humorous way of telling them. I think women of our generation - the same generation I addressed in reviewing Gail Collins' history of the modern women's movement, When Everything Changed - will encounter a lot in Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress that resonates, from pop-culture references to adolescent feelings and fears to perceptions of the world around us, but I don't think the appeal of this book is by any means limited to my own age group. This is memoir of our times as much as the times of one particular woman, and I'm glad that the Women Unbound Challenge finally gave me the nudge to free it from TBR Purgatory.

Rating: 4/5

Reading Challenge Commitments: Women Unbound (2 of 5), RYOB 2010 (3 of 20), Memorable Memoirs

Buy Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress at Amazon.com

Other bloggers' reviews and opinions:

If you've also reviewed this book and I missed your post, leave your link in the comments! More reviews can also be found via the Book Blogs Search Engine.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Book talk: "The Wives of Henry Oades," by Johanna Moran (TLC Book Tour)

Disclosures: I received an Advance Readers Copy (ARC) of this book for review from the publisher, via TLC Book Tours. The book is currently available in stores. *Purchasing links in this review go through my Amazon Associates account.

Wives of Henry Oades

The Wives of Henry Oades: A Novel
Johanna Moran
Ballantine Books (2010), Paperback (ISBN 034551095X / 9780345510952)
Fiction (historical), 384 pages

Opening Lines: "A common bat on the other side of the world elects to sink its rabid fangs, and one's cozy existence is finished.  

"Margaret Oades knew her husband was up to something the moment he came through the door with a bottle of wine. It was late. The children had gone up hours ago. 'What's the occasion?' she asked, laying out a plain supper of shirred eggs and lardy cakes."

Book description: When Henry Oades accepts an accountancy post in New Zealand, his wife, Margaret, and their children follow him to exotic Wellington. But while Henry is an adventurer, Margaret is not. Their new home is rougher and more rustic than they expected—and a single night of tragedy shatters the family when the native Maori stage an uprising, kidnapping Margaret and her children.

For months, Henry scours the surrounding wilderness, until all hope is lost and his wife and children are presumed dead. Grief-stricken, he books passage to California. There he marries Nancy Foreland, a young widow with a new baby, and it seems they’ve both found happiness in the midst of their mourning—until Henry’s first wife and children show up, alive and having finally escaped captivity.

Narrated primarily by the two wives, and based on a real-life legal case, The Wives of Henry Oades is the story of what happens when Henry, Margaret, and Nancy face persecution for bigamy.

Comments: It's the stuff of soap opera - someone presumed dead turns up years later, in a different location, and shakes up the life of the person they left behind. In the case of Henry Oades, though, it actually happened, and the true story provides the framework for Johanna Moran's first novel.

A job offer too good to turn down brings Henry and Margaret Oades and their children from England to New Zealand. The family has begun to grow comfortable in their new home when tragedy strikes - on a night when Henry is away, Margaret and the children are kidnapped from their home by Maori natives, and their house is burned down. The family is presumed dead, but Henry spends several years trying to find some trace of them. After losing his home, job, and savings in fruitless efforts, he finally comes to accept that they're gone and decides he has no reason to stay in New Zealand. He sets sail for America with no particular plan; a shipboard encounter points him toward Berkeley, California, where he becomes foreman of a small dairy that he eventually inherits from its elderly owner.

Henry encounters Nancy Foreland when her young husband is killed in a house fire. As they get to know one another, Henry realizes that marriage might be beneficial to them both, and Nancy accepts. While it is a marriage of convenience at first, for both parties - Nancy addresses him as "Mr. Oades," and still dreams of her first husband, Francis - they grow to have stronger feelings for each other.

Meanwhile, six years after the Maori abruptly took Margaret and her children, they just as abruptly let them go. They find their way back to their old home to discover Henry gone. Once Margaret learns where he is, she arranges travel to California for herself and the children, and one day they arrive at the dairy farm. Word quickly gets around about the who the new arrivals are, and the discovery of bigamy sets off an upheaval in town - not to mention its effects on Henry and his family.

The Wives of Henry Oades was a quick read for me, holding my attention from the beginning. I found it to be primarily plot-driven (which usually means faster reading) - and it's certainly quite a story. There are a few holes that bothered me, chiefly pertaining to Margaret and the children's captivity among the Maoris; I understand why there wasn't more detail about that six-year (!) period - it's really not crucial to Moran's focus in telling this story - but I was curious nonetheless.

The book has quite a bit going on between the lines, though; it raises questions that it doesn't address directly, but that would certainly fuel book-group discussion. I think the relationship that develops between Margaret and Nancy definitely warrants exploration; as they find themselves accidentally living in a polygamous household, they do come to relate to one another as "sister-wives" - almost too neatly, I thought. Still, the concept continues to fascinate me. We get to know the characters more via their situation and their actions than by glimpsing their inner lives, and we get to know the wives better than we do the husband they share, but Moran's approach did effectively evoke my sympathy for all of them.

Aside from a few too many graphic details about hygiene and bodily functions for my taste (and, as I mentioned, not enough of some other details I wanted to know more about), I found Moran's writing served her story well, and I was genuinely intrigued by the story she was telling. The Wives of Henry Oades is both a page-turner and a thought-provoker, and would be an excellent book-group selection.

Rating: 3.5/5

Buy The Wives of Henry Oades at Amazon.com

Other stops on this TLC Book Tour:
Monday, February 15th:  Luxury Reading
Wednesday, February 17th:  Book Club Classics!
Thursday, February 18th:  My Friend Amy
Friday, February 19th:  Beth Fish Reads
Monday, February 22nd:  Jenn’s Bookshelves
Wednesday, February 24th:  Savvy Verse and Wit
Thursday, February 25th:  It’s All About Books
Friday, February 26th:  Thoughts of an Evil Overlord
Monday, March 1st:  Rundpinne
Tuesday, March 2nd:  Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, March 3rd:  A High and Hidden Place
Thursday, March 4th:  The Literate Housewife Review
Monday, March 8th:  Bibliofreak
Tuesday, March 9th: A Lifetime of Books
Wednesday, March 10th:  Starting Fresh

Monday, February 22, 2010

Workin' it, working overtime (Weekend Assignment #307)

Karen is hosting the current Weekend Assignment at Oupost Mâvarin, and it's got her working overtime:
Weekend Assignment #307: Common wisdom, these days, backed up by actual statistics if I had time to look them up, tells us that as a nation we've been working harder in recent years just to maintain the same level of financial solvency. Recession-related unemployment and underemployment aside, do you find this is true for your family?

Extra Credit: Is overtime something you take on willingly? Why or why not?
As I so often do, I'll tackle the extra credit first:

I have been in salaried positions for nearly twenty years, so it's been a long time since I've been paid for overtime, but it's certainly been something I've done. I'm an accountant, and projects like preparation for year-end audits, budgets, and system conversions have frequently required more than a 40-hour work week from me. On top of that, there are the times when short-staffing or just generally getting behind mean there's more work than there is time in a normal work day. But part of being salaried is that the focus is on getting the work done, regardless of the time it takes, so that's what I've done, and for most of my career I haven't begrudged it. During the first few years I was in my current job, which were also the years I was unmarried, I was that always-available employee that managers love - the one who rarely takes days off, works the unpopular days before and after holidays, and is flexible so others don't have to be. But I've been a little less willing to do "whatever it takes" during the last couple of years; I'll try to get as much as I can done during the workday, and I'm happy to be the first one in the office, but I'm going to do my best to get out by 4:30. However, I've also been granted access to our computer systems from home; between that and the fact that my boss, co-workers and I all have each others' cell phone numbers, "overtime" can happen any time, at least in theory.

As far as the primary question goes, I think it's not as true for our family as it is for some others, but it certainly could be. At this point, we try to manage our budget from the expense side of things, but realistically, that can only go so far - at some point, supplementing income becomes the only way to get ahead. Both my husband and I have been in our current jobs for several years - long enough that, in current economic conditions, changing jobs might not necessarily mean dramatically better salaries (and would almost certainly mean a loss in paid time off and other benefits). The part-time custody arrangements for my stepchildren make for an irregular schedule for second jobs or even pursuing freelance work, although it's something we could -and might have to - explore as the kids get older.

Having said that, I really try to appreciate how relatively well off we are - both employed at respectable salaries with established organizations. It definitely takes both of us being employed to keep our heads above water, though, and I keep my fingers crossed every day that it stays that way. Either that, or one of those lottery tickets my husband buys every week finally turns up a winning number...

What do you think? You have until next Wednesday at 6 PM to give us your thoughts, either as a blog entry or in the comments on the main Weekend Assignment at Oupost Mâvarin. If you do write a blog entry, please mention the Weekend Assignment, and leave a link to your entry in the comments thread on the main post.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Salon: Bookkeeping, Bookmarking...and Nagging!

The Sunday 

ENCORE! The Re-Run Section (if you haven't read 'em before, they're New to You!)

In case you missed the big announcement on Tuesday, here's a quick encore:

I am co-hosting a Read-Along of Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow with Heather J. from Age 30+...A Lifetime of Books and Rebecca of The Book Lady's Blog. It's a re-read for us, but we'd love for both first-timers and other re-readers to join us! To help get you hooked, Rebecca is giving away a copy of the book to one lucky reader - you have until this Tuesday (2/23) to enter!

The Sparrow was one of my "Books of the Decade," and here's what I said about it then:

"(Its) blend of religious/philosophical themes with fantasy/science fiction elements isn't entirely new, but Russell does something special with it, crafting a compelling, emotionally resonant narrative. I haven't come across enough people who have read this - but among those who have, I haven't found anyone who wasn't wowed by it."

To join us, just leave a comment on the announcement post (even if you don't have a blog) and pick up a copy of the book. We'll have a discussion session hosted by Heather on March 16, and a wrap-up led by Rebecca on March 30, which is also the day participants will post their reviews. For more about the book and the Read-Along, please check out the announcement post. I hope you'll join us!


This was one of my "Tuesday Tangents" on Thursday

Last week, I was offered an advance copy of an upcoming novel by an author I've reviewed before. I accepted, giving the publicist my usual disclaimer that it would probably be at least a couple of months before I would get to the book; it didn't seem to be a problem. (I should mention that my previous review was based on my personal copy of the author's book - the promised review copy, from the same publicist, was delayed without explanation, and I had already planned to buy the novel anyway, so I did.)

Three days later, a follow-up e-mail asked me to commit to a review date within a one-week period less than a month from now, to coincide with the publication date; I wrote back saying that I couldn't do that, and would understand if they didn't want to send the ARC after all. My response was partly selfish - I have no blog tours or committed reviews next month, and I'd like to keep it that way - but it was also a contrary-minded reaction to the abrupt change of the rules. If they'd told me about the date commitment the first time around, I'd have declined up front because of the lack of lead time - end of story.

As it happens, they said they'd still send me a review copy of the book - just not an "advance," since it will come after the on-sale date - and they mentioned checking back with me about the review schedule after it comes. That's a little bit too hands-on for my taste.

Has this kind of thing happened to you, and what did you do in response?

(I don't really want to call the publicist out by name here, but I know of at least one other book blogger who had the same experience with them - if you'd like to know the publicist and book in question, e-mail me for the details.)


This is (probably) the last time I'll ask for your votes for a
Book Bloggers Room of (Y)Our Own at BlogHer'10! Even if you won't be there as a book blogger (because everyone is going to BEA and Book Blogger Con instead), you can still offer your support. You must be a member of BlogHer.com (sign up is quick and FREE) and logged into the site to cast your vote by clicking the "I would attend this session" link.

Voting for ROYO submissions ends next Sunday, February 28. Just follow the link below for details and voting - and if you HAVE voted for the session already, thank you (again)!

Book Bloggers: Reading and Writing All About It | BlogHer

BOOKKEEPING: The Reading Status Report

Reviews posted since last report:
ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes, Year 2, by Susan Helene Gottfried

Next reviews scheduled
The Wives of Henry Oades: A Novel, by Johanna Moran (TLC Book Tours, Tuesday 2/23)
Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Clueless, by Susan Jane Gilman (Wednesday 2/24)

New to my LibraryThing "To Read" Collection:
The last binge before Lent, I swear! (Although it was on a Sunday, and Sundays don't count as part of the 40 days...)
For me:
The Polysyllabic Spree, by Nick Hornby (completing the set of books compiled from his essays for The Believer)
An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, by Barbara Brown Taylor (I bought this, and forgot that I'd requested a review copy through Shelf Awareness last week - if that comes through, look for a giveaway at some point!)
For me, moved over from the Wishlist:

BOOKMARKS: Reading-related Reading

Gimmicks, publishers, copyrights, and teen authors

When the book blogger knows better than the bookseller

Some notes on taking notes

Two favorites together: Lenore interviews Jasper Fforde as part of her "Dystopian February"

Define "dance," and get the chance to win an autographed copy of House of Dance from its author, Beth Kephart

Question of the Week: How much of what we read - or what we look down on others for reading - is really "crap"? Next question: Chris wants to know about your bad grammar habits. Here's what I 'fessed up to:
I've been guilty of a LOT of punctuation abuse. I am too fond of ellipses...and then there's the semicolon; I've begun using that more instead of dashes - because I'm the queen of the run-on, compound sentence (in which I'll sometimes use parenthetical phrases too).
DID YOU KNOW? That's How I Blog!, the Blog Talk Radio book-blogger talk show hosted by Nicole of Linus's Blanket, has its own blog now. Check it out for show reminders and recaps!

Have a great reading week!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Week-end Review: Travels around the blogiverse this week

No big announcements or overall theme this week - just links, and the questions a couple of them spawned...

Question of the week #1: Do you share your blogging with your "real-life" family and friends? I always have, but I know they don't always read it. Sometimes I've had mixed feelings about that; occasionally there's something I'd like to work through in writing but not necessarily share with people who see me in person - and they really prefer not to hear it here first. Most of the time, though, I want them to know what's going on here!

Question of the week #2
: Lent has begun, and even though I'm not a churchgoer these days, I'm still making my sacrifice - giving up buying books! It's still a good exercise in discipline. Are you giving up something that matters to you from now until Easter? What is it?

Dispatches: Links of the Week

No matter what conferences you're thinking about attending (or helping to plan!) this year, content matters...and it may not always provide what you'd like it to. Blog stats may or may not provide what you'd like them to, either

Book blog seeking new owner (which it may have found by now has already found, but the concept of taking over an established blog is still thought-provoking)
The Internet may be the "meeting ground," but "real-life" interaction is still the proving ground for friendships

Not really looking, but finding love in unexpected places (the shopping mall?); a mother-daughter love story; a love letter I could have written, but my friend April got there first (actually, she and several others were led there by Selfish Mom)

When you live in one of the few places that's sunny and warm in mid-February - especially this year - you may feel a little guilty about enjoying it

Life lessons from Broadway - more than just music; cooking in France - not exactly the way Julia did it

Did Lost's final season happen once before - in Buffy the Vampire Slayer's final season? (via Show Tracker, LA Times)

"What's the Word?" via Not Always Right

Tattoo Parlor | Atlanta, GA, USA
Customer: “Yeah, I want to see about getting a tattoo. Can you guys do that?”
Me:  “Sure. Do you have something in particular in mind?”
Customer:  “I don’t know? Something pretty?”
Me: “Like a butterfly? A flower?”
Customer: “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe a word or something? Something that means something?  Do you have a book of words and what they mean?”
Me:  “You mean like…a dictionary?”

What do you have going on this weekend? We're supposed to get more rain, which means it's probably a good thing we were planning to stay in and do our taxes. Yay. I was invited to a party on Sunday that I'm not going to because it would mean at least four hours of driving for a three-hour event, but I will miss seeing my fellow LA Moms Bloggers!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tuesday Tangents on Thursday

Buzz...buzz...bzzzz: If you use Gmail, you've probably seen Google Buzz show up there by now. Have you used it yet? What do you think of it?

Considering that Google's been making adjustments to Buzz since Day One - mainly in response to privacy concerns - it's probably a good idea to be cautious about it. I'm not sure it does much for me at this point - it reminds me a lot of Friendfeed, but the fact that it's right in GMail makes it a lot more convenient to use. I've found it useful in one respect - if I'm following someone in both Buzz and Twitter and they've connected their Twitter account to Buzz, their tweets and conversations are easier to find and follow in Buzz, mostly because the stream isn't as busy. I do like the way it shows conversations, and not having comments limited to 140 characters is rather nice.

I think there's a danger of inundating people with the same information in multiple places, but that exists already - Twitter statuses feed to Facebook, Facebook updates repost to Twitter, blog posts are shared in Google Reader and various social networks, everything updates to Friendfeed. But if people can work out how they want to manage that, and the privacy issues, I think Buzz could eventually take off. On that note, I'll share what may be the most useful link of the week here instead of saving it for tomorrow's Week-end Review: Lifehacker compares and contrasts Facebook, Twitter, and Buzz.

Last week, I was offered an advance copy of an upcoming novel by an author I've reviewed before. I accepted, giving the publicist my usual disclaimer that it would probably be at least a couple of months before I would get to the book; it didn't seem to be a problem. (I should mention that my previous review was based on my personal copy of the author's book - the promised review copy, from the same publicist, was delayed without explanation, and I had already planned to buy the novel anyway, so I did.)

Three days later, a follow-up e-mail asked me to commit to a review date within a one-week period less than a month from now; I wrote back saying that I couldn't do that, and would understand if they didn't want to send the ARC after all. My response was partly selfish - I have no blog tours or committed reviews next month, and I'd like to keep it that way - but it was also a contrary-minded reaction to the abrupt change of the rules. (And as it happens, they said they'd still send me a review copy of the book - just not an "advance," since it will come after the on-sale date - and I get the sense they'll still want me to read and review it in the short term. We'll have to see about that...)

Has this kind of thing happened to you, and what did you do in response? It's made me a bit leery of dealing with the publicist in question, to be honest, and reinforces my decision to cut back on accepting review copies in general. (One of the reasons I like to work with TLC Book Tours is that they always give their reviewers plenty of lead time - since Lisa and Trish are book bloggers themselves, they understand how it gets!) I'm pretty sure I'll read this particular book eventually anyway, since I do like the writer...from my perspective, the publicist was the problem here.

I've talked about going to BlogHer'10, and not going to BEA and the Book Blogger Con. I've mentioned our upcoming family vacation to Washington DC and New York City in June. But have I said anything about the fact that after talking about it for years, Tall Paul and I are actually going to Comic-Con in San Diego in July? We made the decision too late to attend the whole thing; Saturday was already sold out when we got our tickets, so we're just going for the first two days. (Friday's now sold out too, but tickets for Thursday and Sunday are still available as of this week.)

I have no idea what to expect, but I'm starting to get more excited about it than I thought I'd be - and I think part of that is coming from knowing how much my husband is looking forward to going. He's already considering his wardrobe for the convention-center floor (the two on the left, below):

I haven't gotten that far in my planning yet, but I don't think my stepdaughter will let me borrow her new favorite shirt, so I'll need to come up with something else:

Southern California is the land of the vanity license plate - goes with our car culture - and sometimes I spot one that makes enough of an impression that I'll Tweet it as my "License Plate of the Day" (although I'm usually driving when I see them, so I don't get pictures). Here's the one from this Tuesday:

"Seen on an Acura SUV: TX JERRY. Now there's a thank-you note..."
(But for some reason, I'm hearing it in my head as spoken by George Costanza)

Speaking of car culture, my new Honda Fit is still ding-free after almost two months in my ownership, and just had its first trip to the car wash! Thanks to the rainy winter we've had, it hadn't been properly cleaned since the day I brought it home. Of course, as I was leaving the car wash, I heard on the radio that there's a chance of rain in the weekend forecast...

How's the weather where you are?
What's on your mind lately?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Talk: *ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes, Year 2* by Susan Helene Gottfried

Disclosure: I purchased this book directly from the author, who was kind enough to personally autograph it for me.
[cover thumbnail]

Lulu.com, Paperback (ISBN 9780557096565 / 0557096561)
Fiction, 140 pages

Book description (from the author's website): The Demo Tapes: Year 1 introduced the reading public to ShapeShifter and the two men behind this fictional band: Trevor Wolff and Mitchell Voss. The Demo Tapes: Year 2 brings you more of the short fiction that brings these people to vivid life.

Year 2 delves more deeply into love, friendships, and the inside workings of ShapeShifter. New faces have arrived as the band tours and climbs the ladder of success, but most of all, Year 2 puts you square in the lives of Mitchell and Trevor, just where you like to be.

Comments: This is Susan Helen Gottfried's second collection of short fiction "outtakes" featuring the heavy-metal band ShapeShifter. The pieces were originally published on Susan's blog, West of Mars: The Meet and Greet, in no particular order; the books have allowed her to satisfy reader requests to place the stories in a timeline.

I reviewed the first collection, The Demo Tapes: Year 1, last year, and said then:
Susan launched her blog as a place for "outtakes" - short scenes and sketches - involving the characters and situations in her not-yet-published novel about a rock band called ShapeShifter, Trevor's Song. While the outtakes make fairly random appearances on the blog, Susan has assembled them in chronological narrative order here, and has written additional introductory material for each sketch, giving more context about how it fits into the overall story of ShapeShifter. This is not a novel in itself - while the stories are placed in sequence, they don't have a plot thread tying them together - but if you haven't met the band before, it's a great way to do it.
There's overlap in the chronology between the Year 1 and Year 2 collections, and they don't have to be read in sequence. But Susan's outtakes continue to whet my appetite for a full-length novel (or two, or three!) about the band. I'm getting glimpses of the backstory, but I want to know more about how ShapeShifter came together and how other characters came into their circle, and I'd like to see it all in context. Also, Susan has tried not to overlap the time period and events in Trevor's Song with the shorter pieces, and I'm really getting curious about that portion of the story. Someone PLEASE find this woman a publisher!

As she did in the Year 1 collection, Susan has included an introduction to each outtake which provides a little more of the framework to the ShapeShifter story. The introductions also offer insight into her writing process and the inspirations for some of the pieces, and I found myself particularly intrigued by that this time around.

The Demo Tapes: Year 2 is a quick read - I finished it in a couple of hours. It would be an excellent choice for the TBR stacks of those participating in the next 24-Hour Read-a-thon (scheduled for April 10 - is it on your calendar yet?) - not just because it can be read quickly, but because hanging out with the band is a guaranteed good time.

Rating: 3.75/5

Challenges Counted: RYOB Challenge 2010 (2/20) , Blogging Authors Reading Project

The book is available for purchase from the publisher as a hard-copy or PDF download, in multiple e-book formats, or directly from Susan herself, who will be happy to autograph your copy too! Yes, you can read the outtakes for free on Susan's website, but generating sales for the Demo Tapes collections will help demonstrate that readers are out there for her rockin' fiction, and help improve the chances of Trevor's Song eventually appearing in print.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Read THE SPARROW with Heather J., Rebecca, and me (UPDATED: and win a copy of the book!)

I haven't had the chance to re-read many books in the last few years, especially since I began blogging in March 2007. However, there's one book I read a couple of years earlier that I've really been wanting to read again. Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow was one of my "Books of the Decade," and here's what I said about it (and its sequel) then:
"If I had a TBRR (to be re-read) list, these two novels would be right near the top of it. Their blend of religious/philosophical themes with fantasy/science fiction elements isn't entirely new, but Russell does something special with it, crafting a compelling, emotionally resonant narrative. I haven't come across enough people who have read these - but among those who have, I haven't found anyone who wasn't wowed by them."
Here's a description of The Sparrow from ReadingGroupGuides.com, but it's just a taste of what this book offers:
The Sparrow takes you on a journey to a distant planet and to the center of the human soul. It is the story of a charismatic Jesuit priest and linguist, Emilio Sandoz, who leads a twenty-first-century scientific mission to a newly discovered extraterrestrial culture. Sandoz and his companions are prepared to endure isolation, hardship and death, but nothing can prepare them for the civilization they encounter, or for the tragic misunderstanding that brings the mission to a catastrophic end. Once considered a living saint, Sandoz returns alone to Earth physically and spiritually maimed, the mission's sole survivor--only to be accused of heinous crimes and blamed for the mission's failure.

In clean, effortless prose and with captivating flashes of wit, Russell creates memorable characters who navigate a world of exciting ideas and disturbing moral issues without ever losing their humanity or humor. Both heartbreaking and triumphant, and rich in literary pleasures great and small, The Sparrow is a powerful and haunting book.
More about the novel, via LibraryThing:
Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0552997773, Paperback)
Combining elements of science fiction and spiritual philosophy, this novel is a tale of the devastating consequences of a scientific mission to make contact with an extraterrestrial culture.

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679451501, Hardcover)
The Sparrow is a novel about a remarkable man, a living saint, a life-long celibate and Jesuit priest, who undergoes an experience so harrowing and profound that it makes him question the existence of God. This experience--the first contact between human beings and intelligent extraterrestrial life--begins with a small mistake and ends in a horrible catastrophe.
Are you intrigued yet?

Two others who have been wowed by this book - and said so in the comments on that "Books of the Decade" post - are Heather J. from Age 30+...A Lifetime of Books and Rebecca of The Book Lady's Blog. What's more, they both mentioned that they've read it more than once, and agreed that it deserved more of an audience.

The three of us want to read The Sparrow again, and we want YOU to read it with us! Whether you're discovering this amazing novel for the first time or have also been looking for an opportunity to re-read it, it would be great to read it together.

Here's what to do to get in on the action:

Leave a comment right on this post
Grab the above button and use it in your posts about the book (see below)
Get yourself a copy of the book
(Amazon.com*, BN.com, Powells.com, Vromans.com, or try your local library)
Start reading!
If you don't have a blog, you can still participate---just sign up here and leave your answers to the discussion questions in the comments.

UPDATED TO ADD: Rebecca is offering one lucky reader the opportunity to win a copy of The Sparrow for the Read-along. Get the details and enter the giveaway at The Book Lady's Blog - entries will be accepted through next Tuesday, February 23!

If you'd like to post about the book while you're still reading it, feel free to do that (please include the button when you do), but there are two specific dates when we're asking Read-along participants to blog about it:
  • On March 16, Heather will be posting some discussion questions about The Sparrow at Age 30+...Books, and you're encouraged to respond to them in a post on your own blog (avoiding spoilers, please - people may be at different places in their reading!), adding your links and thoughts in the comment section of Heather's post.
  • On March 30, Rebecca will post a lead review and wrap-up at The Book Lady's Blog. Please post your reviews  and overall impressions of the book that day, leaving links to them in the comments on Rebecca's post and joining the discussion there.
And if you need further enticement, Heather has suggested a few of the 2010 Reading Challenges that this book can count toward fulfilling:

Awesome Author Challenge
(and if you buy a copy, I'd add the Read Your Own Books Challenge)

...and you may come up with some others!

Are you intrigued NOW? If you are, please let us know with a comment on this post!

*The Amazon.com purchasing link goes through my Amazon Associates account, and I will receive a small percentage of any sales via that link. I have no relationship with the other bookstores listed, but I know that sometimes people want alternatives to Amazon.