Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Critical controversy, #Franzenfreude, and writing about women writers

Mature woman holding cup, sitting in armchair reading
Do you read book reviews in mainstream media - newspapers and magazines, and/or their websites - any more? There actually are some of them still around, despite the rapid disappearance of dedicated book-review sections in newspapers during the last few years. And while many of us seem to be getting book information and recommendations from book blogs and other new sources, traditional review outlets like The New York Times still carry influence and weight - like it or not, they still matter. To some people, including best-selling authors like Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult, they matter a lot.

Weiner has been vocal for years about the fact that the Times does not review her books, even though she's placed several of them on their bestseller lists - and she became even more vocal a couple of weeks ago, when the Times published two pieces, a review and a feature, about Jonathan Franzen's upcoming novel Freedom within just a few days. Weiner was following up on Picoult's Twitter comments about the review - and the Times' attention to, and seeming bias in favor of, "white male literary darlings" over women fiction writers - with her own "#Franzenfreude" tweets.

Picoult and Weiner discussed their viewpoints with the Huffington Post last week. What's been described as the "Franzen Feud" isn't really that personal; it's more an issue of the attention given to certain types of fiction over others, particularly when produced by certain types of authors. Weiner acknowledges that she doesn't write "literary fiction," but notes that some of the elements she incorporates into her novels seem to be taken more seriously in fiction written by men:
"I write books that are entertaining, but are also, I hope, well-constructed and thoughtful and funny and have things to say about men and women and families and children and life in America today...I think it's a very old and deep-seated double standard that holds that when a man writes about family and feelings, it's literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it's romance, or a beach book."
Picoult - who has been reviewed by the Times occasionally (and not necessarily positively) - believes that the paper's reviewers overlook general-market commercial fiction (while giving attention to genre writers of both genders in addition to the aforementioned "literary darlings"), and that this is ultimately short-sighted on their part:
"(H)istorically the books that have persevered in our culture and in our memories and our hearts were not the literary fiction of the day, but the popular fiction of the day. Think about Jane Austen. Think about Charles Dickens. Think about Shakespeare. They were popular authors. They were writing for the masses."
Weiner mentioned some male authors who cover territory similar to that in her novels - Jonathan Tropper and Nick Hornby were two examples - noting that they don't seem expected to choose between commercial and critical success the way female authors are. Commercially, though, "domestic" or "relationship" fiction does seem to be more often produced by women writers, and to appeal more strongly to women readers...and as it so often does, that brings the discussion back to "chick lit." Linda Holmes of NPR's pop-culture Monkey See blog considers that a term that's long since outlived any usefulness:
"(A)t this point, I think the only solution is to stay away from the term 'chick lit' as much as humanly possible, because it's become a term that means 'by and about women, and not something you need to take seriously, although we're not necessarily saying those things are connected, so it might be a giant coincidence'...I don't know what 'chick lit' is anymore, except books that are understood to be aimed at women, written by women, and not important. And I can't get behind that."
Since I discovered book blogs, I've drifted away from mainstream-media book reviews. However, even before that, I noticed I was finding fewer and fewer of the books I actually wanted to read via those reviews.

I'm not much of a genre reader, although I don't make a point of avoiding genre elements in general fiction. Having said that, the fiction I prefer to read isn't necessarily "literary" per se, either. I've found some modern literary fiction a bit too self-referential and self-aware for my taste, with writing - well-crafted though it may be - that can become gimmicky and get in the way of the storytelling. That doesn't mean that I don't appreciate literary merit and technique, however, and I absolutely seek out good, engaging writing. I prefer fiction that's drawn from the real world, and that contains characters and conflicts that I can understand, even if I don't fully relate to them. I prefer fiction that's centered around people's relationships and how they're affected by situations. I look for meaningful themes and relevant observations about life. And as it happens, I tend to find that kind of fiction is more often written by women.

My LibraryThing catalog is close to a 70/30 split between female and male authors, and my list of "favorite authors" is not single-gender. However, some of my favorite male writers are less likely to write the type of fiction I generally favor; I usually turn to them for my forays into genre (or, more accurately, genre-mixing). When it comes to "domestic" fiction, "relationship" fiction, "realistic" fiction, or whatever label you use to describe it, I admit that my own bias is heavily in favor of women authors. While they may write with humor, I look for authors who take their themes, characters and stories seriously - and I take them seriously.

One of the beauties of the book-blog world - which, like my LibraryThing catalog, is quite dominated by women - is that across nearly all genres and niches, we do take authors and books seriously. Sometimes we talk about the same books that traditional book reviewers do, but we've made space for so many others that they don't. We're filling a void that established book-criticism outlets don't seem to care so much about - and quite frankly, that's their loss. And if those outlets - and the authors they're bypassing - aren't taking us seriously, that's their loss too.

I was syndicated on BlogHer.com

photo credit: PicApp Image Search

Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Talk: Wrapping Up the *Children of God* Read-along

Children of God by Mary Doria Russell

Children of God
Mary Doria Russell
Ballantine Books (1999), Paperback (ISBN 044900483X / 9780449004838)
Fiction (speculative/SF), 464 pages
Source: personal copy
Reason for Reading: Re-read as co-host of a Read-Along with Heather J., following the March 2010 Read-Along of The Sparrow

Opening Lines: "Sweating and nauseated, Emilio Sandoz sat on the edge of his bed with his head in what was left of his hands.

"Many things had turned out to be more difficult than he'd expected. Losing his mind, for example. Or dying."
Book Description: The only member of the original mission to the planet Rakhat to return to Earth, Father Emilio Sandoz has barely begun to recover from his ordeal when the Society of Jesus calls upon him for help in preparing for another mission to Alpha Centauri. Despite his objections and fear, he cannot escape his past or the future.

Old friends, new discoveries and difficult questions await Emilio as he struggles for inner peace and understanding in a moral universe whose boundaries now extend beyond the solar system and whose future lies with children born in a faraway place.

Strikingly original, richly plotted, replete with memorable characters and filled with humanity and humor, Children of God is an unforgettable and uplifting novel that is a potent successor to The Sparrow and a startlingly imaginative adventure for newcomers to Mary Doria Russell's special literary magic.

Comments: When I re-read The Sparrow earlier this year, I knew that Children of God would get a re-read not long after. My recollections of CoG were much less vivid than those of The Sparrow, for one thing, and I wanted to refresh them; for another, although CoG is a follow-up to The Sparrow, I consider the two books as a single story, and forgoing the second part of that story wasn't an option for me.

Children of God opens shortly after Emilio Sandoz has responded in full to the Jesuit inquiry about the original mission to Rakhat, and one outcome of that response is that the Jesuits want a second mission to Rakhat; that's the last thing that Sandoz wants to have anything to do with. His experience on Rakhat profoundly changed Emilio...but we'll learn that he and the other members of the Stella Maris crew profoundly changed Rakhat, too.

Rakhat and its people - the ruling minority Jana'ata and their partners and prey, the Runa - receive most of the author's attention in Children of God; while Mary Doria Russell introduced their world in The Sparrow, she builds it here. The themes of this novel are more political than philosophical and theological, and the questions it raises are different, although not of lesser importance. And while many of the new characters in this story are from other species, they are drawn and developed in recognizably human ways.

Another reason I wanted to re-read CoG is that I hadn't liked it as much as The Sparrow when I first read it, and I wanted to see if that still held. Granted, there are very few books I love as much as The Sparrow, which received a rare 5/5 rating from me. And while I liked and appreciated CoG more on this reading, I still like The Sparrow better. This is strictly opinion - I don't think I'd say one novel IS better than the other, but depending on your literary preferences in general, you might not like them equally. While both tell a fascinating story, I don't get the sense of intensity from Children of God that I do from The Sparrow. Also, CoG, with its heavier story focus on the denizens of another planet, feels more rooted in traditional science fiction to me, and I'm not a huge fan of reading SF. I prefer SF as a movie and TV genre, which allows me to see the world being created; I remain frustrated that I can't visualize the peoples of Rakhat. And while it's not a major issue - for some, I'm sure it wouldn't be a problem at all - it gets in my way, I'm afraid. I wish it didn't.

Heather posted some great discussion questions for Children of God, and I wanted to address a few of them (spoiler-free):

Over and over in this book (and in THE SPARROW) characters reiterate that they did not mean to do harm, or they did things with the best intentions.  Do their good intentions make them less responsible for the outcome of their actions?  Do intentions mean anything in the long run?

The Sparrow is a first-contact narrative; Children of God is what happens after. I think more of the intentions were formed in the first book, and the actions that they fueled carried through the second. I think good intentions can explain, but if the outcome of the actions they spur is harmful, they don't excuse. We still have to deal with the actions and their consequences.

Halfway through the book the author begins to reveal this hist ory of the war through conversation that take place in the future between the Jesuits and Suukmel and Sofia. The author stated in an interview that she wasn't particularly pleased with the way this section turned out but that it was the "least bad" way to write it.  Did this narrative tool work for you? 

I think Russell's right; there probably wasn't a truly good way to work this necessary exposition into the flow of the story, but I do give her credit for not bringing the narrative to a dead stop when she does it. I've seen too many less-skilled authors fumble this kind of thing, and she did manage it effectively under the circumstances (and manage to provide a bit of foreshadowing in the bargain).

Russell never tells us what happened to the UN party that showed up at the end of The Sparrow and sent Emilio back to Earth. What do you think happened to them? Why does Russell leave the fate of the rescue party a mystery?

Sandoz was returned to Earth unaccompanied. My theory is that the UN group didn't come back from Rakhat, but wasn't engaged with the planet long enough to affect its people or send back any new knowledge. The Jana'ata may have proved too much for them. In any case, I assume Russell doesn't revisit them because they have nothing to add to the story she means to tell.

I'm very glad I re-read Children of God and thank Heather for inviting me to host this Read-Along with her! I got more out of it this time around, and I have a greater appreciation for Mary Doria Russell's talent and accomplishment in creating this story. I still don't feel that it stands on its own as well as The Sparrow, but I have more recognition of how my literary biases influence that feeling. I will continue to recommend reading it along with The Sparrow, but if I could only read one of the two, I'd still choose The Sparrow.

Rating: 4/5

Did you participate in the Children of God Read-Along? Leave a link to your review in the comments, please! Other reviews:

Age 30+...A Lifetime of Books
It's All About Books 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Books from Birth (Weekly Geeks 2010-29)

It's been many weeks since I've been a Weekly Geek, but this week's theme from Wendy appealed to me:
(This week's) Weekly Geeks is about examining a book (or books) which were published in your birth decade. Tell us about a book that came out in the decade you were born which you either loved or hated. Is is relevant to today? Is it a classic, or could it be? Give us a mini-review, or start a discussion about the book or books.
I was born in 1964, approximately seven weeks after The Beatles arrived in the USA (and within 20 miles of where they landed). I'm much more aware of music and popular culture produced during my birth decade than I am of books, I'm sorry to say. I'm certain that I've read books written in the 1960's, but I don't necessarily associate them with the 1960's, so they don't immediately pop into my head as "books from my birth decade." For example, To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 (and to some extent it foreshadows the decade's civil-rights struggles), but it's set in the 1930's; therefore, it doesn't say "book from the '60's" to me. However, it absolutely says "classic."

The books that I most readily associate with the 1960's are books I actually read then, or not long after - kids' books. IWhere 
the Wild Things Are started kindergarten in 1969, but was already reading on my own by then. One of the books that I'd read before I started school - and read again with my son when he was young - was "born" in the same year I was: Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. (Well, OK, it was actually published a year earlier, but it won the Caldecott Medal in 1964, so I'm counting it.) Also "born" in 1964: The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. Both of these children's books have become classics, but they've both been known to be polarizing as well. I loved Where the Wild Things Are; I've actively avoided The Giving Tree.

Charlie and the Chocolate 
FactoryStill, The Giving Tree is the most popular book published in 1964 listed on Goodreads, and four of the top five listed are children's books. Two of them are books I liked even more than Where the Wild Things Are: Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh, and Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (which doesn't have the songs from the movie it inspired, but at least you don't have to look at those nightmare-causing Oompa-Loompas). I hadn't realized that Harriet, Charlie, and I all made our debuts in
the very same year!

Wrinkle in Time (Time Series, #1)While consulting a list of Newbery and Caldecott award-winners from the 1960's, I was a bit surprised to find that From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg was 1968's Newbery winner; I read it during elementary school (1973 or so, I think) and hadn't realized it was so relatively new at the time. And while I know I didn't read it for the first - of many - times until I was twelve (1976), I was quite aware that Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time won the 1963 Newbery. Even though it was less than 20 years old at the time, my first copy of the book declared it "The Newbery Award-Winning Classic"; I agree that it was then, and I think it still is now. L'Engle was one of the first to show me that faith and science didn't have to be mutually exclusive, and gave me a protagonist I could totally relate to in Meg Murry.

Do you have any favorite books from your birth year or decade, regardless of when you read them?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Talk: *A Fierce Radiance*, by Lauren Belfer

A Fierce Radiance: A Novel by Lauren Belfer
A Fierce Radiance: A Novel
Lauren Belfer
Harper (2010), Hardcover (ISBN 0061252514 / 9780061252518)
Fiction, 544 pages
Source:  ARC (Advance Reader's Copy) received from publicist Jocelyn Kelley of Kelley & Hall Book Publicity and Promotion. The novel was published in June 2010 and is now available in stores.

Opening Lines: "Claire Shipley was no doctor, but even she could see that the man on the stretcher was dying. His lips were blue from lack of oxygen. His cheeks were hollow, his skin leathery and tight against his bone. His eyes were open but unfocused, like the glass eyes in a box at a doll factory she'd once photographed."

Book Description: Claire Shipley is a single mother haunted by the death of her young daughter and by her divorce years ago. She is also an ambitious photojournalist, and in the anxious days after Pearl Harbor, the talented Life magazine reporter finds herself on top of one of the nation's most important stories. In the bustling labs of New York City's renowned Rockefeller Institute, some of the country's brightest doctors and researchers are racing to find a cure that will save the lives of thousands of wounded American soldiers and countless others—a miraculous new drug they call penicillin. Little does Claire suspect how much the story will change her own life when the work leads to an intriguing romance.
But Claire isn't the only one interested in the secret development of this medicine. Her long-estranged father, Edward Rutherford, a self-made millionaire, understands just how profitable a new drug like penicillin could be. When a researcher at the institute dies under suspicious circumstances, the stakes become starkly clear: a murder may have been committed to obtain these lucrative new drugs. With lives and a new love hanging in the balance, Claire will put herself at the center of danger to find a killer—no matter what price she may have to pay.

Comments: I think I've mentioned before that I'm not a huge historical-fiction junkie, and when I do read it, I tend to like fiction set in the not-so-distant past. One reason I prefer that time frame is that it reinforces the incredible pace of change during the last century. Lauren Belfer's first novel, City of Light (1999), was set in Buffalo, New York at the turn of the 20th century, and was concerned with industrial growth and hydroelectric power; it was one of my favorite books of the last ten years, and I've been waiting a while to hear from her again. She's back at last, and has moved forward a few decades, to the World War II era - and it was worth the wait. I'm quite confident that A Fierce Radiance will make my Books of the Year list.

We live in an era where antibiotics are common, practically taken for granted, and when many illnesses have virtually disappeared thanks to vaccines. We live in an era where we even have the option to refuse antibiotics and vaccines. It's easy to forget that as recently as seventy years ago - when some of our parents and/or grandparents were young - these things didn't exist yet, and could barely be imagined by most people. Many illnesses were expected to be fatal, and one could even die from a cut or wound, if infection set in. When penicillin and other antibiotics first came on the scene, they were viewed as the "wonder drugs" they truly were, because they would truly save lives.

When divorced photojournalist Claire Shipley is assigned a story about the medical team at New York City's Rockefeller Institute which is about to test penicillin on a human patient for the first time, in the early winter of 1941, she also has a personal interest. Her three-year-old daughter Emily died of blood poisoning after a minor accident, and she is fascinated that there could soon be a away to prevent that fate for others. She's not the only one interested, either. The United States has just been pulled into World War II, and the government believes that penicillin and its "cousins" - other mold-based antibacterials that are still being researched - have great potential to reduce the war's casualty count. The pharmaceutical companies, for their part, see major commercial opportunity in these emerging wonder drugs.

Claire's work for Life magazine draws her into the story, and her relationships with two men - Rockefeller researcher James Stanton and her father, Edward Rutherford, a venture capitalist - pull her more deeply into it. Her personal connection is deepened not just by her guilt over her lost daughter, but her protectiveness toward her remaining child, her son Charlie.

Belfer covers a lot of territory in A Fierce Radiance. She explores the research-and-development work that helped lay the foundations of the modern pharmaceutical industry. She draws a portrait of wartime life on the home front, and a detailed picture of 1940's New York City (which is when and where my parents grew up). She follows the investigation of a mysterious, sudden death that may be somehow connected to the drug research. And she ties it all together by bringing it back to Claire Shipley.

The author takes an interesting approach to the narration, frequently shifting perspectives; sometimes the shifts occur within a single paragraph as she elaborates on the thoughts of two characters involved in a scene or conversation. Readers who prefer "show" to "tell" might be a bit annoyed by this, but I appreciated it. It really helped make the characters more vivid and layered to me, and helped me develop more empathy toward some of them than I might have had otherwise. Claire is a particularly well-drawn and complex character, which matters since the story is built around her. As a single mother with a thriving career, she may strike one as unusual for her time, but perhaps more approachable for our own, and I found her quite convincing. I found the development and complications of her relationship with Jamie Stanton - two "older" (pushing forty!) professionals with serious responsibilities, in wartime - convincing as well.

At 544 pages (finished copy), this is a chunkster, but it was a fast and fascinating read, and an all-around terrific story. I easily lost myself in it, and I think it'll be a hard one to shake. I really hope I won't have to wait another ten years for Lauren Belfer's next novel!

Rating: 4/5

Other bloggers' reviews:
Chefdruck Musings
Alison's Book Marks
Linus's Blanket
Booking Mama
We Be Reading

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Back-to-School Daze (Weekend Assignment #332)

It's about that time of year, y'all:

Weekend Assignment #332: Back To School
In just a couple weeks, students will be heading back to school. Share with us what that means in your life. Are you currently shopping for school supplies for the students in your life? Are you planning on going back to school? Maybe everyone around you is rushing to get ready for the new school year, but you can sit back and relax. Tell us what that's like.

Extra Credit: Tell us what you liked the most and disliked the most about the first day of school!
"In just a couple of weeks"? Our kids are back in school now. The 10-year-old starts fifth grade today, and the high-school junior started classes almost two weeks ago (her school follows a different calendar than the rest of the district). My son was usually back in school by mid-August; for some reason, Southern schools tend to start the year while the summer heat is still going strong (but they're generally out by the end of May). It's been a good twenty years since I lived anywhere that started school after Labor Day.

Back in the Dark Ages, when I was the one going to school, I was usually pretty excited about the first day. I was pretty good at school, for one thing (aside from gym class). I enjoyed breaking out the new notebooks, pencils, and book bag, and by the time I was in my teens, I was particularly excited about back-to-school clothes shopping! I went to a Catholic high school where we had a strict dress code rather than required uniforms, so school clothes were kind of a Big Deal. I also appreciated what the first day of school represented: a fresh start. The possibilities for meeting new friends, trying new activities, and making a new - and hopefully, better - impression on people were never better or brighter. However, a sense of anxiety usually accompanied those possibilities: this could be the year I had no friends AND finally found out the hard way that I wasn't really all that smart. I still feel those mixed emotions about my first day of anything - new job, new situation - but it's been a long time since they specifically applied to school; once I graduated university, I was done, and have rarely seriously entertained post-grad education (especially since I'd want to quit working to do it, and that's not an option).

Becoming a parent shifts your back-to-school perspective. I think that, to some extent, the excitement level is higher - no matter what arrangements you make for your kids, and regardless of whether you're at home with them or away at work, summer vacation can be stressful. Getting back to the structure of the school year, while creating its own variety of stress, can be a relief too. (As an aside - and this is a topic for another conversation - I don't think year-round school is a bad idea, but given that budget issues have our local districts cutting instructional days, I don't see that happening.) However, back-to-school shopping is nowhere near as exciting, and if your kids live in school districts that send out huge lists of required supplies - (sometimes) because the schools don't have the money to provide them - it can be quite an ordeal.

Parents' back-to-school anxiety is fueled by different things than kids', too, particularly when they're in districts struggling with funding shortages, inadequate resources, overcrowded classrooms, conflicting standards, and bigger demands for "parental involvement" every year. It's hard to keep up with it all, but as advocates for our kids' education, we have to. We're still the ones primarily responsible for ensuring that our kids will one day be prepared to take on the world as informed, literate, socially-functional adults - and we have that job 365 days a year.

Are your kids ready for back-to-school? How about you?

photo credit: madmaven on www.sxc.hu

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Where did the summer GO? (Into my blog, it seems...)

Days that don't follow the normal routine - get up, go to work, come home - seem to exist in a different time stream, pulled out of the calendar and somehow blown away somewhere. The "normal" days can become compressed together, and suddenly it's later than I thought - time has certainly flown, but there seem to be holes in it.

The last few months have had more than their share of out-of-the-norm days, and here in August, that classic question seems especially significant: where did the summer go?

Fortunately, most of it has been documented. Those days outside of time seem to have spawned an awful lot of blog fodder.

The summer began with two weeks away on the East Coast - the first in Washington DC, the second in New York City which spawned a five-part recap with lots of photos, like these:

The day we got back from our trip, I fell and dislocated my shoulder. This garnered me three weeks with my arm in an immobilizing sling, one more week away from work and two more weeks of a split in-office/work-from-home schedule; it also brought me two to three sessions of physical therapy each week, which I'm still doing - I think I have at least another month of it to go. However, I seem to be recovering quite well and am not expected to need follow-up surgery, so there's that.

Once I did get the all-clear to retire the sling (except at night, for another few weeks), I still wasn't back at the office on a regular schedule. July and August brought long-planned trips to San Diego for Comic-Con (Tall Paul and me) and back to New York for BlogHer'10 (just me), which were accompanied by necessarily shortened workweeks. At least these disruptions were for fun, though!

The travels are over now, though, and while the calendar and the climate say we've got plenty of summertime left, the unofficial end of the season - Back to School - is upon us; in fact, my 15-year-old has already started, since her school operates on a unique schedule that corresponds more closely to a college calendar.

But aside from Washington, New York City, and San Diego, there's been another place I spent a lot of time this summer - in books. I've posted a dozen book reviews since the beginning of July (and have written a couple of others not yet posted); my LibraryThing catalog, which is more current, shows 32 books tagged "2010 Review" right now (I'm in the process of reading numbers 33 and 34). Travel and recuperation from my injury both provided a lot of reading time, and I'm still squeezing some in at my PT appointments. (I talked about this more in my Sunday Salon post this week.)

Even if this summer did go in some unplanned directions - and I spent several weeks of it one-handed, which didn't adversely affect my blogging as much as expected - apparently I do know where most of it went. It's pretty well documented! Where has your summer gone - and did you enjoy going there?

(dandelion clock: photo credit)

Monday, August 23, 2010

On the eve of *Mockingjay*...

...the long wait is about to end!

As part of my attempt not to "backslide" into reading young-adult fiction at my advanced age, I resisted Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series for the longest time. Well, I resisted The Hunger Games (the first book) for a while - till Catching Fire came out last summer, anyway. Then I bought both books, but held off on reading them until the Fall 2009 24-Hour Readathon; they were an ideal choice. I couldn't last the full twenty-four hours, though, so I had to finish reading Catching Fire the next day.

When I finished both books, I handed them to my 15-year-old stepdaughter, saying, "You are going to read these." And she did. And she loved them...except for the part where she had to wait until August of 2010 to read the third book in the series. But in the meantime, she made her two best friends read them. And they loved them. And we all had to wait for August of 2010.

Eventually, I got Katie her own copies of the first two books, because I wanted mine back and things that go into her room have been known never to emerge again. At the same time, I pre-ordered Mockingjay, and we agreed it was probably best to get two copies.

While the release of the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy is causing slightly less of a worldwide frenzy than, say, the last couple of Harry Potter books, there are many, many people eager to read it (as of this weekend, it was the #1 pre-order at Amazon.com). My pre-order backfired on me just a bit, though; while all of my pre-ordered Harry Potter books were delivered on their release date, Mockingjay isn't scheduled to ship out until its official publication day of August 24. My pre-ordered copies have shipped and are scheduled to arrive by publication day, but I won't be dropping everything to read mine - I  want to finish my re-read of Children of God first, since we're wrapping the Read-Along up next Monday.  But at least I'll have it well before the weekend, and with luck I'll get a shot at starting it then. Katie will get her copy the day it arrives - she's not back at our house till tomorrow; if she can't start it sooner because of homework, I'm pretty sure she'll be reading it by Friday - she doesn't have classes on Fridays.

No one really knows what to expect from the conclusion to this story, and spoilers have been suppressed quite effectively. We've seen Katniss compete in two consecutive Hunger Games - could she possibly be in a third? Or will the Games be merely a backdrop to the burgeoning rebellion? What's the story with District 13? We have to trust that the author will bring us along for the ride just as well as she has before.

Of course, some readers are all about the 'shipping, and for them, the biggest question of all is whether Katniss will end up with Peeta or Gale. I've noticed something interesting about the sides people have taken on that one: Team Peeta seems to be comprised of younger women (30 and under), while women in my own demographic seem choose Team Gale. I think one reason for that is that at different stages of our lives, we look for different things in men. Of course, I'm sure there are plenty of individual exceptions to that finding, but I'm not one of them - I have publicly declared for Team Gale. Meanwhile, Katie's friend Heather is staunchly Team Peeta. Katie, on the other hand, has placed herself on Team Katniss Stays Single. If pushed, however, she'll ally herself with Team Cinna, since he's her favorite character. In any case, it's safe to say that this question is unlikely to be addressed to universal satisfaction.

It's also safe to say that for the next few weeks, a lot of people will be talking about Mockingjay. Will you be one of them?

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire by Suzanne CollinsMockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Salon: Sorting out a reading slowdown

Congratulations to Lynne of Lynne's Book Reviews, who won the signed copy of Jennifer Weiner's latest, Fly Away Home! I'll get it in the mail to you as soon as possible. You'll have to provide your own cupcakes, though!

The Sunday 

I knew it wouldn't last. It couldn't last. Life and its schedules would settle back into something resembling normal, and an unusually productive season of reading would limp to the finish line. Now I'm trying to decide what to do about that.

If you consider the end of the school year to be the beginning of summer - and if you have school-aged kids, you probably do - my summer began on June 14. Since then, I've read 13 books and am in the middle of my 14th, and I hope to finish that one by this Wednesday, which is the first day of school. This is an unusually high rate of reading productivity for me.

I've posted a dozen book reviews since the beginning of July, which includes one book I read before summer started and my 50th-anniversary review of To Kill a Mockingbird, but does not count two others written but not yet posted:

My LibraryThing catalog, which is more current than the blog, shows 32 books tagged "2010 Review" right now. I read 47 books in all of 2009 and there are still four months left in 2010, so I think I may be on a pace to exceed last year's total. I have just a few ARCs to get caught up on, and no book-tour obligations currently on the calendar, so I hope to clear some old review copies off the shelf before the end of the year, as well as get through nine more books to meet my Read Your Own Books Challenge commitment.

Travel and recuperation from my shoulder injury both provided a lot of reading time this summer, and I'm still squeezing some in at my physical-therapy appointments, but unless I rework my schedule in some other areas, my reading pace is about to slow down notably - and that doesn't make me happy. More reading time was an unexpected benefit of convalescence, and a real plus of this summer. It was an opportunity to remember and revel in the joy of lengthy, uninterrupted time with a book, and I hate to let it go. But since there are only so many hours in the day and some are committed to my job, family, and home, I know that resuming my full-time responsibilities means some other things have to change. I know I could retain some of that book time by blogging less, but I'm not crazy about that alternative either. I've really liked not struggling with the reading/blogging time tradeoff for a couple of months - especially since those months have also provided some excellent blogging material!

As the summer winds down, though, I'm considering letting my blogging activity drop a bit too. I started this thing as a reading journal, after all, and yet there have definitely been stretches where it's caused me to read decidedly less than I like. I'm glad I've gotten back to the books, and gratified that many of the books I've read this summer have been good ones; I'd like to stay on that path if I can, which may mean a less active posting schedule. Or not. I never seem to stick to that sort of resolution for very long...so let's just see how it goes.

Speaking of blogging activity, I've come up with the title and tagline for my next blog (and registered a URL, just in case):

Signs of Intelligent Life
...don't bother looking for them here!

Then again, if blogging is truly on its deathbed - although I'm on record stating my belief the rumors are exaggerated - that next blog will remain a figment of my imagination anyway.

l.-r. back: me, Jill (Softdrink), Amy, Leah (Amused)
l.-r. front: Helen, Danielle (the1stdaughter), Ti (and friends)

This photo was taken at a book-blogger lunch in Santa Barbara yesterday, hosted by Helen of Helen's Book Blog! We enjoyed chatting over a fine meal and a book swap (unclaimed books to be donated), and followed it up with a visit to Chaucer's Bookstore. It was my first time there, but it won't be my last. It's an interesting place, maximizing its relatively small space with tall shelves and narrow aisles. The layout reminds me of a library, actually, which seems appropriate since the non-fiction sections are organized by their Dewey system numbers.

Between the swap and the store, I came home with some new additions to The TBR From Hell (I think it may have graduated from Purgatory by now):

Bought at Chaucer's:
Brought home from the swap, new to me:
Brought home from the swap because they were on my Wishlist (secondhand ARCs):
Brought home because Jill personally delivered a secondhand ARC I won in her giveaway:
Coming to TBR later this week: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins - but I'll talk more about that in tomorrow's post! Is it coming to your bookshelf too? What are your reading plans for the week, aside from that?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rumors of the death of blogging...

...may be at least mildly exaggerated. I hope they are, anyway, and I'm looking for others who feel the same way.

(8/19/10, 6:00 PM - EDITED TO UPDATE): I've decided to keep this post on top for an extra day or two. It's generating some great conversation, and I'd like to keep it front and center!

In addition to being one of my favorite authors, Beth Kephart is one of my favorite bloggers, and I appreciate the way she remains dedicated to blogging. Not long ago, she addressed a Newsweek article on the apparent decline of blogging (quoting Beth quoting the article):
"'Blogging has withered as a pastime, with the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who identify themselves as active bloggers dropping by half between 2006 and 2009,' report Tony Dokoupil and Angela Wu in a Newsweek story (August 16, 2010) titled, 'Take This Blog and Shove it!  When Utopian Ideals Crash into Human Nature—Sloth Triumphs.'  Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr are alive and well, the authors tell us, because they 'offer clear benefits to users, including the ability to easily stay in touch with friends, indulge in a game of Mob Wars, share baby pictures, or watch videos of fashion models falling down, in exchange for their time and efforts.'  Twitter, meanwhile, with its 50 million tweets a day, seems possessed of many lurkers and is not, apparently, a place where many choose to stick around.  'Between 60 and 70 percent of people who sign up for the 140-character platform quit within a month, according to a recent Nielsen report.'"
I loved her response:
"What people are seeking, apparently, is rewards—rewards for building content, rewards for leaving comments, rewards for checking in.  It comes as no surprise, of course, and indeed I've noted, among my blogging friends, a true shift, over the past year, in terms of those who shiver on the doorstep of a blog, and those who come to stay.

Tenacious, stubborn, call me what you will—I'm still hanging out my blogging shingle.  Blogging is no experiment to me, no call for attention, no wanting of rewards. It is a place where some of my thinking, my photographs, my living lives."
Coming at it from a different angle in an after-BlogHer posting reflecting on the ways in which blogging has changed since she started in 2004, Cecily Kellogg expressed some similar insights:
"I am a full-on citizen of real time internet -- meaning the instant gratification that comes from communicating on Twitter and Facebook. Blogging, oddly, has become the 'slow' social media medium...It's not just the real-time internet that has changed my online community. It's what blogging is about that is changing too...simply, (many newer bloggers') blogs are NOT about them as much as they are about business. For me, my blog is my business, and my blog is about my life...For me, writing -- and yes, I do consider blogging WRITING -- is the professional love of my life.

"I've written here recently, over and over, about how difficult it is for me to 'transition' into being this new kind of blogger, how challenging it is to balance the brand-related work with the content-work of this blog. I realize, now, that the problem is this: I don't actually WANT TO DO THAT. What I want to focus on, first and foremost, is my words. It's time for me to remember that: I AM A WRITER."
I'm not sure I'll ever make anything of my writing outside the online space, but blogging is no experiment to me either. I've been at it for almost three and a half years and am approaching my 1300th post, which I expect to reach some time in the next month to six weeks (I'll let you know, assuming I notice in time!). My enthusiasm for blogging remains - for the most part, most of the time - undiminished, although the pace and frequency of my posting may change from time to time, and there will continue to be gradual shifts in the content.

Blogging has made me a better writer and a better reader, and spurs me to keep trying to improve at both. I was never consistent about journaling, but now I regularly record thoughts and experiences (the ones I'm willing to share, at least). Blogging has introduced me to people and ideas and books and products that I'm not sure I'd have encountered otherwise, including some that have become very dear and essential to me. It continues to influence how I engage with the world around me, even as I experience things with thoughts of how I'll blog about them stirring in the back of my mind.

However, I have to be honest - to some extent, I do care about the rewards, but I've learned to accept that they can take time to arrive. I feel let down when a post I consider particularly strong generates very little response. I keep a daily eye on my visitor and subscriber stats, and consider it a personal failure when they drop. I want my thinking and writing to be noticed, and I want feedback about them. And knowing that I do have readers who are interested, who keep coming back, and who engage is one of the things that keeps me here. Yes, I'd blog even if no one read it, but I really do want it to be read!

I don't doubt that Twitter is full of lurkers, because lately I've become one of them in much of the time I'm there - my participation  has dropped, I don't get involved in as many conversations, and I've come to think that truly effective use of Twitter requires more time that I have to devote to it. I use Facebook even less than Twitter (and have no plans to give this blog a "fan page" there), and feel that it's becoming the new AOL. And I started blogging two weeks before my 43rd birthday. Most of the bloggers I regularly read and love are well beyond that 18-to-24 demographic (even my sporadically-blogging son is now over 25).

It's been a while since I posted a link roundup, so I thought I'd include a small one here, highlighting some recent posts that I believe show that thoughtful blogging (and good writing) are alive and thriving:
  • I would think that someone chosen as one of Parenting.com's "Must-Read Moms" is unquestionably a writer, and yet, someone dared suggest that without a book published, Liz at Los Angelista's Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness isn't a "real" one.
    •  Amy of My Friend Amy is a  book-blogging community leader who has been working out some struggles with recovering her enthusiasm and purpose for reading, while Nancy at Discriminating Reader questions the purpose for classifying some books with cross-generational appeal as "young adult."
    So, why are you here? What keeps you blogging - or what makes you think about stopping? Do you think blogging is on life support?

    Also alive and thriving - blog giveaways! But they don't last forever. Tomorrow is your last day to enter my giveaway for a signed copy of Jennifer Weiner's latest, Fly Away Home!

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Book Talk: *The Day the Falls Stood Still*, by Cathy Marie Buchanan

    Disclosure: I purchased this as an e-book to read on my Amazon Kindle. *I am an Amazon Associate and an IndieBound Affiliate. Purchasing links are provided by Amazon.com and IndieBound.org, and will generate a small referral fee for me.*

    The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie 
    The Day the Falls Stood Still
    Cathy Marie Buchanan
    Voice (2009), Hardcover (ISBN 1401340970 / 9781401340971) (E-book 9781401394752)
    Fiction (historical), 320 pages

    Opening Lines: "The stone walls of Loretto Academy are so thick I can sit cured up on a windowsill, arms around the knees tucked under my chin. It stands on a bluff not far from the Horseshoe Falls, and because I have been a student long enough to rank a room on the river side, I have only to open a pair of shutters to take in my own private view of the Niagara."

    Book description: 1915. The dawn of the hydroelectric power era in Niagara Falls. Seventeen-year-old Bess Heath has led a sheltered existence as the youngest daughter of the director of the Niagara Power Company. After graduation day at her boarding school, she is impatient to return to her picturesque family home near the falls. But when she arrives, nothing is as she left it. Her father has lost his job at the power company, her mother is reduced to taking in sewing from the society ladies she once entertained, and Isabel, Bess’s vivacious older sister, is a shadow of her former self. She has shut herself in her bedroom, barely eating and harboring a secret.

    The night of her return, Bess meets Tom Cole by chance on a trolley platform, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to him against her family’s strong objections. He is not from their world. Rough-hewn and fearless, he lives off what the river provides and has an uncanny ability to predict the whims of the falls. His daring river rescues render him a local hero and cast him as a threat to the power companies that seek to harness the falls for themselves. As the couple’s lives become more fully entwined, Bess is forced to make a painful choice between what she wants and what is best for her family and her future.

    Set against the tumultuous backdrop of Niagara Falls, at a time when daredevils shot the river rapids in barrels and great industrial fortunes were made and lost as quickly as lives disappeared, The Day the Falls Stood Still is an intoxicating debut novel.

    Comments: I've looked forward to reading Cathy Marie Buchanan's first novel, The Day the Falls Stood Still, ever since I started seeing reviews of it cropping up several months ago. I tend to prefer historical fiction that deals with more recent history, and the early 20th century - a time of such great change in the world - is a period that particularly interests me. I'm intrigued by Canada, the only foreign country I've visited. And I love waterfalls. The abundance of waterfalls was one of the most appealing things about living in the Finger Lakes region of New York, and I've never forgotten my family's one visit to Niagara Falls when I was a child; I've always wanted to see it again. However, according to the Author's Note at the end of Buchanan's book, the Falls were much more of a sight to see a hundred years ago.

    This well-researched novel is set in a period of great change in the Niagara River and the area around the Falls, as hydroelectric power was becoming a greater force (no pun intended), and it views those changes through their effects on a family...because although the river plays a significant role, this is the story of a family: the family of Bess Heath Cole.

    Buchanan divides the novel into two parts. Book One is a more personal, intimate story, as the Heath family is forced to adjust to a change in their financial and social standing by taking in sewing and trying to ensure an advantageous marriage for at least one of their two daughters. However, these things don't always go as planned, and the eligible young man Mrs. Heath has in mind for her older daughter Isabel has his eye on her younger sister Bess. Bess, however, is quietly developing a relationship with Tom Cole, a young fisherman whose late grandfather, Fergus, passed on his legendary knowledge of the river (and his daring rescues of those who met trouble at the Falls) to him. When these two eventually do come together, it's in the aftermath of personal tragedy and in the midst of the First World War.

    Book Two is larger in scope, as it starts out with Bess as a war bride getting started as a seamstress in her own right, soon to become a mother while her husband fights on the battlegrounds of Europe. When Tom returns from the war, he needs to get to know his wife and son, and to get reacquainted with the river, which is changing as the new power plants are being built to harness his power, and where his knowledge is more needed than ever. The political and ecological effects of development are a big part of this story, and it's interesting to note that some of the same debates are still going on today.

    The Day the Falls Stood Still didn't really become the novel I expected it to be until Book Two, and although it held my interest all the way through, it was the last third of the book that really grabbed me, and I found its final chapters riveting and touching. I liked the way that the issues of the day were integrated into the story, and I think that this was largely accomplished through Buchanan's development of her characters. The story is narrated from Bess' first-person perspective, and I didn't entirely warm up to her for a while. However, the character truly grows over the course of the novel, and she became someone I could believe in; I think I could say the same for the book as a whole, to be honest, as I felt that it strengthened as it went along.

    I enjoyed my trip back in time to Niagara with Cathy Buchanan, and I'm wondering where she will take readers next.

    *Buy The Day the Falls Stood Still from an Independent Bookseller*
    *Buy The Day the Falls Stood Still at Amazon.com*

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Next year at BlogHer...or at BookBloggerCon? Conference Conundrums

    Just a few weeks ago - while we were at Comic-Con, actually, two weekends before BlogHer'10 - I told Tall Paul that after attending for two years running, I wasn't sure about going to BlogHer next year. We had already decided we wanted to go to Comic-Con again (we're anxiously waiting for online registration to open, and we really want the four-day passes this time!). Sure, the event is crazy and crowded, but it's just so much fun - as Amy put it, it's "mad addicting." Also, despite the crowds and craziness, it's somehow relaxing - probably because I'm just there as an attendee and spectator, with no particular goals. In addition, for the last couple of months, I've been thinking about a trip back to New York next May. I loved being part of Armchair BEA this year, and I'm still lukewarm on Book Expo America (a trade show, essentially, where I'm only on the outskirts of the "trade"), but assuming there IS a second annual Book Blogger Convention, I'd really like to be part of it.

    And then BlogHer had to go and announce that the 2011 conference will be held in San Diego, on August 5th and 6th. That's just down the I-5 freeway, it's accessible via Amtrak - and it'll happen in the same venue as Comic-Con, just two weeks later. I'm reconsidering my reconsidering; a Southern California BlogHerCon is really hard to pass up! Between that and Comic-Con, Donna has suggested that I make it easier on myself and just get a place in San Diego for the summer.

    There's no denying that the location is attractive - and not needing an airline ticket to get there will keep the cost down! There will be costs for parking if I drive there on my own, or the price of a train ticket if I decide not to take my car, but both are less than flying. BlogHer also makes things easy to arrange: register online for the conference at one website - and do it before February 28, while the subsidized blogger rate of $199 is still available - and once the hotel-room block opens up, reserve for that on another. The conference events and lodgings are held in the same physical site (or two physically attached sites, in the case of San Diego). BlogHer has successfully negotiated a $199-per-night (or lower) on-site hotel room rate for its last few conferences; most people split their costs with a roommate anyway, but not having to hunt down a place to stay scores high for me. And in addition to the conference programming, the fee includes breakfast, lunch, breaks, and cocktail parties for both days; it's actually a pretty good package.

    The convenience/cost-control factor is one reason I've chosen BlogHer over BEA for the last couple of years. BEA did offer an "Affordable NYC" program to help 2010 attendees find good hotel rates (hopefully that's a regular thing), but travel via taxi, shuttle, or public transit is necessary to get from the hotel to the Expo site at the Javits Center, and attendees are on their own for food. Costs add up, and that's not even factoring in shipping home all those books!

    I read an insane number of blogs across a variety of niches and topics, but I identify as a book blogger. This was the year I really wanted to get book bloggers to BlogHer in numbers that would get us noticed. It didn't happen - but there was Book Blogger Con, and I understand why that would be first choice. If it had been announced before I bought my BlogHer'10 ticket, I'd have chosen it too - and being at BlogHer'10 actually reinforced that to some extent. BlogHer gets bigger every year, and it's not hard to get lost in the crowd; in partial response to that, smaller, more niche-oriented conferences have been emerging over the last few years. And when your particular niche doesn't seem to be represented, it's easier to opt out.

    In answer to that second point, I'll repeat what I said last year: if we don't show up, there's no reason to program for us. Having said that, I was excited to be part of this year's programming as a book blogger (and if some of our community's more prominent members had been there, I might not have had the chance!). Besides, there are issues and concerns shared by bloggers regardless of niche: technology, improving our writing, and forming community connections are just a few. And there are other ways we have more in common than you might think. While we might use different specifics, there are analogies:
    • "Brand events" aren't unlike the publisher tours some hosted during BEA Week, and even local author/bookstore events could be seen in those terms
    • Bloggers who highlight particular publishers' imprints and promote small presses are acting as "brand ambassadors" who develop relationships with companies and blog about them
    • Conference swag=free books!
    It's also easy to forget sometimes that not all avid readers are book bloggers, and being part of a more general blog conference offers the chance to connect with a broader potential audience. There were always follow-up questions, including reading recommendations, when I told people I blog about books. Also, did you catch BlogHer'10's post-event write-up in Shelf Awareness?

    "Finding your tribe" is a concept that comes up at BlogHerCon fairly often. While I still wish more of them would come to BlogHer, it appears that my tribe is more likely to come together at the Book Blogger Con and BEA, so I'm really leaning toward going to them in 2011. Still, having BlogHer in San Diego next summer means it might not have to be an either/or choice. Yes, I know it's my decision, but I'd love to know your thoughts - and any plans you're already making for 2011 conferences!

    The only conference that's not negotiable right now is Comic-Con 2011, so I know I'll be in San Diego at least once next summer!

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    The Dessert Wars: Cake v. Pie! (Weekend Assignment #331)

    The current Weekend Assignment topic revisits one originally assigned by the WA's founder, John Scalzi, in August 2005 - but since that was a year and a half before I started blogging, it's a new one for me!
    Weekend Assignment #331: Cake v. Pie
    Which is better -- cake or pie? Explain your reasoning. Will you choose the moist sponginess and frosting-topped goodness of cake? Or will you side with those flaky crust-adoring, fruit-filling fanatics of the pie nation? You must choose one -- and only one! No trying to suggest that Boston Creme Pie is really kind of like a cake, or how cheesecake is actually not unlike a pie. Take a stand! Be true to your pastry orientation!

    Extra Credit: Having chosen cake or pie, now admit your favorite variety of the dessert you did not choose. So if you chose cake, tell us your favorite pie. Prefer pie? Tell us your favorite cake.
    Could there possibly be a wrong answer to this question? Aside from trying to make the case that cheesecake is like a pie, that is...which I actually considered, to be honest. After all, most no-bake cheesecakes are made using a pie pan, and even "real" cheesecakes - the kind baked in a springform pan - usually have a crust of some kind. That's like a pie, right? When it comes down to it, I think I like cheesecake better than either cake OR pie.

    Chocolate Cake

    But taking cheesecake off the table (pun totally intended), my choice will nearly always be cake. I love a double-layer chocolate cake, with creamy icing (also chocolate, of course)...and maybe a chocolate-mousse filling between the layers.  I especially like it when each part of the cake is a different chocolate flavor - dark chocolate, chocolate fudge, milk chocolate, plain ol' chocolate, even mocha - but I'm not picky about which part is which flavor. However, sometimes I'm picky about the type of cake I want, and I'll pass up that layer cake for a dense, flourless chocolate cake topped with a warm chocolate sauce...and maybe some whipped cream or vanilla ice cream alongside it. These cakes are sometimes called "molten chocolate cake" or "lava cake," and there are times they're the only thing that will satisfy my combined craving for chocolate and cake. I won't turn down a slice of chocolate Bundt cake or pound cake either, especially if it's got a nice chocolate glaze to go with it.

    As you can see, I'm not just a cake fan - I'm a chocolate-cake fan. However, I'm open to trying other flavors - carrot, Red Velvet, marble - if that's what you have around to offer me.

    Pumpkin pie with plates

    Having said that, I'll acknowledge that pie does have its place: at Thanksgiving dinner. Pumpkin pie isn't just a tradition for me - it's been a favorite ever since I was a kid, and it's really the only kind of pie I like. It's also the easiest pie in the world to make at home.

    Which side will you choose in The Dessert Wars (not to be confused with The Hunger Games)? Share it with us here - it's always nice to share dessert with friends! And if you'd like to expand on your answer, you have until 6 PM ET this Wednesday to post a response to this Weekend Assignment. There are just a few participation guidelines:
    1. Please post your response no later than than the deadline day and time given in each week's original assignment entry. You can do this either in a blog entry of your own or in the comments section of the assignment entry.
    2. Please mention the Weekend Assignment in your blog post, and include a link back to the original entry.
    3. Please return to the original Assignment entry after you've posted, and leave a link to your entry in the comments to the assignment. Please post the URL itself rather than a live link.
    4. Visiting other participants' entries is strongly encouraged!
    Bonus: Take the quiz!

    You Are Cake

    You are sweet - at times overly so. You can be a bit overwhelming.

    You're always ready to party, and you're usually one of the last ones to leave an event.

    You are there for your friends in the best and worst of times. You make anyone's day.

    You are soothing, accepting, and totally comforting. No wonder so many people love you.

    Blogthings: We'll Tell You The Truth... Someone Has To!

    (To be honest, based on this description - especially the first part - I'm probably pie.) 

    (Photo credits: PicApp.com)

      Sunday, August 15, 2010

      Sunday Salon: The Books of BlogHer'10

      I've been to New York City twice this summer, and I've yet to get to the Strand Bookstore! It was actually on the list of things Melissa and I wanted to do when we were in the City for BlogHer'10 last weekend, but between a pretty full conference agenda and my inability to follow the walking directions I got from Google Maps, it didn't happen. But don't feel too sorry for me - I came home with plenty of new books! They just didn't happen to come from the the Strand.

      BlogHer usually sets up a Bookstore area at its conferences, featuring books about techy topics - writing, blogging, social media - as well as titles by current and previous BlogHerCon attendees. I picked up three books there, two of which were by BlogHer'10 speakers.

      Author Carleen Brice spoke on two panels at BlogHer'10, including the one I was on, "The Evolving Publishing Ecosystem." The conference program stated that she would be signing copies of her first novel, Orange Mint and Honey, at the BlogHer Bookstore, but I didn't spot any during my first couple of stops there - as it happened, they arrived late, but they were there by the time our panel ended at 2:45 on Saturday afternoon. At that point, I basically tailed Carleen to the bookstore so I could grab the book and ask her to sign it before she had to run off! I hope to read it "sooner rather than later" (but y'all know how that is...before BlogHer'11, at any rate!), and I'll be looking for her second novel, Children of the Waters, as well.

      I also picked up a copy of Professional Blogging for Dummies by Susan Getgood with the express intention of getting it signed after her FTC panel. While I don't think I'll be going pro with this gig any time soon, it looks like a great resource - and I'm listed in the acknowledgments! (I put her and Boston Bibliophile in contact with one another; Marie is profiled on Page 20 of the book.)

      Not every author with a book on the Bookstore tables was actually present at BlogHer this year, though. Author Vicki Forman wasn't there, but I purchased her memoir This Lovely Life on the strength of Melissa's recommendation and good word-of-mouth from other bloggers.

      After my panel was over, we had just a few hours until Melissa's train home, and we were determined to spend that time - and some money - in bookstores! We hopped on the D train downtown with one particular recommended destination in mind, but stumbled across another one before we got there.

      The Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho (126 Crosby Street, NYC 10012) is a huge used bookstore operated by a New York City AIDS charity; they also sell used CDs and DVDs and, as the name suggests, have a small cafe in the back. The store was profiled by Colleen from Books in the City in a guest post for She is Too Fond of Books' "Spotlight on Bookstores" feature.

      Housing Works is a two-story shop with wood floors and fixtures, but because it is packed to the gills, there's not a lot of space to move around in. I'll admit that I'm normally not a huge fan of used bookstores - and no, it's NOT because I like paying full price for books! Most of the used bookstores I've visited have been poorly organized and have seemed a bit beaten down, and I've not had much luck finding books that interest me. Housing Works was different; shelves were well-organized and labeled. I did not buy any galleys, which were for sale at $3 each. I wonder if New York's being a publishing town, along with the fact that this is a nonprofit store, makes people turn a blind eye to the "Not For Sale" blurb on the covers of ARC's... However, I picked up three recent hardcovers for at least half of their list prices, and the store was also running a "30% off everything" sale that weekend!

      Husband and Wife: A Novel, by Leah Stewart, has been on my Wishlist since this past spring, and was just published a couple of months ago. I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy in a used-book store so soon!

      Cost: A Novel, by Roxana Robinson, was never entered on my "official" Wishlist on LibraryThing, but it has been on my radar for awhile, thanks to book-blogger reviews.

      I don't think I've read anything by E.L. Doctorow since The Waterworks several years ago, but I was intrigued by the excerpt from his most recent novel, Homer & Langley, when it was a Dearreader.com Fiction Book Club selection earlier this summer.

      Once we'd chosen our books (and bought Housing Works tote bags to carry them in - it was for charity, and they were 30% off!), Melissa and I walked a few blocks to the Nolita neighborhood (Noho/Little Italy) and our original bookstore destination, McNally Jackson Books (52 Prince Street, NYC 10012). This indie bookstore came highly recommended by Dawn of She Is Too Fond of Books, who visited during BEA Week. Its selection isn't enormous, but it's interesting. One thing that struck me was the separate areas for "literature" and "fiction;" the latter section was occupied by mostly big-name, big-selling authors whom the general (read: "less book-obsessed") public would recognize. The "literature" shelves - which were much larger than the "fiction" ones - was organized according to the author's country of origin, which could be useful to those seeking to diversify their reading. The in-store cafe is excellent as well - breakfast items, sandwiches, desserts, and some seriously good quiche (that was dinner on Saturday).

      I would absolutely second Dawn's opinion of McNally Jackson Books. As Melissa and I browsed the shelves and added to the stacks of books in our arms, we kept saying to each other "Dawn is in SO much trouble..." But seriously, Dawn, thanks so much for the tip - I loved this place! I took some of it home with me, of course:

      Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music, by Marisa Meltzer, has been on my Wishlist ever since Veronica of Viva la Feminista reviewed it earlier this year.

      Please Excuse My Daughter is a memoir by Julie Klam. I don't know much about it, or her, other than that she's a friend of Jancee Dunn's - but that's enough of a recommendation for me.

      Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America, by Barbara Ehrenreich, appeals to the pessimistic-leaning realist side of my nature (granted, that's a pretty big chunk of my nature). 

      I probably should have waited to get Dan Chaon's You Remind Me of Me: A Novel until after I'd read Await Your Reply, but oh well - this one was a McNally Jackson staff pick, and was actually published a few years earlier anyway.

      This novel, One Day by British author David Nicholls, has received a lot of attention from the book blogs lately. I had come close to buying a copy of it in Target a week earlier, but I'm glad I waited - I was able to support an indie bookstore, and still get it for 20% off the cover price. (Random question: if a book is already a bestseller, does it really need that bestseller discount? I'm not complaining, mind you, just wondering...)

      While it had little to do with BlogHer'10, book shopping in New York City was one of my favorite parts of BlogHer weekend. I'm seriously thinking about going back to New York next spring for BEA 2011 and the Book Blogger Convention (assuming it's on again - did I miss any announcements?). If I do, that may be when my twice-deferred visit to the Strand finally happens!

      Have you read any of these books, or visited these bookstores?

      ***This post was all about books I got, but there's one I'm giving away: win a signed copy of Jennifer Weiner's latest, Fly Away Home!***

      All cover images provided by IndieBound.org. I am an IndieBound affiliate.

      The Sunday