Monday, May 30, 2011

Monday Moment(s): The BEA Authors Edition

By choice, I didn't go to very many book signings at BEA 2011, but two of them were pretty special.

Joanne Bamberger's PunditMom was one of the very first blogs I began following, four long years ago, and she's introduced me to a number of savvy political women online. Our paths have crossed in a number of ways; both of us blogged for sites in the Silicon Valley Moms Group, and we met in person at BlogHer'09 in Chicago (where I made a bit of a fangirl out of myself). Her first bookMothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America, has just come out, and her signing was my first priority on my first day at BEA.

with Joanne Bamberger/PunditMom; photo by Karen Ballum (with my camera)
with Beth Kephart; photo by Elizabeth Law of Egmont USA (with my camera)
Beth Kephart was my 2010 Author of the Year. I loved the writing on her lovely blog even before I loved her fiction, and we've become friends on Facebook over the past year as well. I nearly jumped up and down when I saw that she was scheduled to sign advance copies of her newest novel, You Are My Only, at BEA...and as it happened, I knew about the signing before she did! I was very excited to realize I'd get to meet her in person, but she threw me for a bit of a loop when she proposed that we make a short vlog together for Armchair BEA (did you get the chance to see it last week, and enter the related giveaway?).

It was much more fun than I expected it to be, and spending an hour with Beth was a joy. She's a beautiful person as well as a beautiful writer, generous and giving and genuinely interested in people. We made the video before going to the signing, and I was able to stick around for the whole thing. I really enjoyed seeing her interact with her readers, and even got the chance to take a few photos, like this one:
Beth with Kathy (BermudaOnion) and Julie (Booking Mama) (photo by me, with Beth's camera, from Beth's blog)
As I said in my Sunday Salon post yesterday, the high points of my week at BEA and BookBloggerCon were all about the people I spent them with; Wednesday morning with Beth Kephart was one of the very highest.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Salon: Books Aren't Everything

The Sunday Salon.com

I'm up earlier than I planned to be on a rainy (!?) Sunday morning, back in Southern California. Some thought-out content and pictures related to my week in New York for BEA and BookBloggerCon is coming, but as I am not yet fully coherent, it won't be in this post.

I heard from more experienced BEA-goers that there were far fewer galleys available this year, but since this was my first time, I can't compare. I know that I only shipped home one not-quite-full box of books - a mix of ARCs and finished copies - that I accumulated between Tuesday and Thursday. (And that box included a half-dozen books I actually bought in bookstores, but decided to ship rather than pack.) Since I picked up almost as many books as I shipped at a publisher event on Thursday night and at BBC on Friday (which had to ride home in my luggage), I don't think there was a shortage of books available. They weren't all ARCs - that might matter to some people, but not me. Some were in stacks and free for the taking, while others were only brought out for author signings. In my experience, very few were shoved into my hands. There were probably more books on display than there were for the giving/taking, and some publishers just had a few samples and catalogs.

But BEA is a trade show. Along with the educational sessions aimed at various aspects of the book industry, there are sales to booksellers and libraries to be made at BEA, and I tend to think that's its main purpose. It's like film festivals in that respect: yes, attendees get to be the first to see new movies, but most of those movies are brought to festivals in the hopes of getting sold to distributors so wider audiences can see them too.

The books at BEA were gravy for me, anyway. I didn't have plans to get very many, and I wasn't ambitious about seeing publishers and hobnobbing with authors (although the one time I did was incredibly fun!). I was primarily in New York for the Book Blogger Convention, and the people I wanted to hobnob with were fellow book bloggers - and while I didn't get to spend much time with everyone I hoped I'd see, I got to know some I didn't really know before and got to know others a lot better.

Books aren't everything. Friends are, and I feel like they're the best thing I brought back from New York City.

dinner on Friday night after Book Blogger Con: (clockwise): Teresa, Colleen, Ash, me, Kim, Melissa (stolen from her album)

It'll still be a while before blogging activity normalizes. I hope to check out people's Sunday Salon and BEA/BBC posts over the next couple of days, but I also will be spending time with my sadly neglected husband...and I've got some books to read, too.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Welcome, BEA, BBCon, and Armchair BEA Visitors!

This is a sticky post for the week of May 23-27. Please scroll down for new material!

BookExpo America

Whatever has brought you here today, thanks for stopping by! This week, I'm participating in Armchair BEA while on-site in New York City for Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention...so I'm here, but not here. I will be checking in frequently, though, so please leave a comment to let me know you visited!

This is a blog primarily - but not exclusively - about books. Some weeks the content is more bookish than others; I've addressed that with the 2nd and 3rd R's in my blog title - the "'riting" and the "randomness." 

If you're a first-time visitor, please have a look around! Explore the archives (links are in the right-hand sidebar). I've been at this for over four years, and will publish my 1500th(!) post this week. You can get some more background information, if you're interested, on the Me & My Blog page.

Regarding the 1st R, this blog was born as a place to talk about "reading." You can check out the books I've read and reviewed during this blog's lifetime on the Book Review List by Title. If you have a book you'd like to have me consider reviewing, I encourage you to consult my current Book Review Policy before contacting me. And if you do want to contact me, the information is on that page too.

In other places, other words (and pictures)

It's been a busy week in New York City! I've been tweeting from Book Expo America, but really haven't had the time or mental energy to do much more. In addition, I left my camera cable at home, so pictures will have to wait until I'm reunited with it. It always strikes me as ironic that bloggers go to blogging events and don't blog from them; and at this reading-related event, I've barely done any reading, either!

But I've really enjoyed spending time with some of the most awesome book-blogging people this week - special shout-outs to Sassymonkey, Kim, Heather, and Rhapsody Jill for now, with more mentions to come later; we have missed Melissa, but are glad she's able to make it to the city for the Book Blogger Convention today!

I've been participating in Armchair BEA as much as possible from the "real" event, and have a guest post up on the blog there today in connection with the "Blogging for a Niche Market" session I'm moderating at the Book Blogger Convention. You can see my very first - and possibly last - vlog, an interview with Beth Kephart recorded at BEA on Wednesday morning, at Armchair BEA too. Kudos to the fantastic Armchair BEA team - especially Danielle, Michelle, Tif, PamChris, and vlogger Emily - for putting together an incredible second year!

And one more thing, in one more place, in case you missed it when it was here: my post "Coping With a Medical Crisis, One Tweet at a Time" has been syndicated on BlogHer.com.

Normal programming will resume, I hope, some time next week - there's a lot to tell once I find the energy to tell it!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Year's Best, and the Best Yet to Come (Armchair BEA)

Today's the day you could win big at Armchair BEA, so be sure to check out the incredible giveaways being hosted and posted there today! In addition, we're talking about the books that have won our love this year (so far), and some that we're looking forward to loving!

I’ve reviewed 18 books so far this year, which puts me pretty close to the book-a-week pace I think is most realistic for me. However, this is a question addressing quality over quantity, and either that’s been really solid - I’ve given fully half of those books a 4 out of 5 rating, or better - or I’ve been overly generous in 2011.

When it comes to my nonfiction reading, I know there’s been some really good stuff, and my involvement with the Indie Lit Awards is one reason why. I spent a few weeks this winter reading finalists for the 2010 Non-Fiction ILA, and I’m pretty sure one of those books - The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson - will be one of my personal Books of the Year for 2011. (It was also the ILA winner in that category, and took several other better-known book prizes as well).

I will be part of the panel evaluating Biography and Memoir for the 2011 Indie Lit Awards, so I’ve been making a point of looking for potential nominees in that category. Wendy McClure’s The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie is a standout, mixing memoir with biography of author Laura Ingalls Wilder and commentary on the continued impact of her books.

In fiction, two of my favorite 2011 reads incorporate controversial issues and social commentary: Meg Wolitzer’s The Uncoupling and Jennifer Haigh’s novel Faith.

I’m really not one to look too far ahead in my reading - partly because I never know when I’ll actually get to a particular book - but I do have high expectations for a few 2011 releases that I haven’t yet read. I’m anxious to read Beth Kephart’s upcoming YA novel, You Are My Only - I plan to bring a galley of this one back from BEA, and am eager to meet its author in person tomorrow! I’m also looking forward to Mary Doria Russell’s just-released historical Western, Doc. In nonfiction, I’m hoping to snag a galley of Dava Sobel’s A More Perfect Heaven: How Nicolaus Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos, while in New York this week; she has a genuine gift for making science accessible, and I’ve really enjoyed her previous books.

What’s stood out in your 2011 reading so far - and what are you really looking forward to reading later this year?

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

NYC-Bound? This one's for you!

I haven't posted a Blogthings quiz for a while, but then I spotted their "What Part of New York Are You?" quiz. Since I'll be on my way there in just about 48 hours, I just had to take this one.

You Are the Brooklyn Bridge

You think there are many true paths in this life. You don't expect anyone else to follow yours.

You believe that everyone should be given space to do their own thing. You certainly need it!

You are unconventional and even a little weird. You refuse to conform.

You are naturally quite spiritual. You see the bigger picture and where you fit in.

I suppose I should actually go and visit the Brooklyn Bridge on this visit. Anyone want to come along? (Just don't toss me over the side!)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Filler: The Pre-BEA Edition


We'll make this quick - just to fill you in before the weekend starts...

1. I see not nearly enough time to do all the prep I want to do before leaving for BEA!

2. I have three books with reviews pending that I have to start reading from scratch (so they're coming with me!).

3. They begin tossing books into your hands as soon as you arrive at BEA, don't they?

4. I wish I had as much time for reading now as I seemed to have so many years earlier. 

5. This I know: Even though I may never read all the books I already have, I'll still acquire more!

6. If you don't have plans for dinner next Tuesday night during BEA, maybe we can meet up!

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to leaving the office with a semi-clean desk, tomorrow my plans include some shopping, some writing, and some reading and Sunday, I want to get my packing done and not stay up late doing it (my flight's at 7 AM, and that shuttle will be picking me up WAY too early in the morning!).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Advice for BEA Newbies...from other people, not me!

BookExpo America

I know I’m not the only person who’ll be attending Book Expo America and/or the Book Blogger Convention for the first time next week - and probably not the only one who’s a little anxious about it, either! For me, knowing as much as I can about what I’m getting into is helpful in managing that anxiety.

Fortunately, there are plenty of more experienced BEA-goers who are more than happy to share their knowledge with us newbies. Several were kind enough to send some tips for me to post in response to a request, while I stumbled across others via my highly-oversubscribed Google Reader.

The most popular tip you’ll find anywhere is easily “Wear comfortable shoes.” While this will be my first BEA, I have been to two BlogHer Conferences, and I can attest that this is good advice for any convention. However, as Amanda points out in a “BEA Tips” post on The Zen Leaf, those shoes need to be comfortable for standing as well as for walking. You may be covering a lot of real estate walking around the expo floor in the Javits Center and exploring New York City, but you’ll spend plenty of time standing in lines and barely moving at all, too.

Kathy from Bermudaonion reminds BEA-goers that “it's a privilege, not a right, to be at the trade show.” (And she’s right - BEA is not open to the general public. Bloggers are admitted as media.) Therefore, she suggests
“Act professionally - introduce yourself, don't take books or swag without asking, only take one copy of a book, wait your turn to speak with someone and engage them in conversation about books and publishing. Ask them which books they're excited about and what you can do to help promote them.”
The word on the food available at the convention center is that it’s overpriced and unremarkable. But you’ll be in New York City, a mecca of culinary exploration! Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit recommends several places she tried while at BEA in 2010.

Jenn at Jenn’s Bookshelves has a list of five essential things to bring to BEA. #5 on the list may be the most important one of all: “Patience.”

In a guest post for the Book Blogger Convention site, Shannyn from Chick Loves Lit mentions a few things NOT to bring to BEA, including more clothes than you’ll need and books of your own. Books will be provided for signings, and that book you have in progress can be saved for bedtime reading in the hotel. Shannyn also explains the shipping setup at the Javits (because you don’t want to carry those new books around all day, do you?) and mentions where to find chairs.

Lexie of Poisoned Rationality has set up a "BEA Info Page" on her blog, and generously sent me a bunch of additional tips to share as well. I’ve condensed them below:
"Stay Hydrated! Whether it's straight water, 100% Cranberry juice, iced tea, hot tea...just drink something liquid related that isn't just soda. You'll need it as you walk around and the Javits begins to get warmer. If you're worried about the added weight in your bag, just remember as you finish a bottle you can chuck it. Or be environmentally friendly and bring a re-fillable water bottle.
"Plan those bathroom breaks! Since BEA can involve waiting and lines, it wouldn't be a bad idea to map out the bathrooms and make a plan within your group either. If you know you've got 45 minutes before the next signing, have a friend save the spot in line and make a dash in pairs.
"Bringing Lunch! I brought my lunch last year for one of the days, and you know, it wasn't that bad of an idea. The problems inherent in this are packing something that doesn't need refrigerating or heating up, and lugging it around until you find time to eat.
"Buying Lunch! If you're staying in the city with pals try to scope out eateries on the way to Javits or by checking out the web. BEA has some dining tips (or they did last year), but honestly the web is more helpful. Don't just go to places you can find at home like McDonald's or TGIFriday's, try out a deli or bistro. There's two or three Whole Foods throughout the area too--take advantage. They often have easy to take out and eat selections because they're used to people just popping in real quick. If you're feeling adventurous head down to the Chelsea Market--a little pricey, but has loads of eating shops with interesting food that's tasty. New York is a mecca for foodies, at least on the East Coast, so take advantage!
"Gush over a book or author while in line. I don't just mean in line for events either, when in line in the morning to get into the Hall, make friends with the folks around you. They may know something you don't, or when you see them later in line they can help you out.
"Lastly...comfort is essential. Javits will be warm, the city will be warmer and at some point you'll hit air conditioning and feel chilled. Avoid jeans (if possible), wear slacks or khaki shorts. Or dresses if you prefer. Wear nice shirts that don't have 'Kiss me I'm Evil' or Stewie Griffin's head chanting his evil mantra. Break in any shoes you plan on wearing (you don't want nasty blisters)."
And for another “view” on BEA prep, Reagan of Miss Remmers’ Review has created a series of vlogs.

In light of my husband’s health episode last week, I seriously considered not going to BEA after all. But as he reminded me, it’s not just BEA; I’m also moderating that session at the Book Blogger Convention. And he knows how long I’ve been getting ready for this, and looking forward to it - so I will be in NYC next week! We’ve lined up family and friends to help out here and check in on him while I’m gone; I’ll be calling and texting him more often than I might have otherwise; and I may not be entirely relaxed about being away from home for six days, but I’ll be there.

I arrive late Monday afternoon and should be at my hotel by around dinnertime. If anyone would like to meet up to eat that evening, please let me know! I’ll be leaving early Saturday afternoon. I hope I’ll get the chance to meet you in New York City!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Indie Lit Awards Update: Readers and Recommendations Wanted!

The Indie Lit Awards, as you’ve probably heard, are making some exciting changes in their second year - new genres to consider and new panelists to consider them. However, not all the changes are being made on the inside; some are intended to broaden participation in the Awards and enlarge the field of contenders.

One exciting change is that any reader will be able to nominate books for the 2011 awards - it will not be necessary to be a book blogger, as it was in 2010! That will make it very easy to join in, as ILA founder Wallace states:
Readers everywhere, get excited! Keep track of your very favorite books that have been published in 2011, and come September through December, help us out by nominating in the genres that you read! It’s easy, and your name and vote are not revealed (we will have private nominating forms this year).
While nominators no longer have to be reviewers, if you are a book blogger/reviewer and would like the chance to read some of the books that will be eligible for 2011 award consideration, you may sign up for the chance to receive review copies in your genre of choice from authors and publishers. We can’t guarantee they’ll come through, but our goal is to get quality new releases into the hands of those who’ll spread the word about them - we want these books to be on people’s minds when nominations open this September!

Since I’m an ILA panelist, I will not be able to nominate in any genre this year, but I am trying to keep up with potential nominees in my Biography/Memoir category and note it in my reviews if they’re eligible. So far this year, I’ve got two:
If you’ve read any qualifying - published for the first time anywhere in 2011 - biographies and/or memoirs you’d like to recommend, please mention them in the comments! Several other panelists are compiling lists of potential nominees in their genres as well. For more details, please be sure to visit the ILA site!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Coping with a crisis, one tweet at a time; or, last week's hospital story

After last week, I really feel that those who would diss people who use social media to reach out during times of crisis honestly don’t get social media. Those of you who follow my Twitter feed or are Facebook friends are probably aware of the crisis my family experienced last week, and which triggered this not-terribly-original observation. A recap follows, via Facebook updates (most of which were pushed from Twitter, so they’re pretty brief).

Starting just after 6 AM on Thursday, May 12:
In the ER. Paul has had 2 seizures in the last 3 hours. I'm scared.
HospitalImage by José Goulão via Flickr
I had been awakened at 2:50 AM by sounds I’d never heard before, and a wildly thrashing husband in the bed beside me. I somehow managed to subdue the thrashing, but I couldn’t wake him or get him to respond to me, so I called 911. Five paramedics arrived quickly and managed to bring him around, but he had no understanding of what had happened. He went to the emergency room via ambulance, and I followed. By the time I got to the hospital, he was awake and resting, but confused.

Paul has no history of seizures and nothing showed up on a CT scan, so the ER was preparing to send us home when he had a second seizure. That changed everything.
They're going to admit him. More later. Please keep him in your thoughts/ prayers
The CT scan after the 1st seizure looked OK, but they've now ordered an MRI as well. This has never happened before. He's resting now.
It was well over an hour before anything else happened. I contacted a few people and tried to read while Paul slept a bit. At 9:40 AM they came to take him for the next test.
He's about to go back for an MRI. Just hanging out in the meantime.
Just found out Paul will be admitted after the MRI's done. Hope we learn something before too long - and that there's no 3rd seizure!
There wasn't a third seizure that day (and since he was started on anti-seizure meds in the hospital that he's now taking twice a day, we hope there never will be one).

By noon the MRI had been taken and Paul was in a room. The hospital has been newly renovated and expanded, and this was easily the nicest hospital room I’ve ever seen.
Just hanging out at the hospital. Paul's MRI was normal, which is good, but now there will be more tests coming. He's sleeping now.
In other news, hospitals can be noisy and boring places where you wait around a lot. Thursday at 12:03pm
Early afternoon on Thursday was taken up with more tests - an EEG for the neurologist who was assigned after the second seizure, a lumbar puncture, and a lot of bloodwork ordered by the infectious-disease specialist who was called in on a consult. Paul was lucky enough to have his own doctor overseeing the medical team. While they were keeping him busy, I reluctantly took a break.
Went home for a bit to shower & change while Paul has more tests. Stepdaughter & her mom are holding down the fort @ the hospital. 
I was back in the room before Paul was - all that testing took a good couple of hours.
Paul's back from a bunch of tests, more comfortable & alert now. Will definitely be staying in the hospital overnight, though.
It was a long day. His ex brought both the kids by to see him, but once they all left, a little before 6 PM, it was pretty much done.
Paul just dozed off. He definitely needs the rest! I'm going to try to read, but I may doze off too! Thanks for all the support today.
Thank you, friends, and good night from Simi Valley Hospital! Hopefully we'll have all Paul's test results by tomorrow & can go home. Thursday May 12, 9:11 PM
Friday began in Room 104:
Morning news: More tests for Paul today after a quiet night (yay sleep!). Once results are in, we hope he can leave - Sat. latest.
Starting off early: Paul's already gone for a second CT scan. Hopefully they'll give him some breakfast afterwards.
In a lull here at the hospital. Guiltily taking my husband's advice to go home for a bit to shower & have breakfast. Back later. Friday May 13, 8:40 AM
A little past noon:
After the crisis, the boring: waiting for test results that will determine when Paul gets discharged. He'd like to go NOW. A good sign?
6 PM:
The discharge paperwork is almost ready. Just waiting...and waiting...and waiting on 1 doctor's input. Hope he shows up soon. Paul wants OUT!
As it happened, we were waiting for two doctors’ input - and when Paul was asked if he still wanted to go home even if it was late in the evening when we got it, he said yes. We were home a little after 9 PM on Friday.

I updated from home on Saturday morning:
We got to spend last night at home, and it was very quiet. Other than some back pain and exhaustion, Paul doesn't seem to be doing too badly physically at this point. He's still asleep. I know he needs it!
Today we have some prescriptions to fill, and Paul will have to make a bunch of follow-up appointments with his medical team. Sadly, he won't be able to get to them on his own. He won't be permitted to drive until his neurologist clears him, and that could be as long as 3 months, depending on further test results and stability on anti-seizure meds. Those of you who know him can imagine how he feels about that - at present, that may be the most upsetting thing about this whole situation for him.
Given the relative locations of our home, jobs, kids' other home, and schools/summer activities - let alone Paul’s continuing medical treatment - this family is looking at some INTERESTING transportation challenges in the short term, folks. If you're local and willing to help out with driving if needed, please message me! (His ex has already volunteered to shift some of the transporting-the-kids responsibilities for the time being.)
I only have one regret about my online activities; one person - who should have been told directly - inadvertently learned about the crisis via my Facebook updates. Paul’s mom was traveling cross-country last Thursday and was inaccessible via phone for several hours. When I tried to contact her, the call went to voicemail...and since this really wasn’t the kind of news I wanted to leave a voicemail about, I just kept trying. My mother-in-law rarely checks in on Facebook, so I really wasn’t worried that she’d find out that way - but I’d forgotten that I’m also friends there with Paul’s cousin and aunt, who did see my updates. Unfortunately, they called my mother-in-law before they checked in with me - she had no idea what was going on, of course, since I hadn’t reached her yet, and was understandably quite upset and confused when we finally did talk to her. I hope she forgives me before too long...because yeah, no one should find out about her son’s medical emergency from Facebook, and I never meant for that to happen.

Aside from that, though, I stand by this update I posted around 10 AM on Thursday morning:
REALLY appreciating the support of all my Twitter. Facebook & IRL friends on this very stressful morning! Thanks for being there, y'all.
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Syndicated on BlogHer.com

Monday, May 16, 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten: Healing, recovery, and self-preservation

Supervised physical therapy may be helpful to ...Image via Wikipedia
(If you think you've seen this post before, there's a reason; it did make a brief appearance last week. But it is being re-published today, having been a casualty of the Great Blogger Outage of 2011 on May 12-13. )

You never really notice how used to something you’ve become until it’s not there any more - or as Joni Mitchell put it, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” That thought usually serves to remind us not to take good things for granted, but it also applies to not-so-good things we just learn to get used to...until, one day, we notice we don’t have to accommodate them anymore. Something has gone away; something has healed.

Before I sought treatment for depression, some of the feelings associated with it had been present for so long that I’d decided the way they shaped my worldview must be my “normal,” then and now and for the foreseeable future. However, “normal” isn’t necessarily a synonym for “healthy,” and that’s something I don’t think I fully grasped until some time after an effective combination of therapy and medication got me to a better place.

The healing process is more straightforward for physical injuries, perhaps, but there are similarities. It’s been ten months since I originally dislocated my right shoulder. I re-injured it a few months later, and had surgery in January to correct the problem - hopefully, for good. My recovery during the last several months hasn’t just been from the surgery itself; it’s also been a time of addressing the underlying conditions that made the shoulder unstable in the first place, and developing the strength to use it properly and keep it where it belongs.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that certain routine movements of my arm - mostly reaching - weren’t causing me pain any more...and recalled that prior to surgery, they had, and they’d been doing it for awhile. I’d taught myself to make those movements more gingerly and cautiously to minimize the pain, and it still feels strange to realize it’s not there (although it's still wise for me to move with care). For the months between the original injury and the surgery, my right arm and shoulder would feel fatigued and sore for the rest of the day after doing the grocery shopping or cleaning up around the house; now they don’t. I was unable to sleep on my right side for months, and had required an extra pillow to support my arm; it’s no longer necessary.

At my last follow-up with my orthopedist, I was cleared to discontinue physical therapy and advised that I could pursue most activities other than contact sports. (No loss; I never played contact sports before I injured my shoulder. I am a certified non-jock. You may recall that I dislocated it - twice - simply tripping and falling while walking.) I will be seeing him again at the end of June - exactly a year after all this started - and perhaps that will be my last visit. He’s done an excellent job, as did the physical-therapy team, but I can’t honestly say I’ll miss any of them.

Some people may feel invulnerable after recovering from a major injury or illness, but I’m not one of them. I find it hard to let go of just a little fear of recurrence, and I feel like I need that fear to help keep me on the right path to maintain well-being. That’s a lesson learned the hard way; having ceased to focus on keeping up the healthy habits that helped me lose almost 30 pounds several years ago, I’ve now gained it all back, and am on medication for high cholesterol to boot. Clearly, I need to pay attention - to how I’m feeling, to what I’m eating, and to where I’m walking. Sometimes when you notice something’s gone, you realize it really isn’t something you wanted to have in the first place, and there’s no sense of nostalgia associated with it; you’re pretty sure you don’t want it back again.
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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday Salon: The "on-the-fly" edition

The Sunday Salon.com

As some readers know, my blogging habit is to write my posts in advance and then schedule them to publish. I didn't have one written for today and had thought I'd skip this week's Salon, but as I skimmed my Reader this morning and saw others' posts popping up, I felt the urge to join in. This will probably be relatively short; it wasn't a big week for reflection.

It wasn't a bad one for reviewing, however. I posted my review of Jennifer Haigh's new novel, Faith, here on Wednesday as part of its TLC Book Tour.  On Friday, I participated in the BlogHer Book Club with a review of Jean Kwok's popular first novel, Girl in Translation, now available in paperback. Both are recommended. 

By the way, Haigh's novel, as a 2011 release, will be eligible for nomination in the Literary Fiction category of this year's Indie Lit Awards. I'll be sharing a couple of exciting new developments in the ILAs later this week, so please watch for that update!

And speaking of BlogHer.com, it has a new dedicated Books page! If you're a book blogger who hasn't yet joined this community, what are you waiting for? In addition to fresh bookish content, there will be Featured Bloggers regularly highlighted on the page - and I'm honored to be the first one :-).
I'm still reading A Canticle for Leibowitz; fortunately for me, we're delaying the start of the Faith & Fiction Roundtable discussion for a few more days. With luck, I'll get further with it today; I'm roughly 2/3 done.

BEA is just a week away! I recently asked some experienced BEA-goers to share some advice for newbies; I'm finally getting that compiled and will post that later this week as well. If you have some tips to share, it's still not too late to get them in! 

And if you're not BEA-bound - or you are, but you're like me and will be double-teaming - please watch for the Armchair BEA schedule to be posted this week too!

No comments on the Great Blogger Outage of 2011, because I had a blogging "outage" of my own last Thursday and Friday and missed the whole thing. If you're a Twitter follower or Facebook friend of mine, you're probably aware of the health crisis my family experienced late last week; I'll be recapping all of that here in a day or two. For now, I'll just report that we came home from the hospital on Friday night, and my husband will be undergoing a good deal of outpatient follow-up and some short-term lifestyle changes that he's not at all happy about. I also want to thank everyone who posted messages of their thoughts, prayers, and support during our hospital experience (please keep them coming, because this isn't all over yet!) - I've never doubted the good of social media, but it was gratifying to see it at work personally!

We're hoping for a peaceful Sunday around here - I hope yours will be, too!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Book Talk at BlogHer.com: *Girl in Translation*, by Jean Kwok

In the early 1900s, my mother’s family made a journey from the south of Italy to New York City. They found work in the factories and homes in the tenements, and many of them never ventured much further after that. Most of the women - my great-aunts - went to work in the factories of the city’s garment district, where they spent their adult lives producing clothing.

Decades later, Kimberly Chang and her mother made a journey from Hong Kong to New York City, and before long, they were working in a clothing factory and living in a tenement. 

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok was one of two books I read during last month's 24-Hour Readathon, and my review is posted today at the BlogHer Book Club. BlogHers will be discussing Girl in Translation all month; please stop by and see what we've said about this highly readable debut novel, which is now available in paperback.

Disclosure: BlogHer Book Club members were provided with copies of the new paperback edition of Girl in Translation by the publisher in order to facilitate their reviews. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Book Talk: *Faith*, by Jennifer Haigh (TLC Book Tour)

Faith: A Novel
Jennifer Haigh
Harper (May 2011), Hardcover (ISBN 0060755806 / 9780060755805)
Fiction, 304 pages
Source: ARC from publisher, via TLC Book Tours
Reason for reading: Blog tour, personal interest (known author)

Opening lines*: “Here is a story my mother has never told me.

“It is a day she’s relived a thousand times, the 21st of June, 1951, the longest day of that or any year. A day that still hasn’t ended, as some part of her still paces that dark apartment in Jamaica Plain, waiting.”
Book description: Estranged for years from her difficult and demanding relatives, Sheila McGann has remained close to her older brother Art, the popular, dynamic pastor of a large parish in suburban Boston. When Art finds himself at the center of a scandal, Sheila returns to Boston, ready to fight for him and his reputation. What she discovers is more complicated than she imagined. Her strict, lace-curtain-Irish mother is living in a state of angry denial. Sheila's younger brother Mike, to her horror, has already convicted his brother in his heart. But most disturbing of all is Art himself, who persistently dodges Sheila's questions and refuses to defend himself. 
As the scandal forces long-buried secrets to surface, Faith explores the corrosive consequences of one family's history of silence—and the resilience its members ultimately find in forgiveness.
Comments: It’s actually a bit sad that the first thing that comes to mind about the Catholic Church in the 21st century for many people is the pedophile-priests scandals. Granted, one reason for that is that the Church has, in many respects, handled the whole thing poorly - shuffling accused perpetrators to new parishes, paying off claims to make them go away, and essentially adopting a policy of denial at the institutional level. But the Church isn’t just an institution - it’s its people, too. Jennifer Haigh’s new novel, Faith, explores on the effects of the scandal on the people in one Boston family.

Haigh’s earlier novel, Baker Towers, also featured ethnic Catholic characters, but the church plays an even larger role in the lives of the Irish-American McGanns of suburban Boston, whose eldest son, Arthur, hasn’t lived outside it since his early teens - until Easter weekend of 2002, when everything instantly changes. The Boston Archdiocese has been at the epicenter of the crisis, and it reacts quickly - and in its own interest - to protect itself when an accusation is made against Father Art.

While Art’s mother Mary refuses to hear anything against him, his brother Mike is all too ready to believe the charges. Their sister Sheila - the only member of the family who has broken away from both the Church and Boston - just wants to know what really happened.

Sheila’s efforts to get at the truth, and to record it, form the narrative framework of Faith - and for me, that framework was problematic. I’m fine with first-person narration, third-person narration, and shifting points of view. However, I’m not a fan of the first-person narrator who drifts in and out of the story primarily as an observer and reporter, relating the actions and thoughts of other characters in an “as-told-to” manner. I’m not saying it isn’t an effective device - it works well enough here, and having a narrator who is a part of the story, even tangentially, did enhance its emotional resonance - but it can also come across as overly deliberate and self-conscious, which I think happened here at times.

Even so, I was quickly drawn into the story itself, and despite feeling that being filtered through Sheila’s perspective keeps the other characters at a slight remove from the reader, I still found them complex and convincing. The story’s path wasn’t entirely predictable, and I appreciated being surprised by some of the turns it took. But Haigh’s strength in this novel, as it has been in her previous ones, is depicting the complications of family relationships - here, they’re colored by the multiple meanings of the title. Religious faith, as reflected in the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church, obviously plays a large role, but so does the concept of “faith” conveyed through belief and trust in those we know and love.

Faith explores a timely topic in an intimate and unexpected manner, and makes for a thoughtful and memorable read.

Rating: 4/5

*All quotes are from an advance uncorrected proof and may not precisely match the finished book.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to join this tour - please visit their site for more information about the novel and other reviews!

*This book will be eligible for nomination for the 2011 Indie Lit Award in Literary Fiction - nominations open in September 2011*

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The mighty Mississippi swallows Memphis in May

The Hernando de Soto Bridge in Memphis, Tennes...The Hernando De Soto Bridge (I-40 between Memphis TN and West Memphis AR) Image via Wikipedia
This is the time of year when I get most nostalgic for the city where my son grew up, and which I still think of as my hometown, although it's been four years since my last visit. May is usually a fine time to be in Memphis, but this year there's something besides the Beale Street Music Festival and the World Barbecue Cooking Championship to catch people's attention...or send them fleeing.

As the Mississippi River is expected to crest at 48 feet today, evacuations have been ordered and the levees are being closely monitored. The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported yesterday that the river was three miles wide in downtown Memphis - it's normally just half a mile wide there. Downtown spots like Beale Street and Tom Lee Park - home of the Barbecue Contest, still scheduled for this coming weekend - are underwater, but they still drew visitors from all over on Sunday to witness the river as it approached a historic height; meanwhile, flooding sent residents of neighborhoods on the western end of the city out of their homes and into shelters.

A more tranquil Mississippi River, May 2007

The view west from downtown Memphis doesn't look quite like this right now, and it may be weeks before it begins to resemble it again. The Mid-South Red Cross is already at work assisting flood victims, although they have not yet established a formal dedicated relief operation, and they'll have plenty more to do before it's all over. My thoughts are with my friends back in the Mid-South today...and I hope you'll spare some of yours for them, too.
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Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day without Mother? Meh.

Happy Mother's DayImage via Wikipedia
This post was originally published on the now-defunct Los Angeles Moms Blog in May 2010, and has been lightly re-edited for posting here.

I hope you had a lovely Mother's Day. It was pretty much an ordinary Sunday for me.
Due to certain oddities of the calendar and the custody schedule, it seems that more often than not, my husband's kids have been with him on Father's Day...and on Mother's Day. I feel a little strange about that. In the nearly five years I've been married to their father, I've tried my best not to step on the the toes of my stepchildren's mother, and I'm ambivalent about whether I expect or want any special attention from her kids on Mother's Day - I don't really feel entitled to it. I love my stepchildren - they're with their father and me two nights a week and every other weekend and are a huge part of my life, and I'd like to believe they feel the same way about me. But we all know I'm only "like a mother" to them, and it doesn't seem right to expect the treatment due to the person who is their mother on Mother's Day.

Then again, I don't really get much of that treatment from my own son on Mother's Day either, and the fact that he's grown and living three thousand miles away is only part of the reason why. I'm actually pretty satisfied that my son appreciates me year-round, and while I'm happy to get a phone call or instant message from him wishing me a Happy Mother's Day, I'm not wounded if it doesn't happen. (I'll probably hear from him a day or two later, in any case.) Like author Anne Lamott, I didn't raise my son to celebrate Mother's Day...although, as she discussed in a May 2010 article for Salon.com, her reasons for that choice were more political than mine. She reflected on an ambivalence about the place of mothers in society that's much bigger than my own, and suggested that

"No one is more sentimentalized in America than mothers on Mother's Day, but no one is more often blamed for the culture's bad people and behavior. You want to give me chocolate and flowers? That would be great. I love them both. I just don't want them out of guilt, and I don't want them if you're not going to give them to all the people who helped mother our children."
And when it comes to "people who mother our children," the fact is that sometimes those people aren't their mothers, and that may be because sometimes their mothers aren't around to do that job any more.
Hope Edelman, author of the motherhood memoir The Possibility of Everything, lost her mother to cancer at the age of 17 and may be best known for her earlier book Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss. I read that book eleven years ago, just after my own mother died, and it helped me come to terms with my entry into the Motherless Daughters Club. In a post on her personal blog, Edelman talked about Motherless Daughters Day (observed on the Saturday before Mother's Day since 1996) and how it's helped her deal with not having her mom around on Mother's Day:

"(F)or many years Mother’s Day was such a dark spot on my calendar. Without a mother to honor on that day, I felt there was no place for me to fit. In the seventeen years since Motherless Daughters was first published, I’ve heard from many readers who’ve felt and still feel the same way. Even those with children of their own feel the absence of their mothers more acutely on the day set aside specifically to remember the ones who birthed us. The initiative for a national Mother’s Day was started in 1907 by a motherless daughter who was looking for a public way to honor all mothers, but somehow evolved into a day to honor only those who are living (and able to physically receive bouquets of flowers and Hallmark cards). But where did that leave women whose mothers had died or were otherwise absent?"
I was lucky enough to get a mother-in-law who's like a mother to me when her son became my second husband in October of 2006 (and I became like a mother to his daughter and son). But on the day when we're expected to make moms the center of attention, it still feels odd to be unable to do that for mine, while at the same time I'm not sure how much I really want the kids in my life to that for me.

But if you wanted the kids in your life to do that for you, and you have your mom around so you could do that for her, I hope it was a wonderful Sunday for you all.
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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sunday Salon: Happy Mother's Day!

The Sunday Salon.com

For those of you celebrating, best wishes for a Happy Mother’s Day! I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the holiday tomorrow, but there are no particular plans for it around here. My gift to myself will be a clean house, which I’ll finish working on this morning; then we’re off to the movies to see Thor (the dad’s pick, to be honest, but I’ve been warming up to it - and it’s based on a comic book that’s based on Norse mythology, so that’s bookish, right?). My stepkids will be returning to their mom’s house a couple of hours early tonight, which seems appropriate for the day.

I’ve just started reading A Canticle for Leibowitz for the next Faith & Fiction Roundtable discussion, but I will be very surprised if I’m done with it before the discussion starts. I’m already intrigued, though. Have you read it? Care to share any (spoiler-free!) thoughts or impressions?

May will turn out to be a big month for planned reading. In addition to FnFRT, I’ve got a book-tour post scheduled for the first of June - a book that’s a change of pace for me, as it’s from my guilty-pleasure genre and I don’t indulge in that very often. Another tour is scheduled for mid-June, but the book is a chunkster and I want to get an early start on it. Besides those, I’ve also received the galleys for my first two reviews for Shelf Awareness’ new Consumer edition, which will be due by early June as well. I’m actually looking forward to my long plane rides to New York for BEA/BBC in a couple of weeks, as they should provide some excellent - and necessary - reading time!

I know my commitment to two reviews per month for Shelf Awareness is going to be a big factor in my reading plans going forward, but I hope that in another month or two I’ll be able to fit in more books that don’t require reviews (although they’ll get them anyway, since that remains the founding principle of this blog!).

Are you reading anything remarkable right now - and are you reading it for yourself? Do you review the books you read even when they're not "review books"?

Reviews posted since last report:

New to TBR Purgatory:

Have a great Sunday!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Week-End Review: Links and such, such as they are...

I know, I haven’t been around much lately, and my posting may continue to be erratic for the rest of May. The audit at work is winding down (yay!) and I’m done with physical therapy (also yay!), but I’ve got several reading-and-reviewing assignment deadlines coming up soon, and a couple of BEAs - actual and Armchair - to prepare for, so blogging time remains at a premium. That applies to my blog-reading as well as posting, so the link collection today is pretty small and spans a couple of weeks.

With apologies in advance to my small number of male readers (which I suspect may be getting even smaller by the week), the next few items here are probably not going to do much for you. Might I suggest you check out my nerd culture post from earlier this week, if you missed it? Or this reflection on the uncomfortable similarities between politics and sports these days? Then come on back for a some more reading-related reading!

OK, gals, now that they’ve been distracted...

The problem with romance novels is that they can create problems with your own ideas of romance...

...not to mention problems with perceiving literary merit in women’s writing, given that most romance fiction is authored by women. However, it’s far from the only type of writing that women do, and it’s not a type I happen to read much, personally, although I do read significantly more books written by women than by men. Part of this is driven by my feelings about “the sisterhood,” but it’s also because, like Amy, my reading preferences lean toward stories about women, by women.

Also: Does being a woman mean you must also be a lady? And another analogy which may resonate more with women: Creativity and community - is blogging a new version of the knitting circle?

Are we all back now? Moving on...

PSA from Sheila: Blogging and reading can be a real pain in the neck sometimes

Here’s a system for managing polygamous reading - would you try it? And do you think it’s time to develop a standard star-ratings system for book reviews? (I have to agree with one of the points made in that post: the ability to assign half-stars in LibraryThing is one of the many reasons it’s my preferred book site.)

A New England literary pilgrimage sounds like a fine vacation idea for book lovers of either sex (via Kim on Facebook). But if you prefer a more budget-friendly escape, don’t forget that tomorrow (Saturday, May 7) is Free Comic Book Day!

Now, tell us about something interesting that you've read or done during the last couple of weeks!