Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Matchmaker, Matchmaker: A Few Post-Process Thoughts (#BBBSys)

Book Blogger Buddy System #BBBSys Emblem
All current participants in the Book Blogger Buddy System (#BBBSys) have now been e-mailed their match details! If you know you signed up and haven't received an e-mail by Wednesday, October 31, please check your bulk-e-mail and spam folders, and then follow up with me with a tweet to @florinda_3rs or an e-mail at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com. This round of sign-ups closed on October 12, but barring disaster, we'll open up #BBBSys again in April 2013.

As you might imagine, it took the better part of a couple of days to pair up Book Blogger Buddies, and at just under 50 participants, the pool was relatively small. I took two runs at the list, and although I didn't keep a tally, I think I moved at least a third of the participants around to new matches on the second pass.

I considered stated match preferences concerning level of blogging experience, blogging platform, and content, but couldn't give all preferences equal weight. The easiest matches may have been those who only had preferences in one of those areas--and matching those with no expressed preferences was harder than you might think! Some matches seemed to fall into place readily, and several pairings made me especially happy. In a few other cases, I'm still a little unsure about the match, but keeping my fingers crossed!

I had mentioned in an earlier post that I was a bit surprised by how many of the #BBBSys participants self-identified as book-blogging "elders," but that maybe I shouldn't have been. As an "elder" myself, I probably also shouldn't have been surprised that well over half of the bloggers who signed up are people that I already know--mostly through their blogs and social media, of course, but there are several that I've met personally.

However, I was a bit surprised by that--I'm often surprised to realize just how many bloggers I've encountered over five and a half years of this! And it added some wrinkles to the matching process, because I know who I know, but don't always know who other people know. In order to make the mixes more interesting, I made a deliberate effort to avoid matching bloggers whom I know are friendly with each other. but the biggest source of anxiety in the entire exercise was that I might match two bloggers who already know and DO NOT like each other. It may have happened. If it did, I'm sorry--but I didn't know, and if we get to do this again, I'll try to do better by you!

If we do this again in 2013 and have more sign-ups--which is possible, if the first group is largely happy with their experience and helps get the word out--the match process may have to run a little differently. I don't feel that I can thoughtfully consider and manage the connection process among a larger group all by myself. I'll either have to ask for a few people (probably from among the current group) to help me review the form data, or set up some kind of random exchange system. That could work, but at this point it's not my vision for #BBBSys. We'll see how things go.

Book Blogger Buddy System participants are not required to blog about their experience, but if you have any thoughts or feedback to share with me during the next few months, please e-mail me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com.

Monday, October 29, 2012

At the movies: *Argo*

ARGO poster image, via trailer @ RottenTomatoes.com

Warner Bros. (official movie website)
Drama/Supense, 2012 (rated R)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin
Written by: Chris Terrio
Directed by: Ben Affleck

Synopsis, via RottenTomatoes.com:
Based on true events, Argo chronicles the life-or-death covert operation to rescue six Americans, which unfolded behind the scenes of the Iran hostage crisis-the truth of which was unknown by the public for decades. On November 4, 1979, as the Iranian revolution reaches its boiling point, militants storm the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. But in the midst of the chaos, six Americans manage to slip away and find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Knowing it is only a matter of time before the six are found out and likely killed, a CIA "exfiltration" specialist named Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with a risky plan to get them safely out of the country. A plan so incredible, it could only happen in the movies. -- (C) Warner Bros.

When the folks at one of my very favorite podcasts, Pop Culture Happy Hour, were discussing the new movie Argo a couple of weeks ago, it was part of a conversation about the nature of “suspense” in storytelling--specifically, the particulars of building suspense when the audience already knows how the story ends. As someone who’s not terribly spoiler-phobic and whose main interest is usually in seeing how a story gets to where it’s going, even if I already know where that is, I think that’s always a conversation worth having.

I think it comes down to fundamentals: having a good story to tell. And the story in Argo is a damn good one--one of those crazy tales that would sound completely implausible if it hadn’t actually happened. And because it actually happened, we already know going in that this very risky scheme was successfully accomplished. Even with that knowledge, I was on the edge of my seat with a knot in my stomach for most of the time I was watching Argo  The stakes in this movie are the highest--real people’s lives are in the balance.

I was in high school during the 444 days of the hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Iran--old enough to be aware of it, young enough to tune out much of the news about it. I don’t remember ever hearing that on Day 87, six Americans made it out of the country--thanks to the Canadians. The fact that it wasn’t solely thanks to the Canadians wasn’t made known until the documents about the CIA’s planning and execution of the mission were declassified in the late 1990s. Given that the cover story to get those “houseguests” out of Iran involved the making of a Hollywood movie, it was probably only a matter of time before Hollywood made a movie about the mission.

This particular Hollywood movie could be a textbook example of what can result when Hollywood does its best at what it does. Argo is not particularly innovative, but it’s genuinely well-made--good writing, straightforward direction, an excellent cast, and an involving story that depends on serious human drama. That said, there are parts of the movie that are seriously funny. I think those of us who live in the entertainment “company town” of Los Angeles, even if we’re not directly involved in that company, particularly appreciate when the industry is honest about its own inherent BS. Given that its central plot device is a fake movie, there are plenty of opportunities for Argo to do that, and they really help balance the mood of the film.

Considering the Hollywood fakery set against the life-and-death conditions in Iran, Argo has some potential for jarring shifts in tone--and fortunately, it succeeds at avoiding them. I think it succeeds pretty much across the board, actually--it’s entertaining, emotionally engaging, suspenseful, inspiring, and very well-crafted. It may not end up being my favorite movie of 2012, but it’s one of the best films I’ve seen all year.

Friday, October 26, 2012

GIVEAWAY: Celebrate TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD's 50th Anniversary at a Movie Theater Near You!

I don't do giveaways here very often, but when Harper Perennial invited me to host one for this very special event, I couldn't say no!

You’ve read the book…now see it come to life on movie screens nationwide!
Description: cid:image001.jpg@01CDB04A.96FB6A20

For one day only, on Thursday, November 15th, select movie theaters nationwide will show the award-winning film version of Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, in a special TCM Event Series screening in honor of its 50th anniversary. In partnership with Fathom Events, Harper Perennial is offering YOU a chance to win 2 tickets for this event, plus a copy of the book!

PRIZE PACK: 2 tickets to the event at the movie theater nearest you, and a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. 

  1. Here's the list of participating theaters; click this link to see if the movie will be screening at one near you. All participating theaters will screen the movie at 7 PM local time. Select theaters may offer matinee showings--please check the list for details. 
  2. Provide your information on the form at the end of this post. (Entries that do not include the name and location of the theater where you would see the film will not be counted!)
  3. Bonus Entry: Share this giveaway post in one social-media outlet of your choice--your own blog/Facebook/Twitter--and leave the link to your post or status update in the comment section.
I will select a winner at random by the end of the day on Sunday, October 28 and contact that person via e-mail to request mailing information. The winner's book and movie tickets will be sent directly from Harper Perennial. 

Good luck!

Disclosure: As a host for this giveaway, I will receive two tickets a local screening of To Kill a Mockingbird from Harper Perennial.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

(Audio)Book Talk: *The Night Circus*, by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus
Erin Morgenstern (Twitter) (Facebook)
Audiobook performed by Jim Dale
Doubleday (2011), hardcover (ISBN 0385534639 / 9780385534635)
Fiction, 400 pages
Source; purchased audiobook (Audible ASIN B005MM7F7W)
Reason for reading: personal, seasonal

Opening lines: “The circus arrives without warning.

“No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

“The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.

“But it is not open for business. Not just yet.”
Book description, from the publisher’s website:The circus is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.
Comments: The Night Circus was first published last September, and was one of the “It Books” at BEA 2011. I managed to get an ARC, and for much of last autumn, I read one glowing review after another...but couldn’t seem to bring myself around to reading the book itself. My interest in it languished until one evening this past spring, in New York City, when I was immersed in the mind-warping theatrical weirdness that is Sleep No More (and which Teresa and (Other) Jenny both describe far better than I can possibly manage)--and learned, in a conversation after the show, that it had inspired Erin Morgenstern’s “Le Cirque des Rêves.” That nugget stuck with me, and when I decided that I wanted to do some seasonally-appropriate reading this month, The Night Circus was on my short list. But it’s a long book, and my “advance” copy is well past its “best by” date anyway, so I chose to read it by ear instead of in print. The audio version of The Night Circus is performed by Jim Dale, who is probably best known for his work on the Harry Potter audiobooks, and therefore has a pretty solid background in otherworldly fiction.

Morgenstern has a real talent for physical description, and I was impressed by how clearly her words evoked the sights and sounds and people of the circus for me. That said, I'm not sure how I would have perceived them if I hadn't seen Sleep No More, because my experience with that production definitely informed what I imagined Le Cirque des Rêves to be like. The story surrounding the circus, however, comes from somewhere else.

The circus was essentially created as a venue for a competition played out over decades between two people who are the subjects of a bet made by two other people. The bettors, Hector and Alexander, have had a long-standing rivalry based on their different approaches to practicing magic, and have engaged in several challenges by proxy over their long acquaintance, pitting their students against one another. This time, the players are Hector's own daughter, Celia, and Alexander's orphaned ward, Marco. What their teachers don't anticipate is that their subjects will be drawn more toward collaboration than competition, and that will change the game completely.

The Night Circus' plot is intriguing but not groundbreaking, and the character development isn't particularly deep. I did particularly appreciate one subset of characters: the "rêveurs," the circus' dedicated followers. The way they bond their fascination with this particular entertainment--corresponding with each other about it, and ultimately meeting in person to experience it together--made me think of more modern fandoms...or of book bloggers.

But for me, the novel's strengths are in its structure--a non-linear narrative moving back and forward in time until it eventually converges, while shifting perspectives among several of the characters--and its sense of atmosphere. There's an acceptance of the unexplained that seems to arise both from the magical elements and the greater personal reserve of the novel's Victorian-era setting. I don't think what Morgenstern does here is properly "magical realism," but magic is employed matter-of-factly and is integral to the story, although she's not explicitly dealing with a "magical" world in the Harry Potter sense.

But the Potter connection is implied, intentionally or not, by the choice of narrator for the audiobook. Based on his reading of The Night Circus, I'd say all of those Audie Awards Jim Dale has won are thoroughly deserved, and I think my next reading of the Harry Potter books will be his audio versions. And like Harry Potter's story, The Night Circus is set to become a movie. It's such a visual, theatrical tale that I think it could make a very good film. I just hope it turns out the way I pictured it.

Rating: Book 3.75/5, Audio 4.25/5

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Status Report: Book Blogger Buddy System Matchmaking in Progress!

Sign-ups for the initial round of Book Blogger Buddy System matchmaking closed on October 12, and there was a terrific response--almost 50 people are willing to take the plunge! That may not sound huge, but considering that I'm doing all the matching by myself, it's a nice number--big enough to be gratified by the level of interest, but still at a level where just one person can manage it!

That said, I had no time to manage it for the first week after sign-ups closed! I'm at work on it now, though. Here's a little status report, with my apologies for the delay.

To me, the most interesting thing about the book bloggers who've signed up so far is that over half classified themselves as "elders" who have been blogging for at least four years, and almost half of that group expressed a preference for a buddy with a similar level of experience. Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised by that, though, because I'm pretty much in the same place--still liking it enough to want to keep going, but wanting to build up the sense of connection that keeps it worth doing. It will present a few interesting challenges, though...not the least of which is that I know of some of the existing blogger friendships among this particular subgroup, and I'll have to balance that with trying to make new connections between them.

The #BBBSys Connection Form asked participants about their matching preferences in three areas: level of blogging experience, book interests/blogging content, and tech/blogging platform used. Although I will make my best effort to sync up all three preferences, my plan is to apply those preferences in that order. If all goes well, I'll hit more marks than I miss--wish me luck!

It's my goal to have e-mails out to all participants by the end of October, giving them the names, e-mail addresses, and blogs of their new buddies (and that includes one poor unfortunate who'll end up being matched with me!). Once those go out, I'll ask participants to do these things:

  • Contact your buddy via e-mail within 3-5 days to make introductions and start a discussion about what each of you want from this (chances are that it'll fall through the cracks if it's not done fairly soon). 
  • Start reading one another's blogs, if you don't already, and follow each other on social media.
  • Please remember that you've been asked to maintain this buddy match-up for six months.

There really aren't any other "rules" for this. Once the match-ups are made, I'll be stepping out of the equation (except with my own Buddy, of course), and each set of Buddies will determine for themselves how they want the arrangement to work.

If you signed up for the Book Blogger Buddy System, please watch your inbox during the next week for your match information! And if you missed the initial round, the plan is to open it up again next spring, so watch for that announcement in April...unless this whole thing goes down in flames, of course! (Fingers crossed that it won't.)

Thanks to The Estella Society for supporting this project!

Book Blogger Buddy System

Participants are under no obligation to blog about their membership or experiences in the Book Blogger Buddy System, but if you choose to do so, please feel free to use this photo emblem in your posts and/or add it to your blog's sidebar!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Talk: *Gone Girl*, by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl
Gillian Flynn (Facebook)
Crown (2012), Hardcover (ISBN 030758836X / 9780307588364)
Fiction, 432 pages
Source: purchased e-book (E-ISBN 9780307588388)
Reason for reading: personal, seasonal

Opening lines: “When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it.
Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the
Victorians would call finely shaped head. You could imagine the
skull quite easily.

“I’d know her head anywhere.

“And what’s inside it.”
Book description, from the publisher’s website:
Marriage can be a real killer.
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? 
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
Comments: Gone Girl has been one of those "everyone's talking about it" books since early this past summer. I don't read a lot of genre fiction--which, as a murder mystery, this technically is--but I wanted to read this one before people stopped talking about it. That said, it's really not that easy to talk about, between the potential spoiler minefield of any plot discussion--it is a murder mystery--and the fact that...yeah, almost everyone's talked about it already.

I haven't read any of Gillian Flynn's fiction before this (although I do remember reading the book reviews she wrote for Entertainment Weekly several years back), but I have seen it praised, and I understand why. In Gone Girl she smartly blends plot-based suspense with psychological intrigue, and does it through the alternating perspectives of two unreliable--and frequently unlikable--narrators. The novel explores some provocative and unsettling questions about marriage: in general, its particular shape for any two people involved in it, and just how much of our real selves we allow into it.

But I wouldn't advise taking Nick and Amy Dunne as any sort of models for marriage, even of the cautionary variety. They're one of those couples whose individual dysfunctionalities match up well enough to form an entity with its own unique flavor of screwed-up. Flynn's insights into both of their minds had me questioning, shifting allegiances, and anxious to see how it would all play out. And for me, it was the twists and turns of Amy and Nick's thoughts, even more than the plot in which they're involved, that made Gone Girl riveting reading. It's dark, disturbing, and perfect for this spooky-reading time of year.

Rating: 4 of 5

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Picture It: Flea Market Finds (of the oddball kind)

You probably already figured this out, but I'm having a "not much time to write" week, so the photoblogs are running hot and heavy right now! Tall Paul and I visited the monthly Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena last Sunday, and we mostly came back with pictures.

The flea market can be some inexpensive entertainment...

stilt walker at Rose Bowl Flea Market, 10/14/2012unicyclist at Rose Bowl Flea Market (10/14/2012)

...especially if you find bad decor entertaining...

Rose Bowl Flea Market furniture vendors

...and pop-culture artifacts...

Star Trek character toys
A Klingon, a starship commander, and a Ferengi walk into in a bar...
...not to mention freaky-looking figures and scary dolls.

Assorted collectible dolls and figures, Rose Bowl Flea Market (10/12/2012)

(Some things may be best appreciated if you're a fan of Oddities.)

All photos taken by me using Camera + on iPhone. Photos edited with the iPhoto app for iOS and Picfx. Collages built with PicFrame on iPad.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

(Audio)Book Talk: *A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty*, by Joshilyn Jackson

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty: A Novel
Joshilyn Jackson (Facebook) (Twitter)
Audiobook read by the author
Grand Central Publishing (September 2012), Paperback (ISBN 0446582360 / 9780446582360)
Fiction, 352 pages
Source: purchased audiobook (Audible ASIN B0071H413M)
Reason for reading: personal

Opening lines: “My daughter, Liza, put her heart in a silver box and buried it under the willow tree in our backyard. Or as close to under that tree as she could anyway. The thick web of roots
shunted her off to the side, to the place where the willow’s long fingers trailed down. They swept back and forth across the troubled earth, helping Liza smooth away the dig marks.

It was foolish. There’s no way to hide things underground in Mississippi. Our rich, wet soil turns every winter burial into a spring planting. Over the years Liza’s heart, small and cold and broken as it was, grew into a host of secrets that could ruin us all and cost us Mosey, Liza’s own little girl. I can’t blame Liza, though. She was young and hurt, and she did the best she could.

And after all, I’m the damn fool who went and dug it up.”
Book description, from the publisher’s website:
Fifteen-year-old Mosey Slocumb--spirited, sassy, and on the cusp of womanhood--is shaken when a small grave is unearthed in the backyard, and determined to figure out why it's there. Liza, her stroke-ravaged mother, is haunted by choices she made as a teenager. But it is Ginny, Mosey's strong and big-hearted grandmother, whose maternal love braids together the strands of the women's shared past--and who will stop at nothing to defend their future.
Comments: I haven’t actually read a Joshilyn Jackson novel since her first, gods in Alabama (pre-blog), but I have a couple of them hanging around in TBR Purgatory. However, I recently decided to skip over them in favor of reading her latest, A Grown-up Kind of Pretty, in audiobook, as narrated by Jackson herself.

Jackson is a perfect reader for her own work. Her fiction's Southern voice is unmistakable, and her southern-accented speaking voice reinforces that. She tells the Slocumb women's story in three voices--first-person narration alternating between grandmother Ginny and teenage Mosey, with occasional flashback chapters from daughter Liza's distanced, brain-damaged perspective--and succeeds in giving each a distinctive sound, defining them perhaps more effectively than the writing alone might.

I thought the character I'd relate to most in this novel would be Ginny--we're in the same age range and both entered motherhood when we were a bit too young for it, although Ginny's story of early parenthood is a lot more reminiscent of Lorelai Gilmore's--but frankly, there were times she irritated me. I really enjoyed her granddaughter Mosey, though, a convincing and endearing teenager. But all that said, the plot of A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty hooked me more than the characters. Long-buried secrets seem to be a staple in Jackson's fiction, and she's come up with some good ones here, with twists that I wasn't able to anticipate. While I felt that the story eventually took a few turns into cliché Southern-melodrama territory, for the most part I enjoyed the ride--which seems an appropriate thing to say about a book I "read" on my daily commute.

Rating: Book 3.5/5; Audio 4/5

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Picture It: When Pigs Fly...

Flying pig balloon (edited with Picfx on iPad)

...and other things seen during an hour of walking in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life this past weekend.

Relay for Life, Simi Valley CA 10/12/2012 (collage created using PicFrame on iPad)

This turned out to be a good opportunity for my sister and me to help a good cause and spend some one-on-one time. We're half-considering doing more walks like this for both of those reasons.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Create, Connect, Retreat, Reflect: Four Words, One Weekend

Creative Alliance'12
I'll be honest: I didn’t have particularly strong reasons for wanting to attend Creative Alliance ‘12. The strongest was probably that Kim Tracy Prince is one of my personal influencers, and she’d been lauding the inaugural Creative Alliance retreat ever since she participated in 2010. Other points in its favor were that it was small (attendance was capped at 50), almost local (Ojai, California is just about an hour’s drive from home), mostly unsponsored, and programmed based on conversations rather than presentations. Aside from the fact that I figured I’d be the only book blogger there (and I was right about that) it sounded pretty much like my kind of thing...

...except for the “creative” part, which was a real stumbling block for this book-blogging accountant. Even when I was much younger and used to draw pictures all the time (like my mother), I never really thought I was especially “creative.” I’ve come to consider myself a writer during the last five years, but most of what I write about is what other people write. Where’s the creativity in that?
CA'12 collage (built in Pixlr Express)

Raising that question in one of the CA’12 breakout groups helped me understand that I’ve equated--or maybe confused--”creativity” and “originality.” It’s hard to be truly original in the 21st century, and much of what even the most acclaimed “creative” people do these days is riffing and tweaking ideas that have come before. But because no two people’s minds work exactly the same, any one person’s riff or tweak can take the idea in a new creative--and maybe even original--direction. And at CA’12, the overall take on “creative” was pretty creative in itself; yes, there were writers and artists and filmmakers there, but there were also chefs and entrepreneurs and community-builders. The ways to find support and encouragement and inspiration were as varied as the participants.

While CA’12 gave participants a packed agenda--two full days of dual-tracked breakouts and group discussions, plus meals and even a couple of field trips--almost nothing was mandatory, and impromptu conversations could be just as significant than planned ones. My friend Kim was adamant about calling the weekend a “retreat,” not a “conference,” and that was another reason it appealed to me. I’m a Catholic-school veteran, and to me, the concept of a “retreat” implies something deeper than what a “conference” provides--not necessarily a dramatic personal epiphany, but at least the potential for getting some sort of clarity, even if it needs to simmer for awhile first.

I needed to simmer, which is why I haven’t posted much except pictures from the weekend before this. I’d wondered if I’d feel some sort of emotional shift or come upon some profound insight during CA’12. I didn’t--which, honestly, was a bit of a letdown at the time--but in the days afterward, I've become more aware that it affected me profoundly. I trust the connections--mental, emotional, and personal--that I made during that weekend...and they've made me more trusting of the connections I’ve already made through five and a half years of living online.

first reveal: an emblem for the Book Blogger Buddy System (#BBBSys)!
The fact that we were on the verge of opening up the Book Blogger Buddy System when I made this retreat was almost cosmically good timing. While my blogger’s heart lives in the book-blogging community, I’ve long described this space as “primarily, but not exclusively” about books, and CA’12 gave me the opportunity to get to know people from other online neighborhoods in the best way for me: in small doses, with no pressure. I look forward to seeing how these new friendships grow. At the same time, the weekend's focus on fostering "authentic alliances" helped me appreciate that I already have some, and I really hope that's what will develop from at least a few of the match-ups we'll be creating with the BBBS.

The CA'12 participants have a group on Facebook, where most of us are still active almost daily, and a few have already shared new ventures and plans inspired or nurtured by that weekend in Ojai. I don’t know if that will happen for me, but even if it doesn't, I do feel much more assured that the path I'm on already is the right one for me, right now--and that's something. As much as I’d like to do more freelance writing, piling it on top of my day job--which I'm not in a position to leave--is straining me, and so this isn't the best time to ramp up that particular pursuit. At the same time, I have a renewed fondness for this space of my own, where I can pursue whatever I want to write (and read) about, on my own terms, and which gives me a place in more than just one authentic, vibrant, and multi-faceted community.

Other takes on Creative Alliance '12:
More post-retreat posts (originally collected by Darryle, Readlisted by me):

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Picture It: A Creative Weekend. in Collages

One of the things that was inspired by my weekend conference retreat with Creative Alliance'12 was my already-developing interest in taking and playing with pictures. I participated in more free-form discussions than technically-oriented sessions during the weekend, but I got the most immediately-useful takeaways from a talk about Pinterest and Instagram, which was supplemented with an excellent list of photo-editing apps (thanks to Yuliya @ SheSuggests and Ciaran of Momfluential). I made the top two collages here with PicFrame on my iPad; I used the Pixlr Express app in Google Drive for the third one.

CA'12 collage: People (made w/PicFrame on iPad)

CA'12 collage: Places (made w/PicFrame on iPad)

CA'12 collage: Identity Links chairs, Blue Iguana Inn, Bart's Books, Human Arts Gallery

One of the many things that made CA'12 special was that it wasn't sponsored or heavy on the "brand interactions," but several businesses did generously contribute supplies and experiences to the weekend. The Blue Iguana Inn was exclusively ours from Thursday evening till Sunday morning, providing lodging and meeting spaces. Our primary meeting space was an open-air tent, where we used folding beach chairs that Identity Links made just for the retreat. One of our Friday "field trip" options was a  Downtown Ojai shopping visit that included stops at Human Arts Gallery and Bart's Books, and we were visited (and inspired!) on Saturday by Sheila Cluff, owner of the destination spa The Oaks at Ojai, and the Mobile Mixtress, Jennifer Haraway of KleanSpa.

Monday, October 8, 2012

(Banned) Book Talk: *The Outsiders*, by S.E. Hinton

THE OUTSIDERS, by S.E. Hinton (Amazon.com via LibraryThing)
S.E. Hinton
Speak (1997), Mass Market Paperback (ISBN 0881030392 / 9780881030396)
Fiction (YA), 192 pages
Source: personal copy
Reason for reading: re-read for Banned Books Week 2012

Opening lines: “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home."
Book description (via Scholastic Teacher Resources): In Ponyboy's world there are two types of people. There are the Socs, the rich society kids who get away with anything. Then there are the greasers, like Ponyboy, who aren't so lucky. Ponyboy has a few things he can count on: his older brothers, his friends, and trouble with the Socs, whose idea of a good time is beating up greasers. At least he knows what to expect — until the night things go too far. 
A landmark work of American fiction first published in 1967, S. E. Hinton's novel was an immediate phenomenon. Today, The Outsiders continues to resonate with its powerful portrait of the bonds and boundaries of friendship.
Comments: I decided a couple of months ago, because of Rob Lowe, that I would read The Outsiders during Banned Books Week this year. I've never seen the movie (in which he played Sodapop Curtis, one of protagonist/narrator Ponyboy's two older brothers), but it makes up such a significant part of his autobiography that it wasn't hard for me to picture the actors in it as the novel's characters. The book was a re-read for me, though--for the first time in decades. One of the things I appreciate about Banned Books Week is that it gives me an excuse to revisit old, long-neglected book friends. That said, I can't say I appreciate that some of those old book friends are perennially challenged...but at least they haven't faded away.

I've always marveled at the fact that Susan Hinton was still in high school herself when she wrote this--and I still think that's pretty impressive. In fact, I don't think I realized in my earlier, younger readings just how accomplished the writing in this novel is. That said, in reading it again several decades away from high school, I find that the plot feels more like something conceived by an adolescent. I was actually surprised by how much of it I'd forgotten, and how much of it is high melodrama.

What I did remember about The Outsiders -the characters and the emotions--still holds up, and remains surprisingly relevant despite time-specific details like "semi-Beatle haircuts" and hair oil and "rumbles." I can see the reasons the novel continues to be controversial--among them, it's deeply violent and lacking in effective parental figures. But I also see its virtues, and one of its greatest is a strong moral center. Between the lines, Hinton's characters are complex, and the relationships she depicts among the Curtis brothers and their gang--goofy names and all--are grounded in genuine feeling.

The Outsiders was one of the earliest significant young-adult novels, and forty-five years after its original publication, I think it's still significant--and only partly because of it controversial nature. But if the controversy it provokes helps keep it significant--and therefore keep it in the hands of readers--it's worth taking on the challengers.

Rating: 3.75 of 5

Other reviews, via the Book Blogs Search Engine

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday Salon: The week that was, the week ahead...

I only seem to be making it to the Sunday Salon every few weeks lately! But I know that some folks really only read the Salon posts, so I like to drop a little recap/preview-type thing in here every now and then.

The Sunday Salon, a weekly online discussion among readers

I missed Bloggiesta last weekend, and I’ll probably--at least officially--miss the 24-Hour Readathon this coming weekend. I had a good excuse for not doing Bloggiesta, but since it involved my being away from home for an entire weekend, I didn’t really want to be “away” again so soon--and if you’ve done the Readathon, you know it DOES feel like checking out for most of a weekend! I’ll read and cheer readers on whenever I can next Saturday, but I won’t be signing up this time.

While I wasn’t Bloggiesta-ing, I was participating in something that I think will have long-term effects on my blogging and how I live my online life, but it will take some time for me to process it all and I may never post a proper recap. (Four of my Creative Alliance ‘12 "sisters" have assembled an “epic” one at She Posts.) But I’m working on a post concerning “indie authors” that was directly inspired by a CA’12 breakout session--I hope to have it up here later this coming week--and I’ve already shared the piece I read aloud at our closing event last Saturday night. (I'm sharing some of the others in a Readlist.)

“Connections” were the theme of CA’12--creating “authentic alliances”--and so it seems like perfect timing that my own “connection project” launched this week! The Book Blogger Buddy System was born in my mind just after Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and is being graciously hosted at The Estella Society, where you can read all about it and sign up if you want to! The first round of sign-ups will close on October 12, and I plan to open up again for another match process in about six months. I’m thrilled with the response so far--and pleasantly surprised by some of the bloggers who’ve gone for it, although I can’t tell you who they are--and hope this will be a great experience for everyone!

This week was also Banned Books Week, and I actually read both of the books I’d planned for it. I posted about The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier on Thursday as part of Sheila’s “Jump on the Banned Wagon” event, and will post about The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton in the next day or two (hey, I read it during Banned Books Week, so it counts!).

And now we’re into October. I’m not participating in R.I.P. or Dueling Monsters or Mx3, and I don’t even like Halloween all that much, but I’m thinking I’d like to play along and do some seasonally-appropriate reading this year anyway. These are my candidates:

GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn (Amazon.com via LibraryThing)THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman (Amazon.com via LibraryThing)THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern (Amazon.com via LibraryThing)

I don't know if I'll get to all three, and If I can only read one I’m leaning toward Gone Girl for the “everyone’s talking about it” factor, and I may be ready to start it today! But before I do, how would you suggest I prioritize these?

Have a great Sunday!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

(Banned) Book Talk: *The Chocolate War*, by Robert Cormier

THE CHOCOLATE WAR, via LibraryThing/Amazon.com
Robert Cormier
Laurel Leaf (1986), Mass Market Paperback (ISBN 0440944597 / 9780440944591)
YA fiction, 272 pages
Source: personal copy
Reason for reading: re-read for Banned Books Week 2012

Opening lines: “They murdered him.

“As he turned to take the ball, a dam burst against the side of his head and a hand grenade shattered his stomach. Engulfed by nausea, he pitched toward the grass. His mouth encountered gravel, and he spat frantically, afraid that some of his teeth had been knocked out. Rising to his feet, he saw the field through drifting gauze but held on until everything settled into place, like a lens focusing, making the world sharp again, with edges.

“The second play called for a pass. Fading back, he picked up a decent block and cocked his arm, searching for a receiver - maybe the tall kid they called The Goober. Suddenly, he was caught from behind and whirled violently, a toy boat caught in a whirlpool. Landing on his knees, hugging the ball, he urged himself to ignore the pain that gripped his groin, knowing that it was important to betray no sign of distress, remembering The Goober's advice, ‘Coach is testing you, testing, and he's looking for guts.’”
Book description, from the publisher’s website:
Stunned by his mother's recent death and appalled by the way his father sleepwalks through life, Jerry Renault, a New England high school student, ponders the poster in his locker-Do I dare disturb the universe? 
Part of his universe is Archie Costello, leader of a secret school societ-the Virgils-and master of intimidation. Archie himself is intimidated by a cool, ambitious teacher into having the Virgils spearhead the annual fund-raising event-a chocolate sale. When Jerry refuses to be bullied into selling chocolates, he becomes a hero, but his defiance is a threat to Archie, the Virgils, and the school. In the inevitable showdown, Archie's skill at intimidation turns Jerry from hero to outcast, to victim, leaving him alone and terribly vulnerable.
Comments: The Chocolate War was originally published in 1974, which means it was still a relatively new book when I first read it--and I can’t remember exactly when that was, but it was either in middle or high school, and I started high school in 1978. I’ve read it more than once, but definitely not since I finished high school in 1982. The fact that it seems to be a perennial on the banned-and-challenged-books lists has made me curious to revisit it for a while--I’m always curious to see if I understand why books I had no idea might be controversial when I originally read them have come under fire in the years since--and it’s one of two books I’m re-reading for this year’s 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week.

Secret societies seem to be a staple of fiction set in private schools. They may truly be secret to all but a few, or they may simply be unacknowledged publicly--but either way, they retain an air of mystery that gives them power, which they use to varying degrees from benevolence to criminality. The Vigils are the secret society at Trinity High School, and while most of their activities might be considered pranks, their influence is strong enough that acting headmaster Brother Leon wants to be sure he has their support behind the annual school chocolate sale. The students need to sell twice as much candy as they did the year before, and although participation is officially voluntary, every student has always made at least an effort to sell his quota...until freshman Jerry Renault comes along. Jerry’s outright refusal to sell for the first two weeks of the sale starts to win him admiration from his fellow students--until it becomes defiance of the Vigils and their mastermind, Archie Costello, which cannot be allowed to stand.

My recollection was that The Chocolate War was a pretty dark novel, and it certainly is, but its dystopian world is that of the contemporary high school--and at almost forty years old, it barely feels dated at all. In fact, its bullying theme may be, sadly, even more timely now. Cormier’s characterizations aren’t terribly complex, but his adolescent boys behave believably. The novel’s plotting is tight and the tension rarely lets up. There’s a good deal of violence here, both psychological and physical.

I’d forgotten some of the details of The Chocolate War since my last long-ago reading, but I did remember the basics of the story--and when I reached the ending, I remembered that I hadn’t been pleased with it. I’m still not, but as an adult reader I find it more satisfying than I once did. The Chocolate War is chilling, unsettling, and very true to life, and I can see many reasons why it’s frequently challenged, It’s also a defining work of young-adult fiction that needs to be read and discussed for many years to come.

The Banned Books Week party at Book Journey!

It’s “Chocolate War Day” for Sheila’s “Jump on the Banned Wagon” Banned Books Week party at Book Journey--she’s discussing the audiobook version today, and will be giving away chocolate to one lucky person who comments on either of our posts about the book!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Connect With the Book Blogger Buddy System!

Estella Society logoCross-posted from The Estella Society, which is generously hosting this project

One common thread in I saw posts wrapping up Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2012 was “reconnection.” There were no awards or big sponsored giveaways this year, and no one really seemed to miss them! On the other hand, many of us did seem to enjoy a renewed sense of our community--getting reacquainted with one another and adding new-found book blogs that we want to know better to our feed readers--and a boost to our enthusiasm about blogging.

I follow a lot of book blogs (you don’t want to know how many!), and consequently, I read a lot of posts responding to the daily BBAW topics, but this sums up what I took away from the week, via Laura @ Musings:
“We all have those low periods where our blogging energy flags. When this happens to me, it’s almost always because I’m feeling disconnected. Sometimes I bring this on myself — such as when life gets busy and I don’t visit & comment on blog posts as often as I’d like. At other times, I’ve felt ‘overworked’ by blogging itself.”
I completely related to this, and I doubt Laura and I are the only ones who struggle with this sort of disconnection. It got me thinking about how to foster the blogging energy that comes from connection...in a very specific, ongoing way

Sometimes I feel like it would help if there were one specific person I could get in touch with when I need that energy boost--someone to bounce an idea off, to give feedback on a post draft, give me a reality check, or just commiserate with over the kinds of things only other bloggers really understand. And I suspect I’m not the only one who feels that way...but sometimes it’s hard to know who it’s OK to ask. What can we do about that?

My proposal: the Book Blogger Buddy System, connecting one blogger to another to be there for each other and encourage that energy flow!

Buddies may have similar blogging experience, or may want more of an  entor/learner arrangement. They may work out a formal schedule to check in with each other, or let things evolve. The specifics are up to the Buddies. The most important thing about the Book Blogger Buddy System is that it’s intended to foster a mutual relationship. If you want support, you have to be willing to give it in return!

The Book Blogger Buddy System will use information on the submitted Connection Form to match up bloggers. Participants may not request a specific Buddy by name--if you have a certain person in mind already, you probably don’t need this! All other match preferences will be taken under consideration, although ability to meet them will be affected by the participant pool.

The Book Blogger Buddy System will make the connection and put Buddies in touch with each other--then it’s in your hands to build your relationship, and the matchmaker is out of it!

I’m asking just one thing: please give your Book Blogger Buddy arrangement six months. These things take some time. If it’s working out, you’ll probably both want to continue past that point on your own, and that’s great! (I hope that will be the outcome of many matches!)

In order to keep things manageable, the first round of sign-ups for the Book Blogger Buddy System will close on October 12. If things go well and there’s interest in keeping this going, I envision opening sign-ups every six months or so. (If your Buddy match didn’t work out so well, that’s when you can give it another shot!)

Interested? Submit the Connection Form!

Questions? Willing to help make matches? E-mail me at 3.rsblog AT Gmail dot COM or “@” me (florinda_3rs) on Twitter!

Thanks to The Estella Society for supporting the Book Blogger Buddy System and providing it with a home!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fear of Fifty; or, Before I Forget...

(This is a slightly modified version of a reading I gave this past weekend at the closing event of Creative Alliance '12, a lively and enlightening gathering of about 50 women in Ojai, California. I'll be talking more about my CA experiences in posts to come, as I have more time to reflect on them.)
Creative Alliance '12 (photo by Beth Avant/@HipMamaB)
#creativealliance12 on Instagram (photo by Beth Avant/@HipMamaB)
Exactly 18 months from (September 29, the day I gave this reading), barring any unforeseen events, I will turn 50 years old, and I’m beginning to get anxious about it--but for very different reasons than what made me anxious, 10 years and 18 months ago, about turning 40.

The verge-of-forties fears were mostly that they’d be more of my late thirties--which pretty much sucked. At 38, I was on my own for the first time in my adult life--not that I’d chosen to be-- following the “official” end of my 18-year-long marriage (which had “unofficially” ended about 2 and a half years earlier, but that’s another story). And 2000 miles away, my son went off to college. I had my job, my dog, and my books--and visions of a small and lonesome life stretching out indefinitely, except for when I considered cutting my losses, as it were.

And given that I was (eventually diagnosed as) clinically depressed. my forties did start out the way my thirties ended. But I got (long-overdue, obviously) treatment, and I started getting out--and my life got bigger. My forties have included a new family, new friends, new places, and new world-expanding pursuits. Overall, they have been good years--and I’ve tried not to let them be darkened by the fear they could be my last good ones, which is the one I’m approaching fifty with.

cover of STILL ALICE by Lisa Genova (LibraryThing via Amazon.com)
Three years ago, I read a book called Still Alice by a neuroscientist-turned-novelist named Lisa Genova--a book I’d resisted for well over a year at that point. It’s the story of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and it’s written from her point of view. It's a very well-done novel, and it's one of the scariest books I've ever read.

Genova does a remarkable job of truly getting inside the mind and emotions of an Alzheimer's patient. She includes facts about the disease and its effects without interfering with the story, and she effectively captures its disruption and alteration of family, career, and daily life, but the fact that it's all told from Alice's perspective makes it unique and unforgettable. The instances where the author "loops" an episode by repeating its opening paragraphs at the end, and when she frames Alice's behavior with someone else's response to it, are particularly affecting.

Three years ago, my sister and I read Still Alice together. Last weekend, we participated in the Walk to End Alzheimer's, as we do every year. (Our team helped raise more than $105,000 this year!) We're involved with it because our mother, who passed away in 1999 after seven years in a nursing home, had early-onset Alzheimer's.

Still Alice gave me a lot of insight into Alzheimer’s, particularly its early-onset form, which can manifest with symptoms in people as relatively young as 50. Alice was 50. My mother was just a few years past 50 when it started for her. I have a better understanding of it now--not just the medical details, but some idea of how it may have felt for her. It was terrifying, and as I get closer to 50, it doesn’t get any less scary.

This is a case where “the more you know” isn’t necessarily all that helpful, and knowledge doesn’t afford much power. Alzheimer’s remains incurable and unstoppable; the treatments now available can only slow its terrible progression. There’s a test to determine whether someone has the genetic mutation associated with developing it--but with no means of prevention, what can you do, going forward, with any result besides “no”? At this point, I’m choosing fear of the unknown over certainty of doom--but either way, I’m afraid.

Among people in my age range, jokes about Alzheimer’s are pretty common--when we can’t find our keys, or think of someone’s name, or remember what we meant to do in the kitchen thirty seconds after we walk in. I don’t make those jokes. I’m afraid to tempt fate. I’m afraid those lapses might caused by something besides menopausal hormones or “normal” aging processes. A relative with early-onset Alzheimer’s unfavorably increases the genetic odds.

I fear that turning 50 will flip a switch, or start some sort of countdown clock. I saw what became of my mother in her fifties, and through Alice, Lisa Genova gave me a sense of what it must have felt like for her to experience it. It scared the hell out of me.

Then again, I could take after my dad--83 years old and still a piece of work. Like my divorce, that’s another story, and it raises another set of fears entirely. But in the meantime, I have 18 months before that switch flips, and I don’t want to be afraid to make the most of them.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Once More, With Changes: Please UPDATE YOUR FEED SUBSCRIPTION (now powered by FeedBlitz)!

If you changed your feed-reader subscription to The 3 R's Blog to Feedcat per my post last week, it will no longer work after today, because it really wasn't working anyway. If you didn't resubscribe then, please do it now! Based on good reports from other users, I've joined the exodus to Feedblitz. Sorry to have to ask you to do this crazy thing one more time, but if I've made the right call this time, I hope I won't ask you again!

Odds are that you've seen a few blogs post during the last week or so asking you to resubscribe to a blog's feed due to the eminent departure of Feedburner. This is one more. I apologize for having to ask this of you, but it should be quick and mostly painless!

Google, which own Feedburner, is apparently on the verge of shutting down the service, although they  stillhaven't officially informed users of it. It appears that Feedburner feeds still work for now, but word on the street puts their end date at October 20. (Is it all part of their super-secret sneaky plan to lure everyone to Google+?)

RSS feed reader icon (via iconspedia.com)
The blog feed is now set up through Feedblitz. If you prefer to read posts from The 3 R's Blog in your favorite feed reader, please click through to www.3rsblog.com and click the little blue button in the sidebar--left side, right near the top, you can't miss it!--to get your Feedblitz subscription options:

New posts will no longer be sent to the Feedburner feed, so please update your subscription as soon as possible!

Chances are that the Feedburner feeds will just stop on their own, it's probably not necessary to unsubscribe from those, but I'd suggest you go ahead and add the new feeds as soon as possible--not just for this blog, but for everyone else who's asked you to do so!

Other ways you can keep up with the blog:

Shelf Awareness Book Talk: *Between Heaven and Here*, by Susan Straight

Between Heaven and Here
Susan Straight
McSweeney’s (September 2012), Hardcover (ISBN 1936365758 / 9781936365753)
Fiction, 208 pages

A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (September 25, 2012).

Opening lines (from the Advance Reader’s copy): “When Sidney came out of the taqueria and headed down the alley, he saw Glorette Picard on her knees, her back to a shopping cart parked near the fence, her face held up to the shadows made by two wild tobacco trees that grew along the chainlink. Sidney flattened himself against the wall, holding the bag of tacos like a school lunch, and waited for the sound of a man’s voice.”
Book description, from the publisher's website:

In August in Rio Seco, California, the ground is too hard to bury a body. But Glorette Picard is dead, and across the canal, out in the orange groves, they’ll gather shovels and pickaxes and soak the dirt until they can lay her coffin down. First, someone needs to find her son Victor, who memorizes SAT words to avoid the guys selling rock, and someone needs to tell her uncle Enrique, who will be the one to hunt down her killer, and someone needs to brush out her perfect crown of hair and paint her cracked toenails. As the residents of this dry-creek town prepare to bury their own, it becomes clear that Glorette’s life and death are deeply entangled with the dark history of the city and the untouchable beauty that, finally, killed her.
Comments: Susan Straight has explored the fictional landscape of Rio Seco, California for over two decades, and while each of her novels can stand on its own, many of the same characters make recurring appearances. In Between Heaven and Here, she continues the stories of the Sarrat families from A Million Nightingales (2007) and Take One Candle Light a Room (2010), but reading the books in publication order isn’t strictly necessary, and the events in this third novel precede those in Take One Candle... by five years. This is a trilogy by virtue of people and place, rather than plot.

Tied together by blood, marriages, and the enclave they’d established across the canal from the city and named for their Louisiana hometown, the Antoines and Picards are both well-known and set apart in Rio Seco, and none more so than Glorette, the most beautiful of the Sarrat girls. Sadly, that beauty has never gotten her very much--a teenage son, a crack addiction, and on the eve of her thirty-fifth birthday, it may have gotten her murdered. This is a family matter, because will anyone else care about the death of streetwalker whose body was found in a shopping cart in a back alley?

Between Heaven and Here relates the days surrounding Glorette’s death, the search for her killer, and years of family history from multiple perspectives, including those of her father, her uncle and aunt, a nephew, a sister-in-law, and her son Victor. Straight knows her landscape well, and renders it vividly. She has created an affecting world in Rio Seco, and even as she brings this story to a close, one hopes that world has many more stories to tell.

Rating: 3.75/5

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