Feb 092012
 

 

I don’t often read the posts on Book Riot, but today I noticed Amanda from Dead White Guys had a new post up on Book Riot titled “Confessions of a Newbie Independent Bookseller.”

The article discusses quirks of working in such a specialized place and the types of books people come in requesting. She shares one particular confession I loved:

I Don’t Judge Your Taste in Books
When I get a customer who wants a recommendation, I usually ask what the last book was that they loved so I can see what they’re looking for in a book. Sometimes there’s a pause, an embarrassed shifty-eyed gaze to the floor. A mumble of, “well, I read a lot of teen books, like, Hunger Games and stuff…” Independent bookstores can have a reputation for being snobby places where the books are “curated” out the ass- where you won’t find a best seller anywhere, but where you can definitely find the collected works of David Foster Wallace. I’m sorry if you’ve had that experience at other indies, but honestly- I don’t care what you read. If you want to add to your collection of mermaid erotica, I’ll help you. You want to read the next Twilight? I’ll help you. Looking for a how-to on building your own yurt? You’re the coolest! Let’s do this. There’s no judgment.

However, one person in the comments talks about how he or she does judge a person by what he or she reads. Unfortunately, this type of book shaming is not confined to bookstores. Frankly, I experience this all the time, and I’m sure it’s partially because I am so plugged in to the bookish world and bookish people. More often than not, this judgment comes from someone without a literature degree, someone who is very serious about serious literature.

Please understand I am not saying that an individual without a literature degree cannot criticize books. What I am saying is I do have those qualifications, and I still don’t feel the need/desire to lecture people about their reading choices. I have two degrees in English, one undergrad, one grad. I’ve read most of the big guns. I know literary terms many people do not. This does not make me cool; in fact, it puts me in a very low wage-earning category. I can talk a book to death if I want or need. But here’s the truth: that ain’t fun. I know I’m playing fast and loose, using “ain’t” and cliches and telling you this, but come on: Reading should be the least judged thing we do. We’re reading. In 2009, I remember reading that the average American reads one book a year. If you’re here, you’ve probably already hit that number this year. Whether that one book is a Harlequin romance novel, Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, or James Patterson’s newest, it’s better than no books read this year.

I’ll level with you: I read, no, I devoured the Twilight series. Granted, I knew they weren’t quality writing, but I didn’t care. The story drew me in, no matter how ludicrous parts of it were. I mention this because this is the most criticized reading choice for many. You may not like it, but guess what? Those books enticed people who had never read an entire book for fun to read several – several long books, no less.

My best friend reads at least 80% paranormal romance. We were talking about Goodreads the other night, and every single time she mentioned what she had been reading, she explained her choices away. This is an intelligent teacher and mother of three. The fact that she does read with all that going on is impressive to me. I know she isn’t a big fan of mysteries just like I’m not a big fan of paranormal romance. When we do read the same book, it’s that much more fun. We are diversifying our book stock, making us more interesting.

My reading list includes classics, contemporary literary fiction, an occasional chick lit, and tons of mysteries. I love mysteries, and sometimes even if I know it’s not the best mystery I’ll ever read, I keep reading. Why? Because it’s still enjoyable. The act of sitting down with a book is pleasurable and calming to me.

Maybe part of my ire has built up because I have seen non-readers turned into readers using books others might discount. Most of the students who have entered my classroom have told me they hate reading. They don’t dislike it or find it boring. No, they tell me they hate it. I make it my mission to turn at least one of them on to reading. How do I hit that target? I find out what they enjoy, and I give them a book that aligns well with those interests. Nine times out of ten it works, and I love being part of that person’s life in some small way. If that means putting The Hunger Games in the hands of one student and Madame Bovary in the hands of another, I’m perfectly ok with that. For those of us who truly love books and reading, why would we have it any other way?

So my big question is, have you ever felt judged for your reading choices? And WHY are we allowing others to guilt us? I won’t be had. Come look at my bookshelves and judge away. I dare you.

 

Jan 042012
 

*I received this book from a publicist author in exchange for an honest review.

Ah, memoirs. I absolutely have a love-hate relationships with you. Sometimes you are so smart and elucidate universal truths in life. Other times you allow a flow of emotion similar to the effects of watching a Greek tragedy. Yet other times you make me want to swat you, like an errant fly buzzing about the room.

It is also incredibly difficult to review a memoir because you are taking an intensely intimate work and critiquing it. I can imagine it would be difficult for an memoirist to separate critiques of the writing from the self (although arguably, this is always difficult).

So let me set it up for you: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me is about Ian Cron’s life with his alcoholic father…who also happened to work for the CIA for many years. It starts with Cron’s father’s job in movies in London and tracks the family through the highs and lows of his family and his father’s problems. My issue with the book, and I admit up front that this is my own personal hangup, is that Cron talks a lot about not having any money after his father gets fired from his movie job in London. Except that in my book, having a nanny throughout your childhood ain’t poor. Ordinarily I could overlook this, but Cron makes much of this in the first third of the book, and it felt incredibly insensitive to someone who grew up struggling.

For example, this passage drove me crazy:

As my father’s drinking and depression augured downward, my  mother was forced to go to work as a secretary in a publishing company – what was called a “girl Friday” – to pay the bills and keep food on our table. My mother grew up in a wealthy and highly regarded family on Long Island. Only a few years earlier, she had been touted in British tabloids as one of the most beautiful American women on the London social scene. Now she was a personal assistant to a publishing executive.

Say it ain’t so! A personal assistant! How horrid. What must the neighbors think? I mean, I hate to be snarky, but if you grew up without much, Cron’s complaints sound like a whole lot of whining. My parents were both teachers and did their absolute best with the income they had and the many medical bills my mother incurred. We grew up in a very happy household, so I was rich in that way, but there were many times  we struggled quite a lot financially. The author goes on to say,

With some income flowing in, our financial condition began to stabilize, if not inch up. It would be a long time before we could sign “Happy Days Are Here Again,” but one or two green shoots were peeking up through the dirt.

I’m sure leaving the privileged lifestyle he had always known was rough, but overall, the “poor is me” narrative got old. Also, I think Cron has a highly-idealicized picture of family life, and he refers to family sitcoms throughout the book. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people whose lives would live up to that. It’s not real.

All of that said, and my own personal feelings aside, Cron had some funny moments. They were mostly one-liners, but they worked. As for the alcoholism, I fortunately don’t have those experiences, but the scenarios Cron lays out are scary, and I cannot imagine them as my own kind of “normal.” His own problems with alcohol and drugs are honest and helpful in discussing the cycle of abuse. The publicist who contacted me also indicated that though Jesus is in the title, the religious aspect isn’t overwhelming, and I’d agree with that. Religion and spiritualism are not something Cron comes by naturally, but its importance to him and his sobriety is undeniable.

Though this didn’t work for me, if you like memoirs or personal experiences with alcoholism, you might want to pick this one up.

Oct 192011
 

This is gonna be one of those picky posts where I rant a little bit. Ok? Ok.

So. After studying writing for a looo-ooong time, I learned a couple things. One of them is that there is a lot I’ll excuse in a book or short story. Dialogue is not one of them. In fact, there is a book I haven’t finished (and you guys know I don’t DNF around here) because the dialogue was not in quotation marks but instead used dashes to indicate new speakers. Uh, no.

One professor once said Evelyn Waugh was a genius with dialogue because he didn’t really ever have to tell you who was speaking. You knew because the dialogue was so well characterized.

I have had students write entire research papers on the discrepancies of “Who said what?” in Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”

Dialogue matters:  children should more or less speak like children. Background shouldn’t be handed to me on a silver platter, i.e. “Remember that time when mom did that thing that made the plot of the last book really plausible and now I have to bring it up because otherwise this reader won’t know what I’m talking about?” Yeah. That. It should be as natural as possible, too, and if you use dialect, you sure better have it down pat.

What characters say and how they say it is monumentally important to a book. Dialogue can advance plots, develop characters, and a whole lot of other stuff we take for granted, but the second it’s done badly…yikes.

I say this all because there is “a book” that others have given high praise and which I have read but cannot review because I thought the dialogue was so darn bad, and I really don’t want to say “This book was ok, but the dialogue was flipping awful. I mean, terrible.” Because that’s just mean and doesn’t do anyone any favors.

*Exhales* Load lifted and all that jazz. Back to reading more Miss Silver, where the dialogue is always quite charming. If you haven’t picked her up yet, might I ask why? :)

Aug 192011
 

It is Friday, my friends. Rejoice. :) I am feeling happy and sunny today, and I thought I would share my front door makeover with you.

As I’ve mentioned before, my house is 108 years old, and I have the original front door and hardware. I have never been in love with the door, but that was partially because it was this dirty, ugly maroon. See below.

with Christmas wreath and ugly screen door

with ugly, useless screen door (it had a tear in the screen)

So this weekend, I bought a quart of Valspar by Eddie Bauer Daffodil in high-gloss/enamel and decided to brave the heat to get this project done. (Yes, I had tried about 8 samples before getting this particular color). I had gone over the door a lot with the sample paint just to make sure it was the color, so ignore the ugliness.

 

First step: tape doorknob and plate

Why didn’t I just remove it? Well, it’s been on there for over 100 years. If it ain’t broke…. and all that jazz. So I taped it like so:

Lots of little pieces of tape later...

Next step was to remove the deadbolt and some of the paint I had gotten on it from my enthusiastic sample painting. There were two screws on the inside of the door. Loosen those, and the lock comes away in two pieces. Voila!

Then, because I didn’t want to sling paint through to the other side, I taped it as well.

After that, I was ready to paint. And paint. It was hot out there, but I put my trash bag underneath the door to catch drips and would let each coat dry before evenly applying another. Thin and even strokes. I actually did use a brush, though I would have used a tiny roller had I had one at the house. Then, sit back and let it dry.

Eat some strawberries and have a glass of tea while you do this...

After you’ve re-hydrated, appreciate your work.

Yea! Oh, and burglars: I photoshopped out the other two numbers. HAHAHA!

I absolutely love it and am so glad I went with the cheery yellow. It’s also kind of ironic since I hated the yellow on the siding of the house, but come on – it was dingy and looked like melted butter. Ugh.

So that’s it. A couple of hours, some mad taping skills, and a little paint, and you’ve got a totally new look. Have you done anything to brighten up your space recently? Or would you never go for a yellow front door? Don’t be scared. I can take it. I think.

Happy Friday!

Aug 092011
 

I saw this ad for the first time this weekend, and though I won’t get all IHATEAMAZONtheyarekillingbookstores on you, I will say the first thing that popped into my head was “Who doesn’t want to go to the bookstore?” Amazon’s marketing campaign is so off. Readers love going to bookstores. That is why we are so adamant about saving them. We love just being at the bookstore. I mean, I love my Nook Color, and it can be extremely convenient, but I never think: “YEA! Downloaded the book. No need to go to the bookstore.” Craziness.

Amazon: “target audience.” It’s an important term in marketing, and I don’t think you’ve quite internalized it yet. Go back to Marketing 101.

 

 

What do you think? Did you pick up on this, or am I being way over-sensitive?

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