Tag Archives: books

The Fine Line

22 Sep
giddy-up!

U.S. President Calvin Coolidge’s exercise horse

This week I have (so far) seen the homes/museums of four U.S. Presidents, four authors and one eccentric art collector. I have learned that the lines between “eccentric” and “crazy” and “collector” and “hoarder” are either “becoming President” or “publishing a bunch of books, at least one of which is a huge success.”

I ponder this idea as I finish eating some leftover mushroom risotto for breakfast because this week I’m storing the delicious restaurant leftovers for three people, two of whom are tourists and don’t wish to eat them (but none of us can let that food stay on our plates). I’m also thinking about where to store the five new books that have entered the house this week. They may be used to finish creating a bedside table for me, as my current next-to-bed pile of books-I’m-definitely-reading-next is getting pretty high.

I hope to publish a book soon. Because I can’t really imagine running for elected office at this point in time.

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The Phrase that Pays

4 Aug

Poison Ivy display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

This week, the Boy and I went to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, and while the animal galleries were fantastic and the glass flowers were pretty unbelievable (really, the flowers don’t look like glass at all), what really caught my eye was a little interactive quiz about poison ivy.

The purpose of the quiz was to show you how poison ivy is a pretty wily plant, but I was more fascinated by the sheer number of rhymes to help you remember what to look for:

Red leaflets in spring, it’s a dangerous thing.”

“Longer middle stem, stay away from them.”

“Side leaflets like mittens will itch like the dickens.”

“Berries white, run in fright!”

“Hairy vine, no friend of mine!”

I said as much to the Boy, who responded, “Well, have you ever had poison ivy? It’s really bad!”

That evening, I was reading some of David Sedaris’ Theft by Finding, and I came across a similar rhyming  warning:

“Beer on wine, you’re fine. Wine on beer, stand clear.”

To which I thought, Huh. I haven’t heard that one. Because I know:

“Wine before beer, you’re in the clear. Beer before wine is not so fine.”

“Hard before beer, you’re in the clear. Beer before hard, you’re in the yard.”

“Wine before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before wine, you’re doing fine.”

I guess sometimes you need all those rhymes to help you remember not to do something stupid. The effects of the latter though are maybe not as itchy.

What’s Your Four?

7 Jul

Summer Reading 2017 - Bring me all of the books!

Have you seen that LitHub story about the book hoarders that’s been floating around the web? Both the Boy and I read it, which got us wondering how many books we actually own. I mean, we have a lot of books, but we also live in a smallish apartment, so there’s not a ton of space to really, you know, have a library.

And then we did a little bit of counting and a lot of estimating….and figured that we have probably close to 1,000 books.

Wow.

Considering that we have a problem with tsundoku, I’m feeling compelled to make a dent in reading what’s on the shelves. Luckily, it’s summer reading time in this part of the world, and I thought that this year, I’d take part in a little summer reading effort Massachusetts is promoting called Read Four.

Read Four is really targeted toward children and teens to keep them reading during the summer so they don’t fall behind when school starts up again; however, I will take their proclamation, “The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners is challenging all [my emphasis] residents of Massachusetts to read four books this summer,” to heart, so I plan to read as much as I can this summer to stoke my creativity and feel less guilty whenever I look at the bookshelves in my home.

The stack above is what I’m hoping to finish in good time, and it includes the books I started reading at the beginning of summer. I’m actually on my fourth book now: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I read a book by her sister Nicola earlier this year, but I picked up this book last Christmas during the annual family day-after-Christmas trip to Barnes & Noble. I’m hoping it’s equally as fun and escapist as my first three reads have been: the Sophie Kinsella, Rollergirl and Desperate in Dubai. All three have been breezy and entertaining–the last one particularly was fun for the cultural insight into Dubai, which made me want to go back even more (and also because I spent a fair amount of time looking up the Arabic phrases sprinkled throughout).

So those are my four–or nine, as the case might be. What are your four?

 

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Censored!

19 May

A few years ago, I picked up this copy of Bill Buford’s Heat in a used bookstore. I’d heard good things about it and wanted to use it for research to get an idea of what it’s like to work in a restaurant kitchen.

Here’s the thing with used books: You never know what you’re going to get. I was reading away, enjoying the book, when I flipped the page to this:

Wait a sec–the black bar? What’s so bad that I shouldn’t read it?

I flipped the page and held the book up to the light. Oh, I thought. It’s “got cocky. Someone thought I shouldn’t read that.”

That made me chuckle, but as you might imagine from what I’ve heard about the back of house in restaurants, this was just the beginning of the censorship. A few fucks were crossed out, maybe some other words–the censor got really good with their blackout technique.

Then there was this choice:

 

 

 

So…..let’s cross out every time “fucking” was used, but “bastards” can stay in?

 

 

 

 

 

But the last straw was this:

 

This little passage must have gotten the censor really angry, because any word that’s part a sexual suggestion has been blacked out. Like “kissing.” Bad!

I don’t understand–if the book’s so horrid that someone was compelled to censor it, why even bother to make sure it exists anyway? Why not just recycle it back to the pulp from whence it came? I can’t imagine the couple of bucks they got for it really was worth the effort of all of this fine handiwork.

And if it was, this book certainly landed in the wrong hands, because I don’t give a fuck about they think.

 

2016 Year in Books

6 Jan

Welcome to 2017! After taking a couple weeks off for holidays and travel, I’m ready to get back to it, which means the weekly blogs are back.

For me, 2016 was a weird year all the way around, and my reading list really reflects that this year. In 2015 I really didn’t read very many books (especially for being a writer), so I’d signed up for a Goodreads Reading Challenge, and decided to go light with just 20 books. That goal was more than I’d read in 2015, and what I thought would be a decent stepping stone into making reading books more of a priority. Totally achievable, right? I could really crush that goal and go way over it! Actually, I just barely made it happen, and finished my 20th book on Christmas Eve.

Number of books isn’t the only thing I’ve been tracking for the past few years. After reading some of Ann Morgan’s “A Year of Reading the World” blog, I wanted to expand my horizons a bit and see just where my influences were coming from. Instead of taking on the world, I thought I’d take on the United States and see if I could read authors from every state (tracked by where they’re born)–perhaps not a task I’d accomplish in a year, but eventually would be nice.

The other wrinkle is that I want to read the books I own. I have a problem with tsundoku, or buying books and not reading them. While I continue to buy books, I’m also working on reading what I own. I don’t have any particular order for reading things (no FIFO or anything like that), but it also means that there’s a constant inner struggle to spend less time buying and more time reading (also less time buying, and more time at the library, but that’s a topic for another day).

Anyway, I did meet my reading goal of 20 books for 2016, so I’m pretty proud of that. I was surprised, however, how much of a slog some of these books were. I had some chick lit and young adult lit that should’ve been a breeze but weren’t. While I have a personal rule that I’m allowed to stop reading after 50 pages or so (there’s not enough time to waste it reading bad books), I think I only used that exception once this year, and that was for Gone Girl. I hated all of its characters and had no interest in reading about what they did, so I put it down. I won’t even keep space in my brain to remember the 50 pages I did read, so I couldn’t tell you much of what it was about.

I didn’t do that for Accidental It Girl, which maybe I should have. This was about a paparazzi (who had shelved a dream of being an art photographer) who accidentally got linked with a big star and became the object of the paparazzi. Turnabout is fair play–though it was also a dull book. The character (whose name I can’t even remember) really had no goal other than to not be photographed all the time, and she didn’t drive the action–most of the action happened to her, making it difficult to root for her. It was also full of a lot of stock characters–the wacky mom who got in the way and didn’t really get her; the helpful roommate; the movie star who was a nice, genuine guy. The only thing that kept me reading was a MacGuffin of a package that the main character’s mom sent that sat in the corner of her bedroom for most of the book, was mentioned all the time, and when finally opened, revealed a reminder that the main character that her true passion was in art photography, and shouldn’t she do that instead of paparazzi-ing?

Needless to say, although I wouldn’t recommend it, it was a good example of what not to do when writing, so at least I got something out of it.

I covered nine states and four non-US countries this year. I seem to really like Ohio (four books) and the UK (five books). Still, I’m making progress on my map coverage–I’m up to 19 states and 10 countries in three years. Not bad. Could be better, but I’m happy enough for the moment.

For the moment, I’ve added just one book to my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge total. Maybe I can do better than that, but my first read of the year, The Games: A Global History of the Olympics is turning out to be a really slow one. A really good and interesting read, but it’s a little slow-going right now. It might be a book I read alongside some others, just to make progress.

Speaking of progress, if you want to follow along, feel free to check out my book reading tracking doc. Suggestions to fill in my missing geography are welcome!

 

Read Friday

25 Nov

This week I finished reading a book, which, in the age of tracking everything, means that I needed to log it in my Goodreads account and see how I was doing on my 2016 Reading Challenge.

Not good.

At the beginning of the year, I was really hopeful about reading more books (especially since I have a tsundoku problem and want to rectify it a bit), so I signed up for Goodreads’ annual reading challenge with the optimistic hope of clearing up the piles a little bit…..though really I should have done some sort of “here’s all the books I didn‘t buy” challenge as well, just to make it seem like I made some sort of actual progress.

Anyway, my Goodreads account had said I’d read 14 of 20 books in my challenge.

Gulp.

Quickly log book.

We’re at 15 now!

Realize that I hadn’t logged a couple of books I’d read this year.

Furiously log them.

Remember why I hadn’t logged them: Mostly embarrassing chick lit books that took weeks to read because they were poorly written (is good learning tool!).

Doesn’t matter! Have to hit goal!

Now I stand at 17 books down, three to read within the next month and change.

That’s three books I’ve challenged myself to read during a very busy month–except that there will probably be a few days at the end of the year where there’s nothing to do but read books, and maybe I will also be smart and pick books that I can’t put down, which technically means getting them done quickly.

I can dream.

Or I can put away the computer and pick up the book I’m currently reading and make some progress that I’ll be proud of at the end of the year.

In related news, I also keep track of my reading in this spreadsheet, as I’m also trying to see how geographically diverse my tastes are. Here I track author by birthplace. I have no real set focus for how I choose what I’ll read next–the goal is mainly to read the books I currently own. If I manage to ever do that, than perhaps I’ll put myself on one of those interesting journeys to read books from authors in every country of the world. For now though, I just like seeing where the authors I read come from and wondering whether and/or how birthplace has an impact on writing.

But Jill, why double up on the tracking?

Honestly, the Goodreads challenge puts a little impetus on reading as a goal. It’s my accountability buddy (and if you think an app as a buddy is a sad thing, the app doesn’t mind waiting for weeks while I read a few pages a night. A real buddy might get tired of tapping their foot and rolling their eyes at me). The spreadsheet is just a nice view of the overall picture of where the challenge has taken me, and I like to see it laid out over the years in nice, neat columns. It seems like real progress over time, no matter what my annual reading challenge goal is.

Speaking of which, that challenge is going to take me back to the couch to have a nice read for a couple of hours.

Little House of Green Gables?

13 Jan

Yesterday the CBC announced that it’s reviving one of the most beloved characters in young adult lit and will be making a new series out of Anne of Green Gables.

Are you excited, fans of the Megan Follows version? Or are you scared? I’m a little bit of both.

Anne is one of my favorite literary heroines. She made me wish I’d had red hair growing up. For high school German, I chose the name “Anne” (AH-ne) because of her. If I’d ever had a daughter, Anne would’ve been my top pick for a name. And when the Megan Follows miniseries came out in 1985, I was the prime age to fall in love with it.

And I did–eventually. It took me a good episode to get used to the fact that the producers of the miniseries had not tapped my imagination for how everything should look (nor had I ever been to Prince Edward Island, so my imagination had been filling in some gaps), but eventually I was hooked and became a big fan. For me this version seems most true.

So of course I’m a little worried about the new ones. It’s not that I don’t think anyone else shouldn’t be allowed to revisit and reinterpret Anne–there have been several other miniseries and shows and cartoons and musicals and plays depicting or based on the books, so I’m not against a new generation having their own version. Plus, this one’s being helmed by one of the writers from Breaking Bad, which is pretty exciting, given how good that show was.

However, it’s this phrase describing the show that worries me: chart new territory.

This phrase was used in a couple different reports of the news, and that’s what has me worried. I don’t know about TV shows that end up being more “inspiration” and less “true to book.”

But Jill, you also were the prime age when Little House on the Prairie came out? Don’t you have experience with TV shows that chart new territory around beloved book series?

No, I don’t. Ma Jaracz wouldn’t allow me to watch Little House on the Prairie precisely because it wasn’t like the book.

But Jill, you did watch The Dukes of Hazzard, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island when you were a kid, did you not?

Yes, Ma Jaracz would let me watch those fairly regularly. I won’t question my mother’s thought pattern here, as everyone has their moments. I’m guessing she thought Mr. Roarke was  a better role model than the beloved Pa Ingalls. And Mary Ingalls had nothing on Julie McCoy, of course — a girl could learn a lot of organizational skills from a Cruise Director. Let’s start career planning when we’re young!

But the fact is, I’ve never watched Little House–not even when I could. It’s not all like the books, so why bother?

I’m sure all of us fans have some apprehension about what could possibly happen–I mean, look at Game of Thrones. They’re out of books, so what’s going to happen? Perhaps a white wedding with Billy Idol as the officiant? And then it goes south really quickly and HBO pulls the plug so they end it with dragons flame broiling everyone (except Hodor — he magically lives to have his own spin-off)? Isn’t that the kind of fear we all  have when something we love gets translated so wonderfully to the screen and then a re-translation threatens to ruin both versions for everyone?

I hope that’s not the case for Anne fans, and we’ll have to see how it turns out. I know I won’t be re-reading the books ahead of time so that when I watch, my memory will be a little foggy of what actually happened in the books. That doesn’t mean that if Anne suddenly organizes a blood drive and saves Prince Edward Island or if Diana Barry goes blind, I’ll stick with it, but I’ll certainly give the new version a shot.

 

What Does This Picture Say to You?

25 Feb

Put on your Judgy McJudgerson hats today, ladies and gents, because it’s time to rate some book cover art. We’ve all judged books by their covers–literally speaking, of course–and sometimes the cover art is what makes us walk on by, or it’s what makes us stop and take a second look. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve purchased many a book on cover art alone. The New York Times will feature the best-designed books of the year, and I’ve purchased some just because of their inclusion on that list.

Book cover art can also make you wonder what the book designer was thinking, and here’s where I’d like to get your opinion. I ordered a big stack of books from the library, and last night some of them came in. What do you think this book is about?

wpid-wp-1424878230140.jpeg

I’ll give you the jump to think about it.

Continue reading

You Got Your Band in my Book! No, You Got Your Book in my Band!

5 Feb

Every once in a while, I allow myself to visit Coudal Partners home on the web. Coudal’s the genius behind my beloved Field Notes (if you haven’t converted from Moleskines yet, consider doing so), and every time I visit their site I have a couple of thoughts:

  1. Shit! I just spent an hour here looking at all their amazingly creative stuff and feeling envious of the fun they must be having.
  2. If I ever, ever, ever got a job in an office again, I think I’d like to work with them.

Yesterday, I spent just a little too long in the Coudal rabbit hole, but it was worth it to find this gem of a contest that blends band names and book titles. The list doesn’t even include my favorite, which is the teaser on the home page: The Lionel, the Richie, and the Wardrobe. 

At any rate, yesterday’s visit there means I’ve really got to focus on a couple of bridal stories I’m writing, so I’ve got my nose to the grindstone right now. That doesn’t mean you have to. We’re a little too late for the contest, but we can still play here.  Can best my idea of The Steve Miller Band on the Floss or About a Pet Shop Boy?

And if you need some more titles to help give you some ideas, check out who made the annual Tournament of Books for some of the best from last year….and don’t blame me if you’ve just found yourself in a different rabbit hole.

Report on National Readathon (and/or Cleanathon) Day

29 Jan

I apologize for the Blizzard of 2015 getting in the way of letting you know whether or not Future Jill’s predictions on National Readathon Day were accurate. You can get off your pins and needles today, though, because here’s the full story:

National Readathon Day was supposed to take place on Saturday. Noon to 4, me and the couch and some reading material. A tortilla chip thwarted those plans.

Saturday morning, I was in the kitchen, and I noticed a tortilla chip on the floor, so I bent over to pick it up and noticed some other floor junk by a corner of the stove. I’d been cooking and baking a fair amount recently, so maybe some other piece of food had fallen and needed to be picked up.

Or maybe it was a dead mouse.

A dead mouse in the kitchen causes a chain of events:

I say, “There’s a mouse!”

The Boy, who’s sitting at the kitchen table, quickly lifts up his feet and cries, “Where?!”

“It’s dead. It’s here by the stove.”

The Boy comes over to the stove to assess the situation, pronounces that the mouse is indeed dead (because it’s certainly not still sleeping on its side during all this commotion, unless it is one mellow mouse) and proceeds to dispose of it. This involves sweeping it into a dustpan, which [GORE ALERT] leaves a tiny trail of mouse guts and blood on our kitchen floor, and throwing it away.

When he comes back into the house, the proclamation is made: We have to clean up this kitchen.

Now.

And suddenly National Readathon Day becomes National Cleanathon Day.

We scrubbed everything–cabinets, windows, oven, garbage cans, refrigerator, and our personal nemesis, the floor. Now, we have a very nice white tile floor that’s got a little off-white pattern on it that hides the dirt a little bit. We discovered that this pattern does an amazingly good job because it was hiding a lot of dirt. A lot. Of dirt. We’d been cleaning with Mop & Glo, which apparently puts glow on the floor but doesn’t do a heck of a lot of mopping, because we both spent a couple of hours on our hands and knees scrubbing the floor with sponges and Mr. Clean, marveling at how dirty the water had gotten in our scrub bucket.

One we were done, the floor–and kitchen–looked fantastic, but man, did my shoulder hurt. Plus, I was too zonked to put in another four hours of conscious living, let alone reading. The readathon would be postponed.

On Sunday, it happened. Me, couch, book, a four-hour block of afternoon. I finished reading Can I Get an Amen? by Sarah Healy, which was an entertaining read–not earth shattering, but as someone who went to Christian schools, I could relate to the environment of a church-centered life and all of the characters that went with it.

When I finished the story, I still had about an hour to go in the readathon, so I thought I’d peruse the readers’ guide that went along with the book, then find something else to read. But the first question turned out to be a slap-in-the-face for me, and I stopped the readathon cold.

I don’t know why, but I still have a lot of hang-ups as a writer, and I know that constant practice, constant putting pieces together and constantly submitting those pieces for publication is really the only way to get to where I’d like to be. Why I won’t let myself do that is something I don’t quite understand, but this year I’ve decided I’m through wallowing. It’s not cute anymore, and it’s been going on so long that people shouldn’t still be sympathetic to my imagined plight. It’s time to make something happen, particularly in terms of finishing up creative writing, submitting it and resubmitting the rejected pieces (I’ve gotten some rejections lately, which is a step, but I need to keep searching for a home for those stories). It doesn’t have to be great or earth-shattering; it just has to be done.

So when I read the first question, which is about how the author got into writing, and the response is, “I never expected to be a writer. That I have managed to become one comes as the most pleasant shock,” followed by a lengthy description of someone who figured out what they wanted to do and then slowly and realistically made it happen, I got pretty disappointed in myself, and I wanted to do something about it, rather than continue consuming other people’s work. Not that reading isn’t important or that I shouldn’t make a more conscious effort to sit down for a longer period of time to enjoy doing it, but that I also need to get to work.

Future Jill got it partly right. I finished the book I’d intended to. I’m curious as to what Future Jill has to say about the result of that experience. I might ask her at some point, but I think already know what she’s going to say.

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