Tis the season for sugarin'

Today, I started my day in one of the best ways humanly (and seasonally) possible.

No, not that way. This is a PG- (okay, PG-13) rated blog, thank you.

I, along with 5 of my close friends, went to opening day at Steve's Sugar Shack.
That's right, it's maple sugar season!
One blueberry pancake, 2 strips of bacon, two eggs over easy, and a boat load of syrup later, I'm in my warm, foodie, happy place. It doesn't get much better than that.

In case you'd like to hit up a sugar shack of your own, and live in my area, a helpful Sugarhouse Directory has been compiled. Steve's Sugar Shack is all the way down at the bottom of the page - it's in Southampton - and I also recommend Gould's Sugarhouse in Shelburne and Zawalick's Sugarhouse in Northampton.

If you're interested in cooking with maple syrup, here are a few cookbook suggestions:

Cooking with Shelburne Farms: Food and Stories from Vermont
by Melissa Pasanen with Rick Gencarelli, Susie Cushner (photographer), and Jordan Silverman (photographer)
Hardcover: 9780670018352 $34.95

A wonderful (fairly local) cookbook, this has a lot of recipes (varying levels of difficulty) that call for maple sugar. I've made some of them myself; they're delicious! The stories in the book about the people involved in Shelburne Farms and who have contributed recipes are an interesting bonus to the book. It's amazing how much people can (still!) really live off the land.

Maple Syrup Cookbook
by Ken Haedrich, with a foreword by Marion Cunningham
Paperback: 9781580174046 $10.95

This is an updated and revised version of an older cookbook that is all maple syrup, all the time.

Quick - run out, grab some friends, and take yourselves out to your local sugar shack. I promise, it'll be worth the trip!


Book Review: Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey 9780446198172, $13.99
Published May 2009

I have been a Jacqueline Carey addict since high school. That is when my sister and I first discovered the Kushiel series. I honestly don't remember who discovered it first. I think it was me, but I'm never quite sure, and anyway, we were pretty much trading those books back and forth from the moment either of us found them. The Kushiel series is 6 books - two trilogies combined to make a series. There is soon going to be a new spin-off book, Naamah's Kiss, published in June 2009. I haven't read that one yet, but will review it as soon as I have.

Santa Olivia is not of that series. Santa Olivia is a different beast entirely, but one that has proven just as effective by sinking its claws into me. Carey has this incredible ability to create new worlds out of something that seems so familiar. For instance, this story takes place in an isolated town in the no-man's-land border between the United States and Mexico - perfectly plausible, given the state of the world today. Not a part of either country, the U.S. military runs the town that surrounds the military base. The people of Santa Olivia (the town) have been forgotten by the world, and it is into this controlled, neglected, forgotten wasteland that Loup Garron is born.

The daughter of a human woman and a genetically-modified "Wolf Man" (a project of the U.S. military - genetically modify humans to make them faster, stronger, fearless, fighters), Loup has been taught by her mother and brother to hide who she is so the military doesn't take her away. Her father was forced to leave for his own safety, before Loup is born, so upon her mother's death, Loup goes to live with the other orphans at the town church. The orphans know her secret and help her to conceal it, while simultaneously working together to right some of the wrongs in the town. Hence, the living legend of Santa Olivia - already the patron saint of the town - is born. When Loup's brother is killed in a boxing match set-up by the commander of the military base, Loup vows to fight and win, even knowing this would mean exposing herself, thus leading to her capture and possible death.

A beautiful side-story is Loup's relationship with her fellow orphans. As a half Wolf-Man, Loup always feels a little different; though they love her, her fellow orphans recognize that difference, especially when they start growing up and pairing off. Loup tries kissing, tries dating, even tries sex, but it is a surprise to them all, with whom Loup actually ends up being. Wolves mate for life, and the love between these two is no exception. But what will become of it, with Loup's fight looming closer and closer? What, and who, will Loup choose? Avenge her brother? Stay with her lover? Be herself? How can she possibly win everything she's fighting for?

I'm not going to give away the ending, but I will say, it in no way disappoints.


Book Review: Darling Jim by Christian Moerk

Darling Jim by Christian Moerk
9780805089479, $25
Published APRIL 2009

I read the first 100 pages of this novel holding my breath and barely blinking. Here is what I discovered: 1) I should never begin a new book at work because then I will read it even when I'm not supposed to and not get any work done, and 2) Christian Moerk is a new voice to be reckoned with. Boy, oh boy, did I get the creeps! Spine tingling, goosebumps, morbid fascination with whatever twisted secret will be revealed next - the whole nine yards.

In a sleepy little village in Ireland, a postman discovers the bodies of three dead women. Two were discovered right away - a bloody fight to the death that resulted in them both leaving this world. The third woman was discovered later, hidden behind a wall. Death and murder, by their very nature is a pretty creepy business, but there's already a twist. All three women were related: the two young girls are the nieces of the older woman, and it looks like the older woman held them captive, slowly starving and poisoning them to death. Even later it is discovered that another person was also held captive in the house, but apparently managed to escape. No one knows why this gruesome episode took place.

No one, that is, until a different postman discovers a package in the post office, sent by one of the dead girls! He steals the package and opens it to find a diary, kept while the girl was held prisoner in her aunt's house. As he reads her diary, she begins to tell him a tale of sisterly love and devotion, an aunt's unstable mind, and a traveling bard named Jim who ensnares women far and wide.

His life already out of control (fired from his job, evicted from his apartment), the postman sets off on a quest to the village the girls are from, to find out what led them all to their pitiful end. The diary haunts him, her story haunts him - so honest, so lacking in self-pity or remorse. And what of the third person held in that house? Who was it and where are they now?

Almost a Sidney Sheldon-like psychological creepiness, you won't be jumping at bumps in the night, but you'll definitely feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. The plot development is absolutely wonderful, the prose is crisp and clear, and the characters are ones that will stay with you long after the book has ended. Everything about this book was a sinister pleasure.



Typset (and tattoos)

In an earlier post, I previously gushed about my love of typography and my love of tattoos, both of which I need to learn more about.

Then in my friend Sarah's store, Boswell's Books
in Shelburne Falls, MA, I came across a book which in turn led me to this (-->) book and now my life is almost complete.
(BTW, this book has a website. And you can also buy it here.)

I'm thinking of combining the ideas in the book on the right with the image on the left and having a block of mismatched type tattooed onto the middle of my back. Not lower back, tramp-stamp-style, but higher than that, yet below the bra line. This would require, I believe, me buying or borrowing several different old sets of wooden type and stamping them out to create the design I want. This is why though I'm clearly a bit into tattoos, there's no real worry that I will be covered in them any time soon. Clearly this is going to be a bit of a process.

Any feedback? Thoughts?


Ode to Libraries

Today, I would like to discuss that brilliant piece of architecture and book-lovery known as The Library.

What IS it about libraries? There's something absolutely delicious about them. Maybe it's the dusty musty smell of hundreds, if not thousands, of books all housed together in one place. Maybe it's the nooks and crannies that make you feel sort of private and secretive without knowing why. Maybe it's the reverence for the written word that comes out in the hushed atmosphere; the community-at-large worshiping page after page.

Whatever the reason, I absolutely LOVE libraries and almost everything in them. I clearly rem
ember my first library. When I say "my first library," I don't mean the first library I ever visited, because that probably happened in the womb. Instead, I'm referring to the first library I ever experienced on my own - explored dark corners, found my own books, claimed my favorite chair. I do believe it was the Duggan Library in Hanover, Indiana (an academic library that was part of the Hanover College Campus; my family lived there during most of the 90s). There was an entire children's room - the existence of which I never questioned, though I suppose in hindsight, that was a little odd in an academic reference library - with a heavy wooden door and one big window. My favorite chair was in the corner, to the side of the window, and I spent hours and hours there. I can still tell you exactly what my favorite books to read there were.

The first was a book called We Are Mesquakie, We Are One by Hadley Irwin (doing a Google search, the book is apparently still available here! The cover is different from the version in my head, though). This was about an Indian girl who had to travel a long distance (alone, if I remember correctly) because her family has been relocated thanks to White encroachment. My other favorites were all by the same author, Kenneth Thomasma. He wrote fictionalized pseudo-biographies of Native American children. If I remember correctly, they were even signed by the author. I devoured these like there was no tomorrow.

Now as an adult with an undergraduate degree in Anthropology concentrating in Native American studies, I recognize these books are fraught with problems, not the least of which is the (hopefully unintentional) stereotypical, bordering on racist, way the Indians are portrayed. For a great blog entry on Ken Thomasma books, written by Debbie Reese, a Nambe Pueblo Indian, check this out. Regardless, these books still hold a place in my heart - without them I might not have studied Native American culture, and would be just as ignorant as almost all the other non-Natives out there.

I'm also always on a hunt for beautiful libraries - so many of them seem to be just gorgeous! The Mount Holyoke College library may have been one of the reasons I attended that school. There are several others in the general Western Mass. area that take my breath away. There seems to be a propensity for libraries to be housed in old churches and the like, which give them an extra spec
ial feel (thank god I live in New England). A woman in my grad school class is married, I believe, unless I've got this completely wrong, to a library architect, and I am so jealous (and a little turned on). Having never met the man, I can only dream what a library architect might actually be like, but it may now be one of my life goals to actually meet one. You should also check out this great blog post on some of the World's Most Beautiful Libraries, and this one about two libraries designed by architect Tadao Ando. Some of these almost make you hurt inside, they're so magnificent.

What was your childhood library? Any memories you want to share? What's your library now? Any favorites?



Book Review: Stay by Nicola Griffith

It has taken me way too long to finish this novel, but I am blaming that on the book proposal, 9-page paper, 6 10-page workshop pieces to edit, 4 articles to read, etc. etc. etc. for class this week. I'm shocked I've found time to read it at all, to be quite honest, given my grad school work load. But I managed, and that's enough bitching - on the actual review!

Spoiler alert - if you haven't read the first Aud Torvigen book - The Blue Place, my review is here - don't read this review. I ruin the ending of The
Blue Place for you.

Stay by Nicola Griffith

Paperback: 9781400032303, $12.95

Stay was not quite the same masterpiece as the first book in this series - in my exulted opinion. While Aud is still an intriguing character, I was not turning the pages as fast as I did in the first Aud Torvigen novel (and not just because of my work load). Her all-consuming grief over Julia's death is understandable and well-written, but does not make for a captivating read. If you're looking for the sexy, kick-ass Aud of The Blue Place, you won't find her here. Clearly Aud is multidimensional, but having that confident, attractive, self-knowing character was one of the major appeals for me; Julia's death has ripped Aud apart and she doesn't know how to put herself back together. She attempts to do so throughout the novel, with varying degrees of success.

A secondary character in the first novel- Dornan, one of Aud's good friends - comes to her for help. His often-wayward fiance has gone missing and he wants Aud to find her. Aud reluctantly takes the case, but when she finds Tammy, it's really just the beginning. Tammy was essentially kidnapped by a sociopath who not only kidnaps people, degrades them to the extent that they have no self-confidence left, and video tapes their sexual escapades as part of blackmailing them, he also has a 9-year-old girl being raised to be his perfect future wife (think brainwashing, illegal Mexican immigrant, Bible-belt foster parents, the whole nine yards).

The plot has almost a Bourne-series feel to it (the book series about Jason Bourne, made into a blockbuster movie trilogy staring Matt Damon), and the convoluted plot almost begs for some fast-paced action, which we sadly do not get at quite the pace it asks for. The story itself takes place over the course of a few weeks, but Aud's inner monologue makes it feel as if the plot is going on for much longer.

What Griffith does well in Stay is enhancing Aud's newly-formed deliberations over how situations are not always black and white, right and wrong. Griffith also gives us more enticing details of Aud's wood fascination - Aud rebuilding a cabin in the woods is almost as much of a sexual exercise as it is therapy. (Or maybe that's just me - I find brains and capability sexy in a woman, and Aud's knowledge of wood types, hand tools, and how to build a cabin in the woods really does it for me. Especially since she adds things like plumbing and a claw-foot tub.)

While I was pleased with the way the plot-line was resolved, I'm definitely looking forward to reading the third (and so far, last one published) book in this series. I'm hoping the sexy, kick-ass Aud Torvigen I fell in love with in the first book will be back in full style. As soon as I've finished Always, I'll let you know. For an excerpt of Always, click here. For an excerpt from Stay, click here. Share/Bookmark

Children's Book Talks

One of my favorite parts of my job is giving book talks to people. Whether it's one individual in my bookstore or an entire classroom of people, there's almost nothing I love better than to gush about my favorite books to avid listeners.

Today I had the rewarding experience of speaking to a class I had once taken. As an undergrad at Mount Holyoke College, I had taken a Writing Children's Literature class with professor/author Corinne Demas. During that class, one Friday morning, we traipsed across the road to the Odyssey Bookshop where the now-retired Cindy Pyle, then the Children's Department Manager, gave us a book talk about all sorts of amazing books and publishing trends in the children's literature world.
Corinne's Newest Book!
Available here.

Four years later, now the Children's Department Manager at the Odyssey Bookshop myself, I had to the pleasure of giving just such a book talk to Corinne's latest Writing Children's Literature class. It was an amazing and rewarding experience. Though I have further dreams (*ahem*owning my own children's store*ahem*), in a way, you know you've made it when a former professor says, "I've learned so much from you!"

Thanks to Corinne's class for being a supportive listening audience, for being interested in a subject so close to my heart, and for asking some great questions. I hope to see you all back here soon!


Spring = Baseball, Baseball = Red Sox

I admit it. I'm a Red Sox convert.

As the daughter of two people from New York (Mum from The City, Dad from upstate [Syracuse, which is respectably upstate, not just 10 minutes outside The City]), it couldn't be helped. The Yankees and their evil empire used to be my team. Actually, it was really the Mets. Mum had been a Dodgers fan until that sad, sad day many years ago, so the Mets it was, with a little bit of the Yankees thrown in. Then the fam moved to Jersey, 20 minutes away from the Sovereign Bank Arena, home of the Trenton Thunder, one of the minor league feeder teams for the NY Yanks - it was all downhill from there.

Let me make it clear at this point that I am NOT from New Jersey (despite what my license plate may say). I only lived there 2 years and hated almost every minute of it.

Continuing on, it wasn't until I moved myself up to Western Mass. that I really understood what this w
hole baseball thing was about. I mean, I liked watching a game or two on T.V. I've played softball since I was about 9 years old. Fourth of July for me means sitting in a stadium eating a hot dog, cheese fries, soft pretzle, and ice cream, watching the fireworks go off to a cheesy soundtrack after watching at least 9 innings of ball.

But these Massachusetts Sox fans were something different.

It was a slow conversion. I found myself the only NY fan in the room while watching the 2003 series (I decided to keep quiet, fearing for my life). In 2004, I was feeling a touch of Sox fever, but was still holding out. When '06 rolled around, at least 2 Red Sox girlfriends (my mother had some choice words about that, let me tell ya) and one Johnny Damon-hatred later, I was finally starting to see the error of my ways. And by the time I graduate college in '07, and I made the firm decision to call the Happy Valley my home, my parents had given up all hope.

(No, really, they sent me a shoebox and a Red Sox hat. The hat had the word "TRAITOR" written across it in black permanent marker. The shoebox was for me to send back my Yankees hat so they could give it a proper burial. Let's just say I come by my sense of the dramatic honestly.)

I've never
looked back. How could I with hottie Native Jacoby Ellsbury speeding around bases and holding his own in the outfield? With Tek's tree-trunk thighs and bodacious butt to swoon over every other game? Pap's Scottish jig of some kind? YOOOOOOUK? And let's not forget the love between Big Papi and Little Peedie (as Dustin Pedroia is affectionately known in my circles). Sigh. I really had no choice. I'm sure you understand.

I'll tell you one thing though, that I never could quite cotton-with, and that was Manny's "Manny being Manny" attitude. I'm sorry, but my belief in this is one of the main reasons I switched teams - you can be a "name," you can be a star, you can and should have your own personality, but when you're on that fi
eld, you PLAY THE GAME FOR THE TEAM. It's all about the team! And if you're not out there to give your 100% in helping the rest of your teammates, then you have no busines being on that field. This was one of my frustrations with the Yanks - they're a bunch of superstars out there, each playing in their own little universe. I just don't see the team cohesion. With the Sox, it's clearly there. Look at the hugs, the head rubs, the butt slaps, etc. But Manny? Run it out, Manny, it's a freaking ground ball! I'm not saying he wasn't a part of the team when he wanted to be, and yeah, he gave his all when it suited him, and of course, he's a really good player when he sets his mind to it (are you getting the point of my qualifiers in there?). But his attitude left a little something to be desired for me. Feel free to disagree, I'm sure you have your own opinion and you're welcome to share it.

So what's with all this ranting and raving? I'll tell you. I was driving to work the other morning and caught part of an interview on the radio. I don't know what station (sorry!), but it was with the author of a new book coming out called Becoming Manny. Psychologist Dr. Jean Rhodes was being intervied on air, and boy did those radio boys rip her up and down! It was great to hear.

Becoming Manny by Jean Rhodes and Shawn Boburg, foreword by Leigh Montville
9781416577065, $25
Hardcover coming out in March '09

Now I have not read the book yet myself (it comes out next month), but from what these radio hosts were insinuating, this book is not only a life and times of, but a list of excuses for one Mr. Manny Ramirez. Granted these talk show hosts are Red Sox fans, and assuredly NOT fans of the way Manny handled his recent team change, so the show was, of course, slightly skewed. Yet, it piqued my interest enough that you can bet I will be picking up a copy of this to read during my lunch breaks next month. You should too, and then tell me what you think.

As an aside, one book about baseball I really enjoyed reading was Three Nights in August by Buzz Bissinger. This is about the rivalry between the Cardinals and the Cubs. One of my favorite lines is when Buzz stresses the difference between the (in his eyes) stronger, longer running, and more legitimate feud between the Cubs and the Cards, and the rivalry between the Sox and the Yanks. He says about that latter rivalry:

That's a pair of bratty high-priced supermodels trying to trip each other in their stilettos on the runway.

I'm imagining Lugo in drag. Thank you for that image, Buzz, thank you.
Three Nights in August by Buzz Bissinger
Paperback: 9780618710539, $13.95

Lastly, you know where I'll be Feb. 25th. On my couch with NESN on, watching the first televised game of the season. For the Sox game schedule, click here. Y'all are welcome to join me.


The Pleasures of a Disorganized Library

Confession: I stole this title from the below article. It was too good to pass up, and since I'm sharing the article with you anyway, I decided to go for it.

I was concerned when I began this blog that I would eventually run out of ideas, run out of things to say. (For those of you who know me personally, this may seem like an impossibility, but still, there's always the chance that can happen. Cave under pressure, that sort of thing.) Luckily, I've been realizing that inspiration can come from
anywhere - especially when friends send you links to great articles that you then poach ideas from for your own blog.

Case in point - a friend sent me this article:

The Pleasures of a Disorganized Library
by Gina Barreca

Reading this article promptly made me consider my own hodgepodge of shelves. The article begins with the premise that the world holds two types of people - those who alphabetize their shelves and those who don't. I fall into the non-alphabetized category.

The article made me consider something I had only
done instinctively before. Having moved (again) fairly recently (last July), I have a pretty clear memory of unpacking 10 boxes of books and trying to decide what went where. There was the shelf in my bedroom (for personal favorites and what I'm currently reading), the shelf in the game room (guilty pleasures and school books), and the shelf in the living room (everything else). That part was set. Now what went where on the actual shelves?

In perusing my bedroom shelves, here is what I found out about my own loosely organized
books. Heavier books are on the bottom shelf, consisting mostly of photo albums with a few coffee table and craft books thrown in there. Next up is a shelf of children's books - current favorites and autographed copies. The one above that, right in the middle of the shelf would start the hardcover favorites; some adult, some children's titles. They're lumped together vaguely by unofficial made-up-in-my-head categories, such as "guilty pleasure reading" [the Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey - shout-out to Ms. Carey who links to independent booksellers on her website!], "classic literature" [Louisa May Alcott], "contemporary children's literature" [Laurie Halse Anderson], "adult favorites" [A Mighty Heart by Mariane Pearl]. Third shelf from the top are all out-of-print copies of favorites from childhood - versions I never had as a kid and can only afford now that I'm an adult - books such as A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter and original copies of the Nancy Drew series by Caroline Keene (who, funny enough, if you didn't know this already, is not a real person but simply the pseudonym for a group of authors). Second from the top, you start getting into the adult titles. These are grouped, apparently, by subject matter - travel writing [Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach], essays [Anne Fadiman], short stories [Dorothy Allison], and full novels [Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger]. On the top shelf would be more of the same, these even more loosely arranged as just favorites across the board. My poetry is on this shelf [William Blake], my Anne of Green Gables, my dog-eared pages of children's classics [Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster] (despite how chauvinistic they may seem to me now as an adult). Last, but not least, there's the top of my already over 6 ft tall bookshelf, upon which rests crafting books, laid carefully on their sides, and an encyclopedia of children's authors edited by Anita Silvey. I remember placing the bulk of these books on the shelf, moving them around and adding many more in the months I've been here, but what amazes me is that this is really the first time I've taken a good look at the organization. It was really done instinctively, which I mentioned before; it's kind of amazing when you think about it. Wonder what my shelves say about me - maybe some sociologist or psychologist has done a study. Bookshelf arrangement = deep dark insights into your psyche.

What do your shelves look like? And what, do you think, do they say about you?


Indies Represent!

I was sadly not one of the lucky hordes who attended the Winter Institute conference this year (WI4, as it is known), yet nonetheless, I have firmly jumped on several bandwagons colleagues have brought back with them from that laudable event. Here is the latest:

Become an IndieBound Affiliate

What does this mean, exactly? Well, almost every time someone mentions a book, it is linked to be purchased from...where? Did you guess Amazon? You'd be right! That's a whole heckuva lotta sales that the independent bookselling world is missing out on.

A lot of people may not know that there are independent sites, similar to Amazon.com, that help you purchase books online. I'd like to personally encourage each and every one of you to link to IndieBound (I'd prefer "instead of Amazon", but I'll settle for "alongside Amazon") whenever you link a book to an online distributor.

Please check out this site to find out how you, too, can become a friend of the independents and help to save us. Clap if you believe in faeries. Clap if you want to save us. Link if you want to save us. Do you believe? Do you?

(BTW, if you're looking for someone to explain this a little more thoroughly, Bookavore has a great post on this; she was actually at WI4, and is much more eloquent.)



Bookstores I Love

A friend recently suggested,
"You should have a section about bookstores [in the blog]...
independents, ones you've visited and loved, etc."

Genius. Pure genius!

Then I started the section of links in the right-hand column and realized I couldn't remember the names of most of the bookstores I've been to!
So sad.
The stores in th
e list at the moment are the only ones my limited memory could handle today, but I thought I would open this question up to you, cool reader of the blog.

What are some of your favorite bookstores? And why? Tell me about them, share your secret places. I'll tell you mine, if you tell me yours.

My favorite bookstore at the moment (besides the one I work in, of course) is The Montague Bookmill in Montague, MA. A former mill situated on the banks of the Sawmill River, this used bookstore is in a positively idyllic location. Part of a small complex of stores, the Bookmill compound is also home to Turn It Up! (a music store), an antique shop, an art studio, the Night Kitchen (a restaurant), and, my personal favorite, the Lady Killigrew Cafe which is connected to the Bookmill itself.
Seriously, I have dreams about the warm brown rice salad, the summer sausage sandwich with cheese and grainy beer mustard (sandwich #3, I think, on their menu), and a rich, chocolate cupcake with white mint frosting for dessert. They also serve beer and wine (other drinks, too), and though the Bookmill itself closes at 6 every day, the Lady Killigrew is open much, much later. Perfect for the overworked grad student, hence my current obsession.

What are some of your favorites?


Typography &Tattoos

So, I'm a major geek. This may not come as much of a shock to you, considering I have a blog about books, things related to books, type, words, writing, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera (quick - 10 points for naming that movie!), but I am.
How much of a geek am I? I watched the documentary film Helvetica (about the font) on a date and loved it. (Granted the date was with a librarian, which really should get me more geek points, but you get the idea. She loved the movie, too.)
Honestly, though, I highly recommend checking out both the film and the soundtrack. Since I've seen the film, I've spoken with others, some younger (20s), some older (older than 20s), who have loved it. If you live in the area, Pleasant Street Video in Northampton has it.

Now, the point really is that watching this movie reminded me of my love for (of? - correct grammar?) fonts, which in turn reminded me of my love for (of?) punctuation. That particular love was fostered by the best-selling Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss (which, if you haven't read, is fabulous, hilarious, and will probably make you love punctuation, too; or at the very least will clarify some points that may have been bugging you - with or without your knowledge - for most of your life).

Remembering my love of (for?)
punctuation made me remember my desire to get a punctuation-inspired tattoo. I've recently gotten my first tattoo and am showing all signs of becoming an addict. This sounds more frightening than it really is. It took me about 5 years to get the first tattoo; 3 of those years were spent in the actual planning/design phase.

So, I'm wracking my brain for what kind of punctuation tattoo I mig
ht want. A period? No, that could be mistaken for a freckle *ahem*excuse me, beauty mark, so that's out. Same with a colon, a semi-colon, ellipses, comma, even the dash and parenthesis. None of these are unique enough to be recognized as what they are when not used as actual punctuation. So, which - the exclamation point? the question mark? Too much of a statement. The statement is the tattoo itself, not some deeper meaning behind the punctuation. An exclamation point could mean I take life in this EXCITED!!! and CONSISTENTLY JOVIAL!!! sort of way. A question mark could mean I am constantly questioning, theorizing, testing the waters, forever asking what is the meaning of life? Not that I don't feel, act, and do all of those things on occasion, but that's not really the message I want to be sending to those who see the tattoo.

Then, in a flash of staggering genius (10 points for naming the title of the book I got that from), it came to me. The Ampersand. The and (&) sign. Perfectly designed, perfectly proportioned, perfectly a statement and not a statement, perfectly perfect.

And so, the hunt is on for the most perfect ampersand sign to get tattooed.

Herein lies another problem, one with which I could use your
help. Do I go fancy or plain? I want to get the tattoo right below, partially in, really, my hairline on the right side of the back of my neck, sort of behind my ear, but not too close, more toward the back of my head, but not in the middle of the back of my neck.

Picturing it yet? Let me know if you are.
I'd love to have your advice.


Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - 2009 Newbery Award Winner

2009 Newbery Award Winner - The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I realize I may be one of the last people to finish this book - my co-worker, Nieves, has been trying to get me to read it since it first came out (congratulations to her for reading a book before me and being the first to gush about it!) - but I finally finished it last night and so am here to tell you all about it.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Hardcover: 9780060530921 $17.99

Great book! Am thrilled it won the award! Enough said!

(he he, just kidding)

Honestly, though, it was a great read. Completely engaging; kids are going to love this Newbery. (Unlike winners of previous years, and the rather recent discussions about the lack of kid street cred given to those winners...hmmm...I wonder if that influenced a decision at all?)

The Graveyard Book grabs you from the first moment and maintains a steady interest throughout the story. What's fascinating, and is one of the reasons Gaiman is such a genius, is that it's a rather morbid, even slightly horrific base story, yet the book is not a scary read. Perhaps this is because Bod - Nobody Owens, the main character - seems to know no fear.

Barely escaping murder as an infant (by the nefarious Jack, of the notorious Jack-of-all-Trades organization), Bod has been raised by ghosts and his guardian Silas (not alive but not dead), in the Old Town graveyard. Bod grows up, having all sorts of wonderful and peculiar adventures, mostly in his graveyard: like visiting the Indigo Man - the oldest being buried in the graveyard; learning about ghouls, ghoul-gates, and night-gaunts, first-hand; making friends with witches; and being taught various lessons by long-dead ghosts and a werewolf. On the few occasions he ventures outside of the graveyard - to run away, to go to school, to find out more about his family's murder - the world is not a safe place for him and he ends up getting into tricky situations.

Even in these various scrapes, Bod keeps his cool, and uses his wits to outsmart everyone from the ghouls to the Jacks. An interesting plot thread, to me, was Bod's complete willingness and interest in ridding the world of the threat of the man who had killed his parents. Even before the climactic confrontation scene, you get the sense that this doesn't necessarily mean Bod is looking forward to killing Jack, or engaging him in any sort of fight, really, yet he is determined to get rid of him. The ingenious way Bod accomplishes this is a masterful stroke of tying in plot points and making use of Bod's unique character.

The end of the book itself is filled with hope. This may sound odd for a book which takes place primarily among the dead, but it seems that having grown up with the dead gives Bod a special appreciation for actually living life to its fullest. Have to admit, I'm kind of hoping for a sequel - Bod in the world. Somehow, though I've closed last page, I haven't quite closed my thoughts on Bod's adventures.

End of review.

So, I have to admit a total lack of knowledge regarding copy write laws.

I want to include in this post an interview with Neil Gaiman that was published in ShelfAwarness.
It was published in the Thursday, January 29th, 2009, Vol. 1, Issue 848, issue.
Here is the link to that issue of Shelf Awareness, and here is the article itself:

Neil Gaiman: 'Children's Fiction Can Change the World'

Neil Gaiman is having a good week. On Monday morning, in the midst of promoting the movie inspired by his book Coraline, which releases February 6, he received a phone call from Rose Trevino, chair of the Newbery committee. The Graveyard Book had won the 2009 Newbery Medal. Gaiman has called the novel a twist on Kipling's The Jungle Book, except that hero Nobody Owens is "somebody who gets raised by dead people" instead of animals, and "Bod" is mentored by a man called Silas, who is not quite like the other ghosts.

All day long in Denver on Monday, librarians were twittering about Gaiman's tweets of "delighted swearing," as he puts it in his blog. You may follow his tweets on Twitter.com, his blog entry of the Newbery call, and watch him reading aloud The Graveyard Book (Gaiman is especially pleased with the crowd's reaction midway through chapter 7, "Every Man Jack," where he had to stop at a cliffhanger). Tuesday, he appeared on the Today Show. Shelf Awareness spoke with Gaiman yesterday while he was en route to the airport to fly back to Los Angeles.

If memory serves, you wrote Coraline late at night, about 20 minutes at a clip, at the same time that you were writing American Gods.

That's very true. I started it many years before, the idea was this was the project I was doing "on my own time," and then we moved to America, and I ran out of "my own time"--it no longer existed. I sent [what I had] to my editor, Jennifer Hershey, and she said, "It's amazing, what happens next?" And I said, "Why don't you send me a contract, and we'll both find out." And she did, bless her. But the problem was I didn't have any more time, so I decided that instead of
reading 10 pages before bed, I'd write half a page. I started [Coraline] for Holly, who's now 23, and finished it for Maddy, and she's now 14.

Was Coraline your first book for children?

It was my first novel for children, technically, but in reality when I was 20 or 21, I wrote my very first book, and it was a children's book. I sent it, I think, to Penguin, and they wrote back with an encouraging note, I put it in the attic and forgot about it. After Coraline and Wolves [The Wolves in the Walls] came out I was reading to my daughter Maddy every night and I remember I went to the attic, found it, read it to Maddy, and then put it back in the attic where it will stay until I'm dead.

You've said The Graveyard Book was inspired by your then 18-month-old son riding his tricycle in your neighborhood cemetery. Was there a specific gate in that cemetery that inspired the ghoul-gate?

The ghoul-gate was inspired by a grave I found in Cornwall about two-and-a-half years ago. I'd taken a little cottage with no wireless, no Internet, and I wrote [chapters] two and three there, "The New Friend" and "The Hounds of God." In the little town of Redroof, I drove past a cemetery and wandered around, and there was one grave that was funghoid--it had a statue, but the statue no longer looked like an angel but rather like a giant fungus. There was a crack down
the middle as if something had been trying to get out; it looked like an opening to somewhere. The line wandered through my head, "There's a ghoul-gate in every graveyard."

I loved that Silas tells Bod that he was worse than Bloody Jack (the man who murdered Bod's family), yet Silas is completely sympathetic. Did you name him for Silas Marner?

I don't think so. Some characters turn up with names, and some don't--the ones who don't, you spend an awfully long time worrying about their names. The boy in the graveyard was someone I'd wondered about for 20-odd years. Then I ran into that line, "Rattle his bones/Over the stones/ It's only a pauper/ Who nobody owns." Whereas Silas was Silas from the moment he walked onto the page.

Before Monday morning, did you know what a Newbery Medal was?

Oh of course! When I was eight years old maybe I picked up my Puffin copy of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, and I loved it enough that it registered as a Newbery. In the years that followed, I read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh; From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Lloyd Alexander's The Prydain Chronicles, because they won the Newbery. So yes, I never imagined it would be an award that it would be my lot to ever take home. I'm awed by it.

So what do you think about children's books?

They're terrible; they should be banned. What kind of question is that? I think they're wonderful. When I was a kid, I was a kid with a book. As far as I was concerned, had you asked me at the age of seven what the most important things in the world are, I'd probably say the first six Narnia books, the first three Mary Poppins books. . . . Had I discovered The Hobbit yet? Not yet. The books that took pride of place on my shelves were Stig of the Dump by Clive King, Tales of Ancient Egypt by Roger Lancelyn Green. I was the kind of kid who, during my summer holidays, would persuade my parents to drop me off at the library in the morning, and I'd spend my day there. Sometimes I'd pack a lunch. At 6:30 when they closed, I'd walk home.

Children's fiction, for me back then, was the most important thing there is. It has a holy place and position that adult fiction doesn't have. Adult fiction is a wonderful thing and enriching to the soul and mind, and it takes you to great places. But children's fiction can change the world and give you a refuge from the intolerable. It can give you a place of safety and show you the world is not bounded by the world you live in--there's more than that.--Jennifer M. Brown Share/Bookmark

Chunkster Challenge 2009

Clearly I don't have enough to read because I've decided to participate in the 2009 Chunkster Challenge (and you all should too!).

I hereby undertake the "Do these books make my butt look big?" challenge, and promise to read 3-5 books of adult fiction or non-fiction that are over 450 pages during the next 10 months. I also promise (as an additional personal challenge) to blog about the books I've read. Okay, that may not seem like such a challenge when you have a book blog in the first place, but someday I'll put up my actual reading list and you will see why this may not be as easy as it sounds.

(Thank you to Vanessa Palomo, Associate Textbook Manager and First Edition Club Manager at the Odyssey Bookshop, for bringing this challenge to my attention.)

Who's with me???


Book Review: The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith

This post was originally on the Odyssey Bookshop's blog (which y'all should go check out anyway), but I decided to repost it here, with a few additional comments.

Here's the original review:

The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith
Paperback: 9780380790883, Harper, $13.95

This is one of those "New to Me" books that other people may have already checked out - considering it was published 10 years ago - but it is so fantastic that everyone who has read it should definitely read it again. Especially considering that the latest book (in what I believe is a 3-book series at the moment) came out in April of 2008. Perfect timing for some new paperback fiction!

When I call this book a "thriller," I don't mean it in the Steven King, make you pee your pants with fright in the middle of the night, sort of way. It's more of an adventure thriller - it's like a symphony where you have this beautiful melody and harmony and you're floating along on trills of music until all of a sudden it crescendos and the cymbals crash and the drums boom and you've got yourself a little rock 'n roll thrown in there. Amazing.

Aud Torvigen is hot, sexy, and in control. A 6-foot, ice blonde Norwegian-American, Aud grew up in Norway, and now makes her home in Atlanta, GA. After leaving the elite "Red Dogs" special police force at the age of 29, Aud now works for herself, taking on jobs that pique her interest, since she no longer needs them to pay the bills.

After running, literally, into a strange woman on a dark road in the middle of the night, only to have a house blow up a block away a few minutes after that, Aud gets tangled in a mess of a private investigation involving a highly-placed politican, international money laundering, art forgeries, and one Julia Lyons-Bennet, who is at once more than and also exactly what she seems. When the investigation turns deadly, Aud and Julia escape to Norway where an unexpected betrayal will bring their trip to an abrupt end. Though Aud solves the investigation, Julia has helped her learn it's no longer about that thrill you only get when you're in the Blue Place. Though heart-wrenching, the end will not disappoint, and will make you glad there are 2 other books out there about Aud for you to read.

Called a "new wave crime-writer" and an author of "literary noir," Nicola Griffith's writing is a sensory delight. Like Aud herself, Griffith's words are precise, exacting, and yet slow and senuous enough to have all of your senses enjoying the experience. You can feel the moist humidity of Atlanta and the icy breath of Norwegian fjords, the bump of rock 'n roll and the glide of skin against skin. Her writing has won her the Tiptree Award, the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award, and six Lambda Literary Awards. It is easy to understand why. Pick up The Blue Place - for an excerpt, click here. You won't be able to put Nicola Griffith or Aud Torvigen down.

When you look for more Aud reading, check out Stay (excerpt) (9781400032303, $12.95) and Always (excerpt) (9781594482946, $15). When you look for more Nicola Griffith, check out her website and/or her blog.

Here's what else I have to say about it (this is the part where I talk more about how it effected me personally):

This book is, for all intents and purposes, a work of thriller fiction. Yet it is also a work of lesbian fiction, and I'm torn about whether or not that should be part of its review. I don't go to the shelf and pull down a work of "lesbian fiction" - neither do I shy away from it - and deep down inside, I believe it really doesn't (and shouldn't) matter if it is, while at the same time there are so many important reasons why it does (matter). It made me ask myself why I don't read more "lesbian fiction". I've never particularly been drawn to that sort of writing or that specific of a genre. At the same time, while I was reading it, I was thrilled that this book was about a woman, being all fierce and fighting and knowing how to protect herself, and then when she turns that same intensity and passion into finding a woman for the evening or when she's forming a relationship with Julia, it was intellectually fascinating.

I don't think it should matter who is picking up this book. The book isn't great strictly because it's "lesbian fiction," the writing stands on its own. And just like I read books about people who are Japanese or Black or who lived in 1875 or currently live in Pakistan, I don't believe you need to be what you read in order for what you're reading to speak to you.

On the other hand (I'm sorry, I'm Jewish, I can't help thinking of Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof every time I say that), there are certain people out there who are going to be uncomfortable reading something about lesbian sexuality. While it may not technically be my job to give them a head's up, a part of me feels obligated to make some reference to it. I think I vaguely alluded to it in the above post I wrote for the Odyssey's blog, but you kind of have to read between the lines to get it. I'm still torn on this issue.

Thoughts? On any of it?



In the beginning...

...I had a blog but it had things on it which were hardly book related, so I deleted all the old posts, gave the blog a face-lift, and have a fresh, new, untouched, unsullied space to grub up. I'm psyched.

You're gonna find a little bit of everything here - everything related to books and words and writing and letters and things of that nature, I mean.

If that's not what you're into, you might want to check out something else. If that
is what you're into, read on! Share/Bookmark