Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The whole Kindle/Nook thing

So I've been avoiding writing about the whole e-reader debate for a while for several reasons. The first is that it's been absolutely done to death. Since they exploded on to the scene about a year and a half ago, all anyone's done is discuss them. Are they the end of the printed word? Are they good, bad, or indifferent? And by the way, anyone hear of any good sales on them?

Another reason is that I don't know much about the debate. I'm not a techie. I was without a cell phone from 2005 until last Christmas, and my co-workers laughed pretty hard watching me try to figure out my future sister-in-law's old Android. I don't have a burning desire for an e-reader, although The Sedentary Vagabond let me mess around with her Nook last week.

The third reason is that it's a debate based mostly on emotion. Either you're seduced by the ease and convenience of Kindle, Nook et al, or you're in love with the tactile smell and feel of books. How can you argue that?

But three things changed my mind. The first was a conversation with a different co-worker today (we'll call him Gibby) who told us of his recent trip to Barnes and Noble. I don't think I've visited one since I picked up "A Dance with Dragons" by George RR Martin over the summer, but apparently they've made some changes. Gibby says it's very Nook-focused now, with the music and DVDs eliminated, and a lot fewer books. He described it as going to an Apple store.

This change seems to be depicted on the New Yorker cover, which also influenced my decision to write about them, as did the fact that I had no other ideas for today.

I can definitely see their appeal. A Kindle or Nook would eliminate the problem I was writing about a few days ago, where I feel as if I'm drowning in books. I'll end up selling the ones I don't want, which is a hassle, and I'll have to keep going through this process over the years. With a Kindle or Nook, hit delete, no problem. It would also be nice to have an endless variety of books available to you on vacation. I usually lug several pounds with me and can work myself into a frenzy packing: but what if I'm not in the mood for that one? What if that one isn't any good? What if I'm feeling more serious? What if this one is too fluffy? Another problem eliminated by a Nook or a Kindle.

The instantaneous nature of it also appeals. In my travels through the blogosphere, I came across a woman who blogs on Canadian fiction. She wrote an article about an interesting-looking book. I wrote down the title and author, but if I had a Kindle or a Nook, it would already be downloaded to it. And by the way, when you're out in public with your Kindle or your Nook, no one knows whether you're reading a trashy romance novel or catching up on back issues of The Economist.

But at the same time, they do have disadvantages. You'll have to keep charging it. My Android spends as much time dead as it does working because I always forget to charge it. I'd be irritated if I wanted to read a book, and couldn't because of a stupid dead battery. You also can't take it in the bathtub with you. I'm assuming that the technology will improve, so you'll have to update every few years, and what, transfer all of your books, I guess? Sounds annoying.

As The Sedentary Vagabond
pointed out, with a Nook or Kindle, you can't tell where you are in a book. If you downloaded "Cannery Row" and didn't check out the page count, you wouldn't know how short it is. You don't know how to tell whether you're almost done with the book. You don't know whether finishing the chapter before bed is realistic. I do that constantly with my books, so I think that would annoy me greatly.

A physical book prevents revisions later, too. I believe there was a case recently where they pulled all of the virtual copies of a particular book for some reason. Just gone, wiped out. I don't know whether it was a licensing dispute, or whether it was that well-publicized case of a recent mystery that turned out to be totally plagarized. But the implications are pretty scary. It would be easy to destroy every copy of something with a click of a button, or revise it to better suit someone else's needs.

So despite the fact that Barnes and Noble is peddling fewer of these "book" things, I do think they'll be around for a while. People will still want a physical copy. People like the tactile aspect of books. A lot of readers are older and not tech-savvy. Others just feel they don't need the expense in this economy. Others may prefer aspects of the physical-book experience for a lot of the reasons I outlined. If you're a busy mom who does her reading in the bathtub after the kids are in bed for the night, if you plan your reading around the length of chapters, if you spend lots of time away from outlets, the Nook or Kindle may not be for you.

But they'll have their devotees, too, and that's also great. I hope it will encourage not only more reading, but more writing too. What could be cheaper to produce than a digital book? I interview many local authors for my paper, and their careers wouldn't be possible without internet-based on-demand publishers. Maybe de-books will be the next frontier and the bleeding edge in independent writing. And in the meantime, I don't see why the printed and digital word can't co-exist.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Short Takes

It's back, that feature where I talk about a few books in quick succession. They're books that didn't spark any sort of deep thoughts, but still worth mentioning anyway.

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. If you haven't read any of his books other than the two that everyone gets assigned in high school, do yourself a favor and pick this one up. It's very short, and is simply a slice of life in this part of a California town, and the characters that live there. Like a lot of fiction from the 1930s and 1940s, it's rather difficult to describe, as it's so character-driven, and doesn't seem to have a formal "plot." It's worth reading for yourself. Pick it up, you won't be sorry.

Faith, by Jennifer Haigh. Having discovered her through a remaindered hard copy of "The Condition" last year, I was pleased that she came out with a new book so quickly. This family drama coincides with the international scandal of priests molesting children. When the narrator's brother is accused, she and her other brother have to choose sides. Since you get several perspecitves, it also provides an interesting look at the life of a modern-day priest. It's definitely up to her usual standard. I wish I could recall more detail, but I do recall liking it.

The Bride's House by Sandra Dallas. I enjoy Sandra Dallas, but honestly, her books tend to be similar. Though one thing I do appreciate about her is that she can resist the "too spunky for her time" trope on occasion. The first inhabitant of the Bride's House, Nealie Bent, has no higher aspirations than to escape her abusive father, marry a rich man and settle down in the Bride's House, the fanciest place in her new community. It doesn't go quite as planned, though, and her daughter is actually forced into Too Spunky mode, on a short leash as her father's accountant when she'd prefer to marry. By the time we meet Nealie's granddaughter, she doesn't need to be Too Spunky. I loathed the ending of this book, because it just seemed dumb, but for the most part, it was a nice quick read.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Get out of jail free

So, one of my longstanding rules for NaBloPoMo is that I'm limited to one post during the month about how I have nothing to blog about, how I'm not into it anymore, how no one reads this anyway (although I do have some evidence to the contrary thanks to the "stats" feature), etc.

Here is that post. It's not so much that I don't have any ideas, it's that I worked almost straight through from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and am just what you might call zombie-fried. I used my chair massager tonight and read a Vanity Fair article about Charlie Sheen, and I'm just not up to writing, especially since I'm staring down the face of having to write several articles tomorrow and lay out my section as well. So, this will be a very short post. But I posted today, just under the wire. NaBloPoMo, still going strong.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Library in my House

Today, I was trying to clean up a "problem room" in my house. Often known as "the back porch," "out back" or simply "the back room," it's been a trouble spot ever since the day I opened its sliding door to move my stuff in. Four years on, I feel like it's never really gotten set up. There are two bookshelves back there, along with a whole lot of other random crap. One large thing back there made its exit this weekend, when we gave our old television to my future sister-in-law and her husband (previously it had been in the middle of the floor).

Mr. Library Diva's Halo-playing chased me back there with my book about the Vikings, and I started looking around. I decided that if I could get rid of the "overflow" books stacked on top of the bookshelves and on the floor, it would go a long way towards making the room feel more like a room and less like the place where things we don't know what else to do with dwell. Since I'm not working in the field right now, I took all of my museum reference books off the shelves to put in a box until things change. It's odds-on that I won't be looking up how to write exhibit labels or searching for ideas on where to put an accession number on a sofa in my day-to-day life. That freed up significant space on my shelves, since those are big books.

It also made me really look at everything on my shelves. With shame. There are quite a few books I've never read, good books by authors I like. I decided that my new year's resolution will be to make decisions one way or the other on them. I've had some for so long that I'm ashamed to feature them in a TBR list on this blog again. Here are some others, though:

Children of Henry VIII, by Alison Weir. This was one of those strange choices, where I saw someone reading it at a Renaissance Festival that my old, terrible job hosted. For some reason, it got into my blood. I had to have it. I didn't want to read anything else. It wasn't at the library, so I bought it. I think I made it to page 4, but having just finished a book about Elizabeth I, maybe the time is ripe to revisit it.

Crystal Beach: The Good Old Days, by Erno Rossi. This was a Christmas gift a couple of years ago. Crystal Beach was an amazing old amusement park that got torn down to make way for condos when I was 13. From time to time, I still visit it in my dreams. I'm not the only one. It's spawned a minor cottage industry in Western New York. Someone purchased the recipie for the suckers they used to make, and several places claim to sell Crystal Beach-style waffles and loganberry. Of course, there are also books. I think I have them all, but have yet to read this one.

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. When she's good, she's very very good. When she's bad...I don't want to say she's horrible, but I've read some of her books that were absolutely forgettable. I guess this one never much appealed to me, but I'm going to give it a try anyway.

Bushwhacked by Molly Ivins. I bought this ages after it came out. I love Molly Ivins but wasn't really in a political mood when I picked it up. I put it on a shelf and it's stayed there ever since.

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. Bought it over the summer after finishing "David Copperfield." I decided to start with "Our Mutual Friend" instead, but didn't get far, and didn't pick this one up either.

Collected stories by Carson McCullers. I got it during the Borders closing orgy. I love her writing style, though, and don't think this one will linger unread too much longer.

Dracula by Bram Stoker. I tried it once before. I'm not sure if knowing the plot will work against me or not.

Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. I got it at the American Association of University Women's book sale this year. I've had a longstanding interest, and vaguely planned it as a winter project.

Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut. Growing up, I always looked forward to our library's biannual book sale. You could get tons of books very inexpensively, and my whole family pretty much just grabbed. I got this during one of those. I do like Kurt Vonnegut, though, so I really should get this one read.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. A few years ago, my dad asked me to go through a big box of books, take what I wanted, and bring the rest to the library for the aforementioned book sale. This is one of my rescues. He's a good writer, and I enjoyed his book about Mormons a lot.

Front Row at the White House by Helen Thomas. Another resuce, and one that I might enjoy more now that I'm working in the field, albeit at the lower end of it.

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. I like learning about the space program, and actually didn't even realize I had this book.

Often, reviewing my shelves doesn't turn up anything unread that I still have a strong desire to read, but today was different. Rather than go to the library when I finish my Viking book, I'm going to pick up one of these.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Workday companion

Working at a newspaper is not what I thought it would be, based on the impression the movies give. In movies, a newsroom is non-stop action. It's fifteen or twenty or fifty different conversations all going on at once (depending on how large a staff the movie newsroom has). It's the hum of a wire, the clacking of keyboards, the constant ringing of phones, the buzz of interviews, and the beeping of the scanner. It's people screaming at each other because they don't have the time to be civil, running around, yelling things like "Page One!" or "Stop the presses!"

My newsroom is generally not like that. I used the generic "hum" to describe a newswire, because I don't know what one sounds like, or if they even make a sound anymore. The scanner is going constantly because my boss is a volunteer fireman, but for the most part, people are pleasant, and if people are yelling, it's usually because there was a super-exciting episode of "Survivor" last night.

But it's definitely not constant activity. What the movies don't show is how much time you spend waiting around. On an average morning, my to-do list may look like this: check e-mail, check voice mail, check regular mail, call mayor about random rumor, call high school drama director to set date to interview musical actors, call owner of new jewelry store down the street regarding business story, call school to arrange interview with the 8th grader who got invited to the White House, set press releases that may have come in. Yikes, huh?

Well, the results often go like this: e-mail, one message from the publisher alerting everyone that the copier won't work between 2 and 3 p.m. and two press releases for things we don't cover, regular mail, a press release from the secretary of a local church regarding an event which you already interviewed the pastor about and wrote a story on, voicemail, someone going "Oh, I think I have the wrong number," after four minutes of silence. Mayor is in meetings all morning, not for the village government, but for his day job. The high school secretary is totally befuddled when you ask about the musical and transfers you to the music department office, where you leave a message.

Jewelry store is so new that its phone is not yet in service. Middle school tells you that they can't just let you talk to a student because after all, you may be one of those phone pedophiles they heard about on CSI, but they'll contact his parents for you. Now you've been at your desk for nearly 20 minutes, and it's time to set those press releases, but there aren't any. Go to your email and refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Go check you mailbox in case a fax came in the last 10 minutes. It didn't. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.

I love my job, I try to bring energy and ambition to it every day, but the reality is, there is some downtime. It's during these times that I turn to one of my newest favorite websites:

I stumbled on it by accident, but there is so much great stuff on there. It's essentially a collection of essays and columns written by a great variety of people. Some of it's funny. Some of it's sad. Some of it is thought-provoking. You kind of never know what you're going to get. "Notes from an amateur spectator at an amateur mixed-martial arts fight" by Rory Douglas is so funny it should come with a warning label. It describes the fights, fighters, spectators, and ring girls at his brother's MMA fights in the Pacific Northwest. The same with "Sarah Walker Shows You How," where she provides detailed explanations on accomplishing some of life's basic tasks. I especially reccommend "How to Train Your Dragon."

Others have the ability to make you think and expose the hidden worlds around you. In "Total Loss," Stef Willen takes literary snapshots of days in her life inventorying charred remains of people's homes. When there's a house or business fire, they call her to sit with the victim and find out what was in the structure so they can make an insurance determination. It's far and away my favorite column on there, so much so that I actually wrote to her to tell her and received a very nice email in return. Some of the columns are funny, and most have at least a little humor in it. But she's dealing with sad situations, and often with very sad people, so there are quite a few tragic columns, too.

Bianca is living every underemployed college graduate's worst fear as a high-class hooker, in "Bianca, the Covert Toronto Escort with a Day Job." That column is also often funny and sad. The funniest parts are when she's comparing and contrasting her day and night jobs, and determines that her madam boss has more credibility than her daytime boss (because she knows what it's like to hold Bianca's position and has a very clear understanding of what she does), and that her night-time co-workers are friendlier, often more professional, and have a better sense of camraderie (unlike the girl who sits next to her all day, never has a longer conversation with Bianca than "Can you hand me that" as is the custom of her daytime workplace, yet maintained a secret Twitter feed entirely devoted to how awful Bianca was). Of all of the columns on there, Bianca's has the strongest arc from start to finish, and she's a heroine you truly root for.

In this year's new column contest, I voted for "History's a Bitch: A Dog Walk through Time" by Robb Fritz to win the extra $1000. His column focuses on dogs' roles in history. Each one must have taken a great deal of research, but he also injects a lot of humor into it, making them a truly enjoyable read. "The Chorus Boy Chronicles" by Brian Spitulnik wasn't an option on the column contest, but it's also very good and entertaining. "Dendrophilia and Other Social Taboos," on New Age living by Dani Burlison, and "Assimilate or Go Home: Dispatches from the Stateless Wanderers" by someone credited only as D.L.M., have both gotten better as they go. "Assimilate" is about young Fundamentalist Christian woman and her work with recent Somalian immigrants in the Pacific Northwest.

I sincerely hope that all of this has convinced you to check out the website for yourself. I'm planning to enter next year's column contest, so someday, you may even see me on there!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Occupy Main Street

Here I am again, with my annual plea to think differently on this Blackest of Fridays.

It's ironic that we go from a holiday rooted in thankfulness and appreciation to one that is all about greed, materialism, and seemingly, how rude one can be. Buffalo shone with pride last year, when we made national news because a man was trampled at Target. Elsewhere in the metro region, shoppers reached over EMTs trying to assist a girl who was having a seizure to grab more shiny plastic crap.

I hate it. I hate it all. The entire concept of Black Friday, a day set aside to honor the worst aspects of our culture, just sickens me. I feel for the retail slaves who were ripped from their warm beds in the pre-dawn hours, if they got any sleep at all, to get screamed at by these hordes for minimum wage.

But Small Business Saturday, that's a concept I can get behind. Small businesses are likely to be quieter and to cultivate an atmosphere of appreciation. There will be tea and cookies, not security guards trying to keep people from killing each other over flat-screen TVs. You'll talk to someone who has made hardware, or shoes, or cupcakes, their life's work and passion, not someone who's still learning the register. It's a tangible chance to help do something about the chains that are taking over everywhere. Small businesses need you. So on Saturday, and throughout the holiday season, do try to buy it local first. Your neighbors depend on you.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

In honor of the holiday, I am posting a speech that I think exemplifies the spirit of the day. It was originally given on a different national holiday, July 4, by a man who some might say had little to be thankful for. Forced into retirement by a rare and fatal disease at the age of 35, at the peak of his career, no one would have blamed Lou Gehrig for seeming angry, sad, or broken. Instead, he gave a speech so powerful, so moving, that people who know nothing about baseball remember him for his ability to see the blessings in his life, even in the face of terrible adversity.

Here is what he said on the day of his retirement, to a packed Yankee Stadium full of people there to honor him. If you feel you have nothing to be thankful for today, remember Lou Gehrig.

"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

"Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.

"When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know.

"So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Things I'm Thankful For

Since it's Thanksgiving Eve, and I will be on the road for the next few days, I thought I'd post now a list of things I'm thankful for this year.

Thankfulness can be tough, especially when things aren't going the way you want them to. With me, the main things I wish were different are work and money. Although I like my job, it's not in the field I went to school for, and it doesn't pay very much. It can be hard to put in perspective when you've just paid all of your bills and have $100 left that needs to cover gas and food for the next week, but although money's a big thing, it's not the only thing, and money problems are far from the worst kinds of problems one can have.

Other than the money, I realized I like pretty much everything about my life right now. My job is meaningful, creative, and it's even fun. It offers the type of work environment I didn't think actually existed. When I feel slightly under the weather, I would be more inclined to go in than stay home, because going in would make me feel better. Working at a community newspaper also gets you appreciation. Occasionally, people will give you hard time, but the kind, thoughtful emails and letters I've received outnumber the nasty ones at least five to one. So I'm definitely thankful for my job, especially at a time when so many people don't have one.

I'm also thankful for family. Family's easy to take for granted when you have a good one. They're like air: you don't really think about them until they're gone. My mother and Mr. Library Diva's father both had health scares this year, and my sister had a minor surgery over the summer, so I'm thankful that everyone is OK and is doing well, and here with me. And I'm thankful that they are such a wonderful, supportive, kind, loving family.

I'm thankful for my partner. I have a friend right now who's divorcing a terrible human being and tells stories that will make your hair curl. Whatever else happens, I know I have Mr. Library Diva to come home to, and that makes my home a safe, welcoming place. He's there whenever I need advice or have a problem or just need cheering up. He's there for the fun times, too. I'm looking forward to marrying him next year!

I'm thankful for my friends. Some, like Chris and Dan, I only get to see rarely. Others, like The Sedentary Vagabond, I get to see every day. But I appreciate your support, I appreciate you being a part of my life, and I'm thankful for your companionship and for the relationship we have, whether we talk all the time or not often at all.

I'm thankful for my cats. A co-worker interviewed second graders for her paper about things they were thankful for. Pets ranked high. One little boy said that his cats kept him from getting lonely when his brothers didn't want to play with him, and another said that his cat slept on his clothes and warmed them up for him. I definitely agree with all of that, and more. They make me laugh, they help me fall asleep at night, and home just wouldn't be the same without them.

I'm thankful that I have a decent place to live, and thankful for all of the stuff in it. I've been in this apartment for four years, and the only place that felt more like home was the house I grew up in. I got a good deal on a nice place in a nice neighborhood, with a place to garden and sit outside in the nice weather, and offstreet parking for the cars. Kids come in hordes at Halloween, everyone decorates for Christmas, and it's a place I can invite people to with pride.

I'm thankful for people who create things. Maybe blogging daily and working for the paper has given me a new appreciation of the simple fact that there are human beings behind every snarky website you snicker at, every book you read, every TV show, movie or play you watch, every exhibit you visit. Some of these people are well-known, others you'll never hear of, but they enrich our lives just the same. Thank you for the time and effort you spend to entertain others.

And I'm thankful for you, my readers. I'm never sure how many of you there are, but I appreciate everyone who comes here and checks out my blog. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Getting Romantic: a guest post by The Sedentary Vagabond

Today's post was brought to you by .The Sedentary Vagabond. I am guest posting on her blog today, too, so make sure to visit me over there!

My introduction to romance novels came when I was a fifth grader smuggling them home from my tiny Christian school. (I was really sheltered, and my mom thought I was too young to read romance. Long story)

They were works by authors such as Janet Oke, full of pioneers and Amish people and very definitely PG.

My mother no longer desires or is able to control my reading habits, but I hadn’t read a true romance novel … until this week.

I love reading - it ’s my go to answer when anyone asks me what hobbies I enjoy – but I’ve mostly focused on classic fiction, biography, humor, detective fiction – pretty much everything but romance. My aunt has bookshelves upon bookshelves of romance novels though, so there must be something to them. Right?

I selected “A Scotsman in Love” as my reading choice. I’ve got some Scottish blood in me, and the cover featured a dashing Scottish gent shirtless, garbed in tartan and holding a lovely lass in his arms, so it promised the true romance novel experience.

The book was fine for its type. It was well written enough – not enough to deserve to enter the same room as “Anna Karenina,” but it was readable. The author did seem to have had her thesaurus too handy – seriously, nobody describes leaf color as “persimmon and ochre.”

Stories tend to have a certain setup: tension and resolution, but it was all too evident in this piece. And no, I don’t just mean the non-PG stuff. The main characters, a Scottish lord (of course) and a talented female painter, spend too much time unaccountably sniping at each other before the non-PG stuff begins.

Of course, the man is perfectly beautiful. Of course, the woman is unusually strong and sassy for her time. Of course they’re suddenly passionately obsessed with each other.

I don’t think this is a fault of this particular author. This is what the romance genre is. It’s about using certain common tropes to provide a predictable type of entertainment. The formula is what makes it attractive. If it wasn’t formulaic, it would be a different type of book.

I can definitely be one for predictability myself, at times. I like “cozy mysteries,” defined by Wikipedia as “a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community.” You can come to those sorts of stories with certain expectations and find them fulfilled. And I am perfectly fine with that.

I don’t find romance novels all that compelling. Maybe it’s an acquired habit, and I need to read another.

Do you like romance novels? What attracts you to the genre? Should I be looking for volumes without sexy Scottish men on the cover?

Also, apropos of nothing in particular, I found this sentence in the book hilarious: “He was not so much hirsute as all male.” Author, what I think you really mean is he was a hairy, hairy man.

Monday, November 21, 2011

TBRR = To Be Renewed Repeatedly?

I think I may have mentioned a few times that I have a longstanding ambition to learn more about Vikings. I'd like to say something lofty inspired it, but World of Warcraft inspired it. And it wasn't the fact that an entire 12-boss raid was lifted from Norse mythology, featuring bosses named Freya, Thorim, and Hodir, or that the Wrath of the Lich King expansion had a Norse subplot, with Skaldic warlords to defeat, and valkyries waiting to attack you everywhere. No, my honest thought was that if I read up on it, I could annoy the rest of my guild with random factoids.

Well, that subplot is over and done with (they moved on to mining Egyptian beliefs), but the desire never really went away. This summer, I checked out a book simply titled "The Vikings" by Robert Ferguson.

I didn't read it.

Then I checked it out again.

And I didn't read it.

But this time, I'm pretty determined. I'm about 20 pages into it, and it's really good. It opened with the description of an excavation of a burial ship in the 1920s. When the ship was buried, with the bodies of the two women, they chose an area with very clay-like soil, and the soil preserved the spring flowers that were growing when they dug out the pit, and the fall flowers that were there by the time they were ready to bury the boat. It was interesting reading earlier theories on conservation, as well. I'm also surprised at the paucity of primary sources, even archaeological sites, for Viking culture.

But I'm not sure I'm going to get to keep going, sadly. I checked my library account as a means of checking the author's name, and also to renew my books. It won't let me. I owe too much in fines, so it may be going back to the library tomorrow, sadly.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hawaii and American Domination through the eyes of Sarah Vowell

I remember in eighth grade history class, Mr. Vincek warned us that we were going to be studying a sort of dark period of history during the decades following the Civil War, when America started to seize territories across the globe. I don't remember how it was explained to us, but it's a part of American history that we certainly don't like to dwell on much.

Sarah Vowell touched on this towards the beginning of her book on Hawaii, "Unfamiliar Fishes." She notes that during the time was researching the book, America was preparing to go to war in Iraq. The anti-war protestors tried to argue that what we were doing was against American ideals, and that "this isn't who we are." Sarah Vowell's history of American involvement in Hawaii, as she put it, demonstrated that "from time to time, this is exactly who we are."

Her book is very short, only about 200 pages. It outlines a part of history that we generally don't learn about in school: how exactly Hawaii became part of America. She outlines the period of time when American missionaries traveled to Hawaii from New England to bring Christianity and the written word to Hawaii, and how, over time, the interests of their descendants turned more towards the worldly pursuits of sugar farming, which is what led to its being annexed. She explores how its annexation wasn't entirely on the up-and-up (it was done through a joint resolution after failing an up-or-down vote). And in the process, she notes how its culture was nearly destroyed: through the outlawing of the hula dance, the replacement of creation myths with Christian stories, the spread of disease and death of large portions of the native populace, and more.

One thing I disliked about the book was the lack of other voices besides Vowell's. It told the story primarily from the American perspective. I found the apparent passivity of the native Hawaiians baffling. I know she's writing from a historical perspective, but she included brief glimpses of a modern Hawaiian nationalist movement and a few words with experts on Hawaii's past. I would have liked to have seen more of that, but at the same time, the book opened my eyes a lot. Hawaii's story is hardly untold: Vowell included a two-page reccomended reading list of primary and secondary sources. But at the same time, it seems like it's not widely known either. I picked this book up as a Sarah Vowell book, not as a book about Hawaii, so I'm glad that she used some her her fame to shine light on this topic. If I had any myself, I'd like to think that I'd do the same sort of thing.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"Sisterhood Everlasting" and the nature of friendship

If you're an older person who enjoyed "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," your own experiences might have endowed it with a more poignant dimension. Growing up, we all had best friends that we thought would be with us our whole lives. But for the most part, at least for me, that hasn't turned out to be the case with many of them. I grew apart from my best elementary school friend by seventh grade. A close middle school friendship ended when our schedules were diametrically opposed in ninth grade. We both made new friends, and when her family moved to Georgia later that year, I didn't even hear about it. My college BFF likewise moved cross-country and, after a while, stopped contacting most of her New York State friends.

I'm fortunate to still have a few close friends from various stages in my life with me. One of them is Chris, a frequent commentor on this blog. I've also stayed in decent touch with two college friends, Dan and Melissa, but sadly, I don't get to see any of them nearly as often as I'd like to.

So with these experiences in my past, I naturally wondered how Tibby, Lena, Bridget and Carmen's friendship would fare as the girls aged, as careers, marriage, and children pulled them in different directions. Ann Brashares chose to tackle that subject in "Sisterhood Everlasting."

Of course, "everyone drifted apart" would be an extremely boring answer, as would "everyone still lives in town and is still BFFs." Their lives have changed a lot. Carmen is an actress on a show very similar to "Law and Order," and is based in New York. Bridget still never stops moving. She's still with Eric and has worked a whole series of temp jobs in San Francisco. Lena is an art professor, and that's the most interesting thing about her: she lives by herself in a one-bedroom apartment and spends her evenings renting movies, occasionally with her "sandwich artist" quasi-boyfriend.

Tibby is the conundrum. We learn early on that post-college, all of the girls shared a New York City apartment for a while. Tibby was the one to break the quartet, when she moved to Australia with Brian, who had a good opportunity with a software company there. But since then, she's sort of been...incommunicado. They will hear from her every once in a while, but don't really know what's going on. The time zone barrier keeps them from calling and finding out, and it's not like she's alarmingly silent.

Then she surprises everyone with plane tickets to Greece. She wants a full-scale reunion, in the town where Lena's grandparents lived, where she met Kostos, where the pants got lost all of those years ago. Everyone attends, but it doesn't go as planned. Three of the girls have to contend with not only a sudden loss, but with unraveling the truth behind it.

That's what gives the book its momentum. I've essentially recounted the plot of the first 40 pages. This book is a lot sadder than I thought it would be, because it does deal with grief (and there's nothing on the jacket to suggest that). Several plot elements I found to be slightly implausible (the drop-everything-and-travel-for-no-good-reason device is still very much in force), but I liked the book regardless. People always wonder what happens to YA characters when they grow up, and it's interesting to see each of them approach 30. If you hated the Traveling Pants series, this won't redeem it, but if you enjoyed it, I think you'd like this sequel.

Friday, November 18, 2011

SOPA? Nope-a

About five minutes after the invention of the Internet, people started to use it to find ways around buying things they used to pay for. As magazines and newspapers rushed to make use of the new technology, their subscribers stopped getting their print subscriptions, or never started them in the first place. Since most of their revenue comes through advertisers, they were able to adjust well enough to view a continued online presence as a sound business strategy and a complement to their print versions.

The music and movie industries, however, were subject to more outright theft. They found themselves locked in a battle with fans, especially as the economy worsened and a $10 movie ticket represented a larger expenditure to people. They used PSAs to try to equate illegal downloading with stealing cars. They targeted a few downloaders in well-publicized cases, slapping 22-year-olds with five and six figure fines for their crimes. ANd now, they're trying to flat-out make it illegal.

Currently before Congress is the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. One clever linguistic trick politicians employ is to name a bill or law after something most people would approve of. The Clean Air Act, the Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind -- how could you not vote for those things? You're telling me you like dirty air, hate America, and want to see kids left in the dust? So when a bill or a law has an upbeat sound to it, be very suspicious.

Suspicion is warranted in this case. The proposed law, in its current form, would do away with the so-called "safe haven" law that prevented sites with a lot of user-genreated content from being liable for the actions of every single user. It's what allowed Craigslist to escape liability in a lawsuit on housing discrimination, and kept it from being shut down in the wake of the prostitution scandals. It's why the Chinese resellers don't take out all of Etsy. It's why this blog can continue to exist, even if the guy at the "next blog" button's entire blog consists of movies he filmed off the theater screen using his iPhone.

Even if you're not on the creation side of Internet content, (and actually, most of us are: if you sell on Ebay, have an Etsy store, sell your old furniture on Craigslist, upload photos to Flickr or have a YouTube channel for your toddler's antics, this applies to you) this bill has another creepy feature for you. According to this great explanation at, this bill would require a sort of Internet wiretapping to make the blocks on these pirate websites work. Your internet providers would be forced to see where it is you're going online in order to keep you from getting there if there's a block on it.

The law also doesn't lay out a framework for how something comes to be blocked. This could be very, very bad. If you are of Regretsy, you will know that most people have an imperfect understanding of what copyright infringement is. The copyright laws are so ridiculously obtuse that in graduate school, I was advised as a curator to not even attempt to understand them myself, and call a lawyer whenever things weren't clear to me. But to quote "The Princess Bride," in general, it does not mean what you think it means. It's not infringing on your copyright to re-post a photo of your work that you yourself placed online, as long as you are credited. It's not infringement to link to someone else's site without their permission. It's all right to photograph anything that's not placed where the owner or creator has a reasonable expectation of privacy, so if I were to photograph everything in one of those booths at the Allentown Art Festival that hangs a homemade sign warning passerby that their beaded jewelry is intellectual property and you can't photograph it, the cops would side with me. Shit, I could even re-post the photos here!

But like I said, a lot of people don't realize that. Combine that with the abolishment of safe haven, and you've essentially got the end of user-generated sites on the Internet. Think of Etsy, for example. There are hundreds of thousands of listings at any given time. If one person is accused of violating copyright and reported for it, if I'm understanding this bill correctly, the entire site would be shut down, all transactions suspended, and they'd actively look through your online activity to do it.

This is not the way to protect the film and music industries. If you agree, tell your representatives. Visit and to let them know.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Where's today's post?

It was one I'd worked on over the weekend, but hadn't finished. I forgot that when you start writing something and leave it as a draft, Blogger will post it in the day you wrote it, not the day you published it. So it's right here. NaBloPoMo, still going strong!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Eragon and Hunger Games, making headlines

It's been a big week for young adult fiction. First, there was the much-anticipated release of the trailer of "The Hunger Games" on "Good Morning America" earlier this week. In case you still haven't seen it, you can watch it here. We'll wait!

There's a lot of debate among fans of the books whether the movie will be as good. THe main thing I hope is that they don't water down Katniss. It still makes me angry that they excluded Hermione's hero scene from the "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" film, where she solves the logic puzzle and figures out which flask Harry needs to drink in order to proceed. I don't want them to turn one of contemporary literature's most badass female characters into a wimp. I didn't see Jennifer Lawrence (who plays Katniss) in "X-Men: First Class," but I did see her in "Winter's Bone," and she was great.

I had long held out hope that they'd cast Robert Downey Jr. as Haymitch. I've adored him in everything I've seen him in, from "Iron Man" to "The Soloist," and I still think he would have been awesome, but Woody Harrelson will also be good. I didn't know that Lenny Kravitz acted, but he definitely looks like how I imagined Cinna. I had heard of Donald Sutherland, who plays President Snow, but couldn't recall what he'd been in. So I looked him up on iMDB, and was pretty blown away by the wide variety of roles he's had in his lifetime. He should be a good President Snow as well.

The timing of the film's opening concerns me a bit. It's due to open March 23, 2012, and that's usually the time of year they reserve for bottom-shelf releases. Gross-out comedies with no-name actors, romantic comedies rejected from Lifetime Movie Network on the grounds of excessive sappiness, small-budget action films that might as well be titled "Shit Blows Up Near Boobs"...and rotten adaptions of less-popular books and graphic novels. "Hunger Games" doesn't fall into that category, though. It topped bestseller lists and garnered many accolades and awards. Google-search "The Hunger Games," and 142 million results will appear. People will definitely be watching this film.

Also, the final installment of the "Eragon" series by Christopher Paolini hit stores last week. The series was initially supposed to be a trilogy, but Paolini had so much left over, he created a fouth book. The new book is called "Inheritance." I know very little about it, as I read only the first book in this series. The series has many, many fans, though (including Mr. Library Diva!) and I know they've been anxiously awaiting this book for several years. If anyone out there has read it, I'm interested in your thoughts!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Another NaNoWriMo author discusses her project

The first time I ever heard of NaNoWriMo was through a college acquaintance of mine, Carol. Most people can conjure up those they knew as acquaintances at some point in their lives, always liked and found interesting, but through chance and circumstance, never became closer. It turned out that Carol is a cousin to Mr. Library Diva, and will soon be official family of mine, so it's nice to get a do-over with someone like that.

Carol is a NaNo vet, as you will see from the interview. Her longtime experience makes her one of the best people you could possibly ask about NaNo. Here are her thoughts!

How many NaNoWriMos have you participated in? What keeps you coming back?
This is my ninth year doing nanowrimo. I've done it every year since 2003. I really enjoyed the reckless abandon of the thing, the ability to push out a novel in 30 days and keep all of the prose, good and bad. It was a very hard debate this year, whether or not to do nano again.

Part of me was just tired. I tend to put everything else on hold during nanowrimo and focus solely on the process. I spend all of my creative energy during this time of year. Part of me was afraid I was only doing it because of tradition; I've been doing it so long it would seem strange not to do it again.

For whatever reason I tend to pass the finish line on odd years. That was a big push to do it this year (because last year I came within 100 words, but couldn't pass the finish line in time). I also had the right project to work on this year. In the end I opened up googledocs on November1st and wrote 4000 words. At that point I wanted to prove to myself that I still have the passion I did nine years ago. Nanowrimo is as important to me now as it was then.

Describe your current novel project. What is is about, how long have you had the idea, and what inspired it?

Funny enough, this year's nanonovel is a complete reboot of my 2004 nanonovel. I decided I needed to rewrite it, mostly because I borrowed too much from books I was reading at the time, but also because I've matured as a writer. I have the ability to write the story properly this time. Originally it was titled Shades of Purple, but I've retitled it Book of Threads.

I always struggle to describe my writing projects, but I was thinking about this one the other day. This novel is about various people who live in a world that they see is deteriorating around them. They see their government making decisions for the people that no one is happy about. They decide that they need to do something about it and set themselves on a round about path to fix it.

Originally this was just a story about one girl trying to live up to her destiny, but since then it's become something more to me. It's more politically driven this time, but there are other messages tucked in the prose. It's about finding your way no matter how old you are, finding your family among your friends, loyalty, regret, and the choices we make that shape our future.

If you were an employee at a bookstore that is organized thematically, where would you shelve this novel?

I don't know where I'd put this novel. It would probably get relegated to the fantasy section, since it's set in a world where magic exists. My issue is that I tend to write fantasy novels that aren't categorically fantasy novels. For the most part magic takes a backseat to the characters and their personal drama.

The week we're heading into is usually where the slump starts to come in any similar projects. Where do you turn for support when you're stuck?

I have a group of nano-cheerleaders that have helped me through past projects; they keep me going if it gets bad just by asking me how it's going and offering support. If I notice the slump happening I try to step away from the novel for a bit. Sometimes it helps to go do something else and then come back to it. A lot of time I have to write out of order and just follow what wants to be written. One year I actually stepped away from the project altogether and started writing a new one.

Can you describe your NaNo routine? What time of day do you like to write, where do you like to write, do you use a computer, typewriter or pen and paper, and do you like to have any particular food, drinks or music on hand to help you write?

I'm doing it a bit differently this year. In previous years I'd write in msword and then post finished chapters to my livejournal for friends to read and comment as I was writing. This year I'm using googledocs as my word processor and I'm not sharing on LJ. It's just as well because I'm writing so far out of order I wouldn't have posted much.

I tend to write in the wee hours of the morning. Since I work evenings, it's usually the end of my day and it's how I wind down. If the writing is really good I end up staying awake a bit too long, but I'd rather be tired than put the book away when some good writing is happening.

I'm comfortable writing anywhere, but when other people are around I tend to get distracted. I either need headphones or I have to shut myself up in my room.

I prefer using a computer because I type faster (and my handwriting tends to get sloppy and illegible as I write quickly). My hand can't keep up with my brain. I will jot down notes on paper when I don't have access to a computer and type them up later. Sometimes it's nice to have the weight of a pen in my hand.

Since I quit coffee, tea is my favored nano beverage. I like herbal blends, but chai is my all time favorite. Chocolate is also my great sustainer during nano, but I tend not to snack much while I'm writing.

As for music it's different every year. I tend to make a playlist of tunes that remind me of the characters, or songs that suit the themes of the novel. This year it's a bit Queens of the Stone Age, Stornoway, Ani Difranco, Florence and the Machines, Radiohead, Telepopmusik, and a lot of Jimmy Eat World.

What, in your opinion, makes NaNo special and worth doing?

Before nanowrimo I struggled to finish stories. I found that nano helps me finish projects (most years at least). It's the one way I've been able to get a story out; it really works for me. It's because of this that I keep coming back. It's important to me and my creativity has somewhat synced up to thrive under the pressure of it.

The people in my life also expect me to do nano. Silly as it seems it's become "my thing." I gear up for it every year and even when I dread it I'm really looking forward to it.

NaNo ends in about 17 days. What is your next step with this novel?

I don't know if the novel will be finished when I cross the 50k line. I'm going to keep writing otherwise, but I might need a bit of a break in December. If that's the case I'll come back to it in January and once it's finished I'll be posting it on my livejournal for my friends to read and critique. My goal is to publish this novel at some point, but it's going to need some edits and work put into it before that happens.

What is the most surprising reaction you've gotten from your participation in NaNo? Do you find most people are generally supportive, generally believe you won't make it, or somewhere in between?

Probably the best reaction is having my sister join me. We have word wars where we try to beat each others daily wordcount; it's been the most effective way to keep my count up (because there's no way I can let my little sister beat me).

For the most part people are very supportive, or they think it's a cool idea. The only time people have been negative is when the writing comes at the cost of everything else. Like my brother and his girlfriend constantly trying to get me out of the house when they know I'd rather be writing.

What advice would you give to someone who's contemplating doing this next year?
Do it. You can't know if nano will work for you unless you try it. My first year I was doing it by the seat of my pants. My second year I planned my novel a bit more through the course of October (mostly world building and jotting out character profiles). I discovered I'm a bit more of a pantser (as fellow nano-ers call it).

Don't give up if you have a bad day (or a string of bad days). It's never too late to start over. Get out of the house for a bit or do something else for a few hours. Relax and refocus, and if you can try to avoid forcing it.

Keep every word, even the stuff you hate. If you hate it so much you don't even want to look at it, make the font white so you can't see it. I highlight all the stuff I'm going to get rid of in red so when I do a second draft I can delete it right away.

If it's going really poorly there are some little tricks that help boost your words. You can stop using conjunctions. Write out full names of characters. Borrow songs/poems, have a character describe their favorite movie from opening credits to end credits. Title your chapters.

If you're really struggling, go hang out in the forums or go to a local write-in. You might be surprised to find that you're not alone and there are plenty of people who are willing to help.

And hey, it might go beautifully your first time. If that's the case, feel free to share the love and support other writers you know.

How have you seen NaNo change over the years that you've participated?

Nano has been through different website designs. This year's roll-out has been slow, but I like the new site overall. A new t-shirt design for every year I've been doing it (and any year that I have some extra money I buy one).

To be honest I think I've changed more than nano has. I've grown as a writer over these past nine years, grown in ways I might not have if I didn't embark on this insane literary journey every November.

Thanks very much, Carol! Wishing you all the best with NaNoWriMo!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Interview with an author!

One of the cool things I wanted to introduce to this blog was some more participation. I am probably pretty boring to listen to all the time, after all, so I wanted to get some other perspectives on here from time to time. I contacted a friend of mine who didn't pussy out with this NaBloPoMo, and went right for the hard stuff: NaNoWriMo.

Rebecca, who will be identified by her first name unless she gives me permission to edit this, is a graduate school classmate of mine. I remember her as never being one to shrink from a challenge: her thesis research was of the type that required her to look at hundreds of old documents and draw conclusions. Certianly not for the faint of heart! She's currently the director of a cultural center in sunny New Mexico. And this month, she is also a novelist. She took a few minutes out from her novel to answer a few questions about writing and maintaining her sanity this month. Here goes! (Warning: there may be more later. Facebook seems to have cut some stuff off?)

Is this your first NaNoWriMo, and if not, how many others have you participated in? Why did you decide to participate this year?

This is my second year to participate. I did it last year for the first time. I love writing but it isn't something I take the time to do - so I try this to recharge my love of writing.

What is your novel about?
I went with fanfiction this year. Last year my favorite author - Mercedes Lackey - gave the advice that it was perfectly fine to start with fanfiction if you need help getting started. So this year's story is a HP story. It is an alternative world where Harry moves to New Orleans before Hogwarts and events bring about the end of Voldemort in a completely different world.

If you were an employee of a thematically-organized bookstore, where would you shelve this novel?
It would be in the fantasy section.

Can you describe your NaNoWriMo routine? What time of day do you write, where do you write, do you use a computer, typewriter or paper and pen, and is there any particular food, drink or music you like to have on hand to help you write?

I write after work - at a table - on my laptop with a large glass of milk and a special music blend on my Ipod.

Mid-month is usually the hardest time for any of these challenges. Where do you turn for support to keep going?
Last year I just plowed through - this year I am having major writers block and nothing I am trying is working. It is very frustrating.

What aspects of NaNo have surprised you? What about doing this challenge has been either harder or easier than you anticipated?

I am always surprised at how busy the month of November turns out to intrudes way more than I plan.

Thanks so much for your time, Rebecca! I have so much respect for anyone attempting NaNoWriMo. It's like running a marathon. Only maybe even harder. Best of luck, you are halfway through!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hunger Games teaser trailer

The full trailer is supposed to debut during Good Morning, America tomorrow.

"May the odds be ever in your favor."

Good Queen Bess: The Elizabeth I project is done!

Margaret George doesn't have many books, but all of them are both a treat to read, and a time commitment to read. They're always very long, but they also always flow well and are absorbing. She will take a major historical figure, usually name the book after them, and write about their lives from their own point of view. It's "historical fiction" in the sense that she endows them with their own thoughts and emotions, and will occasionally do things like consolidate four minor characters that served a similar function into one, or invent a minor character to illustrate something important and real. But it's meticulously researched, and she infers the thoughts and emotions based on real events.

For example, it's not hard to imagine that if you were flirting with a guy, and your cousin hauled off and married him, you would feel pissed off at your cousin, and maybe never speak to her again. It's also plausible that if you got to know the son of your cousin years later when he was an adult, your feelings towards him might be complex, carrying both the weight of your anger towards his mother and your long-stifled love for his stepfather. Especially if you were a virgin queen, married to your realm.

This is where we pick up the plot of "Elizabeth I." As Margaret George notes in the afterword, few British monarchs hold such a continued sway over public imagination. You can look at her and see many things, and people felt that way even in her lifetime. It must have been a daunting task to try to write from her perspective, and there were so many tacks she could have taken, since Elizabeth I reigned for so long and had so much happen. But the primary plot of the novel concerns Elizabeth I and her cousin, Lettice Knollys Devereaux Dudley Blount. Lettice was banished from court when she married Robert Dudley, and when the book opens, she and Elizabeth I have not seen each other in years. Robery Dudley dies soon after the book opens, and that's when Elizabeth I gets to know his stepson, Robert Devereaux, the Earl of Essex.

We see from both Lettice and Elizabeth's points of view as the book wears on. Robert Deveraux is the thread that binds them together, and although Lettice at first seems like a typical stage mom whose only hope is her offspring, her character evolves. Elizabeth is a bit harder to categorize, which I guess meshes with history. Though this isn't my favorite of Margaret George's books, it's still a good read, and I'd still reccomend it.

Other blogs, not my own

So one of the main suggestions that comes up if you look for ways to increase blog readership is to visit other people's blogs and comment on them. I've been doing this over the past couple of day, just by using the "next blog" button on Blogger. I've made the following observations:

Lots of people start blogs and don't keep up on them. I've found many blogs that haven't been updated in over a year. Some haven't been touched since Obama came into office.

Commenting on family blogs feels weird. I don't know why. After all, the people who run them are the ones that made them public. But are they looking for random people to come and comment that "OMG yes, my baby cried that much too! Wow, you guys are making peanut butter cookies today? Sounds super-fun! Ugh, it's science fair time at your house, too? I can totally relate!" It feels sort of invasive to leave comments for these folks. It's like I knocked on their front door and asked if I could come in and look at their family album, then sat in their living room, eating their food, with my feet on their coffee table, commenting on how each photo was shot and telling them boring stories about how one time I did something sort of like what's happening in the picture.

Lots of people blog about running. I had no idea there was that much to say on the topic, but then again, I'm not a runner.

Many bloggers believe they are better than you. Sometimes it's subtle. One blog said that any comment that revealed obvious ignorance of rules-based systems will not be posted. It made me wish I knew a little bit about them, so I could whip up the most maddeningly ignorant comments I could think of and leave them all over the place, just to be contrary. Sadly, my ignorance is so vast, I didn't even know how to annoy the author. Other times, they're much more in-your-face. One blog that featured mostly the author's political opinions said something like "If you're just a clicker then click on through, this is not the blog for you." Translation: I CAN READ HUFFINGTON POST AND YAHOO NEWS BETTER THAN YOU CAN, BITCHEZ!

Sharing your photography seems to be one of the most common reasons to start a blog. I came across TONS of them. There was the guy who takes mostly action shots of skateboarders and BMX. There were quite a few wedding photographers. There were loads and loads of nature photographers. I commented on some, not on others.

Commenting is deceptively hard. Or maybe I overthink it. If I just wanted MOAR PAGE VIEWS, I could make one generic comment and post it everywhere, like the people who spam for cheap electronics. "Hi! Your blog is excellent resource! I must tell you, I will never buy electronics from store again! My mom got bran new laptop for only $20! Click here see how!" But I guess I want people to come here because they're curious, or I sound interesting, not because they believe some scam. So to me, that means I have to say something worthwhile on other people's blogs, not just NICE POST! HERE'S MY LINK!

At the same time, since part of the point of commenting places is to encourage people to come here, that also narrows it down to where I should comment, in my mind. So I don't comment on blogs that aren't in English, that haven't been updated sometime in 2011, and that I don't find interesting, or at least relevant to my blog.

Those are the easy decisions. Then it gets murky. If someone describes herself as "an avid homeschooler and warrior for Christ," and most of her links are to churches and extreme right-wing causes, but seems to like some of the same books as I do, would she "follow me home?" Would the guy who did a great interview with the man who designed stage clothing for most of the hair metal bands but mainly blogs about death metal "follow me home?" Should I comment? If I come across a poetry blog and I think the poetry isn't to my taste, but they seem to have tons of followers, should I comment?

It's been fun exploring what other people's blogs are like, but I'm not sure how this piece of advice is working out for me. I see a couple of people have been enticed here, and I really appreciate you coming and hope you enjoyed my blog. But at the same time, this seems like an awfully labor-intensive way to try to build a following. I could spend every night for the rest of my life doing this and still not visit every blog. I got accepted into a a book blogging Ning group, so I'm going to try to develop that more. If you're interested in seeing the site, you can visit it here. And anyone with advice, I'm all ears!

What People Google, or Making my Blog More Awesome, part 3

So I noticed that Blogspot has an option called "stats," you know, along with "posting," "settings," "design," etc. In my ongoing (12-hour long now!) quest to make this blog more awesome, I checked into it.

It's neat. It will tell you which of your posts people are looking at, where the people came from (both online and on the internet) and what google search may have brought them here. Very interesting and surprising. For example, several years ago, I titled my post on my saints book "Have you ever come across a St. Maureen?" It's a line from a British film called "Millions," and is said several times throughout the course of the movie by a young boy who has recently lost his mother and is fascinated with the saints. He sees several of them, and always asks that question. Well, apparently he's not the only one: 18 people have come here by googling "St. Maureen." Fans of the film? Catholics looking for a baby name? Guess I'll never know.

I received a number of hits from webistes with .tk domains. I've never heard of that domain before. I followed one, and it took me to a slutty video of Emma Watson and warned me repeatedly that my computer could explode if I didn't stay to watch. I got one hit from someone who had googled "chicken bestiality" and didn't understand it, until I found this old post about a salaciously named but otherwise forgettable short-story anthology. I am very surprised at the continued interest in my post on "Charity Girls." The one person from Etiquette Hell who came to see me truly warmed my heart. That website is one of my favorites. I go there all the time, I've shared it with many people, and always enjoy not just the stories, but the lively debate in the comments and the wild stories some commentors have. So, thanks for your visit.

And thank you to anyone else who comes to see me. I've been trying to get out there more today. I visited lots of folks on their blogs and left some comments, and have applied to join a Ning of book bloggers. I don't aspire to be Regretsy, at least not in terms of readership. I'm not looking for a book deal, a movie deal, or my own line of e-readers out of this. I would just like to expand this blog's circle a little bit, to attract 15-20 followers instead of three, and to maybe even see comments sections where the people start talking to each other. So, thanks for being here, thanks for hearing what I have to say, and if you have something to say in reply, I appreciate that too. Even the chicken bestiality person.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

In the spirit of "more awesome..."

I'm trying an experiment. I eliminated comment moderation on new posts. I had it in place solely because I was concerned about spammers. In the years since I've doing this, though, I think I've declined to post only a handful of spam. At this point, I think it's hurting me more than it's helping me, since people can't really talk to each other. So, have at it!

Making your blog more awesome

As I mentioned before, the reason for the sharp drop-off (to zero) posts between mid-July and now is that I was pretty convinced no one was actually reading. In the past 12 days, I've begun to wonder how to reverse that trend.

I frequent an embarassing amount of websites. Only some of them are listed in the links. Others, I didn't bother to link to, because frankly, they don't need me. Regretsy updates several times a day and never fails to garner fewer than 100 comments on a post. STFU, Parents likewise has a huge following, so large that it's earned her a column on a large parenting website. Seriously, I might as well link to Google: hey guys, let me tell you about this ahhhh-mazing website where you can just ask it a question, any question you want, and it will tell you the answer!!!!!!!

But most of the sites I like to visit, I just heard of through word-of-mouth. I learned of STFU, Parents through my awesome, child-free friend Kiki. I heard of Edge of Sports through a website called Working for Change, which was an ethical telecommunications company and also carried many syndicated columns. I used to go there to read the works of the late, great Molly Ivins. Dave Zirin's column was there, too, and it inspired me to go to his site. The rest, I'm not even sure how I heard about the sites. But I have no clue as to how to attract that kind of attention myself.

I think this is sort of reflective of a larger issue in my real life. I'm not a networker. Some people are always working, always out there making connections, and amazing things happen. They hear through a lady in their spinning class about a great house for sale for $30,000 because the owner just wants out. An alum of their college hooks them up with a great job, through which they meet someone who can offer them something even better. Sadly, that's never been me. I tend to do my job and go home. When I interview people for stories, I often feel like I make good connections with some of them, but I never trust it. When they say something like "call me anytime," I never take them up on it. I never think that they may actually mean it, for one thing, and many times, I'm not sure what to say anyway.

I have commented on people's blogs, but I'm not really sure how many of them have "followed me home." This month has reminded me of how much I do enjoy blogging, though, and I think I'm going to try harder to figure out how to share this with more people. I started by putting a "follow" link on here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Future of Books? Small-scale

When Borders first hit trouble earlier this year, then went under, much ink was spilled about What This Means For Books. Theories abounded. "This is a sign of the times. People download e-books to their iPads, they don't leave the house to buy some clumsy dead-tree product," some said.
"Chillax," said others. "Borders was a poorly run company, and this is what happens when you do a bad job, even if your product is a home run."
"Nuh-uh. You wait. This was just the first round. In ten years, we'll download them directly to our brains."
This article at Business Week Magazine has another theory as to what we may expect post-Borders, a theory to compete with "direct-to-brain downloads" and "just one less shitty company in the world." The article posits that as large corporations get out of bookselling, mom-and-pop business owners will get back into it, and we'll see things return to a smaller, saner size.

It's a nice thought, very nice. It's harder to determine if it will happen. I think there's been a lot of backlash against the whole concept of e-books right from the start. Many people just love the idea of books, the way they smell, and feel. As this article points out, people don't like giving soulless downloads as gifts, and may not plan ahead enough to use an online retailer exclusively.

I don't think e-books and e-readers have a clear advantage over books. You interact with them entirely differently. The Sedentary Vagabond bought herself an e-reader with birthday money, and has pointed out that you can't tell where you are in a book at any given moment. If you hold a 300-page book in your hand and open it up randomly, it's easy to determine if you're almost done, or jsut starting out. I'd assume, too, that you have to keep an e-reader charged, that they will (or can) break if you drop them, and that you can't take them into the bathtub with you.

Of course, I can see their appeal. I like the idea of being able to obtain any book you want instantly. It's also nice that they won't clutter up your home, although they will clutter up your machine and you'll have to start making some hard choices at some point. But another thing about books is that they're oddly social in a way. When you read something good, you want to talk about it. Even when you read something bad, you may want to tell the world how terrible it is. Bookstores are places set aside for books, with frequent author readings, book club meetings, and just a good atmosphere, and I think that e-books can never entirely kill them off for that reason.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Annoying Book Trends

So I've been trying to find ways to take the content of this blog beyond what you could find cruising Amazon reviews. I still haven't figured it out, but I did come up with an idea for tonight's post: Annoying Book Trends!

1. Title format: The [quirky profession's] [female relative]. You know what I speak of. "The Alchemist's Daughter." "The Mandolin-maker's wife". This is one of those trends where one book with a similar title broke through and everyone rushed to do it. It's particularly awful when you can tell that the book does not, in fact, concern the daughter of an alchemist. And the fact that it invariably concerns a female relative reeks of that "herstory" crap...clearly, the alchemist or mandolin-maker is the interesting one, and it makes me think that it will be primarily about the tribulations of keeping the wood shavings out of the casseroles and explaining the mysterious explosions to the neighbors. I think it's time for this trend to die.

2. The Girl who was Too Spunky For Her Time. It's hard for modern women to imagine an era in which they had almost no freedom. When it was a commonly held belief that encouraging a woman to learn things would interfere with her ability to have babies, when an unmarried 19-year-old was an old maid, when people went around saying things like "women belong in the kitchen" in a non-ironic way and didn't get smacked for them. It's hard for modern women to imagine, but if you're writing historical fiction, you need to try.

Yes, throughout history, there were women who were Too Spunky For Their Time, but the fact that the repressive system remained in place for so long seems to indicate that they were generally in the minority. Why were most women OK with their lack of spunk? What made so many women agree to marry at an early age, turn from their books once they could read well enough to get by in their society, and generally conform? Maybe the happy housewives of earlier eras are harder for us to relate to, but who says that everything in historical fiction needs to speak to our modern world?

3. Cardboard boyfriends. Chick-lit books are notorious for this. Even though the focus is supposed to be primarily on the girl, would it kill writers to give their male characters the tiniest bit of depth? Usually, all we know about them is their profession and their penchant for doing thoughtful things (if they're good guys) or being thoughtless (if they're the douchebag obstacle character). Give him a hobby or something!

4. Memoirs by boring people. The memoir genre is hard to do well. The cold, hard truth is that not everyone's life is interesting. Other people have interesting lives and can't portray them well. Some have something very mildly interesting about them but flog it way too hard. Since the explosion of the genre about 15 years ago, they've definitely varied in quality.

5. Formulaic fantasy. Shouldn't that be a contradiction in terms? Sadly, it's not. I took a beating on here a few years ago for my post on The Alchemyst, but it's pretty typical of a formulaic fantasy novel. Person or persons receive a strange visitor. Strange visitor reveals magic ability/chosen one status. Person embarks on a quest to either find a lost object or destroy a dangerous object. Fate of world hangs in balance. Quirky companion goes along. Plot culminates in an archetypcial struggle between good and evil. Good wins.

When it's good, like in the Harry Potter series, it can be good. There were enough side roads and distractions in that to prevent it from seeming like the same old plot. When it's bad, like in "The Alchemyst," it's dreadful. When it's not like that at all but forced into that model for a movie, as in "The Golden Compass" film, it deserves a prison sentence. George RR Martin gets high marks from me for breaking out of this mold. Wish more people would.

So tell me: what do you all dislike in books? What device, trend, or character archetype would you like to place a 1000-year ban on?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Just the title of this book, "MIss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" was enough to capture my imagination. I decided to buy it after looking at it in the store.

Most books use bespoke illustrations to fit with the story. In this book, the author unearths vintage photographs that become an integral part of the story. If you've ever checked out my Big Happy Funhouse link, you'll know that one of the best aspects of that blog is mousing over the images and reading the comments, and seeing what the blogger and his commentors think is happening in the photo.

Ransom Riggs, in his debut novel, wove an entire story around the photographs he found in people's private collections of vintage photography. The tale concerns Jacob, who recently witnessed the violent death of his grandfather. His grandfather had a small collection of strange photos and used to tell even stranger tales about them. When he was growing up, he lived on an island off the Welsh coast, with other children who could do strange and wonderful things.

Jacob's grandfather's death triggers a near-nervous breakdown on Jacob's part, and for his own healing, his father accompanies him to this island to sort out the mystery for himself. The children, of course, were real, and there is an interally-logical explanation for everything.

But the real joy of the book is seeing the story interact with the photographs. Sometimes it falls a bit flat: a two-part series of children in yarn suits with yarn balaclavas is never explained at all; one gets the sense the images were simply too good not to include. But others are haunting and clever: his father, a dejected Halloween bunny, sitting alone on the curb; a photo of a man holding a toddler labeled "this is why"; a man in a suit loading a shotgun into the back of a 1960s-era car. "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" is worth checking out, simply because it's so very different.

Can anyone reading this think of a book where the images played such an integral role in the story -- a book that would make no sense without the images (excluding picture books for children?)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Though the TBR list on this blog never seems to get updated, I usually carry around a mental one. It helps to have some ideas when I go into the library, since the Central Branch is so big and overwhelming. Here are some things I'm currently thinking of picking up:

Extraordinary, Ordinary People by Condoleeza Rice. Anyone who knows my political leanings would probably be extremely surprised by this. But although I don't agree with her ideology, I have always liked her. In an administration marked by missteps, major and minor, she always struck me as smart and competent, and the type of person that represents the country well to the rest of the world. I felt that if people from Nepal or France or Niger assumed we were all like that, I wouldn't mind. This book is not about her time as Secretary of State, but about her parents. She was impressive on "The Daily Show" when talking about it.

The Secret Man and All The President's Men. I vividly remember reading a detailed account from either Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein in "Vanity Fair" after the identity of Deep Throat was revealed. Now that I'm a journalist myself (covering much less exciting stuff) I'd like to read these.

A book of Norse mythology. I've checked them out before and been forced to return them unread. Originally, I just wanted to annoy my World of Warcraft guild with references to it while we worked on a raid that had its roots in Norse mythology. But those references are everywhere, and I'm still kind of curious.

The Help by Kathryn Willett. Yes, I'm finally giving in.

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit by someone I don't feel like looking up. I hear about books like this through work sometimes, via book club announcements. The author is coming to the Jewish Book Fair in the area. It's about Egyptian Jews that were forced to flee the country for some reason. I don't know why. I guess I will have to pick this one up, and find out.

Slash by Slash. Yep, still looking for it, on the rare occasion I remember it, it's not in. Still.

Our Mutual Friend and The Old Curiosity Shop both by Charles Dickens. An awesome writer whose books still have the power to provoke and entertain modern audiences. Ultimately, I'd like to read them all. These are good places to start, since I own them.

Good Wives by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Six years and counting...

Always open-minded... I pride myself on being the kind of reader that is willing to give anything a chance. I figure there is no harm done, if it sucks, I'll simply stop reading.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Useless Books

I had an idea a few months ago to start a collection of books that will one day be pointless. It was inspired by a conversation with my friend over at The Sedentary Vagabond about Y2K. I remember as early as 1998, looking at a table of books in Glastonbury, England during my semester abroad, and seeing a treatise on this terrible, looming apocalypse of Y2K that everyone was afraid to talk about. I didn't buy it, but less than six months later, the general tone of the book would have become obsolete, as everyone was talking about it by then.

It spawned many, many successors. By 1999, Barnes and Noble was offering entire tables of Y2K books. You could read about any aspect of the coming disaster: how it happened, how to prepare for life afterwards, how it could be averted, how to avoid similar catastrophes, should we survive this one. Obviously, it didn't come true. But someone worked hard on all of those books. What became of them?

I wondered that anew the week Barack Obama produced the original copy of his birth certificate. I happened to be in Barnes and Noble again, and saw a hardcover copy of a book called something like "Where's the Birth Certificate?" on the new release table. Unfortunate timing, though I felt less sorry for the author once I learned that he was behind the Swift Boat book, too.

I can't help but feel a little sorry for the authors of all of these books that are current now, but will soon fall out of favor. Those who write books like the 300-page guide on finding information on the internet (c. 1997) that I saw at my library in Central New York, at least know that they are not necessarily writing for the ages. But I feel bad for those who spent a lot of time formulating and researching a thesis, only to be entirely off-base with it.

Apparently I'm not the only one who does. I checked out one of my favorite book humor websites, Awful Library Books, and they too have a white elephant book featured in a recent entry.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bliss Incorporated: One Perfect Day

Though Mr. Library Diva isn't a big reader, he usually enjoys hearing about whatever I'm reading. During the course of reading "One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding" by Rebecca Mead, though, he didn't seem to want to hear about it. I found out why a week later: he asked me to marry him, and admitted that anything wedding-related had been making him really nervous!

So, since I will soon be in the throes of wedding planning myself, I was glad to have read this book, depressing as it is. I had the feeling it would be, just didn't realize how depressing. Its central thesis is that as the symbolism of a wedding has eroded, the weddings themselves have gotten bigger and bigger and more out of control. I guess Mr. Library Diva and I are the perfect example of how its symbolism has eroded. We're both in our 30s and have been out of our parents' homes for a while (no transition to adulthood here). We've lived together for four years, so our lives together have already begun in a very real sense. And without being too graphic, let's just say that if asked what my main concerns about marriage were, I wouldn't answer "adjusting sexually," which was the top concern cited by brides-to-be in the 1940s.

So it is kind of a depressing book, but it's a fascinating book, too. Mead runs down trends in weddings and dissects the (often surprisingly recent) origins of things we believe to be "tradition". For example, it was likely that your great-grandmother didn't receive a diamond from your great-grandpa, unless he was a cutting edge kind of guy. That concept was introduced in the 1920s. The unity candles started to be seen in the 1970s. The popular "Apache wedding prayer" is actually from a 1950s Western film.

She also takes a look at how things are sold. We see the cynical, unflattering portrait of brides-to-be and their parents painted by the wedding industry: easily manipulated saps who will buy anything with minimal convincing that it's essential to make the day more special. Videographers quote one client who said that she feels watching her wedding video will help her marriage in the future, should she and her husband hit rough waters. Wedding planner trainers encourage the planners they're teaching to offer free "plan your own wedding" seminars to scare brides with how much work it is to get everything right. One wedding expert compared a bride to a "drunken sailor: everyone's trying to get at her."

She travels all over in the course of the book: to a wedding dress factory in China, to Las Vegas, to Sandals resort, to a small church in Kentucky or Tennessee that is trying to market itself as a wedding destination, through the merchants participating in Bride Magazine's Wedding March on Madison, to conferences of videographers and wedding professional associations, to a seminar for young women who want to be wedding planners. She meets a woman who planned her friend's wedding on a $200 budget. She talks with a wedding minister who has an arsenal of several hundred services, whether you want Orthodox Jew or Wiccan. She interviews the man behind David's Bridals, and a woman who is a giant in the wedding industry and has her own line of champagne flutes, ringbearer pillows, and the like.

I'd definitely say this book is a must-read for anyone who's starting the wedding planning process. She writes all of this in an engaging way, and allows the reader to draw many of their own conclusions without totally failing at providing analysis.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

TV Obsession: American Horror Story-

I have never really been much of a television person. There was a two-year stretch where I didn't have cable at all (and may be heading back there if Time Warner keeps raising its rates). There are things I'll watch when I catch them, like "Scrubs," "Daily Show," "Colbert Report," "Keeping up with the Kardashians," "Real Housewives of Atlanta," etc. But for the most part, I'm not into it and generally just sit there when people talk about television at work.

Until I started watching "American Horror Story." I caught the first 15 minutes of the third episode a few weeks ago, and it just wouldn't let go. I've seen most of the rest of them since then. For the first time in years, I actually planned to watch the newest episode last week. I'm obsessed. I check in on FX regularly to see if "American Horror Story" will be on, and I hate all of their other programming for not being "American Horror Story". In fact, I hate everyone's programming for not being "American Horror Story."

The show is extremely weird in a lot of ways. The difficulty in understanding what's going on is what's hooked a great many of its fans. "American Horror Story" concerns the Harmon family, Vivian, Ben and Violet. Vivian had a late-term miscarriage and Ben had an affair approximately a year before the show begins. To start over as a couple, they move to a suspiciously cheap mansion in California. Turns out, it's so cheap because it's extremely haunted. A weird supporting cast of characters make their appearances in the show, at least some of whom are most likely dead (debate rages online about this, and it's never spelled out).

Each episode, you get a little more backstory about the house and what happened there. It was built by a doctor and his socialite wife in the 1920s. The doctor was a drug addict with a "Dr. Frankenstein complex" who became an abortionist to support the family. His own child was kidnapped and murdered in revenge, and he "did things" to the body. Jessica Lange, the strange next-door neighbor, lived in the house at one point, and shot her maid and husband when she caught the latter raping the former. We see the maid again, sometimes she's young and hot, and other times she's old and has a cloudy eye where she got shot.

A man named Larry was recently released from prison because he torched the house with his family and himself in it, and he has only half a head of hair and burns over 70 percent of his body. Two boys, often referred to as the Weasley twins because they look exactly like them, broke into the house during the pilot, smashed everything and got savaged by a monster in the basement. There were murdered nurses, apparently (this was in the episode I still haven't seen). Most recently, there was a gay couple who died in a murder-suicide.

It's a strange show, but it sucks you in, determined to keep watching until you figure it out. As other people have noted elsewhere, better, the show also deals in more mundane horrors. Adultery. Fertility problems. Getting swindled by your investor, and trapped somehwere you don't want to be by a down economy and depressed real estate market. Bullying, teenage mental illness, and the worries that your own child will go astray and you won't even be aware. It all makes it pretty compelling. Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX. Try some if you dare.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The One I Wanted to Hate

Whenever I'm working late, covering a government meeting of some sort, Mr. Library Diva spends his evening making fishsticks for dinner and renting a Redbox movie. But he doesn't just choose something I wouldn't want to see. He chooses something NO ONE would want to see. Typically, they are smaller-budget knockoffs of a big-budget sci-fi/action or fantasy/action film. WHen I ask him how it was, there's always a note of surprise in his voice when he says it was terrible. At first, I used to try and understand the impilse, and ask him what precisely about the movie made him think it would even be worth $1 to rent? Then I gave up. Then, I checked out "The Baby PLanner," and I thought I understood.

I fully expected this book by Josie Brown to be dreadful. It had all the hallmarks of it, certainly. Any "baby planner," I figured, would by definition be dealing with irritating, whiny clients who never learned to distinguish between a real problem and one they made up. Furthermore, the baby planner in this book (in a refreshing twist) is in her 30s and wants a baby herself SO BAD, while her husband waffles and her sisters reproduce like Xerox machines. And yet, I totally did the Redbox thing: "OMG, this book looks so shit...I'm getting it, I'm totally checking this one out."

And it was actually a pretty enjoyable read. Brown is a clever writer, and dispatched my main objections early on. Katie, the "baby planner" heroine, fell into the job after her position at a consumer safety agency was lost to budget cuts. A mom-to-be sees her helping her own sister figure out which cribs are the best, asks how much she charges, and she's in business. Two of her early clients genuinely need her help: one has suffered several miscarriages and is on total bed rest and literally CAN'T do any of her own baby planning, and the other lost his wife in childbirth and is now trying to solo-care for their child while his company is getting ready to go public. See, these people NEED Katie!

Katie's husband is also -- how to say this politely? -- a douchebag. There are some clues to this early on, so I'm not exactly revealing anything shocking, and he only gets worse as the story rolls on. Her birth-control sabotaging and his stonewalling are less about a potential baby than a marriage. This adds a lot of interest to the story, and his opposition to parenthood comes from a very different place than the stereotypical "I like my freeeeeeedom!" sentiment. The tension between them culminates in The Worst Day Ever for Katie, which has a twist you spot several miles down the road, and one you're very unlikely to guess at, ever.

Katie's very likeable, which helps keep the whole "baby planner" notion palatable. Most of her clients are fairly sympathetic as well, and the unsympathetic ones are funny. It helps that she herself doesn't take the notion super-seriously, either. It's her business, and she clearly gets satisfaction out of it, but doesn't pretend that she's saving the world or anything. She doesn't make it more than what it is. As surprised as I am to say this, I enjoyed this book a lot. No, it's certainly not a tale for the ages, but it's a fun read.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Telling Herstory

Even when I signed the papers to become a women's studies minor, I despised stupid cliches like "herstory". I even hated how the feminist group was called Center for Womyn's Concerns. It made us look unnecessarily angry, when we mostly passed out condoms, and sponsored speakers with an "admission charge" of personal items for the battered women's (sorry, womyn's) shelter.

But "The Girls Who Went Away" is an important piece of women's history that hasn't been examined much. During the 1950s and 1960s, a solution was imposed on the thousands of teenage girls who got knocked up: have them stay with a "sick aunt" at a home for unwed mothers, put their baby out for adoption, and then return to the community, with the secret kept. Many kept the secret for the rest of their lives.

Ann Fessler interviewed women who were "the girls that went away". Their stories are interspersed with a comprehensive look at what led to the rise of the homes for unwed mothers as a way of dealing with teenage pregnancy; what life at one of these homes was like; what drove the demand for adoptable white babies; and the lasting effects on everyone.

It's a very sad book. One of the first things that jumps out at a reader is how much the women in the book fail to conform to any stereotype about unwed mothers. They weren't all poor, or even mostly poor. They weren't all promiscuous: many got pregnant during their first time having sex, and others got pregnant by their boyfriends. And most of them wanted very much to keep their babies, but weren't allowed to.

That part was also very depressing, and what messed with the mothers the most. One woman compared the psychological pressures in the home for unwed mothers to those exerted on a soldier in basic training, explaining that they broke you down to rebuild you into what they wanted, a woman who would give up her child. They were reminded repeatedly how irresponsible they'd been, how much their stay was costing their parents, and how much better off their child would be with a "decent" family. Almost no one resisted. When they were back to their old lives, though, they were left to wonder why not.

Another notable thing about the book was how shockingly restricted information about sex and contraceptives were, so very recently. One woman said she wasn't worried about pregnancy, because she knew that pregnancy was for married women, so since she wasn't married, didn't think it'd be a problem. Another woman asked her mother how the baby was supposed to come out of her stomach. Condoms were kept behind the counter at pharmacies, and their use wasn't encouraged. It wasn't until 1965, with the Supreme Court case of Griswold vs. Connecticut, that some state laws banning the use of contraceptives were struck down. It wasn't until 1972 that that right was extended to everyone, not just married couples.

This book is compelling, important, and destined to become a classic. It's a powerful reminder, too, of how far women have come. Read it, and you'll have another reason to respect your mother's generation.