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Posts from the ‘Musings’ Category

An Ode To That Special Place. No, it’s not Detroit.

Let me point out for you one of the best articles in last Sunday’s New York Times.
It was in the second magazine section and was easily missed.
(Hat tip: AH!)

Ann Patchett writes a beautiful essay about the wonders of Northern Michigan. She even allows us to do a fly by of one of her favorite book stores on the planet, McLean & Eakin, in Petoskey. (Check out their staff favorites tab, excellent!)

Okay, guilty. I was raised in Michigan. And generally, we are a proud people when someone can cite something about our state besides the depressing state of Detroit. So work with me. Give us our moment.

And, admittedly, her exquisite detail hit a sentimental nerve. She speaks of places that I don’t know specifically, but can feel the humid air, recognize the smells, and taste the flavors generally.

But this is what really struck me.

Across the U.S. last Sunday, thousands of people read this story and inserted their own version of Petoskey, Michigan. When someone with such talent shares a beautiful description of a place, we fill in the details with our own experiences. This is what separates the book from the movie–we get to fill in the blanks with our own reality. We get to go somewhere new and yet familiar at the same time.

Funny enough, Patchett’s article took me somewhere different in Michigan — to a small little smidgen of a place called Harsen’s Island. Fifty miles from Detroit and sitting pretty in the channel between Canada and Michigan, I spent more times there than I can count during my childhood. It’s undoubtedly idealized in my mind.

Patchett’s essay helped me to recall:

  • That my grandfather used to sit in a chair listening to the Tiger games on the radio, eyes closed and occasionally lobbing a lougie of Red Man into a spittoon.
  • That my grandmother used to buy Planters cheese balls in a can.
  • That there were sodas in tall bottles stacked in crates on the porch with the bottle opener mounted to the wall.
  • That we used to watch storms out the front window and my grandfather used to try and convince us there was something called “snake lightening”. Which we could never identify but he certainly seemed to be an expert in spotting.
  • That my parents and aunt & uncle used to play pinochle in the evenings which seemed to result in incredibly unhealthy competition and so legend goes the deck of cards ended up in the fire. The loser was guilty.
  • That we dipped cattails in kerosene and lit them on fire to use them like torches. (Um, guys, really bad parenting there, FYI.)
  • That the best place in the Chris Craft after waterskiing was laying on the inboard motor because you got warmer faster.
  • That you could swing from the weeping willow trees like Tarzan into the canal if you timed it carefully (again, suspect parenting.)
  • That it was the first time I heard my Dad *really* swear when the tow line got caught up in the propeller and he said: “Marv, make sure the f**&$# engine is off.”
  • That he used to allow us to try and get the boat ourselves into the boathouse which required a lot of reversing, several passes and his hand at the bottom of the steering wheel.
  • That I spent my tenth birthday with ten girls and as many fishing poles in chaotic bliss.
  • And that my grandfather made the same damn scrambled eggs every Sunday and called them “Palmer House Specials”. He would periodically look out the window to see if “people were lining up on the road” to get them. The joke never got old.

So, this was a very long winded way of saying:
Read the damn article, people.”

I don’t care if it’s Harsen’s Island, Fire Island, Whidby Island, a Wisconsin lake, a house at the beach. It doesn’t matter really. It will be a fun trip.

Did this article remind you of a certain place?


P.S. Anne Patchet: I am sorry I said you are the same person as Anna Quindlen and Annie Lamott and all those other Annes. I take it back. You’re cool, girl.

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Do Your Part, People. Summer is Coming…

Okay, confession.

I have read the first 50 pages of three books in the last few weeks and like an annoying fly, I can’t seem to land for long (Ahem, Tinkers). My reading selections, for the moment, have seemed to come unhinged. As I dabbled in my new titles, I realized I was deciding whether to read them, rather than actually reading them. It seemed silly.

I imagined that this may be because the new titles were dumbed down for summer and nothing was inspiring. (I have conversations with myself: Is Ann Patchett, Anna Quindlen and Annie Lamott really just the same person? Why do they have so many books out?) Or maybe it is the-every-day-is-a-party-or-major-event-in-the-4-weeks-before-school-ends. (good lord.)

But stay calm, people. I have a grip on the whole thing now. Kind of.

See, at the start of the year, I put together a plan. I poured over the January ‘best of’ lists, did my research, teed them up and let ‘er rip. I guess I was nervous about having a book blog and not choosing wisely, reading bad stuff and then falling behind in my posts and…Well, damn. Here I am.

The pre-selected list is not my usual M.O. I love a well organized to do list, but in my reading? That seems tedious. I’m prone to impulsiveness and the list could be shackles.

Well, I’m turning in my freedom. Because I am not afraid to say I’m adrift. And though I may loathe to plan, the list worked. I read some terrific stuff.

I have my first title.
But I need five more.

Can you share with me your must-read for summer? A review that caught your eye, a book you have always meant to read, a title you just devoured?

You may not hit with me a laundry list of titles.That’s toooooo easy. I am looking for near-perfection, unbelievable, single biggest, not to be missed book for this summer.

I’m making big plans.

***************

For those of you who were curious about the first list…I have put them below in a handy best to not best list.

1. Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann.
Fantastic. A must read this year.

2. Too Much Happiness, Alice Munro.
Also a must read.

3. Raising Happiness, Christine Carter.
I blew off Bad Mother and saw Po Bronson speak on NurtureShock and swapped it instead for Carter’s parenting guide. I even led a book group on it at Motherese. I don’t do a lot of parenting books, but this one was actually a gem.

4. Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling.
I didn’t even post on this one, but the delight of my kids asking every morning: “How far did you get?” every morning was worth every page.

5. The Vagrants, by Yiyun Li.
Tough subject matter, but artfully written.

6. Brooklyn, Colm Toibin.
Despite the critics’ praise, it was pleasant but ordinary.

7. The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver.
Just not worth it.

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No Chick Lit Here. Bring Me Some Men.

Lately, I have seen a lot of articles (like here) outlining women’s claim on fiction.

In industry data I’ve seen, they cite 65% of books are bought by women. Okay, got it.
A majority of books are sold to women. I suppose if you broke it down further into sub-categories (fiction, biography, romance etc.), some would decidedly skew even higher to women.

But that’s a majority, not the whole enchilada, si?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this since my nightstands were analyzed. There, many of you shared anecdotes about being ‘fiction widows’, that husbands only read biographies and war histories and business books. Surely, this can’t be true for all?

We’ve learned by now that real men don’t eat quiche.
Are they off fiction now too?

Well, shoot. I missed that.
(I might have to reconsider my hobby.)

Or is it just that the public sharing of reading—the wine drinking, chit chat, and the mystery of the book club—is decidedly a ladies’ activity? Do the men dread the ritual of getting together and publicly processing at a deeper level? Is it too girly?

Look no further than this hilarious Bud Light ad run during the SuperBowl and Final Four:

The best line, of course, when she asks: “Do you like Little Women?”
And he responds: “Nah, I’m not picky.”

Well, bar none, the best book group I was ever in was women AND men. (As a shout out: hey guys, I think you are manly.) The selection of books we picked was broader, the discussion a lot richer, and frankly, I do have to credit the guys with keeping us focused on the task at hand. TT, over dinner, would invariably say: “When the hell are we going to talk about the book?”

Well, that’s a good point.

Left to our own feminine devices, my women’s book group would stray a tad too easily to other ‘critical’ topics.

I talked with a friend last week who was trying to select the new fiction pick for a couples book group. She said it was hard to bring a title because there was such a difference of opinion and everyone ‘always argues once we have read it. No one ever agrees on whether or not it was good or bad.’

Well, Exactly.
Right?

Look, I have no scientific research I am going to unveil to say why this is so. I am looking for your opinion: What’s the deal here?

I’m looking for a Few Good Men.

1. Men: (I know you, I see the subscription list) – share your insights. Are we too chick lit?
2. Women: Find me a man. Invite a male reader you know. Any man.

I’m not picky.

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Friday’s Popcorn, Served on Monday

I typically round out every week with some fun popcorn for the weekend.
I was busy preparing for my guest spot over at Motherese today, where we are launching her book group with Raising Happiness. Check it out.

It’s raining here. Still.
And it’s Monday.
So why not send it today?

1. Carolyn Kellogg at the Los Angeles Times has a much more positive view than I did on the iPad as an e-reader.

2. Break out the Lily Pulitzer, whale corduroys, and Bermuda bags! The Preppy Handbook is back! Not really my style (admittedly: anymore), but still worth a good laugh.

3. The 2010 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced today.

Fiction: Tinkers by Paul Harding.
Non-Fiction:  The Dead Hand by David E. Hoffman

4. Finally, My kids got an email this weekend from a former babysitter who is now a teacher. She sent this video to them with a note: Gotta Keep Readin’! They thought this set of middle schoolers recreating a Flash Mob in Florida was pretty darn cool.

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For more juicy little tidbits like these, follow me on Twitter.

Reminder: on Wednesday, I will be reviewing the first 100 pages of BrooklynOur April BookSnob selection.

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I Love You, iPad, But I Don’t Really Need You.

Well, I almost held out an entire week.

Trying to play it cool, I assured myself (repeatedly), that I didn’t need an iPad.
There was really no pressing need to own it. At all.

Unless, of course, you count lust.

Like a drunk dying for a martini, there I was in the Apple store on Thursday. I timed it like a pro, the salesperson on the phone said: “Our daily ship arrives at noon.”

We breezed in at 12:45: two children, one 85-pound Bernese Mountain dog  (I swear, they insisted I bring her in, those perky little Apple helpers) and giddy me. We could have been shooting their friggin’ commercial. We all smiled a lot, the kids showed me how to use the damn thing, our credit card was swiped and the handy white tote bag was in my hand…all in about 30 seconds.

It’s hard to imagine a Medellin drug drop going down more smoothly than this.

So now. The truth.

It’s gorgeous.

For those who describe it as a really large iTouch, they’re fundamentally right. But they grossly underestimate the vibrancy that the big screen brings to simple things as email, calendar, video and pictures. It’s nearly mesmerizing it is so beautiful. On this point, I could argue that it is truly the most clever consumer device ever built.

In some respects, it feels superior to a laptop. I can assure you, the interface of my email has never ever been this good on my MacBook. The keyboard feels great. The application store is still thin, but no use betting against this. The bigger size apps (6 or so I have downloaded so far), are in-cred-ible. Marvel comics rocked my kids world.

But before I swoon from my Apple delirium, I will admit to you, I am kind of confused.

While I can’t dispute its superior engineering, I am now a 4-device Apple consumer. It’s excessive. Does this thing do something that my iPhone, laptop, or desktop can’t do? Not really. Except books. Which I is why I really bought it in the first place.

In simple terms, it is hard to see the iPad as more than a luxury item, a gadget fetish. You may recall when I saw the launch of the iPad months ago, I mentioned it was going to be a Kindle killer. Well, hmm, I am not so sure about that. They seem to serve different buyers.

You need to take my comments with a grain of salt because I don’t own the Kindle. But here’s the detail on the iBooks piece:

YAHOO!

1. Love that I can change fonts–both size and type to one that is more digestible for me. It’s less about readability and more about, hey–let us fit this to you.

2. Love the highlighting of key passages that get bookmarked and I can refer back to easily. Nice touch that I can change the highlight color and it really looks all uneven like a highlighter. I am feeling productive now!

3. Like the double tap of a word to look  it up, or go to Google and/or Wikipedia.

4. Like that buying books go on my visual shelf. Makes me happy every time I look at that damn thing. Thanks for the eye candy. I like to see the covers.

5. Like that turning a page is like turning a page. Thanks for letting me hold on to that.

6. Appreciate that buying books is so ‘frictionless’. They are going to sell me, unfortunately, a lot of books.

BOO!

1. You can’t hold it in your hand too long while reading, it gets heavy for me. I need to prop it against my knees or in the cross of my lap. This is not a cuddly item.

2. The book selection is down right stinky at this point. As a data point, if you look at 25 books covers on BookSnob right now, Apple has less than 50% of them in iBooks version. I tried to find the next 3 books I was interested in reading. Strike out. I know this will get better with time, but if iBooks is the key driver of your purchase, hold tight.

3. Let’s be clear–it is reading on a screen. I am only about 25 pages into my first iBook, so I can’t say for sure…but it could be a bit hard on the eyes.

It’s hard for me to see the book addicts loving this, and I can see why the Kindle may still be the object of their affection. But may be it is too soon to tell. Hopefully, the book inventory crisis will pass.

So the question is who really NEEDS an iPad?

1.  Me. That’s obvious. Thanks for helping me with my guilt.
(I can say “You” too, if it helps yours.)

2. Families. It’s not difficult to see this as a household device. The first time you step on that spring break flight and the device is loaded with movies, games, everyone’s books…this seems like a home run. I can see it docked in the kitchen when home with cookbook recipes, family calendar, photos etc. It seems like the device we use to see in our minds when talked about swiping the empty milk carton bar code to add to the grocery list (anyone else remember that?)

3. Laptop dropouts. I talked with a friend today who is in the process of replacing the laptop in her kitchen. She does lightweight work on it (she works for herself and is mostly in Word and email) and suddenly the option of swapping a $2000 laptop for a $500 iPad is incredibly attractive. Those blessed careers that don’t require Excel–I definitely think its worth exploring the use of Pages and Keynote on an iPad.

4. Students. Hard to dispute a vision of students on their iPads taking notes, doing research, and yes, checking Facebook pages during those lectures. It’s kind of hard to imagine anything but.

5. Medical Professionals. At a doctor last week, I signed off on paperwork and privacy statements on an assistant’s ThinkPad. Man, it looks like a dinosaur compared to the iPad. With custom applications, this thing is a medical professional’s dream.

But I suppose you could argue no one really NEEDED an iPod. We had different ways to listen to our music. Apple has always been masterful at anticipating the future need of how we work and play. And maybe they have done it, yet again, and I can’t even see it.

If Apple is right I’ll say: “oh yeah, totally. I bought one, like, the first week it was out…my dog can vouch for me.”


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Please Don’t Kill My Library.

Yesterday in the car my daughter asked: “Mom? Did they have libraries when you were young?” Ahem. Dear child, just months ago I helped you complete a few facts on Ben Franklin, founder of the first library. Good god, HOW OLD do you think I am???

Actually, don’t answer that.

What strikes me as odd as we drive along (me now lost in my thoughts, them lost in their books), is that her daughter or son may be asking her that question some day. But, instead, in the form of: “Mom? What’s a library?”

Or am I just a pessimist?

The LA Times Blog, Jacket Copy, ran this story last week on the Los Angeles Library cutting back hours and services. Sadly, my first thought was: is this news? I can’t count the times in the last year we have stood outside our local library, my kids whining as they view the “Closed” sign on the door and blaming me for not calling in advance. The closures here in the East Bay feel random and too frequent. There is no doubt the library system is struggling.

The thought of losing our libraries saddens me. My memories are all relatively good ones. (Which is surprising in some sense, because I am a loud person.)

I had this very strong memory of standing at the Central Library with my mom as a teenager. We were preparing for the annual Spring Break pilgrimage to Florida. You Midwesterners in the crowd may be the only ones to understand this (because it is really just plain insanity), but we were going to be driving the 1,400 mile trip and we needed loads of books for the car. Oh, and mind you, we didn’t drive just ONE year, we drove EVERY year.

Let’s just call it 10+ years, 28,000 miles and about 200 novels. Welcome to Crazy Town.

I’m sure I was sullen, uncooperative and critical as I followed my Mom through the stacks. She pulled suggestions off the shelf: “The Great Gatsby?”, “Death in the Afternoon?” “The Prince of Tides?” Each to which I would shrug noncommittally or ask rudely: “What’s it about?” And in particular, I can remember my mom pushing An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. A couple of years in a row. A bad time series–me in the ugly Levi’s shirt, the velour top, the letter sweater….each year saying no no no to An American Tragedy.

This book choice was in fact rather hip of her, don’t you think? It was a progressive approach to sex education, perhaps designed to scare the pants back on us.

So, where’s the good memory? I guess with adult eyes I can see that she was there instilling the love of reading. That she knew so much about fiction and she had good taste and that she encouraged us to try different things. That part is all Mom. But the library made the conversation possible. So easy, so accessible, so reliable.

And now I stand in the stacks with my own kids: “Ramona & Beezus?” “SuperFudge?” “Swiss Family Robinson?” And they respond ‘Already read it‘, ‘Nahhhh‘ or give the dreaded shrug. Payback is a bitch.

But yet, they still leave the library every two weeks with a sack of 40 books.
And I am just not prepared to give that up.

Has your library services changed in the last few years? Is it part of your family ritual? What’s the future of libraries?

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Hop, Skip & Jump Into Your Weekend.

Well, it’s been one humdinger of a week, hasn’t it?
As I have been doing most Fridays, let’s try and keep this light.
Here are three things that will hopefully bring a little levity to your weekend. Enjoy!


HOP. Admit it, you kind of dug the book cover quiz. You’re kind of competitive like that. Try this one. Women writers. 13 questions. Go. (Perfect scores definitely get bragging rights.)


SKIP. Will pass over the ‘artistic’ novel covers that the publishers are talking about this spring. That sounds intense. Let’s try these funny ones on instead for size.


JUMP
. Into our new BookSnob Facebook page. Don’t just stand there..become a Fan and invite a few friends! I’m looking for a pack of snobs to add some fuel to this fire. Be sure to check out  “Confessions of a BookSnob‘ video. Funny friend of mine, that “Shania”.

How Do You Teach Kids to Love Books?

Oh, sorry. I don’t have the answer to that question.
Perhaps more accurately, I think there are a million answers to that question. I invite all of you to share some thoughts in the comments below.

But, in the meantime, let me share with you one answer: it came during something awesome this morning at our school.

It’s  called the “Automated Wax Museum”.
It’s about kids loving and appreciating books.

In an annual tradition, each 8th grader selects a book. They must be given a pretty long leash, because I saw things from Nicholas Spark to J.D. Salinger to Michael Lewis to LeBron James. It is strictly their choice. Yep, that seems like a motivating place to start.

The first order of business, of course, is reading the book.

While doing so, students are asked to pick a character that they identify with. Again, seems like a smart move for a 13 year old who doesn’t likely have a long list of people in their household they currently identify with, right?  I expect, as they are reading, they are scrutinizing the different characters, understanding their temperment, empathizing with their view on life.

Then, the students are required to write a monologue in that character’s voice. Not memorize text that is already written–no, no–they take on the voice of the character and write their own scene. They draft and redraft, practice and edit, because this is a monologue that they will perform, in character, at the school’s Wednesday assembly. They must consider their costume, their props, their mannerisms as they step completely into the character they have met and then given a real voice to.

At the assembly itself, the 8th graders stand like wax statues at their individual stations until other students visit and ‘activate’ them. Each student has a sign that says: “Pick up my journal to activate me” or “Press my binoculars”. They then dramatically deliver their monologue. And turn to a statue again.

Pretty cool, huh? I can assure you, this is not the boring ole’ book report from my grammar school days.

Okay, so what might have they learned?

1. To read and deeply engage with the characters. Hearing their voice, visualizing their clothes, envisioning their mannerisms.

2. To appreciate the written word. It is a thrilling call to take what they have read and extend the character in their own words. But probably also difficult too.

3. To take a risk. Don’t know many teenagers who are jumping up and down to have 300 people watch them act like a witch or a southern belle, but these kids took it in stride. They are role models for 300+ students coming after them.

4. To put flesh and bones on a book. A writer can be loved and revered, but it is our own imagination that fills in the blanks and makes the story uniquely ours.

This doesn’t even include the other kids who wandered around the gym, watching books and their characters literally ‘come to life.’ That seems to be a pretty creative way for kids to see books in a very fun light.

Me? I was just a fluke bystander. My kids weren’t performing.

But I couldn’t help thinking as I left:
What book would I have picked?
Which character? and finally…
Do they have any idea how cool this is???

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