Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Round Up

Again, I've been neglectful, but I plan to start fresh for 2011. I wanted to take a few moments here on New Year's Eve to comment on a few things about 2010 and the upcoming year.

My most exciting book-related news for 2010 is that I met and exceeded my reading goal. I started out with a goal of reading 48 books, and I ended up reading 53! I'm thrilled with my success and know that it has something to do with making a concrete goal and making it public.

To give myself a bit more of a challenge, I'm going to set a goal of 60 books in 2011. I've seen a few people actually write out a list of books that that want to read for the year, so I'm going to do that next week. However, I won't put the full 60 books on the list because I know that I'll be inspired to read new books throughout the year. Any suggestions for titles I should add to my list.

Please visit my "books read in 2010" tab for a full list of all the books I read this year. I will be writing about many of them in the coming weeks.

I hope everyone has had a blessed 2010 and I send you all best wishes for 2011.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

For this week's fiction review, I wanted to talk about Harper Lee's classic, To Kill A Mockingbird. I am assuming that most of you are familiar with the book, so this will be less a review and more of a reflection on my experiences with one of my favorite books.

I reread Mockingbird a few months ago and fell in love with it all over again. It was the first time I had read it since the 8th grade. I had seen the movie many times in between, but there was so much richness that the movie doesn't capture. I think the movie is phenomenal, but there is no way a two-hour film can include all the complexity of such a well-crafted novel. I loved remembering all of my favorite scenes again.

For a long time I've been saying that Mockingbird is one of my favorite books. Rereading it this fall has only reaffirmed that statement for me. I read it for the first time in 5th grade. I remember making a book report about it. I drew a tree with a big knot hole in it, and glued tin foil to it for the objects that Boo gives the children. I don't remember too many other details about my first experience with the book, but I remember being enchanted by it.

I read it again several years later for my 8th grade English class. I remember staying up late before the test on it talking to my mom about the book. After I finished studying for it, we just sat up, discussing the themes and characters in the book. I think that conversation helped me prepare for the test more than any studying I had done. Harper Lee's book made me think more than anything other book that I had read up until that point.

This time was different. I was of course moved by the important issues in the book, but this time, I was swept up in the characters and the language more so than before. I read it in a day and a half, and couldn't put it down, even though I knew exactly what was going to happen. I think I want to be one of those people who read To Kill A Mockingbird every year now. So don't be surprised it I start talking about it again this time next year.

What are your experiences with To Kill a Mockingbird? Who is your favorite character? Is there another book you loved long ago that you have returned to recently? If not, what book could you reread?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Keeping a Reader's Notebook

Last Monday, I suggested a few simple ways you could sq
ueeze a few extra books into your life. This week, I'd like to add another suggestion to help you get more from your reading life.

Reading Notebooks

You can call them many different things: reading notebooks, reading journals, book logs, commonplace books, etc. You can keep them in a variety of different ways, but they are infinitely useful.
I first learned about commonplace books (which I've discussed on this blog before) in Susan Wise Bauer's book, The Well-Educated Mind. Bauer shows readers how to educate themselves using a commonplace book and a stack of quality literature. She provides the reading list of "great books", along with a information about each book and genre. She encourages readers to keep commonplace books to being understand and remember what they are reading. She describes commonplace books as educational tools used by readers and scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries. According to Bauer, a commonplace book was, "a looseleaf or bound blank book in which readers copied down quotes or snippets that they wanted to remember." She compares it to a hand-copied version of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. However, some readers added their own thoughts in their books, beyond simply copying passages from published works. Bauer says a modern reading journal should be "the place where the reader takes external information and records it (through the use of quotes as in a commonplace book); appropriates it through a summary, written in the reader's own words; and then evaluates it through reflection and personal thoughts."

I was immediately smitten with the idea of a commonplace book, and tried to implement it almost immediately. However, it wasn't until I read Michael Gelb's How To Think Like Leonardo DaVinci that I really got the hang of it. In it, he discussed Davinci's famous notebooks and what they contained. He included drawings, plans, brainstorming, quotations, vocabulary words, questions, and lists. Gelb encourages readers to keep notebooks and to write down anything and everything. He especially promotes them as useful for capturing ideas and questions. Gelb's book sort of gave me permission to make my notebook a hodgepodge of sorts. I felt like my commonplace book had to be purely literary, but Gelb helped me understand that I can include all sorts of information, not just that which came from books.

So what does my notebook look like? I purchases a medium-sized, hard-back, spiral sketchbook from Michael's with blank pages on thick paper. I didn't want lines because I wanted to be able to change directions on the page or write in different sizes. I try to always use the same pen (because I am crazy like that), and then have a color-coded highlighting system for emphasizing certain types of notes later. I decorated the cover with maps, scrapbook paper and magazine clippings. I recommend the hard-back and the spiral because it makes it easy to write in. I can fold the pages back and use the hard cover to write on with the need for a separate hard surface.

What do I put in it, you ask? Well, I started with some brainstorming lists, then took notes on a few books I was reading. I include words and definitions of vocabulary I came across in my reading that I didn't know. I do copy some passages and quotations from books that I find particularly inspiring or thought-provoking. I tend to write in my notebook for my non-fiction reads, more than for novels. Bauer's book is primarily about fiction, and she encourages recording characters, themes, and other aspects of the literature that we read. I haven't tried it yet, but I see how it could be useful, especially if I was reading a particularly difficult text. It's also a useful place to keep track of books I want to read and where I learned about them. Writing things down about what I read is very helpful in understanding and remembering the books that I read.

Do you keep a reading journal or ideas notebook? Is it something you would consider.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Book Suggestions

On Fridays, I'm going to start sharing a few book suggestions. These are books I read recently, or years ago, so I'm not going to give detailed reviews on them (some I may have already reviewed, and I will link to those if that is the case).

I will be sharing three fiction and three nonfiction titles around a certain theme. The books will be diverse and may deal with the issue in different ways, sometimes rather tangentially. I just thought a theme for the week would be a fun way to tie the books together and to bring different perspectives to a particular topic.

Today's topic is issues of race and class.


Them by Nathan McCall- The story of a young white couple who move into an old and historically black neighborhood in Atlanta, GA.

Four Spirits by Sena Jener Naslund-A fictionalized account of the events and people in Birmingham, AL during the Civil Rights movement in 1963.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann-This book contains many stories of the lives of people in New York City who watched a man walk between the Twin Towers on a tight-rope in 1974. They are a broad representation of society, both racially and socio-economically, and their live collide (sometimes literally) in unexpected ways.


There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz- The true account of a pair of brothers who live with their mother in a run-down housing project in Chicago.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich- A writer tries to support herself for a year with only minimum wage jobs and shares all the details.

A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind- One of my all time favorites. Suskind follows Cedric Jennings through his last two years of high school in a low-performing inner-city DC high school. Despite the fact that Jennings is gifted, but grossly unprepared, he receives a scholarship to Brown University.

I hope you enjoy today's selections. Please share any other titles you think fit into the topic for today, and share ideas for future themes.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Book Review: The Unlikely Lavender Queen

I've been mildly obsessed with lavender for a few years. I'm not sure how it started, but my shampoo, conditioner, laundry and dishwasher soap are all lavender scented. I have a sachet of dried lavender by my best. And I'm bummed that I can't find my favorite lavender body spray at Whole Foods anymore. It's so calming and sweet. I also like the idea of all my scents coordinating.

So when I saw The Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected Blossoming by Jeannie Ralston, I snatched it up. The cover image only pretty much sold me on the book, but I dutifully flipped it over to check. And, yes indeed, this was a book that I would like to read.

The Unlike Lavender Queen is Ralston's memoir of how she moved with her new husband for her beloved New York City to Austin, TX. Once she finally adjusted to that, her husband had another idea. He wanted to move to a small town deep in the Texas Hill Country on a large piece of land. Ralston, the city girl, resisted, but eventually, they got there. Then on a vacation to Provence, her husband (a National Geographic photographer) decided he wanted to grow lavender on their land.

The book follows the growth of their lavender business, and tells the story of Ralston's transformation from a glamorous New York City writer to something she never thought she'd be.

I was thrilled with all the references to Central Texas, Austin, and other places I've been to, but I think the book has broad appeal. Ralston is a talented writer who honestly describes both the joyful and excruciating parts of her life as a wife, mother, sister, daughter, writer, reluctant farmer, and business woman.

And then there's all the lavender. Oh, the lavender...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Good Cause: Where Do You Buy Your Books?

Once I week, I am going to start highlighting people and organizations that are doing important work in the realm of reading, books, literacy, education, writing, publishing, etc. I've already shared about a few of my favorite organizations, and I will likely be highlighting them again, but today I want to talk about making decisions about where you buy your books.

First, (I'm not going to link; you know where to find them.). Much has been written in the past year about Amazon's unethical business practices and some readers and book bloggers are boycotting the online superstore. Hey Lady!...Whatcha Readin'? wrote an passionate post about why she decided to shun Amazon. My dear Katie wrote a wonderful post as well. You can read more about the issue here and here. Basically, they tend to act like a big bully to impose their will on small-ish publishers, etc and can be quite effective at it because they are so ubiquitous.

Over the past two or three months, I've only made two purchases from Amazon, and both were from marketplace sellers. One book I couldn't find elsewhere online. The other I could find on another website, but it was listed as $100, and I found it from an Amazon seller for like $4 (plus $4 shipping). I wasn't willing to pay the extra $90+ to avoid Amazon. I haven't been able to abandon my meticulously crafted wishlists, so I still check back often, but I've been buying my books primarily with other sellers. So, I can't say that I am fully boycotting Amazon, but I am drastically reducing my business with them.

My reasoning is this. Amazon may or may not be an evil entity. I haven't made up my mind. It's clear that their primary goal is to make money, not promote the needs of readers, writers, and others involved in the books industry. But they're a business, so that's not really that surprising or sinister.

But their clever marketing and shipping policies ensured that I usually spent more with them than I originally intended. I would go to Amazon because of the lower prices, and options for free shipping. I always fell prey to the free shipping for orders over $25. Even if I only wanted one $15 book, I'd search for something for $10 to round out my order and get the free shipping. (I would literally scan my wishlists only looking at the prices.) But I'd always find something for $12, or two books for $7 each. So my quick $15 purchase turned into at least twice that for "free" shipping that would have only cost me a few dollars to pay for outright. The shipping policy is great for when I'm buying a more expensive book, or doing Christmas shopping, but not when I'm just out to buy one little book. I knew I was deceiving myself into thinking I was saving, but I fell for nearly every time. And Amazon got more of my money.

So, to the point of this wordy post: where do I buy my books now? Primarily at two websites: and Both offer FREE shipping on ANY order in the US, and quite low shipping to other countries. This alone is awesome. I buy one little $6 book, and that's all I get and all I pay for. Both sites sell primarily used books, but they're usually in pretty good condition.

So what's the difference between them? Why both sites? Well, Thrift Books usually has better prices, but Better World Books tends to have a better selection. Sometime BWB has better prices though because they have this awesome bargain bin where you can buy 3 books for $10, 4 for $12 or 5 for $15. (Yes, I realize this is another trap to get me to buy books that I didn't show up to purchase, but I'm trying to use restraint, and the prices are really good!) Sometimes their prices are a bit more than the same book at Amazon, but it's usually not too drastic.

Also, Better World Books raises money for literacy programs all over the world (BONUS!). So you're doing a good deed while buying your books!

I still buy some books in person at Half-Price, Borders, and Barnes and Noble. But if I'm buying online, I usually check Thrift Books and Better World Books and compare. I've been thrilled with both websites so far, and am delighted to have a viable Amazon alternative.

So I ask you: where do you buy your books? Do you give it much thought? Soon, I plan to write a post about new vs. used books, so we'll have another element to add to the mix.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Book Review: Little Bee

And now I begin the process of reviewing the scads of books I've read during the last few months, but completely neglected to write about.

Today: Little Bee by Chris Cleave.

My mom told me about this book she found on the display table at Borders, and how she was intrigued by the non-description on the back (more about that later). Then my dear friend picked the same book for our virtual book club. Despite the fact that I haven't participated in over a year (bad me!), I made a point of asking my mom to borrow it when she was finished.

Unfortunately, I didn't get my hands on Little Bee until after the online discussion, but I did read it eventually. And my mom was right, the quasi-description on the back of the book is intriguing. It says that the book is a special story, but that they can't really tell us much else. Except that it's about two women, one of whom had to make a horrible choice. And then they meet again, and something extraordinary happens. (Okay, I'm retelling this from memory, but I'm quite certain that it doesn't get much more specific than that.)

The book left me pretty disappointed. I was expecting something life changing, based on the cryptic quality of the dust jacket, and Little Bee didn't live up to that. Perhaps if the description had actually described some of the events of the book, I would have read it with more appropriate expectations. Because some of the events of the book are intensely disturbing. And to give credit to Chris Cleave, the writing is quite vivid. The whole book has a very surreal quality to it, so even the mundane events seemed eerie to me.

Since the publisher doesn't give much away about the plot, I feel that I shouldn't either. So how will you know if you want to read it? Here's my conclusion. The book, despite my qualms with its content, is expertly crafted. There's no doubt about that. The story is original, unlike anything I've ever read, and extremely though-provoking. Overall, am I glad I read it? Yes. But, I did not close the book at the end with the warm, contented feeling I get when finishing one of my new favorites. Rather, I felt jolted, unsettled, and confused. I had serious problems with the decisions made by most of the main characters, but that gave me a lot to think about when I finished it. I don't plan on reading it again. But if you can tolerate some horrific scenes, and enjoy thought-provoking prose, give Little Bee a try. And if you want a second opinion, it received stellar reviews from critics far more talented than I.

A note about the title: I find the title ironic. It brings to mind images of something sweet and innocent, when the book is neither. In the UK, the book was published under the title The Other Hand, which I find to be more apt (a hand plays a pivotal role in the book). The cover also better conveys the eerie quality of the novel as well (plus the terrible decision takes place on a beach).

Has anyone else read it? Anything to share?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Tips For a Better Reading Life: Read More Books

First of all, apologies (yet again) for my extended silence. I tend to blog in bursts, but I am working on a system that will keeping me blogging consistently and often. Here's to another try. Thanks to those who are still around.

In an effort to transform and refocus my blog, I am going to start gathering and sharing resources and tips for improving your reading life. I hope to learn many things as I share them.

Today, tips for getting more books into our lives. This will be an ongoing topic as I am sure there are many different approaches to this, but here are a few to get us started. When I set my reading goal of 50 books for 2010, I wasn't sure how (or even if) I would accomplish it, and I had no plan for significantly changing my reading habits. But I have learned somethings along the way that have helped me get close to my goal (6 books to go in 2 months!).

1. Watch less TV.

This one is obvious (as is its close cousin-spend less time online), but truly effective. I often have a hard time turning it off, so I try to get in the habit of just not turning it on. I have spent many evenings this year with no TV and little to no internet. I've read a couple of shorter books in a single evening this way. This principle can be applied to several different things (movies, video games-any time consuming distraction) that eat up time with little reward. Think hard about what activities hold your attention and see if reading can replace any of them.

2. Read more than one book at a time. Always have one of those books with you.

The first part of this is controversial. Some dedicated readers will say that it's distracting to read multiple books and that it will slow you down, but I disagree. One thing that does help me from getting confused is to read books of different genres simultaneous instead of three Jane Austen novels. The best way to use this strategy is to keep certain books in specific places. Say you are reading one novel, one memoir, and one detailed non-fiction book. You might keep the novel in your car, purse, or work bag for on-the-go reading. Then you might keep the memoir on your nightstand for before bed reading. Finally the non-fiction book might stay in your office, or in the family room for longer periods of sustained reading. This method works because you always have a book ready to read, and you don't have to worry about retrieving your book from the nightstand before you leave for work or to run errands. Which brings me to the second part of this tip. Always have a book with you. Stuck waiting at the DMV? Read your book. Waiting to pick someone up at the airport. Read your book. Waiting just about anywhere is made more pleasant by reading a book.

3. Audio books.

I wrote about them a few months ago, but let me reiterate. Audiobooks help to you to read books in times and places where you previously couldn't. The car is my primary audiobook venue. I still listen to podcasts, CDs, and the radio sometimes, but once every few months I listen to an audiobook. My commute is only 15 minutes, but that's 30 minutes a day, plus errands, and the occasional traffic jam. I typically finish books in about 2 weeks. It makes me way more relaxed about traffic or getting lost (as long as I'm not running late!). And I'd probably have nearly 9 or 10 fewer books on my yearly tally if it weren't for audiobooks. I get mine from the library and occasionally from iTunes. I've never tried, but I hear excellent things.

That's probably more than enough for today. I'll share some more next week. What are your tips for reading more? Where do you find time to read in unexpected places? Do you read more than one book at a time? What have you given up to squeeze in more books? Do you listen as well? Do tell. I'm dying to learn some more tips!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday Web Round-Up

After a hiatus of several weeks, I'm back with a quick round-up of reading and book related web news.

RIF says that kids who are surrounded by words read better. Great study.

A day in the life of a writer.

I've always meant to read The Once and Future King... now has a mobile store.

The top children's picture book on the bestseller's list this week was a Lego Starwars Dictionary. This kind of makes me sad.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Reading Goals

I've been thinking a lot about goals. There are many things that I have hoped to achieve in the last year that have fallen by the wayside. Eating better, a regular exercise routine, consistent writing, keep up with faraway friends. I make progress, often in fits and starts, but never really seem to get to where I want to be.

There is one glorious exception to this, however. Reading. I've read more this year than I have in a long time, perhaps ever. And I've been trying to determine the cause of this wonderful progress. I think the key is that I made a goal, and posted my progress publicly. Back in January, inspired by my best friend and fellow reader (and blogger), I set a goal to read 48 books this year (I was going to go for 50, but 48 is 4 per month I have a thing about the number 8, so it was just a more appealing number to me). And I am thrilled to say that I am well on my way to meeting, and exceeding my goal (you can see my progress at the top of the blog under "books read in 2010").

It's certainly not surprising to me that setting goals leads to achievement, but it has been powerful for me to experience it myself.

I will be applying this realization to the rest of my personal aspirations, but I am grateful that I succeeded first in reading. The more I read, talk to readers, and read about reading, I am convinced of its vital importance to everyone's life. I'm in the process of shifting the focus of my blog toward boldly advocating for an elevated status for reading in our society.

So I'm starting today with a challenge to you all. Set a reading goal. Set a goal for time spent reading, or for books read in a given period of time. A book a month? Three books a month? Read every day for an hour? Set aside two hours per week? Whatever it is, make it a bit of a stretch. A bit more than you would normally read, but not so much that it seems impossible. And tell others about it. Comment here, tweet it, share it with your friends.

Reading is a gift that we so often take for granted. I ask you all to set a goal for yourself, and commit to making reading a priority in your life. I can't wait to hear all about it!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Book Review: The Wednesday Sisters

Not long ago, I shared the book trailer for Meg Waite Clayton's The Wednesday Sisters. What did you think?

Well, if the trailer didn't entice you, I'm here to try to get the job done. I LOVED this book. I found it at Target on a Saturday afternoon. Started reading it about 11:15 that night. I finally forced myself to turn the light out around 3:30am, which the majority of the book knocked out. I woke up early, read a bit more. After church and a few errands, I finished it around 2pm. So I read the whole thing in about 14 hours, included sleep and a few other extraneous details.

The book is about a group of women in the 60's who meet each other on the playground while their children are playing. They eventually form a writing group, even though some of them haven't the slightest notion of actually being a writer. As an aspiring writer myself, I was inspired by the dedication and work ethic that the women possessed. What's more, they were writing exclusively in long hand, or on a typewriter. I find the task of editing drafts tedious with my computer. But the descriptions of one woman trying to retype a whole manuscript because of pagination errors--it just made my head hurt!

The characters are lively and very engaging. It's told from Frankie's point of view, but I felt as if I got to know each of the other women almost as well. Some of the women come to the group with little mysteries, which eventually come to light, but which kept me reading late into the night.

Clayton explores the idea of identity as the women wade through the waters of the women's movement. Some are more radical than others, but they all undergo a transformation as a result of their writing, their relationships to one another, and their reactions to the larger movement around them. When they first meet, they introduce themselves by their husband's occupation. Some of their marriages are good, others are pretty bad, but they all start out with their whole identity wrapped up in their husbands and children. By the end of the story, some of their lives have changed more drastically than others, but I believe they all come to have a new understanding of the lives they lead.

It was a great read, and I'm looking forward to Meg Waite Clayton's next book, The Four Ms. Bradwells!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Giveaway Winners!!

Thanks so much to those of you who participated in my first giveaway!

Congratulations to Lauren and Jamie!!! I'll be contacting you today so I can get the book to you!

Happy Friday everyone!!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Giveaway reminder

There's still time to enter the giveaway for Aidan Donnelley Rowley's first novel, Life After Yes.

Comment on Tuesday's post for a chance to win one of two copies! Contest ends Friday at 12noon Central.

Spread the word!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New Feature: Wednesday Web Round-Up

I frequently find interesting articles, interviews and book reviews and think of you all, and so I'm going to start to sharing them with y'all on Wednesdays. Please share links to any interesting articles or reviews that you come across.

Do critics judge female authors differently than male writers? NPR discusses with two popular writers.

I love these bookshelves!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

MY FIRST GIVEAWAY!! Life After Yes by Aidan Donnelley Rowley

Today I am excited to share with you my review of a new novel AND my very first giveaway!!

Yes, that's right! I will be giving away TWO copies Aidan Donnelly Rowley's rookie novel, Life After Yes!

I started reading Aidan's blog, Ivy League Insecurities, back in the beginning of 2010, and quickly discovered that her first novel was coming out in a few months. In addition to reading her entertaining and thought-provoking posts about her life as a young mother and writer, I thoroughly enjoyed getting a backstage peek of the publishing process from a first-time author's point of view.

I pre-ordered my copy and was so so excited to read it when it first came out in May. And I was not disappointed!

First of all, despite the dreamy, ethereal look of the cover (which, by the way, is gorgeous, is it not? I love the swirly dress and the red ribbon), this is not a fairy tale. It is not a story of how a girl meets her prince charming, and how they finally figure out that they're meant for each other. Rather, as the title suggests, this book is about all the stuff that happens after all of that. After she says "yes!"

"She" is Quinn O'Malley, a young NYC lawyer who is engaged to a seemingly perfect beau. Quinn has a successful career, the great guy-her life is idyllic, right? But of course, things are never that simple. Now that Quinn has what she thought she wanted...what she was supposed to have wanted...things aren't so clear. She has a troubling dream the night after the engagement, and starts having doubts about her life's path. All the while, she is dealing with the inner turmoil of grief in the wake of a national tragedy. Quinn's beloved father was killed on September 11, mere months before her boyfriend proposed.

I really enjoyed Aidan's book. After so much anticipation, I was afraid I had built it up too much--I so wanted to like it. And I did! It's a charming and engaging story, that's not too hard to read, but that also has hidden depth. Beautiful themes weave throughout the storyline, and in the end, it left me thinking about quite a few issues very carefully. For me, this book is what reading should be: entertaining and thought-provoking.

And now for the truly exciting part! Aidan has graciously provided me with copies of Life After Yes to pass along to TWO of you lovely readers.

Just leave a comment on this post by Friday, September 3, 12n Central Time. I will randomly select two of you that afternoon and announce the winners!

Restrictions: Only one entry per e-mail address. Will only ship to the U.S.

This is my first giveaway, so I'm excited and nervous and can't wait to share this lovely book with 2 of you! Good luck!!

The author, Aidan Donnelley Rowley, provided me with the copies to giveaway, but I purchased my own copy originally, and my opinions are entirely my own.

Image from the author's website.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Another Guest Post: Inspiring Books

I'm a guest contributor over on Spring Inspiration today. I'm sharing some of my favorite inspiring reads, so come check it out!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Do You Watch Book Trailers?

Have you seen any good book trailers lately?

There seems to be a new trend of creating book trailers for upcoming publications. According to wikipedia, "A book trailer is a video advertisement for a book which employs techniques similar to those of movie trailers. They are circulated on television and online in most common digital video formats." I also discovered there that the term "book trailer" is trademarked by Sheila Clover of Circle of Seven Productions. Apparently, they've been around for years, but I've only become aware of them in the past several months. Where have I been?

I usually find book trailers on youtube, but that's usually after I've read a book and I'm looking for more information about to book to write about it. I've never been swayed to read or buy a book because of it's trailer. Have you?

Most of the trailers I view seem very strange to me. Of course, the production quality varies greatly (especially if they're only being view on youtube), so some of them are just poorly made. But also, I think I feel a disconnect when I view something on video that's meant to represent a product in a print medium. I can also see, however, that the could be an excellent means of reaching potential readers in new ways.

Here are a few websites to check out if you are interested in viewing some book trailers for yourself.

Expanded Books (via YouTube)

What do you think? Do you have any experience with book trailers? What are your impressions? To give you an example, I'm including a book trailer below for a novel I recently read (and LOVED--post forthcoming). If you haven't read it, please let me know if you are enticed at all by the trailer. Do you think you have a different opinion than if you had just read the dust jacket?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Book Review: Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

I started hearing about this book during my first year of seminary. Everyone was talking about Barbara Brown Taylor's new memoir, Leaving Church. I bought it that first year, but like so many other books, it collected dust on a shelf until a few months ago.

I'm not sure why I picked it up. Perhaps I was feeling nostalgic for my seminary days. Although they are just over a year behind me, I sometimes feel like it's been ages since I've "mastered" the divine (as if that is ever possible). I missed thinking and talking about faith and the church like I used to, and so I was drawn to Taylor's book.

First of all, she is a gifted wordsmith. Well-known for expertly crafted sermons, Taylor's skill as a writer is profound. I experienced her gift with words from the first moment I opened the book. These words swept me up and surrounded me throughout the journey of Taylor's life. She creates such vivid images that I was transported beside her as I read her story. Taylor takes you along to the places she visits in a way that few writers can accomplish.

In addition to the elegant writing, Leaving Faith content is compelling as well. Taylor starts with a narrative explaining the many twists and turns she encountered as a child and young adult in search of an authentic faith. After much searching (and trial and error), she finds a home in the Episcopal Church and eventually becomes an ordained priest. After serving as an associate in thriving church, Taylor longs to serve a tiny church nestled in the North Georgia mountains. Only that church already has a beloved priest, and Taylor believes her dream to be impossible. But eventually her dream comes true, and she is called to that very church and begins to serve in what she believes to be her dream job.

A few years pass, and Taylor is miserable and must face the reality that she is mentally, physically, and spiritually depleted. She makes the difficult and courageous decision to leave both her beloved church, and church ministry all together. Stepping away from her dream is beyond challenging, but she ends up finding a new calling that continues to inspire and fulfill her.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who is interested in faith journeys, or is perhaps exploring religion, spirituality, and faith. Taylor's journey is compelling, and helped me to think about my own faith in new ways.

This book also has a lot to say, even to those of you who are not religious or spiritual. It is a phenomenal exploration of what it takes to walk away from something that you thought you wanted. I learned so much from the process that she describes and she makes such a difficult decision.

I loved this book, and am looking forward to reading some more of her memoirs. I have two others, and there is a new one that looks fantastic!!

Image from the author's website.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reach Out and Read

I once read somewhere that it's never too early--or too late--to start reading aloud to a child. I have read many books that emphasize how important early literacy experiences are for children and their future intellectual development. Children need to be read to and exposed to books from infancy to have proper verbal stimulation. However, this does not happen for many children.

Reach Out and Read is a fantastic nonprofit that has found an innovative strategy to address this issue. They equip pediatric doctors and nurses to talk to parents about the importance of reading aloud to their children during check-ups. They provide children (ages 6 months to 5 years) with a new book to take home from their doctor's visits. It's wonderfully simple, and very effective. Visit their website to look at some of the statistics and information about their success.

I am always so encouraged by the wonderful work so many different organizations are doing in the world of literacy. I hope to highlight many of them in the coming weeks. Are there some organizations I should know about? Please share!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Book Review: An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England

I first heard about An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England when I heard an interview with author, Brock Clarke, on NPR (which, let's be honest, is how so many of my stories start). His book sounded very intriguing, a little dark, but very entertaining.

Basically, Sam has just been released from prison after serving a 10 year sentence for burning down the Emily Dickinson house. Except he didn't do it on purpose, and he didn't mean for anyone to die. He finally makes a life for himself after his release, but then more writers' homes go up in flame. Everyone blames Sam, but it's not him this time.

I enjoyed the book, but you have to read it with a bit of suspended belief. It was definitely written in a distinctive style. The only way I can really describe it is to say that parts reminded me of Catch-22. The characters and the events of the novel are extreme. It left me with an odd feeling at the end; I wasn't quite sure what to think. But on the whole, I was glad I read it and it made me want to go back and read Catch-22 again.

Has anyone else read it? Anyone else hear echoes of Catch-22?

Image from

Annie Barrows talks about Guernsey

Last night, when I was looking up the book trailers I already shared, I found this book talk given by co-author Annie Barrows, and found her so charming and entertaining. She explains how her aunt got the idea of the book and how Annie came to be a part of the project. The full presentation is in four parts about about 36 minutes long, but so worth it! I'm sharing the first part here below, but please visit youtube and watch the other parts when you get a chance.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Very Belated, but Enthusiastic Praise for the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

It only recently occurred to me that I neglected to write a proper review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows. This is unacceptable because I read it almost a year ago and it was one of the most perfect books I have ever read.

Back when I first read it, I shared a few of my favorite passages, but didn't write more because my best friend hadn't finished it yet and we were going to discuss it later. Then I forgot to get back to it, which is unforgivable. So here I am do remedy the situation.

Guernsey is an epistolary novel set in Great Britain just after WWII. It is the charming story of how Juliet (a London columnist and author) and the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (don't worry--you learn what that name is all about) come to know each other through correspondence. It begins when one member reads a book that once belonged to Juliet and still bore her name and address in its inside cover. Soon other members write to her too and she eventually visits them on the island. The story is rich with hilarious and heart-breaking characters, and is utterly heartwarming. I loved the people and the stories that unfold around them, but Guernsey is also beautiful testament to the beauty and power of reading and books.

The book was written by two women, an aunt and her niece. Sadly, Aunt Mary Ann died several months before the book was published.

For a bit more of a taste of Guernsey and its residents and letter-writers, watch these two clips. The first features the niece, Annie Barrows talking about the characters and the birth of the literary society. The second, dramatized readings of some of the letters. Let me know what you think of these trailers, whether you've read the book or not. I'm curious about this trend of book trailers, and plan to write about them in the future.

P.S. Stay tuned! My first giveaway is coming up this week!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Audio Book Review: My Life in France by Julia Child

I loved loved loved this book. It was sweet and charming and delicious! I already knew a lot of the basic storyline because it is woven into the movie, Julie and Julia, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. When I first sat down to read Julie Powell's memoir of the same name, I was expecting to learn more about Julia Child than I did. The movie was more of a balance between Powell and Child, and I found both stories to be delightful. I kept meaning to go back and read My Life in France, as it is the basis for Julia's portion of the movie. For some reason (probably the ridiculously precarious stacks of books already taking over my apartment), I never got around to it.

However, I saw the audiobook version at the library and snatched it up! And it was delightful! The story of her life was absolutely fascinating. I was utterly inspired by the way Julia transformed her life and blossomed into the person that we all know of. She didn't begin cooking until she was in her mid to late 30s. And it wasn't all smooth sailing. But she persevered.

I also adored the relationship between Julia and her husband Paul. Their marriage was so sweet and kind. He was so much a part of her story, and so much a part of her success. I was so inspired by their relationship, their encouragement and support for one another, and their steadfastness. I must admit that since becoming so disillusioned with Julie Powell and her marriage, I think I was doubly grateful to see Julia's marriage and husband so cherished.

I did listen to an audio version, and the only trouble I had with it was the fact that I already knew what Julia Child's voice sounds like. And the reader, to her credit, did not try to imitate that. It threw me off at first, but in no time, I was swept away by the story and the writing and Julia's "voice" shone through.

Has anyone read it? What did you think? What about reading it along with Julia and Julie (either the book or the movie)? How do these three works and two lives inform one another?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Confessions of a Chronic Book Buyer

Here's the thing. I have a little problem, that's actually become a pretty big problem. I have too many books. I'm pretty much addicted to them--more specifically, I'm addicted to buying them. And yes, I do read them as well, but the real thrill is purchasing them. I get so happy when I have a brand new (or even new to me) book in my hands. There is so much joy and possibility.

But the thing is, no matter how much I enjoy reading, I can never keep up with the pace. Books are everywhere in my apartment. EVERYWHERE. I need at least two more very large bookshelves to even begin to address the issue.

There is also the issue of money. I do not want to even begin to think about how much money I have spent on books.

I have been trying to cull through the excess of reading material. I currently have a large box of books behind my couch that's waiting to go to Half-Price Books. I'll make a little money back from them, but it's quite minimal.

I need a plan to keep my obsession with buying books from taking over my apartment and depleting my wallet.

My first strategy is to go on a book buying hiatus and to (gasp!) actually read the books I already have. My book shelves are like my own personal book store. Opening a new book is exciting whether it's been newly purchased or not, right? Although I always have the intention of reading a book when I buy it, sometimes I'm already in the middle of a book (or 4) at that time, and so it waits for a little while. Then, often, I'm in a different mood by the time I get around to it, and so I move onto something else. But it's a wonderful gift to have books all around me to choose from when I need something new to read. Still, there's the ever-present allure of something REALLY new to read.

So my next thought is to supplement with the Public Library. Libraries are lovely places. I love them, and just checked out a few books this morning. But I love writing in my books, and libraries tend to frown upon that. I also like the share my books with others, and to go back and reread passages here and there. So, while libraries are great for some books and to satisfy a lot of my book lust, I'm still going to have to buy some books.

Here is where I automatically log onto and start clicking. I'm beginning to have moral qualms with them (that post forthcoming). I am currently exploring alternative online options. I love browsing at Borders and Barnes and Noble, but they are not cheap. Coupons and rewards cards help, but it's still a lot. Half Price Books is great, but it's very hit or miss if you are looking for a specific title.

I'm going to try to severely limit my new book purchases for a while, as that is the only real solution to not having so many books in my home. Of course, I will always want to be surround with good books, but there is a limit to the total tonnage a one-bedroom apartment can hold.

Do you buy too many books? Any tips for me on how to curb my addiction?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I'm a Guest Blogger!

I'm so excited to say that I am a guest blogger over on Michelle's fabulous blog, When I Grow Up! It's all about self-help books, why they're great, and which ones you might love! Please check it out!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Calling All Readers! I need your help!

I've been thinking a lot recently about what I want this blog to be and how I can make it more interactive. I have also been thinking about what it means to be well-read, and how ones gets to be well-read. Then it came to me. I want to feature "well-read" people on this blog and share their tips and insights.

I consider myself to be on my way to being well-read but I still have long way to go. I am always looking for more information, more stories, and more tips to get to where I want to be. So I want to learn from you all and with you all.

Here's where I need your help. Are you an avid reader? Have you made changes in your life that have helped you read more? Who/what inspires you to keep reading? Do you consider yourself to be well-read? Do you know someone who is well-read? What does that even mean? If you have answers or thoughts to any of these questions please leave a comment or contact me via e-mail (caitlindonohuegmailcom). And if you want, I'd love to feature some of you (or those you recommend) to help inspire others to read more. Let me know if you are interested!

Also, I'm interested in well-read historical figures (or current well-known people). Does anyone come to mind? Have you read any biographies about someone who had a great reading habit? I've started a list and am looking to add to it.

Thanks in advance for any help or input on this little project. I can't wait to hear what you all have to say!

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Book

"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." -Chinese Proverb

I love this!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Book a Brighter Future

Well, friends, it's that time of year again. Macy's and RIF (Reading is Fundamental) have teamed up for another summer for Book a Brighter Future. Supporting RIF and getting books into the hands of kids that need them could not be easier. Here's the scoop:

Starting TODAY (June 30) and through the end of July (July 31) go to a Macy's store and donate $3 to RIF. The nice people at Macy's, in turn, will give you a $10 gift certificate to be used for a Macy's purchase of $50 or more. Let's review. You give $3 and you get a $10 gift certificate. That's 7 FREE dollars! 100% of the $3 you donate goes to RIF. And $1 will stay in your community to help kids locally. Another $1 will go to RIF's national program and the last $1 will support their multicultural literacy campaign.

RIF provides free books and literacy resources to children all across the country and has special outreach programs for those kids who are particularly at risk for developing reading difficulties. Their federal funding is currently in jeopardy, so this fundraising endeavor is especially important this year.

So please, shop to show you care. Go to Macy's and donate $3 to RIF. We all have summer shopping to do! Or get your back-to-school shopping done early!

And spread the word. Go to the Book a Brighter Future page for links, banners, etc. Tweet about it. Become a RIF fan on facebook and spread the word there. Tell your friends and family.

Review: Sixpence House

I'm still playing catch up to write about all of the books I've read over the past few months. So, here's another one for you.

I finished this book a month or so ago. It's a memoir by Paul Collins called Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books. I picked it up years ago because it a) it's about books and b) it primarily takes place in Wales. My mother's mother grew up in Wales and my grandparents met and married, but I didn't know much about it when I bought the book. My grandmother died when my mom was young, and we didn't have much contact with her family there. I started the book right away, but never got past a few chapters. Since then, I actually visited my grandmother's hometown of Tenby, Wales and stayed with my mom's first cousin and met a few members of her family. It was fantastic! But I did not get to visit the setting of this book. But I so want to go back and see it.

Hay-on-Wye. Sixpence House takes place in Hay-on-Wye, Wales and it sounds like a magical place. According to the author, there are 40 bookstores in Hay, but only 1,500 residents. Most of the bookstores are used and rare books. His family decide to move there and the book tells the tale of their journey and adventures along to way. Collins introduces his readers to a variety of interesting characters (residents) from Hay along the way. We also meet quite a few houses that the family thinks of buying. And finally, Collins introduces us to many near-forgotten authors and books.

To be honest, at times the book was a little slow, but overall, I did enjoy it. It makes for an interesting partial history of the book industry, and painted a lovely picture of a beautiful Welsh town. My favorite aspect of the whole book was the chapter titles. I didn't notice them until the fourth or fifth chapter, but they are very clever. You'll have to check out the book to see what I mean.

This volume is just one in my rather large collection of books about books. Do you have any favorites in that category?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Poem: Summer Stars

It's been a while since I've posted a poem, and I'm in a summery mood, so here's a great one from Carl Sandberg.

Summer Stars

BEND low again, night of summer stars.
So near you are, sky of summer stars,
So near, a long arm man can pick off stars,
Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl,
So near you are, summer stars,
So near, strumming, strumming,
So lazy and hum-strumming.

Star gazing in the summer is the best, don't you think? Are there any poems that evoke special summer memories or feelings for you? Do share!

Monday, June 28, 2010

What's on your summer reading list?

So technically, it's only a week into summer, but I feel like summer's been here for almost 2 months! The Texas heat is already oppressive, but all the extra time in the air conditioning makes for some great reading!

I don't think I'm going to make it to 25 books by the end of June (the half-way mark of my 50 books for the year goal), but I'm making great progress! And there's so much left to read.

I have a lot of books on my summer reading list. Here's a sampling:

Currently reading: I'm in the middle of 3 books right now (2 regular and 1 audio).
Marriage, A History (which reminds me of Hogwarts, A History every time I look at the cover!) by Stephanie Coontz. It's fascinating from an historical and sociological perspective. I love it!

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Awesome for inspiring writing.

My Life in France by Julia Child. So fun! Made me watch part of Julie and Julia yesterday.

And coming up:

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo-I've heard so much about it. It's time.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn-It's been sitting on my shelf for ages.

Blue Like Jazz-I've heard so many great things AND it's been sitting on my shelf forever.

There are still so many more I want to read. But I think this will be a good start for the summer. The marriage book is long and dense so I think it will take me awhile.

What's on your summer reading list? If you need more inspiration, here's a list from

Happy reading!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love- August 2010!!

Who's excited??

When do you listen to audiobooks?

For Thursday's installment of Audiobooks Week (sponsored by Devourer of Books), I am writing about when I listen to audiobooks. I already touched on this topic on Monday's post, but I will go into more detail today.

Like Katie, I started out just listening to audiobooks on long car trips. I went to college in Kentucky, and so that required two massive car trips per year. My mom and I would drive the 19 hours from Texas to Kentucky in the fall, and my dad would drive back to Texas with me at the beginning of summer. With both parents, we would listen to various audiobooks. I made the hours pass by quickly, and let us discover some very interesting reads. My dad and I listened to John Adams by David McCullough on one trip and were both delighted with it. I don't remember what others we listened to. My mom and I listened to The Namesake, Pride and Prejudice, several of the Harry Potters, and several others. We got most of these books from the library, but my dad and I occasionally bought audiobooks at Cracker Barrel, where you can sell them back at your next stop!

After I enjoyed these audiobooks so much, I started listening to them in the car when I was just around town. I loved having something so interesting to read, and it always made traffic jams and other delays so much more enjoyable. Some people say, well, I don't have a long commute, but I don't think it really matters. Even just 5 minutes in the car here and there is a enough to enjoy a book.

I also like to listen to audiobooks on CDs when I am doing something crafty around the house. It don't like to watch TV that much when I am crafting because I end up looking up to watch and get distracted from what I am doing. Plus, I think audiobooks help me to be more creative!
My next favorite time to listen is when I am falling asleep. I usually do this with my iPhone. The only problem is when I wake up 5 hours later, and it's still playing. For a few seconds, I am completely confused (and sometimes freaked out) by the random voice talking to me in a dark room. But falling asleep to the book is lovely--just like being read a bedtime story. It always takes me a long time to find the last place I remember listening to, but it's worth it.

Finally, I like to listen to audiobooks when I'm walking or working out. Music doesn't keep me interested enough when I'm really unmotivated to exercise, so I need real distraction. I either listen to audiobooks or podcasts on my iPhone. It makes the unpleasant task go much more quickly and easily.

Because of my audiobook listening habits, I get my audiobooks from two main sources: the library and iTunes. I get CDs (or my new favorite, MP3 CDs) from the library and listen in the car, or on my CD player in the house. Occasionally, I will buy an audiobook, but that's usually for a very long car trip as a special treat. I put audiobooks on my iPhone with downloads from iTunes. You can usually find deeply discounted books, and it takes me a lot longer to get through a book on my iPhone than in my car (I obviously spend a lot more time driving than exercising!) so it's worth the purchase. I've heard great things about, but I've yet to try it out. Maybe soon!

Okay, that's it for a long post! When do you listen to audiobooks? Where do you get them from? Anyone going to try an audiobook for the first time in a while? I highly recommend them!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Devil in the Junior League

Here comes another audiobook review for Audiobook Week over at Devourer of Books.

I recently listened to The Devil in the Junior League by Linda Francis Lee. It was great! It's not highly sophisticated literature, but it's fun, enjoyable, and not entirely frivolous.

It is the story of Fredericka Mercedes Hildebrand Ware, a young but powerful member of the JLWC (The Junior League of Willow Creek). Everything about her life is about wearing the right clothes, knowing the right people, and saying the right things. In a series of horrifying revelations, "Frede" finds out that her husband is leaving her and has stolen all of her money. She must do things she never thought possible in order to restore herself (and her bank account) into proper order.

Frede, though maddeningly snobby, is actually a very likable character, and does come around on a lot of things as a result of her ordeals. I was completely taken by the story, and drove around aimlessly at certain points because I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen. I was always sad when I reached my destinations in the car. The book is probably not for everyone, and it probably appealed to me specifically for a couple of reasons.

First, the location. It takes place in her hometown of Willow Creek, Texas. The town is fictional, but from various day trips throughout the story to real places like San Antonio, Austin, and Fredericksburg, it seems like it is supposed to be located somewhere in the Hill Country--probably west of San Antonio and Austin. As I am from San Antonio, currently reside in Austin, and have spent a great deal of time in the Hill Country-the places all seemed familiar to me and that was exciting. The author also mentions local Texas places like H-E-B grocery stores!

The second reason the story especially interested me was the subject matter: the Junior League. I was a member of a Junior League when I lived in Atlanta for a couple of years. I eventually quit because school was taking up too much time, but I really enjoyed it. My experience was nothing like what is described in the book, but a lot of the lingo was the same. The book held up a lot of typical Texas stereotypes about Junior Leagues and sororities. So if you're not from Texas, read it with a grain of salt. Not everyone's like that, but there is certainly a hint of truth in its pages.

Finally, the reader was phenomenal. I probably enjoyed this book more because it was an audiobook. She had a perfect Texas drawl, and made the whole southern aspect of the story really come alive.

Overall, it was the perfect story to keep me entertained in the car. I'd definitely recommend it to someone who wants a fun read, and particularly recommend checking out the audiobook version!

Has anyone read it? Do you find that you enjoy books more that take place in familiar places and have local elements in the story?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

March-an audiobook review

For the second day of Audiobook Week, I am supposed to write a review of an audiobook. As I mentioned yesterday, I don't really have a special format for reviews of audiobooks. To be honest I don't really have a set format for audiobooks in general. As I am reading more book blogs, I am beginning to wonder if I should. But that's the topic for another day's post.

It already happens that I was planning on reviewing this book this week, and I listened to it as an audiobook, so bonus! It also keeps with the Louisa May Alcott theme I started.

March is an extension of the Little Women story by author, Geraldine Brooks. She follows the father, Robin March through his trials as an Army Chaplain in the Civil War. Through a series of flashbacks, she also reinvents some of the back story of the March family. She writes of how he and Marmee met, how he lost his fortune, and how he became a chaplain. Sections are introduced from real quotations from Alcott's book, and certain familiar scenes are retold and reinterpreted from the father's perspective. Characters from the Alcott's real lives (such as Emerson and Thoreau) were present in the book as well. After reading Alcott's biography, I was easily able to pick up on parallels. Brooks has Mr. March meet his future wife in much the same way that Bronson and Abby Alcott met. And Mr. March spent time in his youth as a peddler in the South, just as Bronson did in real life.

The majority of the book is told in first person from Mr. March's perspective. At one point it switches to Marmee's voice when she goes to take care of him in the army hospital, but then it finishes from his perspective again. At first the switch was jarring, but it made for some very interesting plot developments.

It was narrated by a man, which was fitting since most of it was told from Mr. March's perspective, but it kind of made me forget at times that it was written by a woman. The narration was very fitting though, and pulled me right along with the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. It's much darker than Little Women, and clearly more for an adult audience. Brooks graphically shows the consequences of horrors such as war and slavery. For me, it ended on a very unsettling note, and sort of changed the way I thought of Mr. March, and the March family in general.

This reaction made me wonder about the concept of taking someone else's characters and further developing them. There was recently a case with J.D. Salinger when someone tried to publish a sequel to Catcher in the Rye. Salinger sued and successful held up publication. Salinger said it was a ripoff. I believe the issue was still unresolved at the time of his death. So I'm unsure of my opinion here. There are other examples of books with unauthorized sequels, such as Gone With the Wind and Pride and Prejudice. In someways it seems not quite right.

Is it stealing a character, or a clever retelling? At what point does a story become part of a culture's literary fabric, and can be retold freely? Is there a difference between retelling a story from another perspective and writing a sequel where the original left off?

Have you ever read a book that used another author's story or characters? What did you think? Does it count? Do you believe that that is what really happened to those characters? Or can only the creator determine its character's fate? I'm still very undecided...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Why Audiobooks?

I just found out that today is the start of Audiobook Week at Devourer of Books, and I'm excited to participate.

The post for the first day of Audiobook Week is supposed to answer the question, Why Audiobooks?

When I started my 50 books goal for this year, I was hesitant at first about whetheri to include audiobooks or not. But I'm now firmly of the mind that they absolutely count. Don't get me wrong, I love holding a book in my hand, and it's definitely a very different experience. But never the less, I've ingested the story in one form or another and so I now confidently add my audiobooks to the list.

I listen to audiobooks because they let me get in some quality "reading" time when I would otherwise be unable to rest for convenience, logistics, or safety's sake (Okay, I'll admit it. I have, in the past, read books at red lights. This primarily occurred on the way home from a book store with an irresistible find. There was also that time on the way to book club when I was behind. Oops!) It brings beautiful stories into my car, my kitchen, the treadmill, and beside me in the dark late at night.

Audiobooks also introduce me to some books that I might not otherwise read. I get most of my audiobooks from the library, and the audiobook selection is significantly reduced from their regular paper stash. My limited choices force me to make choices that I might skip over if given alternatives. However, I am usually pleasantly surprised. Often, a great narrator will keep me interested in a book that I might not have enjoyed if I was reading it the old-fashioned way.

I think five of my 20-something books so far this year have been audiobooks, which seems like a reasonable ratio to me. I usually mention when I've listened to a book instead of read it on my post, but I'm going to add a tag to all of those posts for ease of organizing.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Does it count? Stay tuned for tomorrow's review of a recent audiobook!

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

Last summer (wow, I cannot believe that was a year ago!), I reread Little Women, Little Men and read Jo's Boys for the first time. They were all more delightful than I remembered (or anticipated). Although they are books for young readers, they also contain themes and deeper messages that resonate well with more mature readers. If you haven't read them in a while, I highly recommend them.

My lovely sister is a huge Louisa May Alcott fan as well, and share with me this biography, which she had just finished. She was overflowing with interesting information about the Alcotts, and their neighbos, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne and other interesting American intellectuals and literary giants of the era.

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen is fascinating. It's truly a page turner. It follows the insane adventures of the Alcott family, led by their unstable, idealistic father Bronson, and sustained by their hard-working, steady mother, Abby. It's amazing to see how their lives were so intertwined with the lives of Emerson, Thoreau and other important Transcendentalists.

Reisen also illuminated what parts Alcott and her family were models for the beloved March family. After the success of the book, the sisters even took to calling themselves their corresponding March names on occasion! Reisen also outlined all of Alcott's other works. I hadn't realized she had written so much. I had read Eight Cousins and A Rose in Bloom (both magnificent-go read them!), but I wasn't familiar with much else. Thanks to this fantastic biography, I now have a whole new list to add to my "to-reads"!

If you loved Little Women as a child, an adult, or even just loved the movie, read this biography! Even if you're unfamiliar with the story, it's a thrilling tale of an eccentric family, who landed themselves in just the right place during a fascinating and important period in our nations history.

Image from

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Amish Grace

I'm back after a long silence. Maintaining momentum has been a challenge for me on this blog, but I have so many great books to write about, I hope they will keep me going for a while! I'm trying to read at least 50 books in 2010 and with a little more than a week left until the half-way point, I'm up to 22 books. I think I'm on the right track!

On to today's book. I finished Amish Grace a few months ago, and it was fantastic. I remember hearing about the Amish school shooting several years ago. Although school shootings are always tragic and terribly unnerving, this one was particularly disturbing. I thought, of all places, a placid one-room school house in Amish Country would be immune to such horror. But the communities response to the tragedy was even more remarkable. I remember hearing about how members of the community reached out to the shooter's wife and even attended his funeral. I was amazed. I remember wanting to know more about their beliefs and their views on forgiveness, but never really took the time. That is, until I came across this book years later.

I was immediately attracted to its tranquil, idyllic cover, and excited to dive right into its contents. The authors provided a lot of background into the customs and history of the Amish people, which was really helpful to understanding their reaction to the shooting. They explained that forgiveness, while not easy, was an expected reaction to any kind of wrongdoing and was rooted in what they believe Jesus taught in the Bible. The authors also addressed many of the criticisms and questions they Amish were faced with in response to their acts of forgiveness.

I highly recommend this informative and beautifully crafted book. It provides a glimpse into another culture during its most challenging time.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Online Tools for Your Reading

I recently facilitated a webinar for my sorority about the joys of reading. I had a great time putting together the materials for the presentation and learned some great information myself as well!

I've found some fabulous websites that really help keep track of your reading, and help to steer you in the direction of additional reads you will love.

The first I want to mention were already familiar to me. Shelfari and Goodreads are fantastic resources for those who want to keep track of the books you are and who want to share that reading with friends. They also provide a fun visual record of the books you have read, which I find to be a great motivator. I love seeing all my books lining up on my virtual shelf, and sometimes it's just the inspiration I need to pick up my latest book instead of turning on the TV. And you can link up with friends who also have accounts for a fun way to share your latest reads.

The next set of resources are great if you are looking for something new to read. Have you ever finished a great book, but then been at a complete loss for what to read next? These websites are here to help! The first is What Should I Read Next? This website lets you type in a book or an author that you love, and then generates suggestions based on that information. You can also register for a free account and it will keep track of your preferences for even better recommendations. And finally, I want to share The Book Explorer. This website actually serves multiple functions. First, it provides comprehensive lists of recommended books organized by genre. And the genres get very specific. You can search for a list of literature about topics like friendship or technology, or for a collection of essays about nature or pop culture. If you want to read more about a particular topic, this website could be your new best friend. Once you select a book, you can also read comprehensive reviews provided by the websites members and find additional information. You can also join this website to provide your own reviews.

I hope that a few of these websites might become a valuable tool for your reading journey. I want to start providing more reading resources, in addition to reviews and thoughts about books and reading in general. Is there any information in your reading life that feels lacking? What are your obstacles to reading as much as you would like? I'll be back throughout this week to share some of the other information from my webinar.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The School of Essential Ingredients

I found Erica Bauermeister's new novel, The School of Essential Ingredients will browsing in Borders a few weeks ago. Although I was reading several other things at the time, I went through this great book in about four days.

One of the endorsements on the cover predicts that lovers of the Food Network will adore this book. And that's probably true. The novel is rich with delectable descriptions of food, cooking, flavors and ingredients.

The novel follows the lives of a cooking teacher and her students across the duration of their cooking class. The class is held monthly at the teacher's restaurant. The lessons are a bit unorthodox, but the results are phenomenal. The writing is both vivid and compelling. The author is involved in the Slow Food Movement and the principles of that are definitely a strong presence in the novel.

My only complaint about the book was the format. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character. Each chapter gave background into the life of that particular character, often going far back into their personal histories. I was frustrated because I would become so engrossed in one character's story that I was unhappy when their chapter came to a close. The characters would reappear as characters in later chapters, but only from the periphery. When the book ended, I had many questions left unanswered.

However, the read itself was delightful. It definitely inspired me to cook more!

image from

Sunday, March 21, 2010

New Blog!

I've done it again. Another blog! But this time I'm joining forces with my best friend, Katie, for a year-long photo blog project. We started yesterday on the first day of Spring!

So come by for a visit to see how we stay in touch even though there are 1000 Miles Between us.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My thoughts on Mansfield Park

I'm a bit hesitant to write about Mansfield Park (by Jane Austen, of course) because the foremost Jane Austen scholar that I know is probably this blog's most loyal reader. And it's possible that she will be disappointed to discover that I haven't read it already.

And she will probably also be disappointed further when I reveal that I did not "read" Mansfield Park; I listened to it on my iPhone. I got it very inexpensively from iTunes (Katie, you might like to know that P&P is the top classic audiobook on iTunes.) It was the only Austen that I didn't have in a hard copy. And while I am a strong believer in the value and delight of paper books, I love audiobooks as well. The reader for this one in particular was superb. I don't think it replaces the experience of holding a real book in my hand; rather, it is a lovely supplement. But I digress.

I started Mansfield Park back in the fall, but I'm counting it as a 2010 book because I listened to the bulk of it over the last 2 months. I had seen the movie about ten years ago, and knew bits and pieces of the plot from friends and The Jane Austen Book Club (GREAT book, by the way.) But as I listened to the first lines, basically what I knew about this book can be summed up in 2 statements. It is by Jane Austen (which conveys all manner of things). And everyone seems to dislike Fannie Price. That was it.

So I was waiting to hate Fannie. Or at least be annoyed by her. But it never happened. I adore Fannie Price. I think she's fabulous. I identify with her shyness, which is probably part of what I find endearing about her. But I like her general attitude and demeanor. And while I question her feelings for a first cousin, I guess that was pretty common in Jane Austen's time.

I still prefer Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, but thoroughly enjoyed Mansfield Park. I still have a few more Austens to get through, but I'll probably do them the old-fashioned way.

Have you ever picked up a book that you had preconceived notions about? Did they affect your reading of the book? Were you surprised?