Dec 29, 2009

All I Want for the Holidays is...

Faces have been stuffed, candles lit, carols sung, and all other manner of holiday traditions, whatever your winter holiday of choice, have been perpetrated. It is now time to take stock and think of those things you actually wanted for the holidays.

Here are the big ticket items on my wishlist for this year:

First and foremost (dru
m roll please):

The Spice Kitchen: Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices
by Sara
Engra & Katie Luber, with Kimberly Toge
Andrews McMeel Publishing (Simon & Schuster),
9780740779725, $29.99

New Year's Resolution: Learn how to cook more varied foods with more varied spices. I'm not bad with most of the Italian-persuasion spices (basil, oregano, etc.) but I'm not at all aware of when turmeric and coriander and cinnamon (oh my!) can be used. Despite my love of Indian food, and years of international family cooking, I'm still a novice spice user. Luckily, I received loads of lovely spices from my mother, and I live in an area where fresh, organic spices abound. This book is perfect to help me on my way to spice-using heaven. Sorry, in advance, to my housemates, as I test my recipes out on you!

Here is a link to p
urchase it from the Odyssey.
Here is a link to McMeel's website review.
Here is an in-depth review of the book on a cooking blog.
Here is a link to a great spice company on my way to work, for all of you who live in the area.

That's for my tummy, now for my creative side:

French General: Home Sewn: 30 Projects for Every Room in the House
by Kaari Meng, photographs by Jon Zabala
Chronicle Books,
9780811864039, $24.95

What's wonderful about this book - in addition to the stunning photographs of vintage French fabrics - is that almost all the projects are things you might actually need or use. There's no rule that because something has a utilitarian function, it can't also be beautifully designed. I'm not a fabric collector - not enough time, space, or money - but I certainly enjoy a good-lookin' fabric when I see one. The next time I do, I'll grab a swatch and sew myself one of these projects.

Here is a link to purchase it from the Odyssey.
Here is a link to Chronicle's website review.
Here is a wonderful review of this book on a great sewing blog.
Here is a link to Kaari Meng's French General store's website.

One Yard Wonders
by Rebecca Yaker & Patricia Hoskins, photographs by John Gruen & Raina Kattelson

Storey Publishing (Workman), 9781603424493, $20.95

I know, here I said I don't collect fabric, and yet I have two books about sewing projects. I couldn't pass them up! Plus, if I do find fabric somewhere it's usually only about a yard anyway because it's from a salvage bin, vintage store, garage sale, my Babci and/or mum's attic, etc., so this book is really perfect for my needs. With 101 projects in here, patterns, instructions, and bright photographs detailing everything, it's the perfect thing to keep me busy over the summer when I'll finally have a moment after grad school's over.

Here is a link to purchase it from the Odyssey.
Here is a link to Storey's website review.
Here is a great review on a blog I'm going to have to check out again.
Sadly, Valley Fabrics in Northampton closed, so the nearest local fabric store is Calico Fabrics on Main Street in Florence or Glorious Fabrics, also in Florence.

For artistic inspiration:

Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life
by Todd Oldham, illustrated by Charley Harper
Ammo Book
s (IPS), 9781934429372, $49.95

This book fuels my obsession with Charley Harper to the point that it reaches almost a fever-pitch of adoration. His illustrations are so clean yet delicately detailed. The animals, bugs, and backdrops simultaneously pay homage to geometric considerations while producing child-friendly images. His attention to overall design is
masterful, and this book shows you how and why.

Here is a link to purchase it from the Odyssey.
Here is a link to Ammo's website review.
Here are one, two, three links to different websites with lots of Charley Harper information, as well as prints for sale.
Here is a link to an earlier post where I mention other Charley Harper books.

Last but not least, I can't help but look ahead to the summer when I will be able to make use of my gorgeous backyard! I love my new apartment; the backyard is only one of its many perks. I couldn't help but pick up this last book as I dream of scavenging through yard sales, flea markets, and thrift stores for backyard decor.

Junk Beautiful: Outdoor Edition
by Sue Whitney, with Kimberly Melamed, photographs by Douglas E. Smith
Taunton Press (IPS),
9781600850578, $21.95

Not only are the photographs a great inspiration for how I can use all my freecycle and other "junk", but there are even DIY projects with step-by-step descriptions, if anyone wants to get particularly crafty.

Here is a link to purchase it from the Odyssey.
Here is Taunton's website review.
Here is the JunkMarket Style website.

Luckily for me, one of my Christmakah (yes, I said it, multi-faith family here) requests was a gift card to my own store, so a big Thank You to Uncle Paul for making my wish come true! Now, after spending weeks shopping for everyone else, I can settle down and enjoy a couple of books just for me. I highly recommend all of you do the same. Happy New Year!

Dec 17, 2009

The Only Thing That Could Make Me Want an iPhone

In my post a few weeks ago, Now I Know My ABCs..., I neglected to mention that the first two books discussed focused on a certain construction known as a Calligram.

A very basic definition of a calligram is "a poem, phrase, or word in which the typeface, calligraphy, or handwriting is arranged in a way that creates a visual image. The image created by the words expresses visu
ally what the word, or words, say" (according to Wikipedia, which I don't hold as the gospel truth, but in this case, I think it's safe enough).

This delightful confection of characters was introduced to me by a friend with the words, "Google it. You'll thank me." So here I am, thanking her for bringing this to my attention. In Googling it, I stumbled upon all sorts of delicious websites to spend hours drooling over.
  • PantheonDesign has a heartwarming story to tell about artist Laura Ruggeri's calligram work.
  • There is an iPhone app where you can create your own calligram (oh, how this makes me long for an iPhone or iTouch, something no other app has done before!).
  • Here is a blog of Calligram Designers. Don't miss The Royalty Series in older posts on the blog - A calligramed Prince? Yes, please!
What's wonderful about the calligram, in addition to its very existence, is its ability to be used by many languages. For instance, Arabic calligrams make use of serene Arabic script, while this website showcases Assyrian Calligraphy, and this website shows off Georgian calligrams. You can even make a calligram out of musical notes!

It's a lot of fun, and hard work, to make one yourself. I may post an attempt or two if I ever finish one of my own. In the meantime, I'll just admire everyone else's.

Dec 16, 2009

Ode to Miroslav Sasek

One of the perks of my job is that I'm often introduced to new authors, illustrators, and their books through customer requests and recommendations. This holiday season in particular has been one scavenger hunt after another for new treasures. Today was no exception.

A customer came in requesting a book she thought was entitled This is London. A quick search revealed an entire series of This is... books, written and illustrated by Mr.
Miroslav Sasek.

"M. Sasek was born in Prague in 1916 and died in Switzerzerland in 1980. He worked as a painter and illustrator for most of his life. Starting with This is Paris published in 1958, the books he wrote painted a delightful and evocative picture of some of the world's great cities (and countries!). Having delighted children and adults for more than 50 years they are now being reissued." - according to his website, which has lots of other cool information you should check out.

Lucky for us who did not live through the 50's, almost all of his books in the This is... series are now back in print (other books of his can be found doing a rare and out-of-print book search - this is a good website for that). In addition to ordering 3 titles for the customer, I also ordered a complete set for the store - and am really hoping I have enough self-control to not buy them all myself!

Dec 10, 2009

Recognize that voice?

Dear friends,

I'm excited, proud, and slightly embarrassed to present my voice on the air! This is the answer to those days when you say to yourself,

You know what I've been missing? A little of Rebeca's voice in my ear. Now that would really perk up my day. I'm gonna have to give her a call. But that's going to take too long! And what if I don't get her, she's busy all the time. I'll have to wait til she calls back, or til the next time I see her. Sigh. No shot of Becca with my coffee today. Sad.

Well, wait no longer, my friends. Now you can hear my voice from the comfort of your home, office, or car (as long as you have an iphone) - just go to this link:

or if that doesn't work, try going to, click on "News & Information", click on "Roundtable", scroll down til you see on the right-hand side "Roundtable Weekly Book Picks", then click "Audio", then find "Book Picks - Odyssey Bookshop" for December 09, 2009 (2009-12-09), and presto! Click play, and there you'll hear the dulcet tones of my voice.

In case you're wondering what this is all about, well, let's just say the world was finally ready to know me, and they've given me my very own talk show!

That's a joke/lie.

The Odyssey Bookshop gets invited every few weeks to talk about books on the air during the WAMC Roundtable discussion and this week I was, by default, invited along to speak about children's books.

Thanks to everyone for their continued support as I blaze new trails for myself with my children's book career. I've heard my small 20-minute segment may be up for a 2010 Radio Award - there was some talk of "never having heard such an erudite, articulate, melodious female voice on the air since Rachel Maddow". (This could just be a rumor. Or another joke/lie I made up.)

Easy listening!

Nov 6, 2009

Alice is STILL My Wonderland

Oh, friends, you know me so well. After close to a week with no internet - I was home, sick with the flu, in my new, no-internet apartment - I found an email that included this link to someone else's blog post about other people's Alice in Wonderland tributes. Instead of reposting the tributes, I'll just post the link to that blog post. Enjoy!

Oct 23, 2009

Librarians, Is This True?

Apparently these are Things Librarians Fancy. Is this true? Across the board? Can other book-related but non-librarian people fancy these things too? Just wondering.

Bookselling in Crisis

Dear all 5 or so loyal readers:

I'm going to repost here a post I wrote for the Odyssey store blog. It's about the state of crisis the bookselling industry is finding itself in - more-so than usual, I should say, since the industry as a whole is perpetually in a state of growth and change. This time, they've really done it. Who's "they"? Read on:

I am not generally an alarmist. Yet there have been some happenings as of late that have given me great concern., Wal-Mart (online), Target (online), and Sears (online) have entered into a price war that could shake the very foundation of the book industry, and subsequently, our independent bookstore, The Odyssey Bookshop. These big, primarily non-book retailers have begun offering new hardcover books by popular authors such as John Grisham, Stephen King, Sarah Palin, Barbara Kingsolver and the like, at enormous discounts. It began a few weeks ago with the new Dan Brown book, offered at up to 60% off online.

Let me explain very briefly that a book sold at a 60% discount, especially a new hardcover, is actually being sold at a loss for whatever establishment is selling it as such. In other words, not only did they not make any money on the book, they lost money on the book. Now, as much as the Odyssey loves connecting people with great books, we would not be able to do so if we did not turn some sort of profit. As a result, the Odyssey sold the book at a 20% discount, to thank our loyal customers who bought it from us, but which also allowed us to stay in business.

Back to the big corporates - as if the 60% off nonsense wasn't enough, they have entered into a price war with each other to see who can sell these new hardcovers for less. While you may think a book priced at $25-$30 being sold for $8.98 is a great deal for you, let me tell you why it is NOT:

Remember last winter when the Odyssey, and subsequently you, had the pleasure of being the only store in the country to host Stephen King and Richard Russo for their new novels? Well, say you bought the Stephen King or Richard Russo online. Do you think the publishers would send us these great authors if we had no book sales? Think again. The answer is NO.

That is just ONE of the MANY examples I could give you in concrete terms about how buying a new hardcover book online could affect us.

Now let me explain a more dire possible result - if a new author has slaved away on a magnum opus for years, and it finally gets published as a paperback original for $15.99 - but you bought an established author's new hardcover book for $8.98 last month, so why would you spend $15.99 on a paperback for some new person you've never heard of - everyone's work is devalued AND you may never discover a great new author.

Books are set at a standard industry price. What goes into that price? Besides the years of work an author has put into it, the years of work an editor has put into it, are also the manufacturing costs, the art costs, the printing costs, the shipping costs, the publicity costs, and then of course, the small margin of profit (really not as much as you'd think) so we can all make this capitalist society we live in go 'round.

If major corporations, who, BTW, are not even directly involved in the book selling business - and by this I mean they have no author events, they don't agonize over the quantity and quality of the books on their shelves, they don't recommend books to their customers, they don't give money to local charities, they don't partner with local schools, etc. - if these corporations are allowed to devalue books in this way, then soon the Odyssey Bookshop and other local independent bookstores will cease to exist.

Here is what we (the independent bookselling industry) is trying to do about it:

The Board of Directors of the American Booksellers Association today sent the following letter to the U.S. Department of Justice requesting that it investigate practices by, Wal-Mart, and Target that it believes constitute illegal predatory pricing that is damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers.


October 22, 2009
The Honorable Christine Varney
Assistant Attorney General
Antitrust Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 3109
Washington, DC 20530

Molly Boast, Esquire
Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Matters
Antitrust Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 3210
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Ms. Varney and Ms. Boast,
We are writing on behalf of the American Booksellers Association, a 109-year-old trade organization representing the nation's locally owned, independent booksellers. A core part of our mission is devoted to making books as widely available to American consumers as possible. We ask that the Department of Justice investigate practices by, Wal-Mart, and Target that we believe constitute illegal predatory pricing that is damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers. We are requesting a meeting with you to discuss this urgent issue at your earliest possible opportunity.

As reported in the consumer and trade press this past week,,, and have engaged in a price war in the pre-sale of new hardcover bestsellers, including books from John Grisham, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Sarah Palin, and James Patterson. These books typically retail for between $25 and $35. As of writing of this letter, all three competitors are selling these and other titles for between $8.98 and $9.00.

Publishers sell these books to retailers at 45% - 50% off the suggested list price. For example, a $35 book, such as Mr. King's Under the Dome, costs a retailer $17.50 or more. News reports suggest that publishers are not offering special terms to these big box retailers, and that the retailers are, in fact, taking orders for these books at prices far below cost. (In the case of Mr. King's book, these retailers are losing as much as $8.50 on each unit sold.) We believe that, Wal-Mart, and Target are using these predatory pricing practices to attempt to win control of the market for hardcover bestsellers.

It's important to note that the book industry is unlike other retail sectors. Clothing, jewelry, appliances, and other commercial goods are typically sold at a net price, leaving the seller free to determine the retail price and the margin these products will earn. Because publishers print list prices indelibly on jacket covers, and because books are sold at a discount off that retail price, there is a ceiling on the amount of margin a book retailer can earn.

The suggested list price set by the publisher reflects manufacturing costs -- acquisition, editing, marketing, printing, binding, shipping, etc. -- which vary significantly from book to book. By selling each of these titles below the cost these retailers pay to the publishers, and at the same price as each other, and at the same price as all other titles in these pricing schemes,, Wal-Mart, and Target are devaluing the very concept of the book. Authors and publishers, and ultimately consumers, stand to lose a great deal if this practice continues and/or grows.

What's so troubling in the current situation is that none of the companies involved are engaged primarily in the sale of books. They're using our most important products -- mega bestsellers, which, ironically, are the most expensive books for publishers to bring to market -- as a loss leader to attract customers to buy other, more profitable merchandise. The entire book industry is in danger of becoming collateral damage in this war.
It's also important to note that this episode was precipitated by below-cost pricing of digital editions of new hardcover books by, many of those titles retailing for $9.99, and released simultaneously with the much higher-priced print editions. We believe the loss-leader pricing of digital content also bears scrutiny.

While on the surface it may seem that these lower prices will encourage more reading and a greater sharing of ideas in the culture, the reality is quite the opposite. Consider this quote from Mr. Grisham's agent, David Gernert, that appeared in the New York Times:

"If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over. If you can buy Stephen King's new novel or John Grisham's 'Ford County' for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25? I think we underestimate the effect to which extremely discounted best sellers take the consumer's attention away from emerging writers."

For our members -- locally owned, independent bookstores -- the effect will be devastating. There is simply no way for ABA members to compete. The net result will be the closing of many independent bookstores, and a concentration of power in the book industry in very few hands. Bill Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, an ABA member, was also quoted in the New York Times:

"You have a choke point where millions of writers are trying to reach millions of readers. But if it all has to go through a narrow funnel where there are only four or five buyers deciding what's going to get published, the business is in trouble."

We would find these practices questionable were they taking place in the market for widgets. That they are taking place in the market for books is catastrophic. If left unchecked, these predatory pricing policies will devastate not only the book industry, but our collective ability to maintain a society where the widest range of ideas are always made available to the public, and will allow the few remaining mega booksellers to raise prices to consumers unchecked.
We urge that the DOJ investigate and request an opportunity to come to Washington to discuss this at your earliest convenience.

ABA Board of Directors:
Michael Tucker, President (Books Inc.--San Francisco, CA)
Becky Anderson, Vice President (Anderson's Bookshops--Naperville, IL)
Steve Bercu (BookPeople--Austin, TX)
Betsy Burton (The King's English Bookshop--Salt Lake City, UT)
Tom Campbell (The Regulator Bookshop--Durham, NC)
Dan Chartrand (Water Street Bookstore--Exeter, NH)
Cathy Langer (Tattered Cover Book Store--Denver, CO)
Beth Puffer (Bank Street Bookstore--New York, NY)
Ken White (SFSU Bookstore--San Francisco, CA)

CC: Oren Teicher, CEO, American Booksellers Association
Len Vlahos, COO, American Booksellers Association
Owen M. Kendler, Esquire, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice

If this price war outrages you as much as it does us, you have several options.

First, and foremost, please PLEASE PLEASE continue to support us and your other local independent bookstores by purchasing your books, hardcover, softcover, new and old, at our humble establishments.

Next, please be advocates for us and inform others in your life that buying their books at our businesses will help everyone.

For the holidays, please encourage everyone in your life that if they would like to honor you with a gift certificate, please do so from our store (or another local independent bookstore).

Politically, use this website to find out who your representative is in the House of Representatives and WRITE to THEM. Please tell this how you feel about this illegal and unjust price war conducted by these giants who do little to give back to their communities but do everything to take from them.

Read more about this by looking up related articles in the New York Times (US) and the Guardian (UK).

Thank you for your time, for your attention, and for shopping locally!

Oct 21, 2009

W.W.S.D.?, or What Would Sendak Do?

For those of you who may have been living under a rock for the past few months, or just don't access the internet, radio, newspapers, bookstores, or television (which amounts to the same thing), the live-action movie adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are was just released last week.

No, I haven't s
een it yet myself. Yes, I might, but it's not high on my list of things-to-do. Pack, move, finish my grad school assignments, begin new grad school assignments, do laundry, get over this cold, and sleep all fall higher on the list than seeing this movie. So sue me.

What interests me is the array of mixed reactions I've seen, read, and overheard from the general populace. Generally, people without children have been excited to see it, people with young children have been dismayed by how "dark" it looks, children are bouncing up and down until they see the "dark" parts, teenagers are stoically apathetic while secretly reading a copy of the book in the corner with their friends - you get the point: everyone has a reaction, including Sendak himself.

Now, as some of you may be aware, there comes a time in most people's lives when an internal filter of socially acceptable behavior may malfunction. This can happen on purpose or accidentally, be in direct proportion to age (either old or young), be affected by outside factors (bad day) or inside stimuli (bad sleep, cold, headache, et
c.). For whatever the reason, we fail to consider or choose to disregard that something we may say or do could possibly be construed as slightly inappropriate or offensive (albeit often very funny for those simply observing).

While it may be more fun or even interesting to live life without these filters, most of us keep these filters well-tuned in order to co-exist peacefully. People even have role models and little catch phrases like W.W.J.D.? (What Would Jesus D
o? for all the Christian folk out there) or W.W.B.D.? (What Would Barbara (Streisand) Do? for all the Jewish folk out there) to remind themselves of the "proper" behavior.

I think, as a children's book seller, unpublished author, and book enthusiast, I shall take my example from someone of "my" world and say, W.W.S.D.? or What Would Sendak Do? Today's ShelfAwareness gave me my answer with this blurb about the illustrious Mr. Maurice Sendak:

"Maurice Sendak offered some short but direct advice for parents concerned that the film version of Where the Wild Things Are is too frightening for children. In answer to a Newsweek question ("What do you say to parents who think the Wild Things film may be too scary?") he replied: 'I would tell them to go to hell. That's a question I will not tolerate.'"

Now I know. When in doubt, follow Sendak's lead and tell them to go to hell. Hmmm...not sure how many books I'll sell that way, but what's good enough for Sendak is good enough for me!

Oct 16, 2009

Now I Know My ABCs...

This really should be subtitled "ode to the ABC book".

I'm probably not the ONLY person in the world who has a fascination with ABC books, judging by the number of them a) availa
ble, and b) recently published, but I'm finding that the ones I find absolutely, stunningly, drop-dead, a full 10, gorgeous (!), are not ones that fly off my shelves. So, I keep ordering them in and sending them back out, and sighing over them, and spending too much money adding them to my collection, and now, I'm going to bombard you with them too. Enjoy!

The book that inspired today's blog post:

Bembo's Zoo by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich

(who I think also wins the coolest name award)

The illustrations are comprised of the letters it takes to spell that animal. For instance: MONKEY.

To see them all, go here.

To continue on the "type is amazingly cool" theme, check out Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss. In this one, the animals are formed by the first letter of their name in different type fonts. Swoon.

Now, not to be too confusing, but after Alphabeasties comes Alphabeasts by Wallace Edwards, featuring
intricately drawn illustrations of an animal whose name begins with whatever letter s/he's posing for, which is not to be confused with Graeme Base's tongue-twister Animalia, the illustrations of which are possibly even more intricate than Edwards's, but with the caveat that there's more than one 'letter' thing in each illustration.

For something really different, look for really retro design by Charley Harper. In both a chunky and a skinny ABC book version.

And last, but not least,
the most recently released
(so sorry that rhymed):

Creature ABC by Andrew Zuckerman
(which, incidentally, also comes in a really vibrant floor puzzle version that I would have loved as a kid)

P.S. I get props for not mentioning a single B is for Baseball type of book in here. Cause you know I wanted to. But I'm in baseball mourning at the moment. I'm sure you understand. Next year in the holy land.

Oct 13, 2009

Procrastination Post

Considering I have about 100 pages worth of writing due on October 20th, I have a feeling I'll be coming up with many "procrastination posts" over the next 7 days.

Basically, whenever I'm struggling to finish a picturebook manuscript, I just feel lucky I'm not this guy. (It's a youtube link. Almost worth the 2.5 minutes of your life it'll take to watch it.)


Today's book rep showed me this picture on his laptop during his sales call. Totally appropriate, and entirely work-related. I made him forward it to me. I'm now sharing it with you. Tickled my funny bone; hope it tickles yours.

Oct 11, 2009

Word of the Day

I'm currently reading How Picturebooks Work by Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott - no, not as a bit of light reading, but actually for grad school - and came across this word today:


in this sentence: "Tenniel also chose to illustrate such verbal images as the Mock Turtle, and nonsensical portmanteau constructions such as Rocking-horse-fly and Bread-and-butter-fly" (213). What a neat word, I thought to myself, I wonder what it means. One of the reasons I wondered that is because, (besides being slightly obsessed with anything Alice in Wonderland-related), to me it seemed like one of those words that originally meant one thing, but over time had come to have all sorts of other meanings, and was being used in one of those secondary meaning ways in this very passage.
And wouldn't you know it? I was right.

Definition: 1. a case or bag to carry clothing in while traveling, esp. a leather trunk or suitcase that opens into two halves; 2. a word or morpheme whose form and meaning are derived from a blending of two or more distinct forms (as smog from smoke and fog)

Fascinating, no?

But it gets better!

I did a basic Google search for images, and the most amazing things popped up, one of which was this blog named Willy-nilly! At least one of you out there knows of my affection for the term "willy-nilly" (sometimes used in the phrase "willy-nilly style"), and now to discover a blog by the name, a blog which they, themselves, had already done a post on the word portmanteau, well, as you can imagine, this is a Red Letter Day in my book. Here's an actual blog named Portmanteau, and here's A.Word.A.Day's more in-depth definition of the word, if you're at all interested.

Just had to share. And now, back to those papers!

Oct 9, 2009

Sequels, Prequels, Additions, & Companion books: If it ain't broke, don't fix it

As you might have guessed by the title of this blog post - Sequels, Prequels, Additions, & Companion books: If it ain't broke, don't fix it - I am not always such a fan of the oft-publisher-pushed addition to an established series, author, or beloved character.

The Toot & Puddle, Holly Hobbie, syndicated television show with accompanying merchandise? Awful. The originals - delightful!
Curious George
- same.
Fire, the "prequel/companion" book to Graceling by Kristen Cashore? Could have stood on its own two feet (and does - who needs the extra bits about Leck?).
Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry? In my humble opinion, she's a Time Traveler's Wife one-hi

And now, wonder-of-wonders for some, horror-of-horrors for others, after 80 years of treasured reading, Winnie-the-Pooh, formerly only by A.A. Milne, has been upstaged by an OTTER! Return to the Hundred Acre Wood by David Benedictus is an authorized addition to the series that, before now, consisted of Winnie-the-Pooh, House at Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young, and Now We Are Six.

I confess that I am ranting without having actually picked up a copy of Return to the Hundred Acre Wood sitting on my shelves, but then, the fact that customers have been more excited about new editions of the original four than the newest fifth, make me believe we have similar feelings about this imposter in our midst.
The re-release of the hardcover original classics? Great!

The new audio editions of Winnie-the-Pooh and House at Pooh Corner read by Dame Judi Dench and Stephen Fry (among others)? Incredible!
This new otter? Who the heck is she, and what right does she ha
ve to inflitrate the Hundred Acre Wood?

It's not really the otter that I object to. I'm sure she's a very nice otter, and probably makes great friends with everyone in that "I've moved to a new high school in my junior year where everyone else has known each other since they played together in the bath as babies" sort-of-way. It's the principle of the thing - what was wrong with the original four? NOTHING! So, to repeat myself: if it ain't broke, why are we trying to fix it?

Now, to be fair, not all sequels, prequels, additions, and companions are terrible ideas, or even bad reads. My number one, desert island, top favorite, if I could only read one book for the rest of my life book is a *gasp* sequel, AND furthermore, it's *drumroll please* written by a different author than the original! I know! HUGE HYPOCRITE, you're probably thinking to yourself, and yes, I may be. Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley, sequel to Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, is my absolute favoritest book.

There are others that fit this category that aren't so bad either. Peter Pan in Scarlet, for one, by Geraldine McCaughrean, is a great rompy Peter Pan addition. Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle was written in part by the original author, Betty MacDonald's, daughter Anne MacDonald Canham, who took half-written stories of her mother's and finished them after her mother's death; maybe that's what it holds up so well. Kenny and the Dragon, Tony DiTerlizzi's brilliant tribute to Wind in the Willows is one of my 2008 favorites. I'm also eagerly anticipating the release of Eoin Colfer's (author of the series Artemis Fowl) attempt at a sixth book, And Another Thing..., in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxey series by Douglas Adams.

So, hypocrite though I may be, I'm still just not thrilled over this otter situation. What do you think? Sequels, prequels, additions, and companion books, whether written by the original author or not, do you have favorites, or are there times you want to point out "when bad books happen to good authors/characters/series"?

(For more reading on this topic, check out the
NYTimes post on Winnie-the-Pooh's addition, and the AOL Living section.)

Oct 3, 2009

Ode to the Coffee Table Book

Dear Coffee Table Book,

It's been some time now since I've admired your glossy photo pages and larger format. 

Since I first cracked your spine, you've enchanted me with your miscellaneous in-depth information about a subject on which I will never be tested, but which deeply enriches some part of my soul. I drool on your full-page pictures and snippets of accompanying text, giving me tantalizing glimpses into worlds I'll probably only ever read about. 

You allow me to travel far beyond my resources, hampered only by the confines of my imagination. As I turn each page for further glances at sumptuous displays, I fancy myself able to jump right into that place and time, like Mary Poppins, Jane, and Michael popped into Burt's sidewalk sketches. 

One day, I hope to be able to offer you a place in my permanent collection. When I'm curled up in bed on an early morning, during a rainy afternoon, or at the end of a long day, I can comfort myself with lavish daydreams fueled by your bright renderings of unfamiliar landscapes, settings, and situations. Thank you for the countless hours of eye candy you've offered me.

Forever yours,


Sep 27, 2009

ABCs of Sunday

A = A rainy day

Okay, I cheated a little with the "a". I realize I may be the only person in the world who feels this way, (if you want to read more about how much I love rainy days, see my earlier post), but honestly, I'm so much more productive and creative-feeling when it's raining. Oddly, though, unlike on sunny days, the productivity doesn't come with a rushed feeling. When it's raining, I have all the time in the world! I pull out my suspenders - I always get a craving to wear them when it's raining, I don't know why - roll up my jeans, throw on some sandals, and off I go!

B = Bookstore

Finally got to check out Grey Matter Books! I've only been wanting to go for AGES (at least a month now). Four of us piled into the car and set out with good intentions of wandering a little and doing loads of work. The work didn't really happen, but truth be told, I didn't expect it to. Instead, we found Grey Matter to be delightful (though not a cozy place to study, in case anyone is wondering). I found at least four books I didn't need - a copy of
The King's English by Betsy Burton, which I'd been previously reading online; an old New England Cookbook of recipes that were collected from Yankee magazine (I just can't pass up adorable ancient cookbooks I'll never use); Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, my favorite; and a book for Dad - Talbot Mundy's The Purple Pirate (I always take a look through for Talbot Mundy for Dad in used bookstores. Mr. Mundy apparently writes great fantasy stuff, though I've never read him myself).

The store was also playing some great music - first Otis Redding, I believ
e, or someone who sounded very similar, and then some neat blue grassy-type stuff. I couldn't help but dance around the stacks as I looked for treasures. I admit it - I judge a bookstore based on its music - one of the reasons I'm a wee bit disappointed we can't play what we want at the Odyssey. But I digress.

C = Cooking

I subscribe to two blogs that send me emails.
The first being Lark About (one of my favorite posts here); the second being Pinch My Salt. One speaks to my soul, the other to my stomach. Pinch My Salt's most recent posting was about the Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomato and I drool every time I think of it. I've recently come to terms with my tomato obsession - sundried, slow-roasted, cherry, grape, heirloom, pesto, with cheese, on a salad, in sauce, getting the picture? (Also, reminding you of Forrest Gump?) So, I tried to make some today. I say tried because it's really not a hard process, and if I had spent any time keeping half an eye on the tray in the oven, they might have come out alright, but instead I went on this little bookstore expedition and they came out more like cherry tomato crisps rather than slow-roasted. They're still delish, though, I have to say.

The real crowning glory of my cooking today was rather unexpected. We finally have a South Hadley farmer's market
(thank the good sweet deities above - I miss both the Saturday and Tuesday ones in Northampton thanks to work), so I'm able to do my weekly groceries for almost all my fruits, veggies, and yes, even meat, every Thursday. I recently acquired some lamb and pork sausage and thought I would make a nice sausage gravy for myself this weekend. Wouldn't you know it - I forgot to buy the ingredients for biscuits! So, I'm halfway through making the gravy when I realize I've got nothing to eat it with.

Except for that big batch of potatoes over there.

Hashbrowns did come to mind, but I've been craving something more in the scalloped family, so what did I do? Sliced those potatoes right up, pulled out a casserole dish, layered the potatoes and the mostly-cooked sausage gravy, shoved it all in the oven with some Parmesan cheese on top, and VOILA! presto! an absolutely unexpectedly delicious dish!

This is why I prefer cooking to baking - don't have all the ingred
ients? No problem! Throw what you do have together and make up something new.

So there ya have it folks - the ABCs to a pretty darn good Sunday.

Now I'm going to skip ahead a few letters and get started on...

H = homework

Sep 26, 2009

Save the Words

I love Shelf Awareness. Ok, I'll admit it, sometimes I let them pile up for a day or few in my inbox, but I always enjoy them when I read (ahem. skim. ahem) them, looking for that little tidbit that'll pop out at me and make my week. I found this beauty a few weeks ago and it's been a delightful little online toy ever since.

It's free to become a member, so of course I joined right away and began adopting words as fast as my fingers could click. Want to know the first word they suggested I save?

Lambition, v. art of licking or lapping


Here's the word I chose to adopt (after I adopted that first one, of course):

Antipelargy, n. reciprocal or mutual kindness; love and care of children

That's much better. I love it when my angel and devil sides can have fun together. (Don't worry, the devil side is staying far away from children.)

What words have you adopted lately?

Sep 24, 2009

Sigg Water Bottles

Today, my coworker Emily C. was rounding up Sigg water bottles and their caps for a return she was putting together. Don't worry, Sigg is a great product, they were switching out some styles for us, and if you don't yet have a Sigg bottle, you should run out to your nearest independent provider and get one. Anyway, there were a bunch of Sigg screw tops around and I was idly picking them up and slipping them on my fingers when it occurred to me - these would make a great impromptu engagement ring! Imagine that earthy crunchy backpacker in your life getting down on one knee, or being proposed to, on one of their various hiking trips with significant other this or that - perfect, no?!

Well, Emily and I thought so, so when I got home this evening, I promptly sat down and wrote this out and now am sharing it with y'all. It's about 80% true; the part that's not, being the proposal. Oh, and my name's not Jules, and I didn't hike Petra with anyone named Thad. In fact, I don't even know anyone named Thad. But the rest of it really did happen to me, so if any of you were ever curious as to what my backpacking experiences were like, here's a small snippet. With, of course, an embellished proposal. Sigg should pay me money for this.

We’ve been hiking Petra all day. The sun burnishes the sandstone to hues of red and gold; Thad and I will find the dust in our packs for weeks to come. Thad’s Keene boots and my Merrill trek sandals tramp the canyon crevices and stone steps carved into the cliffs, following ancient trails left by water, widened by people and the passage of time.

Our first glimpse of Petra was a Florida-shaped opening between the walls of the Siq. The gorge was once the Eastern entrance into Petra, the major trade center in a date and time followed by the initials B.C.E. At times narrow and winding, there were large sections where it was easy to imagine the bustling life of farmer’s market style trade thousands of years ago. Small channels were recessed into the walls of the Siq; these clever troughs held oil that could be lit at dark to ensure the busy cosmopolitan atmosphere continued round the clock.

Today, there were few people to be seen in the ruins of the city. Thad and I had been hiking alone for hours, having long left the more traversed tourist paths to explore the secrets of Petra on our own. We poked in and out of cave dwellings, peered through twisted, veined rock, taking picture after digital picture to weed through on our laptops back at our hotel.

The Cleopetra Hotel was more of a hostel than a George V, but I thought the name was funny and the Continental breakfast was free. The night before, we had arrived late and tired from a long, hot trip out of Egypt, through the tip of Israel, and finally into Jordan. Our hosts, two brothers in their early thirties, served us delicious Bedouin tea before showing us to our room. One bed, barely larger than a twin, lined the far wall of the room like a window seat, as the window in the wall ran about the length of the bed. At the foot of the bed was the wall that separated bedroom from bathroom. A broken accordion door was pushed open, revealing a sink, next to a toilet, next to a nozzle coming out of the wall for the shower. The whole bathroom was tiled and was so narrow, you had to sit sideways or spread your legs to either side of the toilet in order to do your business.

Bedouin tea is delicious for two reasons: first, the combination of habuck, marmaraya, and other herbs is sweet and refreshing; second, sugar is boiled in the water with the tea leaves. Despite having traveled for about 8 hours that day, one cup of tea had revived Thad and I to the point that at 11:30 at night, we found ourselves in the hotel common room, where the brothers tried to teach us dance moves to the Jordanian pop music playing loudly on the hotel TV.

Staying awake ‘til wee hours of the morning meant Thad and I got a late start to our Petra day hike. We paused for lunch around 2:30, breakfast having been eaten around 9, and found a cool cave up in the cliffs in which to take our respite. Cans of tuna in olive oil were opened, drained, and eaten from with grimy fingers. Israeli pickles, so good I still crave them years later, fresh pita bread, and an apple completed our meal, one of the most refreshing in my memory. We wiped our oily mouths and fingers with a bandana and sat near the edge of the cliff, just looking at the same views of uninterrupted rocks, cliffs, valleys, and ledges the people who used to live in this cave saw daily centuries before. To sit in that place made me feel simultaneously insignificant and timeless, like I was the smallest being in the universe, and yet, so completely connected.

I unclipped my Sigg from my daypack, chugged some water, than passed it to Thad. Moments later, I reached out to reclaim the water bottle and felt something slip onto the fourth finger of my right hand. Looking down, I saw the screw top of the Sigg, the hole where I clipped my carabineer to clip it to my daypack fitting perfectly onto my ring finger.

“Jules,” Thad said, my eyes locking onto his, “will you marry me?”

My grin stretched my chapped lips and I tasted blood as Thad and I kissed, water sloshing out of the Sigg still held in Thad’s hand.

“Yes,” I said, half laughing, half crying, staring at the Sigg top on my finger as if it were the most expensive jewel in the world, “yes, I will marry you.”

A while later we stood at the edge of the cliff, hand in hand, pausing for a last moment before beginning our hike back out of Petra. There are some moments in life that are too precious; it’s hard to believe they’re really happening. Holding onto Thad’s hand, staring out over Petra, it was as if we were looking into the physical manifestation of the eternal promise we would make to each other eight months later. Petra had survived; modernity could not affect it. We had experienced it ourselves, the timelessness, that mysterious quality of knowing the past and holding the hope of the future. Petra humbles the spirit, then builds it up again, so that I knew, as we began to descend the cliff face, that as Petra had withstood the test of time, so would we.

Jul 17, 2009

Sun shining = biking

I have a minor biking habit. It's minor because it's one of those things where I wish I was a really dedicated biker who could bike miles to work and back every day, or ride down really hard mountain trails without killing myself, but in reality my way-too-expensive bike sits in my living room looking cool without me. Sigh.

I do ride it, occasionally. Sometimes, when I've gotten off work early in the day, and I'm not too tired, and the sun is shining but it's not 90 degrees out, and I have no plans until later, and I feel like I s
hould really get some exercise, and my work-out clothes/bike shorts are clean, and I can find my bike shoes, and my water bottle, sometimes when all those things happen at the same time, I take the bike out for a little ride. Usually about an hour, and it's a pretty flat ride, and I come back feeling simultaneously really good about myself and totally judging myself for thinking that was a tough bike ride.

I'm not usually that hard on myself, but there's something about biking culture that's really elitist and isolationist, and in case you didn't get it from those adjectives, really snobby. I've been told there are two kinds of bikers - those who bike for sport (road bike enthusiasts doing 50 miles in a single jaunt, hardcore mountain bikers riding down the Alps off-road, and those who compete in triathlons), and those who bike for transportation where the rusted P.O.S. you put together yourself is a status s
ymbol of your commitment to the eco-lifestyle you're trying hard to live. I ascribe to neither of those two walks of life and therefor am left hanging awkwardly in the middle with my spandex bike shorts and lazy attitude, trying for all the world to find someone else like me so we can casually bike together.

If, like me, you wish you could go into the bike shop and be as cool as those guys/girls in there who actually know about bikes, but recognize no matter how hard you try, you'll still come off as an incompetent wannabe, or if you don't like hipsters, or if you just have a good sense of humor, you'll probably find this craigslist post from a Seattle bike shop amusing. I know I did. Thank you to the co-worker/friend who sent it to me. Owe you one, buddy.

Jul 3, 2009 Meditor!

Look at this, no word for weeks, and suddenly, new posts almost every day! What can I say, I'm just psyched for all the amazing bookstore/writing news coming my way this week.

Breaking news! This just in!

My mentor/editor - hereafter referred to as my Meditor - has officially been announced! Kaylan Adair, come on down!

For those of you wondering, who? huh? what?, take heart. I'll explain.

I haven't spoken much about my Simmons grad program, for various reasons, (top of the list being I'm spending a ton of time actually doing the program instead of writing about it), but this is one of the most exciting aspects. As I'm about to enter into the second, and final, year of the MFA, my cohort of classmates and I have the honor and privilege to work with some of the best editors in today's publishing world. Each semester, we Simmons students will submit a proposal of a current project - about 10-20 pages of work + a synopsis + pseudo-query letter. The Simmons prog
ram directors, in their infinite wisdom, will send out these proposals to prospective editors and will try their hardest to match us up with appropriate editorial choices to act as mentors throughout our work for one semester. The editors get to read over the proposals and decide with whom, and most importantly with whose work, they would like to be working.

Let me tell you, we submitted these proposals for first semester this coming year back in APRIL, and these have been some of the most intense, nail-biting, "Oh god, I'm sure no one's going to want to work with me," "What if my writing is horrible and my kind cohort has been too nice to say anything?" months of my life. Finally, finally, finally, news began to trickle in - a few people had been matched, and then a few more, and still, no word for poor Eddie&Gina (my two main characters of the piece I submitted). What's a girl to do?!

Wait it out, apparently, because when I checked my email today, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles (btw, 10 life points for naming where "wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles" comes from WITHOUT googling it), there was an email announcing MY Meditor! After bouncing up and down and some Google stalking, here are a couple of links I found to info about my Meditor and her publishing house:

Five Scribes Interview / Candlewick website

Brief Meditor Bio: Kaylan Adair

(taken from the Five Scribes Interview - see above for the complete article)

Kaylan Adair is an Associate Editor at Candlewick Press in Somerville, Massachusetts. Kaylan acquires everything from picture books through upper YA, although she specializes in middle-grade and young-adult fiction. Among the projects she's edited are the YA novels DOWN SAND MOUNTAIN by Steve Watkins and SWIM THE FLY by Don Calame, and the early reader SQUIRREL'S WORLD by Lisa Moser, illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev. She is the American editor of the YA novel THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness, winner of the 2008 Guardian children's fiction prize. Previously, she was the American editor of the Maisy books by Lucy Cousins. Kaylan is looking for fresh, original voices and compelling stories. She loves characters with a lot of heart, whether the story itself is humorous, quiet, sad, or gritty. She tends to shy away from poetry, non-fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy.

BTW, LOVED The Knife of Never Letting Go - not only did I pick it up in-store to read and couldn't put it down (it has SUCH a cliff-hanger ending, it drives me insane!), we had to read it for my grad school class, who all also loved it, AND I've recommended it to some customers (actual kids who are the best judges of a work) who loved it as well. I'm astounded that the editor who worked on that book chose to work with me! (Maybe she didn't, maybe they couldn't find me an editor and someone bribed her to do it, but either way, still fills me with awe.)

So that's the news as I have it, folks. You heard it here first, and I'll keep you posted on any exciting new developments!

P.S. Does anyone else think of "Minotaur" from Role Models when I say "Meditor"? Or is it just me? (Annie, I'm talking to you.)