Banned Books Week

Once again, it's Banned Books Week! This issue is super important to me, as evidenced by my post last year. Lest you think this is a silly topic that has no relevance in today's world, check out this completely tone-deaf (and poorly timed) move from Highland Park, just down the road from my hometown. Yes people, we are still banning books in 2014.

So, in honor of Banned Books Week, check out the list of frequently challenged books (Harry Potter! Captain Underpants! The Catcher in the Rye! Of Mice and Men! You're killing me, people!), and GO READ ONE!

Hooray for books! Hooray for freedom! And hooray for Banned Books Week, which has been fighting censorship since 1982.

What I Read 2013

I'm finally updating what I've read for 2014, so I decided to move 2013 over to a post instead. I'm sure I'm missing a few, but this will at least give me a good idea of my literary journey for the last year. Any standouts? I have to say, for sheer joy of reading it, I loved The Night Circus. Other favorites include The Name of the Star and the Ruby Red trilogy. Any recommendations for this year?

Fiction:

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

Mao II by Don DeLillo

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Young Adult:

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson

The Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare

Fallen by Lauren Kate

Torment by Lauren Kate

Passion by Lauren Kate

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen

The Elite by Kiera Cass

 The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

 The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Defiance by C.J. Redwine

Deception by C.J. Redwine

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

Born of Illusion by Teri Brown

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

Ruby Red by Kerstin Geir

Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Geir

Emerald Green by Kerstin Geir

Memoirs:

MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche

 

Bookish Finds

Here in Austin we've bypassed spring and forged full speed ahead into "Holy hell, it's hot outside" weather. The current temperature is 85 degrees, with the threat of 97 degrees on Sunday. Is it too soon to cry mercy? Because I'd love to have those two days of spring back from last week. I'd like to say this weekend will be spent in air conditioner, or by the pool, but alas I have crawfish, country music plans. I'm also hoping to catch up on all of Jonathan's Russian adventures, take Lola for a long (hot) walk and get some laundry done. I know, exciting stuff.

This shirt, one of my most recent bookish finds, will likely make an appearance. I love the heck out of this shirt, and also love people's reactions to it. Some people just. don't. get. it. Which makes me smile. I'm kind of wishing I had it in tank top form, based on the current weather forecast.

Ain't No Party Like a Gatsby Party

What are you wearing lately? Anything bookish? Happy Friday!

 

To Read, Or Not To Read

At the recent APLFF New Fiction Confab (more on that later), an interesting question came up, one that I think most of us readers have considered. If you start a book, and you just don't like it, do you soldier on or do you cut your losses and walk away? I used to be the former reader, trudging through all number of terrible books, and there were many. In the last few years, I decided that my time was worth more than that, and I've started putting books down.

So what kinds of books do I put down? Two notable ones come to mind, only because they've received lots of love from friends, family, bloggers, etc. The first, The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls, I just couldn't finish. I saw Jeanette speak at a charity event, and she was utterly charming. But for some reason, the book was just too much for me to stomach, and I had to walk away.

Another book I put down earlier this week was the second book in Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke & Bone saga, Days of Blood & Starlight. I don't know if it's too much fantasy for me, or if it was the transition from Prague to some other world, but this book just did not keep my interest. And when I start skimming, I know it's time to reevaluate my choice.

What about you? Do you ever walk away from a book? I must admit, I find it a little liberating.

A Long Day

Sometimes real life can be just like the movies in the worst possible way. So on days like today, when everything just seems so unreal, I go home and snuggle with Lola. Or take a hot shower. Or drink champagne. Or get lost in a good book.  

Champagne
Champagne

It also helps to think about this quote:

"Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Here's hoping that tomorrow is a better day than today. Cheers.

Novel Links

Here's another round of novel links that have entertained me this week:  

Books and cooking! Here's a post about being inspired to cook by a great novel.

An interesting post about being an inaccessible author from Shannon Hale. They're not super heroes, people. They still have to do laundry and stuff.

Genius book marketing for John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. Thank goodness the preparedness kit includes tissues.

These introvert stories get me every time. It's like they can see inside my brain!

I recently saw the trailer for Le Week-End, and it looks like it has the potential to make me both laugh out loud and become a bit weepy. Definitely on my list to see.

I'm all about these simple wine tasting projects from The Kitchn.

And just because, baby elephants.

That's all, folks.

Writer Gear

As one of those kids who got disproportionately excited about buying new school supplies, I'm always interested in new gear to help with my writing. Now really, you don't need any of the gear, but it's fun. And at least for me, I like to have quality tools so I can focus on the writing without needing to find another pen or having a notebook that keeps flipping closed. Here are a few of my favorite writery things:

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1. Macbook Air - I know this is a rather expensive tool, but it's worth way more than its weight in gold (Get it? Because it barely weighs anything... Never mind.). If you're a Mac and a writer, I can't recommend this computer enough. The battery lasts forever, meaning you spend less time being that annoying girl in the coffee shop who is awkwardly looking for a spare outlet. You can also get a really rad case that gives you some major bookish cred.

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2. Scrivener - I've posted about it before, and I won't bore you again, but this software blows Microsoft Word out of the water.

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3. Moleskine Large Ruled Notebook - What's good enough for Papa Hemingway is good enough for me. I go for the basic lined journal. It opens flat and stays that way. The paper is nice, it has a handy bookmark and elastic closure, and best of all, it doesn't have an on/off switch, so you never have to put it away on an airplane. I keep mine with me at all times, just in case inspiration strikes.

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4. Fisher Bullet Space Pen - I know what you're thinking. Is that really necessary? And maybe it's not, but it certainly is cool. The nice thing about the bullet is that it's compact, but when the cap is placed on the end, it becomes a standard pen length. The ink cartridge is sealed and pressurized, so it writes upside down or sideways, and it has an estimated shelf life of 100 years, so chances are you'll never have to buy a pen again. Just don't lose it.

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5.  Snap Backpack from Everlane - Now that I have all of this writer gear, I need a place to put it. I'm a big fan of Everlane. They make quality products at reasonable prices, and their Weekender is the perfect travel bag. I recently purchased the snap backpack in green, and I can't wait to start carrying it around town instead of my college Jansport. It's a little more mature, even if it is still a backpack. Hopefully people will stop confusing me for a student.

So there you have it. My writing necessities. What's on your list?

Novel Links

Similar to other link roundups around the web, I've decided to share novel links on Wednesday, be they novel-related or novel in general (see what I did there?). Without further ado, your novel links for the week:  

An interesting discussion about books by female authors, recommended by female authors from Elle. More of this, pretty please.

I just finished reading Lexicon by Max Barry. It's such a novel concept, but the ending, and some of the characters, fell a little flat for me.

I'm now reading a galley of Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland. I'll let you know how it goes.

Interested in adding up your Instagram follow list? Epic Reads compiled a list of 19 Young Adult Authors to Follow on Instagram.

In preparing for our trip to Spain (eeeee!) I'm watching these DVDs and laughing hysterically. Also, Claudia Bassols is divine.

Enjoy a bevy of wonderful tweets from the charming Anna Kendrick. I suspect she's my long-lost best friend.

This video of Kristen Bell singing "Do You Want To Build A Snowman" is perfection.

My favorite cooking blog, The Kitchn, just started a series on The 9-Bottle Bar, and it is wonderful.

Enjoy!

Writing Conference Tips for Introverts

If you're anything like me, the thought of a writing conference is both exhilarating and terrifying. I love to learn from the experts, so a weekend with authors, agents and editors is ideal. However, having to talk to said authors, agents and editors is fairly intimidating for an introvert, considering I'd rather be reading at home on a Friday night than, you know, interacting with people.

DFW Writers' Conference 2013

Still, a writing conference is a great opportunity, so I put my fears (and social awkwardness) aside for one weekend to attend the DFW Writers' Conference in June. It was a great experience, and I learned a whole lot about writing. I also learned what to do (and what not to do) next time. If you're an introvert like me, check out the tips below for ways to stay sane in an environment that might otherwise be incredibly overwhelming.

1. Attend icebreaker sessions. If you're like me, the thought of attending an icebreaker session is somewhat akin to the threat of water boarding. However, it's a great way to meet a few people that will become friendly faces throughout the conference. Who knows, you might meet someone from your town or exchange email addresses with a potential critique partner. It also sets the tone for a weekend of getting out of your shell just a bit to really experience what the conference has to offer.

2. Sit at empty tables. Too intimidated to approach a table full of people, especially when they're already in the middle of a conversation? I feel your pain. Choose the less daunting option of sitting at a table with only a few people. Chances are, the other people are introverts just like you and will be relieved to have a new friend. Or, pick a completely empty table to catch up on your conference schedule. You likely won't be alone for long.

3. Ask people what they write. The great thing about a writing conference is that there is already a common interest inherent to all attendees... writing! It's a built-in conversation starter, and a great way to get people talking. Likewise, know your answer to this question before you arrive, because you'll get it over and over again. It also helps to have a few comparable titles in your back pocket to help explain your interests.

4. Use social media. Social media is a great way to connect with other conference attendees. If you're on Twitter, follow the authors, editors, agents and other writers. Tweet tips from the conference, share photos on Facebook and interact with other attendees without the intimidation of face to face conversation. Also, make sure your social media icons are actual photos (not your cat), so your fellow attendees can recognize who they've been tweeting with in real life.

5. Take a break. Everyone needs a break, but especially introverts. No panels catching your eye? Take that time to grab a coffee and read, catch up on emails or just relax. No one wins a prize for attending the most events and panels at a conference, and you'll be much more open to learning and meeting new people once you've a little time to recharge.

6. Bring a sweater. This is less introvert-related and more comfort related. If you're always cold like me, bring a sweater. Conference rooms are notorious for being air conditioned to an extreme degree, and you'll have a much easier time listening if your body isn't fighting off the first stages of hypothermia.

Any other tips for introverts at writing conferences? I need all the help I can get sometimes.

And on a somewhat related note, a guide to the care and keeping of introverts from Fast Company, via up A Cup of Jo. I'm tempted to post this on my office door as an instruction manual.

 

In Honor of Banned Books Week

It's Banned Books Week, the time to celebrate the freedom to read and also the freedom reading can bring. There are a lot of bad things happening in this world, and censorship might seem far down on the list of things to worry about, but we should all remember that banned books have the power to shape the world.  

As is fitting, a quote from our often-banned friend, Mr. Vonnegut:

"There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind." -Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

A Case of the Mean Reds

One of my favorite movies (and books) is Breakfast at Tiffany's. You've got Audrey, crazy parties, a cranky cat named Cat and one seriously handsome writer (Hello, Paul!). It's a fun movie, but the undercurrent of sadness is also appealing, in a strange way. Holly really is lost and doesn't seem to be able to find herself for most of the movie. And even in the end, I'm sure Paul had his work cut out for him once the credits rolled.

Audrey Hepburn Playing Guitar in Breakfast at Tiffany's

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Holly tells Paul about having the mean reds. When he confuses them for the blues, she says this great line:

"The blues are because you're getting fat and maybe it's been raining too long, you're just sad that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?"

Sometimes after I finish a book, I get a case of the mean reds. I'm not afraid, but I spend so much time invested in characters and plot, and as the pages dwindle, I know it will all be over soon. And while I love rereading a favorite book, there's nothing quite like that first reading, indulging in all of the details and learning right along with the characters. It's especially bad when I finish a series that I really love. Yes, Harry Potter is one of those series. I grew up reading those books, and saying goodbye to Harry's story was like saying goodbye to one of my friends. And while I can read them any time I want, I'll never be able to recreate sobbing in the back seat of my dad's car when one of my favorite characters died.

All of this leads me to one of my recent reads, which gave me such a bad case of the mean reds that emergency frozen yogurt was in order. Yes, I'm talking about The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson. I've only read a few of her books, but The Shades of London series has become a fast favorite. I won't spoil the ending of book two, referred to as "The Thing" by Maureen on Twitter (If you don't follow her...just do. Seriously.), but it totally took me by surprise, and I'm still not over it. There are two books left, so not all hope is lost, but it will be a very, very long wait for the next book.

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The only solution to a book-induced case of the mean reds? Buy copies for all of your friends and insist they read them so they can share in your misery. You can even create a tiny book nerd support group. You're welcome, friends.

Wisdom From Gary Provost

As I continue writing my manuscript, I'm thinking more and more about sentence structure and length, about making an impact with more than just the words on the page. Gary Provost provides us a great example of the power of a well-crafted sentence: “This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

Literary Wedding Readings

I've tried to keep the wedding posts to a minimum, because there are lots of other blogs out there that do it better, and frankly, wedding planning is not my favorite thing. However, it was a challenge to find non-traditional wedding readings from literature, and if this post helps someone else keep their sanity during the wedding planning process, I'd feel good about that. Obviously, the Bible is one of the most-read books in the world (I'm sure there are statistics about that somewhere), but I wanted to go with something a little less traditional to fit with our book-themed wedding.

We looked at everything from children's books like The Velveteen Rabbit and The Little Prince to Shakespeare. We wanted something that resonated with us and also with the audience. Although I'm a big fan of Shakespeare, it didn't have a universal appeal and can be difficult to read aloud. Some readings, particularly The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, really conveyed the struggle and deep commitment that a marriage entails, but were perhaps a bit serious.

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In the end, we chose two readings, each from one of our respective favorite books. Mine, naturally, was from Jane Eyre. I can't get enough of Jane and Mr. Rochester, and this reading conveyed a depth of feeling that seemed fitting of the occasion.

"I have for the first time found what I can truly love – I have found you. You are my sympathy – my better self—my good angel—I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my center and spring of life, wraps my existence about you—and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one." - Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

And Jonathan chose a lovely reading from The Alchemist. One of these days I'll get around to reading the book.

"When he looked into her eyes, he learned the most important part of the language that all the world spoke – the language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love. Something older than humanity, more ancient than the desert. What the boy felt at that moment was that he was in the presence of the only woman in his life, and that, with no need for words, she recognized the same thing. Because when you know the language, it’s easy to understand that someone in the world awaits you, whether it’s in the middle of the desert or in some great city. And when two such people encounter each other, the past and the future become unimportant. There is only that moment, and the incredible certainty that everything under the sun has been written by one hand only. It is the hand that evokes love, and creates a twin soul for every person in the world. Without such love, one’s dreams would have no meaning." -The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Every wedding decision is an invitation to feedback and input from all involved parties, at least in my experience. Thankfully, everyone was supportive of our non-traditional choices, including my southern grandmother.

The Loss of a Great Writer

The loss of a great writer is like a swift punch to the stomach. It comes out of nowhere and completely takes my breath away, leaving me not only mourning the death, but also the loss of the incredible works of art I won't get to consume. We've lost so many great writers this year, and I hope to write about each one that touched me in time, but the recent death of Nora Ephron weighs heavily on my mind. Originally a journalist, she transitioned into writing plays and novels and writing, directing and producing films. I grew up watching movies like Sleepless and Seattle and When Harry Met Sally, and her words have long since become everyday phrases in my family.

Ephron was gifted at exposing the humor of everyday life and love, including topics like relationships, divorce, death and friendship - all in a relatable, eerily accurate way. I remember laughing repeatedly at the seemingly ridiculous scene in When Harry Met Sally when Jess and Marie move in together and have a huge fight about that "stupid, wagon wheel, Roy Rogers garage sale coffee table!"

Several years later, I'm now in the process of moving in with my fiancé and unintentionally recreating the embarrassing wagon wheel coffee table argument, only this time it's about a bright blue, 17-foot-long kayak.

So Nora, if you're up there reading blogs in your spare time, know that you touched my life and inspired me to be a better writer. To try to capture even a hint of the humanity you put into your work. And I will work each day to be the heroine of my life, and not the victim, as you advised in your '96 Wellesley commencement address.

You should also know that I'm now 50 percent owner of one very blue, very large kayak that resides on my patio.