Another Austin Summer

It's June, which marks my third summer back in Austin, and also the start of 90+ degree days and slightly cooler nights. I'm not complaining (yet). The heat reminds me of that great moment in Atonement (movie, not book, in this case) where Leon says, "What do you say, Cee? Does the hot weather make you behave badly?"

The heat does bring a little bit of mischief, even if it's just staying out a bit later due to those extra daylight hours, sneaking out for gelato once or twice... a week and slightly smaller clothing to combat the increasing temperatures. In a few weeks I'm sure I'll be hiding indoors, thanking my lucky stars for air conditioning. But for now, I'm going to picnic like my life depends on it. And eat more gelato.

Birthday Cake Macaron and Topo Chico from Walton's Fancy and Staple.
Birthday Cake Macaron and Topo Chico from Walton's Fancy and Staple.

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.

Literary Pennants From Out of Print

Just when I think I can't love them more, Out of Print goes and creates these adorable literary pennants. I'm already looking for a place in my office to hang the Pemberley version, though Pencey Prep is also calling my name. Out of Print is my online retailer patronus.

Which one is your favorite?

Novel Goes to Spain

As I briefly mentioned before, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Jonathan in Spain for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. I'm still getting over the jet lag (ugh), but I'm so excited to share some of my bookish and not-so-bookish travel essentials. First, let me say that Spain is amazing. I would endure any amount of jet lag to go back, even tomorrow. It was that great. We did a whirlwind trip with stops in Madrid, Seville, Málaga, Granada and Barcelona. Each city had its own merits, but I was captivated by Seville most of all, and the Gaudí sights in Barcelona.

 

Seville, Spain

 

Because this was my first European vacation (hopefully of many!), I did a lot of research about not only our travel destinations, but also on how to survive international flights. I'd love to share some of my travel learnings with you.

  • If you can afford it, spring for business class tickets. For someone like me who has trouble sleeping on planes, having a fully reclining seat made all of the difference in me not only getting sleep, but starting my vacation off on the right foot.
  • Even if business class isn't in your budget, small things like a sleep mask, ear plugs and compression socks will make your life much easier. Also, even if you don't like to wear pajamas or workout clothes in public like me, I highly recommend changing into something more comfortable on the plane before going to sleep.
  • Don't skip your other nighttime rituals on an overnight flight. Taking the time to remove makeup, take out contacts and brush my teeth before settling down made me feel ready for sleep and also more refreshed upon waking.
  • Bring snacks. While airlines will provide snacks, they're not always healthy or appetizing. Packing a few key snacks like trail mix, peanut butter, crackers and granola bars will keep you full and happy on a long flight, and they're also great to have on hand between meals on the entire trip.
  • Charge your Kindle or bring a book. (You knew there had to be a bookish twist.) My international flights did not have wifi, so I made sure to download several books before leaving. Check with your local library to see if they have ebook lending. It's been a huge bonus for me to be able to "check out" free Kindle books. I'm a big fan of paper books too, but as a quick reader, the number of paper books needed to sustain a ten day vacation would have taken up all of the space in my bag.
  • Find a travel guide you like, and bring it along. My phone didn't have service in Spain, so we relied heavily on our travel guide and the included maps. I looked at a lot of different books before going to Spain, but the one I brought with me was from PBS legend Rick Steves. His books rank sights in order of priority, provide sample itineraries, and give practical advice about crowd-beating and cultural norms. While there were one or two misses (no one's perfect), overall we found this book to be a lifesaver. When we go back to Europe, we'll be bringing Rick with us again.
  • If you're not a native speaker of the destination's language, make an effort and look into language apps. We found everyone to be very gracious and helpful, especially when we made an effort to communicate in the native language. I also downloaded SpanishDict before our trip. Their in-app dictionary doesn't require wifi, so it was great for looking up random words in the moment.
  • Just go with it! We were lucky to have minimal travel delays, but as with any vacation, there are always surprises or things that don't exactly go your way, especially if there's a language barrier. Having a positive attitude and not sweating the small stuff allowed us to make the most of this incredible vacation.

What are your international travel tips? I feel like we learned so much on this vacation, and I can't wait to do it again!

 

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

 

An Announcement and Gifts for Tiny Readers

Things have been quiet on the blog front lately, and for very good reason. My brother and his dear wife welcomed a sweet baby girl to the world. Her name is Reagan, and she has stolen our hearts.  

As the only aunt to this precious pumpkin, it's my job to turn her into a little reader. I already told her I'd buy her all of the books she could ever want, but I rounded up a few more things I'd love to give to any future tiny reader.

A onesie with a simple message, Read To Me.

As I've mentioned before, I love these board books of classic literature for baby.

Another favorite brand, Out of Print, also makes adorable book cover onesies. Is it weird to have matching clothes with a baby?

Ian Falconer's classic Olivia in board book form.

And her very own Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Novel Links

Novel Links are a little late this week due to some crazy life happenings, but we're back on schedule and missing our world traveler husband/dog dad very much. Here you are:  

Oh, if only I were in New York today for the Random House open house. Swoon.

Barnes & Noble's book nerd problems are great. I was going to call out my favorites, but there are just too many.

As my friend Katie said, "Somebody give this girl a scholarship!"

I'm Dumbledore, and I'm totally good with that.

Let's go to all of the coolest bookstores in the U.S.

Are you a fan of the shelfie?

On a final, more serious note, these familiar men are taking a stand against sexual assault. Bravo.

That's all, friends. Also, we're on official baby Reagan count down! Squeeee!

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.

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.

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

Bookish Finds

As a reader and a writer, I like to infuse a little bit of the bookish into my everyday life. I even had a book-themed wedding! For the new Bookish Finds series on Novel, I'll highlight items I find that are perfect for bibliophiles. First up, something bookish for the wee babes. I'm thrilled to pieces to be welcoming a niece in May, and I'm attending a baby shower this weekend in celebration. I've already purchased a precious onesie from the Paddington Bear line for Gap Baby, but my gift for the shower is my favorite bookish baby gift yet! (Briann, if you're reading this, now is the time to go to a different page.)

I can't wait for baby Reagan to get her hands on these adorable, beautifully illustrated board books from BabyLit by Gibbs Smith.

BabyLit bills itself as "a fashionable way to introduce your toddler to the world of classic literature." And if I'm being completely honest, I've even eyed some of these prints for myself. What are your favorite bookish gifts for baby?

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.

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.

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.

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.

WED_MMP-135

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.