Browsing articles from "July, 2011"
Jul 25, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Borders

My spot.I’m trying to find the words to explain how important Borders was to me as a Midwestern, suburban kid with no indie bookstore and an uncooperative library.

Before Borders, my books came from one of a few different sources. They were gifts, they were treasures found at antique malls, or they were chosen from one of the two or three shelves–shelves, not cases, since I hit literary adolescence before YA became the darling genre of readers everywhere–that were allotted to intermediate readers in the back of the cramped Walden Books at the mall.

My book choices were limited.

When I walked in to Borders for the first time, it was like I was being allowed in to the Beast’s library. I knew that there must be that many books in the world, but I had never seen them all together. I felt the weight of those millions words and thousands of books and felt a small sense of panic that I would never be able to read them all.

I had work to do.

I found my way to the YA section, which was now a full book case, front and back. There were almost too many choices. There was a spinning rack of Penguin Classics, and I spent a year or two picking my way through that. I couldn’t believe my luck. My family would go after dinner and stay until close, and I could buy a hot chocolate and spend hours browsing. Borders saw all the money I made babysitting, and all of my birthday presents came in the form of Borders gift cards.

On special occasions, on my birthday or when my family would visit Chicago to see the Christmas lights, we would visit the big Borders on Michigan Avenue. There were four floors of books. Let me say this again. There were four stories of books. You needed to take a series of escalator rides in order to see all the books. Do you understand how many books there were? Do you understand the impression this made on my young mind? That store was my idea of heaven. A mecca I planned birthdays around.

Sometime in early high school, I promoted myself from YA to Literature. It was around that time I found my spot. Since the books are all alphabetical by author, I found a place towards the end of the alphabet so I could work my way through the As and Bs and so on, looking for something to take home. It was directly across from the literary anthologies and short stories, so I could flip through those if it was going to be a short visit. The books that served as my backrest were always changing, but Nicholas Sparks was always on the shelf to my right. I thought it was important to keep him close so I could make faces at him when I felt the need. (I developed good taste at a young age.) I would find a book and settle in to my corner until the five-minutes-to-close warning.

When I spent a year at home between high school and college, Borders was the place I could go that would make me feel like I wasn’t in a rut. When I graduated from college and moved back home, I went right back to my old Borders. I wrote my first blog post there. I built this little website there. I made friends with some of the other cafe regulars, and flirted enough free coffee out of the baristas to explain the store’s financial crisis. When I got my job and moved away, I visited my new Borders when I needed someplace that felt like home.

I went home to say goodbye to my Borders this weekend. I was hoping to get there before the liquidators did, but I was too late. The cafe was closed and all the tables were piled in the corner. The Paperchase section was picked over and there was a line to the cash register that stretched to the back of the store and around the empty music section. I was overwhelmed. I was a little bit angry that people seemed to be enjoying themselves. I wasn’t really sure what an appropriate goodbye would be, so I just did the same thing I always do: I took a quick walk through the Literature section, nodded at the anthologies, pulled out a book, and read until it was time to go home.

Thank you Borders, and I’ll miss you.

Jul 20, 2011

Happy Two Year Twitterversary to Me

Moments Later...Two years ago today, I was a fresh-faced college graduate with a dumbphone and an interview for a job as a social media marketing intern. I figured I should get to know this Twitter thing if I was going to be doing it full time, so I signed up. I followed a few of the suggested users and friends, and tweeted cryptic references to my ware-abouts.

About six months later, I was frustrated that I still didn’t have a job in my field. I loved the people I worked with as social media intern, but I didn’t go to school to market mortgages. I decided that if I could make social media work for the nicheiest niche market in the whole world, I could make it work for me.

That’s when I decided to take Twitter seriously. No more tweets about my sandwich, no siree.

I made a list of all the Christian publishing houses I could find on Twitter, and I watched their feeds, looking for any way I could make a personal connection. One day, @TyndaleHouse said something along the lines of: “I’m out for the weekend, but you can follow me at my personal account, @ChristyWong”. From that moment, I became Christy’s Twitter-stalker. (Hi Christy. I’m not sure you know this. So, um, glad we’re friends. ūüôā ) Christy gave me a list of Tyndale tweeters, and a few weeks later, I found @AdamSab, who’s also in the marketing department at Tyndale. He and I started trading Twitter strategies, and when a job opened up in his department, he suggested I apply.

That’s the story of how Twitter got me a job.

But I would have loved it anyway.

Since then, I’ve been through two smart phones (really the only way to make Twitter a major part of your life), I’ve gained a couple hundred followers, and I’ve carved out a place in the Twitterverse.

Twitter changed the way I use the Internet. It’s become how I communicate with friends, and it’s how I learn…everything. If I were to make a list of my favorite things in this world, Twitter would fall somewhere below my cat and somewhere above peanut butter cupcakes. This is serious.

So Twitter, by way of a thank you, here are a few of my favorite things about you:

1. Twitter has made me a better writer.

I delete about a half a dozen tweets a day. Why? Because these last two years on Twitter have taught me that if I write something totally inane, like what I’m eating for lunch, or about how my feet hurt, than no one cares. No one will react. I’ll get no retweets or faves or anything. Twitter’s all about positive reinforcement. I’ve found that if I make a story about of the bland¬†occurrances¬†¬†in my life, I can get a reaction. It sort of reminds me of that time in junior high when I figured out that if I told funny one-liners, I’d get attention.

Twitter’s also helped me trim the junk from my writing. You may have noticed a bunch of¬†sos and¬†howevers andanywayses on this blog-o-mine. There’s no room for that in a tweet. There’s no room for any excess baggage, so every word in every tweet must be important.

2. Twitter tells the best stories

I said before that Twitter made me a better writer. Now let me apply that generally: Twitter makes better writers. I follow around 500 people, and almost all of them are capable of¬†producing¬†140-character-or-less gold. I am absolutely delighted by tweets every day. It’s amazing the power that these people are able to put in to such a small space. Check my list of favorites for a few recent good ones.

3. Twitter made it OK to talk to strangers

(inspired by @brokeandbookish)

I’m not the sort of person to rush out and tap a stranger on the shoulder, throwing a compliment or question their way, but on Twitter, I do that every day. In fact, only a handful of the people I talk to every day are people I’ve ever met in real life. There’s a depth and richness to my feed that I wouldn’t get if I limited it to the people I’ve actually met.

On Twitter, a professional¬†anything is within reach at all times. The very fact that they have a public profile means that they want to talk to you. I get expert opinions on grammar, translation, ebooks, gardening, technology, nerdery, anything, and they’re always given in a spirit of good will.

4. Twitter brings out the best (and worst) in people

(inspired by @pulptone)

The people I follow in Twitter are smart, funny, and interested in everything. And, since they’re so smart and funny, they make everything interesting. In these last two years, I’ve learned more information faster than in the whole rest of my life.

I have had very few bad experiences on Twitter. Very few of those false notes in communication that make me wish I could start the day over again. (I contrast this with Facebook, where I have a false-note experience almost daily.) Now, this isn’t to say that everyone on Twitter is on their best behavior all the time. I have a strict policy of Jerk Unfollowing. If you persist in being mean or petty on Twitter, I unfollow you. This keeps my stream bright and shiny and full of useful information. I¬†recommended¬†it.

5. Twitter makes me feel like part of a community

I’ve always had semi-obscure interests. Ok, maybe they’re not that obscure, but for a kid in the suburbs in the midwest in the 90s, there wasn’t much talk of any kind of literature that wasn’t PowerRanger-related. I just got used to it.

It got a little better in high school, and a little better still in college, but for the first time in my life, I can throw out a tweet saying “Betsy Tacy?” and get three or four responses of “Don’t forget Tib!” There is always someone to talk to, and they’re ready to talk about whatever subject you can think of. These funny little conversations turn into friendships, and all of a sudden, you have a cozy little corner of the Internet to call home.

6. Twitter makes me feel omniscient

This happens every twenty minutes or so:

“Hey, Jess, did you hear…”

“About the thing? Yeah. Like, yesterday. It was on Twitter.”

Nothing happens without the Internet knowing about it, and nothing happens on the Internet without Twitter knowing about it. As long as you choose carefully who you follow, you’ll never miss a headline. I’ve followed natural disasters, concerts, conferences, cooking, tech announcements, and even sporting events. (Ok, I don’t follow sporting events so much as I can’t avoid them, but I’m really glad that the women’s soccer team had fun on Sunday. Or whatever.)

But really, I meant it when Twitter changed the way ¬†I use the Internet. I used to spend a certain amount of time every day visiting the same websites. I had a little ritual that I’d follow: get a cup of coffee, scroll down my favorites, check for new content, read, refresh, close laptop. It was nice, but it was very closed. Twitter opened up a whole world of information. I get a much more balanced view because I’m not just reading one news site for opinions. I’m reading opinions curated by people I respect, so I’m not just getting more information, I’m getting better information.



So there’s my little love letter to Twitter. I’ve tried to keep it short. I tend to gush when Twitter comes up.

Happy Twitterversary to me. I do accept gifts.

What’s your favorite thing about Twitter?






Jul 8, 2011

Quiet Night on Diagon Alley

Wizarding tshirts

I usually describe my relationship with Harry Potter like this:¬† I went to the midnight book-release parties, but I didn’t dress up.

What I mean here is, I really like Harry Potter. I grew up with him. I started reading the series just as book two came out, and I read them all faithfully. Some of them four times.

However, to answer the question that my friend the imaginary P.G. Wodehouse character asked me on Twitter: No. I am not really a Harry Potter fangirl. (However, imaginary P.G. Wodehouse character, can you say irony-much?)

What I am is someone who loves books, and loves when people are excited about books, so I have loved being able to watch the HP excitement over the years. And participate whenever I can. I decided a few years ago that I can either stifle my excitement, feign boredom and let opportunities pass me by in the hopes of looking, I don’t know, cool? Or I could be myself and jump at the chance to have fun when it presents itself.

So when Marianne asked me how I felt about going to a wizard rock show, I jumped accordingly.

The show was an outdoor show in Lincoln Square (one of my favorite Chicago neighborhoods), and the wizard rock bands were Harry and the Potters and Diagon Alley. (That’s right. There is more than one Harry Potter tribute band.) I ended up there with Marianne and Marc, and my dear Lorraineo and her roommate met us there.

Now, even with my vows to be open-minded about these sorts of adventures, I was skeptical. I had only ever heard Harry and the Potters once, and I’m not someone who goes to shows, and I do still have that little niggling feeling of “Um, this is a Harry and the Potters tribute band, and you might end up looking silly” that bothers me sometimes.

Once again, I was reminded that that niggling feeling needs to be ignored at all costs. Seriously. Harry Potter. He sang. He climbed trees. There were children dancing and middle-schoolers wearing Luna Lovegood glasses. I bought a “ride the lightning” tshirt. So anyway, I guess this will be a continuing process, this whole “let go and have fun and enjoy yourself and stop freaking out over what people might think” thing. So I’m going to work on that, because life is so much more fun when I don’t stifle. In the mean time, you bet your shrieking mandrakes that I’m going to be at the midnight premiere of 7.2.

Marianne and I with Harry Potter. The power of love will keep us together forever.


Jul 5, 2011

An Open Letter about SEO and Hungry Bears

Taken from Selva's Flickr stream.

Search engines are wonderful things. They’ve practically made the Internet usable. But, sometimes, they hiccup. Sometimes you search something perfectly reasonable, and instead of finding a helpful result, you’re directed to a page that has nothing at all to do with your query.

Sometimes you search “did anyone in the bible get eaten by a bear” and you’re directed to a review of Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos.

And that’s exactly what happened to you, Mr. Did Anyone In The Bible Get Eaten By A Bear Man.

I say “Mr.” because that’s how I imagine you, Mr. DAIBGEBAB Man. I see you as a guy with a wide range of interests. You enjoy a little light theology. You’re a zoology hobbiest. I bet you watch the History Channel. And you’re persistent, if a little pig-headed.

How do I know this last bit? Because you’ve searched “did anyone in the bible get eaten by a bear” eleven times in the last month, Mr. DAIBGEBAB man. Eleven times. ¬†And every time, it brings you to the same review of Imaginary Jesus. I know this because Google Analytics told me so, and Google Analytics doesn’t lie. This¬†review only mentions bears once, and doesn’t really have anything to do with bears in the Bible. Now, it’s possible that you just really enjoy that review and find this to be a convenient way to reread it. But you know you could just bookmark that post, right?

Of course you do. You’re an intelligent person, Mr. DAIBGBAB Man. You watch informed cable television.

No, I choose to believe that you’re still searching for answers. I choose to believe that you have a need to know about the dieting habits of ancient bears, and you refuse to change your search term, and darn it, Mr. DAITBGEBAB Man, I’m going to help you.

The answer you’ve been waiting for, Mr. DAITBGEBAB Man, the answer is…Yes. Forty-two anyones. It happens in¬†2 Kings 2:24.

Because I know you’re something of a naturalist, you’ll be interested to hear that the bear in question was probably a Syrian brown bear. And because you’re a theology guy, you’ll want to know that it was the result of a curse from the prophet Elisha. And because maybe, just maybe, you’re starting to thin a little up top, and you’ll be gratified to know that, well, Elisha was too.

Here’s how it happened:

23 Elisha left Jericho and went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, a group of boys from the town began mocking and making fun of him. ‚ÄúGo away, baldy!‚ÄĚ they chanted. ‚ÄúGo away, baldy!‚Ä̬†24 Elisha turned around and looked at them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of them.¬†25From there Elisha went to Mount Carmel and finally returned to Samaria. (2 Kings 2:23-25, NLT)

Never mess with a prophet of the Lord, Mr. DAITBGEBAB Man. No, no.

So there you go, Mr. DAITBGEBAB Man. I suppose I’m reading into the text a little bit to say that these kids were actually eaten by bears, since the word is mauled, but I’m sure you could find someone to help you really get into the original intent of the passage. Just google “Hebrew exegesis” and don’t stop until you get the right result, Mr. DAITBGEBAB Man. Don’t stop.

Jul 1, 2011

Printers Row Lit Fest Recap


Ok. I know the PRLF was almost a month ago, so it’s a little late for a recap post, but we’ve already established that I’m a terrible blogger.

Last year, I attended the PRLF as a volunteer. (I recapped that experience here.) There was nothing about that day that wasn’t spectacular, but I really wanted the opportunity to choose the events I attended and to wander around when I wanted and to not wear a giant white tshirt that said GET LIT.

So. This year I brought Marianne. This is why Marianne is the perfect person to bring to the Lit Fest: as soon as we turned down Dearborn and Marianne saw the dozens and dozens of tents and the hundreds and hundreds of book people and hundreds of thousands of BOOKS, she turned to me and said, “Jesse. Jesse, I think this is the coolest thing I’ve ever been to in my life.”

And that’s why I love Marianne.

The first session we went to was a conversation between Elizabeth¬†Stuckey-French, author of The Radioactive Lady and Elanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters. This turned into an excellent conversation about what it’s like to be a woman author, and if women can write as well as men, and if there’s a difference between men and woman writers. (This was right after that whole Naipaul controversy.) ¬†I had just read The Weird Sisters and wanted to get a chance to ask Brown a few questions, but Naipaul carried the conversation away, and no one called on me. It was very like high school in that way.

We went to a couple other sessions, but the other main highlight of the day was sort of an accident. A torrential downpour started about midway through the afternoon, and our choices were either to find an indoor event, or head home. We decided to try the poetry slam tent, and hoped that enough people chose the “head home” option so the tent wouldn’t be too crowded.

It was too crowded, but we went anyway.

Now, attending a poetry slam is a dream I’ve had since a poetry workshop I attended in high school. Let me tell you that I should have fulfilled this dream so much sooner.

Poetry slams are, as best I can tell, one part improv comedy, one part theater, one part spelling bee, and a few parts something amazing that I don’t have a category for. Basically, poets perform–not read, not recite, perform–their poems, are rated on a scale of one to ten, and compete for a prize of dubious value.

There was a level of electricity and excitement in that tent that I’m not sure how to get across. What I can tell you is that I spent the hour clapping and bouncing in my seat and hoping that¬†Poetry¬†Slam Day could be every day. New life goal: attend more poetry slams.

It was just such a good, full day. I felt like I had to walk around with my arms spread out just so I could hold in everything I was learning and seeing. There were so many perfect little details sprinkled in to the overall adventure, like the Eloiseian girls who live in a high-rise but dragged their tea-party table down to the sidewalk to sell $1 cups of lemonade, or the car-commercial-in-production that we stumbled into, or the street performing drummer who travels with his full drum kit, or the crazy midwestern storm that forced us inside, or meeting the author whose signing I missed because she took shelter from the storm in the same restaurant as we did so I could still get the book signed and also have a very short conversation about magical realism. See? It was just an arms-too-small-to-hold-all-this kind of day.


I encourage you to draw a big red circle around the first week of June and to plan on being at the Lit Fest. These sorts of events can only happen if people show up, and you should show up, because that’s how adventures happen.

If you’re looking for more information about the PRLF, here’s the official Chicago Tribune recap.

Here are some videos of a few of the sessions, but just FYI, these are from Book-TV, so they’re very¬†interesting, but a little bit dryer than some of the other events at the fest.

If you want to know more about poetry slams, one of my favorite Chicago inventions, check out Chicago Slam Works. They ran the PRLF slam, and I think I have a crush on the entire organization.

Oh, and if you’re looking for letterpress letters, I suggest you check Etsy. But really, you should just do like I do and make them a yearly PRLF tradition.