Browsing articles in "Books"
Nov 2, 2010

Mysterious Case of the Secret Staircase

As I said before, I’ve recently moved. It was a quick, spontaneous sort of move, and I only packed the essentials: a bed, a dresser, and some books.* This left me with a lot of books and no where to put them. I tried piling them around the room, I didn’t like to do that with my poor books, and I think it caused my long-suffering roommate some concern.

My apartment is the second story of a converted house. It has one bedroom, a living room/dining room/Wig Out! room, a Barbie kitchen, and closets that are bigger than the rest of the place put together.

It also has two staircases.

The first staircase is the entryway. It leads to the kitchen. It’s terrifying and steep.  The second staircase leads to nowhere. This is the creepy staircase. At one time, it would bring you from the upstairs hallway down to the living room, but since the conversion, it leads to a window, a door, and a creepy chair. (The chair was there when my roommate moved in. We don’t know where it came from or where it’s going.)

This is where my mother had her brilliant idea. What if we used those unusable stairs as a bookshelf?

And so I did.

Note the creepy chair

The curtain rod was there, and I just happened to have my great-grandma’s scarf in my sock drawer, which makes an excellent curtain.

Nana's scarf. The creepy chair.

When I have some time, I plan on spending a few hours in the chair, brooding. Maybe glaring. It’s the perfect spot for it.

Oh, and then I put my books on the stairs.


Now, these aren’t all of my books. I’ve been trying to bring them to my apartment in carry-up-the-terrifying-stairs-able loads, and there are still a few books that I have to argue about with my family members. (I don’t get Little Men until my mother…leaves us…and my sister insists that Little Women was a greater part of her childhood than it was mine. Neither of them could tell you what Louisa May Alcott ate on her ham sandwiches. 12-year-old me could write a dissertation on the woman. I’m going to win this one eventually.)

It has become an excellent library. Every shelf is also a seat, I’ve got lots of shelves to organize, all sorts of room to expand my collection. It has a little bit of a secret-passageway feel to it, and only the best libraries can pull that off. And it has the creepy chair. I just love that chair.

Where do you keep your books? Do you pile them? Shelve them? Use them as bricks to build castles?

*And clothes and shoes and coffee and like four other things. Allow me some poetic licence.

Jul 8, 2010

Imperfect Books

Anne Lamott's Imperfect BirdsI quit reading a book today. It’s not something I usually do: I’m usually much too stubborn.
Or, if not stubborn, than too involved in the characters or the language or something. But I really hate this book. It’s taken me a week to get 33 pages in, and each page is a little grosser than the last. There’s only so much I can take. I should have listened to those commenters who told me to skip it when I asked for book recs. I’ve learned my lesson.

So, this is all the review of Anne Lamott’s Imperfect Birds I’m going to write.
Read if:

  • You want a lenghty description of every bodily function known to man, save sneezing.
  • You really enjoyed after-school specials.
  • All the other books died.

K, I might be a little over-dramatic, and I only got 31 pages in, but wow, I really didn’t enjoy a single one of those pages. I guess it’s really a matter of personal opinion, you like what you like, blah blah blah. But this book made me crabby, and it’s my blog. I can crotchet if I want to.

What’s the last book you put down, mid-sentence? Or just couldn’t bear to pick back up again?

Jun 21, 2010

Grounded Contest Winner

Last week I asked you all to send in your best ground travel stories in honor of Seth Stevenson’s Grounded. The clear winner, thanks to originality in transportation mode (who rides bicycles any more?), the quality of language barrier (seriously, they named a town “Uijeoungbu”?) , and the inclusion of rice paddies (who doesn’t love rice paddies?), was Lorraine.

Here’s her story:

When I moved to South Korea in 2006, I didn’t realize how lonely of a place it could be for Americans. My roommate and I didn’t know the language, didn’t understand the culture, and didn’t really make a lot of friends. However, one thing we did know how to do well was ride our bikes. We quickly became avid cyclists and soon outgrew the little path along the river that lead to E-mart in the next town over. We had been following this routine for weeks before we realized we were actually riding between 15 and 20 miles everyday. We loved our little bike rides, but somehow we longed for a greater challenge; some epic adventure leading us to a whole new world.
That’s when we decided to ride to Uijeoungbu. Uijeoungbu was known for its hospital, its shopping, and its notoriously difficult to pronounce name. Most importantly it was about 20 miles away, thus providing an adequate challenge for us thrill seekers. We started our journey one fateful Saturday morning; first riding the normal path until the end and then getting on the main highway that supposedly led to Uijeoungbu. The idea was to ride along the shoulder of the road until we arrived. The only problem was, a few miles down this road the shoulder disappeared. As car after car whizzed by (with an occasional horn honking or Korean man shouting out the window) I watched my life flash before my eyes several times before I finally called out to my roommate “I don’t think we can go any further!” We stopped in the parking lot of a plant nursery to discuss our new plan. Accepting defeat was not an option. So, we decided to back track, find the nearest non-death-defying road and ride it in the general direction we were heading. Surely all roads lead to Uijeoungbu, we hoped. I’m not certain what happened, but it became apparent a few hours later that the plan had failed. We wandered along random winding paths, turning every which direction until suddenly we realized – we were utterly and hopelessly lost. Not only did we have no idea where Uijeoungbu was, we had no idea where home was, where our town was, or even where that big scary road was. We wandered through rice paddy after rice paddy, occasionally running into mountains and turning around or almost getting ran over by rice-harvesting-machines. We stopped several times and laughed at the situation, but the Korean rice farmers never seemed to understand the humor. Along the way we asked several natives “Dongducheon?” in hopes that they’d point us towards our hometown. Many walked away, some rambled off in Korean, and most starred at us perplexed, as if they don’t see two white girls on bikes riding through their rice fields every day.
In the end, we had to admit defeat and call our one Korean bike riding friend to come save the day. We handed the phone to one somewhat friendly shopkeeper (she didn’t kick us out immediately) and let her speak to our friend Jongmoon. I still have no idea what words were exchanged, but I expect he said something along the lines of “I’m so sorry my crazy white friends got lost in your rice paddy.” Regardless, he showed up on his bike a little while later, and laughed at us the whole way home.
Thanks Lorraineo! Send me your mailing address and I’ll send you your very own slightly-used copy of Grounded, one or more used ten-ride-tickets-as-bookmarks, and some Monday-morning appreciation and affection.
By the way, Lorraine is back in South Korea for a while and is tweeting her adventures. You should follow her.
For all of you equal opportunity equinox enjoyers out there, I know today is just another day, but for everyone else, happy first day of summer!
Jun 15, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Printers Row Lit Fest Volunteer

Boarded my train, armed with not enough coffee.

Was awakened from nap by commotion from downstairs. Something had gone terribly wrong for a few thuggish passengers, and they were expressing their discontent. Five squad cars later, there was again peace on the Metra.

Arrived at the fest. Got t-shirt, lunch voucher, tour of speaking venues.

Chatted with other volunteers. Met a second-grade teacher and lover of YA lit, a retired copy editor with a mystery manuscript, and a recent grad who’s trying to break into publishing. (The wanna-be-publisher and I felt for each other.)
Compared author assignments: The second grade teacher immediately hit the jackpot: Audrey Niffenegger, one of the biggest names at the Fest. We all tried not to hate her for her good fortune.

10:05am Picked my first group of authors. They were all mystery writers from Chicago, and didn’t exactly need to be shown around, But, I did get to sit through their session, and it was one of my favorite parts of the day.

The Thrill of Mystery
Kevin Guilfoile: Moderator.
Guilfoile has written several mystery novels, and is the spitting-image of John Astin, so, really, who better to moderate a discussion of crime novels?

David Heinzemann
If you were to write a character about a crime reporter for the Chicago Tribune, you’d probably end up with someone who looks a lot like David Heinzemann. Heinzemann works for the Trib, and wanted to write novels that incorporated real places in Chicago. Guifoile said, “If you want to read something true about Chicago, read his books.” I liked him, partly because he started out working for the Daily Southtown, which makes us practically neighbors.
On getting sources for news articles: “Earn a reputation for being trustworthy and you’ll gain sources.”

Gillian Flynn
Gillian Fynn was introduced as “the nicest, warmest women you’ll ever meet, but she writes the darkest [stuff].” Flynn started out as a TV writer for Entertainment Tonight, working on her novel at night. She said that she would get so tired of writing pop during the day that she’d come home and make her novel darker and darker. (Whenever anyone referred to Flynn’s novels as “dark”, one of the men on the panel would say something like “Yeah, she certainly made it darker…they’re very dark books.” After 45 minutes or so of this, I’d say that Flynn’s books are…pretty dark.)
On leaving lose ends: “I don’t believe that people change much, but I do try to leave [my characters] in a better place.”

Marcus Sakey
There are to kinds of authors: the kind who get tiny black and white photos on an inside flap somewhere on their book jacket, and the kind who get a full-color, full-size, full-body photos. Sakey is the latter. When I walked up to the group of authors, he was talking about how the avalanche almost ruined his Mt. Ranier climb last weekend. There was a line of middle-aged women sitting in the front rows just dying to ask him flirtatious questions about his next novel. It was a little like an episode of Castle.
On beginning his career in advertising: “Advertising is a great training ground for fiction. It’s basically what you’re writing anyway.”

Took a few minute between authors to explore the fest. There’s a couple who sell antique printers blocks ever year, and I spent most of my spare time digging through their stock trying to find ampersands. I ended up with three. I love them.

Spent the rest of the day in the C-SPAN room. Honestly, if I wasn’t assigned non-fiction, I probably would have just stayed in fiction. I was glad that volunteering sent me out of my comfort zone, espeicially because I got to hear Robert Remini speak.
Robert Remini
I really enjoyed Remini’s talk. He’s a retired college professor, and a passionate story-teller. You know he was everybody’s favorite prof. He was dignified, but animated and funny. He’s written several biographies, and is an expert on Jacksonian America. Honestly, out of the three sessions I attended, Remini’s is the only book I wanted to take home. (I ran out time while he was signing, thought, and didn’t get a change to purchase it. Time for Amazon.)
On compromise in politics: “It’s not about giving up on your principles, it’s about finding a way to govern.”

Picked up my last group of authors. This was where I had my 30 seconds of fame: C-SPAN isn’t given anything but a list of names, and, like I said, authors don’t get full-page headshots. No one knew for sure which author was which. So, I pulled out my magic phone, googled the authors, and the venue coordinator let the C-SPAN people know what we found out. That’s right, you have me to thank for accuracy in reporting on C-SPAN on Saturday, June 12.
My last authors were Nick Reding and Jim Frederick. This was a deadly serious session. Reding’s book was on the rise of meth abuse in middle America and Frederick’s was on “One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death”.


Finished. No more authors to escort.

I definitely recommend volunteering at the Lit Fest. I got career advice from editors, met writers who work for the Chicago Tribune and Time Magazine, as well as several published novelists. I got to hear first hand stories about how different writers write (long-hand, on computers, in the bathtub). I debated with the venue coordinator about whether Nick Reding looked more like David Anders or Woody Harrelson. (Ok, some parts of the day had more literary merit than others. And I still say Woody Harrelson.) But all in all, it was a really fantastic day of reading and learning.
And, I got a free t-shirt.

Jun 8, 2010

Preparing for the Printers Row Lit Fest

Here’s is something I’m excited about: The Printers Row Lit Fest. It’s happening this weekend, June 12-13th.

However, confession: I’ve never actually been to the Printers Row Lit Fest. I’m really just assuming that Chicago+Books=thebesthingI’veeverseen. So, here’s hoping.

Since I’m volunteering at the fest based only on my assumptions, I’ve pulled together a some information on it.

Here’s what I know so far:

The PRLF is the largest literary event in the Midwest. This year, there will be 11 stages offering over 100 free literary programs, including book signings, author readings and children’s programs. (I read something about Curious George attending. This is good: I’ve got a few questions.) All of the programs are free, but you need a ticket for anything going on at the Harold Washington Library.

Lots of attending authors are also on Twitter, so make sure you check them out.

If you’re going:

  • Bring cash. There are millions of books for sale, most of them at reduced rates, but most vendors don’t accept credit cards.
  • Bring a poncho. From what I’ve read, it usually rains at the fest, and it probably will this time, too.
  • Bring books to donate. Open Books will be collecting books to sell. All proceeds go to their literacy programs.
  • Work on your upper-body strength.  These ain’t no eBooks.

About that volunteering thing: I will be working as a “friendly and professional” author escort. I’ll be answering their questions, showing them around, and trying not to be starstruck. The PRLF is still looking for volunteers for Sunday, if you’re interested in helping out. You’ll get a free lunch and t-shirt! (Exclamation point theirs.)

Go to the PRLF if:

  • You love books, and love old books more.
  • You’re looking for an excuse to spend a Saturday in the best city in the world.
  • You want to see what your favorite hardcover looks like in a poncho.

There. Now we’re both more informed.

I’m really excited! (That exclamation point’s mine.)

Jun 6, 2010

What to read, what to read…

I’m this close to being done with my first book review, but I really don’t know what I should read next. I’d like to read a few books that were published in the last year or so, but I’m not very good at it.

So, here are three I was looking at:

Her Fearful Symmetry: A Novel by Audrey Niffenegger

  • I love this title. I want to read the book just so I can work the title into conversation.
  • I liked The Time Traveler’s Wife, even if it got a little romance novely sometimes.
  • Audrey Niffenegger lives and works in Chicago. I am in full support of all Chicagoians.
  • A ghost story sounds really good right about now.


  • Publisher’s Weekly used the word incoherent in their review, and lots of TTTW fans were disappointed.
  • It takes place in London, which is only a con when I want to read a Chicago novel.

The Wild Things by Dave Eggers


  • It’s written by Dave Eggers, who I may or may not have a crush on.
  • I throughly enjoy McSweeney’s.
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was one of the first books I read out of high school, so I’ll get a little nostalgic.


  • I might be reading it because I liked the movie, and I hate doing that.
  • I already know this story pretty well.

Imperfect Birds: A Novel by Anne Lamott


  • I’ve never read any of her fiction, and probably should.
  • Anne Lamott’s going to be at the Printers Row Lit Fest, and I’d like to be up-to-date.
  • The reviews sparkle.


  • It looks just the teensiest bit depressing, but that’s probably not a good reason to skip a book.
  • I don’t really like the picture on the cover. Ok, that’s not a good con either. I keep looking for cons but I just can’t find any. I think that my trying so hard for cons is itself a con, because it means I don’t feel like reading this one. We’ll see.

Those are my current possible picks. It seems to me that HFS is in the lead, but I’m very open to suggestions as long as the book’s newly published.

What would you pick? Do you have any other suggestions?

Jun 2, 2010

Chapter One: In Which I Begin Blogging

I used to read everything: little books, big books, fat books that bruised the table when I dropped them, thin, floppy books, chapter books, picture books, books that sing when I pressed a button, books that left me quiet for hours after. I read books that came in series, and books that stood alone. I read short stories, long stories, magazines, and shampoo bottles in the shower.

When I was really desperate, I resorted to reading instruction manuals. These were always handy—every glove compartment comes equipped with one—but they were a bit dry. Really, what ten-year-old little girl needs to know the correct air poundage for a set of tires?

The problem with the instruction manuals, aside from not being terribly applicable, was that I never learned anything lasting. None of the information ever really stuck. There wasn’t a reason for it. But, I wanted to read, and it was sometimes useful to know what that button was under the steering wheel, so, when there was nothing else, I read manuals.

After a while, I began to see that reading everything wasn’t necessarily beneficial. I started to see that different books carried different merit, different weights. I started to dig deeper into the stacks, trying to find the books that were true. I wanted to find books that told the truth and told it in a way that I could, first, understand it, and second, remember it. I wanted to become other people in other places. I wanted to travel. I wanted to see mistakes and consequences. I wanted to find and hide treasures.

As I started digging for new stories, I found more and more, better and better books. I sorted them into piles in my head: the ones about sensible, talking animals; the ones about growing up quietly; the ones about extraordinary adventures. These are the books that did more than keep me turning pages, but prompted me to pick up another book when that one was finished.

As I grew up, my tastes matured a bit, but I have never outgrown the best books from my childhood. They’ve followed me everywhere I go, whispering into my ear whenever I walk into an old house, or see an animal peeking around a corner, or walk down a crowded street. Better, though, is when they offer nudges when I really need them.

They gave me experiences that equipped me for my semi-adult life.

But, I still need a good lot of equipping, so part of the purpose of this blog is to make me read more, and part of it is to make me process through what I read. Mostly, though, it’s because I love books, and want to have more opportunities to talk about them.

No one should ever be without something valuable to read, and I’d like to offer my opinion on some of the books available. Maybe I can help to save you from instruction manuals.