28 December 2012

Vacation notes

  • Filmbook extra: My mom and I watched "Pitch Perfect" (the 2012 feature film starring Anna Kendrick) and she reports that it is not at all like the nonfiction book it's based on by Mickey Rapkin. In particular, "that book didn't have a romantic subplot or focus on one person." You read it here first.
  • This won't really count, but in the process of cleaning out some of my old stuff I was able to part with about 50 books from my old childhood bedroom. A lot of them weren't even that hard to part with, which indicates that I still own too many. But it made getting rid of old clothes feel really easy.
  • (They're all bound for the Half Price Books in Northridge, in case you are local. Fire away!)
  • The upside to cleaning out that room was that I found my parents' copy of Pauline Kael's FOR KEEPS, which is out of print. I thought I would just have to make myself scarce for the week in order to get through it, but then I decided to stick to Brian Kellow's biography PAULINE KAEL: A LIGHT IN THE DARK instead. 
  • I got a lot of books for Christmas, but most hilariously, not one but 2 copies of FEMINIST RYAN GOSLING. My people who know me, really know me.

24 December 2012

Get them to a book

"One basic tool for holding students accountable for reading outside of class is a “reading log.” This is essentially a paper where a student tracks what he or she read, for how long, and how many pages. I made dozens of different reading logs over the course of two years. Some were multiple pages long with stars and pictures of books, and gave students ample room to write responses to what they read. Some had lots of instructions at the top for how long to read and how to write about the books. When I wasn’t getting enough writing back from students, I squished blank lines together and made the spaces smaller. With less room to write, some students wrote more.
Later, I created an web form for students to type in their reading logs online. Students gamed it by saying that they were sure they had submitted it the night before. I changed the form to time-stamp when they hit submit. I took down the form when students gamed the system again by typing the same responses day after day (some did the same on paper). Even with the form deleted from the Internet, students still came in saying they had used it the night before.
I collected young adult books for my students to read and built a sizable classroom library. I made Amazon wish lists and asked friends to buy a few titles. Family members sent me books in the mail, scoured sales at public libraries, brought me bags full to take into school. I interviewed students on the kinds of TV shows they liked, the sports they played, if they liked scary stories or funny stories—all so I could make recommendations on what book to borrow next and read at home. 

Whenever I spoke with a parent, I talked about reading at home. I told them it was just as important as working in class. I made suggestions for THE HUNGER GAMES, DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, TWILIGHT. It didn’t matter, I said, just read a book! 

I pirated ebooks and posted them online so that students with iPads and smartphones could download and read them at home. Eventually, I just gave print books away."

Within this essay on Teach for America at the Billfold is a fascinating progression of what one teacher attempted to get his middle-school students to read more outside of class. In my own education I remember various reading logs, including response journals (high labor on the teacher's part) and page counts by month (extra math lesson! but too competitive?). 

21 December 2012

Reading on the Road: Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow

This is my 2,300th post on this blog! So it seems a fitting platform to announce that today I'm flying to Wisconsin where I will go into a cabin in the woods with no WiFi and never come out again, seriously. Okay, my parents' house is not that remote, but I am facing major burnout and lucky to be looking forward to a little unplugged time over the holidays.

I'm bringing Lionel Shriver's SO MUCH FOR THAT, Sara Paretsky's BREAKDOWN and Maria Semple's WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE, recently picked for Tournament of Books '13. These seem too cheerful so I'll pack this Kurt Vonnegut bio AND SO IT GOES that I got from my grandparents last Christmas. Seems like the perfect thing to read in the warm glow of my parents' flatscreen while my brother plays video games, one sister grades papers and the other one dozes off. My family is just so crazy this time of year.

Whether you are going away or celebrating at home, holidays or not, I hope you are happy and among those you love.

20 December 2012

Tournament of Books '13 is a Christmas miracle

I can only assume it was a gift to me that the Morning News' annual Tournament of Books selections were announced today, over a month earlier than last year, so as to give me more time to read all of them! But really, it is a gift to all of us. Take a look at the list (the ones I've already read have been italicized):

Laurent Binet, HHhH
Louise Erdrich, THE ROUND HOUSE
Gillian Flynn, GONE GIRL 
Lauren Groff, ARCADIA
Sheila Heti, HOW SHOULD A PERSON BE?  (Fritz: if you're reading this, I owe you an email on it. I did not forget)
Miles Klee, IVYLAND
Madeleine Miller, THE SONG OF ACHILLES
Alice Munro, DEAR LIFE
Pre-Tournament Playoff Spot: David Abrams, FOBBIT; Ben Fountain, BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK; Kevin Powers, THE YELLOW BIRDS

In the bleak midwinter, long, long ago

I love this post from Jeanette Winterson about Christmas and ritual. Her mentioned memoir WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU CAN BE NORMAL? was one of my favorite books of the year, and to quote the worst song of the year, I think you might like it. It sits at the oft crossed intersection of "books about terrible childhoods" and "books about how writers became writers."

19 December 2012

Nothing but net

I'm about to go out of town, so today I returned all the library books I had out. 

Usually at this time of year I just throw up my hands and try to renew everything into the new year, or suck it up and pay fines. I remember one December I tried to return the rest of my books, only to discover a snowstorm had shut the library and I couldn't even get to a book drop in time. I believe I was schlepping them to the main branch in Manhattan to do so. All I remember is ducking into a Bank of America vestibule with my tote bags to warm up. No semester's end in college was complete without a similar trip. Everything Must Go!

I'm not positive, but I believe the last time I was library book-less happened was in early 2007 just before I moved to New York, but after I made a similar slate-cleaning at my old library in Pennsylvania. (I sort of miss that place!) Truly, a triumph of organization and disciplined errand-doing! Now, how am I going to wrangle all these book donations in by tomorrow? 
Need an incentive to pre-order an author's book instead of waiting till it comes out? Author Jason Mulgrew breaks down why pre-orders are important, coincidentally a few short months before his second memoir 236 POUNDS OF CLASS VICE PRESIDENT comes out. (Amazing title. I should get on that.)

17 December 2012

The shades of Dickens

This weekend I went to Housing Works' third annual reading of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. I haven't been to the play in years, but since Housing Works started doing this three years ago, I find it a welcome substitute.

I wasn't able to arrive until midway through the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Present, but I felt lucky to see Mike Albo act out one of the people who came to loot Scrooge's belongings and put names to faces with two authors whose work I have recently enjoyed, David Goodwillie and Teddy Wayne. Simon Van Booy was the closer (with bonus appropriate accent -- he grew up in Wales after all) and said a few very nice things at the end tying the message of the book to the help that Housing Works is able to give, through donations, to people who are homeless and HIV-positive. (Next year, guys, use that opportunity to pass around a festive hat! Free idea.)

But I don't think I was the only one to find particularly evocative the stretch of "The Last Of The Spirits" in which the Cratchits mourn Tiny Tim together, as read sensitively by Times drinking columnist Rosie Schaap. Prepare to be boarded by feelings:

The mother laid her work upon the table, and put her hand up to her face.
"The colour hurts my eyes," she said.
The colour? Ah, poor Tiny Tim.
"They're better now again," said Cratchit's wife. "It makes them weak by candle-light; and I wouldn't show weak eyes to your father when he comes home, for the world. It must be near his time."
"Past it rather," Peter answered, shutting up his book. "But I think he's walked a little slower than he used, these few last evenings, mother."
They were very quiet again. At last she said, and in a steady, cheerful voice, that only faltered once:
"I have known him walk with -- I have known him walk with Tiny Tim upon his shoulder, very fast indeed."
"And so have I," cried Peter. "Often."
"And so have I," exclaimed another. So had all.
"But he was very light to carry," she resumed, intent upon her work, "and his father loved him so, that it was no trouble -- no trouble. And there is your father at the door!"
She hurried out to meet him; and little Bob in his comforter -- he had need of it, poor fellow -- came in. His tea was ready for him on the hob, and they all tried who should help him to it most. Then the two young Cratchits got upon his knees and laid, each child a little cheek, against his face, as if they said, "Don't mind it, father. Don't be grieved."
Bob was very cheerful with them, and spoke pleasantly to all the family. He looked at the work upon the table, and praised the industry and speed of Mrs Cratchit and the girls. They would be done long before Sunday, he said.
"Sunday. You went to-day, then, Robert?" said his wife.
"Yes, my dear," returned Bob. "I wish you could have gone. It would have done you good to see how green a place it is. But you'll see it often. I promised him that I would walk there on a Sunday. My little, little child!" cried Bob. "My little child!"

13 December 2012

Time for a stretch goal!

A group I am involved in at work is starting an associated book club. Their goal is to read three books a year. I also joined a second book club at work, this one for my specific department, and its goal is to read four books a year.

You don't want to work here

Before yesterday Dalkey Archive Press was known as a well-regarded small press specializing in translations.

Today it is known as the issuer of one of the most insane job postings of all time. Apparently to work at Dalkey, one must have no life and no soul. Click for full insanity or enjoy these excerpts:

  • "The Press is looking for promising candidates with an appropriate background who... do not have any other commitments (personal or professional) that will interfere with their work at the Press (family obligations, writing, involvement with other organizations, degrees to be finished, holidays to be taken, weddings to attend in Rio, etc.)"
  • "Any of the following will be grounds for immediate dismissal during the probationary period: coming in late or leaving early without prior permission; being unavailable at night or on the weekends; failing to meet any goals; giving unsolicited advice about how to run things; taking personal phone calls during work hours; gossiping; misusing company property, including surfing the internet while at work; submission of poorly written materials; creating an atmosphere of complaint or argument; failing to respond to emails in a timely way; not showing an interest in other aspects of publishing beyond editorial; making repeated mistakes; violating company policies. DO NOT APPLY if you have a work history containing any of the above."
  • "Office Manager [duties include]... doing all and everything that will make work for others easier."
  • "Assume that you will be one of the unpaid interns until you are ready to take on all the responsibilities of a position."
  • "We certainly seek people with relevant experience, but just as important or more so, we seek people who know what a job is."

Also, would you trust someone who works at your press and doesn't write? just curious.

12 December 2012

Holiday book shopping tip!

Don't give someone a book that you already gave him just six months ago, which you only discover at the shipping stage.

Brought to you by Housing Works Books and Yes-I-caught-it-just-in-time-thank-you-6-pound-8-ounce-baby-Jesus. 

NYC: CHRISTMAS CAROL marathon on Saturday

All I want for Christmas is to spend an arbitrarily long time looking at this GIF. So magical!

11 December 2012

As Eva Longoria supersedes Karl Rove as a power player, Republicans act as shellshocked as the Southern gentry overrun by Yankee carpetbaggers in GONE WITH THE WIND.
--Maureen Dowd, who has been kind of uneven this year but finally produced that cacklingly good editorial on the election some of us have been waiting for.
    We were very tired, we were very merry—
    We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
    It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
    But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
    We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
    And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.
    We were very tired, we were very merry—
    We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
    And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
    From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
    And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
    And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.    
    We were very tired, we were very merry,
    We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
    We hailed "Good morrow, mother!" to a shawl-covered head,
    And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
    And she wept, "God bless you!" for the apples and pears,
    And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

--Edna St Vincent Millay, "Recuerdo"

10 December 2012

On small good fortune

As someone who knows a few of the people affected, I find it amazing how much attention the Random House bonuses-for-everyone announcement is getting. This is in New York, where we have bankers! Bankers who would probably cry if they opened up a $5000 check at Christmas!

I think everyone's getting worked up about it because the announcement was so public. We know bankers get obscene bonuses, but we don't always find out how obscene. For all we know, Random House has been giving out comparable amounts all along -- we just didn't know about it. (Far more awkward it is when your company makes a big show of canceling its holiday party, in some kind of weird recession concession. It happened to me! I was laid off about 3 months later.)

I feel sorriest for the person I know who left RH earlier this year and now has to endure the gloating of her ex-coworkers, but she is much happier overall. It is useful for us to all take her example and be less Scroogey about it. Also, imagine all the FIFTY SHADES jokes those people have endured. Maybe they should have called it hazard pay.

08 December 2012

Open-source entertainment

"Inman’s 'gripe' comics take ideas that are already being expressed by certain constituencies around the Internet and simply put them in comic form. For example, many people get irked by the incorrect use of grammar and spelling, so he writes explanatory comics on this subject to attract that traffic. Inman has admitted in multiple interviews that spelling and grammar are not actually interests of his, but the comics get traffic (and sell a lot of posters to schools, ads for which appear at the bottom of each of those comics), and he works with an editor to correct his own use of language in those comics." 

-- I don't want to wade too far into this bizarre profile/ attack on Matthew Inman, who draws the web comic The Oatmeal, but I kind of love that writing about spelling and grammar is considered one of his fiendish tactics to grow readership. (His response, including what would happen if they put a comment board next to the Mona Lisa, is also worth reading.)

07 December 2012

The Morrissey theory

The Morrissey theory holds that when a person is sad, she or he should indulge in other sad things to make her or himself feel better.

I had a bummer day, so here's a picture of the sign going down at one of my old favorite bookstores, Harry W. Schwartz in Milwaukee.

Maybe I should have stuck to reading Lena Dunham's leaked book proposal. (Possibly contrary opinion: It's terrific!)

Photo: czelticgirl

06 December 2012

Got a library card?

Allow me to ruin your day with this Times report on bedbugs in library books. "Fewer than 10" cases in my home library system, the NY Public Library, is still more than zero...

05 December 2012

November Unbookening: Not impressed edition

Bought: 4 books (2 Kindle, 2 at The Chatham Bookseller)
Checked out: 11
Received to review: 5
20 in

Donated: 14
Returned to library: 7
Gave away: 2

As the prospect of my moving soon looks more and more likely, this is not so stellar. Wouldn't even call it a silver-medal performance, actually.

03 December 2012

First bookstore with its own beer line?

Portland's Rogue Brewery has come out with a MOBY DICK-themed pale ale in partnership with Powell's:

"Michael and Emily Powell took pages from a copy of the book and, along with Rogue Brewmaster John Maier, placed them into the brew kettle."

I have been on three brewery tours in my life, and none of them prepared me to answer how this could work. But I might have to order it online to do a taste test... A Baltimore brewery, not to be outdone, is rolling ahead with Edgar Allen Poe-themed beers, even though the author's drinking problem makes that a little, pun intended, distasteful.