Armchair BEA 2012 – Day 5 – Ask the Experts

Today is day 5 at Book Expo America, and I’m still participating virtually via Armchair BEA (fancy that).  Today’s topic is one that I’m really excited about, because I’ve discovered that the world of book blogging is considerably more vast than I had realized and that there is so much I don’t know.  “In your post, ask the visitors to your blog for blogging advice. What did you always want to know about blogging but were afraid to ask? Now is the time!”

I’ve narrowed it down to a few questions:

1.  How big a deal is it, really, if I read a book that’s terrible, and I write about how terrible it is?  There seems to be a sense of nervousness within the community about how honest one can really be, and the difference between honest and offensive seems uncertain.  So what I want to know is how much tiptoeing around the truth is really necessary in order not to be grossly offensive?  What’s the etiquette here?

2.  What does SQUEE mean?

3.  How do you find the time not only to read books but also to post reviews of those books on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. in addition to your own blog?  Are there any time-saving methods you can recommend?

I’ve had an absolute blast visiting blogs and learning about this thriving community over the past week.  Many thanks to the coordinators of this virtual event and to everyone who has visited my blog in the past week and left kind and helpful comments.

Armchair BEA 2012 – Day 4 (catching up) – Beyond the Blog

Yesterday was a bit nuts, but I am determined to catch up today.

Yesterday was day 4 of Book Expo America, in which I am participating virtually via Armchair BEA.  Today’s (yesterday’s) writing topic asks us to look beyond the blog for opportunities or tips to expand one’s writing to other communities online or in print or to expand one’s blog to be a source of income.  “Have you done any freelance writing?  Are you monetizing your blog and how so?  How do you make connections outside the book blog community on the Internet?  If none of these apply, we’d love for you to share a fun aspect about your blog or life that may be completely separate from books!”

I write and edit all day long as part of my job, but I don’t imagine anyone would be all that thrilled to hear about the number of business letters I have occasion to write.  The editing I do is even less sexy than writing business letters.  Don’t get me wrong–I enjoy taking a whole bunch of crazy and transforming it into standard written English, but that’s me.  I’d be happy eating oatmeal every day.  I’m just one of those people.  Given that the non-blog writing that I do is generally uninteresting, that I am not monetizing my blog, and that I have few connections either within or without the book blog community on the Internet, I figured I’d tell a cautionary tale about writing, editing, and managing difficult interpersonal relationships and about how I’ve failed at all three over the years (but in a fun way).

When I was in high school, I was the editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper and the sole contributor to the opinion page.  I wrote some crazy nonsense, and I still can’t believe that the school was willing to publish it every month and distribute it to all the students.  My favorite regular column was the advice column, “Dear Wildcat.”  In the first month, I couldn’t get anyone to submit questions, so, lacking patience, I decided to scrap the idea to answer real questions from students and just made up my own questions to answer.  I was 17 and writing both sides of the conversation… you can probably guess how that went.  All told, it was a great experience, but I learned that I’m best at humor writing, so a career in serious journalism was never in the cards for me.

During my stint as editor-in-chief, I also learned that I am a terrible manager.  I’m pretty much like Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I micromanage and am convinced that I can play all the roles, simultaneously, better than anyone else.  It’s a problem.  When I discovered that the other students had no talent for writing and didn’t understand even basic English grammar, my natural response was to write all of the articles myself and just give writing credit to the other students, because that was easier than trying to manage the process of editing and collecting final drafts (that were often still not quite written in standard American English…).  The students who wrote for the paper were terrible writers, for sure, but I was so much worse as a manager than they ever were as writers, sentences like, “The Akil has improve is by working harder” notwithstanding.

Even when I’m not in any way responsible for the material that gets published, it still drives me absolutely batty to come across published material that could have been written by a monkey.  About a decade ago, a guy who knows my dad purchased a community newspaper and tried his hand at publishing.  He had grand plans to transform the newspaper into a community information hub for the San Gabriel Valley area of LA County, but his newspaper was so terrible!  After the first edition, I wrote a letter to the editor requesting that he hire a copy editor.  He ignored me and proceeded to publish another edition that was full of grammatical crazy.  I wrote another letter to the editor that referenced the number of grammar and spelling (!) errors and begged him to hire a copy editor.  He ignored me and published another edition.  I, full of 22-year-old righteous indignation, took a red pen to his newspaper and mailed it back to him.  He ignored me.  I kept it up for another three months until he called my dad (!!) and asked him to tell me to stop sending him proofread copies of his newspaper.  At that point, after six months, I finally realized that he didn’t care about the quality of what he was publishing, and I was fighting an unwinnable battle.

I’m ten years older now and a lot more mellow.  Even so, it drives me wonky when I read a book, even a free one, and encounter truly stupid errors, but I no longer ride out on my steed of grammatical justice to defend the honor of the English language every time I read a book that was published without the benefit of a competent editor (every other time, maybe).  So, yeah, I’ve mellowed, but I still have a tendency to be very critical of what I read.  I suspect that the hyper-criticism that comes naturally to me could be off-putting to many (particularly authors and publishers).  But I’m not really writing a review blog here, so maybe it’s moot.

Armchair BEA 2012 – A positive book experience?

It’s day 3 at Book Expo America 2012, and I’m still participating virtually through Armchair BEA.  Today’s suggested topic, Networking, is a bit of a stretch for me, but I’ll do my best to write something that is marginally on topic.  I don’t get out much.  I get really nervous around crowds of people, so events (such as book releases or book signings) really aren’t my cup of tea.  I’m new to blogging, and this is my first foray into the community.  So I was stumped when I saw today’s topic: “We’d love for you to share a positive “real life” experience with books! Either by way of your own partnerships in your community, a book signing you went to or possibly even a get together with fellow book bloggers.”

Hm.. I don’t have any partnerships in my community; I’ve only attended two book signings (ever), one for Neil Gaiman’s release of American Gods (2001) and the other for Anthony Bourdain’s release of The Nasty Bits (2006); and I’ve never been to a get together with other book bloggers.  Generally, I am such a literal person that the words “either…or” really do mean to me that only the options included in the either/or statement are acceptable, but I’ll just have to be creative.

A few years ago, just before the release of Harry Potter Book 7, some friends and I decided to form a book club.  It was relatively short-lived but enjoyable while it lasted.  The best thing about it was that we all had such varying tastes that we were guaranteed to be forced to read something outside our usual comfort zone.  We read (and I hope I’m not forgetting anything):  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, Embers by Sandor Marai, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, and Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin.  I’m fairly certain I’m the only one of the four (sometimes five) of us who finished the last three on that list, but I’m glad I did (they were good!).

I am in favor of book clubs.  Too often, I get in the habit of reading, reading, reading without ever thinking about what I’ve read.  Sometimes, 10 books later, I can’t even remember the plot or character names of a particular book.  But when I have to discuss the book and what I thought and felt about it with a group of people, whether my good friends or total strangers, I have to think about it.  That book ends up making a stronger impression on me because I took the time to think about it, internalize it, and formulate some thoughts about it.  Four years after reading East of Eden, I can’t tell you all the plot points, but I can remember most of the characters’ names, and I can tell you what I thought about that book.  I can even do that for my least favorite of the books we read (Misquoting Jesus and A Walk in the Woods).  Besides, the book club was totally worth it just to get my best friend to read Pride and Prejudice.  That was a bucket list item, for me.

Ultimately, life got in the way, and our book club fizzled out.  Some of us got married, some started having kids, some went back to school, all got busy.  Eventually, I started this blog both as a creative outlet and as a means to force me to think about what I’m reading (even if it’s not very good).  When I write about books for my blog, my approach is similar to the one I used in the book club–no sense talking about the plot, unless it’s remarkable; focus on the one or two standout things about the book (whether good or bad).  I’m beyond glad that my friends and I did that book club for a time.  It was a very positive book experience!  🙂

Armchair BEA 2012: Best of 2012

Hello folks!  It’s day 2 of the Book Expo America in NYC, and I am, once again, participating virtually via Armchair BEA.  I’m not in an armchair, though.  I do all my blogging perched atop a giant blue bouncy ball.  It’s impossible to be unhappy when you’re bouncing like a little girl.

My “chair” and messy desk

Today’s topic for participation is: “Share some of your favorite books so far this year, and/or the the books being promoted at BEA that you hope will end up among your favorites for the year!”  I’m going to interpret that to mean any books I’ve read this year, regardless of their date of publication.

I should have kept a better account of what I have read so far this year.  By going through my Nook library (and trying to recall the few paper copy books I read this year), I’ve come up with 59 books read so far, but I might be missing a few, and I’m not counting in that number any of the nonsense I had to read for school or any of the re-reads that I did.

Cover image, The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

I have posted a few times–here and here and here–about Elizabeth Hoyt and how very good her books are.  My favorite is The Raven Prince, probably because it is the one that I arbitrarily chose to read first.  (A friend once told me that one’s favorite Tom Robbins book is whichever book of his one read first.  So my favorite is Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, and that friend’s favorite is Still Life with Woodpecker.)  The Raven Prince is a delightful blend of whimsical fairy tale and earthy love story, and I loved every bit of it, even the parts that made me blush.  In fact, I loved it so much that I’m reading it again now, even though I just read it a month ago.  It’s just that good (and my memory sucks that much).

Cover image, A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare

I love to laugh, and I really dig it when a book makes me laugh out loud.  There are books that are designed to make you laugh (I can’t read Laurie Notaro’s books in public…  That stuff is ‘privacy of my own home’ reading to me.  There’s just too great a chance that I’ll laugh until I drool or pee on myself…) and there are books that are not exactly humorous books but are hilarious regardless as a byproduct of great writing.  Catch-22 is one of these, and so is A Week to be Wicked.  Romance novels are often funny (unintentionally), but this one has sparkly dialogue and wit that are a perfect balance to the emotionally compelling aspects of the story.

Cover image, Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick

I participated in a workplace book club in February and March of this year at the same time that I was finishing up school and starting this blog.  It was a great experience all around, but mostly I was appreciative of the opportunity to read a book that I would never have picked up on my own.  To read more of my thoughts about the book, check out my posts here and here.  My favorite thing about Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock is that it did not insist on a happy ending.  In southern California, where I live, race relations are generally pretty good (comparatively), but that’s not really the case across the entire country.  I loved that Margolick had the moxie to tell the real story, not the story that we all wanted to read.

So that’s my shortlist of favorites for 2012 (so far).  I’m looking forward to reading some more great books through the second half of the year, and I’m looking forward to the terrible ones as well.

Armchair BEA 2012: Introductions

I love books and reading, so when I discovered (this morning) that I can participate in the Book Expo America (currently happening in New York City) through the glory of the Internet, I was just thrilled.  Honestly, I’m all about experiencing humanity through the buffer of my computer, and it’s about books!  (Yes, that is an absolutely appropriate use of the exclamation point.)  Anyway, being rather neurotic, I’m all aflutter with nerves.  Am I doing this correctly?  Am I supposed to wait for a confirmation email before I jump on the bandwagon?  Did I make the right decision in choosing this moment to pop my Twitter cherry, having carefully avoided it (Twitter, that is) for so long?  Will my utter ignorance of Twitter and/or blogging culture be immediately obvious to everyone (well, now you know…)?  Enthusiasm overcomes caution, however, so I proceed.

What’s Armchair BEA?  Click on the link and read all about it.  You may even feel compelled to join up.  The first activity in this event is an introduction.  The folks at Armchair BEA provided a list of 10 questions (click here to see the full list) from which participating bloggers can choose 5 questions to answer.  Keep reading to see which questions I chose to answer and how I answered them!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?

My name is Kelly, and I always have a really hard time answering these types of questions.  I’m just too literal.  I know how I’m supposed to answer (I’m a reader, writer, and mom, not necessarily in that order), but then I get distracted by all the different meanings that question could have–Who am I, really?  Do I know?  Is it possible for me to know who I am?  Can I truly be identified by the things that I do, or does my concept of self go deeper than that?  Would I actually be the same person if I did not do the things that identify me?  Do we really know ourselves better than other people know us because we are privy to our internal dialogue, or does that internal dialogue actually distract us from who/what we are?–and I spin off into crazy land.  So here are some things that are true about me:  I never stop reading.  I love romance novels and classic literature, but I read far more of the former than the latter.  I am completely neurotic (but you knew that).  I get unaccountably annoyed by homonym switch-ups (e.g. “She had the reigns in her hands!”).  I’m a mom, and I love my kids.  I’m a wife, and I love my husband.  I drive my husband nutty.  I work full-time.

I’m very new to blogging, having just started this blog in February of this year.  A good friend of mine started a blog two years ago about drugstore makeup, and, since I was in desperate need of a creative outlet, I decided I should get one going as well.  I’m very glad I made that choice, but it cracks me up that my blog is essentially a celebration of neurosis.

What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2012?

I just finished (this morning) One Week as Lovers by Victoria Dahl.  I enjoyed the book, but I’m still working through what I really think about it.  It’s strange: there wasn’t anything about the book that put me off, precisely, but I’m not sure that it’s accurate to say that I liked it.  Have you ever experienced that before?  My favorite reading discovery (so far) of 2012 has been Elizabeth Hoyt’s canon.  Golly, her books are good.

Tell us one non-book-related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about you.

I was a cheerleader for one awful year in 1992-93.  It was horrifying (both for me and for any spectators, honestly).  I have (had, even then) too much self-awareness to have a good time prancing around in a short skirt pretending an enthusiasm for men and sports when I’d much rather be reading a book in a corner of the room.

What is your favorite feature on your blog (i.e. author interviews, memes, something specific to your blog)?

I really love how scattered my blog is.  I try to plan out my posts, but I usually fail.  I know I should be a wee bit more specialized, but I really enjoy thinking that a wide audience could find enjoyment in my blog (the potential is there, anyway… time will tell if I am able to follow through).

Have your reading tastes changed since you started blogging? How?

My reading tastes haven’t changed at all, but I started out viewing my love of the romance genre as a guilty pleasure, a quirk of my character about which I was supposed to feel ashamed, and I’ve decided that it’s a waste of time and energy to feel ashamed about something that I really love.  Romance novels are fabulously fun, and my blog has helped me to be a bit more honest with myself and with the world.