Movie Endeavors?

Like most others, when I first meet people I tend to hold back some of the more less favorable facts about myself. Like that I enjoy peanut butter and turkey bacon sandwiches, or that I’ve watched nearly every episode of Who Wants to Be the Next Food Network Star? (I’m still trying to catch up from the half-season I missed while moving across the country). And although I know it’s enjoying a surge of immense popularity, I hate red velvet cake and have never much cared for cream cheese frosting, either.

Maybe the most damning is the fact that I don’t really like movies. Sure, there are some that capture my heart enough that I’ll watch them again and again. Miracle, Grumpy Old Men, Wild America, and 27 Dresses all make the list of favorites. But I tend to be very hesitant to try new movies. Halfway through, I’ll find myself looking at the clock, trying to figure out how much longer it will last. You might blame this on a short attention span caused by the instantaneous Internet Age, but I can watch episode after episode of a television show without losing interest. There’s just something about movies that makes most of them drag for me.


I have a special affection for this one after my own cross-country road trip.

But this week I made a discovery bound to entirely shape my vision of cinematic possibilities. I made a visit to one of the last, and undoubtedly the best, video rental stores: Scarecrow Video. Every obscure movie I have ever watched or wanted to watch, they have available. The way they’ve organized their titles made this budding librarian swoon; movies within the adventure section are also subcategorized by type – jungle, knights, swashbucklers. A large selection of foreign films arranged by country. And a whole section devoted to British films, British comedy television, British dramatic television series, and so on.

Wait a second, you might be saying. Isn’t this blog called Book Endeavors? What are you harping on about movies for? (You are probably not actually saying this, dear reader. You are likely far smarter than the rhetorical straw man reader I frequently converse with. But I digress.) Some of my other favorite movies are based upon books. I use the 1980s Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea movies as a frequent point of reference for life. I adore the Richard Harris/Jim Caviezel The Count of Monte Cristo. And one of my favorite movies of all time, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, is based on a novel (which I haven’t read, but the story is fantastic). Sadly, as an independent movie, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont has been difficult to find, but luckily Scarecrow Video has it. It has all of these.


Seriously, if you can find it, watch it. Especially if a) you’re a writer, or b) have ever worked in a retirement home setting.

Even better, the store has a room dedicated to movies based on books and plays. Movies about authors’ lives. Documentaries and biopics about authors, and movies explaining theories and criticism about literary works and worlds. Interviews with authors, and compilations of poets’ readings. Shelves of Jane Austen and Dickens adaptations. Every movie exploring Narnia you could think of. And then in the children’s section they have all of the television series devoted to exploring L. M. Montgomery’s books – Emily of New Moon and The Road to Avonlea (a combination of Avonlea and Story Girl books).

It’s basically an English and Creative Writing B.A.’s dreams incarnated in a video store. Which is not the first place I would’ve looked for enlightenment. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont was checked out when I went there yesterday, but I’ll be back for it. In the meantime, I rented Vitus – a Swiss movie I watched during college in pursuit of German 200 Culture and Communication Points – and The Way We Were. I have to thank my friend Paige for the latter; if anyone has helped me expand my horizons when it comes to films, she has. Before we became friends, I honestly thought Robert Redford was a fictional character.

What’s your favorite movie based on a book? Let me know in comments.

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To the Library, and Beyond!

As a student about to start her master’s in library and information science, it probably won’t come as a surprise that I, you know, like libraries. Throughout high school and some of college I probably single-handedly kept my public library in business with my excessive fines. I know some people will go to the library, pick out a book or maybe two, then return it and find another. My library style has always been a bit more gluttonous: grab everything that looks interesting off the shelves. A week or two of fines adds up when you have fifteen to twenty overdue items. With the help of phone alarms and e-mail reminders, my on-time return rate has greatly improved in recent years.

The past few weeks have taken my appreciation of libraries on a very practical level. On one of my mom and sister’s last nights in Seattle, we watched Matilda together. While watching the disdain of Mr. Wormwood, Matilda’s father, for reading, libraries, and anything remotely intellectual, I was struck by an important but fleeting thought: I’m lucky to have been born into a family that loves the library as much as I do. One of my earliest memories is my mom doing up my hair for the Beach Day-themed story hour, and the highlight of middle school was the annual system-wide interlibrary “Battle of the Books” competition. So I suppose I’ve taken libraries and easy library-access for granted, just based on their continual presence in my own life.

As I mentioned last post, my apartment for August has no WiFi. I do have a smartphone, for which I’m grateful, but I have a limited data plan and too much impatience to use it for sending e-mails or messages longer than a sentence or two. It’s like trying to live on Ramen after years of dining hall meals – endurable, but hardly satiating. And my first month in Seattle has definitely given me experience in being creative with limited resources, both virtual and victual.

Coffee shops have been my first destination for Internet access. I have a found a few rare gems – coffeehouses with plentiful seating, power outlets, and low prices. But even the cheapest coffee shop still costs a few dollars, and I feel guilty for staying past the end of my tea. While I’m writing this, I’m actually at the coffee shop with the best drinks I’ve had in Seattle yet, but the worst WiFi. I’m lucky if I can get it to work for five minutes. At the moment, it’s not working at all.

At any rate, enter the library. The magical solution to all the world’s problems. Honestly, my dad had to suggest it to me when I explained my dilemma. At first I brushed off the suggestion, thinking that since I’m not yet able to get a library card (as I lack proof of address/Washington State ID), so I can only use their computers for thirty minutes at a time. Then it occurred to me that I could bring my laptop and use their WiFi for free. For as long as I wanted. So I’ve started spending lots of time at the library, either on my computer or reading books. Unfortunately, as I have no card, I can’t check things out. But I can use their Internet to look for jobs, housing, catch up on my Netflix. And just sit there and read books for free, so I don’t fall too terribly far behind on my 2013 GoodReads goal. The possibilities are endless.

IF YOU LOVE BOOKS AND LIBRARIES AND HAVEN’T EVER SEEN THE PAGEMASTER, YOU’VE BEEN MISSING OUT.

So this blog post has mainly been a combo testimonial and public service announcement. Don’t take your local libraries for granted. They’re a brilliant resource that do more than provide written entertainment for the masses. Next time your computer or WiFi or television breaks, if you want something new to read but it’s not in the budget – head to your library. Add them on Facebook, or check out their summer programming. And for those of you that already have, if you’re anything like me, I suggest you check your due dates!

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2,583 Miles Later…

Hello, blog readers!* This post is coming to you from the other side of the country. I have officially made the transition from Buffalo, New York to Seattle, Washington. Because I have a weird unique and incredibly loving family, I did not make the move alone. My mom, two sisters, and I turned it into two-week, cross-country (semi-Oregon Trail-themed) road trip. Huge props to my dad for valiantly staying home to hold down the fort while we were gone.

My mom, sisters, and I at the Pacific Ocean for the first time. I’m on the right.

Trip highlights include visiting my friends Mackenzie and Patty, Taste of Chicago, climbing up a 102-foot “Hermann the German” monument, and seeing a buffalo walk down the middle of the road. Things have settled down in the past few days. I moved into my first apartment (which I’ll actually be moving out of at the end of the month), started putting out my job applications. And my family left. I’ve spent my free time exploring the area, shamelessly using coffee shops for their WiFi (this apartment has no Internet), and going for runs.

Oh yes, I also sat on the foot of a 60-foot-tall Jolly Green Giant.

These kinds of major changes are exciting, character-building, and generally invaluable experiences. But they’re also hard. As much as I’m loving Seattle, it’s hard not to be a little homesick (okay, sometimes a lot homesick). Most times I try not think about how long it will be before I can hug my mom again, or tickle my little sister under the chin (she might deny it, but she’s just as ticklish there as she was when she was five).**

This is not a wallowing, moping post. I just want to acknowledge that for every awesome opportunity and exciting event here, there are things (and people) that I’ll miss back home. So I thought I’d share a few of my favorite books for times when there my life’s own setting changes. Whether you’re leaving for a new school or job, studying abroad, or just moving, these books help ease the transition.

1)      Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery – Hold on a second, you might say. Weren’t those books written way back at the beginning of the twentieth century?*** Aren’t the Anne of Green Gables books just heartwarming stories about an imaginative orphan?

Anne of the Island departs strongly from what most people would probably expect from a woman writer of the early 20th century. For instance, in Anne of the Island, Anne Shirley leaves her beloved home in Avonlea to obtain her B.A. from Redmond College. She moves somewhere totally new, deals with financial burdens, and makes housing plans with friends. It’s the quintessential college story, an era of life sadly overlooked in literature.

2)      Just One Day by Gayle Forman – Let’s skip ahead to a book published nearly a hundred years later. This book was released this past January, but I didn’t read it until June. Honestly, I hadn’t thought I would like it. The premise of the book is that Allyson Healy goes on a trip abroad a few weeks before she starts college. While in London, she meets actor Willem and spends a day with him in Paris. She wakes up to find him gone. She returns home, starts college, and tries to forget about him. Unable to, she eventually struggles to track him down.

Here’s the thing – the summary makes it sound like the novel is about Willem, but it’s not. It’s more about Allyson spending her first year of college trying to figure out who she is and who she is going to be: the reliable Allyson she was throughout high school; the daring “Lulu” she was with Willem; or someone else entirely? This is another novel that covers the college transition – living away from home for the first time. Making new friendships and reevaluating old ones.

All I’ll say is that this is one of those Don’t-Judge-A-Book-By-Its-Cover books.

3)      A Stranger to Command by Sherwood Smith – Let’s try some fantasy. Fifteen-year-old Vidanric, born into a noble family, lives in a small country where the tyrannical King Galdran rules. To both keep their son out of danger and help prepare him for the future, Vidanric’s parents send him away to a foreign academy in the militaristic country of Marloven Hess. While there, Vidanric struggles to learn weaponry, command, politics, and how to understand a culture starkly different from his own.

This was one of my favorites while I was in Turkey. It addresses adjusting to and partaking in foreign customs. And let’s face it, I love books that include any sort of specialized training, such as the skills Vidanric has to learn. This is a great book for those who enjoy vicariously learning how to be a warrior.

While I would love to keep writing about my favorite books, I think I’ll stop with those three. After all, I’m in Seattle! My new home for the next two years. Some protagonist I would be if I spent all my time reading and writing instead of adventuring and learning to ride a horse the bus.

Side Notes:

*I really should have a cooler nickname for my readers than “blog readers”… Hmm… BookEnders? That sounds strangely menacing. I like it. Other suggestions?

**I suppose I should mention that she is, in fact, nineteen-years-old and only occasionally sacrifices her dignity to let me tickle her chin.

***You might not actually say that, people who aren’t as excessively into L.M. Montgomery might instead think of it as just generally “way super long ago” or something to that effect.

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Because of Wizard Rock

“Is this song about Harry Potter?”

I’ve been asked this question by friends on more than one occasion over the past four years. I’m not ashamed to say that a large proportion of my music library is comprised of wizard rock. It has been the soundtrack for my college years. “This isn’t Hogwarts, this is a concrete box” aptly describes my first-ever dorm room and the feelings I had during my first month of college. I was singing “Charlie Weasley doesn’t really love me, he only loves his dragons” at the top of my lungs when I was pulled over for my first (and hopefully last) speeding ticket. And as someone who’s spent the past four years living on the banks of Lake Ontario, “by the banks of the lake, I watch the sun become a glimmer, I watch it set. As the summer breeze blows, I close my eyes, enjoy these days with my good friends” precisely captures some of my best college memories.

A lot of people have some misconceptions about wizard rock. After all, how many songs can be written about the same characters and plotlines? “I like the books, but I don’t think I’d want to hear about them all the time.” Good wizard rock, though doesn’t just summarize or transcribe the events of the books, it connects with the universality of many of the themes and characters in Harry Potter. Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls’ “Dumbledore’s Song,” though it tells the story of Dumbledore’s death, carries a greater message about the grief that follows the loss of a mentor. “Don’t Leave,” my favorite Ministry of Magic song, discusses the strain that constantly fighting for a larger cause can put on a relationship. And of course, the Moaning Myrtles’ “Transparent” talks about how love of this series, this music, and this fandom has helped give fans confidence to take their place in the world.

I know the wizard rock music I’ve listened to and the friends I’ve made through the Harry Potter fandom have really helped me personally grow in confidence over the past four years. I’ve made many online friends through a shared passion for Harry Potter, and I would not trade that for the world. I’ve gotten a chance to spend time with them through wizard rock concerts and LeakyCon 2012, a Harry Potter convention (miss you, Nadia, Ella, Patty, Mack, Sarah, and Chelsea!). Are our bonds based solely on our Potter passion? Of course not. That’s what fandom does, though. It acts as a starting point. It’s like my favorite C.S. Lewis quote: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'” That’s one reason why I love the Internet, why I love wizard rock concerts, and fan conventions. It helps the Luna Lovegoods and Neville Longbottoms of the world find each other.

It extends beyond the Internet, though. As I mentioned above, the first month or so of college, I was pretty miserable. I’d somehow ended up in a rundown party dorm, full of people I wasn’t sure how to connect with. In October, I made my first real friend at college. We had a class together, and the first time we ever really talked, I made a joke that she had “Ginny Weasley hair.” Though it has since emerged that she’s not a huge Harry Potter fan, the fact that she accepted the reference as something interesting and funny helped me realize it was okay for me to be me in college, nerdiness and all. I said goodbye to her today for the next few years, as we go our separate ways for grad school (her to Ireland, me to Seattle). We’ll stay friends, though – kindred spirits are like that.

Although many of my favorite wizard rock bands are (mostly) retired, the music will still be there (mainly on YouTube and iTunes) for those who want to listen to it. In the meantime, new musicians are constantly generating music, some for the Harry Potter fandom and others for different fandoms. As a B.A. in English and Creative Writing, it’s one of my favorite ways of analyzing literature. It explores the text and the subtext and expands upon it, bridges the personal and the universal. Some songs are musically brilliant, others have haunting lyrics. Some are just fun to dance to (I’m looking at you, “Looking for Trouble”). My go-to suggestions for people are The Remus Lupins (TRL) and Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls. If you want more specific suggestions, leave a comment and I’d be happy to give you some ideas! Also, note that Alex Carpenter, the voice of The Remus Lupins has also written a lot of songs about Doctor Who and The Hunger Games, if you’re interested.

On another note, I’ve decided to avoid promising future posts from now on. Last post I promised a review of The Moon and More for next post, and while I wanted to write that post then, as I had just read it, I was less interested in writing the review as more time passed and I read more books. That was part of the reason this post took a little longer than usual, and I finally decided to just post about whichever book-related topic I feel drawn to at the time.

The Remus Lupins’ iTunes page (Nevermind the Furthermore is my favorite album)
Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls’ iTunes page
Tonks & the Aurors’ iTunes page (artist of the infamous “Charlie Weasley,” which helped earn me that speeding ticket)
Ministry of Magic’s iTunes page
The Moaning Myrtles’ iTunes page

Bonus feature: A cover of The Remus Lupins’ “Lovely Lily” by my wonderfully talented friend Patty Pierzchala! Both the song and the singing are gorgeous:

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Book Binging for the Broke

Friends and devoted readers of this blog might know that I have no qualms about playing favorites when it comes to seasons. What’s not to love about summer? Ice cream cones from that drip all over your hand, no matter how old you get; trips to the beach that only cost you a sunburn; constant outdoor parades and picnics and paloozas galore! As much as I enjoy these festivities, however, I have to admit that my favorite summer activity generally causes long hours indoors in a somewhat sloth-like state: book binging.

Me, age three, collapsed on the couch with a pile of books and my cat. Some things never change…

Book binges are primarily a summer indulgence. Even though I usually work over summer and have a few other side projects going, the absence of homework allows me to go through books rapidly, sometimes three or four in a single day. Sadly, as a soon-to-be grad student, I don’t have as much money to spend on books as I would like. Although there was no stealing involved, all of the above books were acquired through copious amounts of begging and borrowing. Whether you’re short on cash or just trying to save a few books, I thought you might appreciate suggestions for feeding one’s ravenous inner bookworm without breaking the bank.

  1. There is no better source for free books than your local library. Aside from their own collections, libraries often have interlibrary loan systems set up so you can request books your own branch might not have. Something that I’ve only recently discovered, though, is my library systems fairly extensive e-book collection. If you have trouble getting to your library for whatever reason, many libraries allow you to borrow e-books and audio books online. It’s great for when I’m looking for something to read late at night.
  2.  Public domain is your friend; if you have any interest in older works, try looking for books whose copyrights have expired. There are many databases, such as Project Gutenburg, that have classics available to read online or download as PDFs or audio files. Louisa May Alcott and L. M. Montgomery are two of my favorite public domain authors. One of my favorite features of my Kindle Touch is that I can e-mail PDFs to my device and have them converted to e-book form; those with tablets, smart phones, or other e-readers might investigate if their devices offer similar services.

    Me, age twenty. Different format, same bookworm tendencies.

  3.  Follow publishers’ social media accounts. Publishing companies frequently offer special deals on e-books, often to promote interest in an upcoming sequel or new release by the same author. Whether you use Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, publishers are a good choice to follow. Libraries, librarians, and authors themselves also often share book deals. WriteWorld, a tumblr dedicated to providing writing advice, has compiled a great directory of writing resources on Tumblr, including those of authors and publishers.
  4. Raid your sister’s bookshelf. Okay, I said there was no stealing involved, so maybe “raid” is not the right word. Nevertheless, some of my favorite books have been discovered amongst my sisters’ books. I started Harry Potter when my older sister, in the midst of Chamber of Secrets, left Sorcerer’s Stone on her bed. I fell in love with Melina Marchetta when I wheedled my little sister into letting me extract Saving Francesca from her stack of library books. In return, I have lent her more books than I can count. Even if you don’t have sisters, consider setting up an exchange with friends or family who have similar tastes.
  5.  Although I’m sure freebies have existed as long as humankind itself, I believe the Internet has ushered us into the Golden Age of Giveaways. Obviously there’s a lot of scams out there, and you want to be careful what information you give out over the Internet. However, for those who might prefer paper books to e-books, book bloggers, authors, and tumblr users often give away free books in order to connect with readers. GoodReads also has a page for giveaways.
  6.  This one may be for the true scrimp-and-pinchers. When I was in high school, I usually didn’t have much money for books. My weekend plans usually included begging my parents to “abandon” me at the nearest Borders (R.I.P.). There I would spend hours reading an entire book. While I haven’t indulged in this practice in quite awhile, it’s a nice way to spend a day.

Don’t get me wrong. For authors I admire, I am usually more than willing to spend my money to purchase their work. And I want more than anything for bookstores, especially local bookstores to stay in business. However, when times are tight, sometimes it’s good to have a few extra ways to read a little more and spend a little less. Besides, if I read a book I love for free, when the author’s next release comes out, I’m usually first in line, ready to buy it at whichever bookstore’s closest.

Stay tuned for my upcoming review of Sarah Dessen’s new book, The Moon and More – a summer read if there ever was one.

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Getting Tumblr: A Beginner’s Guide

If you’ve read my About Me section, you may have noticed the link to my book tumblr. It originally started as an aid for my thesis project, but it’s grown into much more for me: a way of collecting resources, following book releases and trends, and making connections with people interested in similar topics. Since starting it, I’ve more or less abandoned my personal tumblr in order to devote more of my free-time to one of my favorite hobbies – reading about reading.

Despite what that first paragraph might’ve led you to believe, this post actually isn’t dedicated to shamelessly plugging my tumblr. I’m mostly going to focus on my advice for using Tumblr effectively. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert, but I’ve been using Tumblr for a year and a half now. Hopefully sharing from my personal experience might help get people who’ve been meaning to start tumblrs (but aren’t really sure how) started.

1)      Microblogging: Tumblr is a different kind of blog than WordPress or Blogger. It’s often referred to instead as “microblogging.” Tumblr makes it easy to share and comment on other people’s ideas. This creates more of a dialogue than the typical one-directional blog post you’d find on WordPress. Tumblr blogs, also known as “tumblogs,” are a lot more like the comments section from a traditional blog post– more back-and-forth. Try to avoid writing too many long posts. Post those to a separate site and link to them, or hide them behind a “Read More” cut.

2)      The Dashboard: The dashboard, often called just “the dash,” is one of Tumblr’s main features. It functions a lot like a Facebook newsfeed, and allows you to endlessly scroll through posts – text, pictures, links, and so on – from the tumblrs you follow. This is another reason why you should keep your tumblr posts relatively short.  Imagine if every status update on Facebook was a page long; it would really clog the newsfeed. Ideally, the dashboard allows a user to sort through a lot of material quickly, pausing to click links of interest if they want more in-depth information.

This is a dashboard. On it, you can see all your followers' posts. Notice the search box in the upper right-hand corner. The reblog button appears as the third icon on the upper right of each post as two arrows in a loop (right next to the heart icon.)

This is a dashboard. On it, you can see all your followers’ posts. Notice the search box in the upper right-hand corner. The reblog button appears as the third icon on the upper right (right next to the heart icon.)

3)      Choosing Followers: In order to have an interesting dashboard, it’s important to only follow users who post material of interest to you. Before following any tumblogs, browse its first few pages of posts. Even if their most recent post fascinated you, it’s a good idea to check and make sure that most of their posts are on topics you care about. If you’re creating a blog on a certain topic, only follow blogs that are dedicated to similar ones. This cuts down the time you have to spend sorting through posts for material your followers would be interested in.

Searching the blogs and tags is probably the best way to get started finding blogs to follow. The search box appears in the upper right corner of your dashboard. Type a topic, and you can look through the results for tumblogs with the same interests. Once you’ve found some good tumblogs that way, start looking at where those tumblogs reblog material from. Once you start posting and reblogging, you’ll probably start gaining some followers; sometimes those followers run similar blogs and are worth following back.

4)      Creating Posts: As mentioned earlier, Tumblr offers users a chance to create several different kinds of posts, such as text, links, pictures, and quotes. My first piece of advice is to always try to include a source for information, images, video, etc. that aren’t yours. This is especially important if you’re planning on using your tumblr as a professional or semi-professional resource. It helps establish your tumblog as a more trustworthy source. I think it’s also important to give credit where credit is due.

Secondly, tag your posts. Remember back in step four when I suggested looking through tags for people to follow? Other users also use tags as a means of finding interesting posts and tumbloggers. I usually add five or six tags to each of my posts. For instance, for a post about a book I’d just read, I’d probably tag it with the author’s name and the genre, as well as “reading,” “books,” and “book reviews.” This would help my post be found by people who might be looking for book blogs like mine. I know tagging has been a major way I’ve gained followers. As a devout Melina Marchetta fan, for example, many people have found my tumblog through posts I’ve made in the Melina Marchetta tag.

This shows what happens when you click the "reblog" icon. It allows you to add or remove text at the bottom of the post and add your own tags. If you want to reblog a post without changing or adding anything, you can just hold down Alt when you press the reblog button in order to reblog more quickly.

This shows what happens when you click the “reblog” icon. It allows you to add or remove text at the bottom of the post and add your own tags. If you want to reblog a post without changing or adding anything, you can just hold down Alt when you press the reblog button in order to reblog more quickly.

5)      Reblogging: By now you’ve probably heard me use the phrase “reblogging” a few times. Reblogging is basically the equivalent of sharing someone else’s post on Facebook. All the posts you see on your dashboard, you can easily “reblog” to your own page and spread them to your followers’ dashboards. Aside from just sharing as is, you can also add your own thoughts to the post. This feature makes Tumblr a great channel for discussion between bloggers, allowing that back-and-forth discourse I mentioned earlier. Just make sure that you are not only reblogging others’ posts, but creating your own as well. It is by bringing in outside resources and adding your own perspective that you distinguish your blog from similar ones.

Hopefully this post helped those trying to “get” what Tumblr’s all about. It might not be directly book-related, but it’s a tool I often use to stay involved and up-to-date with the YA lit community. I thought perhaps this tutorial might be useful to readers who haven’t yet joined the lovely Tumblr bandwagon. If there’s interest, in the future I might write a post highlighting some of my favorite book and library tumblr blogs. If you want to elaborate on or disagree with my suggestions for new Tumblr users, feel free to do so in comments! The more perspectives, the merrier!

Here are a few resources with some of the how-to’s of Tumblr, such as using the “Read More” cut and customizing themes:

General Tips For Using Tumblr
6 Tips to Start Creating Content on Tumblr

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“A Corner of White,” by Jaclyn Moriarty

Last post I mentioned my intention to tackle Jaclyn Moriarty’s recently released (well, recently released in the U.S.) novel, A Corner of White. I actually finished it up the day after writing that. While I wish I could make my books last, I usually gulp them down in one or two sittings. I’d categorize myself as member of species Biblio devourus rather than Biblio savorus. Can you tell I just finished a term paper on evolution and biological classification?

Australian cover for A Corner of White

Back to A Corner of White. The story utilizes two braided strands. One takes place in modern day Cambridge, England. It mainly follows Madeleine Tully, a fourteen-year-old girl who has trouble adjusting to life after she and her mother run away from their luxurious life with Madeleine’s father. Madeleine’s mother took only a sewing machine with her when she left, leaving her struggling to make ends meet through mending clothes. As the novel is narrated in omniscient third-person, this strand of the narrative also includes some scenes between the two other students with whom Madeleine is homeschooled, Jack and Belle. Through Jack’s perspective, Madeleine is initially characterized as mysterious and ethereal, causing readers to wonder if she might be connected to the magical world of the other narrative.

This magical world of the second narrative strand is called “the Kingdom of Cello.” It does have many similarities to our world – televisions and trains and high school physics. However, it also has some notable differences. While Cello does have much of the same technology, they still rely heavily on fax machines. The organized sport of choice, deftball, revolves around some sort of supercharged, skyrocketing root vegetable. The biggest difference, however, is the Colors in their world. Rather than simply a visual phenomenon, they’re natural disasters:  Violent Purples, fatal Yellows, waves of Red that send everything haywire. The protagonist of this strand of the novel is fifteen-year-old Elliot Baranski. He’s nearly single-minded in his determination to rescue his father, Abel. Elliot believes his dad has been abducted by Purples (although most of the town believes  Mischa, the fetching high school science teacher who disappeared simultaneously, to be a far more likely cause of Abel’s disappearance).

U.S. Cover for A Corner of White

It wasn’t until probably a third of the way through this 400-page novel that I felt myself becoming fully engaged. I always have trouble switching between narrative strands. As soon as I found myself beginning to understand Madeleine, I was yanked back to Elliot, and vice versa. The story really took off for me once Madeleine and Elliot started communicating – writing letters to each other via a Crack between Cello and the World. In Madeleine’s world, the Crack is located in a parking meter. This leads her to believe that her penpal is some fantasy-enthusiast who takes role-playing a little too seriously. Through Elliot’s letters to Madeleine, Moriarty is able to explain some of the idiosyncrasies of Cello to readers. I also greatly enjoyed Madeleine’s letters to Elliot. In them, she critiques Elliot’s description of his life and kingdom as though it’s entirely made-up, the humor being that of course it is completely made up, but to the readers, not the characters. Through events in both worlds, Madeleine and Elliot come to rely upon each other.

I would give this book a solid four stars. I thought it did a great job setting up the worlds, plot, and characters for the next book in the trilogy. I also thought it did a great job showing character growth. Both Madeleine and Elliot start the novel as somewhat unsympathetic characters, but gradually become more aware of themselves and others. Although A Corner of White got off to a slow start due to two very disparate narrative strands, it eventually picked up the pace and became a compelling read in a world I can’t wait to revisit.

Which book cover do you like best, the U.S. or the Australian? Let me know in comments!

Jaclyn Moriarty’s Website
A Corner of White on GoodReads

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Sunsets and Sidewalk Chalk

I had my blog post for today all planned out. I discovered earlier this week that one of my favorite authors had a new book released in the U.S. a few weeks ago. Jaclyn Moriarty – another Australian YA author – started a new trilogy with the book A Corner of White. It’s a braided novel which switches between two worlds – Cambridge, England and the Kingdom of Cello – and promises to deliver Moriarty’s signature whimsical style. I bought it for my Kindle last night, and planned to finish it up today and write up a review.

But this afternoon, a shocking thing happened: I didn’t feel like reading. It’s one thing for me to not feel like reading when I have no good books up my sleeve. It’s another thing entirely when I have a thus-far enjoyable book by an author I know to be excellent. I blame the weather. It was gorgeous out today, warm and breezy. I saw people playing Frisbee and catch, heard them playing volleyball (the volleyball crowd was very loud) and I just couldn’t do it. Also, although I intend to keep this blog running, this is my last required post for my creative non-fiction class. I wanted to do something different from a usual review.

So I broke out the sidewalk chalk I got in my Easter basket this year. I took it outside with my camera. I doodled and wrote, looked at the lake, and mostly thought. I thought about how on Earth I was supposed to connect sidewalk chalk to reading. I mainly was reminded of something writer/dancer/papercutting artist Kimi Eisele said when she came to one of my classes as a guest lecturer last semester. She talked about the importance of having some kind of second genre or medium for “play.”

At the time, I mostly thought of it in regard to myself as a writer. Writing, for all that it’s a wonderful form of creative expression, can be and often is hard work. It seems like maybe I should start thinking of that in terms of reading, too. Reading is an activity that’s always come easily to me, and that I’ve always loved. But since starting this blog and taking several creative writing workshop classes, it’s sometimes hard to read with my writer mind off. I pay more attention to the choice of verb tense and the consistency of characters’ voices. Not to say I don’t still get completely immersed in what I’m reading, but there’s always questions the back of my mind – “What would I write about this?” or “Does that point-of-view shift contribute anything to the story?”

So I guess at the end of the day, writing and reading, as much as I love them, can also be pretty taxing. So I decided to expand my creative horizons a little, step out of my comfort zone. Despite my compulsive doodling habits, I’m no artist. But I do enjoy drawing things from time to time, and there’s something so alluring about sidewalk chalk. Maybe it’s that instead of writing at a computer or doodling in a notebook, whatever you do is immediately out there in the world, instantly available for others’ scrutiny. While I was drawing out there today, I was half-embarrassed, almost ashamed to be caught in the act of creating in public, especially something that wasn’t “good.”

I kept at it though, until my hands (and camera bag) were covered in chalk and the little pieces of gravel seemed permanently embedded in my knees. I came out with a few new poem ideas, remembered a few books I’d forgotten about, and got a chance to see one more Oswego sunset. I raced over to the banks of the lake to snap a few shots of the sun, as it slid right out of the sky. Once it starts going down, it goes down fast. I enjoyed my afternoon of play and some of the ideas it gave me for new writing and reading projects.

One of the books I thought about while I out there I’ve browsed but haven’t gotten a chance to “use” yet. It’s called Turkish Delight & Treasure Hunts, and includes provides and activities from classic childhood books. It includes recipes for “Tempting Turkish Delight” and “Brucie Bogtrotter’s Heroic Chocolate Cake” and directions for making a “liberally garlanded hat,” as Anne Shirley does in Anne of Green Gables. It’s half practical, half humorous. It’s a good reminder that aside from being fun companions while you read them, books are also a fun place to look for inspiration for something to do when you don’t feel like curling up with them.

A Corner of White
Turkish Delight & Treasure Hunts

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Summer Reading

I’m not entirely sure it’s spring yet here in Oswego. Although we’ve had our share of nice days in the past week or two, in mid-April there’s still the possibility of some more snow sneaking in. Yet with graduation only four weeks away, I can’t help jumping ahead to my favorite season: Summer. Although I appreciate autumn for its vibrant oranges and reds and spring for its balmy breezes, they can’t compare to summer’s constant atmosphere of celebration. And whether I’m going on an impromptu trip to Bennett Beach or going to see a free performance of Shakespeare in the Park, I like to have a book along.

A picture from last year's performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Delaware Park.

A picture from last year’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Delaware Park. This year they’re doing Hamlet and Measure for Measure.

Finding good summer reading material isn’t a simple task. For me, a beach book needs to be easy to read – hold the dense sentences and experimental structure, please. And I don’t mind if it tackles darker topics as long as it has a mostly happy ending. One young adult author really fits the bill for my summer reading choices – Sarah Dessen. Although Dessen, who’s now published ten young adult novels, has written some books that deal with topics like abusive relationships and sexual assault, most of her novels are a little bit lighter, but still substantive fare. I’ll highlight a few of my favorite books of hers that I think also make great summer reading.

Keeping the Moon: Fifteen-year-old Colie visits beach-town Colby to stay with her Aunt Mira for the summer while her mom, fitness guru Kiki Sparks, tours Europe. Colie expects the worst from her summer with her strange, artsy Aunt Mira. Instead, she finds herself waitressing at the Last Chance Bar & Grill and making friends with her slightly older coworkers; sharp-tongued Isabel, friendly Morgan, and easy-going, artistic Norman. Colie slowly stops judging her Aunt Mira, and appreciates her for who she is – not the town weirdo, but a woman completely sure of who she is. Through her time there, Colie starts to stop expecting the worst from Colby, and the rest of the world, and take both herself and others as they are.

The Truth About Forever: After her father’s sudden death a year ago, Macy has focused on being the perfect daughter. She’s become a stellar student and started dating Jason, a highly-motivated student and considerate guy. She even helps out from time to time with events for her mom’s real estate business. Her summer is carefully planned out, full of SAT preparation and logging hours at the library help desk, filling in for Jason while he spends the summer at a camp for gifted students. But when Macy spontaneously accepts an offer to work at disorganized, chaotic Wish Catering and starts getting to know the crew there, she starts thinking about whether perfect is all it’s cracked up to be.

Along for the Ride: As the child of two intelligent, competitive professors, Auden has been an adult since about the age of five. While her older brother, Hollis, has always been able to get away with most anything, Auden’s met her parents’ expectations, academic and otherwise. Auden continues to excel in school, even though she finds herself unable to fall asleep during and after her parents’ rather nasty divorce. About to leave for college in September, Auden makes the impulsive decision to leave her mother’s and  spend her summer at her father’s new house in Colby – along with his new wife, Heidi, and newborn baby, Thisbe. When Auden gets to know some of the locals, including fellow insomniac, Eli, she starts to wonder if it’s ever really too late to learn to be a kid.

These books are set over the course of the summer, and, yes, there is usually a love interest. But I think it would be a mistake to write off Dessen’s work, even her more beach-appropriate books, as romantic fluff. While romantic relationships are a staple of Dessen’s books, most are just as focused on the characters’ other relationships – with their parents, siblings, friends, and themselves. Aside from enjoying summer’s festive mood, I also usually find summer to be a time of individual growth and healing. In the “Note from the Author” section on her website’s page for Keeping the Moon, Dessen writes, “If you read my novels, you’ll see that I love a book set in the summer: it’s such a good, concise time period, and there’s endless potential for what can happen.” In the summer, anything seems possible. Her books capture the potential for a person to change course completely, fix relationships, form friendships. A lot can change in a summer.

Sarah Dessen also has a new novel coming out on June 4th. This one’s called The Moon and More, and also looks like a Summer Book. Check out this article for a description and the first chapter!

Sarah Dessen’s Website
Sarah Dessen’s Tumblr
GoodReads Pages for Keeping the Moon, The Truth About Forever, and Along for the Ride.

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YA Questionnaire

Some of you may know I am currently working on a thesis about how the Internet affects the YA reading experience. As much of my opinion has been informed by my own experiences as a young adult reader, I am genuinely interested in others’ experiences as YA readers in the Internet Age. In order to learn more about other YA readers, I’ve created a questionnaire with related questions. I would really appreciate it if anyone could either fill out the survey and e-mail it to me at heretherebedragons00@gmail.com or share the questionnaire with others who might be interested. I will be taking responses until April 30th. I posted it on my blog as it seemed too long for tumblr and most of the survey sites have ten-question limits.

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This questionnaire is specifically seeking to understand the activities of Young Adult (YA) literature. Please only take this survey if you read YA literature, and answer all questions as they relate to YA literature.

Age?

Gender (optional)?

How did you learn about this survey?

How and where were you introduced to YA literature?

How old were you when you started reading YA literature?

What are your favorite features of YA literature?

What are your least favorite features of YA literature?

Rank these subgenres in order of preference. Write “0” for a subgenre you rarely read. (Realistic fiction, fantasy, science-fiction, dystopian, paranormal, non-fiction, other)

Who is your favorite YA author and why?

Have you ever interacted with a YA author in any way, either in person or through the Internet? Please describe any and all such experiences.

How do you usually stay informed about YA authors’ activities and/or writing?

What is your favorite work of YA literature why?

What do you do after you finish a work of YA literature?

Are you involved in any YA literature-centric communities or discussions online (i.e. GoodReads, tumblr, etc.) If so, describe your involvement and experience in these communities.

Are you involved in any YA literature-centric communities or discussions outside of the Internet? If so, describe your involvement and experience in these communities.

Do you read, write, and/or review fanfiction based on YA literature? If so, describe your experience with fanfiction. If so, what kind of fanfiction do you usually read or write (Canon, Alternate Universe, Alternate POV, etc.)?

How do you learn about new young adult literature?

Where do you gain most of your YA literature recommendations?

Please share any additional comments about why and how you engage with YA literature.

I am considering creating a website where I can share some of the responses I have received. Please let me know if you do not wish me to publicly share any or all of your answers outside of my thesis.

Again, please e-mail the completed questionnaire to me at heretherebedragons00@gmail.com .

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