Why I love Libraries and You should too

I love going to the library. You can find me wandering the shelves in one of the libraries in my area on almost a weekly basis. I browse the audio books, new fiction, non-fiction, and even the teen section.

Taking advantage of the free resources the library offers enables me to maintain my reading habit. The retail value of the audio book I just finished? $60.00! From my local library? Free. And that is priceless.

There is more to libraries than the books that line their shelves. In this information age, we can go to Google for facts. But what Google doesn’t have is a helpful librarian to offer suggestions or advice.

I cannot say it better than Neil Gaiman who spoke about libraries in his lecture on Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming:

“…But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.”

You can Click here for Neil Gaiman‘s lecture for the Reading Agency.

The full lecture is long but I agree wholeheartedly.

February is library lovers month! Here are ways you can get involved with your local library:

photo (1)Get a library card
Small enough to fit in your pocket, big enough to change your life! Getting a library card is the first step to enjoying your local library. As you can see, mine is well worn.

Participate
Check out what’s happening at your library.  From writing workshops and book sales to Downton Abbey tea clubs, you might be surprised at the options.

Bring the Kids
Libraries are for families! Encourage a love of learning in your kids by letting them wander the shelves and find books that speak to them. Let them imagine and create.

Donate
Whether you donate your time or your money, you are supporting a great cause. You can help organize a book sale or host a discussion group.

“We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.” – Neil Gaiman

This infographic says it all:

Support your local library
Are you a library lover? When was the last time you visited the library? Do you take advantage of all that libraries have to offer?

Confessions of a Book Polygamist

Book Polygamy: “Reading several books at one time without being able to commit to just one of them.” – NYC writer Michael B.

I discovered this phrase in an article by Rita Meade (@ScrewyDecimal) on Book Riot: Made up words for literary experiences

I used to believe that reading multiple books at once was some sort of literary sin. It felt wrong to read more than one book at a time. I refused to pick up a new book before I had finished the one I was currently reading, believing that it was a form of book adultery, that I would be “cheating.”

That all changed when I realized that as a self-proclaimed book worm, I needed to make more time for reading in my life. Enter, the audio book.

I began my foray into book polygamy when I discovered the joy of listening to audio books and realized it added nearly an hour of reading time to each day. But I only read audio books while I’m in the car, which left me craving a book to read before bed or while curled up on the couch in the evening. And so, I began listening to an audio book on my commute and reading another book, at the same time.

As it turned out, reading two books at once wasn’t so bad after all.

I started juggling three books at a time when I was reading a book that was too big to fit in my purse. I began leaving it behind because it was too heavy to drag back and forth to work everyday. Instead of reading on my lunch break, I passed the time playing games on my phone.

What kind of “avid reader” would I be without a book to take with me everywhere I went? Moments spent waiting at the doctor’s office which could have been spent reading, I wasted by checking Facebook.

I needed a book that was portable, one that I could easily fit in my purse for lunchtime reading. The solution: my Kindle. It is lightweight, and perfect for taking advantage of those found reading moments.

Now, I am never without a book in my purse, another on my nightstand and an audio book loaded up in my car’s CD changer.

I am almost constantly reading two to three books at once. When I’m not, I seem to fall behind on my reading. I don’t know how I would meet my reading goals without reading several books at the same time.  I’m not sure why I resisted the temptation for so many years.

So there you have it. I am a book polygamist and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

What is your take on reading multiple books at the same time, is it a literary sin? Are you a monogamous reader or  a book adulterer like me?

 

If you liked this post, you might also like: Re-reading books, do you do it?  Subscribe to my blog for more posts like this!

What does “Write What you Know” Really Mean?

We’ve all heard the writing advice: write what you know.

If taken literally, this bit of wisdom can be perplexing. If we only write what we know, how can we pursue new places and things in our stories? If I only wrote what I knew, all my stories would be about a middle class white girl in the suburbs.

So what does this advice really mean?

A few months back I came across a blog that shared this video, and it has really stuck with me. Take a look:

Gervais says, “Being honest is what counts. Trying to make the ordinary extraordinary is so much better than starting with the extraordinary because it doesn’t really connect…”

I think what Gervais is touching on here is that it’s the intimacy with what we know that comes across on the page. We must start with the details: the smell of tea and lavender. These are the (perhaps seemingly mundane) details that breathe life into the world of our story. The sensory details, the specifics we pull from our everyday lives are the things that make our stories feel real, they are what our readers connect with.

Natalie Goldberg writes, “…using the details you actually know and have seen will give your writing believably and truthfulness. It creates a good solid foundation from which you can build.”

Our experiences are the basis for our stories, they are what we bring to the table as writers.

Anne Lamott said, “…good writing is about telling the truth.” She also said, “When you tell the truth it turns out to be universal.”

We might believe that unless we have overcome some great hardship, endured a tragedy or experienced a wild adventure, our lives are uninteresting. But hidden in those seemingly mundane experiences of our everyday lives are the secrets we thought we’d never tell anyone, our fears we believed would make us freaks or outcasts – these are the universal truths we uncover in our writing.

For example, I’m currently reading Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, and there was a magical moment where I learned I was not the only socially anxious English major to have had a fear of college dining halls:

“In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you, (And the ones you can’t Google.) Like, where does the line start? What food can you take? Where are you supposed to stand, then where are you supposed to sit? Where do you go when you’re done, why is everyone watching you? …”

From chapter 2, Fangirl Copyright 2013 by Rainbow Rowell

And all the time I’m reading this, I am thinking, Yes! I thought I was the only one! I thought I was the only socially awkward person with these irrational fears but here is this author, writing about it as if she pulled the thoughts from my mind.

Perhaps Rainbow Rowell had these fears too or knew someone who was brave enough to share those fears with her. Those are our truths that turn out to be universal.

This is the intimacy, the truthfulness, I am always trying to achieve in my writing. Moments like this are why I write (and why I love to read.)

What is your take on this advice? What does “write what you know” mean to you?

This Week: What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing

Inspired by the New Hampshire Writer’s Network Live to Write – Write to Live blog, I’ve decided to start my own regular posts about what I’m currently reading in books, audiobooks and blogs, and what I’m working on in my writing. I hope to make this a regular (weekly or biweekly) feature on the blog.

I hope you’ll share what interesting things you’re reading and writing in the comments, and please feel free to link back to your own blog!

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It’s been a while since I’ve written a wrap-up post. But I’ve finished my first book(s) of the new year and I’m working on a writing project –  I’m ready to share and I hope you will too!

What I’m Reading

The Cuckoo's CallingI started the year with a pick that is a bit out of the ordinary for me as I don’t read many mystery/crime novels.  My first read for 2014 was The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – the pseudonym for J.K. Rowling.  I selected it because I heard it was a “brilliant debut mystery in a classic vein.”

The author isn’t reinventing the crime-novel here. The Cuckoo’s Calling has many of the signature crime-novel elements: a down-on-his-luck private investigator, smarter than the cops who investigate a death they rule a suicide but that some are convinced was murder.

There is no trace of Harry Potter here, but Rowling writes a decent crime novel. I enjoyed
Rowling’s descriptive writing sets and the characters are likable.

Though it didn’t rock my literary world, I found it to be an entertaining read. Has anyone else read this one yet? What did you think?

Shanghai Girls

I also recently finished Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. The book’s description piqued my interest:  two sisters living in Shanghai who move to Los Angeles in the 1930’s to find new lives.

As Japanese bombs fall on May and Pearl’s beloved city of Shanghai and their lives begin to crumble, their journey to America is not at all what they imagined it would be. Their stories are heartbreaking as misfortune finds them at every turn; their naivete is frustrating as they refuse again and again to see the gravity of their situation.

Told over two decades, I felt the story lost its intimacy as the novel seemed to go on and on. I kept thinking, how many more bad things can happen to these girls? The story of May and Pearl’s journey to Los Angeles was powerful, but the novel continued on, telling of the hardships they face in America, the discrimination they endure, and their struggles to become Americanized while trying to honor their Chinese traditions.

After finishing Shanghai Girls, I learned there is a second book, Dreams of Joy. After browsing some reviews, I learned that some readers enjoyed Shanghai Girls more once they had read Dreams of Joy and felt the books are best when read together. Has anyone read one or both? I’d love to hear your experience. I plan to read Dreams of Joy in the future. Perhaps reading the follow-up with change my opinion.

What I’m Writing

Earlier this week I wrote about stories that I keep coming back to but always leave in some state of in-completion. My writing goal for 2014 is to (finally) finish a short story and submit it to some literary journals with the hope of publication. One such story is one I wrote this past summer that I think has potential. I’ve already written several drafts but have been feeling that it isn’t quite ready to submit.

I’ve been making revisions to this story over the past few weeks. I rewrote the opening scene and deleted a few paragraphs. I am focused on the details now, adding a sentence here, a description there.

Next month I will be sending it off to my writer friend to be read and critiqued! I will be sharing updates on the story’s progress.

My Favorite Quote of the Week:

you cant edit a blank page

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

For Readers:

Here are some Crafty DIY Bookmark Ideas 

10 Amazing Novels That Are Super Long, But Totally Worth It
This list makes me want to pull my copy of Anna Karenina off the shelf. Well, we’ll see…

For Writers:

Five Ways Writers can Recycle Their Discarded Material
This post from blogger and fantasy writer Victoria Grefer is what got me thinking about the practice of writing and how everything we write is useful.

Days Without Writing
A great read for any writer with a day job.

Read any good books lately? Share your reading and writing adventures in the comments, and feel free to link back to your own blog!

The Practice of Writing

While having coffee with a friend last week, talking about our writing and what we’re working on, I realized I have several stories I wrote five, six or even seven years ago that I keep coming back to. I visit them from time to time, their characters still rattling around in my mind like old friends I haven’t seen in a while. I wondered, is it sad that after so much time I am still hung up on stories I wrote so long ago? Is it time to let them go, to move on?

I see every piece I write, regardless of whether or not it ever sees the light of day, as practice. Whether it is a short story I wrote in a workshop or a few pages written in a burst of inspiration, they are all part of the practice of writing. With each revision I am stretching my writing muscles, developing my plot a little deeper, breathing more life into my characters.

I can look back on the various drafts of these stories and see their progression and my growth as a writer. Though I originally wrote these stories several years ago, over that time, they have evolved. They have gone from first drafts written hastily in order to meet a deadline, to second drafts and third drafts, each one better than the last.

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg talks about what she calls, composting:

Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories.”

Soil

Every story has value, it is all practice. It is compost for us to work with, none of it is wasted.

I save just about everything I write, including those little passages and pages written in a moment of insight that didn’t amount to much. Those are always fun to come back to; they are characters, scenes and moments in time that stay with me that may eventually turn into something more.

Those deleted scenes, discarded characters and unused settings are all part of that compost too.

My error is not that I have held on to these stories for too long;  it is that I have neglected to bring any one of them to a stage of being polished and print ready. Rather than doing the hard work and editing necessary to finish them, each time I’ve returned to them I’ve  left them in some state of in-completion.

If a piece no longer has movement, if there is nothing left I can do with a story to move it forward then perhaps, yes, it becomes time to “move on.” Until then,  I will still think of them every now and again when I hear a particular turn of phrase or a certain song on the radio, and I’ll continue to work the soil.

Do you still return to poems or stories you wrote years ago? What keeps you coming back to them and how do you know when it is time to move on?

My Year in Books: 2013

My reading list in 2013 saw my usual range of contemporary novels mixed in with a few classics, a couple of memoirs, with a dabble in “chick lit.” I read more Young Adult fiction than I have ever before and they were some of the best books I read this past year (more on that later.)

I also made an effort to read more non-fiction, with books like Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly both of which I loved.

Here are some of my favorite books I read in 2013 (in no particular order)

Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell
So much more than a teenage love story, this book will take you back to  high school, to the horrors of surviving the bus and gym class, to your first love. I listened to audio book version which just made the reading experience even better.

The Fault in our Stars – John Green
Another great YA novel, The Fault in our Stars is heartbreaking in the best way. Green’s writing is exquisite, and though his young characters seemed wise beyond their years, I loved their chemistry and their dialogue.

The House Girl – Tara Conklin
Part historical fiction, part legal drama this is a book that was on my to-read list for a while before I was able to pick it up. I loved Conklin’s description, the detail with which she wrote about both a slave in 1850’s Virginia and a first-year associate at a law firm in 2004.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home – Carol Rifka Brunt
A beautifully written debut novel about love, about loss and grief. I loved that the characters were flawed and real. It is moving and emotional – a great read.

Here is a look at all the books I read in 2013:

2014 Book part 1 (1280x561)

2013 Books part 2

 

What were your favorite reads in 2013?

New Year’s Reading Resolution: 44 Books in 2014

In 2013, I challenged myself to read 40 books. I knew I wanted to read more this past year when I realized I had only read about a dozen books in 2012, and as it turns out, 2011 wasn’t much better.

After a few years of not reading as much as I’d like, I’m happy to say I reached my goal of 40 books!

My Books StatsI was on track with my goal throughout the year, but as 2013 was winding down, I was dangerously close to being one book short! Here’s what made reaching my goal difficult and what I plan to do differently this year:

  1.  I didn’t set my goal until several months into the year. I knew I wanted to read more, but it wasn’t until I discovered the Goodreads Reading Challenge that I decided to set a specific reading goal.
    I’m hoping that by starting the year off with a number in mind, reaching that number will be easier.
  2. I didn’t take into consideration how little I would be able to read during the entire month of November for National Novel Writing Month. It was tough to stay on track when I was spending every spare minute writing!
    This is where audiobooks are a great solution. Even when I don’t have time to read at home or on my lunch break, I can listen to an audiobook for an hour a day on my commute so that I don’t fall too far behind.
  3. Reading longer books may have set me back. I read all 800 plus pages of King’s 11/22/63 when I could have read two or three books in that same time frame.
    A reading challenge shouldn’t deter readers from choosing longer books – that defeats the purpose! I just have to get creative with the timing of the books I read.

Why set a reading goal? I like that having a goal makes me look at my reading habits and think about how much time I spend reading. It’s not so much about the quantity of books I can read in a year but about focusing on reading as much as I can because I enjoy it.

I’ve been thinking about what my goal should be for 2014. I’d like to challenge myself to read even more this upcoming year, but I want to make the goal a reasonable one.

I think I’ve settled on 44 books in 2014.

How did I arrive at that number? It’s a mixture of art and science, really. Mostly because 44 in 2014 has a nice ring to it, but also because it’s a slightly higher goal that still seems attainable.

If you’re thinking about taking on a reading challenge in 2014, check out my tips for Reaching your Reading Goals.

Will you be setting a reading goal for 2014? Let’s hear it!

5 Gift Ideas for Writers You can Still Get in Time for Christmas

There are only a few more shopping days until Christmas! If you still need a gift for the literary lover in your life, here are five things a writer would love to receive.

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    1. A subscription to Writer’s Digest or Poets and Writers Magazine
      I love keeping up with writer’s magazines and these are two of my favorites, but I sometimes let the subscription lapse. Make sure the writer in your life is getting monthly inspiration in their mailbox with a gift subscription.
    2. A bathrobe and slippers
      Writers have the luxury of being able to work in their pajamas. Keep your writer cozy with a new “work uniform” so if he chooses to work without pants, he’ll have something nice to cover himself up.Image
    3. A mug stuffed with coffee or tea
      It is a well-known fact that writers fuel up on caffeine. Find a fun mug and fill it with your writer’s drink of choice to keep her going.
    4. Yoga Classes
      Sitting at a laptop for long periods of time isn’t healthy and can cause all sorts of back issues. Yoga can help relieve your writer friend’s aching back, help her to stretch and clear her mind with a gift certificate for some yoga classes
    5. A blank journal and a pen
      I don’t know a writer who doesn’t love a brand new notebook or a nice pen. A blank journal gives a writer a fresh start and a world of possibilities.

Writers, what’s on your wish list this year?

Writing Goals

November may be over, but I’m still writing with new word count goals.

In NaNoWriMo’s past, I have been so burned out after a month-long writing marathon, I needed a break from writing. And while a break is well-deserved, the longer the break is, the harder it is to get back into the habit of writing every day.

I loved this from Holly McGhee’s NaNp Pep Talk:

Sometimes if you haven’t touched your laptop in a while, you begin to fear it. You’re afraid to start typing and you’re afraid not to start typing. Writing becomes a stranger—and without realizing it, you’ve closed the door on your closest friend, your imagination.

NaNo ChartThis year, I decided not to take a break after NaNoWriMo. I’m going to maintain my habit of writing everyday.

In tracking my writing sessions throughout November, I noticed that I write well in short bursts, writing several hundred words in twenty or thirty minutes. Some days, it would take three separate writing sessions throughout the day for me to reach the daily goal of 1,667. And when I fell behind, I had to write even more to try to catch up.

1,667 words a day is a decent goal, but one I have trouble maintaining regularly. I’ve decided to shoot for 500 words a day, six days a week. If I write more than 500 in a day, even better and allowing myself one day off a week gives me a little flexibility.

Word count isn’t the only way to set a writing goal. You can set milestones in your story to write certain scenes or get to a particular point in the story arch.

Are you setting any post-NaNo writing goals? Let’s hear ’em!

The NaNoWriMo Experience

I did it. I wrote 50,298 words in November for National Novel Writing Month.

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I honestly didn’t think I would make it this year. I’ve only won NaNo once before and after a fairly lousy Week Two and a Week Three that wasn’t much better, the odds seemed stacked against me. As the month wore on, I slowly gave up all my good writing habits: I started sleeping in instead of getting up early to write before work, I worked through lunch instead of writing on my lunch break. By the time I finally sat down to write for the first time each day at six o’clock p.m., I was mostly too exhausted to produce much more than a few hundred words.

Once the final week rolled around, I wasn’t feeling very motivated and I was behind on my word count, but I figured I had come to far to quit.

So I kept writing. Every word, every sentence was agonizing at times but I kept going. As the end of November neared with a long holiday weekend ahead, I still had hope to come from behind to win. I didn’t give in to my exhaustion and self-doubt. Those last thousand words were slow to come together, but they did.

I think the NaNoWriMo experience was pretty well summed up in these words from author, Ralph Peters in his NaNoWriMo Pep Talk:

“Writing is wretched, discouraging, physically unhealthy, infinitely frustrating work. And when it all comes together it’s utterly glorious.”

I spent a large part of NaNoWriMo feeling frustrated, and discouraged. But I learned that I can sit down at the laptop and write every day even when I’m too tired or not feeling inspired. And because I kept going, I was able to write more than 50,000 words in a month and win NaNoWriMo, even when I didn’t think I could.

So to all those who won NaNo and to all those who participated, congratulations. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

What did you learn this November?