Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Weekly Poll 2/24/10: Reader Type

During the last week, I had a poll question posted:

What type of reader are you?

  1. Literary
  2. "Pop culture"
  3. Nonfiction

Last Wednesday, I defined these reader types in a short post; here they are again:

  • Literary readers prefer what could be labeled as classics or what is meant to be broken apart and discussed with questions like "What does this mean?" (e.g., Jane Austen, Jack Kerouac, Nathanial Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway)
  • "Pop culture" readers prefer the books that make the New York Times Bestsellers List or the books most talked about in the moment (e.g., John Grisham, Stephen King, Marian Keyes, Stephenie Meyer, J.K. Rowling)
  • Nonfiction readers prefer just that--nonfiction (e.g., biographies, autobiographies, historical works, essays)
All the voters who responded labeled themselves as the second group: "pop culture" readers.  I firmly put myself into that category as well (in case you couldn't tell by the types of books/authors I blog about).

One reason I was inspired to ask is that question is that I work in an English Department, where I am surrounded by literary readers.  Every day, I am bombarded (okay, maybe I'm exaggerating by using that word) by literary references that, quite frankly, I just don't get.  It's interesting that for some people, to be a serious reader, you need to be a "literary" reader.  I was speaking with one colleague, who, after finding out that I love to read, started talking about authors whose books I'd never read before.  When I admitted that I had never read authors like Kerouac and Faulkner (though I am familiar with their works, I've never actually read them), I got a strange look that could only translate into words as, "Whaaaa?!"

I used to be embarrassed with my reading repertoire and so tried to supplement my reading lists with classic works . . . but found that they bored me--or just didn't interest me.  In fact, the only "literary" works I enjoyed reading and studying were Shakespeare's works.  It has taken me years, but I can finally say that I wholly embrace who I am as a reader.  I may never read my way through the books listed in The Book of Great Books, but I can happily say that I will enjoy every book I take the time to read.  So bring on the King and Grisham and Keyes!

Do any of you have a similar story?  Have any of you ever felt judged based on the types of books you enjoy reading?

Happy reading, whether you enjoy reading books from the "Best of All Times" list or from the "New York Times" list!

Monday, February 22, 2010

MadLib Monday 12: 2/22/10

Welcome once again to MadLib Monday, the day of playing with words and recognizing books from a MadLibbed passage and cropped photo.  What better way to start off your week could there be?  Here is the word list for this week's MadLib passage:

  1. place name
  2. adjective
  3. number
  4. verb - past tense
  5. verb - present participle (-ing)
  6. noun - singular
  7. adverb
  8. noun
  9. noun - plural
  10. noun
  11. verb
  12. noun
  13. noun
  14. year
  15. noun - singular
  16. noun
  17. adjective
  18. noun - singular
  19. verb - present participle
  20. adjective
  21. noun - singular
  22. adjective
  23. verb - past tense
  24. noun
  25. verb - present participle
  26. noun
  27. noun - plural
  28. adjective
  29. noun - plural
  30. adjective
  31. verb - past tense
  32. noun - singular
  33. noun - singular
  34. noun - singular
  35. adjective
  36. adjective
  37. noun - singular
As a reminder for getting ready for Wednesday's Weekly Poll post, the poll is open and waiting for you to vote in the left-hand sidebar.  This week's question asks you to identify what kind of reader you consider yourself to be--literary, "pop culture", or nonfiction.  I'd like to hit 5 votes this week, so please help me reach that goal by voting!

The image that goes along with the passage this week is here:

They used to be called the ___(1)___ girls.  That was a(n) ___(2)___ time ago—more than ___(3)___ decades—but just now, as she ___(4)___ in bed ___(5)___ a winter ___(6)___ raging ___(7)___, it seemed like yesterday.

In the past ___(8)___ (unquestionably the worst seven ___(9)___ of her life), she’d lost the ___(10)___ to ___(11)___ herself from the ___(12)___.  Too often lately in her ___(13)___ it was ___(14)___; she was a(n) ___(15)___ again, coming of age in the ___(16)___ of a(n) ___(17)___ ___(18)___, ___(19)___ her bike beside her ___(20)___ friend in a(n) ___(21)___ so complete it was like being ___(22)___ .… she ___(23)___ it in vivid ___(24)___: a(n) ___(25)___ ribbon of ___(26)___ bordered on either side by ___(27)___ of ___(28)___ water and ___(29)___ of ___(30)___ grass.  Before they ___(31)___, that ___(32)___ seemed to go nowhere at all; it was just a country ___(33)___ named after a(n) ___(34)___ no one had ever seen in this rugged ___(35)___ and ___(36)___ corner of the ___(37)___.

Can you guess which book the image and passage were taken from?

Answer to last week's MadLib Monday: Congrats to Angie, who correctly guessed that last week's book was Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes.  The full book cover looks like this:

There are at least two different book covers for this book--this is just the one I have sitting on my shelf.

Happy reading and MadLibbing!

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Fave Five: Spotlight on Authors

When it comes to my favorite authors, I am all about the girl power.  My favorite authors are all female: Daphne duMaurier, Carol Goodman, Sarah Addison Allen, Jennifer Donnelly, Marian Keyes.  Being a book lover has turned me into an author “groupie” of sorts: I regularly do searches on my favorite authors to see if they have anything new coming out or if they have an online presence I can be a part of.  When my friend request on Facebook was accepted by Sarah Addison Allen, I did a little dance. . .  Today I wanted to take a step back and shine a spotlight on my "Fave Five."

Screenshot from the Daphne duMaurier webpage, run by dedicated fans of her work

While Daphne duMaurier is in my Fave Five list (in fact, she tops my Fave Five list), my searches on her are not as frequent, as she is no longer with us to be writing new books or starting a new blog.  (Although, there is an annual duMaurier Festival I might need to start joining in on.)  I love her books because they are timeless, and I owe being able to include her in my list of favorite authors to my sister.  If my sister had not convinced me to read Rebecca, I never would have experienced duMaurier's ability to write mysterious and suspenseful storylines with beautifully marred characters.  Her books take me to a special place as a reader, and just holding a copy of Rebecca in my hands puts a smile on my face.

March is going to be an exciting month for me, with two new releases from the next ladies of my Fave Five: Carol Goodman’s Arcadia Falls and Sarah Addison Allen’s The Girl Who Chased the Moon.  (In fact, I just added a countdown widget to the right-hand sidebar for Allen's new book.)

Screenshot from Carol Goodman's website

Carol Goodman is an intriguing author for me because she weaves her interests (and education) in classical studies with modern-day plots.  When I read a Carol Goodman book, I find myself enjoying a story while learning something academic-y--that’s a combination I adore.  The first book I ever read of hers was Lake of Dead Languages, and as soon as I finished that book, I immediately called all my friends who enjoy reading and told them that they had to check it out.  I enjoyed that book so much, that when I stopped reading it in the late evening hours to sleep, I dreamt about the book.  I find myself wishing I could put me into her storylines, so her books stay with me long after I put them down.

Screenshot from Sarah Addison Allen's website

Sarah Addison Allen’s books are endearing to me because they weave together magical elements with reality so that you believe it’s possible to create potion-like results from cooking with flowers.  Her book Garden Spells was given to me as a gift, and it sat on my shelf for nearly a year before I picked it up.  I took it with me when I flew to Nashville to meet two of my friends for a girls' weekend, and on the way back, I finally cracked open the book.  I fell in love from the first chapter and was taken to a new world with her writing.  Yet again, as soon as I finished that book, I contacted all my reading friends and told them to immediately go out and get the book.  On her website, she states:

Garden Spells, my mainstream debut, didn’t start out as a magical novel. It was supposed to be a simple story about two sisters reconnecting after many years. But then the apple tree started throwing apples and the story took on a life of its own...and my life hasn’t been the same since.

How could you not love an author who says something like that?  Allen's online presence is another thing that compels me to include her in my Fave Five.  When you can friend a favorite author on Facebook, you feel a special connection forevermore.

Screenshot of Jennifer Donnelly's website

I enjoy reading interviews with Jennifer Donnelly because she is so down-to-earth.  She is open about her struggles to balance work and home life--as a mother and author, she’s got obligations galore that I can relate to--on her notes she writes to readers (on her website), and yet she’s a multi-genre author who excels in writing children’s books, young adult fiction, and historical fiction.  Her ability to twine together research about historical periods with fascinating storylines amazes me.  The first book I read by her was Northern Lights, which is one of her young adult books.  When I finished that book, I was so intrigued by her writing that I bought Tea Rose, which is the first book of a historical fiction trilogy.  Part of my love for her books could be attributed to my love of history, but the majority of my love for her books is solely attributed to Donnelly's strong writing.

Screenshot from Marian Keyes's website

I was introduced to Marian Keyes by my friend Kirsty about five years ago.  The first book I borrowed from Kirsty was Sushi for Beginners.  As soon as I finished it, I bought a copy for myself and then borrowed three more books by Keyes.  I am slowly collecting all her books (though I’ve read all but one through borrowing from friends), and I am ecstatic about her newest release, The Brightest Star in the Sky.  One aspect I appreciate about Marian Keyes’s books is that she has brutally honest characters.  They have flaws, and Keyes exploits those flaws perfectly so that I, as a reader, do not judge the characters but root for them to get over the hurdles they are facing.  I love her books so much that I am trying to convince my sister (a fellow Keyes fan) to go on a “Keyes tour” with me, which would include stops in the locations featured in her books (including Dublin and London).

Just looking at the screenshots from the authors' websites can give you an idea of the diversity represented by my Fave Five:  I like a variety of styles, and these ladies produce quality work that boosts my 'joie de lire.'  Who is in your Fave Five?

Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Weekly Poll 2/17/10: What Type of Reader Are You?

After saying last week that I was putting the weekly poll on hiatus for lack of voters, I came up with a question that I was curious about asking my readers:

What type of reader are you?

  • literary
  • "pop culture"
  • nonfiction
Here are the distinctions I mean by those terms:

  • Literary readers prefer what could be labeled as classics or what is meant to be broken apart and discussed with questions like "What does this mean?" (e.g., Jane Austen, Jack Kerouac, Nathanial Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway)
  • "Pop culture" readers prefer the books that make the New York Times Bestsellers List or the books most talked about in the moment (e.g., John Grisham, Stephen King, Marian Keyes, Stephenie Meyer, J.K. Rowling)
  • Nonfiction readers prefer just that--nonfiction (e.g., biographies, autobiographies, historical works, essays)
The poll will run from right now until next Wednesday, and next Wednesday I will post about the results and tell you what type of reader I am.  In telling you my own answer to this question, I will also tell you the motivation I had for asking the question in the first place.  I look forward to seeing your votes!

Happy reading and voting!

Monday, February 15, 2010

MadLib Monday 11: 2/15/10

Happy Monday to everyone!  It's early Monday morning, and I'm sitting in my comfy chair with my laptop and coffee, excited to be sharing yet another MadLib Monday with my readers.  I've mentioned this before, but making these MadLibs is pushing me to examine authors' language use--it's amazing what you notice when you're pulling out words and labeling them for their parts of speech and realizing that some weeks the only words you can pull out are nouns while other weeks you get a full variety of words to choose from.  Last week felt verb-heavy, this week noun-heavy.  I find it all fascinating.  I hope you enjoy the challenge of trying to recognize book passages that are missing words. . .  Speaking of which, here is the MadLib list of the parts of speech for this week's passage:

  1. noun - singular
  2. adjective
  3. noun - plural
  4. adjective
  5. adjective
  6. noun - singular
  7. noun - singular (same as #1)
  8. adjective
  9. noun - singular (same as #1)
  10. adjective - comparative form (-er)
  11. noun - plural (same noun as #1)
  12. verb
  13. noun - singular (same as #1)
  14. adjective
  15. noun - singular
  16. noun - singular
  17. noun - plural
  18. noun
  19. noun
  20. noun - plural
  21. noun
  22. noun - singular
  23. noun - singular
  24. noun
  25. noun
  26. noun (same as #21)
  27. noun
  28. noun - singular
  29. verb
  30. verb - present participle (-ing)
After you've seen the list, now you see why I said this week is noun-heavy.  This week's passage was a difficult one to work with because of the number of repeated words and focus on a theme.

As a side note, before I show you the picture and the passage, you might notice that the poll question of the week is not in the sidebar.  For the past few weeks (or possibly longer), I've had a pretty low count of voters.  I wasn't sure if that was because the poll questions were not intriguing enough or if the poll questions were too frequent or what the exact reasons were for the low vote count.  I decided to put the poll questions on hiatus for a while and debut them at less frequent intervals.  Let me know what you think in the comments: Do you like having the weekly poll?  Would you benefit more from a monthly poll?  Or do you think polls are overrated all together?

Getting back to our MadLib business at hand, here is the picture to accompany this week's passage:

They said I was a ___(1)___ addict.  I found that ___(2)___ to come to ___(3)___ with--I was a ___(4)___, ___(5)___ ___(6)___ whose ___(7)___ use was strictly ___(8)___.  And surely ___(9)___ addicts were ___(10)___?  It was true that I took ___(11)___, but what no one seemed to ___(12)___ was that my ___(13)___ use wasn’t any ___(14)___ from their having a ___(15)___ or two on a Friday night after ___(16)___.  They might have a few ___(17)___ and ___(18)___ and let off a bit of ___(19)___.  I had a couple ___(20)___ of ___(21)___ and did likewise.  As I said to my ___(22)___ and my sister and my sister’s ___(23)___ and eventually the ___(24)___ of the ___(25)___, “If ___(26)___ was sold in ___(27)___ form, in a ___(28)___, would you ___(29)___ about me ___(30)___ it?  Well, would you?  No, I bet you wouldn’t!”

Can you guess which book the picture and passage were taken from?

Answer to last week's MadLib Monday: Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.  If you have seen the movie but haven't read the book, I highly suggest you read the book--as it typically goes with movies and books, the book is much better than the movie.  This book is the start of a trilogy, which I haven't quite finished, but I did really enjoy Inkheart for its exploration of the love of books and its magical world where reading books aloud brings them to life.

Happy reading, and happy MadLibbing!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Childhood Challenge: SLEEPOVER FRIENDS

In January, I started a new challenge for myself: to read one book a month that I remember reading as a child and that had an impact on helping to build my current 'joie de lire'.  In the left-hand sidebar, I'm creating a list as I go for the year of the Childhood Challenge books I've chosen.  Each entry in the list is a link to that post.  Since I'm on a series kick for the week (see Wednesday's post), I chose a book from a series to focus on for this month: Sleepover Friends.

Sleepover Friends by Susan Saunders was my series as a kid.  I was the only one in my house--even in my circle of friends--who had books from that series sitting on my bookshelves.  Looking back, I’m not sure if I liked the series because it was that good or because it was the first series that was actually mine and not a series that belonged to my sister.

From My Memory
In thinking about the books, I remember that my favorite was Book #27, but I have no idea why or even what that book was about.  Maybe it was the first book I got in the series or maybe it really was my favorite of all the stories.  I’m not sure.  What I remember about the series as a whole is that there are four young girls (I don’t remember their exact ages) who are friends and formed their own “Sleepover” club of sorts.  They spent the night at each other’s houses all the time, and they made their sleepovers fun with activities of all kinds.  I know two of the characters names: Patti (because she made me want to change my own name to Patti, but I’m now thankful my parents wouldn’t listen to my “Patti protests”) and Lauren.  I don’t remember the other two names…  For this month, I will be reading Book #27 of the Sleepover Friends series.  For this being my "favorite" series, I'm realizing I don't remember a whole lot.

Even though I don't remember a lot about the books, I thankfully kept them for posterity's sake.  After browsing my bookshelves, I found #27 and took it down: Where's Patti?

Just looking at the book opens a trove of memories from the era when Scholastic books all included order forms in the backs of the books, books only cost $2.50, and it was fashionable to wear puffy shirts and neon-colored clothes.  Ah, sweet memories.  Also sweet is the fact that the book is only 85 pages long.

Current Re-Reading
First, I appreciate that this is the kind of series that uses the entire first chapter to remind its readers who the characters are and how they know each other.  It means you can pick up any book of the series and not be lost, or you can pick up the series again after two decades and not be worried by the fact you can't remember much more than the basic premise of the books.  So after a whirlwind re-introduction to the four Sleepover Friends (who I now know are Lauren, Patti, Kate, and Stephanie, four fifth-graders who have sleepovers every Friday night).  As a kid, I think I missed the cleverly disguised cultural references: Tommy Hepp is the hot TV actor (er, Johnny Depp) and the newest Jangles song is mentioned (er, the Bangles).  As an adult, those make me chuckle.

The book took me back to a time when the most complicated things I had to worry about were bratty boys, kite-flying contests, and ruined sand castles.  It took me less than an hour to read, yet that short hour took me down memory lane, which I appreciate.  The story is told from Lauren’s perspective (if I remember correctly, it’s mostly from her perspective).  Because it’s told in the first person, the thoughts, dialogue, and narrative are all written from a 10/11-year-old point of view.  Language included, “so you know what happened next?  That’s right!” and “That was totally unfair!”  In other words, the language was overly dramatized, just like the thoughts of a fifth-grade girl often are.  The plot reminded me of those feel-good 80s sitcoms that build up a problem primarily through overreactions and then have a resolution within the last five minutes of the show (e.g., Family Matters, Full House, or other "TGIF" shows).  As an example of the type of overly dramatized situations in the book, here is a line from page 74:

I think she realized that maybe she had kind of overreacted.  Mindy Sue really was different, and all that old third-grade stuff didn’t matter anymore.

This line was part of the resolution of the book--the very short resolution, mind you.  I think it perfectly reflects the level of the plot with the phrase "all that old third-grade stuff didn't matter anymore."  Isn't that the truth?  Perhaps that's good advice for readers of all ages.

Another aspect of the book that made me chuckle was the detail mentioned when it came to fashion, primarily because fashion sense has--thankfully--changed since the late 80s.  Here are a couple of my favorite fashion mentions from the book:

“I think I’ll wear my denim skirt and purple tights,” Kate said.
“I brought my new turquoise sweatshirt with the pink and yellow splotches on it,” I said.
“And I’ve got my red-and-black striped wool pants,” said Stephanie.

Robert was wearing a green-and-black plaid shirt, faded jeans, and loafers, and he looked totally fabulous. … Becky Levy … had on a hot pink blazer, black jeans, and black sneakers with lime-green laces.  Very hot.

Both excerpts come from around the same area of the book; the first (from page 57) is when the girls are planning out what they'll wear to a neighborhood dance, and the second (from page 60) is when the girls are actually at the dance and scoping out the hot 16-year-old, who reminds them of their favorite actor, Kevin DeSpain (another fake celebrity).

After being reminded that the girls met every single Friday night, I do remember wanting to have that type of regularly scheduled, totally rocking sleepover parties with my own friends, but it never worked out.  It's harder, in real life, to schedule sleepover parties when you live in a rural area and can't just walk to your friend's house.  Because reading the book triggered so many warm, fuzzy feelings deep down in my nostalgic stores of memories, I am fairly sure that I legitimately liked the series as a kid--and not just because it was the one series I had to myself.

Overall, I'm really glad I re-read one of the Sleepover Friends books.  It's like watching Full House on TV--you know, as an adult, that the plot is cheesy and predictable, yet it teaches a valuable lesson to the young viewers.  It's not great TV, but you watch it for the memories of a time when you were innocent enough to enjoy the predictability.  In the same way, the book was cute for memories, but not exactly great reading as an adult.

If you have recently re-read a childhood book, I'd love to hear what you thought about it as you re-read it from an adult's perspective.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Weekly Poll 2/10/10: Books as Series

The poll question from this past week was this:


Memorable characters.
A storyline that spans all the books in the series and keeps you hooked.
Fresh, new storylines for each book (so that any one book in the series could be a stand-alone book).
Good writing.

Of the five answers offered, only two were selected during the voting: "memorable characters" and "a storyline that spans all the books in the series and keeps you hooked."  There was a 50/50 split for these answers, so I'm viewing them as being equally important to my readers.  If I had been forced to vote for just one answer, I would have chosen the second--I like being able to follow a single storyline throughout an entire series of books.

What's interesting, though, is that in my earlier reading days, I preferred reading series that had new storlyines for each new book: My expectations for series has changed as I’ve grown as a reader.  The first series I came to know and love were all series that featured the same characters, but each book was a stand-alone book.  You could read book #5 before reading book #2, and it didn’t matter.  In fact, in one series, the first book I read was #43.  Because the series of my young reading days often had a lot of books in them, I could pick and choose which ones had plots I was most interested in—I didn’t have to read/buy all of them.

As I’ve grown, though, I now prefer series that have a singly story line that arcs the entire series, which means the series won’t have 40 books in it.  Some of my favorite series are Harry Potter (by J.K. Rowling), Twilight (by Stephenie Meyer), Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (by Ann Brashares), North and South (by John Jakes), Tea Rose books (by Jennifer Donnelly), and Book of Swords (by Fred Saberhagen).  Those are a diverse group of series, yet they all share the fact that there is a single story that is followed throughout the individual books.  They also share the fact that they have characters I found interesting on some level--characters are paramount for series since readers have to want to stick with those same characters for more than just a single book.

J.K. Rowling's wildly successful series: Harry Potter

I wondered if this reflection was something other readers share with me or if it was simply my own preference.  There are quite a few series for grown-up readers that feature stand-alone books (e.g., Dennis Lehane's Angie and Patrick series, Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch books), and while I enjoy those, I don’t run out and buy the whole series.  I borrow them.  I enjoy them, and I wait until another one with a plot that grabs my attention comes out.  If I don't like one of the books in series like these, I'm more likely to never pick up another one; however, if I don't like one of the books in a series featuring a single storyline, I'm more likely to keep reading the series just to see if it gets better or to find out how the whole thing ends.

Part of my love for series that have a single storyline is that I can, as a reader, get more involved in these characters’ lives.  When a single story takes four or seven books to complete, I not only have all those books with the characters, I get to watch them grow over the books, and their growth is related to this larger situation, which is why I get more drawn in, and which, in turn, makes me want to own the whole series, even if one of the books wasn’t necessarily my favorite.

Beautiful screenshot from Jennifer Donnelly's website

No one chose "good writing" as their answer to the question for the week, and after reviewing my list of favorite series, I'd have to say that I let good writing slide when getting hooked on series.  The biggest example of these is Twilight.  I got so engrossed in the books that I read the entire series in a weekend, yet if you asked me to sit down and critique the writing style of the books, I'd cringe on nearly every page.  I find that interesting, considering that I have to devote more time to reading series (because there is more book than one), yet if the story and characters are enough to draw me in, I am better able to ignore the "writing sins" of the author.

Once I find a series I like, I can read from the first to the last book over and over again, never getting tired of them.  Well-done series can result in major accolades from the reading world, yet series can be dangerous things.  Sometimes I find myself reading just because I liked the first book and not because I’m actually enjoying the second or third…  Lags can be forgiven, if overall, the entire series is a good one, but if a series has more than just one or two lags, I lose my interest entirely.  I’ve been reading Inkspell (the second book of the Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke) for nearly a year now.  I’m determined to finish it because I really do like the story, but the book has simply lost my interest--I can’t even explain why.  On the other hand, I made it through all three Gemma Doyle books (by Libba Bray), only to be disappointed by the ending.  Now I'm not even interested in reading any more books by authors whose books I could potentially enjoy because of the disappointment from their series.

What series do you enjoy reading, and why?

Happy reading!

Monday, February 8, 2010

MadLib Monday 10: 2/8/10

Welcome back to MadLib Monday!  This is officially my tenth MadLib Monday, and I'm glad you're here to be a part of it.  Even if you don't particularly enjoy doing MadLibs, you should scroll down to the picture and passage from the book to see if you can guess what book they were taken from.  Sometimes the picture will give it away, sometimes you'll recognize the passage even with 30 or so words missing from it.  It's a fun challenge, and I'd like to start a contest of sorts if I can get enough readers participating in it.

I haven't listed the "rules" of MadLib lately, so I thought I'd add a few refreshers here today.  If verb is listed, then just provide the base form of the verb (e.g., walk, eat); if verb - present tense is listed, provide the third-person singular form of the verb (e.g., walks, eats); if verb-past tense is listed, provide the simple past of the verb (e.g., walked, ate); if verb - present participle is listed, provide the -ing form of the verb (e.g., walking, eating); finally, if verb - past participle is listed, provide the form you would use after have (e.g., walked, eaten).  The nouns are simpler: if nothing is specified, you can list either the singular or plural forms; otherwise, use the specifications (e.g., singular, plural).

  1. verb - past tense
  2. adjective
  3. verb - present participle
  4. noun - plural
  5. noun - girl's name
  6. noun
  7. verb
  8. adjective
  9. verb - present participle
  10. noun
  11. verb - past tense
  12. noun
  13. verb - past tense
  14. verb - past tense
  15. noun - girl's name (same as #5)
  16. noun - singular
  17. verb - present participle
  18. noun
  19. noun
  20. verb
  21. verb - past participle
  22. noun
  23. adjective
  24. adjective
  25. adjective
  26. noun
  27. verb - past participle
  28. verb - past tense
  29. noun - singular (same as #16)
  30. noun
  31. noun - singular (same as #16)
  32. noun
  33. noun - girl's name (same as #5)
  34. verb - past participle
  35. noun - plural
  36. noun - boy's name
  37. noun
  38. noun - boy's name (same as #36)
  39. noun - girl's name (same as #5)
  40. adverb

While you finish up your list of words and get ready to put them into a passage from a book, I'd like to plug the poll question located in the left-hand sidebar.  You have until Wednesday to vote; on Wednesday, I will be posting the results and writing about the question itself.  This week's question is about series of books--specifically about what draws you into a series.  Head on over there and vote, if you haven't already.

Here is a picture from the cover of the book that goes along with this week's passage:

Rain ___(1)___ that night, a ___(2)___, ___(3)___ rain.  Many ___(4)___ later, ___(5)___ had only to close her ___(6)___ and she could still ___(7)___ it, like ___(8)___ fingers ___(9)___ on the ___(10)___.  A dog ___(11)___ somewhere in the ___(12)___, and however often she ___(13)___ and ___(14)___ ___(15)___ couldn’t get to sleep.

The ___(16)___ she had been ___(17)___ was under her ___(18)___, pressing its ___(19)___ against her ear as if to ___(20)___ her back into its ___(21)___ ___(22)___.  “I’m sure it must be very ___(23)___ sleeping with a ___(24)___, ___(25)___ thing like that under your ___(26)___,” her father had ___(27)___ the first time he ___(28)___ a ___(29)___ under her ___(30)___.  “Go on, admit it, the ___(31)___ whispers its ___(32)___ to you at night.”

“Sometimes, yes,” ___(33)___ had ___(34)___.  “But it only works for ___(35)___.”  Which made ___(36)___ tweak her ___(37)___.  ___(38)___.  ___(39)___ had ___(40)___ called her father anything else.

Can you guess what book the picture and passage were taken from?

Answer from last week's MadLib Monday:  Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr.  Here is the full picture of the cover of that book:

I love the cover of that book--in fact, I bought the book because I liked the cover so much.

Happy reading!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Howe, Goodman, and Kostova: Three authors who know how to weave together the past and present

On Wednesday, I mentioned Katherine B. Howe's book The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, which I am now reading.

In the first chapter, the main character is sitting for her qualifying exams for her doctoral program, and Howe describes the roller-coaster emotions associated with academic trials perfectly.  As a previous doctoral student, my first thought was, "The author must know exactly how it feels to go through the rigamarole of grad school," and my second thought was, "How cool that I'm going to learn something while reading a fun book."  I went over to Howe's website and found that she had, indeed, gone through graduate school and so was writing from experience; I also found out that her family history is intertwined with the primary subject of the book: the Salem witch trials (which is a time in history that fascinates me).  As a reader, I know a book is expanding my mind when it inspires me to do research--just for fun.

One feature that I really enjoy about Howe's book is that she interplays the past with the present; the majority of the book (so far) takes place in the present, but she inserts scenes from the Salem witch trials at intervals to let both storylines (the past and present) unfold in one telling.  In other words, it's like getting two books in one.  Howe's technique of integrating past and present is to work in individual scenes from the past that will eventually form a story that will affect the present (and, thus, the main character) when all the scenes come together at the end.

Before reading her book, I hadn't stopped to think how much I enjoy books that interweave past and present all while teaching me something.  I think it's my own fascination with how the past affects the present and future that pulls me into books that integrate story lines from more than time frame.

Carol Goodman's book The Ghost Orchid is also a learning experience--Carol Goodman has a technique of writing that allows her to weave in academic information without it becoming overwhelming.

Her books often incorporate mythology and literary references, which inspires me to try to broaden my own knowledge about those subjects just so I can get the most out of those references she makes.  In The Ghost Orchid, the main character goes to an artist's retreat, where the past starts colliding with the present.  The book is a ghost story and learning journey all rolled together for a reading treat.  Goodman's technique is a bit like Howe's in that she provides scenes from the past and flips the story between the past and present, but her integration is a bit different because in her book, the past doesn't stay in the past.  She allows bits of the story from the past to creep into the story in the present to create an ethereal timeline.

Another book that integrates past and present is Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian.

Kostova's book is based on a historian who is researching the reality of vampires (of Dracula, to be specific).  The main character started her research as a way to continue her father's work and to figure out how some long-held secrets ripped her family apart.  Kostova's technique of weaving the past and present together is to have the past woven into dialogue.  At first, the past only occurs when the girl's father tells her stories of his own past; he tells her bits and pieces of his past but always stops just when the story is building to new information.  The dialogue fills entire chapters, so I often forgot I was reading a re-telling of the story but felt like I had been thrown into the past right along with the father's memories.  As the book progresses, the past story lines are woven in through letters the father left behind for his daughter.  The Historian felt so real to me that it had me glancing over my shoulder for glimpses of Dracula while I was reading the book.

These books inspire my 'joie de lire' because they bring the past and present together and inspire me to learn more, think more, and make more connections.  What books do that for you?

Happy reading, whether it be in the past, present, or future!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Weekly Poll 2/3/10: Author's Online Presence

Poll Question of the week:


During a Twitter chat last week, someone asked if authors should maintain professional, reader-friendly websites to increase readership.  After some interesting responses, I started wondering if I am influenced by an author's online presence (or lack thereof).  My voters this week all indicated that they were not more inclined to buy an author's book due to an author's online presence.  On the surface, my answer would be that I agree with my voters.  However, after thinking about it for a while, I realized that while I may not notice if my favorite authors maintain quality websites or Twitter accounts or what not, I do allow an author's online presence sway my decision to buy a book if I've never read anything by the author before or if I haven't heard much about them or their books.  The primary example I have of this is my experience with Katherine Howe and her book, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.

Last fall, I happened to see a tweet made by Katherine B. Howe; in it, she said that her 600th follower would receive a signed page from a manuscript of her book, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.  Before that tweet, I hadn't heard of Katherine B. Howe or her book, but I thought it was exciting that I could win a signed manuscript page.  So I quickly pushed the "Follow" button in the hopes that I could become her 600th follower.  Only ... I was one click too late and hit the 601st mark.  Luckily, she took pity on me and still sent me a signed page.  When I got the page in the mail, I didn't only get the signed page--she had also included a hand-written note with a thoughtful message on the inside.  I was touched.  And so I ran out and bought her book.

Now I pay attention to authors who are online and how they treat their followers.  If they have a website, I check it out to see if it's maintained (current and professional looking) and I see if they allow for online chats with book groups (something I've never taken advantage of since I'm minus a book group, but I admire authors who take the time to add the personal touch like that).  If they're on Twitter or Facebook, I like to see if they interact with readers or if they simply post things like a billboard without actually commenting or reacting to any messages they receive.  While I don't expect authors to respond to every message, I think it's nice when they at least reply to one every now and then.  If I'm unfamiliar with the author and/or am not sure whether I want to get a book, I let the author's online presence sway me.  I won't necessarily negatively judge an author who doesn't have an online presence, but I'm turned off by anyone with a negative online presence.

I'm not sure if I'm alone in letting that affect my book-buying decisions, but it's kind of fun to read a book when you can also see what the author posts on a regularly (or semi-regularly) basis on sites like Twitter.  Even though I don't personally know Katherine B. Howe, as I'm reading her book, I feel like I have a doubly strong connection to the book because I've interacted with her.

Her book inspired what will be this Friday's post, which I'm excited about sharing with you.  Until then, I've posted the new poll question of the week in the left-hand sidebar and look forward to hearing your responses about what you find to be the most important aspect for a successfully written series of books.

Monday, February 1, 2010

MadLib Monday 9: 2/1/10

I haven't done my weekly MadLib Monday feature in, um, a few months (give or take), but I've missed doing it.  It's fun to create the MadLibs and even more fun when people send in guesses as to what book was used for the week.  And so, it is with great joy (or should I say 'joie') that I am bringing back the MadLib feature.  Welcome back.

Here is the list of words you'll need to complete the MadLib below:

  1. Proper Title (e.g., Queen of England)
  2. adverb
  3. possessive noun (e.g., Nick's)
  4. verb--past tense
  5. noun--singular
  6. noun--plural
  7. verb--past tense
  8. noun--singular
  9. verb--past tense
  10. noun--plural
  11. noun--singular
  12. adjective
  13. adjective
  14. verb
  15. noun--singular
  16. Proper Title (different from #1)
  17. noun--singular
  18. verb
  19. verb--present participle (e.g., walking)
  20. noun--singular
  21. noun--plural
  22. verb--past tense
  23. verb--present tense (e.g., walks)
  24. adjective
  25. verb--present tense
  26. adjective
  27. noun--singular
  28. verb
  29. adverb
  30. noun--singular

As a side matter of business, there are only two days left to vote in the weekly poll, which is located in the left-hand sidebar.  If you haven't done so already, head over there and cast your vote.  The question asks you whether you're more inclined to buy an author's book because of their online presence.  And then on Wednesday, I'll be writing about the inspiration for that question.

Here is the picture that accompanies this week's MadLib passage; the picture is from the cover of the book, which the passage is taken from:

The ___(1)___ knelt before her.  "Is this what you ___(2)___ choose, to risk ___(3)___ chill?"

She ___(4)___ him--the ___(5)___ she'd fallen in love with these past ___(6)___.  She'd never ___(7)___ he was something other than ___(8)___, but now his skin ___(9)___ as if ___(10)___ flickered just under the ___(11)___, so ___(12)___ and ___(13)___ she couldn't look away.  "It's what I ___(14)___."

"You understand that if you are not the ___(15)___, you'll carry the ___(16)___'s chill until the next ___(17)___ risks this?  And you'll ___(18)___ her not to trust me?"  He paused, ___(19)___ at her with ___(20)___ in his ___(21)___.

She ___(22)___.

"If she ___(23)___ me, you will tell the ___(24)___ girl and the next" --he moved closer-- "and not until one ___(25)___, will you be ___(26)___ of the ___(27)___."

"I do ___(28)___."  She smiled as ___(29)___ as she could, and then walked over to the hawthorn ___(30)___.

Can you guess which book the picture and passage were taken from?

Answer to the last MadLib Monday (from way back in November): Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman.  Congrats to Angie for guessing that correctly.