Category Archives: Rachel S.

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#READBOOKS

I won’t lie, one of the biggest reasons I was so excited to get a smartphone (it’s been a little over a year, happy anniversary!) was because I wanted to see what this “Instagram” business was all about. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I think it was the first thing I downloaded onto my brand new iPhone and promptly forgot about all the other cool things the phone could do.

But, I digress. Because what I really wanted to highlight was the absolute beauty that are the Instagram accounts of publishers, booksellers or simply the literarily-obsessed. Books, as we know, are wonderful things mainly because of the stories they tell, the gorgeous writing, the action, suspense, emotion and wonder.

But books are also pretty. Readers are enigmatic. Jokes and signs about books are witty and fun. Authors are real people with interesting lives. When I saw this Huffington Post compilation of top notch literary Instagram accounts, I promptly explored each and every one—and then dove into the search even further, so pretty much my entire feed for a little while was pictures of and about books. Which, if I’m being totally honest, it totally a-okay.

What I also found in my search was that aside from being purely visually entertaining, these posts and photos can actually be really, really helpful in figuring out what books to read next, discovering new authors and getting news about what the next big literary sensation is going to be.

Searching hashtags with author names, publishers and imprints, genres, or more specific ones like #FridayReads, #BookClub, #WhatShouldIRead is both really fun (it’s like a research adventure!) and informative.

Social media has become a huge factor in the way books and authors are marketed and promoted and the ways to do it are becoming more and more diverse and manifold. Where Facebook, Twitter and even Tumblr can be seen as obvious go-tos, Instagram is less of a first thought. In reality, it’s rich with possibility. Books are visual, tangible objects and that, as well as the calming image of an open book or someone reading, should be celebrated.

Do you guys have any great bookish accounts you can recommend me? I’m always looking!

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Literarily sick

As anyone in the office here can tell you (honestly, maybe anyone within a 5-mile radius), I’ve been struck with one beauty of a head cold this week. I’ve gone through about 3 boxes of tissues and am finally able to (mostly) breathe out of my nose again! It’s a wonder!

But with all the hours spent lying down, drinking liquids and, of course, blowing my nose, I’ve had some time to ruminate on being sick. As you might remember, I’ve written already about my adolescent fascination with the galloping consumption, and though that’s obviously silly, it’s totally true that classic literature makes illness seem so glamorous. If not glamorous, then at least an indication of how delicate and pure the afflicted is.

Unless the sickness is used to indicate some sort of wrongdoing or as a comeuppance for a particularly deserving transgressor, there’s always some sort of quiet beauty to it. We never see the ugly side (for me, that’s the hacking cough and melodic sniffling I’ve been exhibiting) or really, any pain other than the emotional kind. And even then, it’s all very bittersweet.

I’m not talking about the more recent trend of serious illnesses (namely, cancer) that have been the subject of some acclaimed books in the recent years, à la Lionel Shriver’s So Much for That or John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, but more the kinds that seem to exist solely in the pages of old books.

Which is why this little slideshow delighted me so much. I’ve tried to explain what I mean by “literary diseases” to people in the past and have come up short. This is a pretty good list with some relatable examples. I know, of course, that these illnesses don’t appear anymore because we have since come up with new names or ways to cure them, but the impression they give still remains the same. That getting sick in the 19th century was more about mystery and fashion than it was about anything else. That it’s a really good way to get someone to fall in love with you—especially if you just happen to catch cold marching over to his estate in the rain and definitely have to stay over for a few days to recuperate (ahem, Elizabeth Bennett).

These days, getting a cold means taking a few Tylenol and lying down for a day. It’s not the be all end all focal point of a work of literature and certainly doesn’t get anyone fawning over you like you’re the purest and most doted upon soul that ever walked the earth. If only.

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Ending the week with a giggle.

When it comes to jokes, my opinion is, the groanier, the better. I like ’em to elicit a sigh, an eye roll and a look of “are you kidding me?”

Whatever you want to call them, dad jokes, terrible puns, to me, they’re the height of comedic enjoyment—all the more so if the teller is 100% aware of the awfulness (yet implicit cleverness) of the joke. What do we call that, verbal irony? Don’t tell my freshman English teacher that I’m a little unsure here.

An appreciation for horrible, overdone jokes is a trait I’ve long since decided will be prominent in a character if I ever do get around to writing anything of substance. I’m pretty sure it will be difficult to pull off well, but that makes it all the more of a desirable challenge.

However, I digress. For all you literature, grammar and language nerds out there, I want to share this super dumb, super amazing list of puns that will have your eyes rolling so hard they’ll fall out of your head.

A Friday treat, if you will. Here’s a particular favorite:

Untitled

If anyone can point me in the direction of similar literature and grammar-related jokes, I’ll be forever grateful. Happy weekend!

 

*PS I clearly saw this (hilarious) joke on Buzzfeed via Instagram, but I can’t find the original artist–I’d love to credit if anyone knows the answer!

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Reading the past

Channeling the sixteen-year-old in me (the sixteen-year-old that I most certainly was), when I saw a Buzzfeed quiz* today that would reveal which affliction of La Belle Époque would lead to my untimely death, I really had no choice but to click and take it immediately.

I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed with my result: broken heart. As a Moulin Rouge obsessed teenager, I thought it the height of elegance to die gracefully and beautifully of tuberculosis (or, as I like to call it, the galloping consumption) much like Satine, the main character. She coughed so daintily, looked so beautiful to the end and, of course, had Ewan MacGregor, the starving playwright, torn to bits at her demise.

Though I’ve since moved on from such childish fantasies (mostly), and I know that tuberculosis is not a pleasant nor desirable thing to contract, it did get my mind reeling on all the reasons why I love that era and the literary movements that go along with it. Second only to the English Romantics (hello masterful Wordsworth, arrogant Byron and poor, poor sickly Keats), the French Belle Époque is an era of literature that I love dearly and tend to forget about until I’m reminded. I thank the one comparative literature course I took in college as well as any French teachers who tried to get me to read de Maupassant and Baudelaire in their original forms for introducing me to realism, naturalism and even the little bits of Modernism (I’ve read one half of one book of In Search of Lost Time and I consider that an accomplishment).

Such literature strikes a real chord—telling of a world on the precipice of something so different and alive than had ever before been described. Giving heed to experimentation that had theretofore been snubbed and extolling the beauty in the smallest and most quotidian of objects or actions. It’s been years, honestly, sadly, since I’ve given my books from this era a real look, but even reading the names of authors and poets—Zola, Rimbaud, those already mentioned—elicits a visceral reaction that whisks me back to visions of Parisian department stores and muddy alleys that are described with such clarity and honesty by these writers.

I’ve been trying to avoid using the word “romanticize” since I’ve also referenced the Romantics today, but I can’t any longer. Sure, I romanticize the era, seen through the rose colored tint of artwork and nostalgic whims of a reader in today’s fast paced, technology-obsessed world, but there is also an inherent liveliness to the work itself. Filled with urgency and excitement (and not without a heavy dose of nostalgia of its own), the literature of La Belle Époque is at once dreamy and intensely relatable.

My musings aside, do you have any favorite literary movements that still get your heart racing and brain whirring even if you don’t read them regularly?

 

*stop panicking, the quiz is here.

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Creature comfort

I’ve been really trying to give myself more time lately for pleasure reading outside of work. It’s surprisingly hard to do when so much of my time is devoted to reading other (just as lovely!) books, manuscripts and queries. However, like pretty much anyone who decides at some point that they’d like to work in publishing, I’ve long nurtured a love of books and reading and I’ve been making a concentrated effort to go back to one of the things I most love. Reading, alone, for no purpose other than to absorb a good story. And I’m doing pretty well, if I do say so myself! Currently halfway through Meg Wolitzer’s THE INTERESTINGS and thoroughly enjoying her insightful and thought-provoking way of describing relationships and the unique ways in which people act, react and observe.

I think you’ll all agree that one of the best things about books is how widely appealing and accessible they are to all walks of life. You don’t need anything much to get absorbed in a book—you can even access entire libraries for free! I’m constantly amazed at how diverse reading culture is.

Seriously.

This kitten, for example:
kitten

Even celebs!
koko

I’ve been there, guy.
dog

Honestly impressed at this little mouse’s tenacity when it comes to getting into a book at any cost.
mouse

This is a bunny learning about history.
bunny

Though I admire this pigeon’s zest for the written word, I’d really rather he choose something else to read. But what canya do?
pigeon

Normally capybaras kind of creep me out, but I could hang out with this one.
capybara

NOW. It’s a long weekend (for us at least), so there’s plenty of time to join the ranks of reading creatures.

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Book in hand. Or bag.

Whenever I go anywhere anymore, I carry my regular bag* as well as a canvas tote bag that holds two notebooks (that have no real distinction between them, I just have two for some reason), a crossword puzzle and a book along with the bits and bobs that tend to find their ways into bags and never find their way out.

The other week, I was walking with my boyfriend who offered to carry my tote bag for me, which I handed over gladly as my shoulder was beginning to ache. He commented “what do you have in here that’s so heavy?” for of course, my book that week was a rather thick hardback, so it wasn’t the most lightweight of reading material.

“Why do you need a book today?”

“I always take a book with me, you know that. Just in case.”

Since we had an agenda for pretty much the entire day, it took some explaining to convince him that I needed to carry an extra bag because who knows how long it would be until I could get back to my book. No, I wasn’t planning on being bored or having much down time, but you never know.

Sure, sometimes I lug a book around all day and never once even consider opening it. Either I don’t have the time, or I’d rather finish that crossword puzzle that’s been niggling at me all day. But I must have one on me!

The answer here is, clearly, a bigger everyday bag, and I am pining after several (in conjunction with Lauren’s post recently, maybe you could get your book lovin’ friends a really nice bag that neatly holds daily reading material, too…), but I’m also looking for other answers and opinions.

Am I crazy to need to have a book on me at all times? If not, what other options are there besides an electronic reading device? I have them and I don’t love them. If you know of any magical solutions (or if you have any reasons to call me out for being silly) I’m really interested in hearing!

Until then, I’ll be a cumbersome bag lady and smile through the pain. For the books. Doing it for the books.

 

*I hate the word “purse” for some reason. “Pocketbook” is a little better, but not great and “handbag” is just too fussy. But I guess I am referring to a purse in this case.

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Art imitating…other art

I’m pretty in love with this list on BuzzFeed that gives book recommendations based on favorite movies. This could have been really simplistic, pairing books up with movies whose plots were super similar or were even based on one another. However, the compiler of this list really thought about it, basing the recommendations much more on sentiment, overarching theme or general takeaway more than anything else. Some of them are more plot-based, but there’s clearly real thought going on here.

Though I’ll admit there are only three pairings here where I’ve both read the book and seen the movie (Pulp Fiction and The Sisters Brothers, Amelie and The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and finally, Midnight in Paris and The Paris Wife) I’ve really enjoyed all six of those things so I’m going to go ahead and assume that the rest of the thirty matchups are equally helpful. And I’ve definitely got some books and movies on my to read/to watch list now.

I’m really curious about Q by Evan Mandery—not only is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a great film, but Q’s cover is just really lovely. I’ve picked up The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson in bookstores more times than I can even remember but for some reason, have never purchased it, even though I’ve said time and time again that I specifically love books about quirky, offbeat families. I’ll have to give it a real shot next time!

I love the Amelie/The Elegance of the Hedgehog matchup. Yes, there’s the obvious Parisian connection, but though both have whimsical covers and conceits, there is a truly dark undertone to both pieces that gives each an unforgettable quality.

I’m a sucker for book recommendation lists, so this was the perfect Friday afternoon treat. If you could pair a movie with a book, what would it be?

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Books near and far

With a three-day weekend fast approaching* and deliciously devoid of any plans whatsoever, I’m imagining what sort of cozy fall activities (e.g. reading in a sweater and eating pie in a sweater) I can get up to and where. My mind immediately jumps to a rotation of coffee shops and a selection of books. Only I need some new books to read, so I’ll likely stop by my local bookshop as well.

And it’s a bit serendipitous and a bit cruel punishment that they’re so far out of reach, but I just scrolled through this list of 19 Magical Bookshops Every Book Lover Must Visit and spent the next couple minutes just staring at the sofa that accompanies the listing for Hatchard’s in London, imagining reading in the window on that particular seat. While it’s pretty lovely for the Brits that this list doesn’t just focus on London or even, it seems, large cities in general, that doesn’t really help me over here on this side of the pond—though how cool is the Honesty Bookshop?!?

I know there are lists everywhere for super great New York City bookstores, and I feel lucky to live in a place where independent bookstores can and do thrive if done correctly. That’s of course not always totally the case outside of any metro area. What I’d love is to hear about or see photos of small time bookstores across the country. If I collect enough of them, then there I’ve got my idea for the cross-country road trip I’ve always wanted to take…

 

*Thank you, Christopher Columbus! I mean. Um, I know you were meant to be a terrible person, horrible, really, so maybe. Hm. Well. Yes, yes, I mean I’ll still take the day off.

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The Blog Post with No Pictures*

Flipping through the internet today, I came across a Vanity Fair interview accompanied by a book trailer for B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures, his children’s book with, well, no pictures. The video itself is completely adorable and the conceit of the book—emphasized in this interview—touches on something that though it should be obvious, gave me a bit of an “aha” moment.

Why do children’s books exist? Of course the first and most obvious answer is as a form of entertainment, as yet another vehicle to occupy a child, give them a venue for using their imagination. They are learning tools and foster creative thinking. However, children’s books are rarely without pictures—in fact you’re far more likely to come across completely wordless picture books than you are to come across anything geared toward a young child that has no illustrations at all.

Yet. That doesn’t mean that the words can’t be visual themselves. The words in Novack’s book are all different colors, sizes, fonts. Though that’s certainly an added bonus, that’s still not even the point I’m trying to get at here—and I think the point the author has as well. Reading for a young kid is about more than everything I’ve mentioned above. Reading as a child serves to foster a literary attraction that can exist and survive long into adulthood. By giving the words printed in a book an interactive agenda (and I really just mean the words—there are tons and tons of interactive Pat the Bunny style books that have their place, too), does this help to create a space where kids feel compelled at an early age to respond and discuss what they’ve read? Without the help of pictures or texture? Making adults say silly things is really fun (as the video clearly demonstrates), so does a book like this not then make the words themselves the funny part of the book, a book which in and of itself is having a conversation?

Of course, I don’t have a child and when I was little enough for picture books to be my sole literary companions, I would never have stopped to think about these things, but the idea will at least be one I’m thinking about for a little while. What say you?

 

* genius title credit to Sharon Pelletier

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Schoolday reading

With the summer season coming to a close (I know, I know, it’s a harsh reality, but we all have to accept it), I was thinking fondly on how excited I used to get to go back to school. Clean, fresh notebooks, brand new pens, new seat assignments and, of course, finding out what books we were going to be reading that year.

I remember in elementary school when there was a whole separate class called “Reading,” and that was amazing. I relished in having read a little ahead of the class and knowing what was coming next and learning about the culture surrounding each book. I think my favorite thing, however, was when we read aloud, a paragraph per student, which was excruciating when it got to those who didn’t care or couldn’t read as well (by “well” I meant with emotion as a performance because I also fancied myself a budding actress. Naturally.), but was empowering when it was my turn and I got an especially long paragraph to say.

Reminiscing about some of my very favorite books we read in grade school, my mind immediately went to Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins which easily led me to the rest of the books in the series and will forever be remembered initially as the first time I learned what a cormorant was.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is another one that struck me hard and I think was the catalyst for my fervent love of middle grade and young adult fiction that centered on WWII, the Holocaust and wartime in general. The memories are coming back to me in floods now and my next immediate thought is of The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig about a family exiled to Siberia. I don’t remember too much about the plot (though I did just look it up), but I do remember declaring that it was my number one favorite book for a while…and of course it turns out that it also took place during the early 1940s.

And then there are those books that I remember pieces of, but have no idea what they might be. Struck with a thought, I just searched “wearing broccoli around your neck,” and weirdly, that worked. Apparently a fourth grade favorite of mine was called Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days by Stephen Manes. I should have known that searching “everything you touch turns to chocolate” would provide me with a book titled The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling. Should have figured that one out, Rachel. I think I just liked that book so much because it’s actually a dream of mine to have chocolate whenever I want it.

It’s funny the way certain parts of stories, especially stories from childhood, stick with us even if the rest of the book doesn’t. Vivid scenes, like the making a cape of cormorant feathers in Island of the Blue Dolphins or the main character in In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson learning how to play stickball (also when I learned what stickball was, myself). Is it because there is so much new information that we’re learning for the first time or because a kid’s imagination works in overdrive, much more easily able to relate fantastical stories to his or her own life?

Whatever the reason, it was a nice little trip down memory lane—and a relief that my images of broccoli necklaces and chocolate mailboxes were based on something real and not a sign that I’m going insane. What books immediately come to mind for you when you think back to grade school? Were there any that you remember hating? Loving? Maybe it’ll jog my memory, too!