The Recycle Bin

Today’s post is inspired by my mother, who (unbeknownst to her) raised an interesting question about ebooks. My mother only recently got rid of AOL but has somehow managed to jump immediately to having an iPhone, where – to her delight – she can download ebooks. Just one problem – “What do I do with them after I read them?”

I take after my dad. He doesn’t join Netflix for the same reason I don’t belong to a library – we need to own, and display, the things we love. With him, it’s movies. With me, it’s books. I have lots of them, and give or take the sporadic “do I really need three copies of Pride and Prejudice?” I keep 98% of what I buy or what’s given to me.

I like arranging books on my shelf, being able to look at them, picking up old favorites to re-read, or just  reorganizing my shelves when I’m bored. But mostly I like owning books. For these reasons, I don’t really buy ebooks. I say “really” because I’ve purchased five ebooks in my life, but I don’t see myself buying more if they are also available in print. I have nothing against them and see no difference between reading a book and reading an ebook during the act of reading. My love lies in the books themselves. There are books I have in my apartment right now that I know I won’t read again, but I like knowing they’re there.

But there are those with a less romanticized notion of books. So you tell me, embracers of ebooks, what do you do? If no one can see the physical evidence that you’ve read Thomas Pynchon, do you bother keeping him on your ereader? Can you delete and move on, the way technology does, or do you transfer each ebook to every new ereader because you just can’t let go?

My History With Borders

The big news in publishing this week was that Borders Books & Music have officially filed for Chapter 11. There has been some pretty great commentary about what this means, and in addition to the general business coverage at PW and GalleyCat, I would recommend reading posts by Eric at Pimp My Novel and by Sarah at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. We all knew bankruptcy was coming for Borders. We’ve all watched the news, heard the reports, and yet when the list of just how many stores were going to close was released, it was no less shocking and sad.

The thing is, it is very hard for me to feel bad for a large corporation, and one of my first thoughts about Borders’ situation was that maybe my fake sequel You’ve Got Mail wasn’t as fictional or far into the future as I thought. I don’t like chains of any kind and avoid them whenever possible. I’m also guilty of not buying books from Borders in years because I live in a city where I have other options. I realize this is not always the case for people, so for that reason I am sad to see an outlet for buying books slowly disappear.

That said, Borders’ suffering still fills me with incredibly sympathy because, to me, Borders didn’t always represent “ah! chains! evil!” They were actually my first experience with really loving a bookstore. I grew up in central New York, which is a pretty economically depressed area of upstate NY. When I was younger, we had a Walden Books (before it was owned by Borders) in our local mall, followed by a B. Dalton, which no longer exists (but it’s where I bought pretty much all of my Babysitter’s Club books). There were a few indie stores that came and went, but other than that we were left with absolutely no bookstore. And I grew up in a city! It was horrifying, especially for a kid who liked to read. I remember visiting family in northern Virginia and we walked by a Barnes & Noble. My mom and I both practically shrieked with glee and demanded we go in to look around. The uncle we were visiting looked at us with equal parts confusion and pity before my mother explained that “we’ve been without a bookstore for years.” It was like we found an oasis in the desert. We could read again!

Borders existed forty-five minutes away in Syracuse, so we didn’t get to go there very often. It was, and still is (I hope), in Carousel Mall, which is the greatest mall ever if you are a teenager in upstate NY. Even though it was a short drive away, we used to treat going there as if it were a glamorous day trip, and we’d always park in the lot near Borders so that we entered and exited through the bookstore. Borders was the first place I encountered a Young Adult section, which makes me sound a lot older than I am, but YA didn’t really exist then to the extent it does now. As soon as we walked into the store, I rode the escalator upstairs and parked myself in front of books written for me until my parents were finished doing whatever it is they did.

My hometown got a Barnes & Noble at the tail end of my high school career, so I never got to fully experience the joys of having a bookstore so close to home. But then Borders came back into my life in college. I worked there as a barista and got all the free coffee and discounted books my heart could desire. (Borders, by the way, is also directly responsible for my current coffee snobbery and obsession, having gone through intensive training courtesy of the Starbucks Corporation, who own Seattle’s Best.) Even the management at Borders were full of book people. Intellectuals who hand sold books and engaged with customers and were genuinely happy to be surrounded by books. It wasn’t just some retail job for us. Granted, we were living in a very liberal college town, but this is still the mentality I associate with all Borders, which makes it very hard for me to write them off as just another greedy corporation. They’ve just always been there for me, even when I haven’t been there for them.

Even though Borders and I broke up due to my own morals, they still hold a place in my heart and I will always think of them fondly. I even return to them from time to time. This long personal history has made me wonder what bookstores you all have grown attached to, whether corporate or otherwise. Do you feel a personal attachment to a bookstore? If they’re still open for business, please share details so we can experience them too some time.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone 🙂

A Fine Line Between Book Love & Hate

We are book lovers. The written word is what we’re passionate about. We can spend hours upon hours upon hours discussing our favorite titles, under-appreciated authors, overrated novels, and what we love about writing our own stories.

If you love something as much as we love books, you have the ability to hate it with the same level of passion. Now, there are plenty of books we just don’t like. Not our thing, don’t read a certain genre, we’re not the intended audience, etc. But I’m not talking about those gray areas. Maybe it’s because I didn’t get much sleep last night and woke up a little cranky, but – let’s talk about books we loathe!

I think the first book I ever truly hated was Johnny Tremain. My 6th grade class had to read this in some sort of combination English and Social Studies lesson. Now, I’ve heard Johnny Tremain referred to as a classic and it even won the Newbery Award in 1944. To my 11-year-old mind, however, this was the most boring thing I ever had to read ever. And I read a lot! Maybe I should return to it with my mature, adult eyes, but whenever I think of this book, I can’t help remembering how much I wanted to throw it across the room and how much I hated my 6th grade teacher.

A novel that comes in as a close second on the hate-scale is another that I was “forced” to read in my youth. In A.P. English, we had to read Bartleby the Scrivener, which might have been the first time I wrote a mini-rejection letter in my head: “Dear Herman, I love the idea you’re going for here, but the execution is god awful. Sorry, I’ll pass.”

But, like I said, the story of Bartleby still intrigued me; I just “preferred not to” read it. It wasn’t until my teacher then suggested Billy Budd by Melville that I knew true hate, and it’s the reason I’ll never read Moby Dick. Two examples of an author’s long-winded, incredibly dull storytelling skills are all that I need, thank you. Sorry to any Melville fans; I’m sure there are things to admire about his sentence structure, style, and command of language. I just don’t see it. I ended up telling my teacher about three-quarters through that I just couldn’t finish. She seemed sympathetic to my cause and still gave me credit for reading it.

The reason these terrible-to-me books were read at such young ages is because after high school, people stopped forcing me to read things I might hate. In college I didn’t love everything I read, but I certainly didn’t hold any violent grudges toward them.

You tell me: what’s the one title you can’t barely think about without feeling enraged?

Just Say No to Bad Books! 
(but respect other people’s opinions about them because everything is subjective!)

Happily Ever After

I once had a teacher who claimed there was no such thing as a happy ending in “great” literature. By great, I can only assume she meant those classic novels which are still taught and/or have been revered and loved throughout history (The Great Gatsby, Moby Dick, The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, etc).
This brings me to my question of the day – What is the best novel with a happy ending? As in, truly, 100% happy. (I have a thesis-like response at the ready for anyone who says Pride and Prejudice!)

In the way that most “great” writers are tainted by pain, loss, or addiction, do novels need to suffer the same fate in order to be respected?

What Gets Me (And Publishing) Excited

I could spend today talking about all of the amazing, wonderful things I learned about publishing at BEA this week, but the truth is, Janet Reid is doing a far better job of saying everything I would say on her own blog (here!).

This was my second year going to BEA. A year ago, I did not have a blog or Twitter account, and I didn’t really know many other people in the industry. While my biggest fear in life is still “networking,” I think I was in better shape this year. That said, this year’s BEA, like last year’s, remained what I wanted it to be for me: the literary equivalent of Supermarket Sweep. 
Books I didn’t even care to read were thrown into my tote bags, and some of them I don’t even remember picking up. It was amazing. Of course, some books got me more excited than others. “Buzzworthy Books,” if you will. So here are my Top 5 books that not only am I personally excited about, but the publishing industry is excited about too.

1) The Passage by Justin Cronin. Good lord were they hyping this book! Sadly, I was not able to get a copy because I’m fairly certain they ran out within ten seconds. It’s yet another vampire book, but it’s one that reminds us that vampires do not, nor should they ever, sparkle. Post-apocalyptic, gritty, and destined to be a bestseller! In fact, I think it is already.

2) Room by Emma Donoghue. I’m very excited to read this book. Told from the perspective of five-year-old, Jack, Room is about being forced to live in captivity, and thinking of it as home. Of course, to Jack’s mom, it’s a prison from which she thinks she cannot ever escape. But more than that, it’s about the bond between a mother and son. I hope it’s not too premature to say that I think this book might do for mothers and sons what The Road did for fathers and sons.

3) The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale. An absurdest “memoir” of an evolved chimpanzee named Bruno who falls in love, and shares a detailed intimate moment, with his human caretaker, Lydia. That should pretty much explain it all.

4) The D.U.F.F. by Kody Keplinger. You can accuse me of being biased, since Kody is a friend of the blog, but I am definitely not the only one excited about this book. It was a featured title on the “Buzzworthy YA” panel and her editor’s praise could not have been any higher or more genuine. The D.U.F.F. is about Bianca, the “Designated Ugly Fat Friend,” who begins a relationship with the hot and popular, Wesley. It’s realistic fiction that might be so real it’s raw, which I think is something sorely missing in YA lately. 

5) Matched by Allie Condie. This is another title I, unfortunately, could not snag at BEA, but I look forward to buying it. It was described in a way that reminded me of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishigur. That is, a seemingly Utopian world that turns out to be anything but. In Matched, teenage Cassia looks forward to getting matched to her “perfect guy,” only to have her Matching Ceremony act as the catalyst in discovering her world is not what it appears to be. 

What’s exciting to me about each of these titles deals is that they deal more with human nature than they do with plot. Yes, The Passage will rely heavily on events and action, but like with any dystopian novel, what will make it interesting is how the characters struggle to survive. To me, this only proves that publishing is not a lost cause. At its heart, it still wants, needs, and gets excited about stories. Throw a vampire in there. Add a world-turned-upside-down. Or maybe just set it in a high school, letting the natural drama surrounding that world project your characters forward. In any case, remember it’s the story that matters, not the gimmick.

The Book Connection

Last night on the subway, a guy I politely pretended to ignore was very blatantly reading over my shoulder. I was reading on my nook and at first thought he was maybe just interested in seeing what it looked like. (Which is what I do to iPad  and Kindle people.) Then he kept reading, and I figured he, too, must be enjoying Impossible by Nancy Werlin. So, I let him keep reading without doing my usual passive-aggressive “shift and sigh” routine.

Another thought came to me. If this guy is anything like me, it’s possible that he was simply searching for what I was reading, which can be hard to spot if you’re unfamiliar with e-readers. The way music snobs turn up their noses at beats radiating from others’ iPods, I scan subway cars, parks, and cafes for titles, and then (admittedly) I form an opinion on the reader of that title. The opinion is neither negative or positive; it just simply is. I assume people do the same thing to me. In fact, sometimes I secretly hope they do, depending on what I’m reading that day.

Once on the subway (this is where I do most of my reading), I pulled out Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem. I was only in the second chapter, a dent had hardly been made. Across from me, a man was just finishing the same book. When he closed it, looking satisfied, he caught my eye (well, first he caught my book’s eye), and we shared a knowing smile. It wasn’t a big moment, but it was a moment. Made possible by a book.

Another time, maybe a year ago, I sat across from two people reading the same book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. If you haven’t read it, I’ll just say that it’s a book that heavily uses other references – some fictional, some not. When the two across from me – a college-aged girl and a middle-aged man – realized they were reading the same book, they began discussing how they felt about the sometimes frustrating use of references. While I never, ever speak to people on the subway, I felt compelled to join in and say I had read the book a month prior, and then the three of us enjoyed a brief conversation on the merits of false footnotes.

Yet another moment made possible by books.

The thing with e-readers though, and I know this has been said before, is that you can no longer openly see what a person is reading. Thus, no judgments can be made, and no friendships can be formed. While I have on my nook books that I am not at all ashamed of – Impossible being one of them, and also The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Infinite Jest – I suspect that many book snobs use their e-readers for hiding the guilty pleasures. With the exception of the titles I mentioned above, and a few others, my nook is basically a tool for manuscripts and novels that I don’t necessarily want to form a connection over. (I won’t name any by name, but let’s just say the words “sea monsters” and “vampires” may or may not appear in the titles.)

Now, I notice, that if what I’m reading strikes up a conversation at all, it’s usually to ask me about the device itself. No one cares what I’m actually reading on that device. Call me old-fashioned, but I just can’t see myself making the same type of connection over a piece of technology than I could over a tangible book. That’s not to say I don’t love my nook, but… I guess what I’m saying is, let more people read over your shoulders. If you’re going to allow yourself to get lost in an e-book, it might be comforting to know that a real live person still could be willing to go with you.