Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Blogging Promotion: Thou Shalt Hop

How do you spread the word about your blog? That's this week's Book Blogger Hop question. I'm interested too see how everyone goes about it. Do you actively promote your blog? Or, maybe you shared yours with friends and family, who've shared it with their friends and family. Maybe you don't promote much at all but are satisfied with the traffic you get?

At first, all I did for promotion was share my new posts with Facebook friends.

When I began blogging about books I had no idea how many other book bloggers there are - no idea. After I began my blog, I started Googling for other book blogs. I found a few of interest and visited the blogs on their blog rolls.

Eventually, I stumbled upon the Book Blogger Hop. I've found so many new book blogs this way as well as generated traffic to my blog. 

Following other blogger's advice, I  checked out Book Blogs Ning and eventually set up a Twitter account. Book Blogs Ning is great for getting questions answered. And Twitter is really a lot of fun. I've participated in online chats through Twitter for Armchair BEA (book expo of America) and others. I've won books using Twitter, too - just another reason to get tweeting!

I registered my blog with Technorati. I don't get much traffic from it but it's interesting to see how I'm ranked.

Another thing bloggers encouraged me to do was ping. I usually use Pingomatic or Blog Buzzer. I do think this helps.

In the end, commenting (not spamming!) on the Web is a real traffic producer. Staying active by commenting on other blogs and websites does bring in some visitors.

There's a few of my tricks. If this post has piqued your interest, check out my posts on marketing under Scribbles and Scrawls!

Review: The Impostor's Daughter: A True Memoir by Laurie Sandell

The graphic novel is a format I’ve discovered in the past year. The complexity and skill which graphic novelists posses ranges from simple and flat to extraordinarily moving. If you haven’t read a graphic novel before I urge you to give them a try.

“Laurie Sandell grew up in awe – and sometimes in terror – of her larger-than-life father. A former Green Beret with a law degree, a Ph.D, and fluency in several languages… Beguiled and repelled by his outrageous behavior, she grew into a young woman as restless as her father, roaming the globe, trying on her outsized personalities – Tokyo striper, seducers of Yeshiva girls, yogi, Ambien addict.”

This first part of The Impostor's Daughter was jaw-dropping. It was hard to believe the mind games going on in her family. Sandell’s father sounds like a fictional character which is probably why she inserted “true” into the title, just to emphasize that these events actually happened to her.

At times, I didn’t know who I disliked more – Laurie, her father or her mother. I don’t mean to sound harsh. I think Sandell means for the reader to see how selfishly everyone, including herself, behaves. She is honest about her incredible need to be loved by her father which leads her to attempt to be someone just as crazy sounding as her dad is. It’s a roller coaster ride.

“Laurie finally lucked into the perfect job: interviewing celebrities for a top women’s magazine. Growing up with her extraordinary father gave her a knack for relating to the stars… Yet even after meeting so many of entertainment’s most intriguing people, it was her father she still desperately wanted to understand. Her Investigation uncovered a staggering secret: her father wasn’t the man he had always claimed to be, not even close.”

So, you may be thinking, how could anyone ever believe her father was telling the truth? Those are some big claims he makes, after all. There are lots of red flags that make Laurie question him, but within this family dynamic, the truth is buried so deep that it takes all the strength she can muster to uncover it.

While she tries to figure out who her father really is, Laurie must face her own demons as well. She checks herself intro rehab (a place which Ashley Judd recommended to her) and realizes that obsessing over her father has lead her down a path she doesn’t want to follow anymore. It takes a lot of guts, but she confronts her father, her mother and her own addictions.

It may seem a little cheesy, the whole rehab bit, but hey, this is a real person’s life and I’m glad she found a way to deal with the craziness around her.

And this was the good part – she finds a way to forgive and let go of her anger even when it’s totally justified. This is what made the book stand out for me.

I’m not an artist so take this with a grain of salt: I wasn’t too impressed with the drawings. The story flowed really well and I didn’t have trouble following the story-board. But the artwork was flat. It did not add to the story in the way I’ve come to expect from graphic novels. However, I did appreciate the bright colors and style. So, while the art may leave graphic novel connoisseurs unimpressed the story was still worthwhile.
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2009 – All quotes are from the dust jacket cover.
Source: I won this book from Zia!
Parent alert: there are several nude scenes so it may not be appropriate for young children
Rating: 3.5 Stars      Pages: 247

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Musings of a Grad Student

My first month as an Information and Library Science student wizzed by! I thought I'd send out an update into the bloggosphere...

First Thoughts: Where did the time go? I've done more in the past four weeks than I've done all summer!
Second Thoughts: I thought there was no hope for me as a public speaker. But I successfully gave a presentation without hyperventilating for the first time ever! Woot! So, there's now a glimmer where once total blackness existed.
Final Thoughts: I've got to push a little harder now. I'm approaching the time when initial enthusiasm wanes and demands increase. Time to activate will power and super student strategies (i.e. stocking up on caffeine).

P.S. A girl in my class wore this T shirt and I thought it was great. This link is to the store where I got the pic.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review: What a Professor Learned By Becoming a Student by Rebekah Nathan

As someone who’s had a wide range of experiences with different educational institutions (see my about me page), I find this memoir/study to be perceptive and reflective of my undergraduate experience. My non-traditional background left me feeling like an “outsider” to mainstream American college culture and I could identify with several of Nathan’s findings of how “outsiders” are perceived and treated. Many of Nathan’s perceptions are, incidentally, not flattering. And I think this is why I’ve read so many upset and negative reviews by college students for this book (which I find unwarranted).

But before I get carried away, here's an abbreviated summary from Shelfari: "After fifteen years of teaching anthropology at a large university, Rebekah Nathan had become baffled by her own students. Their strange behavior—eating meals at their desks, not completing reading assignments, remaining silent through class discussions—made her feel as if she were dealing with a completely foreign culture. So Nathan decided to do what anthropologists do when confused by a different culture: Go live with them. She enrolled as a freshman, moved into the dorm, ate in the dining hall, and took a full load of courses".

First of all, Nathan does not submit this book as “proof” or as a sound study. She recognizes upfront the limitations of her investigations and realizes that in the end, her freshman year was a personal experience that may or may not be indicative of college life across the board. This point is reiterated several times. However, this does not mean Nathan doesn’t make good observations. She shares the view of an outsider looking in. So, if your college prof. assigned this book and you don’t think its “academic” enough, that’s not Nathan’s fault. It’s your prof.’s for assigning it. Something to keep in mind.

So, why should you read this book and who should read it? Anyone interested in educational institutions like college-bound high schoolers, professors (especially those who find themselves dismayed with their students), students, and those interested in cultural studies should read this book because it holds a mirror up to our faces. And sometimes that’s what we need.

This isn’t investigative journalism. Nathan isn’t out to get “the scoop,” nasty secrets or expose outlandish behaviors. We’re all aware of the antics that go on around campus. Rather, it’s a sincere investigation to understand the berth between college students and their professors. It attempts to find out why students act the way they do, how they manage academic demands with cultural and social demands. Nathan has attempted to get inside the freshman mindset. She was often surprised to find herself engaging in behaviors she saw her own students do and wondered why they did. Her freshman experience gave her an appreciation for her students and informed her teaching strategies when she returned to professorhood.

I don’t know how much longer this book will be relevant before it turns into historical data. But for now, it’s still an engaging and worthwhile read.
Publisher: Penguin, 2005    Source: Purchased at a used bookstore
Rating: 4 Stars

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Short Story Saturday: "The Man Higher Up" by O. Henry

For today’s Short Story Saturday I read “The Man Higher Up” by O. Henry. This is the first work I’ve read by O. Henry (pen name for William Sydney Porter, 1862-1910) and I was very impressed. Why I’ve never read anything by this American author before is a mystery. In school it was all Faulkner and Hemingway who are fine and dandy but honestly, I thought “The Man Higher Up” demonstrates as much skill as the other two authors and was more enjoyable to read.

For your reading pleasure, here’s the full text of “The Man Higher Up.” It’s about a 10-15 minute read. 

Which is worse: Wall Street speculation or plain old fashioned burglary? This is the story’s premise.

What I enjoyed about “The Man Higher Up”:

•    The work captures the hierarchical nature of society and points out that even “degenerates” have their classes.
•    The irony, sarcasm and word-play are great fun.
•    The point of view is masterfully crafted. We have an unknown narrator sharing a conversation he had with a friend, Jeff Peters. Peters tells his long story to this narrator. So, we get a wonderfully distorted first-person narrative. And it works.
•    The dialog is smart, witty and creates one-of-a-kind characters.
•    The “surprise ending,” for which O. Henry is known, brings the story full-circle and gave me a nice chuckle.

I highly recommend this short story and I’ll be keeping my eye out for O. Henry in the future. If you’ve read the story, what did you think of it?
I read this story from an anthology, 50 Great Short Stories, pages 181-193. 
Publisher: Bantam Classics, 2005
Source: Purchased from Amazon

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Guest Review: A Superior State of Affairs by Tom Maringer

My mom has provided a review for us today! She bumped into the author who, in addition to being a writer, is a geologist and fantasy coin and button maker. My mom collects buttons and rivets so she was very interested in Tom's work. But Mr. Maringer's book isn't about buttons... Here's Mom's review:

A Superior State of Affairs by Tom Maringer is a sci-fi mystery set in the year 2017 in a post-United States now know as the “North American Federation”.  Geologist “Digger” Puttonen has developed an invention that could change the world.  Arne Harjaala is an old drunk known for telling tales about the “old days” of mining.  But one evening when Digger hears Arne mention a 1906 mining disaster in which Arne is rescued by a “blue light”, Digger's interest is piqued.  That same night, Digger and Arne must fight for their lives, surviving a raging blizzard and the hostile pursuit of men out to silence Arne for good.  And, it seems like the whole world is set on procuring Digger and his invention in their quest for world-dominance.

This story is full of science and science fiction, intrigue, geography, and a cast of characters that runs the gamut from spies to Indians, assassins to politicians, and telepaths to psychopaths.  A lot of action is packed into a few short wintry days, along with a lesson in all things mining, which I found interesting and out of the norm from my reading regimen.  Before delving into the story, it would be helpful for the reader to get acquainted with the Glossary of Terms found in the appendix.

I enjoyed the basically good-guy image of Digger, and could relate to his “fight for the right”.  Each chapter is written from the point of view of just a few of the books' many characters, which is how so much action can take place over the space of a few days, in roughly 500 pages.

Themes such as “Big brother is watching you”, humanity vs. technology, and personal freedoms vs. the “common good” all intertwine in this imaginative thriller.  Some strong language and sexual situations make me suggest the 17+ crowd would be an appropriate audience. 
Publisher: AuthorHouse, 2004     
Source: purchased directly from the author via this website (you can get a signed copy this way).
Pages: 497     Additional Info on Tom Maringer 

Thanks for the review Mom!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Review: Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles

Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles chronicles, you guessed it, the history of the library! The book follows the evolution of the “book” from clay tablets to today’s more recognizable codex form. It tracks the cultural significance and rising symbolism associated with libraries over time such as elitist, propaganda machines, scenes of victory and democracy.  It subtly confronts and debunks myths and stereotypes about these people we call librarians and the mystical auras that surround the library.

I read this book for an intro course for my MLS degree. It’s one of my favorite reads so far. I liked the overview this text provided and felt it gave me insight into how traditions have influenced the field of librarianship, the relationship between the library and its users and the library’s function.

While each chapter has a theme the book more or less moves chronologically forward making the narrative fairly easy to follow. While the text is literary and not a textbook there were times when the prose gets a bit tedious, especially with the ancient quotes and digressions. These digressions held up the flow for me. The middle section began to lose my interest and I read quickly to get through.

The later chapters really began to shine. The chapter “Knowledge On Fire” was fun in a demented sort of way. Who knew libraries were such targets and have endured one physical attack after another. Books have been burned, lost, recovered and recreated so that even when some wish for a text’s destruction it proves to be an incredibly difficult task to actually burn a book out of existence. I didn’t know anything about libraries in ghettos during the WWII and found this section fascinating.

What I enjoyed most is the characterization of famous librarians, scholars and certain libraries. I met some people I never heard about like Panizzi whose radical ideas for cataloging made him unpopular with some and beloved by others. The chapter with Dewey, famous for the Dewey Decimal System, was fun and interesting as well.

This is a book written by a lover of libraries. As my classmates and I decided, it’s philosophical as much as it’s historical. It’s emotional and nostalgic as much as it is factual and informative. I certainly fall within the targeted audience and I felt it was a worthwhile read.
Publisher: Norton, 2003    Pages: 245
Rating: 3.5 Stars        Source: Purchased from Amazon

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Short Story Saturday: A New Feature in which we read Araby

Welcome to Short Story Saturday!
Short stories are often neglected in favor of the novel but short stories can be just as fun, interesting and challenging as their longer counterpart. Whether you already love short stories, have never read one before or fall somewhere in between, I hope you will consider joining me each weekend to read and explore these literary  nuggets!

Today’s short story is “Araby,” a classic by James Joyce. The full text can be read for free here. But before we delve into the text let’s consider just what a short story is.

What is a Short Story?
    The jury is still but here are some generalizations:
    The Short Story…
•    Can be read in one sitting; is more than 500 but less than 20,000 words long
•    Often captures a moment – much like a photograph
•    Is traditionally fiction
•    Reveals character and conflict quickly
•    Requires careful diction (word choice) because there’s limited space to get meaning across
•    Generally has a single focus (whereas a novel may have several)
•    Often ends with a revelation or epiphany

A Brief History of the Short Story

    Anecdotes –> Parables –> Fables (like Aesop’s) –> Tales (including fairy tales) –> Short Stories!

Questions to Think About When Reading a Short Story:
•    What is left off the page, what is implied/ unresolved?
•    What are possible outcomes, what might happen if the story continued?
•    Is there allegory, symbol, epiphany?

If you haven’t already, go ahead and read through “Araby.” It’s very short and shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes. My approach to “Araby” is more of an analysis so I’ll assume you’ve read it or, in other words, expect spoilers.

As you may know, “Araby” is part of a collection called Dubliners (1914) in which Joyce attempts to reveal the average life of the Irish. Joyce is the master of epiphany – a moment in which a character has a revelation or illumination. His aim is to portray the Irish middle class as realistically as he can. Joyce is also a writer from the Modern Period (1914-1945 or WWI-WWII).  For more info on the Modern Period in English and American literature check out this Wikipedia page.

By the way, this analysis was part of a paper I wrote so don’t steal my ideas! 

Typical of a short story, there is a lot going on. Joyce does a lot of contrasting. Did you find any symbols or contrasting elements? What about that apple tree in the garden? The dead priest? The rusty bicycle pump?

There are several romantic elements contrasted with anti-romantic elements.

Romantic elements:
•    Exploration   
•    Watching the girl through the blinds
•    Imagining she was with him
•    Girl as a Virgin Mary image (remember when she’s lit up from behind?) that the boy exalts and worships
•    High expectations for the bazaar

Anti-Romantic Elements:
•    Drunken men at the market
•    Cheapening of the bazaar – counting money is a trivialization of love, silly flirtation between the salesgirl and boys
•    Bicycle pump is rusted and disused (an impotent phallic image associated with the priest?)
•    Air is musty, ashy and cold
•    Girl as a sex object

The place, people and pervading mood in Joyce’s “Araby” do not appear conducive to happiness or hope. Yet the adolescent protagonist clings to these emotions despite the stark realities of life around him. He thinks he is untouched by the gloom that abounds and that he is somehow not subject to the elements surrounding his life.

The opposite sex and romance is a mystery to him. He forms his notion of romance from his observations of a friend’s sister. He takes notice of the way she moves her body and watches her dress swing. He follows her from a distance, almost like a stalker. He received no encouragement in his infatuation but he makes himself believe he has found love. He mistakes his infatuation for the girl as something sacred which he is protecting and using to strengthen himself. The boy pushes aside all calls to reality in order to maintain his delusion of romance.

He sets off for Araby, the bazaar, full of expectation and desire. He has built up the bazaar as he built up his infatuation for the girl – both a figment of his imagination. The bazaar does not satisfy his expectations because the show is over and nothing is left but the architecture. He sees how arbitrary and meaningless it really is. He hears the vendors speaking with English accents and realizes he doesn’t belong. He is Irish and poor.

He sees how he deceived himself even though everything around him was ordinary, unmagical and even ugly. He says, “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (41). He realizes the absurdity of his infatuation with the girl and the bazaar. He becomes disillusioned and realizes he saw what he wanted to see when his picture of romance could not function in reality. He couldn’t force his illusion to work outside his home where he could not control the environment. Hopes and dreams do not always actualize and reality must be dealt with. The boy is angered at himself for being so vain as to think his hope alone could change his world. It is a painful but also maturing experience.

So, what did you think of the story? Did you like it, did it strike a chord? Was it too dark? Does it end well? Did you want to cry, laugh? Is there hope in this story?

I feel something different almost every time I read “Araby.” Sometimes I feel bad for the boy because he’s poor. Other times I can’t get over how silly he was about the girl. Sometimes I can feel Joyce’s disillusionment with the Catholic faith and at other times I just think the religious symbols are convenient. I also love how Joyce personifies the houses! I think he may be the first to give houses “faces.” Anyone know differently?  At first, I used to think the story was very dark. But the last line always makes me smile. Don’t we all have similar moments when we feel the fool?

Well, this was a heavy post and probably not something to expect from every Short Story Saturday. I’ll try to choose at least a couple stories each month that are available for free online so you can read with me if you want. Happy Reading!

Friday, September 3, 2010

On Why I Don't Read Mysteries brought to you by The Book Blogger Hop

To answers this week's Hop question, Yes, I do judge books by their covers! It's hard to admit, and I used to always say no, but the actuality is that I do.

Book covers are carefully planned and used to tell a passerby what type of book it is and what demographic the publisher thinks the book will please.

Consider this: many genres have a "look" to their covers. Do you know what I mean? Science fiction tends to use darker colors and feature some symbol of science, technology and adventure like a space ship or the galaxy or a tool. This isn't a hard and fast rule at all but... if you browse the shelves I think you'll see what I mean. Fantasy and romances have their own looks as do most other genres.

And I think this is why I don't tend to read mysteries. Their covers don't do anything for me. There's almost always a whole lot of text and very few graphics. Here are some examples of recent mysteries/thrillers:

The only one I've read is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but if it wasn't for many bloggers recommending it I don't think I'd have ever considered reading it just because its cover is so uninformative. Actually, I would have guessed it's about a Chinese girl just based off the title/cover. And it's not! It's a pretty cover but it didn't pull me in. None of these covers do.

I have a feeling I'm missing out on a lot of good, gripping reads. I went through a John Grisham phase a few years ago and they began to feel like the same book over and over. And I haven't read much mystery since then. What am I missing? Are my cover judgments hurting me? Can you recommend an engaging mystery?

If you're stopping by from the Hop, hi! I'm starting a new feature this Saturday for short stories. I hope you'll check it out then! Thanks for hopping by!