Readathon Wrap Up #readathon

Another readathon has come and gone. According to the event organizer’s 1,723 readers signed up to participate this time. The event brought together readers from all over the world through the use of social media and a shared love of reading. As I mentioned in my previous post, I wasn’t going to be able to do the full 24 hours, but I managed to read 381 pages. I was able to wake up in time for the 5 a.m. start here in California, and that’s quite an accomplishment for a night owl like me.

I started off the readathon by opening my “Blind Date with a Book” that I had picked up at The Open Book in Thousand Oaks, California. I unwrapped the book and found By the Light of My Father’s Smile by Alice Walker. I was surprised to find an Alice Walker book hiding beneath the paper. I have read a number of her books, but I was not familiar with this one. And, true to Walker’s work, the writing was beautiful. My only regret is that I sped through the book for the readathon, so there are passages I would like to go back to and savor a bit more.

After that I picked up volume 1 of the graphic novel version of The Golden Compass. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is one of my favorite series, so it was like reconnecting with old friends when I stepped back into Lyra and Pan’s world. While the graphic novel version does not have the same magic as Pullman’s novel, it was an enjoyable effort, and the format was a nice break during the readathon. I look forward to picking up volume 2 in the near future.

Following The Golden Compass, I bravely ventured into the world of Kindles and ebooks by reading Different Seasons by Stephen King. The first novella in this collection is Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. I have seen the movie version of this story a number of times, but, despite having the familiarity with the story, the written version really stands out as some of King’s best work. Unfortunately the need to sleep took over, and I did not finish this novella before the end of the readathon, but I did manage to finish it just before writing this post.

As for the Kindle experience, I sill much prefer my paper books. The one advantage to the Kindle is that it was a little easier to manage in bed than a regular book, but I missed the feel of how many pages I had read and how many were left. The little indication of percentage read at the bottom of the screen did not really replace that experience. I’ll read a book on the Kindle from time to time, but you will mostly see me with paper books–although several other readathoners did tell me to give the Kindle time to grow on me.

Once again, the online community really made this a fun experience. If you have not already, head over to your favorite social media platform, and read the #readathon posts. As I have said before, the readathon community is a supportive and kind group of people. I have never experienced any of the hateful, angry comments that seem to exist in many other corners of the internet. I could easily turn any free day into a readathon of one, but it is the online community that keeps me coming back to Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon.

The next readathon will take place on April 29, 2017, so start getting your stacks of books ready now.

Lists of Books

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At the end of the summer, my friend Jenni Buchanan does an excellent job compiling the syllabus for her book group, Rediscovering the Classics. One of my favorite meetings each year is the one where Jenni reveals the list for the year, which is based on a theme. This year’s theme is “Literary Life Lessons,” and it includes some interesting reads, activities and field trips paired with books. After the syllabus announcement meeting back in August, Jenni and I were going for a hike, and I was telling her how I envy the task of creating the reading list each year. I love lists, and I love books, so lists of books make me happy. Jenni’s response to me was, “Well, why don’t you make up some of your own reading lists?” So, that’s what I set out to do here.

These lists are made up of books that I have not read. Consider it a way for me to organize my to-be-read stack around themes. With only a few exceptions, most of these are in my personal library. I had quite a few books to choose from, given that my to-be-read stack is actually a three-shelf bookcase. Also, given that Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon is only a few weeks away, I figured this is a good time to start building my reading pile in preparation for that event.

Women & Space
Before I was born, my mom worked as a computer programmer for the space program. She eventually ended up at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is where she met my dad. Women in the space program have been getting a lot of attention recently, and there are some promising books out and an upcoming movie based on Hidden Figures. Here are my books on women and space:

  • Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr
    I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Sally Ride in grad school when I was organizing an event where she was the main speaker. She was kind, intelligent and inspiring, so I am really looking forward to reading more about her amazing life.
  • Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt
    This book looks at the women known as “human computers” who used pencil and paper to do the complicated calculations necessary for space exploration. They were instrumental in building the U.S. space program and JPL.
  • Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
    Shetterly introduces us to the women who were “human computers” in NASA’s early days, but Hidden Figures specifically looks at Black women who did the work of calculating things like flight paths by hand while also being segregated due to the Jim Crow laws of the time. Be sure to watch the trailer for the upcoming movie to get a glimpse of why it is so important that we recognize the outstanding achievements of this group of women.

Stephen King Books I Want to Read
Stephen King has written enough books to warrant his own list. I did not start reading King’s novels until about ten years ago when I picked up On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I had previously dismissed King as simply a horror writer, but as soon as I delved into his work, I realized I was wrong, and I had grossly underestimated his ability as a storyteller. Yes, there is horror, but more than that, he creates highly relatable characters and writes about childhood in a way that is nostalgic without being overly sentimental. King’s books are usually quick reads–even the ones that are well over 600 pages. They make for an excellent choice when you want a good book to get lost in. This list could be really long, but I will keep it short and limit it to unread King books in my personal library and a few others I hope to get my hands on soon:

  • The Shining
  • Insomnia
  • Rose Madder
  • The Dead Zone
  • Different Seasons
  • Misery
  • Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales

Eastern California
Regular readers know that my favorite road buddy Tim Pershing and I love making adventures of our road trips. Tim’s family is in Reno, so we have made quite a few trips north and south on the 395 through Eastern California. On one trip we were stopped at a gas station in Independence, CA, and we saw a sign pointing toward Mary Austin‘s house. We both wondered who she was, so I got my phone out and started reading up on her.  We learned she was a nature writer in the early 20th century and that she was involved in the famous California Water Wars that eventually resulted in water from the Owens Valley being drained to supply the growing city of Los Angeles. You can learn more about this and more history about the region at the Eastern California Museum in Independence. Eastern California is also home to Manzanar, one of the camps where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II. If your travels take you through this part of California, be sure to stop at the Manzanar National Historical Site. Here are a few books I have picked up on my trips through Eastern California:

  • The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin
  • Essential Mary Austin: A Selection of Mary Austin’s Best Writings
  • Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston
  • No Rooms of Their Own: Women Writers of Early California, 1849-1869 Edited by Ida Rae Egli

Soccer Stories
I have only been a fan of soccer in the last couple years, and I owe that to the U.S. women’s soccer team and their 2015 World Cup victory. After watching those games, I was hooked and began rooting for the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League. We have been lucky this year to have two books hit the shelves by players from the 2015 World Cup team, and I have quickly added them both to my list. I recently attended a book signing for Carli Lloyd’s new book and was happy to see that the line stretched around the block. Anyone who doubts the popularity of women’s soccer should have seen the crowd gathered for her signing. So, here’s my short list of soccer stories to read:

  • When Nobody Was Watching: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World by Carli Lloyd
  • Forward: A Memoir by Abby Wambach

Alexander Hamilton
I am hooked on the soundtrack for Hamilton, and often when I am listening to it, I find myself googling details about the founding fathers and the early decades of our country’s existence. What I am really enjoying about Hamilton‘s popularity is that many others are finding a new interest in this part of our history. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical has brought history alive in a creative way and opens up new ways to see and connect with the founding of the U.S. With that, I would like to tackle these two books:

  • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
    This is the book that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to write Hamilton. I read the first page of the prologue and got chills. The writing is just that good. I get the feeling that this is not some dry, old history book.
  • Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
    Hamilton fans lovingly refer to this as the Hamiltome because of its size and extensive content. There are pictures, lyrics, notes, commentary and just about anything fans of the show could want. It is a good way to keep yourself busy while you wait for Hamilton’s America to premiere on PBS.

Books I Should Have Already Read
Have you ever been talking to people about books, and they start bringing up certain classics or other well-known works, and you stand there quietly, afraid to admit that you have not read the book being discussed? I think we all have those books–they are the ones that our friends are surprised to hear we have not read. I have slowly been trying to collect some of these when I visit used bookstores, and here are some of the titles currently in my to-be-read stack:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  • A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
  • Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Meridian by Alice Walker

Fiction and the Apocalypse

Station 11 bookshelfSpoiler Alert: There are some brief mentions of major plot points in James Dashner’s Maze Runner series in this post. Proceed with caution if you have not yet read the books.

If you look at popular fiction, movies and TV shows, it would appear that we are fascinated with our own global demise. And if I have learned anything from the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic genre, it’s that civilization is going to be destroyed in grand ways that involve some combination of the flu, environmental catastrophe, mutating viruses, financial collapse, solar flares, famine and of course zombies. It is a grim future for sure, yet it is a topic I can spend pages and hours absorbed in. What is it about the fictional end of the world that fascinates us so?

Going back to the days when people feared an eclipse or a comet was a sign that the world was ending, it seems that our fascination with the apocalypse is rooted in the human psyche. For all the predictions that the world was going to end on a specific day, we are still here plugging away at jobs and lives and fighting the ebb and flow of traffic as we make our way through our daily lives. Is it that we find the challenge of a global catastrophe more interesting than the sea of brake lights on the 405?

I recently finished James Dashner’s Maze Runner series. Dashner’s world is one devastated by solar flares and shortly thereafter a mutating virus that wreaks havoc on the survivors. I had seen the first movie and thought the premise was interesting, so I decided to pick up the series. What started off as an interesting read became tedious for me by the end. Dasher leaves unanswered questions, and there are parts of the story that seem unnecessary—especially by the fourth book, which is a prequel. Most of it has the main characters going from fight scene to fight scene in an effort to outrun a virus mutating beyond the expectations of those who released it in an effort to control population due to a scarcity of resources.

I liked the premise of Dashner’s series; I just was not a fan of the execution. The first three books revolve around Thomas and others who are immune to the virus. The organization in power puts them through a series of trials in order to map their brains in an effort to find a cure for the virus. The fourth book gives us a glance at how the apocalypse unfolded. We really have an apocalypse that strikes twice. First, the world is hit by major solar flares that cause wide scale death and destruction, radiation and surges of water from melting ice that destroy coastal towns. Those that survive this first plague must then contend with a population control virus that rapidly gets out of hand and mutates beyond the expectations of those who released it. It is a combination of environmental catastrophe and manmade destruction via virus, and interestingly the virus causes people to behave in a somewhat zombielike state as their brains are slowly destroyed by the disease. It’s quite the apocalypse cocktail.

While I was disappointed in the execution of an interesting idea in Dashner’s series, I appreciated how it got me thinking about this genre. My favorite part of Stephen King’s The Stand was the first part of the book where we watch the outbreak evolve and see how survivors begin to piece together some kind of existence. These are the parts I liked of Dashner’s books too—how do characters try to survive? Maybe we get a certain thrill out of seeing the possibility of survival in the most grim of circumstances. Or perhaps it is a way for us to acknowledge just how easily this system we live in and take for granted could easily fall apart.

I also enjoy watching the version of the post-apocalyptic world in the TV show The Walking Dead, which is based on a graphic novel. I am regularly drawn into the stories of the survivors as they struggle with one basic thing: stay alive. It is a huge task for sure, but it is simple in that every other responsibility and demand seems stripped away. And as the reader or viewer, we can focus our energy on that one storyline. Whether it is finding a cure, rebuilding civilization or stockpiling supplies, it is all done with the goal of staying alive in the face of zombies or whatever the global threat may be.

I recently asked friends on Facebook to share their favorite fiction in this genre, so I want to close this post with a list of the responses I got and some of my thoughts on the books on this list I have already read. I want to note here some of these could probably be classified with dystopian, but most deal with some kind of major societal collapse, so I think they have apocalyptic qualities and are interesting reads nonetheless.

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
I had a hard time forgiving one of my good friends for recommending I read Twilight until she got me hooked on The Hunger Games. These books are a fast and intense read that are perfect for all-night reading. Warning: these books may result in horrible dreams about being in the arena, but they are still worth multiple readings.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
While not really apocalyptic, this books gives us a glimpse into a version of the future where life is so miserable that people spend most of their time inside a virtual world. Cline does a good job at crafting this world that seems on the verge of apocalypse, and I highly recommend this to anyone who grew up in the ‘80s because Cline throws in lots of good pop culture references from the era.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
This is another book that is not really apocalyptic. It fits better in the dystopia category. Atwood’s story shows us a terrifying version of the future where fundamentalism has taken over, and women are subjugated to the point where they are little more than their ability to bear children. When looking at U.S. and global politics, this book is just as relevant now as when it was published in 1985.

The Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth
I shared my reflections on this series last year. These are fun reads with a lot to think about in terms of how we organize and classify others, but it is not particularly memorable. I wanted Roth to go deeper into the story and felt she only grazed the surface of what was an interesting concept. I found that by the third book, the two main characters sounded the same, and I had a hard time keeping track of them as the chapters alternated between each of them speaking in the first person. Read the books for some good escape fiction, but avoid the movies.

And here are some recommendations I have not yet read but hope to get to soon:
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Akira series by Katsuhiro Otomo
Renewal by J.F. Perkins
The Wool series by Hugh Howey
The Unwind Dystology series by Neal Shusterman
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The World Made by Hand series by James Howard Kunstler
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
The Postman by David Brin

The Problem with Literary Genres & Categories

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Humans seem to like categories. We sort and label all over the place, including bookstores. Walking around any bookstore, you would think each story could be neatly classified: science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, history, humor…the list goes on and on. But in reading books, it is easy to see how many stories defy conventional genres and categories.

Several years ago I went to a talk and book signing by Jasper Fforde. Fforde is best known for his Thursday Next series where his main character can jump from book to book, easily transgressing genres. To make things more interesting, this is a skill Thursday Next hones under the guidance of Miss Havisham, a character who originated in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Throughout the series, Thursday interacts with characters from books that span multiple centuries and genres, which, as Fforde pointed out in his talk, complicates things when trying to classify his books. Are his books fantasy because they contain minotaurs and fantastical worlds? Are they science fiction because of the time travel? Or maybe they belong in mystery because many of the plots center around Thursday solving some sort of literary crime. For this reason, Fforde pointed out that he was partial to doing away with genre classifications because many books do not in fact fit neatly in the categories we have set up.

Labeling books by genre is often limiting. For example, I stayed away from Stephen King for a long time because I always thought of him as just a horror writer. It was not a genre that interested me, but after picking up King’s On Writing, I was inspired to delve into his fiction. I started with Carrie and soon after found myself devouring whatever King fiction I could get my hands on. Even though many of his books do have a strong horror element, they could also be classified in other ways. Take IT, for example. Of course this book fits neatly in the horror genre, but it is also a coming-of-age story, and I think it is that element more than the evil Pennywise the Clown that drew me into the book. It makes me wonder what other gems are hiding in sections like horror and mystery—areas of the bookstore I do not often visit.

Branding a book as Young Adult (YA) fiction is another way we may limit readership. YA is a huge category in bookstores right now. It seems that the Harry Potter series ushered in a new wave of YA writers. It is not that writers for the YA market did not exist before JK Rowling’s boy wizard arrived on the scene, but it was a moment where those in publishing seemed to finally take YA fiction seriously. But, YA readers are not just teens; adults are also diving into YA fiction. This raises a question: what makes a book YA? One thing that YA books tend to have in common is a main character who is a child or a teen. With the cross-generational appeal of books like Rowling’s and Pullman’s, it seems to me that having a young main character does not necessarily mean that a book is just for a young adult audience even though this seems to be the way the publishing industry markets such books.

The YA label once again points to just how limiting genres and categories can be when it comes to books. I still have friends who refuse to read the Harry Potter series because, “Those are kids’ books.” I find this to be similar to my initial aversion to Stephen King. If I still held that attitude, I would have missed out on many good books.

Reading should be about connecting with a variety of characters—not just people that are like us. For example, when we label a book as women’s fiction because it features women characters and experiences that are seen as common to women, it’s as though we are sending a message that such stories do not warrant an audience beyond women readers. The reality is that many readers enjoy books with all kinds of main characters. There have even been pushes to stop labeling kids’ books as being for boys or girls—just call them books. Compartmentalizing kids’ books by gender bothers me because it seems to imply that we should only read stories suited to our gender. Does this mean a girl cannot enjoy Tom Sawyer and a boy cannot enjoy The Hunger Games because the main character’s gender is not in alignment with their own?

When we limit what we read to narrowly defined categories, we are missing out on a lot of stories that overlap multiple genres. Often a kids’ book is not just a kids’ book, and a horror story is not just about things jumping out and saying, “Boo!”

Committing to Being a Writer

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Somewhere around the age of 9 or 10, I had the realization that people got paid to write the books that I loved. As a job, it seemed too good to be true. Coming up with stories and spending time immersed in fictional worlds seemed like a dream job, and that’s what I decided I wanted to do when I grew up. I found a notebook and wrote on the cover “Around the Neighborhood.” I drew some basic houses on the cover and a few stick figures walking around. My substandard artwork didn’t bother me because I was aiming to be an artist with words, not paint pens. I grabbed my favorite purple ballpoint pen and went and sat in the backyard waiting for a story to come to me through an overheard conversation from an adjoining yard or maybe even a helicopter flying low overhead if I was lucky. I remember writing something like this in my notebook that day:

Everything appears to be normal and calm in the neighborhood today. Perhaps a story will show up tomorrow.

My first foray into finding stories in my world did not yield the great American novel. I’m still working on that. After graduating from college, I quickly realized that no one was going to hire me to write novels for an hourly wage. After a couple jobs and grad school for an MA in women’s studies, I ended up embarking on a career in human resources–that’s quite a leap from the girl who was thrilled at the idea that people could get paid to write. Sure I did some writing in my HR job by drafting policies and managing the employee newsletter, but that hardly fulfilled the creative side of someone like me whose list of close friends includes some fictional people.

Back in about 2008 I read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I had not read anything by King before because I had thought I would not care for his brand of horror. I was wrong about that. On Writing was my gateway to King’s novels, and I have since read quite a few of his books, including a journey through his Dark Tower series in both the written and audio formats. At the point I read King’s book, I was doing very little writing beyond what was required in the course of my job. I could not remember the last time I had written something creative. King has a simple piece of advice that was a wake-up call for me:

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut (139).

I was fulfilling the reading part, but I was not writing a lot. In fact, unless you count a meal break or timekeeping policy, I was not writing at all. It is hard to call yourself a writer when you don’t write. I knew I needed to change that, even if it meant plugging away at a story a few pages at a time on weekends. I also decided I needed to tackle something big: a novel that I wrote over the course of many weekends. I ended up with a complete first draft of a novel that involved two main characters who travel through time. It needs a lot of work, and there are huge continuity problems, but I am proud of it. I don’t know that I will ever go back and make it publication ready, but it has given me the confidence to realize that writing a whole novel is something I can do.

I recently got back to a novel I had started about two years ago. It’s only about 50 pages at this point. With this story, I took King’s advice once again:

Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex , and work (157).

King also stresses the importance of situation in a story. The idea for my current novel was a mix of a dream I had and some ideas I had been mulling over on my walk from the car to my office one morning when I was still living in Santa Cruz. I came up with a situation and started developing characters based on this question: what would my friend and I do if we were stuck in this situation that I had dreamed up? From there, my novel was born. Unfortunately, with the time it takes to build my business, it is still a struggle to find the time to work on my fiction.

One of the challenges for many fiction writers is that, unless you are established enough to warrant an advance, you do not get paid for all your hours of work on a novel until a publisher decides they want to publish your book. Even with self-publishing, a novelist won’t start making money until people buy the finished product. This means that writing gets pushed to the bottom of the list after all the things that can put money in the bank right away.

But in the last few weeks, the writer part of me has been putting up a fight. When the writer in your brain makes a lot of noise, it is funny how you can find time to write. It means sitting at my computer to write when I am inclined to stare at the TV or click through cute animal pictures on my phone. It also means taking the risk to send what I write out into the world.

I am writing this post as a reminder that this is a commitment that both you and I need to make to whatever form our creative expression takes. Reach down deep in your memories and remember who you were and who you wanted to be. If there has always been a piece of you that wanted to be a writer or artist, embrace that. It’s not even necessary to quit your day job to make the commitment. Even if you only have time to write only a page a day, you will have 365 pages by the end of the year–enough to have a whole novel.

Work Cited:
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Pocket Books, 2002. Print.

All Night Reads

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I was recently up late at night finishing the last few chapters of Helene Wecker’s beautifully written book, The Golem and the Jinni. When I closed the book on the final words and put it down on my nightstand, the clock showed a bright red 2:35 a.m. It was late, but not quite what I’d clocked with some other books. As I struggled to keep my eyes open the next day while I updated a sick leave policy for a client, my mind began to wander through my bookshelves. Working on HR policies has a way of making one’s mind take off and find other, more entertaining activities. I thought about those books that beg the reader to stay up all night as though the characters lives depended on it.

One of my favorite all night reads is The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman, the third book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. I have read this quite a few times, and each time finds me turning pages into the wee hours of the morning. It’s as though Will and Lyra finding their way out of hell is dependent on my reading them out of that sad, dark place. Even though I know how the story is going to end, I still find myself afraid that putting the book down in the middle of Will and Lyra’s journey through hell will result in them getting stuck there. So, I sacrifice a good night’s rest for reading. It’s the least I can do for two characters that ultimately go on to save humanity, right?

I also felt this way about The Long Walk by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman). In this book, 100 teenage boys start walking. We learn pretty quickly that stopping can have deadly consequences. True to form, King does not let you down and takes you along on a terrifying journey as you watch the long walk progress. Reading this is an intense experience, which results in feeling like you must keep reading in order to keep the walkers from stopping or falling down.

The Long Walk gave me weird dreams like I had when I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Such is the risk when one falls asleep reading. The characters in the books have a way of jumping into our dreams as though to say, “Just to get back at you for giving up on my story so you can go to bed, I’m going to bug you while you sleep and fill your head with all kinds of crazy dreams.” When I first read The Hunger Games, I was working in a stressful HR job in a warehouse. I had a crazy dream about battling other employees in an arena that looked strangely like the warehouse. After that, I jokingly referred to that building as the Arena.

Not every all night read is an adventure story with characters that need to be read out of dangerous predicaments. There are some books made for curling up in a nest of pillows and blankets–preferably with a flashlight to illuminate the words. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is one such book. I also enjoy reading many of Kurt Vonnegut’s books this way.

I cannot end this post without mentioning some of my favorite series that are all night reads. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books were all night reads for many fans (including me). Stephen King’s Dark Tower series had me pulling similar all nighters, but fortunately all seven books were out by the time I started reading that series. It’s always tough to stay up all night reading a really good series book only to find out that the next book has not been published yet. Thanks, J.K. Rowling for making me wait so long for the fifth, sixth and seventh Potter books!

What are some of your favorite all night reads?

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Reading & Writing Resolutions for 2015

I am not usually one for New Year’s resolutions. New Year’s Eve never quite seems to live up to the anticipation. We countdown to midnight only to find out that January 1 is just another day. Perhaps I’m being a bit too cynical about the new year, but I have never really been the kind of person to use the change to a new year as an opportunity to reset–except when it comes to reading and writing goals.

Every year I have a plan to read more books. I think every book nerd has that goal, and there never seems to be enough time to read all the books we want to. I got Stephen King’s Revival for Christmas, so that’s on my reading list for 2015. I also really want to read Diving for Pearls by Kathleen B. Jones. Of course I always have a long list of favorites I want to reread, which includes Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions among other things.

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I just moved to a new place. I’m not a big fan of packing and moving (who is?), but I do enjoy unpacking my books at a new location and spending time figuring out where they will go. Getting my books set up by the new year is a big goal for me. There is an art to a good book shelf that requires a little more than just throwing books up on a shelf. I prefer alphabetical order, but I like to get creative with stacking and placing pictures and curios on the shelves along with my books.

As for my creative writing, I am starting a new project. It’s in the realm of creative nonfiction. I am not sure yet if it will be something I see through to the end. I have many unfinished writing projects that started off as good ideas. Somewhere in the depths of my computer and on the pages of notebooks lurk zombies, time travelers and other fictional children waiting for me to finish their stories. This new idea is more personal, and I feel strongly about seeing this through to the end. For now I have a new notebook specifically for this writing project because I believe every new writing project begins with the perfect notebook. Just as the wand chooses the wizard, so too does the notebook choose the writer.

Happy New Year! May 2015 be filled with creativity and lots of books.

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Why I Don’t Own an eReader

I recently wrote a post called “Maintaining a Personal Touch in a Wired World” over at Blogging4Jobs. As I mentioned in that post, I like a lot of what technology has done to make our work lives more efficient, but I have worked hard to keep technology from completely taking over my work life. I still see value in face-to-face communication and handwritten notes even though I enjoy spending time on social media sites, blogging, texting and emailing. When it comes to books though, you will never see a an eReader in my hands. I prefer a good, old paper book.

I see value in a single device that can hold a whole library of books. It puts a world of writing at your fingertips and alleviates the problem of weighing down a suitcase with several books while on vacation. I have also heard people rave about how such devices can make books interactive. Books can now contain links to websites with more information, video and more.

I’m not sure that I would agree that such things make books more interactive. For me, books have always been very interactive. When I am reading a good book, I am immersed in the world created by the author. There are no links for more information or videos to guide me on my way. My imagination is interacting with the words. In a way, books are a rather simple form of technology. We can see whole stories play out in our minds. No special viewing device is needed.

All the extras an eReader can add to a book may enhance the learning experience, but it can take me out of the need to simply connect with a  good book. I spend a lot of time on my iPhone and computer throughout the day. It’s the way I get a lot of my work done, not to mention that it’s how I write fiction, get most of my news, stay in touch with friends and stay up-to-date on what my favorite authors and bookstores are up to. This is perhaps the main reason I eschew eReaders. My books are a way to unplug from all the distractions of technology and the sense of urgency in completing tasks that come via technology. In a paper book, there are no ads popping up, no links to follow and no cute animal videos.

I attended an HR technology conference last week. It was fun to learn about all the developments in this area. I was live tweeting during presentations and exchanging contact information with my iPhone out, but when it came to note taking, I had a paper notebook. When writing a story, I usually opt for my computer, but when it comes to note taking, there is something gratifying about putting pen to paper.

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I took Christine by Stephen King with me. I had started the book long ago and had set it aside because it hadn’t really grabbed my interest. It took a long time to get into the story. Now that I have about 150 pages left, the story has picked up, and I am looking forward to seeing how the story plays out. I took a break during the conference to enjoy a few pages, some coffee and dessert. You can probably tell from the picture that my copy of Christine is beat up a bit. It was an old copy I got for $1 at a used bookstore. I like the character and feel of an old book in my hands–something I can’t get from an eReader.

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I don’t judge those who love their eReaders. Such technology is just another way to get books into people’s hands–something which makes me happy. Whether it be paper or electronic, reading is reading. What’s your preferred format? Let me know in the comments.