Category Archives: actual-blogging-content

Changing Things Up

There’s nothing more dulling than the same-old, same-old. It’s good to shake things up. No, I’m not doing anything radically different on this here blog (other than hopefully getting back to, er, updating it again.

I’m talking about my book club.

When I started my current job almost two years ago, I inherited a book club. A flagging book club, but a book club nonetheless, and it has become one of my favorite parts of my job. Oh, and it’s not flagging anymore. Continue reading

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Not Quite Failing. Ish.

Remember how I was all about using this for accountability on my reading goals, how I was going to get regular content out of it all? *sigh* Yeah, me too. I blame the fumes of “thank goodness 2016 is over” for that youthful optimism.

The good news is that in spite of “blog regularly” being a fail, my own personal diversifying challenge is still holding up.

#ownvoices – I went the YA path for this one since my work YA/juvenile reading challenge was still underway, reading Diverse Energies, a collection of short dystopian stories with an emphasis on diversity in both authorship and setting. I went into it warily, not because short story collections are hit or miss (it’s a feature of the genre that I’m aware of), but because after the end of the Divergent trilogy, I threw the book across the room, lamented the hours I lost to it, and declared YA dystopian lit DEAD to me. Dead and buried. Deep as I could go. But this collection… well, it didn’t give me a hankering to read about another simplistically divided society with a (typically white) Chosen Teen to save it, but I enjoyed it, which is an acceptable enough outcome. Standout stories to me were the ones from Malinda Lo and Ken Liu, both very different in tone and content, but good enough to make me seek more of them out, and I went on to read Lo’s Ash per a friend’s recommendation and loved it, so hey, bonus points.

New or forthcoming – This title was a newly released one, Ellen Klages’ Passing Strangeone of Tor.com’s novella line. This story sucked me right in, but it wasn’t quite the story I expected. It opens with a compelling framework, that of an older woman retrieving a hidden and valuable painting from a hidden tunnel hearkening back to Prohibition days before quietly dying. And then we get to the heart of the story, which seems like a love story against the backdrop of 1940s San Francisco, following a core of several women, including Helen, the woman from the introduction and Haskel, the painter of the valuable work. There’s an initial whisper of a hint of magic, but it fades away, leaving a story that feels more like historical fiction as Haskel meets and falls in love with the lovely Emily, a singer from the local club, known, among other things, for being “a haven for women who loved each other could meet in public without fear or the shame of sidelong glances from ‘nice’ ladies.” Things are going lovely, for the most part, until someone from Haskel’s past shows up, and disaster threatens to unravel everything.

passing strangeAbout two thirds of the way through, I looked up from the book in surprise, wondering why it was classified as a fantasy since I hadn’t really seen much magic. Oh, it had been hinted at in a couple places, crept into the occasional conversation, usually contrasted against science in the process, both otherwise quietly unacknowledged. And then everything came together. I had been lost in the atmosphere and the air of forbiddenness foreshadowed in the reference to Prohibition in the introduction, that I had forgotten there was supposed to be magic. I’m not sure if that’s a matter of narrative unevenness, or simply a testament to the author’s compelling homage to San Francisco and the people who found sanctuary there. If you like immersive atmosphere in your fiction, give this one a try because it has that in spades, and if like me, that gorgeous cover piqued your interest, definitely pick it up because… I’m not going to spoil anything, but it’s a marvelous reveal when you realize what’s happening.

Different genre – I thought at first this might be a bit of a cheat to count Mixed Vegetablessince manga is really more of a form than a genre, but it’s really a story that isn’t in my typical wheelhouse to begin with, so we’ll count it. Look, I’m a reader of romance, and it’s my go-to when things get heavy and I want the assurance of a happy ending, but even then, I like a bit of angst burning in the background. So this story was, overall, much fluffier than I normally would gravitate toward, plus, well, cooking has generally been a chore to get through for me, not a creative process with its own merits, so the foodie angle of this romance was a tough sell to begin with. I tried a volume, and it was cute, but nothing that overwhelmingly drew me in. I’m not the reader for it, but the next time I see someone with an armful of romances and foodie-themed reads, I know the perfect thing to hand them.

And that was February in expanding my reading horizons. March was a near miss with a reading slump and crafting slump and, really, overall lapse in anything remotely resembling productivity, but I’ll have that post soon. Spoiler: even though I barely got any reading done (relative to my usual reading pace), I still managed to meet my goals, and I’ve got a theory on that I’ll talk a bit more about…

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(Maybe not actual bunnies)

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On reading challenges

Every year, I eyeball the various reading challenge lists that go around. They should absolutely be my catnip since I live a life surrounded by books. Fundamentally, I think they serve a valuable purpose in providing a structured framework for people who want to read outside their normal boundaries. And can I say, for the record, that Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge for 2017 is woke, and I love it?! But I’m not doing it, or any other pre-specified challenge this year. Not exactly.

I work in a library. I am surrounded by books every day, and to the lament of my to-read list, new books that I want to read constantly cross my path, so my to-reads are in a constant state of flux. I’m also notoriously stubborn, and the moment a task feels like homework, I’m checked out (yes, librarian pun intentional. You’re welcome). Because of these things, I’ve determined three flexible categories intended to serve my own specific needs.

With a to-read goal in 2017 of 110 books, averaging about 8 books a month, I have figured out that three “challenge” categories a month will give me structure, built-in-deadlines, and enough room to read whatever else crosses my path without feeling like my reading is dictated by external parameters.

  1. Read at least one book per month of #OwnVoices, because we need diverse books. I am uniquely positioned to signal boost great books or underappreciated books from underrepresented perspectives, but I’m not doing anyone any favors if I’m not aware of what’s out there. My Twitter feed is a great way to follow the conversation, but I can do so much more if I’ve read things and can sell them that way. I also want to be conscientious about how I talk  about these titles, too. I don’t want to fall into the trap of making diversity sound like something that should be consumed, like vegetables, because it’s good for you–I want to signal boost stories because they’re beautiful, heartpounding magical journeys with the strength of family love at the heart of it, or sweet YA stories of friendship and first romantic love.
  2. Read at least one new or forthcoming book a month. I actually did much better last year than I’ve done in the past, but this is also an area that needs conscientious work since it’s so easy to get caught up in, well, getting caught up with all the things that have already been published that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. I was finally able to participate in LibraryReads‘ year-end best of list last year, and I’d like to do so again this year, with the hope of helping bring more attention to the speculative fiction that I adore. I also have a veritable cache of delicious books waiting on my Kindle from Netgalley and Eidelweiss, but e-books are a format that is not my primary way of consuming books, so I need a bit of a nudge there. This also includes reading more of the “it books” that take library hold lists by storm, just to better know what the fuss is about.
  3. Finally, I vow to read at least one book a month that is not in my usual reading genres because it’s important for a librarian to be widely read, and I tend to read deep in several genres without branching out much, left to my own devices. I’m trying to decide if it’s cheating to allow myself to use book club books for this category since they’re titles I’ve already committed to reading and what I choose for them is rarely what I would choose for myself. I think, in the spirit of this challenge, it would be cheating, but I’m leaving myself a little wiggle room in the event of the occasional hectic month.

And that’s what I’ve got. I’ve knocked out two categories this month already and the only thing holding me back from the third is waiting for my library’s adult winter reading challenge to start since the book I want to read is on theme but can’t be read before January 15. I’m going to try and do end-of-month reading wrap-ups, both to keep me accountable and, honestly, to have ready-made blog content. Here goes, 2017.

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2016 in Review

By many accounts, 2016 seemed like the year that wouldn’t end. The phrase “dumpster fire” comes up frequently in relation to it. And it certainly wasn’t without its share of awfulness. It becomes very easy, though, to overlay the big arc of things over personal triumphs. But when one of my friends issued a challenge to list off good things that we’d experienced last year, I realized I had a growing list of accomplishments and things to celebrate.

The biggest one, the first thing I’m likely to boast about when given half a chance, is completing NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. It took about another 20 days and another 20k words past the end of November, but I completed my first long piece of writing in… ever, really.

I don’t know that I would have done that if not for the spark to revisit writing that was kindled with attending WorldCon and a local sci fi con in 2016 and chatting with different authors, sitting in on panels with so much speculative food for thought. My to-read list grew, but more than that, I’ve realized there is a conversation to a genre, one that I’d like a seat at eventually.

I still have so much to learn with the craft of writing, but I know one thing already: it can’t edge out my time for other crafts. The ability to make yarny things is important to me, and in spite of my crafting grinding to a near halt in November with drafting a novel, I still managed to make a ridiculous number of shawls and burn through about 15,000 yards of yarn, after revising my goal up from 10,000 in September. I didn’t get around to really learning to use the spinning wheel my dear husband gave me for our anniversary, but that’s right at the top of the list for this year.

One of my annual goals is to read 100 books, something I managed to first achieve in library school, of all places. I guess grad school can unlock reading superpowers. I’m sure that goal will creep upward with time, but for now, it’s a comfortable, achievable goal that I’ve met for the last three years running. Pretty proud of that one. I was able to participate in Library Reads top 10 books of the year for the first time, having made a goal to better keep up with current publications. I plan on a few end-of-year reading retrospective posts, too. Soon. I’ve got some more librarian- and personal-development-oriented goals in mind for next year, which I’ll also share.

Oh. Yeah. Library school. I finally finished that. I think it’s testament to the self-actualization and branching out of personal goals that this year has brought that it’s consistently something that falls mid-list of achievements rather than first. Am I officially using it yet? No. But I’ve got my eye out for opportunities, and while my dream job at my former library system didn’t pan out, there will be other opportunities. And hey, people rarely get the dream job right out the gate. One thing that is awesome about my current job? One of my long-distance friends is now my coworker, and that’s pretty cool.

Friends, as always, remain awesome. This was a year full of plenty of gaming, both board games and roleplaying games, and good friends to enjoy them all with. We rang in 2016 with friends and rang it out with friends over a tabletop game, pausing long enough to take note of the arrival of 2017 before going on to win against a villain bent on destroying the world. Not too shabby.

I suppose this retrospective begets a question of “what’s next?” I’ll hold that up as a teaser for a future post. For now, happy new-ish year!

How about you? What did you accomplish this year that you’re proud of?

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Here’s to a better 2017. *fingers crossed*

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Rumors of my Demise…

My  best bloggish intentions always seem to fall by the wayside. Sometimes I have no excuses, simply failing to regularly review what I’ve been up to. Other times, things like, oh, grad school get in the way.

And sometimes, other large undertakings get in the way. Good undertakings, the sorts of things one tried for years ago and failed, but somehow here, now, the planets lined up right, and I jumped for it.

I’m writing a Thing. It feels pretentious to call it a Novel yet because it’s a heaping draft of messiness at present, but I dove into NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year for the first time in seven years.

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I didn’t write about it here because I wasn’t sure I’d do it. In fact, right up to October 31st, I wasn’t sure about committing to it. I hadn’t drafted an outline yet, hadn’t read enough craft books yet, hadn’t really prepared much of anything. If I waited for an outline, I’d lose the momentum of November and its accompanying deadline of 50,000 words in one month, and maybe there’d be next year, but by another year, I’d be even rustier at writing and possibly more reluctant to get back on the bike. However, what I had in mind had a pretty straightforward plot structure, and if there was ever something I could reasonably “pants” my approach, this would be it. So on the evening of October 31, I dashed out some notes for myself, and on November 1, I dove in.

I tried this once before, but it was a bad year. I was teaching and still on a semester schedule, and aspects of my life were falling apart around me. The month started out grandly, with writing being a much-needed escape, but it meandered around, and I chased myself into a corner with a plot that wasn’t driving toward a real conclusion, giving it up at about 32k words. I discovered that file recently, and it’s every bit the hot mess I remembered it being, though there are nuggets I think I could rework into something more cohesive another time.

This year has been the first November in over a decade now that I have been off of the semester schedule between grad school, teaching, and more grad school. Life’s calm these days, not thrown into upheaval by school or learning a new job. If there was a time that I had a decent shot, this would be it.

And readers, I’ve made it.

Technically, a NaNoWriMo win is 50k words. I’m there already, well ahead of November 30. The biggest hurdle to writing is ass-in-chair time, and I’ve been putting that time in every day this month, even with an election that went in an alarming direction, even around a work schedule that includes working some evenings (my prime writing time). My yarn crafting has suffered a bit in the process, but I’m crafting something else in a different medium, so I guess that’s a small cost to pay.

It turns out hitting 50k is easier than finishing a novel, because 50k has come and gone, and I’ve still got story to go especially since some of the early word count material is stuff that would’ve been background sussed out in pre-writing if I’d done it “properly” and will probably be whacked out mercilessly in revision. That’s neither here nor there, though. I’ve won the month, if not the novel yet. But I’m feeling pretty good about my chances now, and I’m requiring myself to write every single day until it’s done, which should be before the year’s end. I know there will be plenty of editing ahead of me before it’s any good, but I’ve taken a big first step.

I’m writing one of the sorts of story I want to see more of. There are other, bigger stories I want to write too, but I’m not ready for those yet. And I won’t be ready for them if I never start somewhere. So this is my somewhere. One word at a time.

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Belated Thoughts on WorldCon

If there’s a phrase that encompasses my overall sense of self these days, I think it’s growing pains. I have a big-girl librarian degree now, but being a paraprofessional means I’m not technically using it. I’m happy enough in my current gig that I don’t have the frantic sense of needing to get to the next phase with a desperate hunger yet, but the occasional offhand comment about paras from peers further along the career track puts me right back in my place, whether the slight was intended or not. But this isn’t a post about imposter syndrome; it’s about finding other spaces to belong and grow.

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[Insert profound metaphor about growing where you’re planted here]


It’s a restless sort of place, this growing pains spot, and in the absence of the whole finish-the-MLIS life goal, I’m finally seeking out other ways to develop my skills and interests and hobbies. And I’ve realized there’s a synergy to some of them, a discovery I made watching a panel at WorldCon this year.

Continue reading

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Trying to remember how to blog

Well, I had bold words about not being stressed out about the end of grad school. Ha! Youthful optimism is not yet beyond me! It started off OK, and then comps hit, and all my best intentions of keeping up with blogging and reading and making pretty things went out the window as a very stressful semester wound down.

My to-read goal has fallen behind the nice healthy lead I built up.
My yarn stash exploded between retail-therapy yarny purchases and reduced crafting time.
My poor cats had to triple their efforts at obnoxiousness just to get my attention.
My laundry… sorta didn’t happen as frequently as it should have.
But… it’s done now. (The semester, I mean. Laundry still is a little behind.)
All those places where I refer to myself as an almost-librarian need to change; I’m not sure that’s sunk in yet. I’ve achieved the goal that’s dominated the last three years of my life. I don’t have the paper, but I do have the transcript, and that suffices for the moment.
So what’s next? New goals, of course. I’ve got a few.
First and foremost, now that the bulk of my learning isn’t coming from structured classes, I’m ready to start exploring things I’ve wanted to learn, like new fiber arts. It’s time to learn to spin, I think. If I’m feeling bold, it might even be time to figure out the mysteries of my sewing machine. It’s all up to me now.
Get back to my reviewing. I feel so rusty after a few months of barely having time to read, much less review. I’d also like to branch out and start doing more pre-publication reviews. To that end, I’ve invested in a device to help me accomplish this. Yeah, totally a professional investment >.>
I may be inordinately pleased that my Kindle case matches the knitted cozy a friend made me :).

My precious. First book I downloaded was Cat Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making because the end of grad school demands wit and whimsy as an antidote.

And, generally, get back to the things that got put on hold with school – the gym, crafting, blogging.
I gave myself permission to put those on the back burner, but it’s time to start cooking again. So here’s to a reboot of the blog.

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That new book smell

I joke frequently that I use the library because there’s no way I could afford my reading habit, a statement that is mostly true, given a yearly reading rate spanning 50-100+ books. However, it’s perhaps less true than it once was. I’ve noticed, recently, a subtle indicator that we’re starting to get a more secure financial footing: the number of brand-new books purchased in this household is increasing.

Make no mistake–Half Price Books still gets plenty of money from us as we fill in author backlists and find new-to-us gems. But we can afford new books, and giving money to support the creative ventures of authors producing things we like is important in this bookish household.

Here are the most recent gems I’ve acquired:

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The Fifth Season, Truthwitch, and Winterwood

N.K. Jemison’s The Fifth Season – because I’ve always been a sucker for the end of the world, and friends I trust have raved about the world-building and touch of social issues. Jemison’s been on my to-read list since her Inheritance trilogy came out, so this seems as good a time as any to dive in without being two books behind. Plus, it’s recently been nominated for a Nebula award.

Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch – because in a YA landscape saturated with love triangles, I heard about a novel with female friendship at its core and want to see more of that. I also read highlights from the author’s Reddit AMA and was further intrigued, especially when she mentions some of her soundtrack inspirations, which I was familiar with and would love to see how someone else interprets them.

Jacey Bedford’s Winterwood – Confession: I was sold on this from the moment I saw its pirate cover art, and I didn’t need to read much further in the synopsis than “cross-dressing privateer captain” (pirates are my catnip, and woman-disguised-as-a-man is a favorite trope from my formative years of preferring adventuring shenanigans over romance in my reading). Throw in magic, and it’s sold to the lady in the black cardigan.

I love the worlds that fantasy can take me away to, bleak ones sometimes, awe-inspiring ones, beautiful ones, ones ripe with adventure and discovery–and I can’t wait to travel to these.

 

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Ch-ch-ch-changes; Or, Almost There

Barring any screw-ups of my part or sudden and bizarre roadblocks from the universe at large, this is my last semester of MLIS coursework. In some ways, this will change a lot, and in others, it’s a blip on a radar. I’ve been here before though, on the cusp of graduation, and I have to say, this time is much, much, much better.

Last time I was poised on the brink of graduating, I was terrified. OK, sleep-deprived, overwhelmed, and in the throes of a full-blown existential crisis didn’t help things too much either. Who would hire me? What could I actually do with a master’s degree in English? Who would I be once school no longer defined who I was? Besides being good at school, what could I offer the world? To say nothing of the personal things I was also sorting through. That semester was marked with panic attacks and frequent tears, and you could not pay me to relive that time. In hindsight, that probably had a lot to do with being 22 and in the midst of Sorting Shit Out, but it felt like being a butterfly  emerging from a cocoon and finding that my wings were still wet and crinkled, not enough to take flight with, with the ground looming up fast.

Truthfully, I didn’t hit the ground, but I spent years hovering in a holding pattern of a good-enough job and a good-enough life. Until neither were enough anymore. Things started changing. Continue reading

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