Skip to content

the back five

On some fateful day back in 2012 or early 2013, back when I hadn’t yet adjusted to having two steady, salaried incomes in my household, I made a useful but dangerous realization. Each week, we bring home X amount of dollars, which I regularly extrapolate to figure out how many dollars we will bring home in a month. What’s stopping me from figuring out how much we will bring home in a year? Or next year? Or the year after that? Barring employment disaster or major life change, I can predict my earnings from here all the way to retirement.

Knowing our earning capacity is useful for long-term planning purposes, yes. But it’s dangerous because this is exactly the kind of knowledge that will send me into a SPIRALING PIT OF NEVER-ENDING SPREADSHEETS. What if we spend X on Y and Z this year? What if we save A until July so we can B? What if we double down and Q R S all year so we can T before we U and V? Time = sucked.

Now let’s talk about books. It’s August. 2014 marches on. There are five more good reading months of the year. You have X days left to read, Y minutes of each day that you can devote to reading, during which you will likely fit Z books.

Which books will you choose?

I have crunched my own 2014 numbers and made a rough extrapolation of how many books are left for me in the back five of 2014. When I am writing book reviews, I will read 5 to 10 Required Reads a month and 1 to 3 Free Choice books in a month. When I am not writing book reviews, I read between 4 and 6 Free Choice books. Most months I listen to at least 5 audiobooks, whether I am reviewing or not.

I am largely free from reviewing in August and September. I will be reviewing in October, November and December.

This leaves me with 11-21 Free Choice reads for all. of. 2014.

This is a disturbingly low number! It makes me a little panicky (see: dangerous information) (see also: the similar perils of  long-term budgeting) For someone who has already read NINETY-FOUR BOOKS in the first 7 months of the year, how can I only have 10 left??? Has anyone even SEEN my TBR list? It will not be kept in check with a measly 2-5 books a month!

A saving grace – a grace that somewhat redeems the fault logic of my previous panicky statement – is that since I review new YA, my TBR stack occasionally overlaps with my Required Reading assignments. Phew.

The other saving grace is, of course, the humble audiobook. I’ve babbled about audiobooks so much this year because audio has become a significant part of my reading life. I listen to a lot of audio these days, yes, but audio is also where I do my fun reading. My “ooh, that sounds good” reading. My “I’ve been meaning to get around to this one” reading. My nostalgic re-reading. My books for adults reading. My new and shiny reading. It’s where I read like a consumer, a patron, a reader.

Sometimes I feel like I need a good excuse to read a book in print these days. If I only have time for a few each month, then the bar is set much higher. And now that I know just how pitifully small my print reading docket really is, I’m feeling even more precious about which books I choose to read.

It makes me panicky.

It makes me discerning – less likely to waste time on a book I find thin or predictable or otherwise of a lower quality than my time is worth.

It might also make me shy away from a longer read. A slower read. This is a shame, because while yes, the stats show I have XXX books left to read before 2015 (read: before I die) the way I spend my reading time and reading life is really mine. If I want to read more or differently, I can shift my time in that direction. At the same time, my reading life is more out of my hands than any chart or graph can show. There are books in my house that I’m not actively reading that I know I will gravitate toward finishing before the year is up without any particular effort of my own. I might have a life circumstance leaves me so busy that time spent free reading will be a long ago dream. I might have a life circumstance where I am bedded up with an illness or injury, where reading will be all I can do. If I want to, I can read more, but the universe will do some of that deciding for me.

All spreadsheets and reading kismet and the unpredictability of the universe aside? I am currently re-reading 1) The Magician King so I can read 2) The Magician’s Land, but in order to do so I had to put aside 3) The Name of the Wind temporarily, so I’ll probably pick that one up again, and also I’ve been re-reading 4) Game of Thrones for like ever so I’ll probably finish that one before the end of 2014, and I’ve also been reading 5) Still Writing at work and I made it through about half of 6) The Writing Life at some point as well, and I want to read 7) Isla and the Happily Ever After as soon as I can get my hands on it, so there, that’s seven out of maybe eleven. My back five will look a little like that, then, plus a boatload of audiobooks and a slew to review and that will be just fine, I guess.

Now excuse me, I have another superfluous spreadsheet to update.

summer update

1. It is late July, and I am regularly reminded of my tendency toward summer doldrums. In summer, I am often found crashed upon the couch with little desire in my heart beyond another sip yet another cold beverage. The heat. The inevitably altered schedule when the boy is on vacation. The diet. The post-vacation comedown. The spinning of the earth around the sun. All of those things.

2. Thankfully, this summer’s slowdown seems to be more physical than mental. I’m tired and often lack focus, but am experiencing little misery and – surprisingly – little reading-related ennui. I am reading semi-fiendishly. Unless I squeak out another book this week, my July tally is 13. My 2014 total is over 90. It feels presumptuous to call the game so early in the year, but barring significant disaster 2014 will be my most impressive reading year to date.

3. I want to brag for a moment and tell you that I finished four of the seven books pictured in this stack. My summer reading list progress is less impressive – I finished Something Real, read one chapter of Brideshead Revisited, and am fifty pages into The Name of the Wind. If this is a proper calender-based list and I have until late September to complete my reading, then I am making good-ish progress I suppose. But when you are the product of twenty full years of schooling and you live with a teacher, it’s difficult to imagine Fall starting any other time than September 1. We will see.

4. Speaking of school year, I run our household budget on a September to September schedule. The family fiscal year, if you will. I’ve been putzing around with our account and various Excel spreadsheets in preparation for FY15 and have gathered some baffling and exciting figures. First, I would like to brag about paying off two of the boy’s student loans during this fiscal year, including the dastardly TEN PERCENT INTEREST loan we’ve been chipping away at since 2010. Seriously. What kind of public school teacher ends up with an unforgiveable student loan with 10% interest? Oh, the injustice. We paid off a second loan last week, bringing our total FY14 student loan contribution to just under 14k – a cool 20% of our joint take-home income.

I would also like to take a moment to praise the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and the Income Based Repayment Plan, both of which are provided by the federal government to keep my own grad loans manageable, and without which I would not be able to exist in this city.

5. Would you like an recap of my beach vacation? It was very fun. Exceptionally fun. We stayed in an adorable little house on stilts with comfy couches, a big dining room table, three porches, a grill, and central air. It was about a four minute walk to the beach, but that’s including the time spent lugging a cart full of beach supplies up and down a small sand dune. I got to meet my sister’s new man, our adopted German sister-friend, hang out with my Grandparents, and generally laze about reading books, playing games, and eating snacks with my family. In other words, all of my earthly dreams came true for a short seven days.

6. I’m no longer at the beach, but summer lives on in Boston, Massachusetts.  Days long, skies blue. White wine and cold cans of seltzer stuffed with lime wedges. My cat drapes herself upon the wood floors in dramatic positions assumed for the purpose of airing out her white tummy fuzz. It’s not all couch-laying and couch-moping. Yeah, I’m staying up too late and eating out too much. It’s also not snowing. Too much of my day to be seized, I’m afraid. Can’t let any of it slip.

beach reads: 2014 edition

I am taking a vacation today, and I am so excited I may die. Yes, I am more excited for this trip to old North Carolina than I was for a trip to Europe. Go ahead, judge away. I’m so excited, I actually can’t hear you judging me. You are entirely drowned out by my inner squee.

This vacation will be excellent for a number of reasons. I am going to visit my grandfather and his wife, who are really the best, and I haven’t visited in years. My entire family is coming with, and I haven’t seen the lot of them since the wedding. There will be friends and boyfriends (and The Boy, of course). And (AND!) we are renting a Real Live Beach House! !!

It’s going to be exactly like a Sarah Dessen novel, I am sure.

Italy was wonderful. Seattle was great. But it’s just been so long since I’ve had an old-fashioned family vacation – visiting a place you’ve been to a million times, staying with your amazing (and predictable) family, nothing much on the tourist agenda except eating, beaching, and reading.

I have assembled a small mountain of books to read during my vacation. I am a notorious book over-packer. Coming home from one beach trip in high school, I had a carry-on bag filled just entirely with books. A dozen at least. We bought a novelty lighter for a friend on our way to the airport, tucked it into my book bag and, suprise suprise, my got searched at security.

It was more than a little embarrassing to watch the TSA agent flip through every. single. book. to make sure I didn’t have any explosive bookmarks tucked inside.

I probably won’t finish all of these, but I do have some plane/airport hours to fill, and I AM DONE WITH MY REQUIRED READING and I am basically just so, so excited.



  • Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage, so I can be well prepared for July’s book group meeting. Also, North Carolina appropriate!


  • Something Real by Heather Demetrios, so I can kick off my Summer Reading List proper!



  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart because I’m staying in a freaking beach house (Let’s just hope that our beach house doesn’t [spoiler redacted])


  • Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer because I am on a Meg Wolitzer kick and this galley is burning a hole in my… apartment.


  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson because I want something quick so I can toss off a book and yell “DONE!!” really loudly. I mean, also exceptionally excited to read it and have heard it’s great. But also, it’s pretty short.


  • The Good Sister by Jamie Kain because I am a good girl and want to get a jump on my next set of Required Reads. Also, because of my three good sisters.

read – reading – to read


Reading has been a little slow over the last week, which is to say I am no longer reading at quite the impressive manic pace. The last book I put to bed was Kristin Bailey’s Rise of the Arcane Fire. While my affections for sci-fi/fantasy have certainly grown deeper over the past few years… I am still steampunk skeptical. Maybe I need to read some really good, canonical steampunk? Anyway, Bailey’s book was the second in a kind of light, romantic steampunk series – I read the first installment last year. This sequel mostly takes place in sort of a Hogwarts-y Steampunk Academy, complete with rogue professors, evil intruders, and class wars. Quick fluff. Also: I really wanted our steampunk heroine to get with the obviously-wrong point of her obligatory love triangle. This isn’t unusual (I am, for the record, Team Peeta 4 Lyfe), but there really just wasn’t anything wrong with this other dude. He was the smarmy rich kid, sure, but of course he was a nice guy underneath! And she seemed to be digging him… Why can’t these YA ladies ever just go for the supposedly dark side? Maybe I’m not reading the right paranormal romances…

That’s a sentence I wish I hadn’t written.

The last audiobook I finished was Harriet the Spy, which I just freaking loved. I think I read it as a kid, but I must have been a hair too young because I’m sure I would have remembered Harriet. Good grief, what a protagonist. She has to be one of the least likeable little girls in literature, but oh, that just made me like her more. I have a thing for misunderstood characters. Harriet. Peeta. Literary underdogs! But I digress – this book was just amazing/ahead of its time/timeless, etc. Harriet M. Welsch, we will meet again.



The last few months have been all about the audiobook for me. Audiobooks are my “fun reading” right now, and Overdrive is damn addictive. I’ve largely forsaken podcasts because I just can’t pry myself away from whatever it is I am listening to. Anyway, I finished Harriet and slid almost immediately into Meg Wolitzer’s The Uncoupling. I did finally read The Interestings earlier this year. I dug it, so before Harriet I listened to her 2008 book The Ten Year Nap. Dug that one too! The Uncoupling is about a suburban community of high school teachers and their children and their students – while putting on the school play, Lysistrata, all of the women and girls stop wanting to have sex. Relationship chaos ensues.

In terms of print books, I am trying mightily to whip through a stack of Required Reads before my vacation begins on Friday. It may be an impossible task, but there’s nothing I like more than breaking my back in the pursuit of torturously unreasonable self-imposed goals! Today I am reading Killer Instinct by S.E. Green. I completely remember when this book was purchased – “It’s Dexter the YA novel! With a teen girl sociopath!” This was years and years ago, and now here it is, on my desk to read. I think the power behind a Dexter comparison has faded over the years, but the pitch is pretty much spot on – stonehearted girl goes after evil people, also investigates a serial killer called The Decapitator. Good times. I am going to finish it tonight! Just watch me!!

to read

My next Required Reading book is Jennifer Brown’s Torn Away. The Hate List got decent reviews and buzz, but I didn’t read it. Books about school shootings don’t really do too much for me (except for Todd Strasser’s Give a Boy a Gun, which I read when I was 17, wrote a paper on it, and then won a college scholarship. Bam.) So I’m diving in completely blind. It’s what I like to do with my Required Reading books. I don’t read reviews. I don’t usually even read the back cover copy. I’m just going to read it next, that’s all I know.

I have a number of choices for my next audiobook selection. I started listening to A Brief History of Montmaray before being waylaid by The Uncoupling. Historical fic set in Europe is noooootttt really my thing, though. Also not really my thing: British narrators who don’t answer to the name Jim Dale. I’m not sure the audio will be able to hold my attention.

Don’t worry – I have back-ups. One audiobook I have on deck is B. J. Novak’s short story collection, One More Thing. I’ve heard mixed reviews (aka, a lot of of “eh”), but maybe it will be quick and fun on audio.

This small TBR is NOT to be confused with my Official Vacation Reading stack. I’ll be back later this week to answer all of your burning questions about EXACTLY what books I will be carting down to the beach. Excitement, excitement!


Summer Reading List 2014

For a girl who survived an English degree, a Literature Master’s, and who regularly receives packages of books that are, more or less, required reading, you’d think that the appeal of the Summer Reading list must have dwindled over time. This is, of course, a falsehood. Whether or not I have time to read books in any given summer (see: Summer Reading List 2013), I still relish the ritual. Summer Reading. It’s a time of the year just for books! Fun books, smart books, books of all sorts (see: Summer Reading List 2012, or, 2011). Even though I have not had a proper beach vacation since 2010, when I lovingly craft my annual list of summer reads, I imagine myself reading in my swimsuit, sprawled out with sun and waves and a sandy can of Pringles and everything else beachy. Here is a list of ten books I hope to read this summer, whether I am warming myself on the sand like a bookish sort of pale lizard or shivering in a crowded, over air-conditioned subway train. If you are looking for some of my favorite summer-y YA titles, you can check out this ancient list here. If you aren’t looking so much for a summer reading list but, rather, a summer reading compendium of broad appeal, impeccable organization, and great beauty, then I will direct you to the inimitable Janssen at Everyday Reading.

Something Real by Heather Demetrios

I decided to kick this list off with an easy one – a book I already own, and a book I’ve already started. I didn’t get too much of a jump – just a few chapters while riding the train. But it was enough to hook me in and enough to make me feel like this will be a fun, breezy read that will keep me flipping pages. Also, I can only run into Heather so many more times before I will begin to feel embarrassed not to have read her work, and she has like, 7 more books coming out in the next two years so I need to get a jump before the deluge.


Hild by Nicola Griffith

Um, is it time already to make a summer reading confession? Confession: I never read all of my summer reading books. It’s just not a thing that I can physically do. This will never stop me from making summer reading lists, naturally, but life is what life is, you know. Well, I hate to say it but Hildis probably the book I am least likely to actually read this summer. NOT because it is the least interesting book of the bunch! Oh no, that is not it at all. I will probably not read this epic feminist high fantasy tale because you know who else wants to read this epic feminist high fantasy tale? Every other citizen of Boston. I was on hold for this book for nearly a year, if you will believe that. I finally got my hands on it, and then I had to return it because I am mostly incapable of finishing a book without the option of multiple renewals. Now I am number 20 in line for just a few copies. Sad story. Sob story. Super Sad Summer Sob Story.


We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

But what is summer without a good summer re-read? Nothing. Summer is nothing. My usual summery beach re-read is Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters. However, I revisted Vix and Caitlin just a few short months ago. We Were Liarsis a book that, upon completion, just BEGS you to pick it up again and start again. So I think I just might do that.


The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

This is a fantasy book for adults. It’s the fantasy book for adults that everyone says you should read if you like Game of Thrones. I can’t talk anymore about Game of Thrones on this blog, so I guess I can’t talk about this book either. Except that I want to read it, and also I tried to read it on my phone but I just wanted to feel a freaking book in my hand. Sincerely yours, An Obnoxious Luddite.


The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

I should probably not talk about this book anymore, either. This is becoming a blog about books where I am not allowed to talk about any books! EXCITING! Anyway, I’ve mentioned it like, 5 times in the last 5 months. It’s a series that I like. I will check out this third installment and read it when it comes out in August – no worries, I am high on the holds list and there’s no way I’m letting 2 weeks go by without devouring it. No freaaaaaaking way.


Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

The obligatory “classic.” One must maintain the intent of intellect throughout all seasons! I have become slightly fixated with following a writer’s “genealogy of ideas,” as termed by Austin Kleon in Steal Like an Artist. (I am also slightly fixated with Austin Kleon, but that is a long term affliction at this point…) Anyway, when an author writes a book I like and then admits later, in an interview, to have been influenced by another book, I take note. And Brideshead Revisitedkeeps popping up, again and again, in my notes. Therefore – I should read it. (Also, it will make me feel smart. The end.)


The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

Last month, I listened to Ann Patchett’s This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage while I was traveling to New York for BEA. I should have read some Ann Patchett at this point in my life. God. Everyone loves Ann Patchett. Or at least a large enough portion of the people whose reading tastes I *really* trust love Ann Patchett. Shame. Shame! I have so much reading shame! Anyway, I read her freaking essays. And I freaking loved them. I want to read more essays now. The Empathy Examsis the essay collection everyone is reading right now. I will read that one. (Assuming I can best that monumental holds list, that is. We’ve had to re-order this one at least once – holds were climbing….)


Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

The first of two Jonathans. I listened As She Climbed Across the Tablenot too long ago. I liked it. I thought I might read some more by this author. I selected the most visible and widely enjoyed and acclaimed volume from his oeuvre. Cheers.


This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

The second of two Jonathans. I listened Everything Changes not too long ago. I liked it. I thought I might read some more by this author. I selected the most visible and widely enjoyed and acclaimed volume from his oeuvre. Cheers.


Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

After I decided to read two books by authors named Jonathan, I felt a surge of testosterone flow all over my summer reading list. That was a gross metaphor. Anyway, I am absolutely, definitely going to read Isla and the Happily Ever After even though I keep wanting to call it Isla and the Boy Next Door but that is not a book. This is a book, though. I’m not going to read that one. I’m going to read Islabecause we have all been waiting so patiently for Ms. Perkins to stir up her romantic YA genius again and it’s coming out in August so hurrahs all around.


Thus concludes my annual summer reading list. Now that June 22nd has arrived, I will sit down immediately and begin reading. I will not cease until they are all completed. That is obviously a lie. I still have a stack of required reading to tackle, and I am just a fickle reader. I still really want to read Noggin and Everything Leads to You and Since You’ve Been Gone and Grasshopper Jungle and all of those galleys I got at BEA and, oh, every other book that is currently IN my apartment taking up space. Or I might enter my usual summer doldrums, where I want to read nothing whatsoever. ONLY TIME WILL TELL. I know you are all in great suspense. Keep tabs on me on Goodreads.

forty-eight-hours: the agony of defeat

Greetings! I bring tidings of my crushing 48 hour book challenge defeat!

No, I did not crush the challenge with my reading superiority. It definitely crushed me. Did not complete, DNF, giant fail stamp.

But it was fun! Let me tell you what I did…

  • I spent a little morning time in Westeros.
  • I polished off two half-finished YA books.
  • I started a third!
  • I listened to all but TWENTY! MINUTES! of an audiobook (groan, groan, groan)
  • I read on the train, at my Starbucks, at the bus stop, while washing dishes and folding laundry, in my bed, on the couch, in a bank lobby, in a shoe store, and on my back porch.

In total, I read about 580 pages. I spent 5 hours and 43 minutes listening to audio and the remaining 4 hours and 48 minutes reading print and ebooks. So I read for about 10 hours and 30 minutes.

Ah, where might have scraped up that extra hour and a half? I did work 9 to 2 on Friday, then sit on an alumni panel at my dear alma mater from 3 to 5:30 in the afternoon. I did squeeze in a little audio time in the morning while I did some of my more menial work tasks, but could I have squeezed more? I also came home from work and watched American Hustle instead of reading… oh my.

But I believe the more compelling factors leading to my failure related to two of life’s great joys - Food and Friends. On Friday, one of my very dearest librarian friends magically appeared on my afternoon panel. She no longer lives in town, so I just could not pass up the opportunity to have dinner with her. And have I mentioned my latest nutty, experimental diet? Well, we are doing Tim Ferriss’s Slow Carb diet, during which you skip all carbs, grains, sugars, and dairy during the week, but can eat WHATEVER YOU WANT on your cheat day. So while I envisioned a peaceful Saturday at home, reading and eating bonbons, I found myself traipsing around town in search of treats, and then over to our friends’ place for a Cheat Day Barbecue.

I’m alright with my decisions. Just look at these pastries! I did have a good time reading, though, and I will definitely participate in the future. Thanks again to MotherReader for putting all of this together! Here is a little bit about what I read…

Breakfast Served Anytime by Sarah Combs 

Read: 128 pages – Finished

Smart girl attends summer college program. Makes friends, talks about literature, learns about Kentucky. This is the kind of realism that Pre-Grad-School Jessica just adored. Now that I am Older and Wiser, I found the narration a little over the top and the plot a bit overstuffed, but other than that it was a lovely little thing.


When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds 


This is a book about being young in Brooklyn, about status and honor, about what loyalty, family, and friendship is really worth. It’s also just a little story about a couple of friends trying to crash their first real house party. Reynolds crams a lot of thematic content into a relatively simple plot-line without even a single didactic moment, which is completely admirable.


Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Read: ehhh about 150 pages, idk, my bookmark disappeared – Finished

I’ve been nursing this e-galley for over a month now. It wasn’t high on my priority list for this 48 Hour Book Challenge, but you know… sometimes you leave the book you are supposed to be reading in a place you are not and then you are stuck reading whatever is on your phone. Anyway, I thought it was appropriate for this year’s focus on diverse reads – this is a love story about two teens, one West Indian Black Boy, one Hasidic Jewish White Girl, with alternating POV chapters. This didn’t have the mood or narrative style of… oh… that other book about a star-crossed interracial teen romance, but it was otherwise a solid read. I really liked the ending – it was honest and bittersweet and really honored both protagonists as individuals rather than two halves of a romantic plotline.


Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot 

Read: 45 pages

The next on my Required Reading stack, and yet another Yes, This Book Is Just For You, Jessica kind of book. This time of the boarding school/rich families who live on islands variety. I put forty-five pages away yesterday afternoon and I am definitely hooked. Glad I can end my little read-a-thon with this one on deck!


A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

Read: 23 pages

And what would any weekend of reading be without a little time spent in Westeros? I’ve been re-re-(re)-reading A Game of Thrones with my morning coffee. This weekend, Arya caught some cats and Catelyn Stark rode a mule up to the Eyrie to watch her sister breastfeed. Good times.



Last week I was thinking wistfully about all the books in my apartment that I never seem to have time to read. Books I’ve checked out and renewed a zillion times. Books on my Required Reading pile. Those darn delightful BEA galleys. I write from time to time about those months when I don’t want to read much and nothing pleases me, but there’s also THIS kind of month when I just want to read and read and read and just do nothing other than read. Maybe I just need a reading vacation, I thought. Or maybe just a weekend. Hey, what about that Reading Marathon Thingy that everyone was doing at some point when I was too busy with school to commit? What is that called again?

Well, googling Reading Marathon Weekend Thing Books Blog isn’t really helpful whatsoever. I gave up. Thank goodness Bookshelves of Doom shared a link, because, lo and behold, MotherReader’s 48-Hour Book Challenge is happening this very weekend! And I am going to participate!

I need my Sunday to A) write a slew of book reviews and B) restore my life to order for the coming week, so I started my 48-hours bright and early this morning. Before work and during my commute, I’ve already clocked 52 minutes of regular reading (Game of Thrones and Like No Other)  and an hour-fifteen on a new audiobook (When I Was the Greatest). Not too shabby. I’ll be squeezing in some audio when I can today, then devoting myself more fully to old-fashioned reading tonight and tomorrow. I feel as though I will be very happy to make it to 12 hours, if I even make it to 12 hours at all, but hey, the fun is in the striving, right? Right. Alright, I gotta go. Books. They are a’calling. See you in 48!

The BEA 2014 Experience

Last week, I had the good fortune to attend Book Expo America. It was my first time! I’ve been to ALA conferences more than once, so I fancied myself quite the conference expert. Oh boy was I wrong. BEA was an entirely different beast, in good ways and not so good ones.

I’m a bookish person with a bookish job. When presented with a buffet of choices at a conference, I like to attend the bookish panels. I have to forcibly wedge less-literary sessions into my schedule, lest I walk around like a dazed book fan rather than, oh, you know, engaging in meaningful professional development. I try very hard to attend a conference as a library employee first and a raging book fan second.

So now, I’m at BEA, and it’s ALL BOOKS ALL THE TIME. Walking into the Javitz center and seeing a grotesquely huge fabric sign hanging from the vaulted ceiling advertising the cover of Scott Westerfeld’s new YA book was a trip and a half. This is a gathering of my people, and we are all here to talk books. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

But before I arrived at BEA proper, I attended SLJ’s Day of Dialog. While gigantic conferences can be fun, the Day of Dialog is really more my jam. You show up, join a hundred or so other librarians in a normal-sized lecture hall with nice seats, and sit quietly while genius after genius takes the stage to entertain and edify. There are breaks with food. There is a free coffee station. At the Day of Dialog, there were even little vendor tables set up for ARCs, and, at the end of the day, free signed books to go around.

After that lovely little experience, BEA was exciting but completely overwhelming, even for the ALA-vet that I am. Publisher booths were swarmed with people, and most did not provide books or ARCS for browsing or taking. If you want an ARC, it seemed, you needed to get into a designated autographing line, maybe even get a ticket. As an introvert who has enough signed books to last a lifetime, this removed a lot of the fun of the exhibition floor. I missed the nice book displays at ALA, where you can browse and chat casually.

There were, however, enough attractive sessions to keep me busy. I attended an adult author buzz session and a middle grade author buzz session and came away with some new Fall titles to keep on my radar. (The big MG title that I saw EVERYWHERE? Kat Yeh’s adorably covered The Truth About Twinkie Pie). I caught a session where my friend Heather talked fantasy world-building Michael Grant, Scott Westerfeld, Kiera Cass, and Brandon Mull, and another on realism (or not) with E. Lockhart, Gayle Forman, Meg Wolitzer, and Jandy Nelson.

I also toured the Recorded Books studio which was freaking awesome. I got to meet the guy who says “Recorded Books Presents…” and who also narrated all of Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who books. Guys, I probably listened to a dozen of those as a kid. Maybe all of them. He started talking and it was like, a bizarro time-warp out-of-body experience. Also, Miss Rosa from Orange is the New Black was wandering about the studio as well. No big deal, guys.

So, BEA, good. New York, good. I braved the transit system on my own, stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Brooklyn, dined with former bowling league-mates, and ate a lot of protein bars.

And then came BookCon.

My oh, my, BookCon. I thought BEA proper was huge and crowded enough. Little did I know… I wanted to attend the We Need Diverse Books panel but made the mistake of showing up a mere 3 minutes late. The doors were shut. A bouncer was fending off a few truly livid conference-goers. If this was the scene for a first-thing-in-the-morning diversity program, then what in the world was I getting myself into?

This year, I have become a quietly devoted fan of Lev Grossman’s work. His panel with Deb Harkness was the only panel I really wanted to attend. I showed up a half hour prior to the panel, thinking I could get a seat and wait quietly.

Oh no. No, no, no. The line snaked all the way into the food court. I waited for over thirty minutes, the line not moving, and when I finally got in I was the second to last person seated. Everyone behind me, who had been waiting nearly as long, was denied.

You would think that the mass of John Green fans waiting for the TFioS event a full 2 and a half hours prior to that event would have tipped me off, but no, I was shocked. I’m accustomed to attending professional conferences, where you might not always get a seat but you can probably get into your session at 11:00 and then flit off to your session and 12:00. Also, find a seat for lunch that is not on the floor. Also, find an outlet for your poor dead iPhone. None of this was the case. I went straight from the Grossman/Harkness event into yet another long line for an erotic romance panel that started an hour later.

I’d heard around the Internets that the BEA folks wanted to beef up their Saturday BookCon events, to provide a Comic-Con-type thing for Book Nerds. Well, the Book Nerds showed up. They swarmed, they hoarded galleys, they waited in hour long lines for the women’s bathroom. It was really thrilling to see such a passionate bunch – nay, mob – of readers, assembled to celebrate the continued existence of books, novels, novelists, and reader-culture. And so many of them young! Readers of the future! In this industry, where dour proclamations of the Death of [Libraries, Books, Printed Word, Reading] are so commonplace, BookCon was just a damn heartening thing to behold.

Sure, I didn’t want to actually MINGLE among the masses of rabid young fans, but I’m glad they were there.

The Final Scorecard

SLJ Day of Dialog:   Great

BEA:    Good

BookCon: Complete Nerd Madness

So that was my BEA. I’m glad I had the chance to go. I might not get to go again. I will probably post again soon about, oh, the things I *learned* at BEA. That is really my conference jam, guys. I love the panels and the speakers, the Big Ideas, the chit-chat with fellow librarians in between sessions. I take compulsive notes. I leave feeling refueled and excited to be a part of this industry. It seems a waste to let these great ideas fizzle away, so look forward to a more conceptual BEA post later in the month.

Oh, okay, okay. You want to see the goods. You’ve made it this far, I suppose you deserve it. Here are my top five galleys, the ones I really can’t wait to sink my teeth into.


Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin

the last five

I have been having a lively email exchange with my darling Favorite Former Roommate about contemporary young adult realism. Specifically, what the heck is going on with it. Since grad school spat us both out a few years ago (A FEW YEARS AGO?!! WHAT IS GOING ON? WHAT IS TIME?), we’ve been disappointed by most of our YA reading and have been chatting about why that might be.

It was challenging, however, to even *remember* what I’d read lately, possibly because I am old and senile and read too much so the books start to blend together. Another reason to keep writing about books and not abandon your blog for weeks at a time. Ahem.

So without further ado, I present to you The Last Five Contemporary Realism Titles I’ve read this year, with thoughts included.

The Last Five – Contemporary YA Realism

I’ll Be There and Just Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Have I mentioned what an awful, awful Judge-a-Book-by-its-Cover girl I am? Well, it’s true. Much of my book lust is cover-art related. And YA/kidlit covers are just SO GOOD lately, if you haven’t noticed. Now that we’ve forgotten about the 80s and 90s – the Dark Ages of Children’s Book Cover Design – we have entered the much deserved renaissance.

I am starting to wonder, though, if my pernicious YA book-disappointment is also cover-art related. A really lovely book cover piques my attention. A decent sounding premise gets me excited. Then I read a few pages and, oh, the actual *writing* disappoints.

Not the case with these two novels. I swooned over I’ll Be There‘s cover art when it was published in 2011, but I never got around to reading it. When Just Call My Name arrived in my Required Reading docket, I opted to read both back to back. Neither book threw me into fits of joy or whatever, but neither did they disappoint. Sloan writes with a very straightforward tone and her third-person narration dips in and out of nearly every character’s head – very unique and refreshing. The story is romantic, but not swoony-romantic. It’s a love story, but not a story about two characters falling in love. It’s about love in a broad sense – familial love, friend love, romantic love, and how all of that love weaves together in an individual and in a community.And in case that wasn’t enough, there are solid humor and action-type plot lines. Win-win-win.

Fat Boy vs. The Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach

This was one of my treadmill ebook reads. For that purpose, this book was perfect. The punchy, no-holidng-back voice that I adored in Stupid Fast was back, and the emphasis on plot over prose made for an easy book to follow while one’s head is bobbing up and down for miles.

However, I wasn’t terribly impressed by this book in the whole. It was missing some of the pathos and nuance I found in Stupid Fast. It’s possible I am too old for the high school heist story – the Good, Nerdy Kids vs. the Slimy Popular Kids (and their commanding officer Adults). The Good, Nerdy Kids will win. Naturally. Although some late third act narrative twists were genuinely surprising to me, by that point I was just flipping (digital) pages to get it over with.

Also, if I never read another book where an protagonist’s weight-loss and fitness regime served as a central plot line, that would be just fine.

Afterparty by Ann Redisch Stampler

Anybody remember life before Gossip Girl? Before YA books about reckless-and-rich party girls were a dime a dozen? I don’t really know why this trend is still a trend, but plenty of authors are still riding the Pretty Rich White Girls Behaving Badly wave.

That being said, I enjoyed Stampler’s Afterparty much more than I expected I would. The story is fairly standard: Nice, Normal-ish Protagonist is new to a wealthy private school, makes friends with a Party Girl, and questionable decisions ensue. But Stampler gave her protag, Emma, a good, fresh voice. A unique, fluid voice really goes a long way with me – you can write about some crazy stuff as long as you’ve got a protagonist who tells her own story well. I also liked the way Siobhan the Obligatory Party Girl developed over the course of the book. I haven’t really read enough of this Post-GG sub-genre to make definitive statements, but her character trajectory in the last half of the book was startling and added some narrative complexity to an otherwise straightforward story.

A quick aside, however….

So there’s this thing called The Idiot Plot. Robert Ebert coined the phrase. It refers to any number of storylines where all conflict and tension could be easily resolved if the characters involved would just sit down and have a conversation.

This kind of plotline doesn’t necessarily irk me more than other standard storytelling techniques, but I have to say, Afterparty goes to great, great lengths to keep some of its Idiot Plots riding along. There’s a conflict between Emma and her boyfriend, a misunderstanding that he perpetuates and she knows she should clear it up with him. And the misunderstanding is really so very, very minor. Any self-respecting boyfriend would easily sweep it under the rug. However, that would not a 300+ page book make, so Stampler performs ridiculous narrative aerobics to keep these two characters from actually talking about this issue. This scene probably happened a half-dozen times in various ways:

Emma: “Hey, I really need to talk to you about something.”

Boyfriend: “Hush now, woman. I’m hungry and we should get a pizza instead!”

Seriously, now.

Tease by Amanda Maciel


This is a book about bullying. One might call it a “Problem Novel,” if one was wont to use semi-disparaging, non-specific genre labels from the 1980s. Lucky for Maciel, the problem of bullying is most certainly complex enough to devote a novel to. And I think that’s exactly the strength of this novel – it’s not necessarily about individual characters and their hopes and dreams and motivations. Tease is about a compounding series of decisions and consequences that lead a sixteen-year-old to suicide. The plot is not left in the hands of the characters, necessarily, although Maciel does give her protagonist a satisfactory redemptive arc. The plot is in between the characters actions and their motivations – none of the teens meant to lead a peer to kill herself, but yet all of them, in small or large ways, did just that. Their decisions were not malicious. Their decisions were bred from insecurity, social climbing, and other teen angst that otherwise proves innocuous. Until, of course, it doesn’t.

The characters definitely take a backseat to the conglomerate effects of Bullying. A lot of reviewers and bloggers have called out Tease for featuring some phenomenally unsympathetic characters. I try not to steer my reading experience toward identifying which characters I like or dislike, but reading the first few chapters of Tease was challenging for me just because I am so definitely NOT the protagonist that I almost couldn’t comprehend the story. This is from the POV of the bully, so it’s natural to see a protagonist in a negative light here, but I found her character so young and naive and preoccupied with her own social concerns that it was baffling. But from the eyes of a teen reader, who may be facing these same social concerns to some degree, might our protagonist be read in a more sympathetic light? Am I becoming an old fogue, no longer able to step into the shoes of a teen character who hasn’t been sufficiently “adultified?” My Favorite Former Roommate and I were gabbing about this a little bit. I think it’s normal. Some breeds of YA are more universally appealing than others, and yeah, some YA stories and characters are more adult-y than others. I think what’s important, as adult readers and critics and gatekeepers in general, is that we don’t let this personal inability to sympathize prevent us from reading a book fully and from giving a book credit when it’s due. Sure, this book had a lot of shallow teens who thought of nothing more than boys and partying and what the world owed them. But Tease also provided a truly dynamic, morally ambiguous portrayal of an aspect of high school culture that does exist and should be talked about. Whether or not I wanted to be best friends with the narrator is really besides the point.



the tightrope

I have been trying very hard not to write a blog post that begins with “posting has been light around these parts” or “I haven’t been blogging so much lately because…” or whatever other platitudes are available to the sorry, erstwhile blogger. It’s boring to read another person’s excuses, and I’m not of the mind that I owe anyone an excuse. This is my blog and my life, and I do what I want with both of those things. I am a person who will feel guilty about cutting someone off while trying to board a subway train. I must try not to cultivate an environment of guilt in my chosen leisure activities lest I encourage my tendency toward misery.

But I am also a person who thinks while writing. It feels strange to blog along like nothing has changed, and it feels disingenuous to pop in and write little fluff posts, pretending like my life does not feel like a perpetually teetering balancing act. That blogging was the first ball to drop.

The long and the short of it is that I am diverting time, energy, and other resources away from blogging and into other pursuits. It’s a time management thing, yes. I only have these 168 hours each week and I have a full time job, a commute, a house to clean and a body to care for. I review books. I cook my own meals. I like to exercise regularly and get eight hours of sleep and talk to my friends and family on the phone. Blogging is easy to squeeze into the nooks and crannies of a day, in general, but squeezing in five posts a week is a beast. In a world where my blog and myself are a Google-able commodity, I am attentive to how I present myself to the rest of the Professional Book Person Universe. Shoveling out garbage posts for the sake of shoveling out garbage posts is not in anyone’s interest.

Beyond that, I am also becoming more attentive to how I use my creative energy, my ideas, and my opinions. I’ve been throwing thoughts all over this space for years, but the more often I try to post, the less time I spend developing those thoughts. The busier I get, the more likely I am to write quickly, revise never, hit publish with a cringe and never look back. The ideas I begin to consider never go further than casual consideration – they die here, on this little blog.

I am still trying to write fiction this year, I’m writing book reviews, and I’d like to be writing other things too. The more writing I try to do, the more I realize that creative energy is a relatively finite resource, at least within the confines of my average days.

Abandoning blogging is definitely not in the plan, but neither is regular posting. For now. Instead, I am experimenting. What kind of posts do I like to write? What kind of posts am I proud to write? What kind of posts do I like to write and feel proud to write and also have time to write? What kind of blog is this? What kind of blog would I like it to be?

Perhaps this is part of my annual “WHATAMIDOINGONTHISPLANET???” freak out, or perhaps this is just part of this stage of my life, or perhaps its something else entirely. I’ll be around, though, while I figure it out, just not posting as often as I have been. If you are missing me, I will be on Goodreads, on Twitter, or on Instagram.