Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas is coming, the budget's getting tight!

Last year I posted a run-down of my favorite books to give as Christmas gifts. This year I've been posting book reviews on a fairly regular basis (though I have been sluggish as of late - there will be some to come!), not to mention doing almost daily holiday shopping recommendations over at The BookKids Blog. To avoid major redundancy, her comes a post highlighting some of my favorite cheap-o stocking stuffers.

As a huge fan of Etsy, I can't help but troll their website for trinkets, even though the only stocking I'm stuffing belongs to my grumpy boyfriend. However, there ARE dudely gifts on there, for example these geeky cufflinks. They're legos, for crying out loud! Mark is always rambling about wanting fancy cuff links (God knows why, he never dresses up), and while I hardly think this is what he has in mind, but I think they'll tickle his fancy. This seller also has cuff links featuring Darth Vader, Batman, D20s, scrabble tiles, and typewriter keys. Geek heaven!

Okay, I said I wouldn't mention any books, but I lied. I can't help it - I work at a book store, I write, I live and breathe books. Everyone loves Mr. Men and Little Miss books, though, right? These titles by Roger Hargreaves seem to multiply like rabbits every year, but titles like Mr. Grumpy, Mr. Bump, and Little Miss Bossy are a great way of teasing your loved one on Christmas morning. Mean? Sort of. Hilarious? Definitely. Plus, the retro-factor will get you points with any 20-something. Just don't get Little Miss Plump for your wife or girlfriend - that's a really, truly terrible idea.

Every lady loves jewelry - and Etsy is once again to the rescue! For the literati on your list, many sellers including this one offer Scrabble-tile jewelry. The necklace pictured is just $5, and comes in a little gift bag. You can also build your own Scrabble charm bracelet or pick from several other varieties of Scrabble charms. Other sellers, such as this one re-fashion old jewelry, junk, and eclectica into beautiful new fashion pieces. At a range of prices from budget-savvy to splurge-worthy, any hip fashionista would love one of these unique pieces in her stocking.

Tote bags are really hip right now, and everyone can use one. They also fit into stockings if you roll them up tight (and take up a lot of space, too, for a more "full" look to the final product, you sneaky sneak!) - so why not find one for your giftee? There are tons of awesome ones out there, naturally I'm a huge fan of this giant-cassette shaped tote I found on Amazon. Most grocery stores carry a recyleable tote, too, that would be perfect for the environmentalist in your life, and they tend not to cost more than a couple bucks. Again, Etsy is rife with stocking inspiration, offering tons of screenprinted totes, such as this one, which declares "Make tea, not war." Everyone carries stuff, right?

Now I know a lot of geeks, and has LOTS of solutions to this, er, problem. Whether or not you buy from the website, it's definitely full of ideas. Like astronaut ice-cream, which I've loved since the first time I visited the Boston Science Museum - I think I was eight or so. And what geek hasn't fantasized about being a space cadet? I'm also a huge fan of giant microbes - plush toys shaped like germs and other sick-making miscreants. I've given my mother gonorrhea and my sister cyphillis, and how is that not fun to say? Plus, any hypochondriac deserves to face their fears. And of course, these stickers will make any inanimate object instantaneously awesome. Seriously - grinning stapler? Can of soda with eyeballs? Yes, it's a winner.

Who doesn't love a t-shirt? Companies like offer tons of quirky shirts in sizes for girls and guys (kids, too!), most less than $20. On, you can custom-print your own t-shirt, or look for something wacky & fun already available. Thanks to the internet, there's no shirt that isn't available. For example, my boyfriend's favorite shirt, pictured at left, with the slogan "We do things my way or the Hemingway." He's already worn one into oblivion, so if he's lucky, there'll be a new one in his stocking this year.

There's plenty of stuff to make, too. Every baker needs a few dozen more potholders (seriously!), every music nerd loves mix tapes/cds, every glasses-wearer needs polishing wipes. Worst case scenario, do what my dad does when he's in charge of stockings: run down to the drug store on Christmas eve and just buy everything. It works for him.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mimesis 5: Best Mimesis Evar

That's right, the new issue is out, and I've gotta say it's pretty impressive. Sure, it DOES have a couple of my pieces in it, but there's a lot of other stuff worth reading in there. Contributors include Brent Fisk, Jeff Calhoun, Aditi Machado, Ian McLachlan and Carolyn Srygley-Moore. There's also a really smart essay by Luke Kennard. I highly suggest you plunk down some cash for a copy - it's super cheap for a lit mag, and there's free shipping in the UK and the US (enter me, the new US distributor).

And, in case you don't know what to get the curmudgenly poet type on your holiday shopping list, you can't go wrong with a Mimesis subscription! Seriously, a great gift!

Go now!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Things I should be doing instead of reading your blog

1. Widdling down my to-read pile which, I assure you, is bursting at the seams. No, it's warping my bookshelf quite literally. I need to add more shelves to the unit but Wal-Mart (hush, hippies, I'm POOR) doesn't carry them. ANGRY.

2. Working on either of the two YA books I'm meant to be writing and have manuscripts-in-progress for. I have organized them both into Scrivener (which I discovered thanks to Maureen Johnson's blog), as well as an incomplete thought of a middle-grade novel and a not-so-short short story that I wrote two Augusts ago. The crop-rotation method has ceased to work on either of these projects and tho I have disguised one as my NaNoWriMo for this year (I didn't start it this month but I didn't work on it for the first half of the month so, no harm no foul?) and still have managed more than a scribble.

3. The dishes. I think there's stuff growing in my sink.

4. Reading more books by Justine Larbalestier, Scott Westerfeld, and M.T. Anderson since they'll all be at BookPeople this week and I'd like to have something useful to say to them. I'm halfway through Magic or Madness right now and totally into it, but that leaves little time for me to engage the rest of the books in this "upcoming authors" stack.

5. Studying Cramming for the GRE which I am taking on Tuesday. TUESDAY! I've been operating under the assumption that if I don't know it now I'm not going to know it anytime soon, but, as Tuesday Doomsday approaches, I'm getting nervouser and nervouser. And less able to use real, dictionary-certified words.

6. Sending in my writing sample to UT, where I have applied for a fellowship in their MFA program. I'm a crazy person and am completely terrified that my work is not what they're looking for. I've gotta just stamp the envelope and put it in the mail.

So, you see, you people writing blogs are NOT helping me at all. Cut it out. I have too much to do to be reading your clever, funny, exciting, tragic, important ramblings & rants on the interwebs. No more!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The &#@$%($^&@ censors make me sad.

I live in Texas. As you may have heard, Texas is a haven for conservatives, Christians, and Republicans. I'm cool with that. I don't really take issue with other people's values unless they're trying to tell me what to do or how to think. Usually, they don't. Especially since I live in Austin, which is a blue city in this red state.

But every time I turn the corner I see something about books being challenged in high schools and middle schools, libraries, etc. And this doesn't so much bother me because I don't believe in book banning - and I don't, I think it's insane - but because I don't think the people questioning young people's literature are even reading the books.

If they were reading, they'd see that the girls in Lauren Myracle's TTYL, one of the most challenged books this year (and currently raising a hullabaloo just north of my town), might make some bad choices, but that they ultimately have a moral compass and deal with the consequences of their actions. Who cares if the author has chosen some particularly "shocking" language - this is the reality of being a teenager.

You can't take bits of books out of context and present them as problems - the book as a whole is what's important, what can create a dialogue between you and your children/students/friends. Banning books puts up a wall and creates an atmosphere of distrust.

I was at a panel tonight given by several of Austin's YA Authors, including Jennifer Ziegler, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Margo Rabb, and others. Jennifer mentioned at one point that you don't need to add drama when you write YA, because being a teenager is dramatic. I couldn't agree more - it's rough out there, it's the hardest thing to go through, and books provide a great escape, a wonderful therapy, and a valid educational endeavor. Whether its a gothic fantasy like Cynthia's, a heartbreaker like Margo's, or a dramedy like Jennifer's, YA authors have a way of getting to teens - who are we to take that away?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A New Future

I am so impressed with my country right now. I'm watching John Lewis talk on MSNBC, saying he didn't think he'd see this in his lifetime. I didn't, either. I was afraid that our biases and our judgments that we pretend no longer exist would prevent this moment for a few generations down the line.

We have elected an African-American president. But more than that, Barack Obama will make us so proud to be Americans, even those of us who have started to feel that there's nothing we can do to turn our country around.

I hate talking about politics most of the time, but I can't let this moment slip by without expressing my happiness.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Where Did Halloween Go?

When I lived in Brooklyn, I didn't expect many trick-or-treaters. I lived in an apartment building in an urban area - I can see why parents didn't bring their kids to my door. But now that I live in a house in Texas, I figured we'd get TONS of Halloweenies last night. Right? I mean, we're practically in the 'burbs!

Mark and I sat at home last night and waited. My parents came over (they're visiting from Maine) and we made burgers on the grill (Mark makes great burgers) and watched Scrubs on DVD (the musical episode, specifically) and waited some more. Not one child rang our doorbell. I was so excited to see the costumes. I figured that even though we're in a cul-du-sac off a main road, there are enough kids around here (our neighbor even runs a daycare!) that we would need two huge bags of candy to fill their bags.

And now I have those bags of candy - open, even - in my house. Where they will be eaten. By me and Mark. Even we don't need this much candy in our lives! I mean, come on. I bought us a bag of fun-size Almond Joys to not give out at all, to hoard for when all the delicious yummies had been doled out to costumed children. But they never came.

What is up with that? I know it's not like it used to be even ten years ago - we don't know our neighbors like we did then, and lots of parents in my home town were driving their kids around rather than walking by the time I was in high school. But do people not do it at all anymore? My mom tells me that when she was a kid, people gave out homemade treats like popcorn balls and caramel apples. Now we have candy x-rays set up at the police station to make sure sealed candy bars aren't filled with needles. In just two generations, has America gone that sour?

There is cheer on November 1st, though. While I have way too much candy, I did get to go to Texas Book Festival and meet the very cool authors Melissa de la Cruz, Lauren Myracle, Paula Yoo (who loves New London as much as me, yay!) and Jennifer Ziegler (who is from Austin and with whom I've totally talked to at work without knowing it). These ladies have super cool books, and their panel discussion rocked. Paula even gave us a violin performance - some classical favorites followed by some Led Zeppelin! My books are signed and happy now, and I am going to go read them and eat Swedish Fish...if Mark left any for me.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Awesome New Book + A Little Effort = Costume

So I'm totally obsessed with Justine Larbalestier's latest, How to Ditch Your Fairy. Thusly, I have appropriated her character's fairy - the dreaded parking fairy - for my Halloween costume. Luckily I work at a bookstore, so it's not terribly odd for me to be dressed up like something from a book. Though I did have to do a lot of explaining.

But who doesn't want a parking fairy? Getting good parking spots rules!

Monday, October 20, 2008

While you're waiting...

...for me to actually put up another post here (soon, I promise - lots of reviews!), I think you should take a peek at the following:

1. The BookKids Blog, which I write for pretty often these days. (I think I'll have a post going up most days in October, and when I'm not posting, Madeleine and Meghan are!)

2. Mimesis, the awesome poetry journal based in the UK, which will have its fifth issue out soon
(hi, James. I know.) including some of my work as well as other runners up and, of course the winners of the magazine's first digital chapbook initiative. My digital chapbook is also up on the website, and y'all should check that out when you're done poking around the rest of the mag.

3. YA for Obama! This is a fun political social network for young adult authors and readers regardless of age. I've been spending a lot of time on their forums talking about policy and books, you should too! Everyone is welcome!

4. Operation Bahgdad Pups, which as an animal lover just breaks my heart and fills it with hope at the same time (cheesy, I know). This is a charity set up by the SPCA when a soldier asked them to help him with a dog he and a fellow soldier had taken care of as a puppy. The army wouldn't let them, as it was against the rules to befriend or an animal while overseas. But with the help of the SPCA, the dog is now safe in the US and tons of other dogs, otherwise homeless in a dangerous part of the world, are in loving homes.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dear Sarah Palin

Here's the thing. I think it's super great that we've finally got a woman on the ticket for Vice President. But I'm not so stoked that it's Sarah Palin. I have a bunch of reasons - she's into book banning, she wants to charge victims for rape kits, she has little regard for wildlife or conservation, she's abused her power as a state official to mess with people's personal lives, and she's into letting her faith govern what other people should be able to do. And she and the Republican pundits have the gall to call us naysayers sexist. I'm not sexist, I just think that Palin's being a woman doesn't mean I can't criticize her as a politician. Heck, to not look at her just as critically as a man in her position would be very sexist!

But that's not to say I don't want to sit down with her and have a chat. I'm really interested in Sarah Palin as a person. I want to know why she's afraid of kids reading certain books, what it was like growing up in Alaska, how John McCain's keeping her in hiding has affected her self-esteem. I want to know what she thinks of Tina Fey's sketches on SNL, how she feels about being called a MILF, and what her favorite cookie recipes are.

I'm actually a little obsessed. And I'm interested in what teen girls all over America have to say to her. I bet a lot of these girls, most of which are under the legal voting age, have had a good long think about what it means to have a woman on the VP ticket, and, moreso, what it means that this woman is Sarah Palin. And I bet a lot of them, like me, want to know what it's like to be her. I bet they have questions. Maybe they don't want to have her over for tea and muffins, like I do, but teen girls are more insigtful than we give them credit for, and, given the chance, I bet they'd ask the questions we all are too scared to ask.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Hot for Texas

And not even voluntarily.

It's October. Where I come from, that means cute sweaters and wool minis and opaque tights. Here, that means sunblock, boob sweat, and funny tan lines from sitting at the bus stop for thirty minutes because they changed the bus schedule and you still can't figure it out.

I used to think I was lucky if my mom didn't make me wear a fugly turtleneck under my 'enchantress' dress on Halloween (forget the year we all went as Spice Girls). But if the neighborhood kids show up at my door on the 31st wearing anything more than an underpants-only superhero costume, yeah, that'll be lucky.

Seriously, Texas? They told me that it would start getting cooler in October, but I have been LIED TO. My electric bill is still breaking the bank when at this time last year I was embarrassed to be the only one in the neighborhood who hadn't put her window units in the closet yet. (Those things are heavy, okay?) My outdoor cat who HATES me desperately wants to come in.

It was about 100° on Friday. And all I got was sass from anyone I complained to. Just wait 'til "winter" hits and it drops below 65°. We'll see who's a whiner then. Jerks.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Freedom I Can't Live Without

I have a naughty new obsession. As Madeleine over at The Buried Editor will confirm, banned books are bloody addictive. It's not so much that I'm reading them right now, since I have a stack of ARCs that could kill a man if its center of gravity were disturbed. It's that I'm reading about them. Constantly. I set up a display at work of some of our most popular and intriguing banned and challenged books. The display includes classics like In the Night Kitchen, Huckleberry Finn, Alice in Wonderland, and James and the Giant Peach. It has recent favorites like Walter the Farting Dog, Captain Underpants, Looking for Alaska, and Harry Potter. So many books have been banned or challenged it simply blows your mind.

Naturally I'm a fan of freedom of expression. But what a lot of us don't consider here in the states, or in most western countries, is intellectual freedom. Sure, you may be able to go to the store and buy any of these banned books. So what if a bunch of yahoos want to ban a book from their school library, how does that effect you as long as they are available for purchase? But here's the thing about that: banning books from libraries makes freedom of intellect a privilege saved for those with enough money to buy all the books they want to read. And I think that's wrong.

Sure, maybe we shouldn't put Francesca Lia Block's sexed-up fairystories in the hands of ten-ten-year olds. But I don't think the government should say what I, were I that ten year old (or eight-year-old or twelve-year-old), should read. That's between me and my family. So while elementary and middle school libraries should perhaps be monitored, high school libraries and classrooms should have significant freedom. And, for the love of all things literary, keep your matches out of our public libraries.

The public library system is one of the greatest things about our country. Sure, the Austin Public Library has a price on my head right now ($17.48, I think). But if I return my books on time, it is completely free for me to walk in there and read whatever I want, even if my neighbor's cousin's mom thinks Where's Waldo has a topless chick in it somewhere.

The point is, young minds should be protected by parents. That said, I think parents should keep one thing in mind when they're getting ready to challenge a book: human nature. Your child will read the "bad" book behind your back; subsequently he will not be able to talk to you about it. My uninformed, inexperienced, parenting tip: if you think something in a book your kid wants to read could confuse, frighten, or corrupt him, consider reading it WITH him. Keep the discussion open - that way you can talk to him about the sex, drugs, violence, or moral quandries of the characters. That way when the inevitable happens, you can still be involved.

On that note, here is a list of some of my favorite banned & challeneged books:

Are You There God? It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume - One of the most challenged books of all time due to frank discussions of adolescent sexuality.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank - Challenged in Wise County, Va. (1982) due to "sexually offensive" passages. Four members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee (1983) called for the rejection of this book because it is a "real downer."
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell - Unsuccessfully challenged in Lodi, CA public libraries. (2007) Reasons: anti-ethnic, sexism, homosexuality, anti-family, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss - Challenged in the Laytonville, Calif. Unified School District (1989) because it "criminalizes the foresting industry."
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle - Challenged at the Polk City, Fla. Elementary School (1985) by a parent who believed that the story promotes witchcraft, crystal balls, and demons.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou - This book is frequently challenged because of Angelou's descriptions of her rape as a child.

(ps, I got my info on the bannings from and - thay have lots more information about banned books than me, plus tools and ideas for banned book week, too!)

I'm Cheating on You

With another blog.

So I work at this amazing bookstore and help run the kids section and we have this blog all about kids' books. I write in it. It's awesome. Here is my first post for said blog, and, goddammit, you should read BookKids regularly.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11th, Which Won't Go Away

So I was at work today, as I tend to be on weekdays, milling about when a coworker asked me "do you really love New York?"

Of course it took me a good second or two to figure out that a) said coworker was being cheeky and b) she asked me because I'm wearing a nice, touristy I heart NY tshirt. Naturally I guffawed at her, insisting that duh I love New York, I lived there for two goddamned years and I miss Brooklyn every day so help me god etc.

What didn't occur to me until a few hours later is that today is September 11, and, that I was unintentionally showing some sort of patriotic solidarity with my East Coast brethren. It had been a usual roll out of bed and into the shower morning; I just grabbed the quickest t-shirt I could find and ran out the door to try (and fail) to catch the bus.

So it's 9/11. And every year on 9/11 I spend all day suddenly remembering that I'm existing in my own little world on a day that matters so much and yet flies by in a blink. I always want to say "yeah, New Yorkers still feel that moment every day," or "I used to go by Ground Zero on the way home at night, it's so weird, a big, gaping hole," or "I knew a girl whose mom died."

The thing though is that none of that shit matters a whole lot. Not to you, or, really, to me. And I'm trying so hard to make 9/11 matter that I'm worried about the size of my patriotism as if I were an frat boy stuffing his shorts. Truth: America is fucked up, just like everywhere else. But I think it's a great country to live in, every day, where we have the freedom to tell our stories and watch racy shows on cable TV and show our big, meaty legs in short shorts.

I met a cool lady tonight, Randa Jarrar, who wrote my new favorite book, A Map of Home (review to come in my next book post). She's an Arab American, and I told her that I was gonna send her book to my grandmother, who has never met an Arab person before and is terrified of Muslims. I told her that my gran a smart lady who just doesn't have any experience to show her otherwise. The thing is, the story of Nidali, the girl in Randa's book, is the story of every little girl, the story of finding self-identity and the struggle of adolescence. It's a totally cultural book, set in the Middle East, but it's hysterical and heartbreaking and perfect.

If I had my way A Map of Home would be in every high school library, even though the Tipper Gores and the Sarah Palins of our country would be all over it for the sex and the dirty words and the violence. But, that's how life is, and if we could all see through Nidali's eyes, through Randa's words, I think the youth of America would stand a chance at fighting the bullshit cultural war we've gotten ourselves into.

And on that note, I hope I never write about September 11 again. I hope it's all out of my system. Then again, I'm nothing if not repetitive.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Possibly Annual Shark Admiration Post

The boyfriend is pretty miffed that it's Shark Week. I'd like to think it's because I'm going to be giving more attention to the boob tube than to him, but I know it's just that he'd rather watch non-shark programming on Discovery. That doesn't, however, mean that I understand his aversion.

Sharks are so amazing. Look at the size of those animals. Look at their enormous mouths, the rows and rows of teeth. The electromagnetic sensors in their snouts. These animals are truly top predators.

So I'm not saying that I want to hang out with sharks. Not without at least some chain mail armor and definitely a dive-cage. As cool as a shark-bite scar would be, with my luck any shark-related injury would lead to shark-related death. I'd be another fun statistic.

But ultimately, sharks are misunderstood. They're pretty smart creatures, and, while not dolphins, I still can't fathom eating them. Endangered sharks are illegally fished in parts of the world for shark fin soup (which I'm pretty sure I wouldn't eat even if I didn't think sharks were too cool to be food), and you know we wouldn't let this go as easily if sharks were cute and furry like a tiger.

In conclusion, here are some things you already know if you've ever watched Shark Week:

- Sharks don't think people taste good and only try to eat us when they think we're something else.
- Bull sharks can go in fresh water and salt water, making them pretty awesome.
- Playing dead is a better defense than thrashing around like an injured animal in case of shark attack.
- It is thought that the sharks that massacred the shipwreck victims of the Indianapolis were Oceanic White Tip.
- The short-finned mako is the world's fastest shark, but it's pretty impossible to see how fast since they're pretty tricky, and pretty strong.
- Sharks can be effectively hypnotized by flipping them upside down. (This is not to say, of course, we should all go out and flip sharks. That wouldn't be very nice...or smart.)

PS, here's a picture of me with shark teeth, courtesy of I think I could have done better with PhotoShop. But, you know, obsession and all...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

American Satire & Obama Drama

Since I've been getting emails and IMs about this, I figured I may as well lay it out here in Ye Olde Blog. I think there's nothing wrong with The New Yorker's recent cover. You know, the one causing all the ruckus, since it's got the Obamas all dressed up like terrorists. Since I'm not terribly politically-minded, I can only assume all y'all are harassing me 'cause I used to work at that fine magazine. That's ok. Just let me share my piece.

I really think the biggest problem with the cover has nothing to do with the magazine or the artist (Barry Blitt) at all. I think the biggest problem is that American's don't get satire. And that's fine, except, there are a lot of smart media outlets like TNY that are really great with satire, and the Obama cover is a perfect example. It addresses all the propaganda that the right-wing pundits are throwing at the Obama campaign. You know, that bullshit about him being a terrorist, a Muslim (and who cares if he were, really, but that's another blog for another day), etc. It highlights that "terrorist fist jab," has a flag burning in the fire place, and a portrait of Bin Laden on the wall. I mean, really, folks, what's not to get about this? It's so absurd, it has to be a joke.

And, okay, okay I get that it's a controversial cover. But seriously, the folks at The New Yorker are smart people, and you shouldn't think for a minute that they weren't expecting some sort of lashback from Obama supporters and the liberal media. And they know exactly what Fox News and all those conservative pundits are going to do with that - but, let's face it, those guys are preaching to the converted. You could put Obama in a crown of thorns, a frilly pink dress, or a Hitler-esque mustache on a magazine cover and these folks are still going to refer to him as "B. Hussein Obama" when they call in to raise a stink on talk radio.

But let's face it folks, controversy sells. This cover is going to move units, and that should make Obama supporters happy. If you actually open the magazine, you'll find not one but two articles on the senator. Now, given that a) I don't work at TNY anymore and b) as a result of a) I'm broke (and busy), I haven't had the time or money to sit down and read the articles (you may have noticed I'm up to my ears in teen and middle grade books), but, given the way the magazine tends to lean, you can be pretty sure that they have something good to say about Obama. At the very least, you know that they are going to be smart, no-bullshit pieces. And, you know what? That's exactly what the skeptical and the undecided need to read.

Yes, I support Obama. As I previously stated, I'm not very smart about politics. I'm one of those horrible people that gets pissed off when the President gives a speech or there's an important debate and it interrupts my TV programs. I don't read a lot of political magazines (or any, these days - like I said, too many kids' books), and I don't do a lot of research on the candidates. That said, I have seen Obama speak, I've heard what he has to say, and it seems to me he has a lot of good ideas for the American people, and the drive, ambition, and will-power to see these ideas through to fruition. Barack Obama loves America. For Chrissakes, anyone who is going to let a magazine cover dissuade them of that fact was never willing to consider Obama's character in the first place.

In conclusion: what's the big deal?

In another conclusion: I think you guys just need something to complain about. As if there wasn't enough already. Seriously.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

This is just to say

That I'm really
going to miss
reading recipes
and anecdotes
from Miss A.

I hope she gets
healthy and
maybe blogs
again. (So sweet
and delicious).

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Die-Cut Covers Are the Enemy

Dear Publishers,

I am writing you as a lover of books, no, an ambassador of books. As an inventory manager at a large independent book store, I assure you, I care for books like very few Americans do. I spend a lot of time every day thinking about books, shelving them in my head the way you fit Tetris blocks mentally after having played for hours before bed. Things like humidity pain me not because of the state of my hair, but the state of paperback covers curling when they are face-out on the shelves. But at least these covers revert to their prior state of flatness when shelved spine-out and pressed between their literary brethren.

Not so is the case for a damaged die-cut jacket.

Publishers, I come to you hoping that you will understand that books with die-cut details in the jacket or cover, however cute or funny or exciting to look at, stand no chance on a shelf not maintained and guarded by an ex-member of the FBI's bomb squad, treating each with the delicacy and precision he would treat a live wire. Inevitably, these seemingly simple jackets will be shelved too close and too hastily next to another book by a customer - or even a distracted, busy member of the staff - and the material that creates the cute little hole(s) will start to tear backward. The tome has begun its descent into book purgatory.

One tiny tear is never where it ends. Even books with just one simple cut in the cover wind up with their covers tattered beyond recognition, and remain lonely on the shelves where they cannot, will not sell until marked down and banished to the clearance aisle. And nobody wants a damaged book. Much like Rudolph's Island of Misfit Toys, the damaged books in this aisle can stay there for years before anyone even gives them a sidelong glance.

So here's the thing, Publishers. If you want your books to look beautiful and pristine on the shelves of my book store, stop making books with die-cut covers. Especially books for kids and teens, as these are folks who often times haven't figured out the proper care and keeping of a perfect-bound masterpiece. And even the young ones who do love their books as much as I do have no control over the four year old who comes into the store behind them just thinks it's fun to pull book after book from the shelves, throwing them to the floor, just to see how much damage they can accomplish before Momma notices. Kids will be kids, after all.

I understand that you want your books to be the most intriguing, cutting-edge items customers can see. But if you want your books to be seen at all, for the love of all things literary, make that cutting edge a little less literal.

With All Due Respect,

Ambassador of the Books

EDIT: Below is a picture of Sarah Dessen's latest book. I haven't read it, and have no opinion on the book itself. But I thought maybe this post needed an example photo. Here you have it:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Completely OK at Forking

I miss Amelia. I miss her so much. Amelia is the big sister I never had. She fills in all the gaps left by a dramatic teenhood and a funny relationship with my mother. She tells me what I need to hear, and sometimes what I want to hear, but would never sugar-coat something important. She's the only person I know who fully appreciates driving fast down the interstate blasting Bryan Adams ("Summer of 69") and singing along until the third verse at which point we sort of mumble forgotten lyrics (RIP Amelia's car's speakers). She doesn't make fun of me for having too many cats...usually. And she gives the best hugs ever (sorry, Mark). I really miss her.

Amelia moved to Arizona in February, shortly after I moved to Texas. It's great for her - AZ is where her family is, it's her home base, and, as an Army wife and sometimes-single mother (when the hubby is overseas), she needs all the support she can get. But it sucks for me, 'cause it's way farther to her house now than it used to be. You could listen to that Bryan Adams song at least a billion more times.

I love my life here, and as much as I'd like to cut myself in two and have my left hand with Amelia and my right hand with Mark, I hear that science hasn't advanced enough for this to be possible. So I do what I can. I listen to Sunny Day Real Estate and The Appleseed Cast and all that great emo music that was cool before the bad haircuts and black eyeliner of recent years. I keep a loaf of bread she made me in the freezer (we were saving it for sandwiches but then we forgot to get the sandwich meat and then it was Amelia bread so how could I eat it?), I tell anyone who will listen about my fabulous BFF, I chuckle every time I see the flashlight she gave me (inside jokes are awesome), and I bake my little heart out.

Amelia and I both grew up with a love for baking. She is a perfectionist, and rightfully so. I swear, if she weren't such a good Christian who didn't want to show up Jesus, she could make water from wine. She makes the hard stuff look easy. I marvel at the ease with which she makes biscuits - the first time I visited her, last June (it's almost our anniversary), she made me biscuits for breakfast, but had run out of white flour, and used whole wheat. Amelia claims they weren't that great, but I swear, to this day, they are the best biscuits I've ever had.

This winter I was at her house and she pulled from her freezer a bag of rolled peanut butter dough (see how she even plans such simple things ahead? I would never have the patience), and together we made hash marks in them with forks. I told her how this past Christmas, in all the hullabaloo of my mother's baking frenzy (my sister and I counted about 25 different types of cookies that she baked enormous batches of for the neighbors, work, family, etc.) I'd been banned from forking the peanut butter cookies because I wasn't being neat enough. Amelia thought this was funny and told me I did a fine job. So today, as I made peanut butter cookies (an amalgam of several internet recipes, posted below), I couldn't help but to text my best friend and tell her how much I missed her, and her faith in my fork-hashing skills.

In response she called me, my phone showing a silly kissy-face photo of her, blasting a tinny "Summer of 69." She told me she would send me good-hashing vibes, and I guess it worked, 'cause the cookies came out both pretty and delicious. Neither of us really like peanut butter cookies all that much, either. But they're fun to make, and these have extra brown sugar for extra chewiness and pb and chocolate chips for extra yumminess. I know it's summer, but with a little AC, what's turning the oven on, if it reminds you of your dearest amigo?

Amelia-Chip* Peanut Butter Cookies:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup natural crunchy peanut butter
1 + 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter chips

*No actual Amelias contained in this cookie. Mostly because we like Amelia, but also because Amelia would taste gross, even though she's awesome.

Preheat your oven to 350°. In a medium-sized bowl combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large mixing bowl use an electric mixer (or a really strong hand) to blend the peanut butter and the butter until smooth and creamy. Blend in the sugar, and then add the egg and the water. When thoroughly blended, slowly add the dry ingredients. The dough should be soft but crumbly. Stir in the chocolate and peanut butter chips (if you want, Nestle makes some fun "swirl" chocolate chips, including a milk chocolate/peanut butter blend. I used two cups of these instead of one cup of each kind). Using your hands pinch bits of dough from the bowl and form into small 1-2 inch balls. Roll the dough in your palms, but don't over-handle! Set the balls of dough about an inch apart on a non-stick cookie sheet, and using the back of a fork, make hash marks in the dough. This will flatten the dough some, but be aware that they still will spread out by baking! Bake the cookies from 10-15 minutes. Let cool on a drying rack (wax paper on a counter top works just as well) and enjoy with a loved one. Or by yourself. Or send them to your best friend in Arizona (if she likes peanut butter cookies).

PS, Amelia, I made this one after you called, because your vibes helped me hash a heart:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Morse-Adkins Cat Motor Lodge

Last night being Saturday night, Mark and I were actually going to do the whole date night thing and see that new M. Night Shyamalan movie at the nearest theater. We were about to leave when he realized he'd lost his wallet and after scouring the house for an hour still couldn't find it. While we still could have made the movie, I'm a broke book store employee and can't afford movie tickets for two until pay day (if I want to eat this week). We changed plans, drove out to Waterloo Video and rented some horror films — The Eye (the original Chinese version), Teeth, and Ab-Normal Beauty (another Chinese film). We came home (with sodas from Sonic, of course) still mourning the loss of Mark's wallet, but on our way in heard some noise in the bushes. It sounded like a cat, so we started taking a mental inventory of our animals. All but one stay inside at all times, and that one wasn't out. So we started calling —here, kitty, kitty etc — until out walked a black beauty of an animal, mewling. She immediately flopped over at Mark's feet begging to be loved.

It's hot enough in Texas for people, but, for a domestic animal that clearly has spent most of its life indoors, the summer sun is brutal. We couldn't leave this poor girl outside so Mark scooped her up and we brought her directly into our bathroom where she would be safe, but still separate from the resident population. I wish this was the first time this had happened to us, but apparently there is some neon sign on the front of our house: FREE FOOD. CAT MOTEL.

Two of our other cats are charity cases. Mocha, the irritable Siamese came to me back in New York when a room mate neglected her and I just took her on when the girl moved out. And Turkleton, our big Abyssinian mix, lived under our porch for several months before we deemed it too hot for him to live out there anymore. This is in addition to the two cats we adopted on purpose: my Maine Coon, Telemachus and Mark's three-legged calico, Beatrice. Seriously, we are not wanting for cats.

But people keep dumping their animals, which I guess shouldn't be shocking to me, since it's a crisis in just about every area, urban or rural. The impression I get of Austin, though, is of a caring, neighborly community full of activists and leaders and people who should give a shit about their pets. I've called every veterinarian in the area, as well as the Town Lake Animal Center (where all lost pets in Austin are registered), the SPCA, and the Animal Trustees of Austin. No one has called them about their missing cat.

We really can't afford to keep this baby girl, even though we are already growing attached, so we're hoping to find a friend to take her in if we can't locate her family. I met one family today who were hoping that their lost kitty was the one we found, but it just wasn't in the cards, and they're the only possible family that Craigslist has turned up. My biggest fear is that someone thought it would be a good idea to get a black cat on Friday the 13th - for a prank or a party or just for funsies - then thought better of it and ditched her. Thankfully, she's in good spirits anyway.

I'm pretty sure that my readers are the proverbial choir, but, seriously guys, lets take care of these furry creatures, at least for karma's sake.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Growing Up: Still Just for Old People

So I was reading up on Scott Westerfeld, since I'm currently ensconced in his Uglies series, and in his FAQ he states that while he has written adult fiction before, he is wary to go back because a) adults don't send as much fan mail and b) adults tend to stick to one genre or author and do not venture elsewhere. He said some other stuff, too, but I'm a lazy paraphraser.

It sort of makes me wonder how many great authors I missed the boat on by moving directly from my non-reader phase to my literary snob phase shortly after college. I'm working on that, at the moment reading a lot of teen fiction, and consequently feeling more and more overwhelmed by the day by the amount of adult books that are also out there. I mean, literally, piles and piles of books I'll never be able to read in my lifetime.

It's a dilemma. A coworker and I talked about it today, and it's one of those conversations that always ends like this:

(awkward silence)

I've often joked about wanting to read books by osmosis - simply by touching a book to my face all of its contents would work into my brain and I'd be full of knowledge and pleasure. But of course there's a fundamental problem with this plan, just as with any revolutionary idea: what about the pleasure in the process of reading? In whizzing through books the way I have been over the last few weeks (I feel really smart and cocky and have to keep reminding myself I'm reading stuff written for people whose brains are still developing), I feel myself rushing to get from one book to the next. I used to read in a more leisurely manner, taking in only 20-30 pages in a sitting, usually while waiting for something or riding somewhere, and would stretch a book out over a couple of weeks. And sometimes I'd do this on purpose, just to savor the last few pages of a delectable book (most memorably, Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland).

So here I am, with a hundred pages left of Pretties, both excited and scared that I've got so much to read when I'm done. There's Specials, the third book of the Uglies trilogy, and at some point the follow up, Extras, will come out in paperback. Meanwhile the boss lady gave me a pile of books to read to prepare for the fall season at the store. And, of course, there's my own ever-expanding home library (I swear, sometime soon, I'm going to read Stephanie Klein's memoir, Moose, since, you know, I've got a signed copy at arm's length right now and a girl needs some nonfiction every now and then).

The idea of growing up and giving up on reading (again) scares me. Is Westerfeld right? Am I going to limit myself to one tiny chunk of the literary world (contemporary fiction, authors C through L, perhaps?), or can I fight it, push the boundaries of adulthood and rebel against the tendency toward stagnation? I'd like to think I will. It's not like I'm any good at growing up anyway, and it will be something to do when I'm too old and wrinkly to be seen in public. But only time will tell, and as far as I can see, it will be a while before I let the joy of reading slip away again.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Next Movement: Death by Words

It's April, and you know what that means - it's National Poetry Month! Some of us, in the name of Masochism, I suppose, have twisted this into (Inter-)National Poetry Writing Month, or NaPoWriMo. This is much like NaNoWriMo, except instead of writing a 50k novel, the goal is to write a poem for each day of the month of April. Poets in several communities, online and off, I'm sure, are participating, cheering each other on, and cranking out verse. The idea, much like with NaNo, is not not necessarily to produce top notch writing, but simply to produce. It's an exercise in endurance, in breaking through writers' block, and, for me, in having 30 poems at the end of April that I might edit into something decent come May.

So far I'm doing well, and have penned five poems over the past five days (today's has yet to be written, but I'm sure I'll get there before I fall asleep). I started with a list of topics I might write about, with some lines and phrases and words that I'd like to work into my poetry, and have been referring back to this list for inspiration from time to time. Strangely enough, I seem to keep writing about bugs, which is weird, because I hate bugs. At the same time, it's not so weird, because I love watching Discovery Channel specials on bugs. They're fascinating.

This is the third year I've participated in NaPo, and since in the past two years I completed the task, I'm raising the bar for myself. I'd really like to write 30 pieces that are usable. Even though NaPoWriMo isn't about quality, I think as a writer I need to challenge myself. Several poems from last year, and even a few from the year before, have since been published, and I wish I had more salvageable works to draw from. This is partially because I'm hoping to take a big leap in the upcoming months - toward a chapbook or a collection.

I'm not sure of the exact benefits entailed in having a book of poetry vs. having pieces published in magazines, but I've been assured that they are many. Of course I also like the idea of having a selection of work all in one place that my amassed fans grandmother can pick up and enjoy. At this point in my career, I am a bit loathe to self-publish. I am rather confident that with time and patience I might stand a chance in the big kid's league.

So, in the very near future, I will be submitting manuscripts to the Mimesis Digital Chapbook Contest (my manuscript for this contest will include my photography as well), and to the Templar Poetry Pamphlet & Collection Competition. Wish me luck!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Only The Fashion Police Can Judge Me

There is little more unnerving than cleaning out your closet and taking your clothes to a consignment store. Let me explain.

I have a clothing addiction. It's been a problem since I first started my career as a mallrat in the 7th grade. I bought things that I thought were hip, but not suited to my body type, just because they were on sale at Contempo for $4. As I got into high school I would buy things that I would have to take in or fix because, well, this is a deal and just because the zipper is busted, well, $12 for this twill tube dress is just awesome! By college I had discovered the glory of eBay and the array of DIYers and thrift-store junkies that sold their goods therein. I wound up with clothes that didn't quite fit or that weren't quite like what they appeared as in the listing or that were so outrageous that I wore them to one party or on one day at class and then stuffed back into my teeny tiny exploding college dorm closet.

You can imagine how much my wardrobe expanded when I lived in Brooklyn for two years, with a professional salary to boot. I went to actual (not virtual) thrift stores, bargain stores like Daffy's, and neat local shops. There was an H&M on almost any corner and I knew where to find the best sales at the cool boutiques. When I started packing to move to Austin, I found tons of clothes that still had the sales tags in my closet. In addition, you can imagine, I pulled out many skirts, jackets, shoes and t-shirts that were never going to see the light of day again. And, so, I took them to Beacon's Closet, the hippest thrift store I'd ever been to, and dumped my items on their counter.

My boyfriend, Mark, came with me that day for emotional support. We went to lunch while they evaluated my goods, and I dreamed of the pile of money I was going to rake in. Much to my chagrin, I became only $11 richer that day, despite the designer jeans (still with tags!), funky vintage waitress dresses, trendy shoes and cashmere sweaters I had in the huge bag. They told me "we bought these two pair of shoes which will retail for $35," and gave me a voucher to cash at the front of the store. My heart pretty much dunked itself in sadsauce, but I had already resolved to, for the sake of the move, give whatever the didn't take to charity. I took my $11 and swallowed my pride.

Pride, because, what feels worse than a bunch of hipsters telling you "only two pairs of shoes in this whole bag of swag are cool enough for our store"? My answer is this: hipsters going through even MORE of your clothes in an even HIPPER town while you watch them reject pieces one by one.

Today my dear friend Katy gave up some of her time to take me and four big shopping bags' worth of clothes and shoes to a really cool shop called the Buffalo Exchange. Apparently this is a national chain, so you might have one near you. Reader, I must tell you, get thee to one of their locations should you find one in your area. What variety! What style! What a disaster for a girl on a mission to save more money this year! Katy and I browsed the aisles briefly while one of the super-hip store managers began to evaluate my clothes. Quickly we decided to go back to the counter before either of us were tempted to part with some sweet, sweet green. I found myself eying her, praying in my head each time she grabbed an item out of the bag: Please take this one, please take this one, this one is sooooo awesome!

Damn. It's like being personally evaluated on a cool-o-meter over and over. In my head I imagined her saying "Wow, this girl is so lame — she bought this hideous sweater!" and "Jesus, why would she think this is hip? This isn't vintage, this is dated!" and "There's 'so ugly it's cute,' and 'so ugly it should be burned!'" I supposed I live more in fear of judgment than the average gal, but I'm willing to bet I'm not the only person who feels this way at the counter of a consignment store. At least I made more than $11 today. I walked out with a clean $53.20. And promptly took Katy on a very romantic date at Sonic. We even shared dessert.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Dynamic is All to Boom

Recently, my boyfriend and I watched that episode of The Simpsons where Milhouse and his mom move to Capital City and Milhouse goes all bling bling and Bart is instantaneously lonely. I've never had my best friend move away before. Until Amelia left.

I moved to Austin last month, just in time to catch some quality time with my best friend, Amelia, before she moved back to her home state of Arizona. This move occurred on Friday. Amelia, the trooper, drove all 900 miles in one day. And I rode the bus wearing my "Where the heck is Copperas Cove, TX? t-shirt that Amelia brought me from her now former town.

I found myself at some of the places Amelia and I went the first time I came to Austin, and looking for her favorite ice cream flavor (Vosges Naga - a curry flavor - weird but delicious!) at Whole Foods. I couldn't write about it. Standing at the bus stop I texted her:

"Some jerk is taking up the whole bus stop bench with his leg."
"Ew now he moved and his fat hairy crack is falling out of his pants!"
"Better crack than junk!"

The bus was late. It was just after rush hour. A long trail of traffic stretched down Lamar from the stop light. Two old men in a pick up truck were waving and moving their lips. In New York I would have ignored them, but apparently in Texas talking to strangers on the side of the road is totally normal and almost expected. I took off my headphones.

"Take 190 from I35!"

Before the traffic moved, I told the old man about Amelia and he told me that she was lucky, and gave Cove the thumbs-down. I texted her again.

"Some old dude in a truck saw me at the bus stop and gave me directions to Cove."
"Oman laffo!"
"Srs. He said you're lucky!"
"Don't I know it!"

And she is. She's going back to Arizona where her family is, and a lot of her friends. She'll have people to help her with her little girl while her husband is in Iraq.

On Thursday night, before the Great Escape from Texas, we had our last hurrahs. Mark took us to the Alamo Drafthouse to see Be Kind, Rewind - it was hilarious and sentimental, and artsy enough to quell Mark (who is just about the biggest movie snob ever). We found our friends Katy and Sarah (like little sisters to Amelia and I both) and frolicked on 6th street. I watched her almost lick the building that houses Emo's, a very scenester nightclub that Amelia never actually made it to during her time here. We shared a peach-flavored cigarette from Sarah's 75-cent pack (don't tell my gran. I don't really smoke). We laughed at the skinny sorority girls wearing their teeny tiny uniforms. We let her dogs out in my yard, where they peed on my fence. And, in the morning, she came in to wake me up, told me that I didn't have to get out of bed, and said goodbye to my cats, and then to me.

I miss her.

Friday, February 8, 2008

This is Your Blog on Drugs

That's what I was going to call this blog, anyway. It turns out the prescription painkillers I was prescribed did almost nothing for me. Oh, well.

I was brushing my teeth last week when suddenly a piece of my molar fell off. Well, it more or less peeled off. That's what you get for ignoring your cavities, kiddies. I officially feel like a southwestern hillbilly. Luckily I had two days left of insurance from my previous job in which to have a dental adventure.

I'm petrified of the dentist. Honestly, as far as I'm concerned, anyone who wants to spend their lives inside other people's mouths is either a nut job or a sadist or both. Of course, I have to make the exception for my boyfriend's mum, a dental hygienist, who is one of the nicest people I've ever met. We called her that night at around 1am to find out what we should do, and she didn't even complain about the hour. In any case, I just don't understand the profession, and most of the tools I see in the office resemble torture devices from spy movies. (Remember that tooth-pulling torture guy from Alias? Seriously. Imagine that guy giving you a root canal and that's what I picture every time someone says "dentist.")

I've sort of known for months that I needed a root canal, actually. The molar in question has been in pain for years, following what I think was a botched filling. The dental industry has had so many opportunities to redeem itself, but is constantly failing. This particular incident was in November 2004 - I had three fillings done and, not only did 8 shots of Novocaine not numb me while drilling, the fillings hurt constantly for several months. And it wasn't just a little ache, or a sensation when eating hot or cold. It was a constant throbbing, blinding pain in my teeth.

I called the dentist and she prescribed a painkiller (it was acetaminophen-based, but I don't remember what the naughty stuff in it was. Not codeine, though, since I was too busy in college to be taking anything that would render me useless), which, as per usual, did nothing. I put myself on a regimen of Excedrin, taking two or three pills every four hours, including a dose at bedtime to avoid waking up in excruciating pain (this almost always failed). By January or February I was no longer in constant pain, but still had regular toothaches. Even years later that one molar always bothered me, but I just thought that, with my history of panic and anxiety, it could be psychosomatic.

When a brown spot appeared on the tooth — followed by a crack — I knew I was wrong. So last week when the tooth just finally broke, I wasn't so much shocked but angry that I'd let my fear of dentists get the better of me.

Seriously, though. The dentist guy from Alias. So scary.

So I've got a temporary filling in place and will be getting a crown on Tuesday. I'm not happy about it, but seeing as the only real pain I've had so far from the root canal is from chewing up my own cheek (and let me tell you, that is some serious pain), I'm feeling better about it. But, you know, if I'm going to be doing this whole dental thing on a regular basis, I'd better at least get some fun drugs out of it.