Thursday, October 4, 2012

    It's Nearly That Time Again!

    It's October, so you know what that means--NaNoWriMo is less than a month away!

    Once again, we'll be hosting a series of pre-, during, and post-NaNo workshops and write-ins. So if you've ever wanted to write a book, the time is now. Join us for the frenzy.

    Workshops begin Tuesday, October 9th. 
    The writing begins November 1st.

    We always have snacks, and sometimes we wear funny hats. Because we're cool like that.

    You can find last year's handouts and other goodies on my very own RaiderWriMo page.

    (Already coming up with excuses about why you can't write a 50,000 word first-draft in November? I don't want to hear 'em. If I can do this 8 months pregnant and teaching an overload of classes, so can you!)

    Friday, August 3, 2012

    Are you ready?

    The Fall 2012 semester begins in a few short weeks. 
    What do you say, students? Are you ready?

    Saturday, June 2, 2012

    Follow the Reader: Reading Conference Swag

    AKA: I got some FREE BOOKS!

    I love attending reading conferences for many reasons--I get to meet other reading professionals, I always come home with exciting new ideas, they insist on sending me away with yet another new tote bag. But my absolute favorite thing about reading conferences? The free books!

    Not only did I snag some free books this year, but four of them are ARCs. Bonus. Thank you, Penguin Young Readers!

    The fifth is a copy of The Hobbit from Houghton Mifflin. I'll admit I was kind of confused about that, since I can't imagine that any of the thousands of reading professionals walking around the conference doesn't already own The Hobbit. But I'm not going to complain about a free book, especially when that free book is as awesome as The Hobbit.

    I just started reading Jessica Khoury's Origin and it is great so far. I'll be sure to share reviews of all these ARCs as soon as I'm done. I'll get them all read before they hit bookshelves this fall, so stay tuned.

    Anyone else reading ARCs right now? Or just a really great new book? What should I be adding to my To Read shelf for the fall?

    Monday, May 7, 2012

    We don't need no stinkin' programs!

    I'm sorry, but I can't help myself: I need to brag on my reading students a bit right now. 

    At my college, all of our students take the standardized COMPASS reading exam before and after taking a developmental reading course. The COMPASS exam is a computer-based dynamic test that measures a student's reading ability.

    With so much concern placed on students' reading ability over the last decade, many schools and instructors have resorted to using boxed programs or fancy technology in an effort to help their students improve their scores on such standardized exams.

    Of course, I wouldn't have any of that. My belief always has been and always will be that students must read real books if they are to become better readers. Silly me, I know. What does reading books have to do with become skilled readers?

    Well, ladies and gentlemen, here comes the brag:

    My developmental reading students made average gains of 17.92 points per student on their COMPASS reading exam scores this semester. 17.92 points! 77% of my amazing students passed right out of our course, and 39% of those students passed OVER the next course and into the course beyond that one! What about the 33% who did not pass into the next course, you may ask? Well, all but 2 of those students' scores went up significantly, so even though they didn't make that cutoff score to get into the next course, they experienced significant gains.

    And do you know how they did it? Did they use fancy technology with lots of bells and whistles? NOPE. Did they use a fat reading textbook that cost a quarter of their semester's tuition? NOPE. Did they spend hours and hours sitting in front of a computer practicing to take this test? NOPE.

    You know how they did it? They read books. Real books. Books that they found on library bookshelves and read for free. Books displayed in the windows of their local independent bookstores. Books that I had sitting in my office, just waiting to be read. My students read an average of four novels each this semester. We also read a 100-page course packet on reading skills that I created and that our college bookstore makes available for $4 a copy. And we printed articles from online newspapers and magazines and talked about those. But mostly, we read. And we talked about reading. And practiced reading. And some of us ended up loving reading by the end of our 16 weeks together.

    My students are proof that you don't need fancy technology, or shiny new programs wrapped up in pretty little boxes to help your students become better readers. You just need books. And some time. And a community eager to talk about them. That's when the real magic happens.

    Tuesday, April 3, 2012

    Follow the Reader: Wenches & Vampires & Emoticons--Oh, My!

    Or, Behold: My Latest (Multi-Generational) Book Binge

    We were out to dinner with my awesome niece and nephew last Wednesday when I realized that I hadn't yet bought the book I needed to read for book club. Which was scheduled to meet on Friday. So of course, we had the perfect excuse to go lazy around the local Barnes & Noble for a while. And that's exactly what we did.

    After a delicious half hour of combing the Young Adult shelves and flipping through pages, we'd made our selections. The ten-year-old snagged Divergent and The Tomorrow Code. It was ttyl, The Vampire Diaries, and Drama High for the thirteen-year-old. My husband walked away with Peak. And I walked out . . . empty handed. We were halfway home when I realized I'd forgotten to get Wench (which was good, by the way) for book club, at which point we turned around.

    We went back home and curled up on the living room sofas, surrounded by the newly book-bedecked walls, and read together for nearly two hours in silence. It was wonderful.

    My nephew, incidentally, has already ready over 500 pages in Divergent. I can't wait for him to finish so I can borrow it.

    What about you? Which books have you bought lately?

    Wednesday, March 21, 2012

    Bulldogs & Elephants & Sheep--Oh, My!

    Our new bookshelves are finally finished!!!!

    And of course, they're home to some animal photos and figurines in addition to the actual books. I couldn't very well leave the white ceramic flying pig sitting on a shelf alone in Z Gallerie, could I?

    Without further ado, the pictures. Because I know that's all anyone really cares about, anyway.


    And. . . AFTER!

    It's really difficult to get the entire wall in one shot since I don't have a wide-angle lens. So here are some close-ups of the shelves:
    Photos top to bottom: From our wedding day, 7/4/08. Taken by a photographer. Sheep in Ireland, 2010. Taken by me. A cairn in Switzerland, 2011. Taken by me.

    Photos top to bottom: In The Burren, Ireland, 2011. Taken by my sister. Donkeys in St. John, USVI, 2008. Taken by me. Gargoyle in the Napa Valley, 2012. Taken by me.
    I LOVE bookends:

    And the reading nook. This is still in progress, but it's getting cozier.

    I couldn't resist taking some close-ups :)

    So, there it is! I love our new bookshelves, and I'm excited to add some light to the reading nook. We have a wall of bookshelves in the family room, too, but I'll wait to post pictures of those until after I've done some rearranging in there.

    What do your bookshelves look like? How do you have your books arranged? I clearly chose to arrange the three new shelves by color, but I figure it's a small enough collection that we can still find what we're looking for. Please share links to pictures of your own shelves, if you have them!

    Source List:
    Shelves: Pottery Barn Holman Shelves, espresso color
    Paint: Restoration Hardware Slate
    Furniture under bookshelves: Crate & Barrel
    Wet bar: Crate & Barrel
    Ottoman under bookshelves: World Market
    Bookends: Z Gallerie & Homegoods

    Monday, March 19, 2012

    Books are Beautiful

    I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.  - Anna Quindlen
    Who needs art?
    This is so true. 

    My husband and I have been doing some redecorating, which for us really means we've hung new bookshelves and rearranged our collection. So of course I've been perusing pictures of gorgeous bookshelves in the name of research. I can't just throw all of my books on the shelves, after all.

    These are my favorite shelves. I love the contrast between the black shelves and the red room behind them.
    I keep a list of sites dedicated to beautiful books and book art on this blog, but it has been so much fun digging through them and seeing what happens when people who are creative also love books. I've added so many new crushworthy pictures of amazing bookshelves and booknooks to my Book Love board on Pinterest in the process. I swear, I could skim through that board for hours. 

    My new favorite booknook. Can't you see yourself cuddled up in there with a steamy mug of something?

    There is  just something about a house filled with books, isn't there? 

    When I taught high school I used to ask my students how many books they had at home. The most common response? One. One book. "The yellow one."

    At first I thought, Maybe there's a yellow bible that's really popular right now.
    And then I got wise. They weren't talking about a book at all. They were talking about the phone book. As in, The Yellow Pages. 

    This was one of the saddest realizations I had during my time as a high school teacher. Now that we're moving into the age of the e-book, I wonder if more homes will be print-starved. Will people trade in their bookshelves for spare wall space? Will people stop decorating with books?

    I know I won't. I love our new bookshelves, and searching for quirky bookends is one of my favorite things to do on a lazy shopping trip.

    What about you? Is your home filled with books? Do you think you'll ever trade them in, now that you can carry an entire library on an e-reader? And if you have children, do you keep a library of books for them in your home?

    Wednesday, March 7, 2012

    Earplugs and a Donkey Named Clippity

    or What Readers Really Want Writers to Talk About on Their Blogs

    I just love this social media thang. 

    Last week, the talented sports pro (dressage) and writer, Debby Lush, contacted me via email to ask about a comment I made on writer KD Rush's blog. My comment was basically that I'm surprised so many writers keep blogs that seem to be intended for other writers, and not for current or potential readers.

    This is what I mean: Most of the blogs I see writers promoting via Twitter are filled with posts about the craft of writing, or the publishing industry, or other general ruminations on writing. There's nothing wrong with this. Unless, of course, writers hope to build a readership through keeping a blog. Then, they have a problem.

    Because here's the thing: The majority of readers are not aspiring writers. Readers are no more interested in the top ten rules for building suspense than football fans are interested in the top ten practice drills for improving a player's footwork. If you write stories that keep us up until 3 AM because we could not go to sleep without reading what happens next, then we're as happy as a Patriots fan after Brady throws a touchdown pass. But posts about how to keep us turning the page? Bo-ring.

    Readers are interested in the product, or in the specific experiences, thoughts, or beliefs that led to its creation.

    As a reader, I will read a writer's blog to gain insights into what makes her writing speak to me. Think of a different type of artist to whom you are drawn--a particular painter, or an elite athlete, or a culinary artisan. What would you want to know about him? You would want to know what makes his work or performance so beautiful, because in learning about what goes into his work, you will learn about yourself because his work speaks to you. You probably wouldn't want him to repackage the same sort of information you can get anywhere about his craft in general--cooking rules, how to paint with oil, how to train for the Olympics. I know I wouldn't.

    So, blogging writers, listen up! This is what we readers hope to find when browsing your blog or website. 

    Your writing. 
     This is particularly important if we haven't yet read your writing—Readers want a link right in the top navigation bar that will bring us to a short sample of what you believe to be your very best work. We'll start there, and if your words speak to us, we'll dig around the rest of the site.

    Your bio. 
     When we click on the “about” link, we're going to be ecstatic to find information about the books that you read and loved in childhood, young adulthood, and now. We will relish little stories about the first time you mustered up the courage to write for someone else, or how you started out by writing love letters to boys in elementary school. In other words, we want to know you as a writer. (Not your ideas about writing, but you.) We want an idea of how certain experiences shaped you into the writer that you are today.

    Your favorites. 
     We readers often decide to check out a new author's books after learning that we share a common love for a particular book, movie, or quote. We love it when authors divulge details about the specific titles or lines that they cherish. If the same piece speaks to both of us, then we're willing to guess that your writing will speak to us. You can list these in your About page, or better yet, write separate blog posts--about your favorite lines you've collected and saved from books over the years, your favorite books, your favorite authors, etc. When you write about them, share where you were when you read it, what it made you think about, how it changed you. These are the details that might win over a new reader.

    Your stories. 
     This is a really big one, and you could get countless blog posts out of it. Tell us about your stories! I wish blogging writers would write more posts about the worlds and characters they've created. Write a post about where you were when the first tiny little seed of an idea for a character or setting or scene crept into your mind. Tell me what you remember from that moment, the way the air smelled, what you were eating, whom you were with, how your skin pricked because you knew you had just met a new character whose story you had to tell.

    Your mind.  
    We'd love to read about what it's like living with these people and places in your head. I imagine every writer has a different experience, and we want to know about yours. Do you see the characters as real people who have, for whatever reason, taken up space in your mind and asked you to tell their story? If so, tell us about this—do you talk to your characters? What is the last conversation you had? Have you ever experienced something in your normal life and unexpectedly seen it through a character's eyes? If so, tell us! What were you doing, how did your character's perspective change what you took away from that moment? We want details! We relish in the details about your characters and your stories and how they come to you in the same way a teenage girl relishes in the details about her current crush's favorite band, color, t-shirt, etc.

    Your Zone.  
    Where do you write? What does it look like? What totems or pictures or quotes do you keep in your writing zone? Where did they come from, and how do they help you. We want the deets!

    Your reading habits. 
    We want to know what you're reading, and what you think about it. Post reviews of the books you read on your blog, or share a list of the latest titles you've bought and why you bought them. And, if you have a Goodreads or Shelfari account, make sure you populate your bookshelves with titles. Readers who are serious enough to be on Goodreads are not going to be interested in reading your work if we see that you don't really read much, yourself. We know that means your writing could probably use a lot of improvement. So, if you aren't interested in filling those shelves, don't join Goodreads, it will turn-off potential readers if we think that you aren't an active reader.

    In other words, let us into your world.  
    Your mind. readers want your website to tell us a story about you and what you've created. We want to feel like we know you. And you want us to feel like, if given the chance, we would jump at the opportunity to chat with you over a cup of tea. Because as a reader, that's what we do—we spend hours with you, reading your words, seeing a slice of the world through your eyes. A website is the perfect place to start that conversation, if only more authors would let us in!

    There are some great books about writers that do these very things. 
    How I Write, The Secret Lives of Authors, edited by Dan Crowe, is a beautiful collection of anecdotes and photos from published writers and the details that fill their worlds.  In it, author Nicholson Baker shares about his reliance on earplugs to get to work. Writer Lionel Shriver shares a picture of a strange little donkey figurine named Clippity, who sits on her desk to remind her to "eschew fancy-schmancy character names groaning from overloads of symbolism, and to sometimes prefer the obvious." Earplugs and a donkey named Clippity. These are the details we readers relish.

    Or, there's Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. It's a guide to writing, so she wrote it to appeal to writers. But the thing about it is that I wanted to read her work after reading this book because she shared so many little insights into what she puts into her stories, that I finished the book absolutely certain that I would love her writing. 

    This is in stark contrast to a blog post that lists out rules for writers without divulging any information about the person who actually wrote the post. Or worse, a blog post about the publishing industry in general. Readers just aren't interested in any of that. If readers are reading writers' blogs, it's to find writers who leave a part of themselves on the page. Do that in your blog, and we'll have faith that you do that in your books. And then you've just won yourself a new reader.

    So, writers, there you have it. If you're blogging to develop a readership, consider sharing a bit of yourself in your posts. What are your earplugs? Who is your donkey named Clippity? 
    And, if you don't share these things on your blog, what's holding you back?
    And, fellow readers--What things do YOU wish writers would share on their blogs?

    Your readers are waiting. Won't you let us in?

    Monday, February 20, 2012

    Follow the Reader: My Latest Book Binge

    Oh, it was a good week for a book binge.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I saw it sitting next to Lisa See's other books on a special table in the bookstore. 
    I chose to buy this book because I triple-puffy-heart-LOVED Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. In fact, I loved that book so much that I'll by anything Lisa See writes. My love affair with Asian and Asian American lit began in undergrad, when one of my favorite professors was an Asian American literature scholar. I took every class she offered, she was that good. 

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I read about it in a gazillion different book reviews. Seriously, was this not one of the most beloved books of the last few years?
    I chose to buy this book because it had all those great reviews, and a trusted friend of mine read it and gave it a really interesting review on Goodreads. It sounds like this book reads more like a collection of short stories than a novel, which is something I typically love. Also, I really liked this interview Egan gave for Opening Lines.
    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I saw it sitting on the Buy 2 Get the 3rd Free table at Barnes & Noble.
    I chose to buy this book because it sounds super interesting, based on the back cover and first few pages alone. And, I was already buying two other books from the table, and so the third would be free. :) I buy a lot of books on impulse like this, it's a weakness that comes from loving books too much.
    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I saw a color ad for it in the Book Review, I believe. It could have been in another paper, though. 
    I chose to buy this book because I saw it on display and remembered liking the blurb I read in the ad. It's a beautiful cover, and after re-reading the back I thought I want to read this. So, I will.
    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I read about Amanda Hocking's incredible transition from indie author to traditionally published author. Interesting NPR piece about that here.
    I chose to buy this book because I want to know what all the fuss is about. Hocking has millions of readers, so there must be something great here. I want to get in on that! I've already purchased one of her books on my Kindle, but I can't remember which one, so . . . let's hope it isn't this one. 
    Purchased brand new from Sam's Club
    I was first introduced to this book through John Green's Vlogbrothers videos.
    I chose to buy this book because well, I've already shared my John Green obsession with you. So, there's that. I planned on buying TFIOS once it came out in paperback because I just plain prefer paperbacks. And, I didn't get to the store fast enough to snag one of the first-run copies that John Green signed, himself. Or did I? Yup, that's right, I found a signed copy, and it was just this past weekend, long after they should have all been gone. 

    This is how it happened: My husband coerced me into going to Sam's Club with him on Saturday. (I hate large stores, especially of the warehouse variety.) So, whenever I find myself in a store I naturally wind up pacing back and forth in the book section, provided they have one. If they don't, I follow my husband around muttering complaints about the lack of books. 

    There I was, looking at the books, and I saw it. That beautiful, yellow sticker:
    Now, I thought it couldn't be true. How was this one signed copy just sitting there waiting for me to grab it. There were several other copies there, but none of them signed. No, siree.
    I braced myself for disappointment. I opened the cover, flipped to the first white page, and there it was:

    So, I had to have it. And no, I'm not sleeping with it under my pillow or anything, thankyouverymuch.

    All of this recent talk about bookstores disappearing has motivated me to buy more books, to do my part to keep them around. It's a struggle, really, buying all these books. :)

    Like this post? Here's a whole page of related ones.

    What about you? What books have you bought lately?

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    Follow The Reader: January 2012 Reads

    A Recap and a Reflection

    Ooh, it was a good reading month for me. I read seven great novels, as well as two full manuscripts for my fun internship as a reader for a publisher.

    Look at all those stars! These were some seriously great books.
    Matched by Allie Condie ★★★★
    Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs ★★★★
    Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles ★★★★
    City of Bones by Cassandra Clare ★★★★
    Mortimer's Book of Whatifs by Mandi Tillotson Williams ★★★★
    Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves ★★★★
    Evermore by Alyson Noël ★★★★

    Some things I've been chewing on since reading these books:
    Because that's what a good book does, after all. It feeds the reader, and not just in the moment.

    I've thought about the pills the characters carry around in Ally Condie's dystopian YA novel Matched. The link between control and medication is so compelling, probably because we are already living a less organized (yet still altogether terrifying) version of this reality right now. 

    The lack of parental involvement in Jo Knowles's Jumping Off Swings has stuck with me like a popcorn kernel skin that just won't budge. When I taught high school I was often shocked at how much more I knew about my students' lives than their parents. A common complaint I've seen in reviews of YA books is that the parents are non-existent, but I think this is actually more realistic than we'd like to admit.

    I used to have this habit of grabbing on to a person's quirks and running away with them. I'd exaggerate the quirk in my mind, and create a new person there, with the extra quirkiness. The quirk became exceptional, a point of pride. Somewhere along the way I stopped doing this, but rediscovered the habit after reading about the delightful individuals of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Thank you, Ransom Riggs.

    The possibility of evil. (It's not just a great short story.) Dia Reeves's Slice of Cherry has sort of turned the way I consider characters upside-down. See, one of my favorite things about story is that it often explains why people behave the way they do. Especially the people we have the hardest time understanding--the villains, the bullies, the foils. I love the way a really skilled writer can sometimes make me thing You know, he's not so bad after all by exposing that sensitive underbelly most people work so hard to hide. Not Dia Reeves! Slice of Cherry reminded me that sometimes, there is no redeeming quality or explanation for the bad things people do. It's unsettling, but in a good way.
    What about you? What did you read in January? What's stuck with you since?

    Saturday, February 11, 2012

    Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge

    Chuck Wendig says Write and I say How long? 

    You’ve got up to 1,000 words to write a tale featuring an unlikable protagonist that still remains readable and compelling. 

    Here's my entry. Comments welcome.

    What's Inside
    Lori Oster

    The boys kept their eyes on the wide front window. It always started with a small flick of the drapes. Their bikes stood at odd angles, each within an arm's length. It had become almost too easy, lately. She was getting slow.

    Kevin stood the farthest in from the safety of the sidewalk. Seth and Micah hung back, their hands clamped tightly in the hardened work gloves. Any other day, Seth would have been embarrassed to ride his sister's bike with its white banana seat and wicker basket. But today it was just what they needed.

    They all stiffened as the low whine pierced through the air. Kevin lifted a fat canvas finger to his lips, then towards the metal weather vane on the old lady's roof. They resumed breathing as he ventured closer to the dilapidated porch.

    Kevin bent down in front of the first one and looked back at his friends. He bugged his eyes and jutted his chin at them. Seth crouched forward as he moved in. Micah kept his eyes on the window and took slow, measured steps.

    They thought it would be a quick job, that it would come out as easily as the last time. The thorns seemed the only new obstacle, but that's what the gloves were for. Kevin smashed his features in as he pulled, his face flushing with the effort. Nothing.

    Micah leaned back on his hands to peek through the porch rail. The drapes hung untouched, but they knew she was in there. Always was. Last time she'd come out with a real shotgun. They knew it was real because she fired it. Kevin swore she aimed at the sky, but Micah wasn't so sure.

    Now Seth was going at it too, his face nearly as red as the prized petals shaking from his effort. It wouldn't budge.

    Micah saw it first. The fabric moved languidly, as old and tired as its owner. Desperate to get at least a small haul, they all three grabbed handfuls of stems and ripped them away before they raced back to their waiting bikes. The basket wasn't full, but at the sight Kevin felt a small flush of victory bubble up above the metallic taste of fear. The bitch deserved it. He would have raked the thorns across her papery face if he had the chance.

    There was no gunshot this time. She did nothing more than open the wooden door and peer out at them through the bug-mottled screen. They knew she'd make them hurt, anyway. She did it to all the kids, even the ones who never set foot on her property.

    This was only Micah's second time. His first was the week after she'd called his parents, told them about him and Kate Conroy in the school bathroom. How she found out, he'd never know. But Micah's father drank an entire handle that night, and Micah had the bruises to show for it.

    The first time he freed a beam from her porch rail. That was when she used the shotgun. Emboldened by the rush of revenge, Micah drove two nails into his bedroom wall and placed the rail on top of them. A prized trophy.

    She stood behind the screen long after the boys pedaled off. The muscles of her jaw pumped beneath the thin, translucent skin. She didn't bother to move the wiry hair that stretched across her face in the breeze. She just steadied her breath and repeated the old mantra to herself: In time, the truth will out. In time.

    Her words held the slant of a trained hand, though she could no longer steady her wrist, so the letters jutted out at aggressive angles. They were legible enough. She would heed the reminders tomorrow, when the parents would be at work and easily found. It's hard to hide in a small town.

    She performed all the necessary tasks before she headed to her small room, and lowered herself into the deep rut that cradled her tired body all these years. She had forgotten to switch off the light, but she was too tired now to get up and do anything about it.

    Days later, Kevin insisted that they go back and finish the job. Micah hesitated. This was the first time she hadn't retaliated. Seth was sure she had, but that whatever she revealed had been too unbearable for the victim to share with the other kids. Sometimes it happened that way. They shared an unofficial moment of silence then, Darby Sugarbaker's limp body flashing in all of their minds. The long note. The things left unsaid after the “accident”.

    They loaded the basket with the gloves. This time, Kevin brought a switchblade. Nobody had to ask where he got it. Without realizing it, Kevin rubbed the scar on the left side of his neck and shoved the blade in his pocket. Seth and Micah looked down. Some scars were harder to hide.

    They heard the sirens before they made the turn onto her street. The boys initially feared the cops were waiting for them. Seth leaned forward, crushing the basket with his elbows. They hopped off their bikes in unison, and walked towards the house.

    The gurney almost looked empty, she was so small. Her slippered feet poked out from the end of the sheet. Kevin recoiled. He always pictured her bigger.

    A man called from the back of the house. Sheriff Buckley emerged minutes later, his hat clutched to his chest, head shaking. “It ain't easy to hide a thing as big as that in a town this small.” He turned to the three boys, “Did ya'all know she had a vegetable of a grandson in there?” They stared back blankly. “Hell if I know how she kept him so well.”

    When the story came out in the local paper, Micah's mom shook her head and said, "You never can tell what's inside, sweetheart. Never can tell" 

    © Lori Oster, 2012

    Book Review! Carrie Harris's BAD TASTE IN BOYS, 5 of 5 stars

    I felt kind of like a zombie while reading this book. But not a flesh-eating zombie, a book-devouring zombie. Because I couldn't. Stop. Reading. Nomnomnomnomnom.

    5 of 5 stars 
    First: Best. Cover. Ever.

    BAD TASTE IN BOYS is camp at its best. Brainy teen MC Kate Grable's over-the-top editorializing had me laughing out loud as she worked furiously to save her town from an impending zombie outbreak. I started collecting hilarious lines to share in this review, but quickly realized that there were too many to fit. You will just have to read this book yourself.

    Seriously, go read this book. Step away from the computer, and get your hands on BAD TASTE IN BOYS.

    I haven't had this much fun reading a book in a long time. In fact, I woke up this morning with Tim Curry singing "Anything Can Happen on Halloween" in my head. I can only pray that someone will turn this book into a movie worthy of a Tim Curry cameo. I would definitely participate in the cult following that is certain to follow. I can see the merchandise now--finger key chains and PVC swords lining mall store displays next to THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS shoulder bags and ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW t-shirts.

    I picked this up on a whim at my library, because let's face it, the cover is amazing. I ended up sitting there for an entire hour because I couldn't stop reading. I'm going to buy a copy today so I can share it with my students.

    Fun, fun, fun. I cannot wait to read Carrie Harris's next book, BAD HAIR DAY. Bring on the weres! Or vamps, or whatever it is that hits next. I'm sure Kate Grable can take 'em.

    Link to my Goodreads Review

    Thursday, February 9, 2012

    Thursday Thirteen: Time Suckers

    Thirteen things you're 
    w a s t i n g 
    your time doing
    when you could be 
    R E A D I N G

    1. Clicking frantically through a series of uninteresting blogs
    2. Posting about how bored you are on Facebook
    3. Re-tweeting content that you didn't even check out, yourself
    4. Watching mindless reality TV shows
    5. Texting your friends about how bored you are
    6. Watching YouTube videos of kittens
    7. Going through this entire site because it's hilarious
    8. Culling through your friends' bookshelves on Goodreads
    9. Watching videos of this guy for the millionth time. This week.
    10. Pinning photos you'll never look at again to your Pinterest account
    11. Watching reruns of Seinfeld
    12. Laughing at people who clearly don't read enough
    13. Laughing at people who are genuinely hilarious, yet still huge time-sucking traps

    I'm proud to say that I never engage in #2.
    As for the others, I'm staying mum.  

    What about you? What little things do you allow to creep into your day and suck up all your reading or writing time? Have any good techniques for tearing yourself away?

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012

    Check It Out!

    I'm so excited to have a Teaching Tip featured on the IRA's Teacher to Teacher blog!

    The tip focuses on the Juicy Words Project that I use to help students acquire new word knowledge. It really is a lot of fun!

    IRA (the International Reading Association) is one of my favorite professional organizations.
    IRA's goals are to:
    • improve the quality of reading instruction
    • disseminate research and education about reading, and to 
    • encourage the lifetime reading habit. 
    Of course I love IRA!

    Thursday, February 2, 2012

    Thursday Thirteen: Signs You're Addicted

    Addicted to books, that is.

    That's right, I'm going there. It's time we do away with the shame, the fear, the guilt. It's time we face our addiction for what it is: a lifeline. A game changer. The foundation for everything good that we have ever experienced. My habitual (obsessive?) devotion to reading is one of the greatest things about my life. And I'm not ashamed to admit it. 

    But I know you might be.

    I see you, you closet readers. With your iPhones in your hands, thumbs flying, pretending to send text messages when you're really reading John Green's latest release. You think you're pretty sly, but as they say, you can't trick a trickster. Readers know a fellow reader when they see one. It's really easy if you know what to look for.

    13 Signs You're 
    A D D I C T E D
    to Books

    1. You can't walk past a bookstore without stepping inside. 

    If you're with non-reading friends, you'll feign a sudden and intense need for water. If the store lacks a cafe, you'll say that you're mom is making you send a book to your Great Aunt Ida for her birthday. Either way, you usually end up forgetting that you were with your friends in the first place, and they find you hunched over on the floor, 40 pages into a new release.

    2. You have used any of the following as a bookmark: 

    A receipt, a corner from the essay you wrote for that day's English class, an old envelope from a piece of mail, a dollar bill, a food wrapper, or a piece of loose change. Basically, anything to avoid dogearing a page. (Disclosure: I'm all about dogearing pages. But I know I'm in the minority on this one.)

    3. You have paid more in library fines than most people pay for a month of cable. 

    Because sometimes, two weeks just isn't enough, and you'd rather spend the money than risk losing the book.

    4. You've cancelled plans with friends to stay home and finish a book.

    What? Doesn't everybody?

    5. You could sell every one of the tables in your home, replace them all with stacks of books, and actually gain tabletop space.

    Again, I don't really understand why this is a big deal.

    6. You would break it off with someone if you learned, even after several great dates, that he doesn't own any books. 

    Of course you would. Is there even any viable alternative?

    7. When someone tells you they don't read, you automatically assume they're trying to be funny. 

    Because a) Why would anyone admit that? and b) Why would you be talking to this person in the first place if it were true?

    8. Your Goodreads To Read shelf has at least three times as many books as your Read shelf.

    And it just keeps on getting bigger by the day.

    9. You would rather eat Ramen noodles every day for a month than waste your money on real food, so you can reserve an advance copy of your favorite author's newest book before its release date.

    Far better to eat chemicals and preservatives than to have to wait to read the latest book. I mean, does no one have priorities anymore?

    10. You only buy gallon-sized purses so you won't ever be faced with the decision between carrying a book, or your wallet.

    We all know the book would win. Because it's much better to have something to read during your lunch break than something to eat.

    11. You have yelled at a loved one for interrupting you during a   
    really important part. 

    You're really in it deep if you refuse to apologize because they should have known better. 

    12.You have considered leaving your career to work in the local bookstore. More than once. 

    We know you've gone so far as to fill out the application.

    13. You have ended a friendship after learning that a person's favorite book is Twilight. 
    Not that there's anything wrong with Twilight. But if that's her favorite book, then, well, this just won't work out. Let's be honest now and make everything easier on ourselves.

    If you or someone you know has shown any of these signs of book addiction, there's help. As we speak, there are thousands of groups formed to help sufferers of book addiction. They go by many names, but are most often called Book Clubs. Please join your local Book Club today. You are not alone.

    Does this describe you? What are the other signs? What's the craziest thing you've done to get in some more reading time? 

    I'd love to hear them, so please share your experiences in the comments. Tell me I'm not the only addict.

    Tuesday, January 31, 2012

    Follow the Reader: Why I DIDN'T Buy These Books

    My recent Follow the Reader post details why I bought the last twenty books in my collection. I created this blog for my students, and much to my delight and surprise--it was shock, really--a number of them actually read said Follow the Reader post. (Thanks for reading, students! You know, everything I do, I do it for you . . . )

    Of course, that post inspired a lot of follow-up questions:

    Are there any books you DON'T buy? 
    Yes, thankyouverymuch.

    How many books do you actually own? 
    Next question, please. 
    First, I'm not what you would call a numbers person. And second, my husband reads this blog. Sure, he can see the books lying all around our house. But to actually match a number with the collection? That might lead to calculations about how much I've spent, and, well, let's just not go there.
    How can you afford to buy all those books? 
    Why don't you buy them used,
    or borrow them from the library?  
    Just like everyone else, I put my money where my priorities are. I cut my own hair, brew my own coffee, and wear ten-year-old shoes to work so I can buy lots of books, and travel to cool new places. I value books and writers, so I do what I can to support them, which means buying their merchandise and spreading the word about great books.

    Do you do anything other than read all day?
    Yes. But only because the laundry won't wash itself.

    What followed was an interesting discussion about the books we choose not to buy. We talked about this in class, and then I spent some time thinking about it since, so I thought it would be interesting to detail the last few books I didn't purchase. Here goes.

    Catching Fire & Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
    Read in December 2011
    I was first introduced to these books in September 2010, when I read Katie Roiphe's Book Review of Mockingjay in my Sunday paper.
    I chose not to buy these books because my sister owned them on her Kindle, and lent them to me. She did this before I read The Hunger Games, so I had no idea how much I would love these books when I chose not to buy them. I figured I would buy The Hunger Games, but I didn't want to go for the entire trilogy in case I didn't love it. Then, after I read The Hunger Games I was too obsessed to stop reading long enough to run out and buy copies of the books for myself, so I just read them on my Kindle. Once I finished, I decided that I don't need to own the books until I decide to reread them, which may very well happen before the movie comes out in March. However, until then, I'm not going to buy them.

    American Gods by Neil Gaiman
    Read in October 2011
    I was first introduced to this book by a student at my college who participates in the NaNoWriMo write-ins I host every year.
    I chose not to buy this book because my student loaned me his copy to read. I really liked this book, and have since recommended it to many other people. However, after I finished reading my student's copy, I didn't feel I needed to buy a copy for my own library. I don't think my reading students would choose to read this book, so I wouldn't add it to my office library. I'm also not sure I'll reread this book any time soon, so I didn't feel the need to buy it for my home library.

    The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
    Read in August 2011
    I was first introduced to this book by a member of The Badass Book Club.
    I chose not to buy this book because I really wasn't sure I was going to enjoy it, so I borrowed my mom's Kindle copy. It turned out that I liked the book and gave it 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. However, after reading it on loan I knew I wouldn't wish I had my own copy, so I didn't buy it. There have been times that I've read a book on loan first, and then bought it after I finished. (I did this with the first Sookie Stackhouse book, as well as with the entire Harry Potter series.)

    I didn't pass up the opportunity to buy these books because I didn't enjoy them, or that I don't want to support great writers. Quite the contrary. These were all good books. In fact, I love the Hunger Games trilogy, and I think American Gods is something of a masterpiece. It's just that sometimes, once I borrow a book and read the entire thing, I just don't feel the desire to own it. I've realized that typically, I will only buy a book after reading it if:

    It's the first in a series and I know I'll want to own the entire thing
    I think I'll want to reread it
    It's something I'll want to give to friends or students to borrow
    It is so beautiful I want to look at it, even if I won't reread it anytime soon

    But, why do I choose to borrow certain books and to buy others in the first place? This is the more difficult question. My best answer is:

    Sometimes, the book is so easy to borrow 
    I just don't need to go out and buy it for myself. 

    Sometimes, I'm reading the book for some reason other than a real desire to read it, 
    which often happens with Badass Book Club books. 

    And sometimes, I'm just feeling cheap, 
    and I don't want to spend my money on a new book.

    It seems that mood and accessibility have a lot of influence over my decision to purchase, or not. Beyond that, I do have some buying quirks of which I am fully aware, for which I will not apologize, and all of which I am willing to admit:

    I will not buy a giant hardcover book. 
    In fact, I avoid hardcovers whenever possible. I just plain prefer paperbacks.

    I will not buy a very heavy paperback. 
    If it's going to cut off the circulation in my forearms when I read in bed, I'm not buying it.

    I will not buy a book with pages so thin and fragile 
    they're likely to tear with regular use.

    I will not buy a book with an ugly cover. (To my eye, of course.)

    I will not buy a book with a cover that 
    gives me the heebie jeebies whenever I touch it.  
    This one is difficult to explain, but some covers feel like very soft rubber, 
    and they just give me the creeps. *shudder*

    I will not buy a book if I can't respect the author, for whatever reason.  
    I will, however, borrow the book, read it, and give it a fair review. If I'm unable to give it a fair review, I'll stay mum.

    I will not buy a book if it is priced significantly higher than comparable books.

    This one is totally weird, 
    but if the author's first name is a version of my named spelled differently, 
    and her name is written in huge letters on the cover, I won't buy it. 
    I can't stand seeing my name spelled wrong. It's Lori. L-O-R-I.
    I told you it was weird. 

    There you have it. I guess it all boils down to the fact that there is often no rhyme or reason behind my buying habits. Helpful, right? 

    What about you? What makes you pass on a book, especially one that you plan to read? Please tell me I'm not the only one with embarrassing quirks when it comes to book buying!

    Saturday, January 28, 2012

    Follow the Reader: Why I Bought These Books

    After writing this post on why readers buy books, I thought it would be fun to dissect my latest book purchases to figure out what, exactly, motivated me to shell out my hard-earned cash for each book I bought.

    The First Batch

    I bought most of these books at the start of my winter break, when I was dizzy with the heady mixture of Winter Break Dreams and a full month of freedom ahead of me.

    Here's the breakdown: 

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I read Ridley Pearson's review in my Sunday paper.
    I chose to buy this book because Pearson's stellar review and the general excitement about it on Goodreads intrigued me--Could it really be that good? If it was, I wanted to get in on the action. If not, there was a growing body of reviews against which I could compare my own take on the book. This story sounded so good--dystopian, with a badass female MC. An urban setting. I was really excited to read this one.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I plucked it off the shelf in the bookstore.
    I chose to buy this book because I liked what I read on the back, it has a killer cover, and it's a series. I love finding a new series to love.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book on Goodreads, and was reminded I wanted to read it when I saw it on the shelf at the bookstore.
    I chose to buy this book because I loved the first few pages that I read in the store. It seemed like the kind of world I'd want to dive into for a while, which is exactly what I was looking for for my winter break reads. Also, it's part of a series, and Clare is prolific, so if I enjoyed it as much as I thought I would, it opened up a whole new world of books to enjoy.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book on Goodreads. 
    I chose to buy this book because after I found Ally Condie on Twitter and learned that she's a former high school English teacher, just like me. That made me think she must love books, and so I followed her tweets and saw that she interacts with her readers on Twitter. The story reminded me of The Giver, which is one of my all-time favorites, so I had to give it a try.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book on a blog, though I have no idea which one. The blogger received an arc of this book, and I fell in love with the cover. 
    I chose to buy this book because of the cover. I'm not going to lie. It's beautiful and haunting at the same time. It turns out that the book is, too, so in this case it was actually a perfectly good reason to buy this book.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book by a friend's 15-year-old daughter.
    I chose to buy this book because because my friend's daughter really liked it, and then I found Beth Revis on Twitter and learned that she has an awesome blog, and she is clearly a reader. I love reading books written by readers.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I saw it in the bookstore.
    I chose to buy this book because because I love John Green, even though I haven't read any of his books. Yet. I own three of them. True story. I bought this title first because the back cover made me laugh out loud in the bookstore, which doesn't happen often. I first found John Green on YouTube when searching for NaNoWriMo videos, and well, that was the end of it. Once I realized that practically every reader I know loves his work, I knew I was going to buy anything and everything that man wrote.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I pulled it from the shelf in the bookstore.
    I chose to buy this book because I liked what I read on the back cover, and the Leven Thumps character sounded familiar, so I was pretty sure some child in my life is a big fan. The back of the book promises a secret gateway to a whole new world, which reminded me of the Narnia books, which I love, love, love.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when a poster enthusiastically recommended the series on an Internet forum I frequent.
    I chose to buy this book because, based on the back cover alone, Beka Cooper sounds like a badass, and I love badassery.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when . . . I can't remember. I feel like there's been a lot of buzz around this book, so I was aware of it for a while.
    I chose to buy this book because I had a feeling it was going to be a perfect book to recommend for reluctant teen readers. And it is. I've since recommended it to so many people. Extra bonus: Jo Knowles is a great tweeter, so I followed her and she followed me back on Twitter! How cool is that?

    Looking for Alaska by John Green
    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book after I saw John Green's NaNoWriMo video and then searched the Internet for more information about his work.
    I chose to buy this book because well, you've already read some of the story under the Will Grayson, Will Grayson entry. I also loved this book as soon as I learned that Alaska is a character. Great title.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I pulled it from the shelf in the bookstore.
    I chose to buy this book because of this line on the back cover: "Most people aren't very comfortable in the woods, but the woods of Briery Swamp fit May Bird like a fuzzy mitten." Love that line.

    The Second Batch

    Purchased brand new from Sam's Club (Maybe--I could have purchased this at a local bookstore, but I can't remember.)
    I was first introduced to this book on the NaNoWriMo site, when I learned Morgenstern wrote the first draft for NaNo.
    I chose to buy this book because it sounds amazing. Have you read the blurbs about this book? I'm also a sucker for a NaNo success story.

    Purchased brand new from Costco
    I was first introduced to this book when I saw it on the shelf in a Barnes & Noble.
    I chose to buy this book because it's beautiful, and after thumbing through the pages just once in B&N, the photos haunted me. It really delivered, too. What a great book. I typically hate hardcovers, and I'll wait for the paperback, but sometimes I'll buy a hardcover because I simply lack patience.

    Purchased used from a local used bookstore.
    I was first introduced to this book . . . I've been reading Rick Steves for years. He's my favorite guide for first-time visits to new countries.
    I chose to buy this book because I always buy his books to help plan a trip, and my library didn't have a copy. This is a good example of author loyalty, that's for sure.

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book after reading the first book in the series.
    I chose to buy this book because I loved City of Bones

    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I read about Melissa Marr on a website, somewhere, some year I can't remember. Sketchy, I know. But it was a while ago.
    I chose to buy this book because of this line on the back: "Faery intrigue, mortal love, and the clash of ancient rules and modern expectations swirl together in Melissa Marr's stunning twenty-first century faery tale." I love fairy tales, so that was that. Melissa Marr also makes great contributions to the reading world beyond writing her books. She has interesting interviews, shares interesting insights, and is just someone I want to read.

    Paper Towns by John Green
    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when I read about it in someone's Goodreads review of The Fault in Our Stars. The reviewer gave Fault four stars because Paper Towns is her favorite.
    I chose to buy this book because, well, you already know the ridiculousness behind my desire to own every book John Green writes. (I will read them, by the way. I just haven't gotten around to it yet.) I really want my Badass Book Club to read this book. I'd want them to read The Fault in Our Stars, but we have an unwritten rule against books that are about cancer, so it's out. Also, one of the booksellers I chat with at B&N told me that she loves this book so much she plans on naming her future daughter Margo Roth. That's impressive.

    Fearless by Francine Pascal
    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book when Francine Pascal's name jumped out at me from the the book shelf. 
    I chose to buy this book because I might have been obsessed with one of Francine Pascal's series as a child, so when I saw that she's still writing I had to have this book. I didn't even read the back cover before I decided to purchase it. (Did you know that there was a Sweet Valley Twins board game? Oh, there was. And guess who had one? That's right, this girl. Be jealous.) I was actually in the bookstore to buy a California travel book, and before entering I told myself I wasn't even going to look at any other books. You can see how well that worked out. I bought three books on that trip.

    California 2012 by Fodor's
    Purchased brand new from Barnes & Noble
    I was first introduced to this book years ago. I love the Fodor's travel guides, and their forums are the best travel forums around, if you ask me.
    I chose to buy this book because I'm going to wine country with some girlfriends in March, and I know absolutely nothing about it, and as I said, I love the Fodor's guides. I didn't even have to skim through it to decide whether to buy it--it has that Fodor's logo on it, so it was as good as sold. My little sister will be in California for three more years, so I went for the big California book, instead of the smaller wine country book, because I plan to make a lot of trips there.

    So, there you have it. By my count, only four of these purchases were pre-meditated (Legend, Spain, California, and City of Ashes.) I chose to buy the other 16 books for a variety of reasons--they were purdy, witty, intriguing, or just plain unputdownable.Or written by people on which I have irrational writerly crushes.

    One interesting point: I was not motivated to buy any of these books because they were on sale. There has been a lot of talk of late about the value of books, and what readers are willing to pay for a book. For me, personally, I'm willing to pay anywhere between $10 and $25 for a book as long as I want to read it for some reason. I've always been willing to pay retail price for books, even way back when, when I was a poor college student. As I see it, it's about priorities. If people value books, they'll pay for them.

    We live in a world where people regularly spend upwards of $4 for a cup of coffee, and yet we're having discussions about whether $10 is too much to ask for an e-book?

    And I'm not alone. When I ask my students to find an independent reading novel, they have a lot of options for sourcing their books. They can take their books out of the library for free, or borrow them from my own library, or buy them from one of the many used bookstores in the Chicago area. But you know what most of them choose to do? They buy brand new books. They don't wait until they find a coupon, or the store runs a sale, they pay full retail price for them.

    What about you? What's the last book you bought, and why? Did you pay full price? I'd love to hear about your experiences.
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