Blending art and science

It should come as a surprise to exactly no one that Spencer and I will be throwing a literature-and-science-inspired wedding. The idea struck me like lightning! Or, like, I don’t know . . . a jolt from a Tesla coil.

I am a writer. My fiancé is a scientist. We want a day that will marry (haha, marry — puns!) our different interests and backgrounds — and having a day inspired by those two passions just feels right.

To be honest, I like that we’re such different people. The whole arts/physics thing really balances us out. While I can be zany and introspective, Spencer is rational and steadfast. His math- and logic-oriented brain sees quandaries in a completely different way than I do, and I like that I can depend on him to offer a fresh perspective.

And he’s creative, too.

Writing out table numbersAs we probe deeper into our theme and start buying materials for the reception, I’ve been thinking about how I want our literature-and-physics idea to play out. If you hang out on my overstuffed Pinterest wedding board occasionally, you’ll probably see a bevy of book centerpieces — and for good reason. We’ve already chosen to use a stack of books for the main focal point on each table, and we’re planning to use Erlenmeyer flasks as the vases for our petite floral arrangements. Tables will be named for famous writers or scientists — and I’ve started drafting my favorite authors list (pictured above!). There’s so much more to do, but this is really the fun stuff.

My friend and officemate Sandy is a godsend. With her creative eye, generosity and talent, we’re coming up with an entire scheme that will blend our two backgrounds into one beautiful day — and she’s helping with all the flowers. I’ve decided I’m obsessed with the ranunculus, a peony-like flower, and just have to figure out where to obtain such a weird-sounding bud. The red ones are my favorites.

I totally need more ranunculus in my life. A ridiculous amount of ranunculus!

Life in literature

Though it’s only September, I’m already thinking about how I’ve spent 2012. Fall lends itself to those sorts of musings, I think — especially when I have a pumpkin spice latte in hand (will be getting one of those later today, have no fear). And since I’m never without a book, that introspection means I’m thinking about reading.

Everyone had fun with this bookish meme earlier in the summer but, as always, I’m behind the times! To complete the thoughts, I used only the books I’ve read in 2012 — and pulled the prompts from Wordsmithonia and Roof Beam Reader.

And yes, I’m totally Bossypants. Could be my middle name.

Describe myself:

How do I feel:
Beautiful Ruins

Describe where I currently live:
The World We Found

If I could go anywhere, where I would go:
Across The Universe

My favorite form of transportation:
Bridge of Scarlet Leaves

My best friend(s) is/are:
Where We Belong

My friends and I are:

What’s the weather like:
We’ll Always Have Summer

Favorite time of day:
Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.

What is life to you:
An Object of Beauty

You fear:
Unfamiliar Fishes

What is the best advice you have to give:
How To Eat A Cupcake

Thought for the day:
Heaven Is Here

How I would like to die:
Birthday Pie

My soul’s present condition:
The Secret of Joy

write meg!’s 2011 reading honors

Reflections are a necessary part of my annual end-of-the-year musings. Twelve months is a long time, it turns out; long enough for me to read 82 books, about on par from previous years, and I felt like I really did read what I wanted this year.

A big part of that was probably allowing myself to read on a whim, unconcerned with deadlines and advance reading copies; I vowed to stop obsessing over timeframes and just choose what I wanted from my never-ending stacks. I accepted fewer review copies and made sure the ones I accepted were novels I would be swiftly moving to the top of my “to be read” stack upon arrival (a tip from Raych). Did this make me a much happier reader? Yes, it did. I read with reckless abandon. And when I discovered audiobooks this fall, an entirely new — and very exciting — world blossomed for me.

Last year was my Year of Young Adult. Having recently rediscovered the genre, I was eager to pick up anything and everything YA. While I continued to read YA this year, I made it a personal mission to get acquainted with memoirs in 2011. I read 10 works of non-fiction this year, up significantly from my handful in previous years, and found that I have a real penchant for humorous memoirs. Who doesn’t like to laugh? And there are so many funny ladies in the world, all of whom I now consider personal heroes. I hope I can keep chuckling in 2012.

Overall, I’m finding a read a lot of vanilla books this year. While I have a few stand-outs, all of which I’ll be discussing below, most of the reads I finished in 2011 blend seamlessly into my literary landscape. They weren’t terrible but they weren’t incredible, you know? I spent a few pleasant-enough days with these books, but most haven’t made an indelible impression on my life.

Several did, though. And that’s what it’s all about.

What will 2012 bring? Hopefully a continuance of all the things I hold dear: excellent literature; prose that stops me dead in my well-worn tracks; journeys to new places, continents and cultures. I hope to read more non-fiction in the coming months, especially about American history, and to get excited about women’s fiction again. On the personal writing front, I hope to finish another novel by the spring and to continue making creative writing a priority in my own life.

Here’s to hoping. And now on to the good stuff . . .

Meg’s Top Five Reads of 2011

1. How To Love An American Man by Kristine Gasbarre

Gasbarre’s memoir detailing her grandparents’ loving marriage and her own struggles with romance struck a serious chord with me. Her closeness to her family, her frustrating are-we-or-aren’t-we relationship, her feeling of in-between-ness — all nuggets that profoundly moved and spoke to me. How To Love An American Man was wickedly refreshing, life-affirming and hopeful. I absolutely loved it — and that’s why it’s my Top Read of 2011.

2. Safe From The Sea by Peter Geye

“In this stunning debut from author Peter Geye, a father and son are reconciled — and laid open, bare, along the frozen shores of Lake Superior in Minnesota,” I wrote in January. From the unique setting to the unforgettable family dynamics at play here, Safe From The Sea was an absolute stunner. I picked up the book as a panelist for the Indie Lit Awards — and what a way to begin my 2011 reading year. Needless to say, it was our winner — and time hasn’t dulled its effect on me. It remains one of the most profoundly moving books I’ve ever read. If it’s not in your bookcase, do something about that. Like, yesterday.

3. Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman

Sweeping in scope and heavy on family drama, Wildflower Hill was a novel that completely knocked me over. Though long, I tore through the story and couldn’t get enough of this cross-generational saga. One of the most absorbing books I’ve read in a long time, and easily one of my favorite reads of 2011.

4. Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

Hilarious writing, memorable characters and a ne’er-do-well of a narrator you can’t help but love made wormed Domestic Violets to the top of my favorite reads this year. Norman’s quirky cast and laugh-out-loud moments dovetailed perfectly with the book’s weightier, poignant issues — and that’s exactly what I’m seeking in a great read. Awesome.

5. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

No romantic male lead quite captivated me like Etienne St. Clair, but it was the Parisian setting and blossoming young love that really won me over. Anna has garnered lots of praise within the young adult community — and for good reason. This was a sweet, solid and delightful story.

Most Confusing But Ultimately Worthwhile Read

Great House by Nicole Krauss

Oh, the headache Great House caused me — but that didn’t mean I ever wanted to quit. Krauss’ strange, surreal but ultimately fascinating book was nominated for Indie Lit Awards in January, so I had to see it through. I’ve never Googled a book so much before and after reading, dying to know what others had to say. So many puzzle pieces were flung about, scattered like memories. Parsing it all together was a serious literary challenge — but one I’m glad to have taken.

Best Use of Nostalgia

The Future Of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Oh, to be a web-unaware teen in 1996 again! The Future Of Us succeeded in dragging me straight back to middle school — and enjoying it. I loved this YA novel centered around two teens’ ability to magically hack into their Facebook profiles from the future — long before Facebook had even been invented. Those AOL CDs were being bandied about everywhere and email and AIM were still to come. This book was fun from start to finish, and I found it surprisingly easy to suspend my disbelief.

Most Provocative

Hothouse Flower by Margot Berwin

Whew, this sultry book! Set in the tropics and centering around the Nine Plants of Desire, Hothouse Flower made for an awkward plane ride home from England. I mean, who can peruse such tawdry stuff while seated next to their mother? (For the record: I didn’t realize how provocative this book would be, and I skimmed some of the naughty parts. Pinky promise, Mom.)

Best Rootin’ Tootin’ Time on Horseback

Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell

Caldwell’s Civil War-era take on Pride and Prejudice took me by surprise in the best way possible. I couldn’t get enough of the land drama, romantic tension and manners from a bygone era, and I was shocked at how well Jane Austen’s classic tale of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy translated to another time — and another continent. If you’re a fan of Austen retellings, Pemberley Ranch isn’t one to miss.

Most Likely To Send Me
On A Shopping Spree

Summer At Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

Hart’s memoir of the summer she worked as the first female page at Tiffany & Co. in New York City had me salivating over those little blue boxes and wishing I could magically transport to a more innocent, beguiling era. In 1945, everything about glittery Tiffany sparkled and shone. And who can’t use a little more silver and gold in their wardrobe?

Book That Made Me Absurdly Glad
For My Own Family

Drinking Closer To Home

What a screwed up, crazy bunch. Blau’s Stein family is about as jacked up as can be, and it was hard to read about their selfish antics and free-wheeling parenting. But Drinking Closer to Home was like a car crash, of course — you just can’t look away. Still, I felt emotionally spent by the end and eager to leave these miscreants to their own devices.

Other Books I Loved in 2011

Life From ScratchThe Weird SistersThe Peach Keeper
Other Words For LoveI Capture The CastleThe London Train
Backseat SaintsThe Bungalow

See past reading honors: 201020092008

In celebration of the English major

In college, I started out as a wide-eyed freshman interested in journalism. As the daughter of a sportswriter, I understood the concept of a deadline before I knew the alphabet. My dad is a hard-nosed reporter who turned his penchant for getting the facts into his latest gig: writing a celebrated sports column in Washington, D.C.

I’m a columnist, too — albeit on a much smaller scale. It happened sort of by accident — and not because I’d gone through the J School at the University of Maryland, alma mater of both my father and sister.

No, friends, I was that rare breed of mocked college students everywhere: the English major. Tell someone you’re studying literature and the response is almost always one of two options:

A) Are you going to be a teacher?
B) Oh, so what are you going to do with that?

I didn’t necessarily plan on working for a newspaper, though that’s the world in which I’d grown up and understood better than other fields. I’ve been writing since I was a kid and had completed my first “novel” — 100-some typed pages, all in Courier font — by fifth grade. By the time I enrolled in college, I figured journalism was the route I was born to take . . . though I quickly realized I’m not made of the same stuff as Dad and Kate.

English seemed a natural path. A lifelong reader and devoted supporter of the written word, my English degree was a natural extension of my desire to be as nerdy and bookish as possible. There’s scarcely a plot you could describe that wouldn’t find me blurting out authors’ names and titles, and I love nothing more than trying to connect an author to his or her most famous work. I’m a book geek through and through, even taking a job at Borders during my senior year of college.

English majors go into a variety of fields, it’s true. Some of our teachers. Some become actors. Some are writers, or accountants, or vice presidents of marketing. As English is a broad major that exposes you to many wonderful concepts, ideas and backgrounds, it’s versatile — and can take you anywhere.

In English programs, we’re taught to be analytical, intelligent and serious. We study the words of others for hidden meanings — and then translate those meanings into comprehensible concepts. We read the works of Shakespeare, Austen and Bronte and make them applicable for today’s world. And in some cases, we begin to craft our own masterpieces. With my concentration in creative writing (poetry), I learned to take criticism and defy others’ low expectations.

Now I’m fortunate to be able to write and edit for a living — both skills enhanced by my time in an English program. And though my professors may or may not have scoffed at my alleged “talents,” I can smile the broad grin of a woman who is far from a failure. Even if they told me I suck.

Other people turned out pretty awesome, too. From a recent edition of Shelf Awareness:

Question: What literary quality do Jon Hamm, Alan Alda, Maureen Dowd, Jodie Foster, Tommy Lee Jones, Stephen King, Paul Newman, Joan Rivers, Sting, Helen Thomas, Barbara Walters, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Wolfe, Bob Woodward and Renée Zellweger have in common?

Answer: They were all once college English majors.”

So PSA for parents with children considering a major in “the arts”: we’re not all lunatics. And you won’t have to worry about us starving to death or taking up permanent residence on your couch . . . the kids will be all right.

Summer reading that didn’t suck

Unlike my groaning and eye-rolling classmates, the last few weeks of school were always a very exciting time for me — and not just because months of uninterrupted leisure time awaited me on summer break.

No, friends, in classic book-nerd fashion, I was all about obtaining one thing and one thing only: the summer reading list. Finding out the books I’d be required to read before the start of school in August was like getting an early peek at your Christmas presents. I loved the challenge of being presented with a novel and having to read. Like, not because it’s fun . . . but because it’s a requirement.

It didn’t take me long to tear through my books, of course. Since I was such an overzealous literature geek, I’d typically have everything conquered by the time July rolled around. That was just fine, though; it gave me ample opportunity to then tackle books of my own choosing.

And I’ve always been very choosy about books.

To that end, I never understood why other kids would whine and curse the day they were, you know, ordered to read. Reading is everywhere. While I mean no offense to the math and science minds of the world, it’s not like I’ve spent much time doing algebraic equations or chemistry in the years since graduation. But English? Reading? Well, that’s something with which I am quite familiar.

Though not all summer reading books were huge hits with yours truly, there were quite a few that I adored — and still remember years later. Though I don’t often re-read novels, these are titles I could see myself revisiting in the future. And for illustrative purposes (and the mental exercise), I’ve scoured the Internet for the covers I believe were on my own copies.

Summer Reading That Didn’t Suck

The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
Tan’s famous novel was one of my earliest experiences with Asian culture in literature, and what a world it opened for me! I remember getting so wrapped up in this book when I was 17 that I was actually dreaming about the characters. Some of the scenes — emotional; disturbing — still flutter back to me at random moments.

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Who doesn’t have a story about reading Lee’s classic — and only — novel? I devoured this one before entering my freshman year and was thrilled when we got to see the film adaptation later that school year. Scout was a hero and Lee’s language and story so poetic . . . it’s not a book you ever forget.

The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe
Space! Astronauts! American history! Though this book was gigantic, I read it entering my senior year of high school and became unduly fascinated by the NASA space program. Even now, almost a decade later, I overhear word of Alan Shepard and think, “Oh — he was in The Right Stuff.” Though I recall being mentally exhausted from the sheer length of the book, it was popular and enjoyed by my classmates and was my first introduction to the style of New Journalism.

Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
O Romeo . . . O Juliet. Shakespeare’s famous pair of star-crossed teen lovers was my first experience with the Bard and quite the epic tale for a 14-year-old. As hormones raged and every little squabble became a Serious Drama in our school hallways, Shakespeare’s portrayal of these crazy kids who just want to be together no matter what was another popular read in ninth grade. Though most of it went over our heads, I had a great and patient English teacher — Mrs. Chalmers — who, after we returned from break, had us read the whole play aloud. (I was Juliet, natch.) Though I read Romeo and Juliet again in college — twice, actually — and still enjoy it, that first time was the best.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
When I think back on a trip to the California coast with my family, I think less of the glittering lights of Los Angeles, the plush Beverly Wilshire Hotel and the whales of Monterey than I do of Jane Eyre, a sweeping and haunting narrative that had me lodged in Thornfield Hall. Though Mr. Rochester can’t hold a candle to my beloved Mr. Darcy, he still cut a fine “hero” in Brontë’s classic novel.

Literary Giveaway Blog Hop: ‘The Weird Sisters’ by Eleanor Brown

Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters is certainly making the blogging rounds lately — and for good reason. Her debut novel about three adult sisters coming home is poignant, memorable and just plain good writing. I really enjoyed it and know other literary fiction readers will, too.

As part of Leeswammes’ Literary Giveaway Blog Hop, I’m happy to pass along my gently read ARC (softcover advance reading copy) of The Weird Sisters to one winner in the U.S.! To enter, simply fill out this form with the required information. Giveaway will close at 12 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Feb. 23 Thursday, Feb. 24 (see edit below), and I’ll randomly choose one winner two winners and notify them by email.

Comments on this post are welcome and appreciated, but will not count for entry. To enter the giveaway, you must fill out this form!

EDIT! on Feb. 22: Eleanor Brown has very kindly offered a signed hardcover copy of The Weird Sisters to one lucky write meg! winner. So I’ll now choose two fortunate folks: the first will receive the hardcover from Ms. Brown; the second will find my ARC in their mailboxes. In that spirit, I’m extending the giveaway until 12 p.m. (noon) on Thursday, Feb. 24. Good luck, everyone!

WINNERS! on Feb. 24: Congratulations to Jill Wiesner and Deanna, my two randomly-selected winners! Each entry was filtered into a Google spreadsheet and assigned a number.

At, I asked for a random sequence of numbers ranging from 1 to 149, the total number of entries; numbers 109 and 140 were the top two integers chosen. So Eleanor Brown’s signed hardcover will go to the first pick — Jill — and my softcover ARC is headed to Deanna. Thank you, everyone, for entering — and thanks again to Eleanor Brown for contributing the signed hardcover.

Etsy Find Fridays: For the reader who has everything

It’s almost Christmastime, friends — something you’ve probably noticed while checking out neighbors’ lights displays, digging out favorite holiday albums or almost colliding with one of the many distracted drivers clogging up the roads leading to the local mall.

After going shopping with my dad and sister on Black Friday, an annual tradition, I’ve tried to avoid stores as much as possible the last few weeks. I get antsy in crowds and generally dislike waiting, even if I can see the end of the line. People accidentally pushing into me get on my nerves, and I can’t stand fighting with someone for the last gift basket/candle/bottle of holiday-scented lotion. Not my bag.

Plus, like many web-savvy consumers, I prefer to shop online — unless I truly have no clue what I want to buy and need to browse around (but even that can be done online). And as I’ve blogged before, I’m in love with Etsy, an online marketplace of homemade goods (and occasionally sell things there, too). In the spirit of our upcoming holidays, I’ve scoured the site for some cool reading-related gifts — and now I’m sharing them with you!

If you’re searching for a gift for your literature-loving loved one, here are some items I think are awesome — and definitely worthy of being coveted. Hover over the images for descriptions, and click each photo to view the item on Etsy. If you have favorites to share, feel free to share them in the comments!