Reading and roasting at the National Book Festival ’10

It was with no small amount of enthusiasm that I bounded up to this year’s National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., an event I’d been eagerly anticipating since having so much fun last September. But unlike last year, I didn’t go into this year’s events with a carefully-scheduled game plan. As per my recent realignment in thinking, I wanted to just play it by ear. See where the wind took us. And, you know, where we could avoid the blazing sun by ducking into one of the massive tents before the U.S. Capitol.

But because I can’t totally shy away from my OCD-like tendencies, Spencer and I wandered over to an information booth to grab a program and create a semblance of a plan for the day. Every event requires some planning, friends, or you wind up wandering aimlessly. And doing nothing in particular.

Suzanne Collins, esteemed author of The Hunger Games and, most recently, Mockingjay, was the first writer I wanted to catch. We arrived at the Teens & Children tent in time to see author Brad Meltzer finish speaking, and he was totally hilarious. Humble, self-deprecating — and he even had me in tears while recounting the story of sharing his recent children’s read, Heroes For My Son, with the very child in question.

Collins was the main event here, though, and Meltzer acknowledged that with chagrin. When she appeared following his talk, gaggles of kids began to scream as if a rock star was rising from beneath the stage in a haze of smoke and screaming guitars. A little boy and girl a few rows ahead of us cheered while waving copies of Mockingjay in the air.

It was definitely an event.

Though she never seemed visibly ill at ease, Collins didn’t exactly come across as warm and fuzzy. And while I can’t say I’d be completely comfortable, witty and charming while sweating on a stage in front of hundreds of eager faces, she didn’t really seem eager to chat with fans. While taking questions after her talk about writing life and the dangers of being too much of a voyeur — particularly in regard to reality television — she almost came across as flip, though I can’t really cite a specific example of why. As we discussed later at a book blogger dinner, I don’t think anyone walked away feeling like she’d endeared herself to them.

Since I was already sweating like a pig and it wasn’t even noon, Spencer and I decided to duck into the nearby National Gallery of Art, one of my favorite places in D.C., to cool off before seeing the main man of my hour (and day): Jonathan Safran Foer. We fortified ourselves with plenty of fluids, some turkey and soup and wandered around the gallery, taking in the sights and people watching. Lord knows some interesting folks wander those hallowed halls, and I cringed after catching a glimpse of a star-spangled fanny pack.

Not to go off on a tangent here, friends, but what’s with the fanny packs? Scores of people circled me with the ugly bags around their middles on Saturday, and I’d really believed — up until that point — that it was some myth, a total stereotype, about Americans. But not so. And I honestly don’t fancy myself some holier-than-thou fashionista, but fanny packs really make me want to gag.

But I completely digress.

I was anxious to get to the Contemporary Life tent in plenty of time for Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2 p.m. talk, so Spence and I braved the heat again after a solid two hours in blessed air conditioning. And we did — in the third row! Seating at the National Book Festival is always an adventure, especially since there’s rarely enough of it for every audience member who shows up for each author. If you resign yourself early to the fact that you’ll probably be standing most of the day, things seem to go smoother — and if you do get a seat? All the better. And getting a seat for my man Foer? Priceless.

After catching the end of Gurcharan Das, author of India Unbound, I felt an elbow nudge me. Foer had arrived on a golf cart driven by one of the festival volunteers, and he looked exactly the way I expected: in a collared shirt, casual but still classic; fitted jeans; loafers. His signature glasses and artfully unkempt hair rounded out the look, and I went all stalker/paparazzi on the poor guy by zooming in as close as possible with my point-and-shoot before he even stepped out of the sunshine. Cute, I thought. Definitely cute. Definitely still my literary crush.

But buddy was short.

Your position as Man I Most Love and Want to Smooch is safe, Spencer. In addition to being awesome in a hundred different ways, you’re taller than 5’6″. This works well for me.

I’m a tremendous fan of Foer’s fiction — which includes the stellar Everything Is Illuminated and haunting Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — but I haven’t picked up his latest work, Eating Animals. The latter is non-fiction, see, and I’m used to Foer the Novelist — an adept guy who really pierces you in the heart through prose. Eating Animals is “a characteristically brilliant memoir-investigation, boasting an exhaustively-argued account of one man-child’s decade-long struggle with vegetarianism,” according to Amazon.

And me? Well, I like meat. Chicken, beef, turkey — you name it, I can probably ingest it. Gladly.

I wanted to gaze upon Foer’s gorgeous mug but didn’t want to be lectured like a 2-year-old, told in no uncertain terms that the way I live is immoral, unhealthy or both. I’m open to new ideas, yes, but I was afraid that given the controversial nature of a book dealing with, well, eating animals, I was in for some uncomfortable talk.

But that wasn’t to be, thankfully. Nor did my fears that he’d be aloof, condescending or “above it all” come to pass. I found Foer to be interesting, which I expected — but also approachable, which I did not. Hearing him read passages from the book regarding his grandmother, a survivor of the Holocaust, was moving — and, as always, I was sucked right in by his language. With one foot crossed over the other at the podium, Foer seemed remarkably comfortable and happy to engage in “conversation,” as he called it, when the crowd was prompted for questions. He answered each thoughtfully, especially when asked by a woman in the audience for the meat industry’s reaction to Eating Animals. His response? There was no response from the industry, actually, which disappointed him.

And I’m pretty sure Foer could read me the street names from a road atlas and I’d be all ears, panting and embarrassing myself in front of my own boyfriend.

But now, now — I was a good girl. No panties were thrown. It was tough, friends, but I managed to not act like a raving lunatic. And though I probably won’t be converting to vegetarianism anytime soon, Foer stressed that stopping the practice of eating meat is not what he’s advocating; it’s ending the cruelty of animals, limiting our intake of certain foods that could harm us, and so forth. Basically, stuff that pretty much everyone can agree is a good thing — whether you’re carnivore, omnivore; male, female; human, robot.

Or, well, not robot; robots don’t eat. But let’s roll with it.

So basically, Foer was awesome fun — and I even spotted Jamie of The Broke and the Bookish in the crowd after seeing her updates on Twitter! She snagged a great place in line to meet Foer later at his book signing and recapped her experience here. Yeah, that sickly green tint to my skin? It’s jealousy. Pure jealousy. Outshone only by the slight sunburn I got that day.

Spencer and I veered off the beaten path after Foer’s talk, winding our way over to E Street to check out Penn Camera. Back at the festival an hour or so later, we snagged seats in the Poetry & Prose tent for authors Allegra Goodman, author of The Cookbook Collector, and Jane Smiley, well known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Thousand Acres, among others. Goodman was funny and sweet, talking about her writing process and inspiration behind her latest novel, and even copped to being a collector of cookbooks while never actually cooking any dishes. Smiley was interesting, too, though her very long reading from Private Life, her latest novel, began to melt my brain after a while. It was really hot. I was really tired . . . and getting confused. But it was fun all the same.

We wrapped up our day downtown by hoofing it over to the Elephant & Castle, where we met up with some fabulous book bloggers and partook in some “adult beverages,” as Swapna put it! My skin finally cooled while talking books with some lovely ladies and fellow book bloggers, and again I was struck by how immediately comfortable I am with my bookish friends. Conversation flowed easily as we talked about everything under the sun: our own blogs; our “real” jobs; our families; our homes. Audio books. Favorite authors. Modern-day “classics.” It was wonderful seeing Celeste, Cecelia, Candace, Deborah, Heather, Sondra, Swapna and Julie, and I was equally excited to introduce Spencer to the group. Now he knows this whole “blogging” thing is for real! (See photos of all of us at dinner.)

Thanks, ladies, for a great evening — and thanks to the Library of Congress for a great event. By the end of the day I was sweaty, sticky and exhausted, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Thanks, too, to my dad for driving us all the way downtown — then picking us back up at the end of the night! He’s a trooper, just like my patient boyfriend. Thanks for spending a humid, book-filled day with me, Spence. I know I still owe you for The Pioneer Woman, but you know I’m good for it.

Many (many!) more of my photos from the event are up on Flickr.


If I had to run away with a book character . . .

. . . Well, I’d have a hard time choosing. But I have a feeling I’d narrow it down somewhere in the vicinity of the one man who stole my heart so completely, I’ve struggled to even wrap my mind around the possibility of ever falling in love with another.

I’m talking, of course, about Marcus Flutie.

sloppy_firstsMegan McCafferty’s unconventional lead in her popular Jessica Darling series — comprised of five books ranging from 2001’s Sloppy Firsts to 2009’s Perfect Fifths — swooped in out of nowhere, gave me (or, okay, Jess) one of his enigmatic little smiles, swung his dreads (he’s a redhead!) around a bit and promptly ran away with my heart.

He’s not the type of male character I usually go for, mind you, though who doesn’t secretly have a soft spot for the bad boy? (It’s okay, admit it: we’re all friends here.) In a typical novel, the boys most likely to capture my attention are the brooding loners (see Eli in Along For The Ride) or the super sexy but, importantly, super intelligent dudes (like Michael in Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries books or Matt in Robin Brande’s Fat Cat). Also high on my list of “wants” in a hero? Loyalty, devotion, sensitivity, consideration, ability to unabashedly adore the object of their affection. And, of course, extreme good looks.

So . . . actually? I guess Marcus is my type. Because in addition to being wicked smart (he just doesn’t apply himself), he’s witty, unpredictable, sensitive, take-charge, philosophical, broody (God help me, I love broody) and . . . in love. With Jess. Watching the evolution of his feelings for her warms the little cockles of my heart, let me tell you, and I can certainly attest that there’s nothing so irresistable as a man happily, completely in love. Even if it’s not with you.

Provided I could pry Marcus from the stronghold Jessica Darling almost certainly has him under, I’d woo him with my existential thinking, love of literature and ability to belt out a Barry Manilow tune or two. (Or ten. I’d practice well ahead of time, of course.) And as he gazed deep into my milk-chocolate eyes and became entranced by my wild, unruly curly hair, biting wit and ability to talk at length about chick lit and pumpkin spice lattes, I’d drag him downtown and get us on the first train outta here. And then he’d be mine, mine, MINE! (Sorry, Nat. And Emily. Love y’all. And Spence? I’m sorry, too. xoxo)

But if Marcus were just a little too involved with Jessica to succumb to my fawning, eyelash-fluttering and talk about Buddhism, nirvana and cupcakes, I might — might — throw myself at a few of these other bookish gentlemen. Though I’d keep holding out for Marcus, unable to part with his old texts (does Marcus text?), emails (okay, he definitely emails) or throw out the silly, coupley photos of us where he looks devastatingly handsome and I look punch drunk or hungover. Or both. Probably because I’m trying to smooch him.

Just as long as these guys get all that, we could have a reasonably happy if ultimately unfulfilling life together.

Other guys I might consider running away with,
if Marcus Flutie is unavailable or unwilling

Adam from Sarah Addison Allen’s The Sugar Queen: He’s a postman who looks beyond Josey’s shy demeanor to “see the real her,” is sensitive and sweet and a postman, which is cool. And I’m pretty sure he has a ponytail. Hot.

catching_fireGale from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Catching Fire: I know I’ll catch some heat from the pro-Peeta folks out there, but Gale is everything I ask for in a literary dude: steadfast, loyal, intelligent, broody (so broody!) and, you know, sexy. That he obviously has deep feelings for Katniss and will not completely pursue them makes him hotter. He knows she has so much to lose.

Matt from Robin Brande’s Fat Cat: As previously mentioned, dude is smart and attractive — a lethal combination — and is further made gorgeous by the fact that he seems completely unaware of how adorable he is. And when he slipped up and hurt Cat, he eventually worked to restore their friendship. And, you know, prove he’s in love with her.

Michael from Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series: My Michael Moscovitz love is really a post in and of itself, so I’ll just say: I love him dearly, and almost as much as Marcus, but for entirely different reasons. And stay tuned.

sea_changeLeo from Aimee Friedman’s Sea Change: Dude’s a merman. And he’s into science-y things. And he’s cute. Need I say more?

Jacob from Justina Chen Headley’s North Of Beautiful: Broody? Check. Sensitive? Check. Sweet and kind to his little sister? Yes and yes. Okay, Jake, you’re in. Now make it worth my while.

Spencer from Maureen Johnson’s Suite Scarlett and Scarlett Fever: Yes, yes, I know — the man’s name is Spencer, and that’s Boyfriend’s name. But in my defense, I read both novels before I’d even met my Spencer — so it doesn’t count! And Johnson’s Spencer is hard to dislike. Funny but vulnerable, sweet but protective, he’s the perfect brother. And a guy who looks out for his family is hard for me to resist.

Harry from Eva Rice’s The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets: He’s creepy, unpredictable, intelligent, loyal and unconventionally handsome — and every one of his scenes sizzled so much, they just about lit my fingers on fire. I’ll follow him around London anytime.

Jack from Karen White’s The House On Tradd Street and The Girl On Legare Street: In addition to being a writer (awesome), Jack is witty and protective of Melanie — even when she doesn’t want him to be. And he knows his way around with a hammer and nails. In Meg’s world, handiness definitely equals hotness.

Gentlemen, my bags are packed.

Cover art: The pinker, the better

Standing in a bookstore with shelves of paperbacks lined up neatly before me, I can tell you something with absolute certainty: my eye is professionally (er, habitually?) trained to seek out pink.

During yesterday’s LitChat, a Twitter-based chat for book lovers happening at 4 p.m. EST on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the subject was chick lit — that occasionally controversial, usually light and fun genre. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of chick lit — or women’s fiction, a term which is sometimes used interchangeably, sometimes not — and spend a good deal of my time reading authors like Jennifer Weiner, Emily Giffin and Meg Cabot.

Getting into what defines “chick lit” is a topic unto itself, and I’m not here to get up on my literary soapbox and debate the general merits of a subgenre I really enjoy. Some folks dig it; others don’t. That’s perfectly fine. Should those who enjoy chick lit novels be derided? Of course not — just as those who enjoy graphic novels, romance, science fiction or any other type of literature shouldn’t be criticized. We like what we like, and I don’t judge. (Too much.) We’re all reading, and that’s what’s really important here.

No, friends, I’m here today to talk about pink books — and, specifically, how quickly my eye falls to them. During LitChat, some folks mentioned a book having a pink cover is actually a major deterrent — and that they might miss a great book simply because it has a silly or “frothy” cover. I can definitely relate and see where they’re coming from, though I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum: I tend to shy away from books without pink covers. Or ones with “boring” covers, at least.

And I’m sure I’m not alone in that. Some really fun stories I’ve read had very “girly,” chick-lit covers — the ones you can spot a mile away. As readers mentioned on Twitter yesterday, the types of covers you can spot immediately: maybe with a giant, overflowing purse, or a spike-heel shoe, or a gaggle of cartoonish women gathered together. Usually the colors are bright with a healthy dash of pink thrown in there. And who do they attract? Ladies like me, apparently.

Want some pink, girly book eye candy? I have plenty to share. And I know that for every book with a “frothy” cover I love, someone else will dislike the look of a novel for just that reason. Again, no worries — I can see both sides of the issue! And just because a novel features my favorite hue doesn’t mean it’s pure froth — quite the opposite, usually. Many of the books with seemingly innocent covers have some pretty heavy content, which is another criticism of some of the cover art. False advertising, if you will.

But for me? The pinker, the better.

Something Borrowedalong_for_the_rideafter_youperfect_fifthssweet_loveartichokes_heartmilkrun

Two Girls Read Shakespeare: Sonnets 30 & 109

Welcome to another Friday of Two Girls Read Shakespeare! If you’re just joining us, Nicole (of Linus’s Blanket) and I have embarked on a project to spend this spring with Mr. William Shakespeare, that most classic of playwrights and poets. Read more about our project here and check out the first installment of sonnets here.

Nicole: Now Meg you picked these two out or us to study. What made you think that Sonnets 30 and 109 would be good to examine together?

Megan: For me, Sonnet 109 has a really different “feel” than many of the others — and definitely different than Sonnets 18 and 130! The tone of the poet here is almost boastful while still being imploring as he admits to having been unfaithful and “false of heart.” On the flip side, Sonnet 30 features a speaker who is melancholy and “paying” debts — through grief — as though they haven’t already been satisfied. The two tones here, so different, really appealed to me!

Sonnet 30

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought,
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye (unused to flow)
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And moan th’ expense of many a vanished sight.
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee (dear friend)
All losses are restored, and sorrows end.

Megan: In Sonnet 30, we meet a narrator whose mind drifts to the past and friends he’s lost, either through death or other circumstances. Lovers, too, seem to have gone by the wayside, and the poet weeps “afresh love’s long since canceled woe.” By the end of the sonnet, of course, the speaker’s hope and faith have been restored by thinking of a new “dear friend” — and all that suffering drifts away.

What really struck me about this sonnet was one particular line: “Which I new pay as if not paid before.” In the context of the whole poem, I took it to mean feeling grief all over again — experiencing pain as if we haven’t hurt before, and as if this hasn’t already broken us. Sometimes heartbreak feels like that, doesn’t it? Like “paying” a debt again and again with no end in sight. That definitely resonated with me.

Nicole: My first thoughts, I must confess were not as deep as my partner in crimes’ thoughts were. I saw the line, “I summon up remembrance of things past”, and thought, “So that is where that phrase comes from!” I had to read this one a few times (like I didn’t have to do with all the others!), but somehow I felt like the language was a lot more flowery than what we read last week, and I had more difficulty getting at the meaning behind the words. I understood maybe the first 4-6 lines and then it got a little crazy.

As I got to the end of the sonnet I felt like I was seeing a pattern emerge, and that Shakespeare was really obsessed with immortality and keeping things alive through memory because there he is again saying that he can be happy as long as he has his memories of his dead friends. Would you agree Meg?

Megan: Absolutely! Shakespeare is very preoccupied with living through and beyond words — and, through the sonnets, keeping alive those whom he loves. We saw this obsession in Sonnet 18 last week — how we all age and eventually die, but as long as Shakespeare’s poetry is available, his loves live on. Sounds like our man William was living in a constant existential crisis! And, you know, I can relate to that.

Nicole: Yes! He sounds very angsty and brooding. I think he might have been a hipster and would have lived out in Williamsburg in Brooklyn had he been alive today.

Megan: Oh, I can totally see that now — with the skinny jeans and a notebook, lounging under a tree and looking at all of the young families with their strollers, curling up a lip at the other hipsters with their Starbucks cups and iPhones. I think Shakespeare would be living off the grid, lost in deep thoughts and distancing himself from society.

Nicole: Or maybe living underneath the city in the subway tunnels! But we digress. On to 109!

Sonnet 109

O never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seemed my flame to qualify,
As easy might I from my self depart,
As from my soul which in thy breast doth lie:
That is my home of love, if I have ranged,
Like him that travels I return again,
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that my self bring water for my stain,
Never believe though in my nature reigned,
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stained,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good:
For nothing this wide universe I call,
Save thou my rose, in it thou art my all.

Megan: Sonnet 109 really made me think. According to my handy-dandy Folger Shakespeare Library edition, the poet is imploring his love to recognize that though he has strayed and been unfaithful, he should be forgiven — because he’s returned. There’s no promise to do better, of course, nor any apology for having presumably hurt his love. “O never say that I was false of heart” — never claim that I didn’t love you! Except, you know, you were gone and cheating on me. This sonnet feels really different to me. Am I just projecting here? Was that a vibe you got, Nicole?

Nicole: I definitely got that vibe and it got my dander up as I was reading it. It’s a lot like things I have experienced with dating and with my own friends where men kind of run around and then when they get ready just show up again on their terms and when they are ready to deal with a relationship. No questions asked. Not that we would have these problems with our boy Billy because once again he is talking about another dude.

Another very modern poet thinks along similar lines.

Still I left you for months on end*
It’s been months since I checked back in
Was somewhere in a small town, somewhere lockin a mall down
Woodgrain, four and change, armor all down
I can understand why you want a divorce now
Though I can’t let you know it, pride won’t let me show it
Pretend to be heroic, that’s just one to grow with
But deep inside a n***a so sick

I think he was just expecting to show up again after he got finished on tour and with whomever he was keeping time and pick up where things left off but his girl had made other plans! Good for her.

Megan: Excellent tie-in with modern language, Nicole — color me impressed! From Will to Jay-Z, the boys keep trying to run games with us. Some things never change.

Nicole: I have to say that Jay gives more reasons than Will though for his shenanigans. Misguided and delusional reasons that ultimately don’t matter, but he does give you a little more to work with.

Further Discussion

Q: In Sonnet 109, the poet claims that despite his infidelities, he has returned to his lover — and should be forgiven. Would a carefully-worded sonnet be enough to gain back your trust?

Nicole: Uh, no. I think for me there is a certain period where I can be actively engaged and invested in working on a relationship but when you disappear, then I have to make my peace with that and move on. At that point it will take a lot more than some pretty words for me to consider rearranging my life for someone who has proved unfaithful and untrustworthy. Nice try Will!

Megan: I’m a sucker for pretty words, but I don’t think someone showing up and saying, “Hey, I know I haven’t exactly been around — but you are ‘my home of love,’ so, let’s just pick up where we left off. Sound good?” would be enough for me. The sentiment in Sonnet 109 is almost challenging.

Nicole: Challenging is such a nice word for it.

Megan: Oh, you know, I try to be diplomatic. “Condescending” could have also worked there, I think.

Nicole: Along with arrogant, selfish, ego-maniacal… I could go on. But I’ll stop here.

Q: Does the “dear friend” of Sonnet 30 seem to be a friend or lover? Would mere friendship be enough to heal old wounds, especially heartbreak?

Megan: Though friendship has the power to help and save us, I’m not sure it is enough to erase the past. The “dear friend” here seems to be a lover or potential lover — and that makes sense to me in the context. Friends are definitely the people you need to wrap an arm around you during times of heartache, but the Bard’s “remembrances of things past” seem very melancholy. He’d probably need more than friendship to help him process those memories!

Nicole: I would think that it was romantic too because I think that we tend to attach intensely melancholy feelings to failed relationships for far longer than we do with friends. When he says “And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe”, that sounds pretty intense to me. I think feelings can be more intense where the potential for a lover was lost just because we usually have fewer of them running around our lives. People can’t compensate for other people, but we do grow up used to the idea that we might lose friends as we progress through different stages in our lives- like moving, changing schools, changing jobs, and just changing in general. With love we are trained to keep it, and usually won’t let it go “without a fight”. People will pay some pretty high costs to keep love.

Megan: So well-said! And I completely agree. The intensity surrounding a potential love — or floundering relationship — is much greater than feelings of friendship, as it should be.

Q: What about friendship? Do you look back on people with whom you aren’t friends with anymore and take comfort in your memories? Is there a difference if the friend has died as opposed to if they are just no longer in your life?

Nicole: None of my friends have died, thankfully, but just through natural growth and change I have lost friends over the course of my life. Initially when a friendship is over even the happy memories are colored with a sense of sadness, anger or betrayal, especially now that you know the “ending”. But Shakespeare seems to be looking back over a great amount of time and for me after a few years, and with the wounds no longer fresh, I can really delight in all the fun and crazy times I had with a friend and honor who we both were even though we have moved on.

Megan: I’ve been fortunate never to bear the loss of a friend through death, but I do take comfort in old memories of friends with whom I haven’t kept in touch or, in some cases, “broken up” with. Friendships are relationships, too — not romantic, of course, but still relationships that require time, compassion, understanding and dedication. In cases where I chose not to be friends with someone anymore, or vice versa, it can be a little painful to look back on those times… knowing, as I do, how things have changed. I guess that’s partially what Shakespeare is saying in Sonnet 30, too — that the pain he feels like looking back colors the happy times. But the arrival of someone new, a “dear friend” he can think of and feel better? That makes a difference. But I’m not sure if that’s the case for me.

Join us next Friday, Feb. 26 as we discuss Sonnets 11 and 116.
All of the Bard’s sonnets may be found here.

*lyrics from “Song Cry” by Jay-Z

What do these sonnets do for you?

Love them, hate them?

Share your thoughts with us!

Two Girls Read Shakespeare: The Launch!

Two Girls Read Shakespeare: or
In Which We Correct The Miseducation of Megan & Nicole

It was a cold, wintry night when Megan (of write meg!) joined Nicole (of Linus’s Blanket) on her weekly feature “That’s How I Blog!” — a chronicle of the reading and blogging habits of those in the book blog community. It didn’t take long for the ladies to discuss classic literature, and what “classic” conversation can be brought up without the mention of William Shakespeare?

Reading Shakespeare as an adult is an entirely different experience than reading his works as an awkward, bored teenager. Megan’s previous experience with the Bard was limited to reading “Romeo & Juliet” in high school, acting in a few school plays and briefly memorizing a sonnet or two for theatrical auditions. College was much of the same — random experiences with Shakespeare as she studied English. One semester-long course introduced her to some of the history plays and she dug them, but the language always proved overwhelming. And, truth be told, I probably spent more time comparing one of my classmates to a dinosaur (no, really — he had a flat head!) than paying attention to the immortal words of love poured forth by our man William.

Nicole’s experience with Shakespeare is equally limited, actually, probably even more limited that Megan’s. Only for only a few short months as a freshman in high school did Nicole ponder “to be or not be with” Hamlet — Nicole chose to be. That’s pretty much all she remembers except some brief hand wringing by Ophelia before she is found floating down the river, and maybe some hand washing- but on further reflection that may have been in “Macbeth,” the evil machinations of that dude who was trying to separate Othello and his woman, and Iago and his trials with “The Merchant of Venice.” Any real understanding was limited by the lack of interest in dusty old texts where the English was unwieldy and extremely dated. Nicole then went on to college and, also as a freshman, with some small effort managed to avoid any mention the bard until Claire Danes and Leo DiCaprio did “Romeo and Juliet” and the student housing cable played it ad nauseum, ad infinitum and other Latin-esquey words with which Nicole is unfamiliar. She finished her stint in school sans reading any of Billy’s work and never looked back.

Which, dear readers, brings Megan and Nicole to the present moment, when post-“That’s How I Blog!” Nicole said to Megan, “Hey girl! Do you want to read some Shakespeare and talk about it on our blogs?” And Megan said, “Sure! What should we call it?” And they thought long and hard before e-mailing each other simultaneously, “How about ‘Two Girls Read Shakespeare’?”

And that’s exactly what’s happening!

Over the next few months, we’ll be spending time with the Bard’s sonnets and plays before picking up some of the modern “spin-offs” and sequels. And when better to discuss Shakepeare’s sonnets — considered by some to be insanely romantic (or just insane?) — than on Valentine’s Day?

On Sunday, Feb. 14, Nicole and Megan will post their discussion of Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”) and Sonnet 130 (“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…”). We hope you’ll join us and share your thoughts, comments and criticisms! All are welcome to contribute, regardless of whether you’re a lifelong Shakespeare fan or a total novice. We’ll chat about more sonnets each Friday in February before moving on to a larger work — to be announced very soon.

So brush up on Billy’s poetry by checking out The Sonnets,
all available for free right here:

And check back to spend Valentine’s Day (and the spring!)
with Megan, Nicole and the Bard!

P.S. And because we both love John Mayer we will each try to bring everything back to one of his songs… you know… for extra credit, if we can.

The Best Darn YA Novels You’ve Probably Never Read

Everyone knows the young adult novels that really get the blood of readers pumping — those books, often in a series, that feature vampires, magic or a distant school called Hogwarts. The world of young adult literature is wide enough for everyone, sure, but sometimes it’s hard to step out of the shadow of titans like J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer and see some of the little guys. But those little guys? Totally worth checking out.

Kelly at YAnnabe had an excellent idea for a highlighting those great YA novels that just aren’t getting the face time they deserve — and I’m happy to do my part. If you’re a regular here at write meg!, I’m sure you’ll recognize these titles. But if you’re new ’round these parts? Well, settle in with the caffeinated beverage of your choice and prepare to hit the bookstore — or library. ‘Cause boy, does Meg have some suggestions for you! (And I expect you to take them. Seriously — I’ll be watching.)

The Best Darn YA Novels

You’ve Probably Never Read

The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

This coming-of-age story, set against the backdrop of Texas in 1900, is the charming, quirky and endearing story of 11-year-old Calpurnia, a young lady more interested in science than cooking at a time when it was simply not acceptable to be so. Callie’s connection to her grandfather — a wise old-timer who helps her with their scientific experiments — is touching, and I loved every moment I spent with the Tate family.

And, um, if I had a time machine? I’d totally go back to New Year’s Eve in 1899 and party with their crew. We thought 1999 was wild? That was nothing. Here’s a world filled with the first signs of automobiles and mechanized home appliances — a time when technology was revered and feared at once. Here’s a time when women were still expected to be in their rightful “places” — and a time when many of them began to rebel against it. It’s inspiring. And Callie’s just my sort of girl.

artichokes_heartArtichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee

Rosemary’s struggle with weight, friendship, family and love in Supplee’s recent novel absolutely broke and bolstered my heart — all at the same time. There aren’t too many books out there which prompt me to whip out a heartfelt email to the author right after finishing, but I laid my little heart out to Supplee as I sniffled my way through the closing of this one! (And she wrote me back a very nice and gracious note. Love when that happens.)

I can’t recommend this book highly enough — it was smart, funny, touching, moving and life-affirming. I’ve thought of Rosie often since finishing, and I absolutely loved her as a narrator. In my mind, she’s already gone on to happiness and greatness! And no one can convince me otherwise.

enthusiasmEnthusiasm by Polly Shulman

I stumbled across this gem of a book in the bargain bin at Books-A-Million, and as soon as I saw mention of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice on the back, you know I was all over it! The story had me enchanted from the get-go, and I loved the realistic and fun portrayal of close friendship that Shulman provides in Ashleigh and Julie.

It was refreshing to see that two girls can be buddies without it dissolving into petty jealousy and fights when boys enter the picture — anyone else completely sick of that plotline? Hands? I’m not saying girls don’t act totally nuts once cute boys arrive on the scene, but I do get tired of reading about it. You know, having lived it and all. So Enthusiasm was a great change and struck all the right notes with me. A sweet, fast read that’s really flown under the radar.

teashop_girlsThe Teashop Girls by Laura Schaefer

What a sweet, indulgent and fun middle-grade read! I’m 24 years old and I’ll tell you honestly: I was hopelessly addicted to this story. Thirteen-year-old Annie works part-time in her grandmother’s tea shop, a lush world were business is, unfortunately, way down. With the help of her friends and the community, Annie is able to help rescue the Steeping Leaf — and learn quite a bit about what she’s capable of accomplishing in the process.

One of my favorite parts of the book? Another refreshing plotline: girls don’t always have to chase after boys . . . and those boys might not be the ones we really want, anyway. We can stand on our own two feet, you know, and we’re not dependent upon others to place worth on ourselves. An excellent lesson for pre-teen girls — and, you know, their older counterparts. Like yours truly. I read this one at a time when I definitely needed a refresher course on knowledge like that!

north_of_beautifulNorth Of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

I’m always waxing philosphic about this novel, I know, but that’s because it’s really just that good. Easily one of the greatest books I read in 2009, North Of Beautiful is the story of 16-year-old Terra, a young woman born with a birthmark staining half of her face — and a family so dysfunctional, it was sometimes painful to read. It’s a novel about maps — and about finding our way. It’s a love story. It’s a travelogue — literally and metaphorically.

It’s just . . . awesome. In fact, I’m going to leave it at that and boldly say now: you have to read this book. Headley’s novel is why I read literature — and why I love young adult literature. Because good books are good books, and any genre label we put on them? That’s totally secondary.

write meg!’s 2009 reading honors

Around this time last year, I handed out my reading honors for 2008 — an activity I found both fun and crazy! It was my first year blogging and, by proxy, the first year I actually kept track of what I was reading as I finished it. In the latter half of 2008, anyway.

Well, things changed this go ’round — because 2009 was definitely my own year of literature! Not only did I keep a long, running list of every single book I read this year, but I actually managed to review them all, too. Do I sound cheesy and proud of myself? Why yes — and I am!

I spent a fantastic year with all sorts of characters, discovered tons of great new authors and fell in love with my new favorite book series of all time: Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling books (more on that later). And in between? I read 89 books in a variety of genres, which was short of my goal to read 105 novels, but I’m hoping that next year will be an even greater year for the reader in me. Thanks to everyone for their fantastic recommendations this year, and for the great dialogue and conversation I’ve found in the book blogging community! Let’s keep it up in 2010!

But enough shenanigans! It’s time to present my . . .

Top Five Reads Of 2009

north_of_beautifulJustina Chen Headley’s
North Of Beautiful

Gorgeous, moving and effective without ever becoming cheesy or maudlin, Headley’s story of one teenage girl’s rebellion against conventional forms of beauty, the power of art and the experience of falling in love had me in tears — and championing this book to anyone who would listen. Classified as young adult but with universal appeal, this novel is not to be missed.

maladies1Jhumpa Lahiri’s
Interpreter Of Maladies

Lahiri’s pen is deft and masterful; it’s no wonder this collection earned her a Pultizer Prize. Normally I shy away from short stories, finding that they lack the depth and emotional connection I crave from fiction, but reading just one of Lahiri’s works would make any reader change their mind. Fantastically written with the power to completely immerse you in either the dusty streets of India or the snowy winters of Massachusetts, it’s impossible forget the people to whom Lahiri introduces you.

book_thiefMarkus Zusak’s
The Book Thief

Zusak’s story of Liesel Meminger, a young German girl caught in the horrors of World War II and life in Nazi Germany, is impossible to forget. I finished it one perfect spring afternoon and immediately clutched it to my chest, wondering how I’d managed to miss it all this time. Also classified as “young adult” but with a powerful message that transcends genre, I give this one my absolute highest recommendation — with the caution to make sure you have a box of tissues handy. Tears are unavoidable. And trying to forget this story? Impossible.

Second HelpingsMegan McCafferty’s
Second Helpings

The second book in McCafferty’s poignant, hilarious and heartbreaking series had me laughing, crying, jumping up and down and, most importantly, falling completely and totally in love with Marcus Flutie, the fantastic and slightly tortured object of Jessica’s devotion (whether she wants to admit it or not).

I was so in love with the novel, I found it impossible to even summarize — and, for the second time in write meg! history, I actually used a publisher-provided synopsis (the first time was for Sloppy Firsts, the previous novel in the same series!). While I loved Sloppy Firsts, I enjoyed the fruition of all the push-and-pull romantic tension that Second Helpings provided . . . earning it a spot on this very list.

Eva Rice’s
The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets

One of my most recent reads, Rice’s novel following Penelope Wallace, a sort of ugly-duckling-turning-swan growing up in post-war London was delightful, addictive and magical — one of the most enchanting books I’ve read in a very long time. I’m a sucker for a good love story and, though love wasn’t the center of the book, I absolutely adored the romantic entanglements! So much happened in a novel that seemed as light as a feather, and I would have loved to spend time at Milton Magna . . . even if it seemed on the brink of crumbling into nothing. Another fantastic read not to be missed.

Favorite Book Series of 2009

me_mccafferty_booksYeah, this one is going to Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling books. Are you surprised? Yes? Well, you shouldn’t be — especially if you’ve been reading write meg! this year! (Or, you know, just the beginning of this post.) Jessica is my new literary hero and, if she turns her head for more than a second, I’m snagging her enigmatic and very sexy boyfriend Marcus.

I read all five books in the series this past spring — culminating in Perfect Fifths, released in April — and I didn’t believe it was possible to become quite so obsessed with a set of stories. I just really related to Jess and her eternal struggles to find a place in her family, the world, and Marcus’s life — and she seemed so real and frustrating and, you know, awesome. These books are the best. And even though I was worried I would be more focused on the book than on my trip, I took Charmed Thirds with me to London — see it in my airplane seat pocket? So Jess has a special place in my life, considering she and her friends accompanied me on one of my favorite journeys of all time!

McCafferty’s words rang so true to me, in fact, that I actually had a ring made up with one of my favorite quotes (from Marcus, natch): “My thoughts create my world.” If that wasn’t my personal mantra for 2009, I don’t know what was! And if I didn’t look so terrible in hats, Ms. McCafferty, mine would be off to you.

Most Insulting Read

sundays_at_tiffanysYes, friends, insulting — to my own intelligence and yours. This honor goes to none other than James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet’s gem Sunday’s At Tiffany’s, a novel so pedantic and emotionally engineered to “tug at my heart strings” that it made me feel nauseous.

The lack of depth was frustrating enough, but the silly plotline so full of holes, you couldn’t navigate your way around them in a Hummer? Yeah, that was bad. I finished it mostly because it was like looking at a trainwreck, and I wanted the validation of having completing it after many months of it languishing in my TBR stack. You’ve been warned.

Most Delicious Read

sugar_queenIf you don’t want to grab a bag of M&Ms, some Twinkies and a bottle of regular, full-calorie Coca Cola after reading Sarah Addison Allen’s The Sugar Queen, check and make sure you still have a pulse! The story of one young woman’s burying of her past — and feelings — in chocolate isn’t exactly a novel concept, but Allen’s flawless and magical writing totally won me over.

I was championing for Josey from the start and was swept up in the evolution of her sweet romance. Also an excellent read for book lovers, as one of the main characters is constantly pursued by novels — and just the ones she needs to read at a particular moment! Basically just fantastic.

Biggest Tearjerker

after_youJulie Buxbaum didn’t warn me that when I cracked the cover of her novel After You this past summer, I simply would not be able to get myself together for most of the book. I guess I shouldn’t expected an author to caution me, though, so the fault is mine for getting so emotionally invested in these heartbreaking characters!

Ellie travels to London after the death of her best friend Lucy to care for Lucy’s young daughter — and help her bereaved husband, Greg, deal with the messy aftermath that accompanies her sudden passing. Evocative and painfully realistic, I had a difficult time putting this one down — and even more difficult time forgetting it.

Best End Of An Era

princess_diariesMeg Cabot gave us the final installment of Princess Mia Thermpolis’s adventures as an unlikely future monarch in January with The Princess Diaries X: Forever Princess, the last book in her very successful young adult series.

I’ve been accompanying Mia through trials and triumphs since I was Mia’s age — fourteen — in the first novel and, as with many coming-of-age stories, I feel like I really aged right along with her. In a good way. I couldn’t have asked for a more exciting reunion between she and Michael, her first and longtime love, and I cheered and cried when it was all over, desperately wishing I could go back and relive it all again.

The Princess Diaries books are definitely some I would love to share with my own daughter someday, should I have one willing to take my advice on things like, you know, books. Either way, all ten are staying in my bookcase — and in my heart. (Awww!)

Most Gripping

life_as_we_knew_itIt took more than just a few pages for me to get hooked on Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It, but once I did? I was gone, baby, gone — far and away to a time when the moon is dangerously close to the earth, supplies are low and life — as I knew it — was forever changed.

No novel this year had quite the profound affect on me that this one did, and I’ll tell you why: it was life at its more terrifying, and it felt so real that, at times, I had to physically put the book down and walk away. It wasn’t just that it was scary, though it was . . . there was such an emotional, dangerous undercurrent to the story that majorly shook me to the core. Though I knew, logically, I shouldn’t read a book like that before bed, I had to know what happened — even if that meant nightmares of epic proportions. (And I had them.)

There’s no blood and guts, no gore . . . but there doesn’t need to be. This portrayal of the end of the world would have been sullied by any cheap gimics or scare tactics, and Pfeffer certainly knew that. You’d be hard pressed to find a more haunting novel than Life As We Knew It — and that knowledge alone has kept me from picking up its parallel story, The Dead and the Gone. Even three months later, and I’m not sure I can handle a return to dystopia.

Biggest Disappointment

me_mr_darcyJudging by that gorgeous cover and the fun synopsis that accompanied Alexandra Potter’s Me And Mr. Darcy (a trip to London! Jane Austen fans! A real Mr. Darcy!), I had such high hopes for the novel — and was totally let down on basically every front.

My lack of connection to the main character — and my almost disdain for her, if I’m being honest — completely colored my entire perception of the book, and I hated that I finished with way more questions than answers.

It’s been a while since I read this one, and you want to know the scene that sticks out most in my mind? The only scene I can truly recall now, six months later? One where Emily locks herself in the tiny bathroom on the tour bus in England and eavesdrops on a dude’s phone conversation. There’s a mention of how she was able to stop herself from urinating mid-urination so she can hear better. Pure grossness — and totally unnecessary. And now you get to have that image in your head, too, and feel my suffering. You’re welcome!

Most Uplifting

artichokes_heartOn the surface, Suzanne Supplee’s young adult novel Artichoke’s Heart doesn’t seem like it’s going to be an empowering read; it is, after all, a book based around narrator Rosie’s struggles to lose weight, gain confidence and improve her relationship with her difficult but loving mother. But talk about a book that won me over — and brought me to tears.

Rosie is such an inspiring, creative and hilarious main character — a young woman with a tremendous sense of humor and a kind, giving heart. Through all of her struggles and the difficulties she and her mother faced together, I wanted nothing more than to be her best friend and join her on her quest for strength and courage! After I finished the book, I even emailed Supplee to tell her how much I loved the story — a relative rarity for me. (What? I can be bashful! Um, sometimes. Maybe.)

Other books I loved in 2009. . .

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Barrows, Shaffer
Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Rude Awakenings Of A Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler
Everyone Is Beautiful by Katherine Center
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead by Saralee Rosenberg