Category Archives: Blogging

Blogger Meet-Up with Michelle Bailat-Jones!

9781494553180 Yesterday I had the great pleasure of finally meeting in person my long-time internet friend Michelle Bailat-Jones, whom you may know from the blog Pieces. She recently published her novel Fog Island Mountains and is traveling in the U.S. to promote the book. She appeared at the Center for Fiction last night to do a reading and reception. The Center for Fiction is a lovely venue, a small bookstore with a cozy, comfortable space for events upstairs. It was my second visit to the center and the first for an event, and I hope to return frequently in the future. Michelle’s reading was great, and in chatting with her afterwards, I realized that we both had been blogging since 2006, which means we’ve been internet friends for a long time now.

I was able to get an ebook version of Michelle’s novel before it actually came out, and so could go to the reading with the novel already finished. And what a great novel it is. I read it avidly and was caught up in the story as well as the beautiful writing. The novel tells the tale of a couple in a small town in Japan and their attempts to deal with terrifying news: that Alec, the husband, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Alec’s wife, Kanae, responds by running away — fleeing from the situation in ways both literal and metaphorical. How can one deal with the news that one’s husband will certainly die very soon? Mirroring Alec and Kanae’s emotional turbulence is the arrival of a typhoon that shakes their town and disrupts their attempts to come to terms with their new circumstances. The story is hers and Alec’s, but it’s also their children’s story, and even more so the story of an elderly woman Azami, who is the novel’s narrator. Azami is a mysterious figure who knows everything there is to know about the town (or she seems to at least) and watches over its inhabitants as well as healing hurt animals that come into her area. She hovers over the whole novel, occasionally telling her own story but also slipping into the minds and voices of the other characters to narrate their lives. The movement between Azami’s story and those of the other characters is seamless. There is an incantatory feel to the sentences, which are often made up of phrases piled on phrases, as though casting a spell over the reader. This passage gives you a good sense of the experience of reading the book:

It is evening now in our little town and the winds have settled, for now, for a few hours, while they regroup and gather off shore and over the ocean, preparing for their fury, but for now we are quiet, we can watch the sky and only wonder how it all will come about, and so now Alec is at his home, he has finished his afternoon classes at his little English juku, he has walked through town — past the butcher, past the new supermarket, past the garden shop, and past me where I was standing and waiting at the corner for the light to change; he even waved me a quiet hello.

From this paragraph, you can see how Azami positions herself in relation to the other characters, as a part of things, with intimate knowledge of what is happening, but still at a distance. You can also see how the prose pulls you in with its rhythms, and how this one long sentence quietly captures a full scene.

It’s all beautifully done, and I hope this book finds many readers. It’s off to a good start as the winner of the Center for Fiction’s Christopher Doheny Award. Many congratulations to Michelle!

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Name change

I’ve been thinking about dropping my pseudonym for a while now, and I’ve just about decided I’m going to. It doesn’t serve any purpose anymore, and, in fact, the only purpose it ever served was to ease my fears about blogging when I first began back in 2006. I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about and what I was getting myself into, so I thought I might take on a different name, just in case. It’s been kind of fun having a pseudonym. It’s nice to be someone else, or at least have the potential to be someone else. But, as it turns out, Dorothy isn’t anybody else; it’s just me with a different name. And it’s getting more and more complicated having a pseudonym, given the fact that I interact with so many blogging people on Twitter, Goodreads, LibraryThing, etc., and I use my real name on all those sites. So, for the sake of simplicity, you’ll see me around the blogosphere as, well, me!

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Five Years!

March 17th was my five year blog anniversary! I never remember to celebrate the blog anniversary on the right date, if I remember to celebrate it at all, so it’s no surprise to me that I’m a few days late. But I did want to acknowledge the date this time around because five years seems … like a ridiculously long time. Have I really been blogging that long? It hardly feels like it. It seems like it was only yesterday that I started the blog as a way to fill the huge void left by a finished dissertation. Actually, at the time it didn’t feel like I began blogging for that reason — I thought I was beginning to blog because I loved what I saw other bloggers doing (particularly Stefanie, although I quickly fell in love with tons of other blogs). But looking back on it, it feels like too much of a coincidence to have finished the formal academic writing that a dissertation requires and to have started much more informal writing about books at precisely the same time. I remember thinking, oh, this will be so much fun — I can write anything! I don’t have to be formal! I can talk about myself! I don’t have to carefully back up my claims unless I feel like it! Wonderful!

And it has been great fun. I’ve written many times before about how blogging has changed my reading habits and changed my life — lots of new books, lots of new friends, a whole new way of being a bookish person — so I won’t get into all that again. I’m not sure I have anything new to say about how wonderful blogging has been, except that I mean it very much when I say I’m very glad I began blogging and I’m extremely grateful to all my readers and blog friends. Without you, five years of blogging — think of all those words! — wouldn’t be worth it. Thank you!

 

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The Honest Scrap meme, blogging version

Courtney recently nominated me for the Honest Scrap award — thank you! — which asks a person to write ten things nobody knows about them. I wasn’t sure how to answer this, as I’ve done this kind of meme before and had no idea what ten new things I could come up with. But then I came across Litlove’s version of the meme, and I’m going to steal her idea. Most of her list is about blogging, and so is mine.

  1. From the beginning of my time blogging, my ideal writing scenario is that I would take a moment before writing to search my mind for whatever it is I’m most concerned about, book-wise, and write about that. I hoped that whatever it was that I had foremost on my mind would be the thing I cared about most and that I would write about it best. I don’t usually do this, though; instead I usually have a book I want to review or some other updating kind of post I want to write, and because these things feel more pressing and time-sensitive, I rarely stop to think about what else I might write about.
  2. I’ve come to find that most people I know in my real life don’t follow my blog once I’ve told them about it (there are some important exceptions though — hi!). I don’t mind this or take it personally. It just seems that people read blogs or they don’t, and if they don’t, it doesn’t matter how much they care about me or my opinions on books; they are going to want to hear about those things in conversation and not online.
  3. One of the major downsides to blogging about books is information overload. There are so many bloggers blogging about so many great books that I am feeling more and more that I have no space left in my head for everything that is out there. If I were a different sort of person this wouldn’t be a problem, and I would have more energy to take it all in, but I’m someone who’s a slow processor of information and I need time to contemplate things.
  4. Possibly the above means that I should post a bit less often and take more time to think through what I want to say and perhaps to write in more depth. But I don’t think that will happen. Giving myself more time to write in the hope that I will write longer and better things feels too much like work, and when blogging feels like work, I’ll stop.
  5. I’ve been thinking lately that I sometimes go about choosing books in the wrong way. I sometimes assume, when I pick up a new book, that this time I will read it really quickly — unlike practically every other time I’ve picked up a book in my life — so it doesn’t matter if I’m not sure the book I’ve just picked up is what I really want. I assume it will be a quick read and I’ll fly through it, and then I’ll be on to something better. But the truth is that I take a while to read things, so I need to pick books I’ll want to stay with for a while.
  6. Speaking of slow reading, I had no idea until I began blogging that some people can read as fast as they do. Hobgoblin is a faster reader than I am, but some of you bloggers out there are way faster than both of us. I have to remind myself that reading fast is not a virtue — and neither is it a failing. But damn, being a fast reader would have made grad school much easier.
  7. As tiring as it can be to write about nearly every book I read, and as crazy as it sometimes feels to have devoted so much time to this enterprise over the last 3 1/2 years, it’s enormously satisfying to be able to produce posts again and again, day after day. That’s why I wrote a blog post every day for so long when I first began — just because I could.
  8. Blogging is like cycling in the sense that I often have more energy after finishing a post or a ride than I did before I began. Writing a post and going on a ride take effort and energy, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned — and I think I learned this more so through cycling than writing — it’s that expending energy generates more energy in return. It’s all about getting started.
  9. There’s nothing that irritates me more than when somebody says “bloggers should do this” or “blogging should be about that.” A lot of the theorizing out there about book blogging bothers me because the writer often has some idea about what book bloggers should be doing differently. I think bloggers should do what they damn well please, and if you don’t like it, read some other blog.
  10. It amuses me that there are publishers out there who want to send me free books. Is it really worth while to have your book mentioned on my little blog? People who work in publishing have assured me recently that it IS worth while to send even small-time bloggers like me free books, but I find it hard to believe. I don’t want them to stop, though.
  11. I’m only supposed to list 10 things, but I’ve thought of another: I periodically write that I’m going to start posting less frequently, and when I write that I genuinely mean it, but it’s also the case that whenever I publicly make that declaration, I find myself making the time and coming up with the ideas to continue posting at the old rate. So it’s probably a good idea not to take me seriously when I talk about posting less often.

I’m tagging anybody who would like to answer this meme in any way they see fit!

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I appreciate book blogs!

It’s Book Blogger Appreciation Week, which means that lots of people are doing a lot of appreciating, and I thought I’d join in. So, thank you so, so, so, so much all you book bloggers out there! I’ve been struck again and again by just how friendly the book blogging world, as I know it at least, has been. I hear things about how ugly the internet can be, how people leave nasty comments all the time and wars get waged and stalking goes on, and who knows what else, but it’s not something I see. I realize that this is because my blog is a small one, and the book blogging world is a fairly quiet place, and if that’s what is required to keep things peaceful, then that’s just fine. My experience has been that book bloggers are wonderfully smart, generous, passionate, clever, witty, and generally awesome people.

I’m sitting in my study right now staring at shelves and stacks of books almost all of which I bought because book bloggers have recommended them to me. Following book blogs is one of the best ways there is to learn about books and to find things to read. People frequently ask me to recommend them books or they wonder how I know about the books I do or they think I’m really knowledgeable about what’s out there. The truth is that I’m not actually all that good at keeping up with book news on my own; before blogging I used to read reviews now and then, but sort of haphazardly and with a narrow focus. But following blogs has introduced me not only to the most recently-published books but also to tons and tons of older books I hadn’t heard of before. Following blogs makes it easy to know what’s going on. When people ask me how to find things they would like to read, I tell them to follow blogs. If you find blogs you like, which of course you will, it’s only a matter of time before you start feeling overwhelmed at the number of new books you’re learning about.

I’ve loved how book blogging has allowed me to feel like I’m an active part of the book world without having to be a professional reviewer or to have a job in the publishing world or to be a writer myself. I don’t have a big place in the book world, but it’s thrilling to find that people do actually read what I write and that I convince people now and then to read something I loved.

So, many thanks to whoever it was who nominated me for a BBAW award, many thanks to those of you who listed me as a favorite blog in the BBAW meme going on today, many thanks to those of you who link to me and read me and leave comments, and many, many thanks to those of you who publish your thoughts about books on the internet!

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Maisie Dobbs and other things

Now that summer is here I thought I’d have all the time in the world to blog, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way. This is partly because I’m teaching online, which doesn’t keep me too busy to blog, but it means that often I’ve maxed out on computer time before I sit down to write a post. There’s only a certain amount of time that I can stare at a computer comfortably before my eyes start to hurt and I get restless.

I’ve also kept busy riding my bike: last week I rode nearly 13 hours and almost 220 miles. I’m not sure if that’s a personal record or not, but it’s a lot of miles for me.

And then there are bike races to go to, and … well, unexpected visits to the hospital. Hobgoblin is just fine, but he did crash last night and suffered a concussion. Initially he seemed okay, if shaken up, but then he got dizzy and detached and slow to respond, so I got the car and we zipped off to the hospital. They did a CAT scan and everything looked fine, so they sent him home with some percocet. He’s recovering but still has a headache. As you can imagine, this kind of thing changes our plans pretty drastically. No one ever knows what’s going to happen to them ever, but sometimes this seems particularly true when a person spends hours and hours every week on a bicycle and rides in dangerous bike races …

But on to books. I’m considering participating in Infinite Summer, a website and a group of people dedicated to reading David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest over the course of the summer, from June 21st to September 22nd. There will be some regular posters at the Infinite Summer blog, and then there will be forums for discussion. They say we need to read only 75 pages a week to finish the book over the summer, and that seems entirely doable. Since I’m a new but ardent Wallace fan, and since Hobgoblin got me a copy of the novel for my birthday, the time seems right to read it.

And now on to Maisie. I finished Among the Mad, the latest Maisie novel recently, and enjoyed it, although with some mixed feelings. I think I’ll continue to read this series and continue to have mixed feelings.

This time around, Maisie seemed just a little bit too perfect. It struck me that she’s always right. The intuitions she has never lead her in the wrong direction and whenever anybody disagrees with her, you know they are going to be wrong. Maisie has a particularly strong and reliable intuitive power, one that borders on the supernatural at times, and that can get … boring.

I suppose this is a potential problem in all detective novels, since the detective does end up solving the case, and we read them partly to get to see our hero outsmarting everyone else. There’s always a danger the outsmarting will get dull. So a detective novelist has to find a way to keep this from getting too predictable, and really interesting heroes need to make mistakes, or at least have some believable flaws that keep them realistic.

And I’m not sure Maisie really has any flaws. She suffers, definitely, but her suffering comes from her experiences in World War I and not through any fault of her own. If anything, her flaws are that she works too hard and won’t allow herself to have a personal life, and this does become one of the recurring storylines, but for me, it’s not enough.

That aside, though, the story was interesting, not so much because of the mystery, but because of the historical context. All the Maisie Dobbs novels deal with the legacy of WWI in one way or another, and the author continues to keep this fresh and intriguing. This novel takes place in the winter of 1931 and tells about people who fought or worked in the medical field during the war and were damaged by it and who now feel that society has abandoned them. It deals with the history of chemical weapons development and animal experimentation, and one of the characters is a potential domestic terrorist, which gives the book a contemporary feel. The novel also makes it clear that World War II is on the way with references to fascists and political unrest.

I like the way the novels allow me to get a sense of the time period, and that’s really why I keep returning to them, besides the simpler motivation of wanting to know what happens to the characters. They aren’t perfect books, but they are really great light reading for when I’m in the mood.

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Blogging house guests

I never expected when I started blogging that it would lead me not only to making new friends from all over the world but also to getting to meet some of them. And yes, it sounds odd to talk about making friends first and then meeting them later, but that’s exactly what happens, and I consider many bloggers friends even though I haven’t laid eyes on them. But this past weekend it happened again: I got to meet fellow-blogger Mandarine and his wife and six-month-old son, who are visiting the U.S. from France.

What a charming family they are. Can I just say that Baby Mandarine is so, so adorable I almost started wanting a baby of my own? And let me tell you, it takes a truly adorable baby to make me feel that way.

I should probably warn you that if you ever visit us, you should expect to walk until you’re in pain. We don’t mean to tire our guests out; it just sort of happens. Hobgoblin and I did it to his mother when she visited a few years ago, to my aunt when she visited last fall, and I’m sure we did it to others as well. This time the Mandarines wanted to do some hiking, and some hiking we certainly did. It just so happened that Hobgoblin was planning to take his class on a hike up Bear Mountain in northwest Connecticut, so we all set off together. I was so impressed at the way Baby Mandarine took it all in stride, so to speak, happily allowing himself to be carried up the mountain and sneaking in a nap on the way down. And I was impressed at the way Mandarine made carrying the baby up and down the mountain seem effortlessly easy. I’m not sure if our hike was what Mr. and Mrs. Mandarine expected, but I know I was left with some sore muscles the next day, and I’m so grateful they were good sports about the experience.

And I’m also grateful for the dinner they cooked for us. We spent a leisurely day on Sunday walking to town to stroll around some shops and then taking naps and visiting the local park to walk the dog (even after the epic hike, the walking continued! Consider yourself warned). And then we enjoyed a fabulous pasta dinner followed by a wonderful chocolate cake, Mrs. Mandarine’s specialty.

So once again I find myself very, very glad I began blogging and very appreciative of the great friends I’ve made this way. I’m also glad I live near New York City, which brings people into my area so I have the chance to meet them. Just remember, if you plan on visiting the city or our part of Connecticut and you want to have a blogger meet-up, that you’d better bringing some good walking shoes.

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