Category Archives: design

Lest you doubt the level of ‘picky’

Currently, there are 10 different paint colors on my wall, representing 4 trips to Lowe’s, one trip to Home Depot, and one trip to a local DIY store that carried Benjamin Moore Paint. You see, as soon as I spent a couple of days going over your posts, staring at the walls, and thinking of the end product for my bookshelf project, I decided to get busy. Last weekend was a long weekend; I thought I’d pick out a color and paint Sunday and Monday. Ha! I drove to Lowe’s, picked out a color, bought a sample and came home. I put a little on the wall, and oh my gosh, I hated it. It looked like the worst of a wintry day, and I really don’t like the cold, especially at this point in the season. So I went back to Lowe’s and then back again. I then decided to switch it up and went to Home Depot, and y’all, the color that looked gray at HD was flat-out purple. Uh uh. Then last weekend, I had tea with my best friend from high school, and she suggested (and my mom too) that I write Pottery Barn because the tearout I had was from their winter catalog. I got home, checked on the website and found the color: Newburyport Blue, Benjamin Moore. *cue angels singing* Except when I got the sample (which ain’t cheap in old Ben Moore), it was blue – country blue. I picked another color, got another sample and slapped it up on the wall. I think it’s a winner. It’s called Blue Note, which seems appropriate as I love Blue Note records. So, ten colors later (I mixed two together at one point to try to achieve the perfect blue gray), I give you the dining room table, in all its glory:

I. Am. THE. Picky. Girl.

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Ooh! Ahh! Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had a fabulous New Year’s Eve. 2011: Better known as the year I turn 30. This will be a banner year. In that vein, I am cleaning house today. No reading or lounging around or blogging. I am taking down Christmas decorations, being ruthless about my closet, and trying to make decisions about my bookshelves.

2010 was a great year. It was my first year as a book blogger, and I have really enjoyed finding others’ blogs, connecting with bloggers on Twitter and sharing in discussion right here. I hope for much, much more discussion in the year to come. I read over 100 books, and as it was my first time ever to keep track of that, I was thrilled. You may have noticed, I have no charts or graphs detailing number of pages, number of female/male authors, etcetera. I am a laidback blogger. I love seeing charts and graphs, but I’m just not that kind of gal.

Here are some other things I’ve learned about myself as a blogger: I suck at challenges. No, really. My title “My First Challenge!” is the only post. I felt so guilty. Still feel guilty. Ugh. The sad thing is, I probably actually DID finish the challenge but didn’t post about it. I don’t like memes, except this one. Readalongs are awesome. The library is mega awesome. Twitter is not evil. If there is a blogging tiff, I will know nothing about it. Romance novels aren’t all that bad. Meeting bloggers in person is fun! And last but not least, I can read anywhere.

So that’s my wrap-up. My goals for 2011 for my blog? Blog more regularly. Try to increase comment discussion for the simple reason that I love discussing the books I read. Other than that, I plan to keep it simple. What do you guys think? If there are any lurkers (those who read but don’t comment), please say hi. I’d love to meet you – and to maybe twist your arm to read a couple of my favorite books!

Happy New Year, and as always, happy reading.

jenn aka picky girl


A home for my books.

I must have been a very good (albeit, picky) girl this year because I got Lowe’s gift cards. Hm, you might be thinking. What on earth will she do with that? Why, buy lumber for bookshelves, of course! My previous home had built-in bookshelves and though they were stacked three deep, they were perfect. How many bookshelves does my current home have? Three measly ones in my office to hold school books for reference. The rest of my books are shoved into cabinets and closets but are mainly under the bed in the front room. You read that right. While this has made for a major purging of books I wasn’t in love with, it makes it very difficult to lend books or find books for quick reference. It also makes it difficult to figure out what I have read and what I haven’t. So the goal is to turn a wall in my spacious dining room into built-in bookshelves. I am taking the opportunity to do it up right. New paint colors and everything. The problem, as it stands is that I love the color of my walls, but I really don’t love the white trim with the color for a library/dining room.

I’m thinking something a little lighter than the paint on this wall from the blog Isabella and Max:

Here is the space as it is, along with my inspiration photo:

So should I go with color on the walls with white trim and bookshelves? Or cream or white on the walls with black or gray on the trim/bookshelves? These are my dilemmas. But wait! I also need help with the details. I have several favorites, though the picture above is certainly the most classic. What do you like/love about these options? Which do you hate? Which one is only eh, okay? I want the DL, blogging buddies. I know design may not be your passion, but along with readings, it’s a big passion of mine, so help a gal out:


A festival of books? It’s a festivus for the rest of us!

Friday afternoon, I ditched the office, the pup, and Beaumont, Texas to go with my parents to the Texas Book Festival in Austin, Texas. We went last year and had such a great time, we decided it had to be an annual event.

I had plans, people, big plans: I had my panels mapped out. I booked a hotel close to the site with breakfast included so we wouldn’t have to run around hunting for a Starbucks. My dad, on the other hand, had no clue. Yet somehow he made it to seven panels, while I only made it to four. Ah, beginner’s luck.

The four panels I did make it to? Incredible. Plus, I got to meet up with some other Texas book bloggers and end the moratorium on book buying. Throw in a little honky-tonkin, and you’re looking at one exhausted, but pleased picky girl.

Saturday:

Julia Glass

Luckily, I was close to finishing her newest book The Widower’s Tale. In fact, I brought my library book into the Capitol with me to read before the panel started. (Review coming later this week.) Ms. Glass was not all that inventive a speaker, and I was a bit disappointed. The moderator was excellent, though, and asked a couple questions I certainly had about the book. For example, the novel is told from the perspective of four men. Was that a conscious decision, and was it difficult to write from the male perspective? Ms. Glass answered it was most certainly intentional; she apparently feels very comfortable writing in the male voice, though she did admit the 20-year-old perspective was difficult to write (a complaint I had about the dialogue in the book). Here’s the panel and a pic of my mom and I before it got started:

Scott Westerfeld

Fantastic. Funny. Charming. Scott Westerfeld rocked – plain and simple. He really gave the sort of lecture I strive to give to my students – informative, humorous, practical, and interesting. He talked a bit about his series Uglies, but as I cannot speak to those books, I’ll focus on what I was there for – Leviathan and Behemoth. Westerfeld spoke about where the idea for the books came from. He has a blog, and his fans post art inspired by his books. When he found the Japanese version of his first series had drawings, he was a bit taken aback; his fans were jealous. As he said (and I paraphrase), there’s nothing like an oppressed teenager….

Westerfeld pondered why we, as Americans, avoid illustrations in adult books. Why do we reserve illustrations for the young and then take them away at a certain point? Why do we assume illustrations narrow the imagination instead of expanding it? So with Leviathan, he found illustrator Keith Thompson, and they collaborated quite nicely. He says the illustrations “allow for alternate story lines” and that if you look closely, the illustrator works these in carefully. The challenge, though, is making the story active enough – “with illustrations, characters have to move around, so the drawings can change.” Otherwise, the scenes become repetitive. He also had to think differently in terms of setting the stage. Keith would send him sketches, lacking a couple characters Westerfeld had in the scene. When asked about this decision, Keith would tell him it looked too crowded. So Westerfeld revised.

Westerfeld ended the talk with questions, and my personal favorite was when he was asked if he would venture into graphic novels. The answer? An enticing ‘yes.’

In between Saturday’s panels, I met up with some great Texas book bloggers, including Iliana at bookgirl’s nightstand who encouraged me to get into book blogging. It was really great to put faces to the names although since I only knew what Amanda looked like, I was a bit nervous. Thankfully, I spotted the group pretty quickly, and I had a great time chatting with Iliana, Carin, Karen, Trish, Debbie, and Amanda. Jason, Amanda’s husband, was gracious enough to take our photos (please notice how antisocial we are; we are standing like a foot away from each other). 😉 All in all, it was great to meet everyone, and I can’t wait for next year to do it again.

From left to right: Carin, me, Trish, Amanda, Debbie

 

From top left to bottom right: Iliana, Karen, Carin, and Amanda

Of course, I couldn’t wait to get to the tents to buy my copy of Behemoth, and I also picked up these little gems from one of my favorite artists (don’t worry – I’ve got a whole post lined up to give you a peek at the inside):

 

Stay tuned for a wrap-up of Sunday’s awesome panels!!!

Until then, happy reading,

jenn

aka picky girl


In which I destroy a book…

Yeah, you read that right. It’s not that I can’t stand The Portrait of a Lady. It’s just that I was already getting rid of it, as I don’t like the edition and that I need art on my walls and refuse to make a trip to Kirkland’s to trick out my house (not that I’ll be critical if that’s your taste; it’s just not mine). So I pulled up this tutorial I found on a design blog, Living With Lindsay. I found it months ago and finally broke down and bought a glue gun.

Here’s a hint of what I’m getting at…

WARNING: If you absolutely, positively cannot stand seeing a book abused (or as I call it, repurposed for artistic reasons), please stop reading now. Go pick up one of your books from its plastic sleeve and lovingly turn the pages with white gloves on your sanitized hands.

I started out with this:

Old copy of The Portrait of a Lady? Check. Twelve-inch wreath? Check. High-temp glue gun with glue sticks? Check. Burnt fingers? Double check.

Really, the process is quite simple. You rip the pages out of the book. *gasp!* Then flip the wreath to the back side to begin gluing. (If you don’t do this, the wreath won’t have much dimension. After ripping the pages you curl them in different ways, S shapes, cones, you name it. Just try not to give the pages hard edges. In the tutorial I linked, Lindsay actually paints the edges of her pages. My book is old, so I went with the slight discoloration already on them. Then you glue them. I just layered and layered and layered some more.

It took me about an hour and a half to get the wreath fairly full, and after taking the photos, I noticed some bare spots when the flash hit the wreath. Once you are pleased with how it looks, you can either put a small loop of ribbon (as Lindsay does) or a length of ribbons, so it shows slightly above the wreath. I didn’t think ahead and only had black ribbon (which I like but is too dark for the room). I will switch it out with a dove grey grosgrain ribbon when I get the chance:

After that, just hang it! Of course, I don’t yet know exactly where I want this one, so I put it where I have a bare wall above the bed in my front bedroom/office. Excuse the unfinished look – I am saving up to make a headboard for the bed. Hope you like the finished product. It was a fun project, and I love art with a story or that I’ve made myself. Plus, I can’t stop staring at it. Beautiful, if I do say so myself:

As I am typing, I’m looking at the wall and thinking two more smaller wreaths would be perfect. Hm. Another project. What is it about fall that seems so conducive to projects? Anyone else feel that way? Have you ever created art from books or other household items?

I’d love to see – add a pic to your comment if you have.


It’s almost here… the Texas Book Festival!

Some people live for concerts. I myself like a nice concert at a small venue. Other people travel according to their culinary interests. Bravo for them. What am I thrilled about? The Texas Book Festival. I dreamed of it for years: the lines of book-holding patrons; the authors milling about; the tents full of books. Last year, I made that dream a reality. My parents (both booklovers) and I loaded up and made the trip to Austin, thrilled to be able to take part in such an awesome bookish event (I believe this book festival is the 2nd largest nationwide). There are lectures, book signings, stalls of books from publishers large and small, and all sorts of cool events for kids.

Last year, I was a newbie and didn’t have a planned schedule except for seeing Margaret Atwood, who was brilliant. I also saw Lance Letscher (whose artwork is at the top of this blog). There is nothing more stimulating to me than being in such an atmosphere. I am not all that into signed books; I’d much rather listen to what authors have to say than have them sign my book. That said, the TBF people have the nuts and bolts of the event down pat. The entire festival is a well-oiled machine, with lectures and panel discussions held in the Capitol itself along with nearby theaters and museums. My one regret last year (other than seeing David Wroblewski, who wasn’t all that impressive) was missing out on Jonathan Safron Foer’s lecture. He was late in the day on Sunday, and I needed to get back home.

The 2010 full author list was just posted today. The schedule will not be posted until a little closer to the actual festival, October 16-17. I am so excited. Some of the big names this year are Abraham Verghese, Scott Westerfield, Karl Marlantes, Jennifer Egan, Justin Cronin, Michael Cunningham, Julia Glass, and Meg Cabot. I would also like to hear Lance Letscher again as I find his art really stirring. DJ Stout is a book designer for the University of Texas Press, and I would love to sit in on his lecture. If I could draw, I would love to design books.

I plan on heading to the library this afternoon to pick up books from several of these authors I have not yet read. I had such a fantastic time last year, and one of my favorite moments was walking from the Capitol toward the street through this wide expanse of green lawn and coming across this:

There really are books everywhere. I don’t know if a friendly soul left this for another to read, or if the book was just patiently waiting for its owner to return. Either way, it was a nice little vignette to end our trip.

Is anyone else out there plan on going this year? If so, let me know for sure. Also, if you can’t go, who would your “definitely do not miss” authors be?


Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon

Image from The Fire Wire

Is the cover of this book not amazing? I’m always inspired by Frances at Nonsuch Book; she posts the most intriguing books and book design. When I started blogging, I knew I would have to feature this book’s art first and foremost. The photos above really do not do it justice. This is one of the most intricate, beautiful books I’ve ever owned. If you’re lucky enough to land one somewhere, hang on to it. Jordan Crane did the cover art, and it truly is art. [Maps and Legends is a collection of essays published by Michael Chabon in 2008.]

Ah, the essay. I think about essays constantly. I teach essay writing. I write essays. I enjoy reading essays. However, over the last few years, I have noticed that essay writers can be the most pretentious, self-important writers out there. A well-crafted essay is probably one of the most difficult things to write. The writer must be succinct but engaging. Very often, the essay topic is interesting to only a small subset of the population. Most importantly, there is just enough space to diverge from the main topic to explore other tangents, but the writer must once again come back to his or her main point.

My most recent brush with Michael Chabon was in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. The experience was mixed as I really liked the story and some of the characters but felt Chabon’s voice was very present in the text, distractingly so. Of course, in this book of his essays, Chabon’s voice is ever present. While there were many points on which we agreed, that pretentious voice still irked the hell out of me. Overall, though, the essays did everything I require – they were entertaining, well written (although a bit wordy), and varied.

I almost wholly agree with his essay “Trickster in a Suit of Lights: Thoughts on the Modern Short Story,” wherein he explores genre, saying:

And so as with our idea of entertainment, our idea of genre …. is of a thing fundamentally, perhaps inherently debased, infantile, commercialized, unworthy of the serious person’s attention. The undoubted satisfactions that come from reading science fiction or mystery stories are to be enjoyed only in childhood or youth, or by the adult reader only as “guilty pleasures” (a phrase I loathe). A genre implies a set of conventions – a formula – and conventions imply limitations (the argument goes), and therefore no genre work can ever rise to the masterful heights of true literature, free (it is to be supposed) of all formulas and templates.

Bang on, Chabon. I’m right there with you, but wait…

Like most people who worry about whether it’s better to be wrong or pretentious when pronouncing the word “genre,” I’m always on the lookout for a chance to drop the name of Walter Benjamin. I had planned to do so here. I intended to refer to Benjamin’s bottomless essay “The Storyteller,” and to try to employ the famous distinction he makes…

Yeah – see, I did not even have to call him pretentious; he knows he is. And, he goes on to talk about Walter Benjamin… namedropper. Of course, before you think me moronic and incapable of reading his sardonic voice, let me skip to another section of the same essay:

I’d like to believe that, because I read for entertainment, and I write to entertain. Period. Oh, I could decoct a brew of other, more impressive motivations and explanations. I could uncork some stuff about reader response theory, or the Lacanian parole. I could go on about the storytelling impulse and the need to make sense of experience through story. A spritz of Jung might scent the air. I could adduce Kafka’s formula…

Aaand, we’re back to pompous ass. His voice, particularly in this passage, reminds me of oh-so-many insecure graduate students, just learning theory. No longer is a story a story. Suddenly, it takes on so many theoretical contexts that not even they are capable of finding their way out of the rabbit hole.

This is not to say that each essay is unfulfilling. The first, already referenced essay regarding the short story is wonderful. There are also several essays devoted to the writing process and Chabon’s first and second novels.He discusses Sherlock Holmes, Cormac McCarthy, and Will Eisner, while also exploring his fascination with Golems in an essay entitled, “Golems I Have Known, or Why My Elder Son’s Middle Name is Napoleon.” The Eisner essay is short but fantastic, and Chabon’s love of anything comic book related definitely comes through.

One of my favorite passages discusses a popular topic, the inevitability of lies in fiction.

There is a contract between the writer of fiction and the readers he or she lies to, as there is between a magician and the audience he hoodwinks; they are in it together. They are helping each other to bring a story to apparent life or an edible orange to grow from the branch of a clockwork tree.

And, in “The Recipe for Life,” he expands on this idea:

Literature, like magic, has always been about the handling of secrets, about the pain, the destruction, and the marvelous liberation that can result when they are revealed…. If a writer doesn’t give away secrets, his own or those of the people he loves…if the writer submits his work to an internal censor … the result is pallid, inanimate, a lump of earth….[T]he writer shapes his story, flecked like river clay with the grit of experience and rank with the smell of human life, heedless of the danger to himself, eager to show his powers, to celebrate his mastery, to bring into being a little world that, like God’s is at once terribly imperfect and filled with astonishing life.

I know there are many readers out there who steer clear of essay collections. However, I have enjoyed them for years. Similar to a collection of short stories, you can pick the book up for one essay before bed or on a lunch break, without losing the flow of the story, as in a novel. This book has been on my bedside table for weeks, and I have picked through it, skimming the ones that I couldn’t relate to (I’ve never read The Golden Compass, so his essay about it was not for me) and relishing the ones that piqued my interest. This particular collection was coherent and enjoyable, and I am curious if anyone else out there has read it. If so, what were your thoughts?


I have a confession…. I’ve been cheating.

Yes, it’s true. As much as I love to read, and as much as I love reading blogs about books, I really really love good DIY design. You see, design used to be relegated to stiff, wealthy women with bouffant hairdos and lots of jewelry, but in this day and age, anyone can design. I love it. Since I was in high school, perusing through Martha Stewart’s Living (my wonderful mom bought me a subscription for my birthday), I would pull pages out of magazines and stash them away for the day I had my own space. I have a binder full of these pages, separated by decor, gardening, recipes, things-I-must-have-someday-when-I-have-money, and gift ideas.

Living in apartments, I would hunt for pieces for that place I knew would be mine someday. Lo and behold, here I am, one year and four months into homeownership, and I am a design blog junkie. In the mornings – that is, before summer school began – I would wake up and bleary-eyed, sit at the computer for my daily dose of design. Design blogs, for me, don’t even require words (unless to share where and how much an item is). I click and drool. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been too busy even to look at design blogs, but last night I sat here for quite some time, clicking through and catching up on what I missed.

What? you may say. This is supposed to be a book blog. Well, yes, and the book part is coming, but I appreciate beauty in many forms, and making a lovely space for me to enjoy reading or just sitting and petting my dog is pretty darn important to me. Enter domino: The Book of Decorating. For those in the know, domino was a fabulous design magazine published from 2005 until last year. Their style was laidback, mostly affordable, and just darn great. I like eclectic, and that’s what domino offered me. Bye bye, hunter green and lots of brass. So long sailboats and themed rooms. When interior design became something for the masses, something truly amazing happened. Vintage came back. Boho chic arrived on scene. Dumpster diving and flea market finds are now all the rage. Etsy is a huge phenomenon. So when domino came out with the book and I saw it at anthropologie, it was the perfect marriage. The cover is absolutely lovely:

More importantly, the inside is full of incredible photos and tips. Each section is broken up by room type and features large spaces, small spaces, trouble spots, etc. There is a decorators’ handbook, which discusses window treatments and upholstery, answering all sorts of questions, such as “Should I hang my curtains above my beautifully-trimmed windows or below?” Yes, this is actually something I never considered but needed to know when hanging curtains. They also discuss rugs – sizes, types, locations. In the very back is what they term “the big black book,” a source for finding the best decorating resources all over the states.

I love this book oh so much. It sits on my coffee table in the living room, but I regularly pick it up for inspiration. I am now to the point in my home that mostly everything is decorated but needs finishing touches. Hopefully, the money I earn from teaching these killer summer sessions will pay off, and I can go back to finding some great pieces and finishing projects I have wanted to start for months. In the meantime, I will “flip through the pages” for you and show you some of my favorite domino rooms. And, to the creators of domino, thank you; maybe when the recession is over you’ll make a comeback? Pretty please?

As for my favorite design sites, here are a few of my favorites based on style, economics (i.e. can I ever afford it?), quantity of projects/photos, and tone of writing. You’d be surprised how many design bloggers come across as snooty or whose designs are just not really that great. Here are the best I’ve found so far:

Young House Love

Centsational Girl

The Lettered Cottage

Green Your Decor

La Dolce Vita

Isabella & Max Rooms