Category Archives: miscellany

Moving Day!

Finally! It’s here. I have officially moved to:

www.thepickygirl.com

My old site should redirect you here, but if not, please change your feeds and join me. It’s been an interesting process switching to DreamHost for hosting and using WordPress.org. Why did I make the move? To be honest, it’s just as my name implies. I wanted more freedom than what WordPress.com gave me, and though I certainly enjoyed my time on WordPress.com, it was worth it to me to make the move and buy my own domain as well. I am sure the look of the blog will continue to evolve, but I am excited for this new venture.

You will also notice, in the near right column, I have added a feed, Twitter, and Facebook button, linking to a page for Picky Girl where I’ll post more random thoughts and any news I have about books, teaching, or anything like that.

Of course, that also brings me to a subtle but big change. I have noticed I blog less when I feel as though I *should* be blogging about books. I love reading, I do. However, I also love teaching and making my house a home. Why shouldn’t my blog reflect that? I have also noticed my blog-reading habits change. I don’t always want to read about books. I enjoy a wide variety of blogs and want my own to reflect that preference.

Thanks to all of you out there who have been patient over the last month or two with less-than-consistent posting. I hope to change that as I have given myself a bit more freedom to blog.

As always, happy reading, friends.

jenn aka the picky girl

p.s. A special thanks to Carin from A Little Bookish for all her help with html. It is definitely an uphill battle.

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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.


Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

Except not really because I would probably be absolutely petrified, have a heart attack, and die. If you are completely lost, the title refers to the first and very well-known line from the eerie Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. My first experience with Rebecca was as a child when I first watched Hitchcock’s interpretation with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. I’ve seen it half a dozen times, more recently two months ago. I finally picked up a copy of the book at the library the day before Thanksgiving and devoured it as it rained outside, which, I have to say, is pretty much perfect reading weather but is certainly perfect Du Maurier reading weather.

The unnamed narrator, a young, unworldly woman, meets Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo while acting as a companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, an older, wealthy, prattling woman. Mrs. Van Hopper refers to some sort of awful tragedy Mr. de Winter has endured (she seems to know everything about everyone), but our narrator doesn’t pry. Mrs. Van Hopper becomes ill, and the narrator finds herself more and more in the company of Mr. de Winter, an inscrutable but fascinating older man.

All too quickly, the holiday in Monte Cristo comes to a close, but Maxim refuses to let the naive young narrator sail off into the sunset. No, there is a much-less-happy-ending in the narrator’s future. The couple goes to Manderley, Maxim’s estate, and the young companion has no idea how to run a household, much less a household as large as Manderley. She meets the household staff and quickly learns Maxim goes about Maxim’s business while she is left to her own devices.

Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, conspicuously brings up Rebecca (the first Mrs. De Winter) in conversation, referring to how Mrs. DeWinter did this and how Mrs. DeWinter did that, leaving the narrator feeling more insecure and less able to learn how to adjust to her new home. Mrs. Danvers tempts the narrator with discussions of Rebecca’s rooms, the best in the house. When the narrator walks through the grounds, she looks up and curtains in Rebecca’s old room part to reveal Mrs. Danvers, ever watchful. Let’s stop there. Mrs. Danvers is easily one of the most spooky characters I have ever read about or watched in a film. Her obsession with Rebecca and her obvious distaste for the new Mrs. DeWinter verges on demented. This is one twisted housekeeper, and you should be very, very afraid.

As for Maxim, he is gone quite often and has turned sullen and standoffish inside the walls of Manderley. His moods are inconstant; he treats the narrator like a young girl (which drove me nuts). In the face of near insurmountable evidence, the narrator naturally believes he is still in love with the dead Rebecca. She begs him to host a ball for the neighbors, a costume ball, and Mrs. Danvers suggests what the narrator should wear. The tension mounts until the night of the party, and then there is all sorts of action.  Who was Rebecca, and what happened to her?

I will leave you hanging here because I don’t want to spoil anything. Plus, I think every blogger is owed several “Go read this book right now” statements throughout the year, so I’m calling in my first. Go read this book. Second, watch the movie. Third, come back and thank me, and we can talk. Need some more reasons? Spooky house? Check. Crazy housekeeper? Check. Dead wife? Check. Now go.

If you’ve read it, have you seen the movie? I seriously felt as though it played in my head the entire time. Hitchcock, of course, is a genius, but this film is truly a work of art and an excellent, excellent adaptation. What did you think? Rebecca truly made me want to devour everything DuMaurier has written.


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:


(Almost) back to regularly-scheduled programming…

Merry Christmas! I feel awful for not posting in so long and hope you haven’t abandoned me. However, I have been doing a whole lot of this:

And not a whole lot of this:

But I do have reviews and exciting news right around the corner. So stay tuned, dear blog readers, I will return.

In the meantime, what the heck have YOU been reading that I should add to my TBR (To Be Read) list?


Texas Book Festival – Part Dos

Saturday night, I was exhausted. Like, too tired to read, and I’m never too tired to read. I guess dancing at The Broken Spoke until midnight Friday night and then traipsing across the capitol ALL day on Saturday was a bit much for this gal. I mapped out Sunday’s events, watched some HGTV in the hotel (I don’t have cable, so this was thrilling) and crashed. Sunday found me refreshed and excited to get to my two panels:

Literature on the Lam

Moderated by Skip Hollinsworth of Texas Monthly and filmed by BookTV, I was really excited about this panel. Criminals fascinate me, and I was practically fused to my seat I was so enthralled. Malcolm Beith, Jonathan Eig, Hampton Sides, and James Swanson were all panelists.

Each has a new book out dealing with infamous criminals. James Swanson, who wrote Manhunt about John Wilkes Booth, has a new book out called Blood Crimes, which is about Jefferson Davis. Patricia Cornwell deemed Manhunt to be one of the top two true crime novels along with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Hampton Sides writes about James Earl Ray in Hellhound. Jonathan Eig’s new book Get Capone posits new theories of the life Al Capone. Finally, Malcolm Beith wrote The Last Narco, a book about El Chapo, organized crime leader in Mexico.

The panel started on a light-hearted note as Hollinsworth asked Eig how he switched from writing about baseball players to Al Capone. Eig said he thought long and hard and asked himself: “Who else used baseball bats?” Eig’s sense of humor was welcome on the panel, and I’m curious how much humor comes across in his book. He says Capone was really “a product of Prohibition” who otherwise may have driven a truck or stocked store shelves. He had a chance to rake in money, though, and he took it. The odd thing about Capone, according to Eig, is how willingly he accepted the infamy. He asked “what kind of person welcomes that sort of attention” and ended by saying, “We’ve all got a little bit of larceny in us.”

Sides and Swanson were much more serious, tackling topics of national sensitivity. When asked how easily they could shake off the people of whom they wrote, all the authors said they could not. Sides and Swanson are left with questions as both John Wilkes Booth and James Earl Ray left many unanswered questions.

I particularly felt for Malcolm Beith, as he seemed genuinely disturbed by El Chapo. He answered he would never shake the man off because of the horror of his crimes, at one time killing 300 people in a vat of acid. El Chapo owns 23,000 square miles in Mexico and has enormous amounts of power. Beith, a former Mexican journalist, now resides in America and relates that at least 45 journalists in Mexico have died trying to bring to light the corruption.

Spanning cultural differences and huge time gaps, all the authors were interesting and obviously passionate about their books. I have added Manhunt, Hellhound, The Last Narco, and Get Capone to my reading list.

I can’t embed the video, but the link is here. It’s long-ish but worth the watch.

Swanson, Sides, Hollinsworth, Eig, and Beith at Literature on the Lam

Wickedly Funny Noir

This was a quirky bunch. Harry Hunsicker moderated a panel of authors including Lou Berney, Jonathan Woods, and Mark Haskell Smith. I haven’t read any of these authors, but the panel itself sounded interesting. Each was laidback and humorous and focused mainly on writing itself and not individual books. Hunsicker asked if there is any pressure to be funny, but each responded in the negative, Burney saying he writes characters “who aren’t funny but have a good sense of humor.”

How do you make sex funny? Woods, Berney, and Smith all agreed sex just is sort of funny. In fact, Berney doesn’t like writing sex scenes: “It embarrasses me; it embarrasses my Golden Retriever.” He relayed a couple of humorous scenes from his book. Smith said sex is just plain awkward, and he starts with that. He, though, apparently doesn’t shy away from these scenes, instead writing every gory detail. (My mom went to another panel the day before and said it was the closest thing to porn she’s ever heard. Apparently people with children there walked out as there was no warning and a children’s author was on the panel. Odd)

All agreed, as Burney said, “You have to learn to love killing things.” There is not a lot of humor in crime, but as Smith said, often the people with the best sense of humor are in law enforcement. The gist was, if we can’t laugh at something, we might as well “put a collective gun to our collective head,” Woods said

The audience here definitely felt more like a bunch of amateur writers. You know the type. They are really there for validation of their own work as opposed to really listening to what the authors have to say. Not all amateurs are like this, but many are. I did ask a question, though, to see if any of these guys knew any other funny noir other than Dashiell Hammett who wrote around the same time. They gave me some more current names, but that wasn’t really what I was looking for. It was a fun panel, though, and I will likely pick up Burney’s book Gutshot Straight. Mark Haskell Smith has written several books, Baked, Salty, Delicious, and Moist. Woods has a new collection of short stories Bad Juju and Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem.

Hunsicker, Berney, Woods, and Smith at Wickedly Funny Noir

 

The weekend was fabulous, and I can’t believe I have to wait another year to go back. I will definitely have to find some bookish events in the meantime. I hope you, dear reader, have something fun and bookish to look forward to – any great events happening near you?


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


Will we still have this argument in another 153 years?

Is it in feminine novels only that courtship, marriage, servants, and children are the staple? Is not this true of all novels? — of Dickes, of Thackeray, of Bulwer and a host of others? Is it peculiar to feminine pens, most astute and liberal of critics? Would a novel be a novel if it did not treat of courtship and marriage? and if it could be so recognized, would it find readers? When I see such a narrow, snarling criticism as the above, I always say to myself, the writer is some unhappy man, who has come up without the refining influence of mother, or sister, or reputable female friends…

These words begin Fanny Fern’s article “Male Criticism on Ladies’ Books,” first published in the New York Ledger in 1857. 1857. 153 years ago, and if you need a little perspective, it was prior to the Civil War. Fern was one of the most commercially-successful writers during this time period, and at the height of her career was the highest paid journalist – male or female. Again, I’ll put a little perspective on that. Most of us my age or older didn’t study many female writers in school. They weren’t included in the textbooks for study. In my American Literature class, we discuss this article, and when we got to it this week, the parallels were blatant between that time period and the current controversy over whether or not the New York Times is biased toward male writers.

I haven’t said much about #franzenfreude, as the argument has been dubbed on Twitter. If you haven’t heard, two female writers, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, publicly discussed how the Times seems to favor the white male darlings of the literary world. At the time, Jonathan Franzen’s name was absolutely everywhere. He was the first writer to be on the cover of Time magazine in the past 15 years (Stephen King was the last). His book was pre-selling like crazy. Reviews abounded. Even President Obama got a copy, causing a rush on an unpublished book (and headache for the publisher).

Picoult and Weiner both agree they are not on the same plane as Franzen (they are considered commercial fiction as opposed to literary fiction), but they do not argue for themselves alone but for all the women writers whose names seem to remain in obscurity. Now I’m not a huge fan of Franzen as I have read The Corrections, a novel, and How to Be Alone, a collection of essays, but I have not yet read Freedom. Neither of the former reads blew me away; in fact, the essay collection was a bit pretentious. Ultimately, though, Franzen is just the vehicle for the current issue: do white male authors receive more attention than female authors and authors of color? I don’t think anyone is really even trying to claim otherwise.

In fact, the Times is not alone in the pomp and circumstance. I read an excellent blog post at Color Online about how even Oprah has bowed to Franzen. I don’t have a problem with her adding him to her Book Club as that is her right and choice (even though he snubbed her in 2001, citing previous “schmaltzy” picks behind his reasoning). But as the article points out, it’s about who Oprah’s list leaves off: women. But again, is it really Franzen’s fault? No. Obviously, this is much larger than the Times or Oprah. (I’ll leave the chick lit discussion for another day and time).

Why are we so dismissive of women’s voices? To me, good fiction is good fiction. I just find it ironic and sad that we have not really evolved past the problems with which Fanny Fern takes issue. Male writers at the time were criticizing Fern’s commercial success, which is a slight shift, but you could certainly view J.K. Rowling in a similar light. In fact, part of the reason no one knows her first name (Joann) is her publisher encouraged her to be a bit androgynous on the book cover so male children would pick up Harry Potter as well. This is discussed in a Salon article here, though the author seems to get a bit off track. Jodi Picoult is also a commercially-successful writer, having most recently had her novel, My Sister’s Keeper made into a movie. Hunger Games is written by a woman, Suzanne Collins. Are these books less important or less literary because women wrote them? Harry Potter is certainly in a league of its own, but I would argue Rowling knows her craft and is extremely literary. Does her popularity mean she cannot be a good writer? Lorrie Moore, on the other hand, is not a well-known name. Similar to Franzen, she writes quiet novels of family and home. Her face, though, has not graced the cover of Time; she was not chosen for Oprah’s Book Club. There are frighteningly good women writers out there, but we tend to marginalize them or use their popularity as a bar to their “literary” status.

Fanny Fern knew and understood this, and she ends her small column from 153 years ago with a stinging retort to all those who have written her off (and I couldn’t say it better myself):

But seriously — we have had quite enough of this shallow criticism (?) on lady-books …. Whether ladies can write novels or not, is a question I do not intend to discuss; but that some of them have no difficulty in finding either publishers or readers, is a matter of history …. Granting that lady-novels are not all that they should be — is such shallow, unfair, wholesale, sneering criticism (?) the way to reform them? Would it not be better and more manly to point out a better way kindly, justly, and, above all, respectfully? or –what would be a much harder task for such critics – write a better book!


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?