Sunday Salon: Why I Go To KidLitCon

I’ve been meaning to write this post for weeks, but with vacation and summertime computer usage by my children (we really need another computer around here!) I’ve hardly been on the blog at all. Just enough to whip off yet another review (at least I can read while everyone else is hogging the computer!), but not enough to spread news.

The 5th Annual KidlitCon is set for September 16-17 in Seattle this year. Registration is open through August 31, but after August 1, the price bumps up $5. And — this is beyond cool, I think — Scott Westerfeld is the keynote speaker.

This will be the third KidLitCon I’ve gone to. Why do I choose this one above everything else bookish out there I could go to, like BEA? (Though I’m tossing around the idea of going to the Texas Book Festival this year. That is, if there’s going to be any authors I’m interested in. They haven’t put up the list yet… I may go, regardless; I’ve always kind of wanted to do a big book festival, and the one in DC is on a bad weekend.) I’d like to be able to go to more, but time and money won’t allow it.

I go to KidLitCon because it’s small. I’m an introvert, and honestly? While BEA appeals to me (as does ALA), the idea of so many people and me being there by myself thoroughly intimidates (and terrifies) me. KidLitCon is the right size: there’s usually around 100 participants, so there’s enough people there to have a diversity, but not so many that there’s a mob. Just perfect.

I go to KidLitCon because it helps me be a better blogger. Or at least I’d like to think that. Sure, a lot of the panels are directed toward helping authors navigate the world of social media, but there are ones about blogging and reviewing and connecting with said authors and publishers. I find it engaging and thrilling to be talking to like-minded people; ones who are just as passionate about not only reading but about children’s books (and not just what’s hip in YA) as I am.

Speaking of which: I go to KidLitCon because of the people. This seriously may be the biggest reason for me. By the time I started going, I’d been following blogs for years, and I wanted to meet the people whose writing I enjoyed. I figured if they were as lovely in person as the were on the web, then I’d be in good company. (I was right.) The thing I think I like most about this group of people is that they are some of the kindest, most inclusive people I’ve ever met. Sure, I’m not a librarian, or a literacy advocate, or an author, or even that good of a writer, but they don’t seem to mind. (Or if they do mind me crashing their party, no one’s ever said so.) I feel as much a part of the group as Carol Rasco (who, by the way, has a delightful Arkansan accent and is a pleasure to talk to).

Those are my reasons for going. If you go, what are yours? And if not, consider joining us. You won’t regret it. I promise.

Sunday Salon: An Ode to Travel Books

(I know it’s Mother’s Day, here in the US. I’m not particularly fond of it — even though I am being spoiled with breakfast in bed served by my beautiful daughters — so I’m not going to write about it.)

At my in-person book group this month, we got to talking about traveling, both with and without kids. At one point, I said that I long to travel and to see new things, and that it sometimes frustrates me that I won’t get to see all I want to see. Then I said, “That’s why I read travel books.” I immediately thought of this piece that I first wrote this for Estella’s Revenge, back in May 2008. I thought it’d be good to share again.

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I adore travel books.

By “travel books,” I don’t mean the travel guides that line the shelves of the bookstore with lists of what to do and where to go (though I have to admit, I do like reading those, too), nor do I mean novels where a certain place is essential to the plot. No, what I mean are the non-fiction books, an author taking a journey somewhere, experiencing a different life for a while, and then writing about his or her experience.
Those are the travel books I love.

I have also called them “place books” because, for me, the most important element of the book needs to be a sense of wonder and excitement and anticipation about the places the author sees and the people the author meets. Without some element of respect and wonder, the book just becomes a catalog of events, a journey not worth taking. But with it, the book transports, taking me places and doing things I would never dream of doing (like giving up normal life for a house in Tuscany, or sailing the world following Captain Cook, or walking the length of the Appalachian Trail), experiencing new, unusual, and sometimes incredible places and people.

I love these books for many reasons. It’s because I can be inspired and entertained by these escapades in ways I can’t when they are fictional characters. Real people did these real things: it’s enough to motivate me to be just a little bit better, work just a little bit outside the mold, and think a bit more outside the box. It’s also because they’re accessible: most of these writers are journalists, and they write in a way that resonates with me in ways that novelists sometimes don’t. And it’s partly because it allows me to see the world in a way I couldn’t when I travel, even if I could imagine myself going some of these places. I want to visit Antigua, and live there for a month, and get to know the local people, but time and money and lifestyle just don’t mesh with that ideal. I admire these people, admire their willingness to get up and go and do.

Perhaps there’s a bit of a traveler in all of us, wanting to reach out and experience something beyond our mundane lives. Here is a list of 15 of my favorites, as well as others that sound interesting, to get you started (all descriptions of books I haven’t read came — in part — from Powells.com):

1. There will never, ever be a travel list without some book of Bill Bryson’s. He is, in my mind, the king of travel writers, the epitome of interesting journeys, witty observation, and superb writing. My two personal favorites are Walk in the Woods about his experiences walking the Appalachian Trail and In a Sunburned Country, about his escapades across Australia.

2. Around the World in 80 Days — not the Jules Verne novel, but the one by Michael Palin. Yes, it’s the same guy from Monty Python (and A Fish Called Wanda) fame. He’s spent the last 20 years traveling the world for the BBC in a series of specials. Around the World was the first one, the one that started it all. Watch the shows; they are interesting and fun, but also pick up the companion books. Palin’s a good writer with dry wit and self-deprecating humor, yet he never forgets a love and awe for the places he’s been and the people he’s met.

3. Ciao, America! — Capturing the odd sights and scents of Beppe Severgnini’s destination, Washington D.C., this book is a tale of quirky discoveries in a country obsessed with ice cubes, air-conditioning, recliner chairs, and after-dinner cappuccinos. From their first encounters with cryptic rental listings to their back-to-Europe yard sale twelve months later, the Severgninis explore their new territory with the self-described patience of mildly inappropriate beachcombers.

4. Confederates in the Attic — While Tony Horwitz isn’t usually considered a travel writer, I lump him in because his books usually involve some sort of journey and a strong sense of place. I’ve read all his books, but my favorite (hands down) is this one. If you haven’t read his escapades through the deep south, please do. It’s funny, and that’s the God’s-honest truth. (I had a Southern lady tell me once that Horwitz just “got” Southerners.) His newest is A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World — about the Europeans who preceded the Pilgrims to America. Not a travel book, per se, but it sounds fascinating.

5. Down the Nile — I read the blurb on the back of this book, and thought to myself that Rosemary Mahoney is a woman with cahones, because not many women would even consider doing what she did. She was determined to take a solo trip down the Egyptian Nile in a small boat, even though civil unrest and vexing local traditions conspired to create obstacles every step of the way. Whether she’s confronting deeply held beliefs about non-Muslim women, finding connections to past chroniclers of the Nile, or coming to the dramatic realization that fear can engender unwarranted violence, Rosemary Mahoney’s informed curiosity about the world, her glorious prose, and her wit never fail to captivate.

6. Eat, Pray, Love — Facing an early mid-life crisis at age 30, Elizabeth Gilbert decided to take a year of life to find herself. Traveling to Italy (the art of pleasure), India (the art of devotion) and Indonesia (for a balance between the two), this book is the chronicle of her adventures and insights. An intensely articulate and moving memoir of self-discovery, it’s is about what can happen when you claim responsibility for your own contentment and stop trying to live in imitation of society’s ideals.

7. An Embarrassment of Mangoes — author Ann Vanderhoof and her husband Steve take off for two years on a sailboat and head south from Toronto to the Caribbean. It’s the story of their adventures, of life on a smallish sailboat, and of the people they met on the islands. Wonderful, inspiring and fascinating.

8. The Geography of Bliss — self-proclaimed grump Eric Weiner travels from America to Iceland to India in search of happiness, or, in the crabby author’s case, moments of “un-unhappiness.” The book uses a beguiling mixture of travel, psychology, science and humor to investigate not what happiness is, but where it is.

9. Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa — documentary film maker Karin Muller spends a year in Japan trying to figure out the meaning of wa: a transcendent state of harmony, of flow, of being in the zone. With only her Western perspective to guide her, though, she discovers in sometimes awkward, sometimes awesomely funny interactions just how maddeningly complicated it is being Japanese. She as also written Along the Inca Road, about her journeys in Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, and Chile.

10. No Touch Monkey! — Curator of kitsch and unabashed aficionada of pop culture, Ayun Halliday offers bemused, self-deprecating narration of her itinerant foibles as examples of how not to travel abroad. An admitted bumbling vacationer, Halliday shares, with razorsharp wit and to hilarious effect, the travel stories most are too self-conscious to tell. Besides, who can resist a book with a Steven Colbert blurb on the cover?

11. The Royal Road to Romance — This is the oldest travel book I’ve read. It was written in 1925, but it’s an exciting and amazing tale of Richard Halliburton’s journeys around the world. He literally bummed his way, hitching rides on steamers, stealing trips on trains, biking, walking… things that very few people these days would even think of doing. It’s wonderful to read, with a jaunty style that just captivated me. Halliburton was everything a travel writer should be: rash, daring and a lot of fun to accompany on his adventures.

12. Tales of a Female Nomad – In 1986, at the age of 48 and facing an impending divorce, Rita Goldmen Gelman gave up all her possessions and decided to live in third world countries, experiencing what the natives experience. She no longer has a home, and she only owns what she can carry on her back. It’s a fascinating and inspiring tale of her experiences.

13. Under the Tuscan Sun — A love story by Frances Mayes about a her love for a house, a place, a dream. A truly beautiful book to read: her descriptions of the land, the area of Cortone in Tuscany, the house itself and all the renovations, are fabulous and picturesque. She’s written several other books including A Year in the World.

14. A Year in Provence — Like Under the Tuscan Sun, this month-by-month account chronicles the charms and frustrations that Peter Mayle and his wife — and their two large dogs — experience their first year in the remote country of the Luberon restoring a two-centuries-old stone farmhouse that they bought on sight.

15. Yemen: The Unknown Arabia — Writing with an intimacy and a depth of knowledge gained through thirteen years among the Yemenis, Mackintosh-Smith is a traveling companion of the best sort–erudite, witty, and eccentric. Crossing mountain, desert, ocean, and three millennia of history, he reveals a land that, in the words of a contemporary poet, has become the dictionary of its people.

Do you have any others to add to the list?

Sunday Salon: Post-Vacation Catching Up

We arrived home safe and sound last week, only to be pummeled by snow! On the upside, we were all quite grateful for the first two snow days as it allowed us to get used to our own time zone again. That’s the hardest part of traveling, I think: adjusting to local time.

That said, we had a lovely time in Hawaii; so much so, that I don’t think any of us really wanted to come home!

These were all taken on our last full day there; I have more, but this is a book blog, not a travel blog!

I didn’t check anything while we were on vacation, though I did read (though not as much as I was planning to) and write reviews (they’ve already gone up). The one thing I did miss that’s worth mentioning is that my favorite March competition, The Battle of the (Kids) Books announced their contenders for this year. It’s a good list of books (of which I’ve read half; woot!), but I think I’m going to join Charlotte in her cheer: Go Bartimaeus!

There were other things that I missed, or only caught on the perifery, most notably the Bitch magazine kerfuffle. The two best things I read on that were at Chasing Ray (who basically gives you a play-by-play) and Scott Westerfeld (who explained why it was a kerfuffle in the first place). I acutally found it kind of interesting watching things blow up, even if I was a bit muffled in the first place: they were books for feminist readers, and admittedly I could see how a lot of them would appeal. But I did wonder how they determined what went on the list in the first place….

One last thing: Clare Vanderpool is going to be at our local indie bookstore tomorrow night. I cannot tell you how excited I am; at last I’ll get my copy of Moon Over Manifet signed! (Hopefully, I’ll be brave enough to get pictures too!)

Happy reading!

Musing about Historical Fiction

This morning, in a column I sometimes read in the paper, I read this:

My 10-year-old son chose “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” for his upcoming book report on a work of historical fiction.

I never finished the column because I did a double-take. Tom Sawyer, historical fiction?

Really?

I could see how it could be defined as such, for (as the columnist went on to say her son said), “The people in the story don’t really exist, but the time period does.”

I asked Hubby what he thought, and it turns out that he and I have different definitions of “historical fiction”.

Him: the work has to be a fictionalized retelling of a historical event, involving actual historical figures. So, according to his definition, Moon Over Manifest (to throw out an example) is not historical fiction, but rather fiction set in the past.

Me: the work has to be set in an earlier time period than an author is writing. By this definition, Moon Over Manifest is historical fiction.

By either definition, Tom Sawyer isn’t historical fiction. A classic, yes. Historical fiction, no. But that also got us debating about what defines historical fiction. We weren’t able to come to an agreement, so I’m throwing it out to the masses: what makes a book “historical fiction” for you? Is there a set definition? (Librarians, help!) And do you agree or disagree: is Tom Sawyer historical fiction?

Sunday Salon: Random Thoughts

I feel like, after a week off — I put up a grand total of one review, and finished a grand total of 2 1/2 books last week; yes, I have a review to write. I’ll do it later today — I’m already wondering if I’ve lost readers… I shouldn’t be that insecure.

That said, I actually enjoyed my slow reading week. I’m doing a lot more running around in the car these days, and so I’m thinking about delving into the world of audiobooks. I have enjoyed the ones I’ve listened to in the past.

I’m doing well on the commenting part of my bloggy resolutions, in part due to MotherReader and Lee Wind‘s Comment Challenge. The deal? It started January 6th, but you comment on five blogs through Wednesday January 26th. Easy peasy.

I’m actually wishing for the snow that’s predicted for here today. We’re off to Hawaii in two weeks, and I want something to be running away from!

Speaking of Hawaii, I’ve picked up two Robin McKinley books (Pegasus and Dragonhaven) and Guys Read: Funny Business to take with me as beach/light reads. I’ll happily entertain suggestions for other beach-ish type books.

Does anyone know of any place I can get a good bookish picture for my new header? (Preferably for free/cheap.) I’d take one myself, but I’m feeling uninspired, and M is too busy to do something for me. I really would love to change up the look of the place around here.

In other techy stuff: How does one go about changing the little icon next to the web address in my browser? Some of you have really cute ones, and dang it, if I don’t want one, too.

And the biggish news: ALA Midwinter is going on, and even if you, like me, are not in San Diego, you can tune into the big awards announcement tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m. PST. (Which means I’m skipping K’s playgroup because live tweeting #alayma is so much more important than going to playgroup. It has a fairly even chance of being snowed out anyway…) I can’t wait!

Sunday Salon: Bloggy Goals

Happy New Year, everyone! (Yes, I know it was yesterday, but yesterday was also Cybils day and so New Years gets pushed off a day.)

I wrote a little while ago about pulling back and redefining my reading habits, something which I think is going to spill over into my blogging. So, I thought I’d come up with a few distinct, erm, goals (I hate that word) for my blog as I head into my seventh year of doing this.

1. I’m going to read what I want to read. I’m not going to worry about being on the forefront of anything, about reading what’s hot, or even about getting ARCs from publishers anymore. (That said, I’d still love to go to BEA someday.)

2. I’m going to clear off my TBR shelf. Or at the very least, make a big dent in it. That said, see #1.

3. I’m going to blog when I have something to say. Which means I may not blog every day.

4. I’m still going to do one author interview a month. I do try to pick authors whose books I’ve read and liked, with a special emphasis on first time and YA/MG authors.

5. I’m cutting back on challenges. I’ve got the book swap, of course, and I’m still going to try to diversify my reading with the POC challenge. Other than that, I think I’ll just do the Once Upon a Time and the RIP (which I missed this past year) challenges. Unless, of course, something comes up that I can’t resist.

6. I’m going to spend more time with my family, catching up on things I used to do, and spend less time on the computer (which means Facebook and Twitter, too). I do have a life outside of this chair in the corner with the laptop on my lap. Or, at least, I’d like to have one again.

7. That said, I’m going to comment on others blogs more. I’ve gotten out of that habit, and I want to get back to fostering discussion both on my blog as well as on others’. I will read the posts more carefully, instead of just skimming them for the highlights. (Bad, bad habit.)

I think that’s it. Oh, and redesign this space. It needs a new look. What are your goals for the coming year?

Sunday Salon: Pulling Back and Redefining

I have been feeling quite unsettled the last few weeks. Disconnected. Unhappy with my blog, with blogging, with what I’ve got going here. Part of it is my annual blogging blues; I do get this every year, and find a need to reassess. Part of it is all the crazy reading I’ve been doing for the Cybils. But, either way, I am thinking I need to find a new way to approach my blog.

For the past three years, I’ve read over 100 books. I think that has a lot to do with my dissatisfaction. If I’m spending so much time being obsessive about how many books I read, I can’t spend the time sitting back and enjoying them. So, I’m going to consciously slow down in 2011. My goal is to read half as many books as I did this year, to savor them more, and to spend more time thinking about them and more time writing my reviews, so they’re actually interesting instead of dashed off quickly.

I’m still going to do a few of the challenges I like: the Once Upon a Time challenge, maybe the RIP challenge, the 48 hour challenge, and the book swap I’ve set up. But, that’s it. I’m going to keep trying to push my reading boundaries, finding books by and about people of color and GLBTQ, but I’m also going sit in my comfort zone and enjoy those books. I’ve decided that there’s enough people out there reading the new and hip books that I’m not needed for that, so I’m going to stop (or at least severely cut back) taking books from publishers. I’m going to clear off my bookshelves, finally getting to all those books that have been piling up for the last several years.

I’m going to visit blogs more often, actually read posts instead of skimming them (a very bad habit I’ve gotten in to) and comment more. I’m going to try and enjoy the conversation, and work harder at building relationships.

In short, I’m going to try and find what I liked about blogging six years ago when I started. Here’s to pulling back!

Sunday Salon: Finding an old Favorite

First, a little background:

For the last couple of months, I have been working one afternoon a week as a volunteer at the library. I have learned several things about libraries and myself, like while I can alphabetize quite nicely, the whole number thing with the Dewey decimal system kind of throws me. Why do we need a 100.1 and a 100.11 and a 100.01? So, while I shelve non-fiction once in a while, mostly I stick to fiction and mystery and science fiction/fantasy and romance (oh, I love reading the jacket flaps on those) because it’s just ABC order and I can do that.

As I’ve mentioned before, I read a lot of (what I think of now as) crap when I was in high school. With M in high school, and making some of the same free-time reading choices, I think I can sense what drove it in me: a need for brain fluff, a need for release. For the longest time, though, while I could remember much of what I read, one series of books that I loved eluded me. I remembered that there were state names as the titles, that it was vaguely a historical romance, and that I read as many as I could. For years I looked off and on, just to satiate my curiosity with no luck.

Then, to my amazement, as I was shelving this past Thursday, I found them!

It’s the Wagons West series by Dana Fuller Ross. I was so happy, I did a little dance. Seriously. Now, I need to decide if I want to go back and read them all, just so I can see if they are as wonderful/corny as I remember them being.

Maybe I’ll make it a project for next year.

Sunday Salon: Awesomeness in Kansas City

Friday, I took M and C to the So You Think You Can Dance tour up in Kansas City. Now, before you leave thinking, “But this is a book blog, why is she talking about a dance thing she took her kids to?” I do have something bookishly awesome to share. (By the way, it was a long way to drive, but we had a grand time.)

So, we got up to downtown Kansas City in good time, and not wanting to eat at the bars across from the Sprint Center (and yet, ironically, after an hour of wandering around that’s where we ended up!), we started wandering the streets. We were nominally looking for restaurants, but I was also kind of enjoying looking at the architecture. At any rate, we kept turning down side streets, looking for something open — interestingly enough, in a business district, there’s not much open for dinner — when we turned a corner and saw this:

I don’t know if you can tell (not the world’s best photograph), but that’s — from what we can figure — a parking garage with murals of books on the side. The steps are books, too. We were in awe. The books ranged with their titles, too: there’s poetry by Langston Hughes, The Tao de Ching, Romeo and Juliet, The Tale of Two Cities and, just when I was beginning to despair of any kids books:

There’s Charlotte (if you can see her behind the trees).

The murals were fascinating to look at too; you can imagine that if you were a giant, this would be one awesome bookshelf. The only thing I regret is not finding out what the parking garage was for. (A library, perhaps?)

Oh, and happy Banned Books Week! Go celebrate by reading something banned.