Month: June 2014

Why Do You Read?

Yes, yes, we’re all here because we love books, but what are you really getting out of it? Choosing a book is like choosing a new piece of your soul to explore, some uncharted territory within yourself you have yet to discover. I tried to analyze why I read, especially when it’s been pointed out that I’m always gushing about some fantasy or sci-fi novel or another.

When I was little, I prayed for magic. Magic of any sort. Most kids crossed their fingers for the next Pokemon game, or to go to sleep-away camp, or for a pony. I really, really just wanted some sort of magic in the world. In the little children’s reading room at the library, there was a wooden panel in the floor that I became convinced was a trapdoor into another realm, just like the fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. My head was forever halfway in the clouds as I doodled entire worlds across my homework (my teachers weren’t as enchanted).

And who knows? Maybe my magical path still awaits. Even though I never got my Hogwarts letter, chased a white rabbit down a hole, or discovered another world in my wardrobe, there’s still hope. Til then, I bide my time exploring endless universes in books where the only limit is one’s imagination. Since I haven’t quite figured out the schematics of my time travel device or my alternate-universe hopper, reading opens the door into other worlds.

As George RR Martin wrote, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… The man who never reads lives only one.”

You see, I have this theory that humans are meant to be storytellers. I can envision early man in a cave, or perched up in the trees (as is more historically accurate), telling stories in the firelight. Under the stars, they talk about dangers, about finding food, about their own lives. Their fears, their hopes, their ideas. Until the story that finally prompted them to leave the trees and the caves behind, and go out into the vast new world.

And as we pushed onward through time, we took the storytelling with us. Finding words to share our struggles and triumphs. From the oldest of tales, there have been stories that defined society, that explored relationships. Stories that marveled at the wonders of nature. Stories that grasped at providing some sort of explanation for the unexplainable.

Millennia later, we continue weaving tales. It defines the human existence, our innate need to communicate, to be heard and to hear. We may turn to dust, but our stories are carried on, paying no attention to frivolities like time or death.

All creatives want to tell a story in one way or another. Artists, sculptors, photographers. Bloggers, journalists, playwrights. Musicians, actors, directors. Stand-up comedians, event planners, and magicians. And of course, writers.

Maybe we each read the books that we do because we want to find our own story in them. So perhaps in my story, I am a manic-pixie dream girl who saves the world with the help of some newfound magical powers, and a ragtag gang of plucky misfits.

Then again, maybe I’m taking a needlessly romantic and dreamy notion about it. Maybe the majority of people just read because it beats twiddling your thumbs or getting around to cleaning your room. But I like my theory and I’m hanging onto it until proven otherwise!

So share with us! Reading brings me magic, but what’s your story? What are you reading for?

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.

Let’s Visit The Strand: NYC

Located on the corner of 12th Street and Broadway in New York City, Strand Book Store is a must-visit for any bibliophile. While I made my first trip to the Strand a few years ago, I can report today that I still get a fluttery, excited feeling in my stomach whenever I enter the establishment. New York City’s “legendary home of 18 miles of new, used, and rare books” is quite the sight to behold.

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I find it incredibly easy to get lost in the stacks – with zero desire to ever find my way out of them! There are four levels of this book lover’s paradise: enter on the ground floor and check out fiction, non-fiction, history, plays, poetry… plus lots of specialized tables full of employee suggestions and cool collections. The basement is home to clearance books and products, as well as self-help books and other practical reads. When you head up to the second floor you’ll find a beautiful collection of art books, as well as young adult and children’s books. Walking through the children’s section was like taking a stroll down memory lane!

strand1On the third floor, which you can reach by elevator, there’s the Rare Book Room. It is as cool as it sounds. I visited the third floor for the first time last week. I attended a special Bloomsday event – a discussion with Maya Lang, author of the new book The Sixteenth of June. If you have the chance to attend a reading at the Strand, I highly encourage you to do so! The rare book room is incredibly cool, with towering shelves full of books new and old. The store did a wonderful job of making the event special; there was lots of seating and my roommate and I, who hadn’t eaten dinner, were happy to see some refreshments available as well. You can attend a reading by either purchasing a copy of the book (you can pre-order if you want to guarantee a spot, or you can purchase it the day of the event), or you can also buy a gift card to the store.

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I visited again a few days ago with my friend, Christine. It was her first time seeing the store, and I got to experience that excitement again! We spent a long time strolling through the fiction and children’s sections. I convinced her to buy a discounted copy of one of my favorite short story collections – Amy Bloom’s A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You. I treated myself to a copy of Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam. I’m particularly happy with my purchase because it’s a book I haven’t read before. Normally I find myself gravitating towards copies of books I’ve already read and loved. Sometimes when I borrow a book from the library, the desire to own a copy and reread is so strong that I have to give in. Does anyone else have this problem?

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So BiblioSmiles buddies: have you visited this mecca of the printed word? What books have you discovered there? For those of you who’ve never been – do you plan to go?  What bookstores have a special place in your heart?

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Review: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

inventionwingsWhen I was little, I loved the American Girl series, which followed girls who lived in different significant periods of American history. (Of course, there were also the expensive doll merchandise tied into all the books which my parents were no way going to buy for me when I had a zillion barbies already warring with my brother’s GI Joe action figures). It’s rare for me to find a American historical fiction novel that I love as much as I did those books.

Enter The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.

The Invention of Wings follows two girls growing up on opposing sides of the mirror in slave-owning Charleston. There’s Sarah Grimke, the soft-spoken daughter of a prominent Charleston judge and plantation owner. And then there’s one of the family’s slaves, Hetty “Handful” Grimke.

On her eleventh birthday, Sarah is presented with Handful to be her own ladies’ slave. Under the eyes of southern ladies and amid ribbons and pastries, Handful and Sarah are reluctantly bound to each other. The book follows the next thirty-five years of their lives.

The author’s attention to each detail wonderfully transports us through time and space to life in the 1800s. We are able to follow all of Sarah, Handful, and the other Grimkes’ fascinating lives as they struggle to find their place and their peace within an unequal society. We can feel the sticky heat of the Charleston summers. We watch with Handful at the windows as she gazes out over the constant churning sea dreaming of freedom. We can hear the bustle of the hoop skirts in the street and thump of books as Sarah and Handful study reading in secret.

We see both of these women’s lives as they are tasked with very different paths that take them through growing up, finding romance, and finding their way through society’s expectations and what’s in their hearts. Sarah struggles first against her family, then society, and even herself as her words abandon her. Handful is fiery and struggles against the limits placed on her for the color of her skin and circumstance of her birth.

There is a strong background of second characters. Second characters who believe the story is about themselves, instead of Sara and Handful. There’s Handful’s ‘mauma’, Charlotte, a skilled seamstress who finds her freedom in small acts of rebellion. Thomas, Sarah’s brother who indulges her reading with all the sincerity of teaching a parrot tricks.

My only critique was that the book ended! I was surprised to learn that Sarah Grimke was a real person, and that she and her sister Angelina were pivotal speakers for the abolition movement and women’s suffrage, before suffrage was even on the radar. For a time, they were two of the most hated women in America for their speeches to both men and women. Susan Monk Kidd pieced together dialogue for her revived depictions from letters and accounts. The author expanded the life of Hetty, a slave the real Sarah Grimke was punished for secretly teaching how to read.

A big motif of the book is that Handful’s mother and grandmother, and Handful herself, all sew together quilts to narrate the story of their lives. And Sue Monk Kidd does the same with this novel, creating pictures out of her words for every stage of the Grimke women’s lives.

The book stays with you. It is quietly horrifying and tragic without being grotesque, as we watch what happens to the small fish who dare to swim against the current. It is a masterful view back into a time where the choice rested between doing what is easy and what is right.

After this, I really look forward to reading Sue Monk Kidd’s other famous works – The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.

Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

eleanorandparkThe book Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is beautiful and intricate in the way that the lives of teenagers are beautiful and intricate. Their lives, while so separate and different, crash and bang the way two fireworks would, emitting sparks and fire, but also beauty and magic.

I loved this book because it wasn’t clichéd in the way some romance books are, in which authors make out like love will save all in the end. I am a teenager, and it is in my nature to be angry and angsty and refuse to believe this. Eleanor & Park isn’t a perfect story; it’s a story about real things that happen to real people: being a new student, hating your stepfather, dealing with bullies at school. This book shows both Eleanor’s and Park’s flaws, and it displays their true natures in a very honest and open way. Eleanor, loves her mum and siblings but feels selfish enough that she would leave them. Park, has arguments with his parents and rebels against them only in the way teenagers can.

Character and plot development is something that plays a huge role in the success of any book. In Eleanor & Park, the characters’ lives do not begin at the first page, and do not end at the last page. The story Rainbow Rowell has written is a spotlight on one tiny part of the main characters’ lives, albeit a majorly significant part, and the book leaves you wanting to know more. Just like you would yearn to know the history of a mysterious stranger, the character development of the main characters, especially Eleanor, will leave you wanting to know more about her story. It will open up a world of mix tapes, comic books, makeovers in backyards, and boys wearing mascara. It will give you the experience of being the “fat girl,” of trying to prove your love, of the struggle of two insignificant teenagers living the lives we all live.

In the end, Eleanor & Park is a love story, but it’s also a story about finding yourself. I think its incredibly important to everyone, especially teenagers, because we’re all finding ourselves, and its important to know that we’re not alone. Even if Eleanor and Park are just names in a book, Rainbow Rowell has done such a magnificent job of making us care. While we know they are fictional, we also know they are incredibly real. In my mind, they live: just like Harry Potter lives, and just like Hazel and Augustus live, and I think the sign of a good book is when the characters live on long after the last page.

Kelly Phan is a 16-year-old fan of words. She appreciates anything and anyone that celebrates words and the beauty of the world, and frequently nerds out over the smell of old books and freshly cut grass. Stroll through her thoughts on her Tumblr here, and check her out on Instagram: frommyeyestoyours.

Interview with the Reader: Quoted-Books

On BiblioSmiles, we want to celebrate all things literary, and that includes fellow lovers of the written word! Join us to steal glimpses into the minds of prolific readers of the online community! Lauren of Quoted-Books  has one of the biggest book blogs on Tumblr. With over tens of thousands of followers, every day she posts quotes and gives thoughtful recommendations to fellow bibliophiles. Her bubbly friendliness and zeal for all that is literary are sure to thank for her incredible popularity. We were lucky to get an interview with her!

lauren quoted books

G: What inspired you to start your Tumblr, Quoted-Books?

Lauren: I have always had a bit of an obsession with collecting quotes. I have notebooks full of them from over the years and have made numerous bulletin boards showcasing some of my favorites. I wanted somewhere I could save quotes that could clear up my room a bit but was still easily accessible. I already had my Tumblr blog “Adventures of Lit Girl” that I used sparingly to reblog fun things, so I decided I would try out the function of a side blog and start posting them on there. I had no idea people would be actually interested in what I posted. It still surprises me.

G: Everyone I talk to absolutely loves it, and knows of it! When did you notice your Tumblr was becoming so popular?

Lauren: This is still so crazy for me to think about as it happened so fast! Around three months after I created the side blog, I started gaining 50 or so followers a day. This was insane to me! I just could not believe that many people were enjoying the quotes I posted. It made me incredibly excited, and still does, to know that other people like books and quotes as much as I do. Around that same time, I got my first submission for book recommendations and that’s when it was really clear to me. The fact that people seemed to respect my opinion enough to ask me for new books to read was such a wonderful surprise. It was after this that I started gaining more and more followers every day. I can still remember hitting the first 10,000 followers and being shocked! I appreciate every single person that follows me. It never fails to excite me to see messages in my box every day.

G: How many quotes/recs do you publish a day? Do you queue them up?

Lauren: I started out just posting nine quotes a day. I queued them the night before so I didn’t bombard people with all the quotes at once.  I really like how the queue feature lets you spread them out throughout the day. Currently, I do 25 posts each day. I do a mix of book recommendations and quotes: usually two recommendations for every three quotes.

G: Your recommendations are always spot-on. If you could pick one book for everyone in the world to read, what would it be?

Lauren: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I make fun of myself on my blog all the time for how often I recommend this book to people. Some of my followers have even started clarifying in their questions that they have already read it. That always makes me laugh! It’s true, though, I do love this book. For me, it is definitely a book everyone in the world should read. It’s beautiful, different, and has a powerful message. It has to be the best book I have read in a while.

G: Enough about the blog for a bit! Let’s talk about you as a reader – do you have a special reading spot?

Lauren: At the moment, it would be my car! I recently moved to a new city, and I haven’t had time to find any great new spots yet. I somehow always end up 20 minutes early for work, though, and I tend to read in my car before I go in. I’m looking forward to being able to explore and find new areas, though, as this city is full of great ones!

G: Are you in school? Working? How do you fit your literary love into your life?

Lauren: I graduated last year from the University of Georgia with a Bachelor’s degree in English. I currently work at a small liberal arts honors college in their library. While I haven’t completely decided on the graduate degree path I am taking, I am happy where I’m at! I read every chance I get around working and do most of the tumbling at night when I get off work. I’ve always been able to fit reading into my life in some way or another; it’s what I do to relax!

G: Is there any book that helped you through a tough time?

Lauren: I would have to say the book that helped the most was Harry Potter. It sounds like a clichéd answer nowadays given it was an important part of my generation, but it really is completely true. The book series and subsequent movie franchise was my “happy place” when I was younger. Whenever I was stressed or sad or any place in between, I could always come back and pick up anywhere. I’ve re-read all of them more times than I could count, and it never stops helping me relax!

G: I think that was a life changer for so many of us. Okay, books you’re currently reading?

Lauren: Due to having to read so many books at one time during school, I am always reading at least three books at once. Right now, I am reading: Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, and Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett.

G: If you could meet any three authors, living or dead?

Lauren: I would love to meet J.K. Rowling. Her series really did shape my childhood, and it would be incredible to be able to tell her that. I would also love to meet F. Scott Fitzgerald. Everything about him (and the twenties) fascinates me. I pretty much love every single thing he has ever said or written, especially in his letters, and I have saved so many quotes from all his writings. Lastly, I would love to meet Stephen King. He is a fascinating author to me, and this one actually has a pretty nice chance of happening. He has a house in the city where I live now, and I plan on stalking his signings!

G: What’s next for Quoted-Books? You started a website, The Adventures of Lit Girl, any plans for that?

Lauren: Once Quoted-Books took off, I created the website to help me organize all of the book recommendations I’ve made, and to also post neat things I found or wanted to share. I have tried to be really clear when I send people to that site that it’s purely for fun for me and to make it easier for my followers to find great books. For the future, I plan on adding more pages for recommendations and various themes that come up as I recommend books to my followers. I have also been planning more interactive posts to do with quoted-books (I started a “What are We Reading” post last month),and I really  do want to grow in that respect. One of my favorite things out of this entire experience has been to be able to converse with people all over the world with one of my favorite things in the world: books. I hope that this only continues to grow for me in the future, and I am definitely excited and grateful of where I am at right now!

Thank you so much Lauren! If you have a tumblr, follow hers here, and be sure to check out her website. 

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.

Goodreads: Social Media for Bookworms

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Launched in January of 2007, Goodreads is the largest site in the world for readers looking to track the books they’ve read and to seek out book recommendations.

I like to think of it like a cooler kind of Facebook, with less status updates about politics or photos of babies, and more of the stuff that REALLY matters (AKA: books).

With over 25 million members, the user population of Goodreads is growing each day – and there are always new features to be excited about! For example, a new feature called Goodreads Q&A allows users to ask authors and fellow readers questions. You can read more about that here.

When you make a profile on Goodreads, you can fill out as much or as little information as you want. I’m all for more information in this case, because one of the cool things about Goodreads is that you can receive book recommendations based on your interests (think genres, topics, favorite authors). Who doesn’t want recommendations tailored just for you?  You can write reviews for the books you’ve read, and you can check out reviews by others. Like other social media sites, you can add friends on Goodreads and track their progress as they read. It’s a fun way to keep up with old friends or to make new ones!

Why I Love It:

My favorite feature on Goodreads is the book tracking. You can separate books you’ve read into categories. I like to categorize by the year I’ve read, effectively giving me a list of the books I’ve read each year. Ever since the summer after sixth grade, I’ve kept a running list of the books I’ve read. It began in pencil, in a spiral notebook, but has since been transferred to my word processor. Since I’m totally obsessive about it, I’ve also transferred those books over to my Goodreads. So, if you’re interested in knowing all of the books I’ve read since June of 2003 (and come on – who WOULDN’T be interested in that?), then head on over to my Goodreads profile.

There are tons of other features that make Goodreads the best place on the internet for bookworms.

(Note: The best place on the internet for bookworms aside from BiblioSmiles.)

Some of my personal favorite features are the forums, where you can connect with readers, authors, or bloggers, and the quote archive. If you’re like me and you’re a sucker for a good quote (fellow contributors Gabriele and Alyson even more so than me!), you’ll love browsing the list. You can search by author, keyword, or book, and you can even save your favorites! They also welcome users to submit quotes from their favorite stories or authors. The list grows larger by the day.

There’s also a giveaway feature, where publishers and authors give away copies of their books! I’ve been lucky enough to win a few. Who doesn’t love a free book? This is also a great way for authors to get their book out there and into the hands of readers.

My Author Profile:

One of the coolest days of my Goodreads life so far? When I got a little “Goodreads Author” stamp on my profile! Back in March of 2013, I had a short piece included in HerStory: Fiction Honoring Women’s History Month, which is a publication by Pagan Writers Press (a seriously cool bunch of writers – check them out on Facebook here). Later on, with the ebook publication of my story, Stealing Polina, I loved the fact that I was able to spread the word about my story through Goodreads. Being able to read reviews of my story is always a welcome thing; as a graduate of a creative writing program I miss the opportunity to workshop and receive critiques on my work. Goodreads users have let me know what’s worked for them – and what hasn’t – and that is something I will utilize moving forward!

The Goodreads author program is a great way for authors to connect with their readers. Authors can link to their work, write blog posts, and promote their books using all of the promotional tools Goodreads has to offer. Remember the Q&A I mentioned before? That’s just one of the cool things an author can take part in! You can read more about the Author Program here.

The Conclusion of Our Story:

Whether you’re a strict print book reader, a devout ebook reader, or a mix of both, Goodreads welcomes you with open arms. I love Goodreads because it’s growing every day, and it seems to have the BiblioSmiles motto in mind: Reading may be a solitary experience, but the joy we receive from it should be shared!

Now what are you waiting for? Add me as a friend!

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

You Just Experienced The Fault In Our Stars. Now What?

tfiosmovieThe literary world—and, let’s face it, the whole world—is buzzing about The Fault In Our Stars. Just today, one of my friends texted me, “Borderline crying in public while reading this book,” citing mixed emotions: “sad, happy, hopeful, hopeless.” And obviously my friend is not alone. Between the book and now the movie, this is truly proving to be one sick love story. I myself just watched the movie version and it felt just as poignant and real as the novel. This story has brought people together and reignited people’s love of great storytelling. But now what? Although the emotional rollercoaster that is The Fault In Our Stars will be hard to match, here are some book-to-movie combinations that you can check out this summer to keep the sad-happy-hopeful-hopeless feelings going.

one dayOne Day by David Nicholls
In this unique novel, Nicholls chronicles the evolving relationship of Emma and Dexter by detailing their lives on July 15th for twenty-three consecutive years. Emma and Dex met while at university and their relationship ebbs and flows, often leaving the reader alternatively wondering why they’re even still friends and why they’re not married to each other. Like any good story, this one leads the reader through unexpected plot twists and turns; if the big surprise moment in The Fault In Our Stars got you to your emotional limit, the big surprise moment in One Day might just find you in a similar spot on the spectrum. Although I myself haven’t watched it, I’ve heard good things about the movie version of this novel, put out by director Lone Scherfig in 2011, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess.

notebookThe Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
If there was some sort of Miss America pageant for raw, truthful, sad, beautiful love stories, it is The Notebook that would be taking off the crown and passing it on to The Fault In Our Stars. If you loved Hazel and Gus, you have to put this one on your summer reading list if you haven’t read it yet. The Notebook tells the epic love story of Noah and Allie, who meet as teenagers but come from different worlds. Their love is unapproved of and is constantly tested, but the setbacks that have to be overcome are what make the story worthwhile. The 2004 movie directed by Nick Cassavetes starring Ryan Gosling (swoon) and Rachel McAdams is a great watch and probably more popular than the novel itself. Many people I know tell me that they don’t have to read the book because the movie is just as good, but we all know the book is always better. Just kidding, but really, the book is slightly different than the movie—and just as quotable!—so definitely check out both.

timetravelerswifeThe Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
In this novel, Niffenegger tells the unlikely love story of Henry and Clare, which unfolds over many years. What makes their love unique is that Henry has a genetic mutation that causes him to time travel unpredictably and uncontrollably. Therefore, Henry and Clare’s relationship unfolds in many different parallel time frames. While time travel might be a notion that you would reserve for the science fiction genre, Niffenegger does an expert job of keeping the emotional journey of both Henry and Clare very relatable and real. The time travel aspect of the novel becomes a metaphor for all of the common problems a relationship might face, such as distance, timing, and miscommunication. The novel was made into a movie in 2009 by director Robert Schwentke starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams.

Have you read any of these books? Have you seen the movies? Do you have any other recommendations to help keep the sad-happy-hopeful-hopeless feelings going strong?

Izzy Skovira loves writing, dogs, food, and photography. Read more about her at izzyskovira.tumblr.com or connect @htothe_izzzo.