Monday, June 29, 2009

Some Days

There are some days, Mondays in particular, when halfway down the hill from my house and headed toward the train I find myself in a state of real befuddlement. If I stop and think about it I understand perfectly well what's going on, but otherwise my forebrain, chugging along, remains perplexed: What the hell am I doing here? Why on earth am I leaving my lovely, sunny, comfortable house and the company of my sweet animals to go to work? Wasn't I just there a few days ago?

It's not like this is an unusual situation. I go to work pretty much every weekday of my life, barring a couple weeks of vacation scratched out of the year, and it's not as though I don't like my job. For the most part I do satisfying, interesting work and these days it's rarely unpleasant or boring, and my office is in a stunning library building on a beautiful college campus. My commute is reasonable. Corporate culture does not encourage staying past 5:00. I definitely count myself among the lucky.

But that doesn't always cut it. There are some days when a regular paycheck, health benefits, and the promise of intellectual engagement just aren't enough. When twice the paycheck wouldn't be enough. I'm a nester, and I've feathered myself a seriously nice one -- kind of bowerbird-like, full of shiny crap and odds and ends, but that's how I like it. Some mornings I feel like I'm prying myself out of there with a psychic crowbar.

There have been times in my history when my home life was so lousy it was a relief to get to the office, and I dragged my feet when it was time to leave. I've worked hard to change that, and successfully. But the backlash is that now, if I didn't have to leave my home in order to keep it, I probably wouldn't, ever. Or at least not often. It's the nicest place I know.

If working from home was ever an option I don't doubt I'd eventually end up with cabin fever, but I sure wouldn't mind finding out for myself.
Speaking of working from home, I'm going to be doing a bunch of that in addition to my day job, because thanks to all your love and support I've been voted one of Bookninja's guest bloggers for the first two weeks of July. The whole process reminded me a bit of running for Class President in fourth grade -- not so much the nature of the competition as that it was the only other time I've ever been up for any kind of mass election. And I remember my mom, when I came home glumly announcing that I had withdrawn from the race because nobody really liked me, saying in the way that all card-carrying moms do, "But honey, it's not a popularity contest." And I remember staring at her with incredulity that she could even think of pawning off such bullshit on me, because of COURSE it was a popularity contest. What else could it possibly be? Even though I was nine and still kind of wide-eyed about the world, I remember her credibility suffered for that one.

So this is my revenge on fourth grade. Everyone set your RSS feeds to Bookninja -- the guest blogging commences on July 2, but you should all be reading it now. Thanks for the love, guys.

[And upon careful cross-platform reading, I see one of my fellow guest bloggers, Sarah, has also invoked student council elections. I'm guessing there's a definite pathology at work amongst us all...]

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Don't Cry for Me, Mappa Mundi

Oh goodness, it’s been a while. It really wasn’t my intention to extend my respectful moment of silence for Readerville quite this long, but there have been distractions. Among other things, I’ve been ahhhhh… hiking the Appalachian Trail of the blog world, ifyouknowwhatImean. It’s OK, Mappa Mundi knows about it. We’re cool.

And I actually do have a few things to say, but the middle of the workday isn’t an optimal time for anything involving deep thoughts, literary or otherwise (other than, “No, no, I really think you need a comma here. No, really. Seriously, look…”). However: I realize I’ve been pretty negligent in certain avenues of self-promotion, and need to ask all my faithful readers, if they haven’t already, to vote for me for Bookninja guest blogger. I was doing a good job of playing it cool and detached all week, but with this recent post George has done a good job of whipping me into a competitive frenzy (OK, not that hard to do). So vote for me! Today, if you don’t mind. Thank you, thank you, I love you.
And I'll be back later with some real stuff.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Still Looking Up

I loved Readerville. Unapologetically, no irony, no reserve of cool to draw on. When I first joined almost exactly six years ago I had friends who read copiously and passed books around, I was adventurous about picking things I'd never heard of off the library shelves, and I had piles of those beautiful little Common Reader catalogs dogeared and marked up with Sharpies. But finding a place where a bunch of smart, snarky people wanted to talk books and pretty much just roll around in them, that was like coming home.

I met a lot of excellent people there, many of them face to face -- really good friends who will be friends for life. I met the man I love and live with on Readerville. And while I suppose it's remotely possible our paths might have crossed otherwise, the chances of a girl from the Bronx and a boy from Texas meeting up randomly, no matter how much they both love reading and old movies and cooking with cast iron, would have been awfully slim otherwise. When I first started posting there I was working a deadly boring office manager job, and as I realized how comfortable I was immersed in a bookish world it also occurred to me that I could possibly scrape a living out of it (this being in the days when you could). And when I got laid off five years ago I decided it was now or never and took the plunge, found a cool job at entry-level wages, nearly starved, but never looked back. And when Karen offered me the gig blogging for Readerville, I thought about it for five minutes and then jumped in. As much work as it turned out to be, dutifully plowing through RSS feeds every night after dinner and through many a lunch hour, I loved it -- loved figuring out what the hell I was doing, working on the craft of it, and finding myself in the middle of a whole litblogging community I hadn't known about. A year ago I would have laughed my head off at the phrase "litblogging community." Now I'm trying to figure out what I need to do to keep the momentum going, because I like doing this.

I'm sure most people read my last blog post on Readerville Friday and rolled their eyes, thinking I was being awfully drama queeny. But I knew that Readerville was closing up shop and I meant it as a bit of an elegy, and also as a reminder -- to myself as much as anyone -- that there's always a next thing, so long as you keep looking up.

I'm posting it again here. Sorry if you've read it - indulge me, OK? It's the best goodbye I could muster to a place that meant a lot to me. Thanks, Karen, and everyone else there who made it feel like my favorite local watering hole -- overindulgence, bar fights, fixed pool games, generous pours, kisses, and all.
Anyone who's spent time in Readerville's Judging A Book thread knows that for the past few years one of the most common book cover tropes has been shoes -- big and little shoes, shoes next to feet, you name it. Shoes have become a standard Readerville snowclone, especially when talking about book design -- for a while there orange was the new shoes, and antique labels, and hand-drawn type.

Dan Chaon's You Remind Me of Me, back in 2005, was an early adapter. The first galley I got my hands on at this year's BEA was also his -- Await Your Reply, out in September from Ballantine. Looking at that expanse of clouds on the cover got me thinking, and then comparing galleys with fellow Book Expo visitors. So it's settled: This year, sky is the new shoes.

In the next six months alone we have Iain Banks' Transition, Kate Braestrup's Marriage, and Other Acts of Charity, Joshua Ferris' The Unnamed, Amanda C. Gable's The Confederate General Rides North, Lauren Grodstein's A Friend of the Family, Ha Jin's A Good Fall, Naseem Rakha's The Crying Tree, and Richard Russo's That Old Cape Magic. All of them feature low horizons or no horizons, with skies blue or gray, cloudy or clear. Some have birds, some have folks.

But the message maintains: Look up, not down! Publishing, the country, the entire world is unsure and in flux; things are changing, and not always as we wish they would. There is the temptation to stop in our tracks and look stubbornly down to see if in fact the earth isn't shifting under our feet. But we as readers know that books are microcosms of the world, whether in sympathy or as fantasy or fact, and their covers have advice to offer us all, right there out in front. Enough with the shoe-gazing, enough self-absorption. It's time to move past the personal to the universal, to expand our horizons outward, to see what these times want from us. Nearly 100 years ago E.M. Forster advised us to Only Connect, and it's time, again, to remember.

The world is changing. Look up, up and out.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

This Tall

So everyone has been saying to me in pointed fashion, "You're still going to blog, right?" And to one and all I reply, No. Never again. I'm through with this blogging thing forever.

Kidding. However, there is this issue now. For the entire month of May it was understood, sometimes implicitly and sometimes very explicitly, that I was blogging to meet my daily requirement, and if I didn't have anything in particular to say I was damn well going to say it anyway. But now if I put something up, it's because I have a point to make. It's like having a dinner party as opposed to cooking something on a Tuesday night after work so we don't go to bed hungry. Doing the blogathon absolved me of all fear of self-importance. It was like the opposite of irony. (Wait... what? Well, I knew what I meant when I typed it a second ago.)

So just to throw off that yoke of heaviness, I'd like to share something with you, my readers:
I bank at HSBC, and every HSBC branch in the city has this tape mounted to the side of every exit door, with heights from 4'-6" to 6'-6" calibrated on it. Presumably there is a security camera aimed straight at it so as to record any criminals on their way out. And for years and years now, without fail -- probably on the average of twice a month -- I have never walked out of an HSBC bank without saying to myself, "You must be THIS TALL to rob the bank." And, silently, laughing my fool head off for a moment.

So now you know just how deeply dorky I am. I hope you people are satisfied.