The Reading Corner is a place where books of all genres are examined and reviewed. Comments, questions and disagreement are welcomed. Grab some coffee and a comfy chair and make yourself at home.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Lorem Ipsum Books or, Why Indie Bookstores Aren't Always as Great as You Think

Wait, what?
Image: the internet.

I love indie bookstores. Locally owned stores, like my dad's store Galaxy CDs, are awesome. The best bookstore in Ohio is located in my hometown (I'm not just saying that because I like the place, either -Ohio Magazine declared it to be so, and obviously, OM knows all).

That being said, being an indie store does not excuse poor customer service or a badly run store.

A friend of mine on Twitter -someone who introduces me to lots of lovely contests and people -recommended the store in question today: Lorem Ipsum Books. They're located in Cambridge and trying to move. The rent on their place is too high, etc. I can sympathize with that, since I worked in a great locally owned bookstore that closed because it was horribly mismanaged, the rent was too high and no one ever bought any books (with myself and my family as the possible exceptions to that rule).

The difference between Gallant's Books & More (where I worked) and Lorem Ipsum Books (aside from the latter having a website) is that when a customer couldn't find something or we didn't have it in, we'd make sure that they got it.

Lorem Ipsum, as I said, was trying to move. They had a sale wherein you could buy $10 coupons and redeem them for any books up to $20. That, my friends, is what I call a good deal. I bit, and bought one of the coupons.

Here's my beef with Lorem Ipsum. Their website is awful. It's relatively easy to navigate, but it's plain, unattractive and does not aid the reader in finding books.

When I first got on to find a book to use my newly purchased coupon on, I tried using the search feature. It's bad. Even with specific information, not once did it turn up the book I had wanted. Even when I entered an author's name, it used a keyword search and pulled up books by authors whose names were similar to the one I had searched for. To find a book, I eventually had to go through each category (pages and pages and pages in each one), scanning each title as I went by.

I could write an entire post about what an awful that experience that was and how it relates to selling books, but suffice it to say that I found a book I wanted. It was about Frank Lloyd Wright. If you hang out with me more than once, odds are, he'll come up. I like him a lot. The book was about $15. Huzzah!

I placed the order, and put the whole thing in the back of my mind -but each time I received a package in the mail, I hoped against hope that the book would be there.

Then, I got an email. A nice email, don't get me wrong, but not an email I wanted. It was telling me that the book I had ordered could not be located, and they were sorry, would I like to choose two books for my trouble?

Sorrowfully, angrily, I began picking my way through the categories again before I found two somethings I wanted. It took me an hour and a half to find two books. Two books I wasn't totally pleased with, but could accept nonetheless. As the days passed, I became more excited about receiving these books.

I love Dr. Who, so the Dr. Who Technical Manual was satisfying to my geeky side. I've loved the movie Coraline for ages, and as an avid Gaiman fan, I was really (if I may say it: reallyreallyreally) excited about that particular book. A technical manual is good mostly for geeking out over, conversing about and putting aside. But a Gaiman book is one I'll get out over and over again and just absolutely fall in love with every time.

Well, the mail came today.
The Dr. Who Technical Manual was in it. And yeah, sure, it's almost as cool as I thought it would be. Shorter than I expected, but still cool.
And Coraline? The book I had pinned all of my already-disappointed-hopes on?
Yeah. It wasn't there.

What I got instead is a massive, slightly musty smelling copy of the screenplay for Beowulf. Apparently Gaiman helped write it. His picture is on the book.

That's all well and good and whatnot, but it's not what I ordered. I'm not going to read a screenplay...that's why they make the movie. This book holds zero interest for me (plus, it smells bad).

Here's the point for today, kids. Indie bookstores rock, but they're not going to stay in business if this is the way they operate. I shop at the Stately Raven here in town frequently -I like supporting local businesses, and the people in the SR are always really nice. The selection isn't superb, but it's a nice enough store. I don't mind spending my money there.

What I mind, and mind very much, is spending money that I really shouldn't have spent on a bookstore in which I have no real personal investment and then getting screwed. Twice.

That's not cool. That's a problem. That's a problem for me (since now I'll probably go buy a copy of Coraline to soothe my irritation), and it's a problem for Lorem Ipsum Books -if they're this sloppy with all of their customers...well, no wonder they couldn't pay their rent.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

'American Gods'

I read a lot of blogs. In fact, I think I spend too much time reading other blogs and neglect my own. Sorry. In other news, new colors! Get excited.

Before I get to the promised review, there was something I wanted to discuss: why we read.
Recently, a teacher in Kansas had to rewrite her curriculum because a bunch of (stupid) parents complained. I think this is ridiculous, but it led me down a different sort of thought process.

The books the teacher had initially chosen were defended because they were books that not only get teens interested in reading, they also help them make sense of their lives (the books were, by and large, about teens in real-life situations). I thought that was an interesting concept -reading to find sense in life. Life is a pretty senseless thing, I think. We have to give meaning to our lives, and no one else can do that for us. Books can definitely help, though, I agree with this teacher.

Books give us a sounding board for our own lives. They let us compare ourselves to other people without envy, malice or pride -characters in books are what they are, and we can read stuff into them until the cows turn blue, but they're not real people. We don't have to be afraid of hurting their feelings when we say that we hate one character for whatever reason, or love a character for another.

We can place ourselves in a spectrum of lives and situations and make an assessment about what we might or might not do, what our reactions would be, whether or not we would ever have gotten into such a situation -and so on, etc. into infinity.

Books help us make sense of ourselves, and it's hard to know the world if you don't know yourself first.

But books serve another purpose -in the above, I'm mostly talking about fiction and novels. They entertain us, but they also educate us about ourselves. However, there are also books that purport to educate us and make us raise our own mental standards, and there are books that serve to entertain us without making much of a social or personal message.

And sometimes escapism is just escapism.

Book review:

In brief, 'American Gods' is rocking my socks off (and I'm not even wearing any socks). It is awesome. I have come to expect this from Gaiman, and rightfully so.

I'm not done with the book yet, so it will be a day or so before I can give a full report, but allow me to ramble a bit now.

The characters in this book will not get out of my head. I've been thinking about Mr. Wednesday all day (I'll try not to give away any spoilers), and I still can't decide whether I hate him, love him and, either way, I don't know if I want him to survive the story. He's a rascal, but he's also kind of sad, and I love how he's unfolding and yet becoming more confusing as the story develops.

Same for Shadow -Shadow is a great character, and I think he's fascinating. He's a relatively passive character: he found a course and he's sticking to it, come hell or high water (and probably both), but he's also a compelling moral study. There's a lot of back story that's still coming to light, so I'm enjoying watching everything come together.

I can't get over the plot, either -I have long wanted to write a short story about what happens to the old gods, the discarded and forgotten gods. Gaiman got there first, and he did a much better job than I could ever hope to. It doesn't mean I won't write something of my own someday, but 'American Gods' is more than satisfying right now.

One last thing about Gaiman before I sign off for the evening: the man knows how to write a good sex scene. The thing I don't like about romance novels/erotica/whatever is that sex generally does not move the plot forward in any way other than that it's just a bunch of inevitable bawdy, lewd, overly descriptive scenes filled with vapid purple prose (and for some people, that's fine -I'm just not one of them). What I admire about Gaiman is that he can make a scene erotic and sensually charged, but it still serves the plot in a big way. His sex scenes reveal something about the characters that you didn't know, but needed to, and they're still...well, sexy, while the plot goes chugging right along. Big points for that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I am a terrible person

Jonah saw one in New Orleans that said "Blessings be poppin', and Satan can't stop it"
Image credit: internet.

I haven't updated in forever. My dad guilt tripped me about it earlier today, so here you go; an update!

I changed my mind about what I wanted for Christmas. The Sony e-reader is a lovely, slick little thing...but this is so much better: The enTourage eDGe.

No, I don't know why they chose to capitalize random letters, and yes, I think that's stupid. However, the e-reader-meets-netbook combo is just too delicious and juicy to resist. I have to wait until February until I can drool all over it, but I think it will be worth the wait. Santa loves me enough to make an extra trip to my house.

In other news, font jokes are hilarious. Font jokes that are also parodies of Lady Gaga's 'Poker Face' are gut-busting.

That's really all I have for right now...a lame update, I know. Next time, I'll have read a book and I'll give you a review about it. Scout's honor. Not that I'm a scout, but you know. Whatever.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Wow. I have been writing a ton these past few days (at least it feels like it to me), just not on here.

I am so tired of staring at my computer screen today...I'm thinking about taking the rest of the night to just read and "write" write, like, in a notebook and stuff. Crazy, I know.

I just keep thinking about all the stuff I'll miss on Twitter and I get a little panicky. :P

More when I have something interesting to say!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Leaves & Flowers, second issue

Get excited. Right now. It's time for submissions for the second issue of Leaves & Flowers! The first journal turned out spectacularly -it was a major learning curve for me (I've never published anything myself before), and I think the second issue is going to be even better.

On top of my experience, I also have a lot more time to work with for the second issue -issue 1 was part of a project for my literary editing class; from now on, it's solely my project. I'm hoping that eventually I will be able to set up a website for L&F (at the very least I'll be setting up a blog within the next month -if I forget, someone remind me).

The next issue will be published in April of 2010. It's not an eternity away, but it gives me so much more time to get L&F just how I think it should be.

On to the exciting part: the submission process and the prompt!

The goal of Leaves & Flowers is to bring together creative writers, artists, sculptors and designers in order to explore the ways that each individual person interprets the same basic idea. Each edition will feature pieces that are all centered on a prompt given out to interested parties. One of the things that fascinates me about the writing process is how different people have such widely different takes on the same subject, and collecting those various forms of expression into one literary journal is a way to explore and show off those differences.

For the first publication of Leaves & Flowers, the prompt is this: Everyone has experienced fear of some kind; sometimes it’s as easy to hide from fear as it is to address it. Create a piece in which fear is a central element, whether that fear gets addressed or not.

As far as submissions go, any work will be considered, so long as it can be represented on the printed page. Writing can be prose, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, essays, short stories –anything you can write down, I will consider. Artwork is welcome also well: photography, painting, sculpture, collage –whatever you can create and transmit to me on the page, I will consider. Videos and sound are obviously impossible to put on paper, but whatever still images or other multimedia forms you can incorporate into something I can print, I will consider.

All artwork must be based off of the prompt above –what I’m looking for is your interpretation of that prompt. Take it and run with it. Let your imagination be in control, and send me whatever it is you create.

The submission process is simple. I need an e-mail, sent to with Leaves & Flowers in the subject line. Your piece of work needs to be sent as an attachment to the e-mail. I have a Mac, so if you’re using an older version of Windows, make sure it’s saved in a format that I’ll be able to open (and if it’s not, I’ll get in touch with you so we can work something out). The body of your e-mail should contain a very brief cover letter: your name, a bio of 150 words or fewer, a short description of the piece of work and, if you want, an explanation of how you interpreted the prompt (solely to satisfy my curiosity).

Make sure you tell me exactly what your piece is –if you write a fictional story that seems like it could be true, I won’t know where to place it in the journal; spare me the time and effort of contacting you more than I need to and let me know from the start what sort of work you’re including. Feel free to send multiple pieces and types of artwork.

And that’s all there is to it! Once I have the pieces, I will be working with format and design principles, I may send pieces back to you with revisions or rewrites and in some cases, I may ask two or more authors/creators if I can make their pieces work together on the page (and you can say no to me, don’t worry about that). Although I can’t afford to pay for your time and effort, I can make the journal available for purchase by you, your parents and grandparents and anyone else you think would enjoy your work. Once L&F is published, I will let you know where you can find it, how much it will be and if I can get you any discounts.

The deadline for submissions is April 1, 2010.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christmas List Roundup

As I'm sure many of you could guess, my Christmas list is composed almost entirely of books. The rest is composed of fierce desire for a Sony ebook reader. They're so pretty and neat! I want one. I'm hoping Santa has been paying attention this year because I'm awesome.


There are a ton of books I am looking at.

Additionally, these books would make superfantasticcooltacular Christmas presents for other people.

For example: Alberto Manguel wrote a book called The Library at Night (which I blogged about over the summer and which gave me the inspiration for my second tattoo, should I ever decide to get it*). He has another book out called A History of Reading, and it looks just as fabulous as TLaN, so I'm hoping that one shows up.

Richard Dawkins is an author I used to complain about vociferously, until I read his books with a lot less animosity going into the process. I came to (begrudgingly) respect and, eventually genuinely admire him. His latest book is called The Greatest Show on Earth, and I'm really interested in checking it out. I read The God Delusion for the first time straight through -I've read pieces before -and found myself enjoying it much more than my previous read. He's a funny, smart, persuasive man and I really enjoy his stuff. He was involved in a really interesting debate recently, which you can watch here if you're interested.

One of my favorite books of all time has to be The Elegance of the Hedgehog. It's sweet, sorrowful, erudite, beautifully written and translated (it's originally French), funny, heartbreaking and just very real. I can't recommend it enough. Muriel Barberry has another book out, called Gourmet Rhapsody, and it centers on one of the minor characters from The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I'd love a chance to read GR, because if it can even hold a candle to TEotH, I will be a very happy reader indeed.

Shameless plug: Leaves and Flowers. It's my baby, but I would read it even if it wasn't. I didn't write it, after all, I just put it together. (Speaking of L&F, I'm open for submissions again -I'll be posting about that soon. If you really really can't wait, leave a comment with your e-mail address and I'll get in touch with you). L&F features some incredible work by some absolutely fantastic people, and I am so privileged to have been part of it. It's a great gift for anyone who likes literary journals and off-beat stories.

God Hates You, Hate Him Back frankly just looks hilarious. I read the first chapter for free online (what a world we live in) and although I wasn't totally taken by the writing, the humor had me laughing, smirking and thinking. Oddly enough, at the time I opened the chapter to read, 3 of the tables directly around me were occupied by evangelicals attempting to convert fellow college students. I darkened my screen while I read because the campus crusaders or whatever they are at my school tend to be aggressive and obnoxious and I wasn't in the mood for a theological altercation (rare for me, but it happens).

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman (who is one of my literary heroes, btw) won just about every available award this year. Aside from its accolades, it just looks like a kickass story. I am, right now, listening to Gaiman read it -you can listen to him read the entire book! I'm a visual person, so I'd rather read it than hear it, but hearing it is very awesome.

That's all I can think of right now (I'm tired, tired, tired), but any of these would make awesome Christmas gifts for the various readers in your life.

*If I get another tattoo, it will read habent sua fata libelli, which means 'books have their own fates' in Latin.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Brief entry


Pardon my yelling, but this really makes me sick.

Why is this so hard for some people to understand? If teachers are adding books to a curriculum in an attempt to interest their students in reading, the complaints of a few narrow-minded parents should in no way dictate the curriculum of the entire class.

At the high school age, students should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want to read something. If their parents are still unhappy with the subject matter, the teacher should offer alternative titles to the student.

However, a few parents should never have this level of control over an
entire group of students whose lives they otherwise never influence. It's stupid, it's wrong and it's censorship.

Stop doing it.

School systems have to stop bending over backwards to accommodate whiny parents who want to restrict students' access to information. If they don't want their child reading it, fine -home school them. Get them put in another school or class. Ensure that there are other ways the student can meet the basic requirements of the class. Maybe...ask the kid if they want to read it. But stop, stop, STOP interfering with teachers' work.

If you are not the child's parent, you have no place saying what that child can read or can't read.

Just because you pay taxes to the school doesn't mean you have the right to dictate what goes on -all the parents of all the other students who go there pay taxes too.

Schools cannot continue forcing teachers to censor the material they present to classrooms based on a few people who feel it's "inappropriate."