Possessions: My Complicated Relationship with Books

I love books, the way they smell, the way they look, and how they make me feel when I’m surrounded by them; at my workplaces, I seek out libraries and rooms with books in them, just to be able to sit with them near. It’s one of the few ways I’m able to relax.

Naturally, my apartment is also filled with books. Though my husband doesn’t feel quite the same way about them, he enjoys them too. We have them piled up on a chest of drawers beside our bed, they’re piled on shelves in our office, and stacks of them line some parts of the wall. When I was little, my entire Christmas list consisted of books. I would just hand my parents a list of some of my favorite authors, and they’d go out and buy me piles of them. Most of my Christmas morning was spent organizing my new acquisitions, perusing the covers, deciding in which order I’d read them. I dreamed of the day when I had a job and be able to join some sort of book-of-the-month club, where I could look forward to some reasonably priced books every month.

Then, I moved, and my relationship with books (and all possessions, really) changed. I moved from California to Chicago and realized that possessions were quite the burden when faced with moving them halfway across the country. I didn’t have room in the car to bring my 8 large bins of books that I’d been collecting since childhood; I barely had room to fit all my clothes, kitchenware, and linens. Then, I got tired of Chicago and moved yet again; that time, I purged what I had — giving my now-husband, then-boyfriend anything that I wanted to save, but only saving truly important things, because we weren’t sure where we were going to live in the future. All the books I’d acquired in Chicago ended up in used bookstores, high school classrooms, take-one, leave-one shelves in my apartment building. At that point, I stopped trying to acquire books. Where was I supposed to put them all? How can I move them yet again? I’ve been through 3 large, across-country moves now in my life, and I’m so tired of worrying about that stuff. It’s stressful getting a new load of books and looking at my cramped apartment, with various items lying along the walls of my office, wondering where I can possibly squeeze these new additions.

Despite my heavy reliance on the library, and our much-needed weekly visits to that glorious place that is filled to the brim with bookshelves and books, we still somehow manage to gain more and more, and I’m still trying to figure out how we’re supposed to fit it all into where we live. I have complicated relationship with possessions now. I love new things; I love new books, but I hate acquiring them, because it requires either a laissez-faire attitude towards how much stuff I’m piling up in the spare room or some very clever, tricky arranging mechanism that I still can’t figure out no matter how much I think about it. I love the idea of getting my books back from California, where my parents are loyally storing them; I love the idea of getting a place big enough to install floor-to-ceiling shelves on the walls and filling them up with the books I have (I’m willfully ignoring the fact that I have many more years ahead of me of acquiring new ones), but how is that ever going to happen? When is that going to happen? Buying large houses is expensive! So is buying all those bookshelves! Where is that money going to come from?

Basically, lately, I’ve been having a sort of existential crisis with myself over my relationship with books. I love them, I want them, I need them to be happy, but they’re stressing me out! It’s hard to find the balance between having some favorites and accumulating all the books I’ve ever wanted to read but will probably only touch once. I’m hoping that by not buying so much and feeding into that sort-of addiction, I’ll be able to handle the urge to get books a little better; I’m hoping that we somehow luck into a huge house that I’ll be able to fill with all the items I want (but I’m not holding my breath on that one).

Reading Aloud to Grandma: A Story

My book addiction started as a hobby — not something that was a large part of my life, but a thing that I enjoyed doing when nothing else was going on. It strengthened the older I got, and by the time I was about eight or nine years old, I was hooked. My sisters and I spent a lot of time at my grandma’s house in those days, since my parents worked nights, and I would bring over an entire stack for the evening, “just in case.” Even now, I always have a charged Kindle and a physical copy or two, “just in case.” And just in case of what, I couldn’t really tell you. A dull moment? My reading speed becomes phenomenal and I finish a whole book in a free fifteen-minute period and have nothing to do for the next five minutes? I really don’t know. All I know is that I never want to be without a book, so I bring extras, in case the book I bring doesn’t work or is whipped away by a hurricane or something. I know it sounds crazy, but hey, I’m a book addict: I’m kind of crazy when it comes to books.

I’m not sure what led up to the conversation about reading, but my grandma in some way mentioned something about me reading, so I asked her what books she liked to read. Partly, I was truly interested in what she might like. But mostly, I was looking for guidance. In those days, I exclusively read Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, and was perilously close to finishing the shiny, yellow and blue hard-backed series. I figured that my grandma had already read Nancy Drew, since she probably finished them at my age (as I imagined was the case for all the adults in my life). So, I threw the question out there, looking to see what might come next for me.

“Oh, honey, I don’t read. I can’t see the words very well,” my grandma replied.

My mouth dropped open at the same time my heart broke. She didn’t read. The words played over in my head like some sort of horror movie tagline. My grandma didn’t read. I was no longer concerned about a post-Nancy Drew world, because this, this was a true catastrophe. How did she get through the dull moments in life? What did she do with her time? How could she not read? To not fall in love with characters and become friends with them, to not solve daring mysteries, or go on adventures with them — how? I really didn’t understand that sort of life or that sort of world, and I felt overwhelmingly sad for my grandmother. How could she live such a deprived life? I had to fix it for her. This sort of thing could not stand — I would not let my own grandmother suffer, if I could help it. “Come here, Grandma,” I said, patting the spot next to me on the couch. “I’m going to read this book to you.”

It’s funny, being an adult and looking back at your thoughts as a child. I knew, I was absolutely certain, that not being able to read was a misery for grandma. She probably cried about it at least once a week, wishing her eyes were better so she could live a better life. It never once occurred to me that maybe reading wasn’t a priority for her, that she could have found a way to enjoy stories if she really wanted it. No, she was suffering from lack of books and never mentioned it, because she didn’t want to be a bother. But I was having none of that.

Luckily, my grandma was accommodating and aimed to please her granddaughters, because she got right up from her super comfortable recliner to sit next to me on a semi-comfortable couch and listen to me read. I’m not sure exactly what our first book out of the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys series was, but that’s what started a years-long tradition of us going over to grandma’s house and reading to her. Usually it was me who did the reading, but my two sisters also joined and took turns. Sometimes, it would be all four of us, sitting on the couch or outside, listening to the adventures of Nancy Drew, sometimes just three while a sister played the PlayStation, and sometimes, it was just me and grandma. We went through almost the entire series of Nancy Drew, a good portion of Hardy Boys, the first 4 books of Anne of Green Gables, and the first 3 books of Harry Potter (my sisters eagerly joined in for those ones). And my grandma once again experienced the joy of stories. (As a kid, I truly believed in this sentiment, though I will say that she genuinely loved Anne of Green Gables.) I’m not sure how much of it was her indulging me, how much was her just wanting to spend time together, or how much she really even enjoyed the stories, but until she moved away to Oregon when I was fourteen, there was always some reading time built into our visits together.

Now, there are babies in the family that I can read to. They’ve quickly figured out that storytime is a guaranteed from me — I will never say no to a child who asks me to read a story to them. And at family gatherings, I’ll be curled up in the corner with a couple of the kids, a nephew, niece, or cousin, reading them whatever book they thrust into my hand. We’re often caught by one of my sisters or my parents, who rolls their eyes and smiles when they see what we’re up to. “Of course,” they mutter.

But I can’t help but notice that even though they were most likely sent to fetch us, they sit down right next to us and take the next reading shift, unable to drag themselves away from sharing a story with the family.

New Year’s Resolutions – 2017

Making resolutions at the start of each year used to be almost like a religious task for me. We were never very religious in my family, but I took resolutions seriously — working for weeks to make the perfect goals that would help me be a better, happier person. Unfortunately, that activity dropped off once I went into grad school. I was already working so hard on my education and my degree that I couldn’t imagine expending even more effort into making personal goals aside from that. However, even after graduating and earning my degree, I didn’t pick up the habit again.

With all that happened in 2016, and after seeing all the hate and vitriol spewing into the internet from people’s keyboards, I think a lot of us need to make goals to help ourselves be happier, kinder people. True, many of us did not call each other terrible names or dehumanize each other, but with what we’re already dealing with, even voicing one unkind thought is voicing one too many, especially when it’s at the sacrifice of legitimizing someone else’s concerns and humanity. Life is hard and I don’t see why any of us think it’s okay to make it even harder for each other.

So, here’s to a better, kinder, more thoughtful year, and here are my resolutions:

  1. When compelled to say something unkind, take 10 seconds to breathe and come up with a more positive, productive response that will allow us to both treat each other with respect, as if we were fellow humans.
  2. Be more vocal — about my appreciation and gratitude for others and reach out to friends and family at least every other week; stand up against hate.
  3. Do something for a charity or good cause at least once a month, whether it’s donating, volunteering, or even something as simple as talking about a cause that’s doing good work.
  4. Laugh AT LEAST once a day.
  5. Be active for 20 minutes at least 3 times a week.
  6. Post more regularly on the blog this year.

I think these are very simple, and I’m working on the things I think I have the most trouble with. I’m looking forward to being more mindful about how I treat myself and others, and I can’t wait to make this year a great one.

Happy 2017!

Teaching & Nursing: My Frustrations

My mom is a pediatric hospital registered nurse and has been for just about 28 years or so now. Just last week, her nurse’s union went on strike because the hospital board for the hospital she’s worked at for her entire career has decided that they’re in the money game rather than the healthcare game.

The hospital took out full-page ads in newspapers to tell the public how greedy nurses are for wanting more money (they weren’t striking for more money), and then they locked out their own nurses for 4 days after the 1-day strike. This was partly was a punishment measure, partly that they people they contracted with to provide backup medical staff required 5 days’ staffing and the hospital didn’t want to pay their own staff for working as well. And when they finally opened the doors to the nurses, they thanked them for finally coming back to work. (?!)

The sad thing is that some of the public started agreeing with the hospital on social media. Yes, those nurses are so greedy and need to suck it up. Those nurses need to think about what’s best for the patients and go to work, regardless of work conditions, pay cuts, cuts in benefit, and retirement. Who cares about those nurses’ families and futures — they’re nurses. They need to work. So many people have it harder.

Nurses are not greedy. They work 12-hour shifts and sometimes don’t even take meal breaks during those time in order to make sure your family members are taken care of during their time of illness. They work weekends and holidays, they work through the night. They study and go to school throughout their entire careers so that people have the best care possible. On their days off, they teach CPR and first aid classes, renew certifications, go to professional developments. And yes, they have families who rely on them for support. My mom worked the evening shift full-time, would get off work at 7 AM after starting at 7 PM, pick me and my sisters up to drop us off at school, go shopping and do errands, maybe finally get some sleep starting around 9 AM, and then pick us up at 3 PM, drive us to our various after-school activities, and start it all over again. This is the situation of many nurses. And it breaks my heart for anyone to dare call people like her and her friends “greedy.” You have no idea.

My husband is a teacher, and people are complaining about how much he’s paid, because as we all know, teachers are lazy and make so much money for the job that they do. I’m sorry — but when did we start attacking NURSES and TEACHERS. What is wrong with people? They are literally saving lives and building futures — what wouldn’t you pay to have a highly trained professional in charge of YOUR LIFE when you’re in the hospital? What wouldn’t you pay to have a highly trained professional in charge of your CHILD’S FUTURE at school? When did people in society decide to think that nursing and teaching aren’t two of the most difficult jobs anyone could ever do?

Teachers are not lazy and aren’t just babysitters — most of them have spent over five years in school, whole YEARS dedicated to specifically learning teaching techniques. Yes, they get vacation time, but that’s because they’re working from 7 AM (6 AM in some cases) until easily 5:30 PM. That’s not even counting the weekends they spend supporting their students in various extracurricular activities. Then, when they get home at 6 PM, they lesson plan and read up on different teaching strategies for another hour or two. Trust me, these people are some of the smartest people you’ll ever meet. If they wanted to get rich working 50-60 hours a week, they would have gone into something that actually pays over $100k. My husband makes just under $50k a year working these hours. Don’t tell me he and his co-workers are greedy. They accept all of this, because they love their jobs and they love helping their students. People who go into service jobs like nursing and teaching aren’t in it for the money.

I cannot describe how angry I get when I hear someone say that maybe they’ll just go into teaching when they get bored of their current job. Excuse me? You’re using teaching as a chill backup for when you burn out? I have seen grown adults sob for hours because of the stress of trying to teach 150 teenagers to be decent human beings while also teaching content like grammar, basic writing skills, or math, or biology.

We need to re-think our values and re-think the way we accept the media spin on certain things. Why are you trusting what the person who makes over $400k a year says about how “lazy” nurses or teachers are when they’re asking for a living wage and decent retirement? Think about your own boss or CEO, think about your own situation, and imagine that your salary was under attack because your company has decided to use the money to build a new recreation center instead of giving it to the workers. So they’re asking you to work for 5% less, doing more work because of staff layoffs and cuts, and worse benefits because insurance is expensive. Nothing will change for your boss, though. They’ll still be making their $300k a year. Sound fair? That’s what these people are fighting against, and the higher-ups attacking them are somehow able to turn the public against them. Let’s be better about thinking through things before we accept the fact that workers who serve the public are greedy. Maybe the people trying to make a profit off public service are the ones we need to be looking at.

Gearing Up for NaNoWriMo!

So, last year, Andrew and I attempted to do the NaNoWriMo thing, but we lost interest because the novel we were writing was so unfocused and ended up being not very interesting to either of us. This time, though, I remembered in time that it’s coming up and we’ve decided to try it out again.

The next month will be spent doing lots of planning, brainstorming, and free-writing to see what we can come up with and hopefully have a more successful writing experience this November. We’re not expecting to write a full novel, or even to write something that’s amazing, but we’re looking forward to setting aside some time to work on creative projects and be more active about writing.

It was actually really nice last night when we had an almost hour-long conversation about what makes us want to write, what sort of stories we love, and what sort of thing we hope we can write in the future. Creative Writing was my major in college, so of course, it’s one of my favorite things to talk about — I really appreciate that I can talk about it with my husband and he gets just as excited about reading, storytelling, and the creative process. I can’t wait to see what the next couple of months will bring.

I Don’t Read New Releases

With the recent release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I realized it was the first time in a while that I’ve actually been intrigued by a new release. “Maybe I should get it now,” I thought. That was, of course, before I looked at the price and decided against it. New releases really aren’t for people who’ve just been married and gone on a honeymoon trip to Europe.

But that made me realize that I haven’t actually read a new release probably since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out. I haven’t actually bought a book on the release day to read in about nine years, and I wondered why. It’s not because I don’t care enough about books or a certain series or author– I live and breathe books. It’s certainly not because I don’t have discretionary money, though I do have a habit of saving rather than spending. So, why? Why don’t I do that?

It’s also a trend in other entertainment areas — I don’t watch movies the first day they came out anymore (I used to love midnight showings), and I very rarely pick up a video game on its release day. And I think, really, it’s because of hype.

I am so over buying into the hype about something.

Being excited is one thing, and sometimes the first day excitement really is just that. But I’ve seen way too many mediocre things lauded as “amazing” because of the mob mentality hype that often comes along with midnight showings and release days. Recently, I’ve been waiting at least a few months, sometimes even a year before something comes out to see how it is. For video games, it’s purely a cost issue once reviews come out saying it’s good. But for books and movies, I just want to make sure that my opinions are my own and that I’m not raving about a book I would actually think is only okay if I weren’t immersed in a culture that was talking about how great it is.

I’m not trying to make a point or anything, this is just something that I’ve been thinking about now that The Cursed Child has come out. I’m so glad people get excited about books and I can’t wait to read the new Harry Potter book — in a few months or so.


Wedding Planning – It’s Happening

I feel like it was just a few months ago that I got engaged and moved in with Andrew, but now it’s already June and the wedding is just about a month away. How did this happen? Luckily, I’m a fierce planner and almost everything is taken care of. I just can’t believe that I survived May, which was incredibly busy, with BEA, my first dress fitting, and all the other assorted plans we were finalizing, like music selection and cake flavors.

Cake with loops or
Cake with dangles? So many choices! *Images taken from Scialo Bros Bakery*

All I can say is, thank goodness for family and friends. I am so lucky in that I haven’t really stressed at all about this crazy, beautiful day coming up. The parents are doing all they can to take it off me and are creating a wonderful day for us all to celebrate. I have never felt so cherished and loved — it’s been amazing to see everyone come together and help out with making this day perfect and special. My mom’s friends — people whom I’ve known basically all my life — helped create wedding favors, my future mother-in-law is taking care of centerpieces and floral arrangements, along with providing support and love. It’s been a truly special time.

And I can’t wait to share all our adventures in Rome in London for our honeymoon. We are so excited to be able to spend that time together and experience new countries by each other’s side. So, if you’re going through a busy time, just take a moment to appreciate the people supporting and loving you. It’s hard to see it in the minutia of every day tasks, but it’s a wonderful thing.

We Also Went to BookCon!

BEA being in Chicago was the best thing that’s happened in a long time book-wise, and I wanted to take advantage as much as possible. Unfortunately, with the wedding and honeymoon coming up this summer, Andrew and I didn’t really have the available time off that we would have liked to fully enjoy BEA, but we do work Mon-Fri jobs, so BookCon was the first thing we registered for.

Obviously, it’s not really like BEA. The lines are longer, the people are bit crazier, and there isn’t as much time to really connect with the authors, publishers, and other attendees. But, it’s about books, so we were in — especially once we found out that Hannah Hart would be making an appearance.

I went through a lot of emotional phases with BookCon. First, I was super excited, and then I read about people lining up at 3:30 AM just to get author wristbands at 8 AM or to get onto the floor at 10 AM, and I almost didn’t want to bother — seriously, guys? I already told Andrew that since we had such a good time at BEA Thursday, I just wanted to take it easy and not go too crazy, so we were already planning to go there a little bit later, but I was already psyching myself up for disappointment if it was too crazy busy. Luckily, I was happily surprised to find that it really wasn’t that bad, and we were still able to get free books! Andrew was a hero and mentioned that he wanted to stop by Hachette before we headed to our first panel, and the man was absolutely spot on. We both really liked Hachette’s way of dealing with galley drops and stopped by there often — like I said, we don’t like lines, and there wasn’t that much of a problem with lines at Hachette. Total win.

What we really wanted to do was see the Diverse Books panel about Love and Loss with Sherman Alexie, Jenny Han, Gene Luen Yang, Francisco X Stork, Anna-Marie McLemore, and Leigh Bardugo. We got a pretty good seat and really enjoyed hearing these authors’ experiences with love and loss, how that relates to their culture, and how it’s reflected in their writing. So lovely.

So many cool authors!

We got all the books we could carry surprisingly quickly, and so spent the next couple of hours eating lunch and reading, which was wonderful. Then, it was off to the Hannah Hart panel.

Our happy faces! Waiting for Hannah Hart!

This was so exciting for us. Hannah Hart’s channel was a staple of mine when I was going through grad school and Andrew and I like to go through past My Drunk Kitchen episodes when we feel like watching something fun and silly. We really enjoy her and so much appreciated being able to hear her speak about her new book, Buffering, and her experiences with writing it.

Second row — there’s Hannah!

We were also lucky enough to go to a Meet and Greet with her and were actually able to hug her and take a picture with her! SO COOL! It really just made our week being able to see her in person, and it was the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.


We Went to BEA!

When I first started book blogging, I salivated over people’s stories of BEA — how cool it was to meet all the authors, talk to the publishers, and, of course, get books. In 2013, I was lucky enough to be a grad student and was able to take some time off studying to visit New York for a few days, and I went with my mom and godmother, who also blogged with me. It was exhausting, but everything I ever wanted it to be.

I know some people were upset at BEA being in Chicago this year, but it was a dream come true for me, because my fiancé is a high school English teacher, and I’ve told him of the wonders of BEA, and I just knew that he’d love it. To have it take place just a 10-minute drive away was too good to pass up, so we both took Thursday off (just Thursday, unfortunately) to talk to people and grab some books.

Our plan was basically for me to use the copies I got for us to read and review on the blog, and for the copies he got (of appropriate books) to be donated to his classroom library for students to read. We didn’t bring a rolling suitcase and we both got way more books than we expected (is it just me, or is it a really solid upcoming year for YA?!), so we were pretty tired by 2:30, what with walking around and carrying dozens of pounds of books along with us. Once we did our “musts” we headed out, happy with the day.

Andrew: My students aren’t at all interested in reading, but I brought back all of what I got for my classroom and I loaned at 13 books on Friday, because they’re so excited to read these brand new books that not everyone has access to. I told them they had to, at the very least, tell me what they think of them after finishing, and also am giving them extra credit for posting book reviews. They were just excited to read books and be able to give their opinions on these stories, which made taking the day off actually worthwhile and productive.

Waiting in line to enter the show floor — early morning, but not as early as work!
The first thing we did was get in line for Laurie Halse Anderson — signing Ashes
Andrew trying out a virtual reality game created  for Sunborn Rising — really cool stuff!

These guys were really awesome, so I want to give a shout out to Neoglyphic, who’s creating this multimedia story — Sunborn Rising by Aaron Safronoff. Along with a novel, they’re also creating a gaming app and virtual reality game to help students find a way in to the story, which is just the best.Check out their website and what they’re doing all right here.

Books! Can’t wait to review these and share them with you all!

We’re hoping that maybe we’ll be able to take the whole time off (or Thursday and Friday, at least) for next year and make the trip to New York to experience it again. We had so much fun and really enjoyed being able to connect to people over what we love. Next time, we’ll make sure to bring a rolling suitcase, though!

Alton Brown Adventures: Alton Brown Live!

While I hate the winter weather, it is wonderful to live in a city that actually has interesting things to do and is a draw for entertainers, celebrities, authors, plays, etc. When we found out that Alton Brown would be hosting a live show at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, we just had to buy tickets.

As mentioned Wednesday, we had a lovely (and filling!) brunch before the show, and then walked over to the theatre. While they didn’t allow photography during the show, I do have some beautiful pictures of the theatre that I took while we were waiting.

Sitting in the theatre
Sitting in the theatre


Alton Brown Live!

The show itself was wonderful — a great mix of cooking/food humor and actual cooking and some science explanations as to how cooking works the way it works. We think that the first non-science portion went on a bit too long — as always, he’s at his best when describing the science behind food. We especially liked the part of the show where he had an audience member spin a wheel to see what sort of cocktail she was going to get (Vodka + Campari + Cough syrup. Blech!), and then see how Alton Brown tried to fix it so that it would be somewhat drinkable. Very fun. I think it was just the right length for it to feel as though we got our money’s worth but have it still be enjoyable, and we loved the random musical performances throughout the show.

A nice thing he did at the end was answer audience questions that were asked through Twitter. Our question didn’t get picked 🙁 but it was a fun way to try to include people and make sure we got what we wanted to see. I would definitely consider going to see him again if he decided to do another live show.