Getting There Is Half the Fun

If travel is in your summer plans—whether by plane, boat, foot, auto, imagination, or whatever—NPR has worked up a booklist for you (and your kids)! Only a rather diabolical sense of humor would team up Anna Karenina and The Little Engine that Could. But NPR has faith you’ll get it. Hmmm. Sorry to say I forgot to check that particular list for Murder on the Orient Express. But you get the idea. As NPR says, “This summer, we’re focusing on the journey.”

On our recent trip to Ottawa, I could stay up as late as I wanted and read four books, even had an excuse to go to the bookstore to pick another. It was heaven! I’ve written about the joys of destination reading before, and NPR’s mode-of-transport approach provides an entertaining new wrinkle—“a surprising, serendipitous book discovery experience for the summer months.” Already listeners and NPR online followers are enriching the network’s dozen lists with their own suggestions, and you’re invited to do the same at the NPR website (link above) or to tweet them with the hashtag #bookyourtrip.


Travel Websites for Readers

travel diary


The Literary Traveler website links travel experiences and opportunities with the books, movies, and other artistic output originating from that place. Articles often feature out-of-the-ordinary places and themes, as well as locations with a literary past or some other relevant hook. For example, a recent article on Dubai described a Festival of Literature held there. This fall, the site organizers are planning a group trip to New Orleans, complete with reading list. You’ll find descriptions of hotels that have artistic connections and gear recommendations. There’s a fun blog, too, of readers’ travel adventures.

BootsnAll is a website for independent travelers that, inspiringly, features RTW (Around the World) travel. I chuckled seeing a recent article entitled “The Importance of Optimism”—no doubt a necessary bit of mental gear for dealing with the adversities ambitious travel agendas are likely to present. The site covers a full range of information for travelers, including a section on literature and a nifty travel planner to launch those wanderlust dreams. includes book suggestions for just about wherever travel may take you and your children. Pleased to see a book of favorite Japanese children’s stories I’ve given as a gift is currently featured on the home page!

Related “First Draft” blog post: Backpack Books.

What Ebooks Are Readers Reading?

(photo: HarperLibrary)

(photo: HarperLibrary)

According to Digital Book World, “dystopian young adult novels with a female protagonist caught in a love triangle might be wearing thin with readers.” So, does this mean the end of series like The Hunger Games and Divergent? Just remember, the industry repeatedly turned down Anne Rice’s first vampire novel, claiming “vampires are dead.”

At least the publishing pundits on a recent DBW panel acknowledged “there’s no silver bullet” guaranteed to capture readers’ attention. Thus their dog-bites-man advice to writers to produce “compelling stories.”

One trend panelists did note is increased interest in true crime (is this “non-fiction dystopia”?), mysteries, and thrillers, perhaps because of the runaway popularity of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, reviewed here in 2013. They also debunked the publishing rule of thumb that readers aren’t interested in characters that don’t resemble themselves. I guess this explains Hannibal Lecter.

In addition, panelists predicted:

  • Continued low prices of ebooks and growth of ebook subscription services, which are low-risk ways for readers to try new authors
  • More erotica, romance, and literary fantasy (e.g., Game of Thrones)
  • More writers of color among mainstream literary authors
  • Classics and back-list titles (cheap for publishers to produce)
  • In July, publication of the “next blockbuster”??—The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. Lots of hype, many disgruntled pre-pub readers on GoodReads and Amazon.
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And on Your Bookshelf Are . . . ?

booksTo write better, read more, advises blogger Mike Hanski, who provides an intriguing infographic showing the bookshelves of prominent people. Is your reading taste more like that of Marilyn Manson or Vladimir Putin? Margaret Thatcher or Bill Clinton? Now you can find out! (Apologies that I cannot show the infographic directly. It becomes too narrow on the page.)

Scanning the fictive shelves of these celebs, I see I’ve generally read 1-2 books on each, but have the most reading in common with Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway (5-6 books each). Two books that appear on multiple shelves are Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and the Bible. There’s food for thought.

Hanski includes this quote from King: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” And how to cobble together that reading time is explored here.

Hanski makes a strong case for why reading is so important to writers—for both building skills and inspiration.“Can you imagine a musician who does not listen to music?” he asks.

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Is “Social Reading” an Oxymoron?

Christo, New York City

The Gates (photo: the author)

It isn’t enough that people are discovering new ways—and new apps—to facilitate their digital reading, they are starting to explore the messy potential of “social reading,” fundamentally changing what for centuries has been a solitary endeavor—and pleasure.

The variations on this theme are nicely summarized in a taxonomy of social reading activities compiled by Bob Stein here. They range from the post-read book discussions on sites like GoodReads to ebooks with dynamic margins, where you can share annotations, comments, and questions, right alongside the text—commentary-as-you-go. You can see this last in action with a real-life example from a university English class.

Stein is a founder of the Institute for the Future of the Book, which aims to influence the shift of printed page to networked screen in a positive direction. (If you check out some of the more obscure links on the Institute’s website the accompanying photo will make sense.)

Some of Stein’s examples in the taxonomy sound kind of interesting, others intrusive. I can imagine feeling differently about how much social interaction I would enjoy and appreciate, depending on the book in question, not to mention the insightfulness of the commentators. For example, I’m sure I’d have benefited from external conversation and commentary while reading Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers. But I wouldn’t have wanted any external voices intruding on my enjoyment of Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk.

In a weird way, the experience reminds me of reading a used book, in which the thrill of discovery is steadily devalued by the coffee stains and greasy crumb-prints of the person who’s been there before. Possibly—no, probably—a someone who is smarter and more perceptive than I.

While some book-scene observers may believe reading is inherently anti-social, it would seem the future of social reading, though still in formation, has appeal as a way for people to, as The Huffington Post says, “start book groups without even leaving their couches.” Which doesn’t sound very social to me.

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Write a Poette, a Poeet?

National Poetry Month, poetry, calligraphy


We have the rest of the weekend to come up with a tweet-sized poem for New York City’s “Poem in Your Pocket Day.” Here are the rules. Connect on Facebook, where you find this encouraging verse:

If all week, you find it hard
To connect with your inner bard
It’s just fine, it’s okay!
#NYCPoetweet runs through Tuesday.

This fifth annual contest is held in conjunction with National Poetry Month. A full calendar of NYC events is here, and 30 ways to celebrate—wherever you are—is here.

Celebrate some poets, too, including William Shakespeare at the Fourth Annual Shakespeare’s Birthday Sonnet Slam, April 25.


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Kids Review Books

child reading, children's books


Fast-growing children’s reading and book discovery site BiblioNasium has launched a feature that lets kids under 13 review books (previously disallowed so kids didn’t inadvertently provide personally identifiable information). In part the impetus for the new service was evidence that kids read and respond to books recommended by their friends.

Says BiblioNasium Chief Education Advocate Adele Schwartz, “Our goal is to instill the habit of reading and to raise a generation of passionate readers.” The website, designed for children K-8, includes reading challenges, virtual rewards, online reading logs, and other features, as well as the reviews, “in a safe and private digital space.”

Currently, nearly 100,000 kids and 20,000 educators use the site and growing by about 1,000 users every week. When asked whether the future of reading and book recommendations is social, BiblioNasium founder Marjan Ghara said, “The present of reading is social.”

Among other awards, BiblioNasium is a recent winner of an EdTech Digest 2014 Cool Tools Award and a 2013 Best Website for Teaching & Learning award from the American Association of School Librarians.


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Writing with Friends

Room at the Table, Writing, WritersFor some time I’ve felt the many rewards of having a close group of friends in our writing group, which after almost a decade we’ve finally given a name: Room at the Table. The irony is, there isn’t any more room at my dining table, where we meet, because we’ve gradually grown to about 13, though only 10 or 11 of us make each monthly meeting. The group is about equally divided between men and women, all of us “over 35,” many of us also participants in Lauren B. Davis’s estimable “Sharpening the Quill” writing workshops.

Some members say they come for the snacks, but they all come with carefully reviewed submissions by others, and we spend the next two hours discussing each others’ work. We provide enthusiasm, help people get unstuck, ask the occasional big question (Where Is This Going?) and generously share our ideas and grammatical obsessions. Occasionally, we do an exercise from John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, and one such, which involved imagining the characters of a ghost story, created such enthusiasm among the three of us (at the time) that we all wrote the story, and were all published.

I’ve heard of critique groups that like to eviscerate the author. That isn’t us. This week we tried something new. Five of us did a reading of our fiction at the local library and, unbelievably, 35 people came. They applauded the stories they heard, which were quite good. They had snacks, another area of expertise. They stayed to chat. Big success. Very proud.

Our News Now

tv news truck, news, social media, where Americans get newsI first learned about the Sandy Hook school shootings on Twitter, moments after they occurred. Celebrity obits quickly appear on Facebook. Social media make it easy to share news and information, and lots of us do it. Exactly how many? And what do we share?

InkHouse Media + Marketing conducted a survey of 1000 U.S. adults’ sharing habits and found out the top reason people say they share is to “inform.” 54% of us do that, and half that number share to “entertain.” Equal percentages (12%) claim they share “thoughtful articles with tips from experts” and “cute animal photos.” Email remains a more popular sharing vehicle than social media.

But for getting our news, 73% of us still rely on tv, 52% on news websites, 36% on print magazines and newspapers, 25% on radio (that would be me!), and only 23% on social media.


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2-9-14 Readers, Writers, Booklovers Unite!

Reading, book, Budi SukmanaHugh Howey’s Rants

Everyone who buys, sells, reads, borrows, downloads, and LOVES books has a stake in moving the publishing industry into the 21st century. It won’t happen easily. Best-selling indie novelist Hugh Howey (Wool) launched a well-aimed missile of advice at the industry in his notorious 1/8 blog post, “Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge,” in which he explains what he would do if he ran one of the big publishing houses. He followed it up with a new barrage on 1/12, “My Second Month on the Hypothetical Job.” Even if thoughts about publication are not your daily preoccupation, his ideas are lively and thought-provoking.

For Publishing: A Radical Makeover

They would radically change the culture and the economics of the book business, making it better for readers and writers in the process. Among his memorable suggestions: get out of New York to cut overhead and get some work done. From home, mostly. (He suggests Houston. Not in August.)  He wants them to invest in Print on Demand, which would keep authors’ backlists alive. And he’d devote greater attention to the midlist bulge of authors. As publishers whittle down their emphasis to manuscripts that are “sure-fire” best-sellers, reader choice withers. And these are not people you’d want standing at the rail next to you at Santa Anita or Churchill Downs.

These next three were picked up by Business Insider writer Dylan Love:

  • “Every format, as soon as the book is available.” The day a book is released, you could buy it in hardback or paper, or Kindle, Nook, or other e-reader formats. No more stringing people along with a hardcover release, and letting them lose interest while they wait for the Kindle edition.
  • “Hardbacks come with free ebooks.” This “would change my perception of e-books overnight,” Love says. At present, e-book Digital Rights Management systems restrict readers’ flexibility. Bundling a hardback with a digital file would increase it.
  • “No more advertising.” In Howey’s publishing house, the firm’s money wouldgo into editors [remember when books weren’t full of mistakes?] and into acquiring new authors,” not into bookstore promotions and pricy advertisements that he says “don’t sell books.”

How Publishers Shouldn’t React

Howey admirer Baldur Bjarnason has drafted a list of tips for publishing insiders to use in their inevitable responses to Howey’s assault. The last of these is to make the argument that traditional publishers are “somehow responsible for keeping the general quality of books high.” I’ll let you explore for yourself Bjarnason’s links that stick the needle in that bit of puffery. LOL.

(Thanks to Beth Wasson at Sisters in Crime’s SinC Links for pointing out Howey’s and Bjarnason’s great posts!)