Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Armchair BEA Day 1

Armchair BEA

We now interrupt our regular programming for a few days of Armchair BEA posts! What is Armchair BEA, you ask? It's an online conference for book bloggers experiences in the comfort of our favorite chairs. It was created as an alternative to going to Book Expo America (BEA). And I was only joking about the regular programming, because, you know, there isn't any.

Today's post is about introductions, so here I go answering some questions from the ABEA organizers.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself: How long have you been blogging? Where are you from? How did you get into blogging?
I've been blogging about books for just over 5 years. My first blog focused on outdoorsy activities (mainly running and cross country skiing), but I didn't find it as interesting to write about those activities as the doing of them. I've also been advised by my doctors not to run anymore due to an old back injury, so I took that blog down. I'm originally from Chicago and have also lived in Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, and North Carolina (twice). My wife and I have lived in Connecticut for about 18 months now. (Sidenote: I'm a lesbian, not a man. I'm getting more review requests addressed to "Mr." Wolak and just want to clarify.) Anyway, I got into blogging because I love to write and stumbled upon book blogs via Goodreads at a time when my outdoorsy blog writing was faltering. I don't follow a blog schedule, but I do find blogging about books, libraries, and literary topics to be both easy and enjoyable. I write that even if, after five years, I still don't feel like I've found my blogging style or focus.
2. Why do you loving reading and blogging?
I can't imagine life without reading. It's my go-to for everything. It calms me when I'm freaking out, it excites me when I'm feeling stagnant, and in any mood it helps me grow in spirit and deepens my humanity. Blogging is simply a vehicle to share my thoughts and enthusiasm for what I'm reading and book love in general. Being a part of the book blogging community makes me feel like I'm not alone in my bookish pursuits and I've met some fantastic people this way.

3. What does diversity mean to you?
Diversity in books and reading means variety, differences, discovering similarities in our differences, trying to feel life from other perspectives and experiences through reading and then talking about what you've read. When I hear the word diversity, off the top of my head, I think of gender, sexual orientation, class, race, disability, religion, and nationality. The most immediate categories for me are gender, sexual orientation, and class. These are important to me personally because I've felt the negative consequences of the prejudices that swarm around and through these categories in a more personal way throughout my life. Politically I believe these are all intertwined and of equal import in that they are used to systematically benefit some to the detriment of others. When it comes to books I also think diversity in the genre of books you read can be a way to understand issues by approaching them through the different conventions genres offer. For example, including some feminist sci-fi novels if you're in to feminist theory.

4. What book are you reading right now?
Fiction: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Nonfiction: The Good Food Revolution by Will Allen and Hen Frigates by Joan Druett (Both of these nonfiction titles are currently gathering dust on my shelf, but I do plan to get back into them. It seems that when life/work gets busy I drop nonfiction and gravitate towards fiction).

5. If you were stranded on a deserted island, what author would you want to bring with you? Why?
Willa Cather because I find comfort in her compassion for sensitive people and I enjoy the deceptive simplicity of her style.

#ABEAShelfie The bookshelf next to my favorite chair.
LIBRARY LOVE: I blogged about my local library a couple years before we moved here!  Click here to check it out.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

One Reader's Pain is Another Reader's Pleasure (I hope)

Books on the Nightstand Book Bingo is back! I downloaded my summer reading bingo card last night.

As you can see, the top left square is, "Hated by someone you know."

I had this idea that it might be interesting to ask a bunch of people I know for a title they hated and then choose one from the list at random.

If you're willing, please leave me a title below that you hated or, if public disclosure of unpleasantness is not your thing, email me at chris.wolak(at) I'd appreciate your reply by June 1st.

Yes, "hated" is a strong word, but there it is. I'm putting out this request with the hope that one reader's pain is another reader's pleasure.

Thanks for helping me out and if you'd like to download your own BOTNS Summer Bingo Card click here. It's free and you don't have to enter your email or any other info to get your randomized card (no two cards are the same).

Monday, May 11, 2015

That's a Wrap: BooktopiaVT 2015

BooktopiaVT happened May 1-2. It was the last BooktopiaVT.* The Final Chapter.

It was my second Booktopia and I was thrilled to have gotten in (it sold out in two minutes). Last year my attendance was a last minute surprise. I'd also just moved to CT and was in the midst of job interviews, so my head was all over the place. This year the trip to Manchester, VT felt more like a vacation and a reunion. I got to hang out with BibloSue, a friend from Chicago, and made a bunch of new friends. Such a fun, welcoming group of people.

I intended to post a recap last Monday, but the week turned out to be a humdinger. I had a busy week at work, took on a new consulting gig, and had social/personal events each evening. It was Monday again before I knew it.

Anywhoo, here are some pictures of my trip.

I stopped in Bennington on the drive up to visit a used bookstore, which was closed. Again. Just like last year. But I did get to check out this colorful cat ("Cattitude" by Rae Tetlow) and discovered the existence of ukulele banjos.
After checking into my hotel (The Palmer House Inn) I walked over to the Northshire Bookstore for some peaceful book browsing before the hordes hit the next day.
Non-bookish interest: I coveted this wagon at a local shop.

Sunset behind the mountains.

Books I couldn't resist in the Northshire's used section on Thursday evening. Also purchased but not pictured: In Titanic's Shadow: The World's Worst Merchant Ship Disasters by David L. Williams.

Walking back to the Northshire Bookstore on Friday morning, Day 1. You can see the blue store in the distance.

Ann & Michael, waiting for the welcome session to begin.
So much potential in the palm of my hand!
With Suzanne (BiblioSue) and Callie.
Russel facilitated the discussion with Megan Mayhew Bergman on reading and writing short stories.
My gift card is getting hotter in my pocket.
Steve Himmer discussing his new book, Fram.
What's up, cupcake? Friday night dessert.
The book I took home from our Yankee Swap.
Simon of Savidge Reads in the UK sent over a book that Karen ended up with: Catherine Hall's The Repercussions.
Mary Doria Russell discussing Epitaph. Did you know she's a Def Leppard and Van Halen fan? An 80s head-banger.
Josh Cook discussing his new novel, An Exaggerated Murder
Saturday, Day 2,  also happened to be Independent Bookstore Day!
A Celebration of Authors, Saturday night's closing event. Each of the eight authors spoke for a few minutes about their writing. This session was recorded and you'll be able to hear what everyone had to say on a future episode of Books on the Nightstand. Pictured above: Cristina Henriquez, Michael Crummey, Dylan Landis, and Kelly Link.
Group signing after A Celebration of Authors.
Moonrise on the walk to dinner.
After compiling these pictures, I had a moment of regret that I didn't take more pictures of or with fellow Booktopians. However, I quickly realized it was because I had such a great time. I was too busy chatting and laughing with them to think about taking pictures. It was amazing to go on a book retreat and bond with so many fellow readers. A huge thank you to Ann and Michael who have touched so many of our lives in such a meaningful way. Here's to good bookish people!

*Rumors abound that this spring-time tradition may be taken up by someone else going forward. The Northshire Bookstore? A group of inn keepers? Bookriot?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

WWII Book Looters?

Holland House, London, 1940

As a reader of book blogs, chances are you've probably come across the image above. I've always admired the photo. Nothing stops readers from reading.

But when the photo popped into my mind the other day I thought, "Those men were looters!"

Where they?

A quick internet search brought me to Books for Victory where Andrew Brozyna speculates that the shot may have been staged and printed in newspapers to help boost British morale. See his post here: Books for Victory: Publishing During WWII: London Bookstore and Library Bombed in the Blitz.

If you visit Books for Victory look around or bookmark it for later perusal. There are some groovy photos of books, people with books, bookstore shots, and lot of interesting bookish history of WWII.

Visit more Wordless Wednesday entries here.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Joys of Browsing: Discovering Joan Druett's Hen Frigates

I love browsing in bookstores and finding unexpected treats. For years I was weighed down by required reading or the books I thought I "should" be reading. (Reminder: Don't should on yourself!) I almost lost the ability to clear my mind and just browse. Can you imagine?

Last night I arrived in Manchester, VT for Booktopia. As soon as I unpacked,  I meandered down to the Northshire Bookstore to browse. Of course.

In their used section I found a book that I didn't know I needed: Hen Frigates: Passion and Peril, Ninteenth-Century Women at Sea by Joan Druett.

I started reading it standing there in front of the shelf and couldn't put it down. So, Reader, I bought it.

From the publisher:
In the tradition of The Midwife's Tale and Pioneer Women -- an intimate portrait of the courageous wives of sailing ship captains in the last century, told for the first time in their own words, through journals and letters, Maritime historian Joan Druett takes us into the wildly colorful, dangerous, and most of all romantic world of seafaring women who left friends and families behind to join their husbands at sea.

On board a "hen frigate" (any ship with the captain's wife aboard), a woman grappled with loneliness and boredom as she strove to create a home on a wind-driven freighter at sea. A deft historical interpreter, Druett interweaves the first-person accounts of these remarkable wives and daughters with the lyrical narrative of a sea journey -- from home port to foreign port. The true stories of what they encountered on their often amazing voyages -- from romantic, moonlit nights on deck to harrowing encounters with sea-sickness, storms, and even pirates -- are more fascinating that any sailor's yarn.

Lavishly illustrated with authentic seascape and maritime portraits, this path-breaking volume transports readers back to the golden age of sail. Hal Roth, author of After Fifty Thousand Miles, heralds Hen Frigates as "wonderful writing and research about American heroines of the sea".
Joan Druett's prose is so smooth and the content is outstanding. I was hooked and so this is my #FridayReads today. What's yours?

p.s. Druett is a New Zealand historian who specializes in maritime history. Much of her research is done in the U.S. and she's written a bunch of books, both fiction and nonfiction. I feel an author crush coming on!
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