Tag Archives: Library

The Sunday Salon: For My Mother, Who Read to Me (And Then Some)

The Sunday Salon

“You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be–
I had a Mother who read to me.”

Strickland Gillilan, “The Reading Mother”

I started reading when I was three years old.

I don’t remember how this wonderful world of words was revealed to me or what book I was reading, but it’s a good bet that my mom had something to do with it.

I say this because if I think back to my earliest reading days, it really starts with my mom.  She’s the one who took me (and my not-a-reader brother) to storytime at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Fox Chase Branch. She made me piles of large index cards that I spread out on the floor and combined into different sentences – over and over again, for hours. Those sentence combinations became my first stories. This wasn’t work; this was, honest to God, my idea of a fun time.

From what I remember of my ’70s childhood, my mother wasn’t an avid reader but I wanted to read anything that she had – whether it was a book she owned or one from the library.  There was a sandy-colored book about a boy named Gideon (maybe that was the title, I can’t remember) who had learning difficulties. My mom read Erma Bombeck.  I remember her reading a book on the finger math system Chisanbop, and later, Carolyn Chute’s novel The Beans of Egypt, Maine. 

I remember spending hours at night and on weekends in her office together typing nearly 200 pages of what would become my first novel – my entry in an Avon/Flare publishing contest for teens. I didn’t win, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized how much that support meant to me.

I’ve been thinking about the idea of influence – how it is that the who and the what and the where aspects of our lives have the most impact on the people we turn out to be. Every day I see kids come into the library with their parents and caregivers for storytime and other programs, and it makes me wonder what, exactly, it was that sparked my interest in books and reading and writing. I wonder how different my life would be if my mom hadn’t brought me to the library when I was the same age, if she didn’t show me how words on flash cards could be transformed into sentences, if Santa Claus didn’t bring me my own typewriter when I was five years old.

My son is not a reader. He used to be, but not anymore. This, despite having parents who are avid readers, a mother who works in a library, a house full of books, and a legacy of being read to constantly as a child. I find myself questioning what I did wrong, as if the fault is mine. God knows I’ve made my mistakes as a parent but on the reading front, I honestly think I’ve done everything humanly possible to get the kid to pick up a book.

On the other hand, my daughter loves reading. She often has five books going simultaneously and the library where I work was one of her “must visit” destinations before we ever moved to Pittsburgh.  We read the same books (she’s currently enthralled with The Fault in Our Stars and we have big plans to see the movie on opening weekend).

I used to think that my mom knew what she was doing. I don’t mean that in the wrong way; I mean that in the sense that I guess that, up until recently, I always thought she knew some secrets that I have yet to figure out. She says things were much easier back then, and while that may be a matter of perception, I think it’s just that they were different. I’ve come to the conclusion that in the end, it’s really all a crapshoot. So much of this parenting gig is trial and error. We can do everything the so-called experts tell us to do and yet little or nothing “sticks.” There’s no reason why I love to read and my brother doesn’t. Same with my own kids. A crapshoot.

Maybe my mom felt like that in some aspects of raising me and my brother. In fact, I don’t need to wonder; I’m sure she did. By the time she was 45, the same age I am now, she had been a widow for three years – and suddenly single-parenting two teenage kids. I can’t imagine how the hell she did it. I honestly can’t.

So in the meantime you do the best you can. You write your own book. Sometimes, you’re surprised at what works.

And most of the time, well … you’re just surprised.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.


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The Sunday Salon: Spring 2014 Readathon Wrap Up

The Sunday SalonReadathon - Day and NightAlong with more than 800 other bloggers, I spent yesterday participating in Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon. Well … six hours of yesterday, if we’re keeping track (which I was). With 156 pages read, that’s an average Readathon for me, so I’m pleased with those results.

Oliver TwistI’m especially glad to be done with Oliver Twist.  Oh my God, this book. Just tortuous. Seriously. The only reason I was reading it (and definitely the only reason I stuck with it, especially during a Readathon) was because my son was reading it for school. As many of you know, my son is a very, very reluctant reader. It’s something I’ve been trying to work with him on for years now, to no avail, it seems. Reading is just not his thing. So, not only did he choose Oliver Twist on his own to read for a school project, but he actually seemed to enjoy it. There’s more to this which I’ll write about later, but suffice it to say a 6th grade reading assignment is why I didn’t abandon Oliver long ago. (We weren’t required to read along with our kids. It’s just … well, it’s kind of an involved story.)

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryToday I took my daughter down to the library where I work because she wanted to participate in a teen writing workshop we were hosting. While she was busy with that, I started The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. This is getting a lot of buzz on the book blogs and elsewhere, so I’m curious to see how this unfolds. Plus, any book that manages to find a way to involve books is usually one that I tend to enjoy. So far, I am … it’s a cute story that is making me nostalgic for Martha’s Vineyard, where The Husband and I honeymooned for nine days, once upon a time. I’m waiting for a plot development that’s supposedly gonna knock my socks off.

(I’m also betting this becomes a movie in 3 … 2 … 1.)



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The Sunday Salon: Small Books for Short Summer Days

 The Sunday Salon

And the days dwindle down to a precious few (to borrow a great line from the even greater Frank Sinatra) and I find myself wanting to fill them with a bit more summer. A few more mornings of sleeping in, a few more afternoons of reading at the pool, a few more evenings of doing the same on the porch.

The time for reading chunksters has passed. During these mid-August days, I have a craving to consume as many small books as possible. Our church held an evening kids camp this past week (the UU version of Vacation Bible School) and each night my kids were there, I hung out at the gorgeous Northland Public Library (one that I have a job application into and would love to work at, if they happen to be reading this) and browsed.

(And secretly re-shelved about a dozen mis-shelved books, hoping my mitzvah would result in some much-needed good job karma being sprinkled my way. I don’t want the $448 million Powerball (well, OK, I kind of do) but something slightly more than minimum wage will suffice in the meantime. And what can I say? Once a library page, always a library page.)

While my kids learned about their place in space, I grounded myself – sitting in the plush chairs by the library’s unlit gorgeous fireplace (a fireplace!) and browsing through short stories (“Paranoia,” a newly discovered Shirley Jackson tale published in The New Yorker featuring Anthony Weiner on the cover); poetry (Swan, by Mary Oliver, not my favorite of her collections), plays and research books for my novel, and Mark Doty’s fantastic memoir, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon. 

Still Life with Oysters and Lemon

“Everything in our field of vision is passing. And some of these things will be here just the briefest while; these opened oysters, this already spotted quince are right at the edge of corruption even as we catch sight of them.

And yet, in the suspension these paintings, they will fade no more slowly than the hobnailed glass roemer, or this heap of rifled books; everything floats on this brink, suspended above the long tunnel of disappearance. Here intimacy seems to confront its opposite, which is the immensity of time. Everything – even a painting itself – is evanescent, but here, for now, these citizens of the great community of the disappearing hang, for a term, suspended.” (pg. 21)

Everything in our field of vision is passing. Sunday will be here just the briefest while.

Enjoy today.

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The Sunday Salon: Summer Reading

The Sunday Salon

One of the things that I love about our library is its Summer Reading Club. For the most part, it’s the usual set-up for the kids: read a certain number of hours, be eligible for prizes (with fun activities interspersed throughout the summer months).

Betty is like me when it comes to summer reading. Each year, she sets her goal even higher than the year before – so much so, that sometimes she needs some reeling in. 

“This summer, I’m going to read 400 books,” she announced.

Now, Betty’s the type of 11 year old who, if she read a mere 399 books when her goal was 400, this would be a travesty. The world would need to stop on its axis and disintegrate. So, while I told her that 400 books would be awesome, I also had her crunch the numbers to learn that this translates into a minimum of 36 books per week, or at least 5 books per day.

She has since revised her goal down to a total of 200 books (or: 18 books per week, 2 books per day).

On the other hand we have Boo, who is ready to take a page from the Jaden Smith playbook and file for emancipation from me if I dare to suggest once more the notion of reading during the summer. He would happily spend the next 11 weeks reading the credits of his favorite TV shows. (To be fair, he also does a fair amount of video creation and story writing. But his reading and language arts skills need a big boost and I’m feeling that we’re past the “let him read what he wants” stage. He’s not on par with his reading, I’m afraid.)

So, we’re doing Summer Reading at the library. What I love about this is that our library also offers a Summer Reading Club for adults.

Yours may also. Many do. It’s just that this is the second full summer we’ve lived here and the idea of an adult summer reading club makes me feel like I’m 5 years old and back in the Free Library of Philadelphia checking out as many books as my mother and I can pile in her yellow Volkswagen Beetle for the drive home.

This is absolutely my thing. I could care less about the prizes. (Yeah, they give prizes to the grown-ups too!) In reality, all we do is track our books on the library’s website and submit (optional) reviews, which – hello! – is kind of what I already do here, but gimme another place to track and make lists of my books and I’m in!

My only problem is that I am freakin’ inundated with books and review deadlines right now. The Summer Reading Club’s theme this year is “Dig Into Reading” which feels rather appropriate. You should see the piles beside my bed. There’s no difference between my night table and a pallet of books at Costco.  I’m in the midst of reading The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, which is so damn good. Absolutely loving this, and it’s probably going to be among my favorites for 2013.

Big Book Summer Reading Challenge

Library summer reading programs not your thing? Then consider signing up for the 2013 Big Book Summer Challenge, hosted by Sue Jackson who writes the blog Book by Book.  This one is so easy, you guys. All you have to do is read one book of at least 400 pages this summer. One book!

Usually I’m overly ambitious (wonder where Miss “I’m Reading 400 Books This Summer” gets it from?) and I make a big ol’ list, but this year, there’s only one that I’m committing to definitively. That’s Andre Dubus III’s The Garden of Last Days. He has a new novel, Dirty Love, that comes out on September 30 which I’m reviewing for my new gig with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Before doing so, however, I want and need to catch up on his previous work. (Self-promotion alert: my first published – and paid – review was in the paper this week.)

What do you have on your summer reading list?

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Retail Therapy

I was in need of some retail therapy today.


Fortunately, today was the opening day of our library’s annual book sale.

(Some people’s retail therapy consists of buying shoes. Mine involves buying used books.)

The picture above represents just the fiction haul. (List below.)

Here’s the nonfiction.

And here they are, happy together.  (Me too.)

In Zanesville, by Jo Ann Beard
The Weight of All Things, by Sandra Benitez
A Judy Blume Collection: Three Novels: Deenie, It’s Not the End of the World, and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, by Judy Blume (this one is for Betty)
The Double Bind, by Chris Bohjalian
A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libby Bray
Possession, by A.S. Byatt
Breaking Silence, by Linda Castillo
Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetze
Bluesman, by Andre Dubus III
The Liar’s Diary, by Patry Francis
Mrs. Kimble, by Jennifer Haigh
Tabloid City, by Pete Hamill
Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin
Eli the Good, by Silas House
A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
The Heretic’s Daughter, by Kathleen Kent
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart
One Heart, by Jane McCafferty
Junebug, by Maureen Mccoy
Morning Sky, by Judith Miller
The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje
Outside the Ordinary World, by Dori Ostermiller
The Fates Will Find Their Way, by Hannah Pittard
Bigfoot Dreams, by Francine Prose
Icy Sparks, by Gwyn Hyman Rubio
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
The Year We Left Home, by Jean Thompson
Affinity, by Sarah Waters
You Are Special: Words of Wisdom from America’s Most Beloved Neighbor, by Fred Rogers
Cultivating Delight:  A Natural History of My Garden, by Diane Ackerman
The Secret to True Happiness, by Joyce Meyer
The Women’s Chronology: A Year-by-Year Record, From Prehistory to the Present, by James Trager

Total cost? $19.50!

I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you! copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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The Sunday Salon: Wolves at the Door

Tuesday is starting to loom large. We meet with the surgeon on Tuesday to learn The Husband’s biopsy results and to discuss next steps. Most likely, that evening my life will resemble yet another episode of  “Parenthood” (telling a kid with Asperger’s that a parent has cancer? check!) and we’ll be having a conversation that nobody ever wants to have. So, things are a little subdued around here, to say the least.

I tried to distract myself with Bloggiesta this weekend but I confess, I wasn’t quite feeling it this time around. That’s absolutely no reflection on the awesome job that Danielle and Suey did in organizing this event – quite the contrary. I saved all of the mini-challenges to do later, because they look fantastic.

I managed to get a few things accomplished on the blog front, which I’m happy about, but today I had to get out of the house. There was a children’s consignment sale being held not too far from us so Betty and I went down to see what they had. She needed some new pants and tops. Since today was the third day of the sale (it started Friday night), I wasn’t sure what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised. I wound up getting 17 items (mostly all name brand pants, tops, sweaters, etc.).

I’m ending September and starting October by reading Tell the Wolves I’m Home, a coming-of-age novel by Carol Rifka Brunt about a 14 year old girl who is trying to make sense of her beloved uncle’s death from AIDS in 1987, when we didn’t know much about this epidemic. 
Yeah. I know. 
When I heard about Tell the Wolves I’m Home earlier this summer, there was a part of me that sort of collapsed inside. If you’ve read any of my posts about The Novel in Progress, you know that this is incredibly, incredibly similar to the novel I’m writing – and have been, on and off, for the past 10 years or so. I don’t think it’s anything other than coincidental. 
Still, I wasn’t sure if I was going to read Tell the Wolves I’m Home, if I wanted to read it, or if it was even a good idea for me to read it. 
But when I saw it in the library – face out on the New Books shelf, no less – I grabbed it and I realized what my hesitation was about. 
I was afraid. 
I was afraid that Tell the Wolves I’m Home would be better than my story, that it would make me abandon my novel, which I really don’t want to do. 
Which I can’t do. 
My reaction to this one so far is hard to explain. It’s a highly personal one, and for me, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a hell of an emotional ride on several levels. But even though I’m only on page 53, I’m enjoying the wolves. (How could I not? Junie is me, absolutely.) And overall, I’m glad I’m reading it, because although the storyline has some definite similarities, there are some differences too. I wouldn’t have known that if I refused to read the book. 
I would have remained afraid. 
Sometimes you have to let the wolves in rather than pretending they’re not there. 

copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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The Sunday Salon: Restless Reader

I am SO excited, yinz. I has a new toy! 
Well, not really a new toy exactly, but close enough. I finally figured out how I can download library audiobooks onto my phone and listen to them! 
(I hear you laughing. You’ve been doing this for years, right? If so, don’t tell me and spoil my fun.) 
Up until now, my audiobooks have been listened to one way and one way only: in the car, on CDs. (It was cassette tapes up until 3 years ago, as I DIDN’T OWN A CAR WITH A CD PLAYER UNTIL 2009. I don’t own an iPod. Before April, I didn’t own a phone that was smart enough to read books to me. Livin’ the dream here, folks. Yep, livin’ the dream.) 
Anyway, so I discovered this new technical ability of mine on Tuesday, as I found myself in need of an audiobook to entertain me on the ride to and from my writers’ group meeting (it’s a 50 minute drive each way) and no time to hit the library. I looked through what I had on my Wish List and the next thing I knew, it was like Malcolm Gladwell was sitting in the passenger seat with me.

It is truly a kind of magic that I can log onto my library’s website, enter my library card number, and a few clicks later, have a book on my PHONE. (After installing the software that enables it to be so.) 

I chose Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. I know he’s often criticized, but I like Malcolm Gladwell’s stuff. I find his anedotes and stories  interesting and entertaining, particularly so in an audiobook format. I read The Tipping Point (in print) about 5 or 6 years ago, before my book blogging days.

So now, I want to listen to ALL THE BOOKS. On my phone. Because I can.

I needed a nonfiction book after reading what has become this summer’s hottest book – Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Oh my God … like most people who have read this one, this book just blew me away.

I’ll have more to say about this in my review, but what it left me with was an absolute restlessness in my reading. You know what I mean: you read an awesome book that keeps you riveted to your seat, and then everything that you pick up afterwards just doesn’t compare.

That’s happened to you, right?

Such has been my reading week this week.

I hate that, because it’s usually not the book’s fault nor the author’s. It’s more just a matter of timing. In those instances, my tactic is to switch genres: if it was a fiction book that had me captivated, I choose nonfiction as my next read, and vice versa.

This time, even that wasn’t doing it. I started Gail Collins’s As Texas Goes …How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda, but the first chapters with Texas history were losing me a bit. I switched back to fiction, with Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility, and promptly put that on the back burner too. (I’m not declaring either of these as DNFs just yet; I think they are just a victim to the post-Gone Girl phenomenon I’m dealing with.)

I’m restless on the personal front, too. I’ve had one of the laziest summers of my entire life and I still don’t feel like I’ve gotten everything accomplished that I want to. My own fault, that. I’ve also been writing a lot this week – as in, my own novel. I’m a slow writer in this regard; I revise and edit as I go, which means I’m only up to Chapter 3 and approaching 5,000 decent (I think) words. I’m on deck to submit something to my writers’ group in September, plus (dare I say it?) I am allowing myself to be optimistic about a job I might possibly hear about this week, which would put an end to my lazy days of novel writing and throw me back into the world of the gainfully employed. So, I have some self-imposed pressure, in a way.

Perhaps a book with Time as its theme would be in order.

Virginia Woolf, anyone? Today finds me reading The Years, Woolf’s second-to-last novel (published in 1937) about the large, well-to-do Pargiter family. Their mother is dying, and the novel follows each of the characters through “the commonplace moments” (according to the book jacket) and the years that make up a life.

So far, this is okay. I’m ambivalent about Woolf. Loved, loved, loved Mrs. Dalloway, but was just eh about To the Lighthouse. I want to love her. I really do. I just haven’t read enough of her to make up my mind or to have enough of a solid opinion.

Time will tell. This restless reader will give Woolf (and herself) a little bit more. 

copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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