maggie and milly and molly and may

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

— e.e. cummings

January – What I’m Reading

Here’s what’s on the reading list right now:

Kevin Crossley-Holland The Norse Myths – in this introductory text on Norse Mythology, Crossley-Holland combines myth retellings with strong scholarship on the original texts for each myths. This book is extremely readable, and I love flipping back and forth between the myth retelling and the scholarly notes on each myth (which includes the original texts the myth is derived from, and any modifications that C-H made, as well as alternate ways of telling the myth).

Seanan McGuire Rosemary and Rue – Haven’t started this yet. This is the first book in the October Daye series. If it’s as good as her InCryptid series, I’ll be thrilled. I’ve been saving the second book of that series for later in the year.

Jim C Hines Libriomancer – Another book I’ve purchased but haven’t started. Magic and books, what could be better? Oh, also a fire spider. I am looking forward to the fire spider. This is the first in another series (the second book has been published already). I loved The Stepsister Scheme, so I’m hoping I will like this one as well.

J. K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – listening on audio book. This is month 4 of the Harry Potter re-read I’m doing with Tami and her blog readers. (I haven’t actually finished Prisoner of Azkaban yet, but I’m almost done)

Diana Paxson Tranceportation – a book on meditative trance. This was recommended to me when I mentioned that I do a lot of meditation and was looking for some different ways to approach it (since “blank mind” meditation is hard, especially with anxiety issues). I’m about two chapters in, and it’s interesting so far. Supposedly there are guided exercises later in the book.

Hidden Perks

A quick google search on tips for commuters turned up a really interesting Lifehacker post, that claims the average US commute is 50 minutes. Having never commuted more than 30 minutes in my life (unless you count the “commute” from Waco to Houston and back each weekend), it’s been hard to get used to “losing” so much time during my day.

I’ve done a number of things to try to make my daily commutes into something less… well, hated. It’s been hard for me to get used to being a captive audience for two or two and a half hours every day. Fortunately I’m a relatively low stress driver – traffic doesn’t really freak me out, I don’t compulsively change lanes, and road rage just isn’t my thing.

(Though I’m not above making the occasional sarcastic remark…)

While I won’t call “adjusting my commute” a hidden perk, it’s nice to know that my work supports my working 6:30am to 4pm instead of forcing me to try to keep an 8-5. Being creative about my route helped too – while all the traffic map generators are going to tell me to stick to the highway, it’s no further mileage wise and a lot less traffic to take a state highway/smaller road (even hitting all the stoplights). Instead of the volatility of a highly congested, merge-heavy stretch of 5+ lane highway insanity, I’m on a road that’s 2 lanes each way, with very few people driving on it.

Audio books have also been a big winner. I’ve really enjoyed some of the books I picked up (mostly with the last few purchases on my employee discount at the bookstore… *shifty eyes*).

The Harry Potter books, narrated by Jim Dale, are delightful, as are any of the Hercule Poirot books narrated by David Suchet – my favorite of those was the short stories though. I also really enjoyed Stacy Schiff’s biography of Cleopatra. Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates is funny and historical, but hasn’t kept my attention as rapt as some of the other books I’ve listened to. (When you go through 10+ CD’s a week, you can get through a lot of audio)

The biggest unseen winner, though, is my Jawbone. I’ve not used a bluetooth headset before, and SSH convinced me that this would be a good purchase. He was unbelievably right. For more reasons than just the sound quality.

One of the things I’ve been missing with my new job is the community I was used to having in my free time. I’m not super keen on spending a lot of time in front of the computer when I get home, and my attention span is pretty short when I’m tired, so I’ve not been much into gaming. In fact, beyond twitter and email on my phone, these few blog posts have been more computing than I’ve done in awhile. Which means… I’m feeling kinda lonely.

Enter the Jawbone. Now, since I’m a captive audience for 60+ minutes every day, I can use those 60+ minutes to do something a lot of people don’t seem to do too very often anymore.

Call and talk to people.

It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten to hang out on the phone for an hour with my best friends, but it goes a long way toward alleviating the lonelies. Really catching up with people is pretty nice too. And I don’t feel like it’s “taking away” what little free time I have, since I’d be sitting in the car anyway.

I suppose, over all, none of this is particularly groundbreaking, but I want to start this whole venture into the commuting world on the right foot, so to speak (the right tire?). It’s tiring enough to do the drive, without having all the other emotional baggage on top of it. I know eventually it’ll be routine, just part of my day, but I want that to be something I can use, and not something I just have to tolerate. I doubt it will ever be “ideal”, but at least it can be bearable, right?

What do you use for a Bookmark?

I ran across a really interesting book/website yesterday when a customer asked for it (we didn’t have a copy, sadly).

Forgotten Bookmarks is a collection of things found or used as pagemarkers in old and used books. The author is a bookseller, and I can definitely relate to the sheer curiosity of things found in old books. Sometimes it’s a little bit like looking into someone’s life (especially if the bookmark is a card, letter, or plane ticket stub). While I haven’t seen the actual book yet, I’ve wasted a good bit of time poking through the website and looking at all the ephemera that Michael Popek has collected.

It’s kind of voyeuristic, in a way that Post Secret used to be, in that you’re looking at these little tidbits of people’s lives.

I know I’ve seen things at the buy counter that have made me wonder where the person was from and what they were like – both in the collection of books they bring and in the odds and ends that get left behind when people clean house. The most poignant was someone’s collection of refrigerator magnets, a whole life in pictures and souvenir magnets all tossed in a plastic grocery sack. (Those didn’t get thrown out, thankfully) The books with inscriptions, especially meaningful ones, I usually try to point out to the seller – often they don’t care, if their items are just from someone’s storage unit or from a distant relative, but sometimes they choose to keep them.

This is probably the hardest part about buying books from the public. I’m essentially putting a value on someone’s memories, and I have to help them see that those memories don’t really go along with the books. Two copies of a novel, one which sat on a shelf and one that was carefully read by someone’s favorite aunt are still just two copies of a novel to the store.

On the other hand, things like forgotten bookmarks can be really interesting ties to the past – receipts from college bookstores in the 50’s, a notecard with a list of books on it. These things aren’t really personal memories, but they’re interesting tidbits none the less.

As such, I can’t decide if I should order Forgotten Bookmarks… or just wait for it to come into the store, used, and see if there’s anything fun left inside it.

What Do I Read Next?

One of the most frequent questions I get as a bookseller is a variation on “What should I read next?”

(It’s not the top question. That’s “Do you have a book?” followed by “Where’s the bathroom?”)

It’s actually a fun part of bookselling, helping someone who knows they love a certain book or kind of book find something new and exciting to read.

Except there are a lot of books/genres I don’t know anything about.

Unfortunately I can’t log into something like Shelfari from work (not allowed to log into anything from any work computer). I can go to Google and hope the power of the internet (and/or Amazon’s suggested other books) will bail me out, but there are a few really fantastic websites that can help more quickly. And quick is important – nobody wants to stand around while I putter on the internet trying to figure out what kind of book they want.

These are my go-to websites (depending on the query):

  • What Should I Read Next? – Yes, this actually exists as a website. Enter a title or author and get a list of suggestions of other authors and titles that you might check out. This is my major lookup, especially if someone has read EVERTHING by a certain author or authors.
  • Fantastic Fiction – a great listing of author biographies, lists of titles by each author, and author suggestions. While it’s no guarantee that your favorite author will suggest books that you’ll like, it’s a neat reference and they tend to stay within genres.
  • Wikipedia – If all you need is a list of a series in order, Wiki is likely your quickest lookup. Many series aren’t written book 1 through book 10, and often Wikipedia will have a list both in chronological publishing order and in “plot” order.
  • GoodReads – books by title, author, ISBN, and genre and often with reviews. While the majority of social options aren’t available on GoodReads without signing in to an account, you can read the reviews there without it, and they list new releases by genre.

So the next time you finish a really great book and want to read something similarly awesome, these resources may be able to bail you out – especially if you’re online shopping (or on your phone at the bookstore).

Or, you know, ask a bookseller. That’s what we’re for! (But we do appreciate if you have more than just “I saw a book over there, it had a blue cover, do you still have it?”)


*crossposted from Seven Deadly Divas*

Forty-ish years ago, a senator by the name of Gaylord Nelson (Wisconsin) organized a nationwide environmental teach-in to help educate children and the population about environmental concerns. This was called Earth Day, and the first year saw about 20 million people participating.

Now, around 500 million people will “participate” in Earth Day (or Earth Week) around the globe.

It’s an interesting holiday, and one that has sparked a bit of back-and-forth within the environmental community, for a few reasons.

My own criticism of the holiday stems largely from the idea that we can learn about all kinds of things in one day, but UNLESS we actually make a change that matters, it won’t make any difference. Giving people a token action (say, giving money once to a local environmental charity) is not that useful if it is a one time token action. The money will be well spent, but one donation does not an environmentalist make.

Also, a lot of the things pushed for Earth Day are trivial.

Yes, choosing to use a reusable bag is a worthwhile investment, as it chooses to use a reusable thing rather than a disposable one… except that many reusable bags are made of plastic (more petroleum) or cotton (a crop that requires HUGE amounts of chemicals in most growing operations). And that paper bag comes from trees, and requires a lot of processing.

In short, most of the advice – like these stamps supposedly rolling out from the USPS this week – is insipid and silly in a culture that already KNOWS that there is shit going down with the environment. Maybe it’s because I had the luxury of being in grade school after the onset of Earth Day celebrations, but I’ve heard “turn off the water when you brush your teeth” since I was old enough to brush my teeth.

Most people have already chosen where they will or will not make changes. Right now, human wants are going to trump proposed “environmental changes”, especially when they’re inconvenient, or painted as inconvenient by industries that would be harmed by the change. And really, many “good” changes cost money – even so called “simple” ones like adding insulation to your house. Plus, some people think that anyone asking them to take care of the environment is just taking away their God Given Freedom To Do Whatever The Hell They Want as they throw still lit cigarette butts from their neon orange Humvees.

But then, if I look back at what I just wrote, there was a level of success there. Learning about the environment and taking care of it was just part of the April curriculum at school. It gave us a chance to plant trees and learn about sprouting beans in the classroom window.

If Earth Day can make little knowledge accessible to little kids, then I’m all for it. Much like Earth Hour, though, it’s only useful if we take it beyond one day. Knowing that you should do something is different than doing it.

Planting a tree is no use if all you do is plant it, and then leave the poor little sapling to shrivel up and die in the summer heat with no water. You did little for the environment UNLESS you kept up with caring for it.

Earth day works if Earth Day is a seed, not the full extent of the education.

As with any project, though, we have to start somewhere.

The used bookstore where I work spends a lot of time and resources on recycling and other small community education programs, as well as chain wide “competitions” (where stores work to use fewer bags for purchases, and then the Corporation donates a certain amount of money for each declined bag to a nation wide charity). Plus, a used bookstore is, at heart, a recycling operation. Our receipts for sold merchandise say “Thanks for giving a new life to your stuff.”

So today, as part of our store’s celebrations of Earth Day, I’ll be reading The Lorax aloud to whatever children I can find to listen. This will happen (in some form or another) in all the Half-Price Books stores in the country.

And I will emphasize to them the great UNLESS that Dr. Seuss poses to all of his readers. The challenge of UNLESS that is central to the message of The Lorax:

UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It’s not.

-The Lorax, Dr Seuss

Storytime with Anna

As I was practicing for my performance of The Lorax at work, I recorded myself reading it. I figure if I post that on the internet, I’ll have a HUGE audience, and that’ll be a little less nervous than reading for my coworkers and customers.

So here you go: The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss

(And yes, it’s better with pictures)