Saturday, December 24, 2016

'Tis the Season! Some of My Favorite Christmas Stories

Back last Halloween, I brought up something pretty unique to the way my family celebrates the holiday season: a fat stack of children's books that takes up residence on our living room table for the duration of October. This means of spreading a happy Halloween was borne from having four children in the house, alongside plenty of their friends, every year... and it's no surprise that we maintain an even more gigantic stack of such reading material for Christmas, as well!

Last time I counted, we were up to 50-odd books, which made the jump from spreading out across the table to making their home on the fireplace somewhere around the 40 mark. This veritable cornucopia of all things Christmas is my favorite part of decorating every year, and contains a collection of every kind of kid's book imaginable, from silly sing alongs - like Alan Katz's Where Did They Hide My Presents? - to reason-for-the-season Christian stories, like Max Lucado's The Crippled Lamb. 

(And, of course, how much does my family love both Christmas and this holiday season? Enough to have two separate books, both titled A Pirate's Night Before Christmas!) 

Despite the fact that there hasn't exactly been an appropriately-aged readership for these kinds of books in this house for a while now - my youngest brother is 15! - this pile continues to grow year after year. And despite my own age, one of my favorite holiday traditions is still flipping on the tree lights, and basking in the glow of our blinged-out, bird-filled Christmas tree with books I've enjoyed before I was even old enough to read.

Image result for the night before christmas carousel bookThe Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house... no other Christmas classic could start the season off in such an iconic way.

We've had a pop-up version of this story displayed, carousel-style, on our living room table every year since I was a kid. The beautiful, multi-layered illustrations have provided a visually engaging counterpoint to the density of the original language, and I've spent plenty of my life on the floor, twirling it around in my hands.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Image result for a christmas carol book goodreadsNo one ever warned this Muppet-loving twelve-year-old that this was a ghost story, until I was already fifty pages in and nowhere near ready to turn out the lights just yet. Dickens has the distinction of having authored one of the best Christmas stories and one of the best ghost stories of all time... and I'm talking about the same book!

As the old miserly Scrooge has his life changed in the course of one night, after he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, so, too, was my life changed, when the decision was made to have our whole family act in a local community theater musical version of this story. We did so for three consecutive years, and still quote the lines from the show to each other at appropriate moments during the holidays. No other time in my life have the six of us been able to take the stage together, and every year, I'm reminded not only of the importance of holiday cheer and good will towards men, but of how happy I am to spend time with my family!

Image result for the littlest angel book
The Littlest Angel, Charles Tazewell

So, my mom has been a Sunday School teacher for over a decade, and I've been her assistant enough years to feel like I know the Christmas Nativity material front, back, and sideways by now. But one viewpoint I had never stopped to consider, was that of the angels watching the whole thing play out from the clouds.

This story - of a little angel who picks the perfect present for the newborn child, built up of the things he loved most during his own short time on Earth - never fails to make me cry!

Image result for how the grinch stole christmas

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss
There's no going wrong with this one: it's just a classic! From the original Seussian standby, to the animated take, to the riotous Jim Carrey-helmed live action movie, this tale of the grumpy Mount-Crumpit dwelling Grinch is beloved by all, no matter the iteration.

Besides, its animated installment has a special place in the hearts of Sigma Kappas everywhere, as Ted Geisel's wife was a member of Sigma Kappa Sorority  - he himself was a Sig Ep at Dartmouth - and there are several nods to some of our secrets sprinkled throughout its animated film counterpart!

27776515 My New Favorite:

Dear Santa: Children's Christmas Letters and Wishlists, 1870-1920, edited by Mary Harrel-Sesniak, with commentary by J. Harmon Flagstone

Unsurprisingly, one of my most recent holiday reads was added to the pile by the fireside by yours truly, and it's not exactly the same as the rest of the children's books that lay stacked there. This one is a little more thickly bound, a little more intended for adult audiences, and it's even nonfiction!

This curated collection of real-life letters to Santa from the golden age of its practice, features not only the heart-warming requests of children around the globe, but also highlight reels of the historical events taking place at the same time. The more the world changes around them, the more the wishes of its children stay the same. Even almost a hundred years after the final letter was written, that same sense of childlike wonder that surrounds the Christmas season reminds me to take things a little less seriously!

What are your favorite holiday reads, especially for children? Maybe I'll have to pick up a copy or two!  Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Leaving Under My Tree (and a Few that Will Already Be There!)

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

Well, we're within a week left of sugarplum-dream-filled sleeps 'til Christmas, and I've finally finished picking out the perfect presents for friends and family.

However, while I'm busy trying to figure out what I can get away with sticking in a gift bag, and what deserves the full wrap-and-bow treatment, I'm stuck pining after the books that await me under the tree come Christmas morning (Get it? Pining...).

This week's "Top Ten Tuesday" topic celebrates that forward-thinking mindset, and lets us all share a couple of the cool and exciting titles we're hoping to find nestled 'neath the branches.

Peeking at my Presents - Things I Bought Myself and Know I'm Getting

Okay, okay, so there's that age old adage: "If you want something done right, do it yourself!" So when Black Friday deals rolled around after Thanksgiving, I sat myself down at my computer, and got right to it. Then, of course, when they arrived, I handed them off to my lovely parents to give me right back. I get the books I want, and they have presents already pre-selected by yours truly... everybody wins! 

Image result for edith wharton three novels of new yorkImage result for invasion of the tearlingImage result for in the company of women bookImage result for smitten kitchen

Three Novels of New York (The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, The Age of Innocence), Edith Wharton
The purchase of this collection of classic novels had very little to do with a sudden craving for American social commentary, and everything to do with the vibrant lilac of the cover, and delicately poised illustrations on its front and back. I'm not only excited to read it, but also to see how pretty it looks on my bedside table!

The Invasion of the Tearling, Erika Johansen
I had read the first installment of this series in the fall of last year, and despite my interest, had kind of forgotten about it until I lent it out to a friend - Callie! - this past summer, too. After rave reviews from her - and even more from mass media about the series' conclusion, which is out now - I knew I needed to finally pick up a copy.

In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs, Grace Bonney
As a recent college graduate, I'm in a constantly struggle to avoid crumpling up under the weight of self-inflicted expectations for what my life is supposed to look like. One of the things that have helped curb off the hollow feeling of missed potential, is by reading about the struggles and survival stories of successful people I admire... like in this book! It's thick, it's quick, and it's absolutely gorgeous to flip through. Plus, right now, I need all the help I can get.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, Deb Perelman
After following the Smitten Kitchen blog for years and years, I was overjoyed to see her come out with a cookbook compendium of some of my favorites among her pantheon of recipes. Then, of course, I waited a good couple of years - checking it out of the library in the interim - until it was on sale enough for me to grab it for myself!

Stuck On the Sleigh - I Mean, It's Not Like My Parents Read My Blog or Anything... 

But, I mean, there's no such thing as getting TOO many books for Christmas, amirite? Just in case there's an odd number of gifts that need to be balanced between me and my three siblings this year, here are a few quick picks that, in a sheerly hypothetical sense, someone would be able to pick up at a local Barnes and Noble real quick for a last minute wrap session. (Just kidding. Hi, Dad!)

Image result for the romanovs bookImage result for playing dead bookImage result for romeo and or juliet book
Image result for miss don't touch meImage result for dark matter bookImage result for the girl with all the gifts

The Romanovs: 1613 - 1918, Simon Sebag Montefiore
Maybe it's the fact that this is one of the most beautiful covers I've seen all 2016, or maybe it's the fact that the Anastasia musical is set to hit Broadway in the coming year, but this book has been consistently grabbing my attention every time I see it in someone's perfectly-styled #bookstagram. It's too pretty to pass up!

Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud, Elizabeth Greenwood
Whether it's the fact that I read about the other side of the crematorium business recently, or it's that my first-ever NaNoWriMo project had to do with fake obituaries, but this topic slapped me right in the face as soon as I read it off the cover. I just want to read about more death, guys!

Romeo And/Or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure, Ryan North
Oh, come on. Not only is the idea behind this project too cute to say no to, but a quick peek at the illustration-laced pages inside assures you that there's plenty of fun to be had for more straight-laced fans of the Bard, as well. Plus, it just gained a companion, with it's newest installment, To Be Or Not To Be! 

Miss Don't Touch Me, Hubert
I'm trading a space on my Christmas list typically reserved for the next installments of some of my favorite comics series for this sturdy study, about a young woman in Paris working undercover in a house for call girls, in order to track down the man who murdered her sister. Don't lie, you just got a little intrigued, too!

Dark Matter, Blake Crouch
Placing on - if not topping - almost every major list of the year for science fiction, I've been entranced by the hype surrounding this title. A real mind-bender, perfect for rounding out a totally surreal year!

The Girl with All the Gifts, M. R. Carey
As someone who is not at all a fan of a certain kind of monster story - one you've certainly began to associate the book with, if you've watched the moving previews of its film adaptation - this book keeps on catching my eye, despite the amount of times I've tried to tell myself I wouldn't like it. Even though that kind of uncertainty would usually relegate a book to the "library" pile for me, I think it would be a good idea to buy anyways, just because my sister and Dad would probably want to read it afterwards. Before we go see the movie, of course!

SO, I think that's my Top Ten. Of course, there are still plenty of non-bookish presents I'd like to see under the tree come Christmas morning, too... so how about that puppy, Dad? I've been a great kid all year!

What's in your Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Bits of Books: Nora Ephron, and Mamrie and Hannah Hart

I've been stuck in a bit of a reading slump through the latter portion of this year: whether it was stressing about my Orlando trip, completing my NaNoWriMo Challenge, or even just trying to make the most of my holiday spirit this December, my focus hasn't exactly been on reading... and as a result, I've fallen five books behind on my Goodreads Challenge, with only about 20 days left before the new year!

However, despite the fact that I haven't been reading as much, there are still plenty of books left that I have managed to read this year, that I still never ended up reviewing in the first place, several of which I thought were really good. So, even though my reading habits are shot, that doesn't mean my blogging habits should be!

This bits of books is a short-and-sweet roundup of some recent reads, from seriously funny ladies. 

Nora Ephron, I Remember Nothing and I Feel Bad About My Neck


I haven't had much experience with author Nora Ephron, besides all the movies I love that she's helped create, like You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, or Julie & Julia. Now, I'm kicking myself that it took me 'til after she'd died to pick up some of her written material, because her voice is one I'd want to hear for a very long time. 

These two books of hers, in particular, are very similar: brief collections of essays, lists, and more inner musings of a woman who was both wildly in love with life and food, as well as all-too-aware of the ways she was getting older. These slim packages were low on word count, but high on humor. 

Her voice is intimate and universal, as if the things she's telling you are secrets that only you can know, that the whole world can relate to. From writing about her career beginnings, to the small bald spot - dubbed an "aruba" - on the back of her head where her hair refuses to cooperate, everything she says is slyly funny, sharply clever, and possessing a spirit and spark I can only hope to cling to once I've entered my twilight years. 

I'll definitely be on the lookout for more books from her in future library trips, because be it home entertaining, journalism, or movie making, I'd listen to her talk about anything, because you can bet that it will be funny. 

Mamrie Hart, You Deserve a Drink


Straight out of the success of her wildly popular and pun-filled YouTube channel, comes Mamrie Hart, ready to mix up a custom cocktail of hilarity, irreverence, and, yes, plenty of booze, just like she's known for on the Internet. 

And let me tell you, Mamrie here knows her personal brand like the back of her cocktail shaker. On her channel, she's boisterous, exuberant, and twenty different kinds of fun and zany, and somehow, she's managed to repackage and re-purpose those same qualities of herself, and flip it into an incredibly successful collection of the same tales she's used to spinning on YouTube. 

Accounts of Dairy Queen-heavy car trips and too-nude beach vacation excursions abound in this series of stories, perfectly encapsulated in the book's title. If there's anyone who deserves a drink for making it through this crazy, kooky, sometimes-cringe-y collection, it's you, because, let's face it: Mamrie's had plenty. 

While the Looney Tunes capers might get a little repetitive after a while - let's be real, after a few nights out, our crazy friends' stories all start to sound the same - at the end of it all, you're left thinking two things: 1, I'm so glad Mamrie's not dead, and 2. Because I'd really like to drink with her. 

Hannah Hart, Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded

Hannah Hart - zero relation to Mamrie, one of her best friends - is also a wildly popular YouTube phenom, with plenty of alcohol-infused street cred, as well. 

As host of the popular series My Drunk Kitchen, Hannah has already released a best-selling cookbook of her drunken kitchen creations, of the same name; however, the vodka-soaked blissfulness of her zen cooking style is proliferated with plenty of nuggets of surprise mindfulness and reflection, too, that merited their own vehicle for publication. 

One of my favorite things about Hannah is that core of chill optimism and wisdom that winds throughout her YouTube videos, bespeaking a greater sense of connectivity with the world than just what her social networking abilities would entail. This collection of stories from Hannah's childhood, career development, college years, and more, only verifies her abilities to reflect and reveal, without ever seemingly condescending or blunt. 

It isn't just that Hannah is outspoken about the challenges of America's mental health stigmas, it's because she grew up with a schizophrenic parent, and multiple step-parents who couldn't help them. It's not that she's a national ambassador for the LGBT community, it's that she struggled with escaping her pastor father's devotion to religion in order to define what love means for herself. A childhood growing up in substantial relative poverty helped grow a love and appreciation for food of all kinds. Through every story she shares, Hannah weaves a greater understanding of the puzzle pieces of her life that fit together in a way that's brought her to where - and who - she is now. 

(My younger sister - the person who I introduced to Hannah's videos in the first place, and who now shares my love for her funny, fabulous personality - waited for two hours in line in order to get a copy of Buffering signed with a special message by its author, and then gave the copy to me for my birthday. It's only another layer of loveliness to a very exceptional book, from an equally lovely person.) 

Have you read books by any of these funny ladies before? What did you think? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

New to Me: 5 Tips for Buying Books Secondhand

That adorable kitty in the foreground? One of two that call the cement floors and cushy armchairs of King's their home. This one is Atticus (of To Kill a Mockingbird fame), while his buddy, Herbert (named for Tacoma native and science fiction author Frank Herbert) was probably laying around somewhere in the back.

The other day, I had about an hour to myself while my younger sister was getting her haircut in Stadium District of Tacoma. While I bemoaned boredom and desperately tried to find something on my phone to entertain myself with, a plan was quickly put into action, when she recommended I wander down to one of my favorite places... King's Books! 

King's Books is a secondhand bookstore specializing in New, Used, and Rare titles, and it might just be one of my favorite places in the whole world. From its mismatched furniture, to wooden shelves filled to bursting with titles of all genres and authors, to the two beautiful kitties who call it home and are always happy to entertain guests, every time I step inside King's, it reminds me of the tranquility and agelessness of the art of reading.

As I wandered through the shelves, picking up titles that piqued my interest, and lovingly nestling them back in their spots when they lost it, it dawned on me that while I'd always love my trips to various bookstores, there really isn't anything that beats shopping secondhand. From exciting surprise finds to age-worn, new-to-me titles, there were so many variables that secondhand stores bring to the art of finding the perfect new book that just aren't present in your neighborhood Barnes and Noble.

So, being that by now, I can fully consider myself an expert in the Pacific Northwest's secondhand gems - from local faves like King's, to hole-in-the-walls like Magus Books in Seattle's U District, to city phenomenons like Powell's City of Books in Portland - I wanted to share a couple of my favorite tips and tricks for buying books at these unique and varied locations. 

Would you believe me if I told you that all four of these books only cost me about $11 total??? The three on the right were all on the $1 table, while the collection on the left was only $6.50. Score!

1. Get to know your secondhand bookstore.

The best thing about these kinds of stores is that, from the comfy furniture to the friendly employees, they start to feel like family. So, feel free to make yourself at home!

Do a little wandering and poking around, so that you get a feel for layout and organizational flow of the store as a whole. That way, every time you come in, you'll be able to know where your favorite collections are, and where some of the best purchases can be found.

And don't get distracted by just the shelves and titles you're used to... they're not my typical fare, but I find some of my favorite non-fiction and American history reads right in King's. It's because I know what I'm looking for, and by now, I know how to find it!

2. Go in with a game plan... but don't get too specific.

If you come in with a list of books that you're just dying to have, you're bound to walk away disappointed, if not completely empty-handed! Keep in mind what kinds of books are going to be finding their ways to secondhand stores in the first place: while you're more than likely to find your fair share of classics or tried-and-true titles, you're a lot less likely to pick out just the particular book you're looking for, or niche novels that have specific audiences.

Instead, I like to start my search with authors that I'm always on the lookout for, like Jennifer Egan or Jasper Fforde. Then, broaden it out a little: go through your favorite sections, like Science Fiction, Humor, and Memoir/Biography, and see what's hiding in there. After that, if you're still not ready to leave, then you can widen your search out to the rest of the store. Just having a loose directional plan in place will always make your shopping trip easier, and that way, you're less likely to leave thinking that there's something you've missed out on.

3. Have a dollar amount in mind.

I know, I know: they're at such a discount, no one sells this edition anymore, it has the original cover, it's less than $10. Literally, any excuse you can make for adding one more title to that pile before checkout is one I've used before.

The problem with that is, things I've gotten excited about in-store have had their luster fade in just one car ride, once I've realized that I wasn't as excited about the books themselves, as much as the deal I was getting on them.

So, to avoid overload, go into your secondhand store with a specific price point you're willing to go for. And that's not just for total bookstore purchases: know how much you're willing to spend on each book you're getting. The super-hyped paperback you've had your eye on, for less than $10? Score! The clunky hardcover you've never seen anywhere else, for $20? Okay... but make sure you really want it.

(And by the way, anything torn, stained, water-warped, or with a noticeably damaged cover is always a no-go for me, especially if it's not reflected in the price. If you really want it, it's worth buying pretty, and you can definitely find it somewhere else.)

Before you head to check out, try laying all your intended purchases out on a table or the floor, and really ask yourself, "Am I buying it because I like the book? Or am I buying it because I like the price?" Then, adjust your stack accordingly.

4. Always check the sale section!

Here's a fun fact for you: Tacoma is home to a couple cool authors, bloggers, and other readerly people, who also happen to make the same secondhand store their bookish destination, just like me! (*cough cough* Marissa Meyer, author of the Lunar Chronicles series and the recently released Heartless *cough cough*).

Thanks to them, more than a few ARCs end up making their way to King's, and because of their value as pre-published proofs, are only ever sold from the $1 table, after their finished versions have been published. (Like the ones I grabbed on my last trip, seen in the above picture!).

But that's just King's; I don't know what other stores practice. Still, surprises like those aren't the only reason you should be checking out what's the cheapest at these special cheapy stores! Honestly, the $1 section sometimes makes for my favorite Snapchat material, from super-cringe-y chick lit picks from the early 2000s, to bizarre self-help guides, and more.

5. Take your time. 

Even if you've got a plan in place, you know the store and your price point, and you're open to flexibility, you're never going to be able to run right into your neighborhood secondhand and immediately emerge victorious with a fat stack of reading material.

These kinds of things take patience, eagle-eyes, and more than just ten minutes of your time. The best parts of secondhand stores are the art of wandering, gazing, perusing, and ruminating, really deliberating over the selections in front of you, and wondering what kind of addition they'd make to your personal library.

Take a seat. Pet a kitten. Flip through a couple of pages. Like I said before, make yourself at home.

Do you like shopping for books secondhand? Where are some of your fave secondhand destinations? Let me know, in the comments below!