changes a-coming

I have mentioned before that there are changes afoot around here at pagesofjulia. Now, I’m seeking a little input.

Starting December 30, I will be a student in West Virginia Wesleyan College‘s Master of Fine Arts program studying creative writing, specifically creative nonfiction. This is a full-time commitment, so I’ll be taking my work for Shelf Awareness back to a minimal level: probably one review a month, to start with, while I find out how much free time I have from school.

This means less time (and built-in material) for pagesofjulia, too, obviously. I have found this blog so rewarding and educational an experience, and I’m humbled to have all your follows & comments. I would never want to let this thing go away. But I do have to make more time, and more space in my brain and reading/writing time, for this new priority. I’ve had some thoughts (and some input – thanks Liz) about how I might continue to keep some activity going here, and hopefully keep most of my readers more or less satisfied.

I’m thinking one post a week is a realistic goal, especially if all those posts aren’t wholly new content. And I’m interested in sharing my grad school experience with you, to a certain extent. I thought I could do some combination of reprising older posts, with comments on how my thoughts are changing, or about what books I’m interested in rereading as an MFA student (Joe Gould’s Teeth comes to mind). And I thought I’d do some quick updates on what I’m reading, what I’m writing, and what I’m thinking about on a given day. These would be super short, but hopefully follow the general theme of pagesofjulia. Maybe some teaser-style posts as I find bits of writing I want to share, too. And, the odd review for the Shelf, naturally.

So I would love to know what you’d like to see happen here as life twists and turns. If you could take a minute to answer the poll here, I would be grateful. And of course, if you have further thoughts, please do comment as ever!

The second question is about what day of the week you’d like to see me post. If you have a strong feeling about this, please let me know in a comment. Otherwise, we’ll probably be looking at nice, neutral Wednesdays.

Thanks for your support, friends. And, until the new year begins, don’t worry, I’ll see you back here tomorrow.

a few notes on driving cross-country

First, some statistics.

  • miles driven: 2999.5
  • state lines crossed: 6
  • passengers: 2 human, 2 canine
  • cargo: some 600-1,000 lbs., including
    • 1 large ceramic sculpture;
    • camping gear;
    • bedding;
    • household spillables & flammables, 1 propane tank, 2 fire extinguishers, 1 CO2 canister, guns & ammo*;
    • 1 crate of books;
    • 2 bicycles;
    • 2 suitcases per person;
    • 1 dog bed;
    • two buckets of dog food**
  • days, total: 14
  • nights, total: 13
  • nights in hotels: 4
  • mountain bike rides: 6
  • books read: 6

Glitches (inexhaustive):

  1. Moving truck broke down before it was able to load our household goods, which were then moved to storage and did not leave our town of origin for 7 days, at which time we had been on the road for 12 days. At time of writing, we are still camping out in our new home with a mattress on the floor and a patio set of table and 4 chairs. We do now have wifi.
  2. House came with stove and refrigerator, no washer/dryer. Washing machine finally delivered 2 days after purchase–did not work. Washer #2 so far seems operational.
  3. Husband woke up grumpy§ and immediately angry that one outlet, then another, then a third would not power his laptop. (He works from home.) I drove him to the local library to work from there; ran an errand, and came home to begin work myself, only to find that he has taken my laptop power cord with him to the library. Text Husband to inquire why he has taken my power cord. Long pause. “So that’s why it wasn’t working.” Turns out the outlets in our house are fine.

Funny observation:

  1. If you go to sit with the dogs in the back bedroom so they won’t bark so much while the man is here to install internet & cable, leaving Husband to deal with installation, Husband may be asked to provide answers to security questions on your shared account. One of these answers will make perfect, intuitive sense to you. One will make no sense at all. No matter: these are the answers to your security questions.

Or, in photos (as always, click to enlarge):

mountain biking with Husband and friend Pete: Redmond, OR

mountain biking with Husband and friend Pete: Redmond, OR

Snake River: Twin Falls, ID

Snake River: Twin Falls, ID

riding Porcupine Rim: Moab, UT

riding Porcupine Rim: Moab, UT

dogs, book, coffee on porch: Durango, CO

dogs, book, coffee on porch: Durango, CO

Turret Arch, looking from North Window: Arches National Park

Turret Arch, looking from North Window: Arches National Park

old dog happy in Guadalupe River: New Braunfels, TX

old dog happy in Guadalupe River: New Braunfels, TX


Quibbles aside, I recognize how extraordinarily lucky I am to have been able to make this move at all, let alone to make it in the way we did: hiring movers to take the bulk of our stuff so we could drive, slowly, just the loving four of us (Husband + dogs), to see the country on the way. Soon, we will have couches and beds and pots and pans and bookshelves again. We love our new hometown. Life is good.


*in other words, everything the movers won’t move.
**the old dog is on a prescription diet.
†thanks to friends & family!
‡including audiobooks and lit journals.
§this is standard.

personal update: on the road again

This post is a bit belated, I suppose: today is the day that Husband and I hit the road for another cross-country move! It’s been just a hair under two years since we moved from Houston to Bellingham, Washington, and now we are en route to a new home in the sweet little town of New Braunfels, Texas. Two people, two dogs and two bikes (and a big precious sculpture and a tent and sleeping bags and lots of books, etc.) in a truck, southbound.

this is two years ago in a U-Haul. but we probably look something like this. Husband says: "Truck-driving Mama and Dog as her copilot."

this is two years ago in a U-Haul. but we probably look something like this. Husband says: “Truck-driving Mama and Dog as her copilot.”

The great adventure continues, y’all.

More big news: in January I will be entering the low-residency Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing at West Virginia Wesleyan College. (Read more about that program here.) This will bring big changes in my life, and is bound to bring some changes here at pagesofjulia. For one thing, I will be cutting my work for Shelf Awareness back drastically, until I get a grasp of what the school workload looks like. It saddens me to loosen ties with the Shelf, who I adore: this is far and away my favorite job I’ve ever had (although I think of the cancer hospital library fondly). It will be important to me to keep doing what work I can for them; but we’ll just have to see what that looks like.

I will almost certainly have to cut back on posting to this blog, too. I don’t yet know what that will look like. Maybe one book review a week would be a safe goal? I can continue with the occasional teaser and book beginning; but I don’t think the 5-day-a-week format will be realistic. I haven’t worked this out yet. If you have thoughts or feelings, I’d love to know them.

In the meantime, you can picture my little family visiting friends in Bend, Oregon; family in Durango, Colorado; doing some mountain biking; visiting some national parks; and moving into a rental home with a big backyard for the dogs. I will breathe deeply, and keep reading.

Posts will continue while I’m on the road, of course, and I’ll see your comments in a timely manner as ever.

Thanks for your support, friends.

birth/place project launch at Defining Place

A few weeks ago I asked for your help with a project. That project has now gone live: I’m calling it birth/place, and you can visit it here. I want to thank those of you who have offered to contribute, and I invite the rest of you to do so. Also, of course, you are invited to follow birth/place at that link. New images go up every Tuesday morning, so you’ll get just one ping a week (unlike the five-day schedule I keep here).

defining place
I’m having a fabulous time exploring place, and I just hope some others out there find it as fascinating a conceptual journey as I do. Thanks as always for reading, friends.

states project: can you help?

Call this a break in our regularly scheduled programming: I’d love a little help, readers. I am working on a class project that involves making contact with people born in each one of the 50 United States, as well as Washington, D.C. and protectorates like Puerto Rico and Guam. As you can imagine, I know lots of native Texans, and am doing all right with some larger or heavily populated states like California. (I am surprised at how many people I know who were born in Michigan. Why Michigan?) I could use help with some of the teenier states in New England – hello, Rhode Island – and others. I won’t list them here because I’ll probably take all comers: I am accepting multiple submissions.

Where were you born? (image credit)

Where were you born? (image credit)

I am asking for volunteers to receive an email request from me for your participation. If you choose to play, it could take as little as five minutes or so for you to contribute to my project. (There is also room, if you feel so moved, for you to spend more time on your submission, but that is entirely up to you.) If you’re intrigued, please shoot me an email at juliasbookreviews at gmail dot com, and I’ll get back with you. Of course you can always back out, too.

For my readers who were born outside of the United States (& territories etc.), if you’d like to participate, you’re welcome to drop me a line as well. I’m not sure in what form such submissions will make it into the final project, but I’d love to hear from you. It would be great to be able to expand this concept on a global scale, but as an issue of scale & simplicity, I’m beginning with just the one country.

Thanks for helping, if you choose! And always, thanks for reading.

how long the lines would be

I’ve said it before. I think I started saying it when I worked as a librarian in the leisure-reading library of a hospital, and people would ask me for reading recommendations: when they insisted on hearing what I would read, I would carefully point out that that’s not necessarily relevant to their needs. We can’t all like the same things in life, and it’s a good thing: imagine how long the lines would be.

I think it’s okay, and even beautiful, that we don’t all like the same things or have the same strengths & weaknesses. As my marriage of almost 8 years now continues to grow and flow, I learn more and more how different Husband and I are, in how our minds work, although we share many tastes & values. It makes us a stronger team, which is something I didn’t consciously recognize when we married. That’s a digression, though. I’m talking about what we all enjoy in life. We like different music, different food, different hobbies and different people – and again, good thing, because it wouldn’t work out well if we all wanted to marry the same person or thought Johnny Cash was the *only* artist worth listening to: how boring.

In books, though, there seems to always be a pressure to recognize one novel by a certain author as her classic work, or to agree that Faulkner is high art and Stephen King is pulp. I confess that some part of me still feels this pressure from time to time (although I think I’ve given up on Faulkner). But I’ve been trying for years to learn for myself, and to assert to any audience I may have, that it’s okay that we have different tastes. It really is.

The other day, I reviewed The Tender Bar, a book I loved. Not everyone will love it, though. For one thing, the author is extremely nostalgic and loving of one bar. This should go without saying, but if you are impatient with nostalgia in general, or opposed to bars in particular, this book will not work for you. I read a review online by a reader who doesn’t drink and doesn’t “get” the love of an individual bar: he didn’t like this book. Surprise, surprise. It’s okay! This just wasn’t a good match.

Further, Moehringer indulges in sentiment. If this is a major turn-off for you, no problem; but you should read elsewhere. We don’t all like that tone. And probably many of us like that tone only when it’s a nostalgia we can share – like, if you’ve loved a bar the way Moehringer loves the Publican, you’ll be better able to tolerate and appreciate his sentimental remembrances than if you have not. This doesn’t mean that I’m wrong, or that that other reader is. There’s room for both of us.

A writer I greatly respect recently expressed surprise that I love Rick Bragg as much as I do. He wrote to me:

I’ve always thought Rick Bragg was a bit of a blowhard. Maybe I’m too northern, or too judgmental when it comes to style. Maybe I just like a cleaner line.

When I read those lines, I immediately felt that I knew exactly what he meant; and I understand his criticisms. I think we are observing more or less the same things, although of course I didn’t describe my observations the way my friend did: I had a different personal reaction to the same writer. Because my friend and I are two different people. And isn’t that as it should be?

When I write book reviews solely for this blog, I am speaking with my personal voice, as Julia, about my personal reactions. When I write for ForeWord, or Shelf Awareness, or other employers, I am supposed to remove the personal: I’m supposed to behave like I did when I was a librarian performing readers’ advisory services. I try to show what the book is about and what strengths it has to offer and, in other words (sometimes explicitly, sometimes not), what kind of reader might enjoy it or be turned off. This is why I (rarely) add an addendum to the published review when I repost it here on my blog. This is also why you might see me rate a book lower than the review seemed to imply. That is to say, this is a good book – for a different reader than I.

As the number of books I read and review continues to grow, I continue to feel lucky to get to do this work. I love learning, I love meeting new people and concepts between the pages, and I love the intellectual as well as the emotional play between the book and myself. And I guess I just wanted at this point to stop and say: we won’t all love the same things, and that’s a beautiful fact. Take my ratings with a grain of salt. Ideally even, learn my tastes so you can recognize where we will and won’t agree. Don’t be afraid to like different things than the next person. I know a lot of people can’t stomach Hemingway, and that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends! Anyway, the lines are shorter this way.

more on Rick Bragg

I am struggling to respond to the book I just finished, so I wrote a letter instead.


Mr. Rick Bragg,

I make a very small living as a book reviewer these days, but reading your books I am no kind of book reviewer, because I don’t know how to write about what you do when you write about your life.

Of course I believe that the best books for us find us at the right times, and yours have found me at the time when they can hit me the hardest. I am having a crisis of identity and place, having moved from my hometown of 32 1/2 years in Texas to a small town on the Canadian border of Washington state, which I have found largely unworkable. Your writing about places I have never lived and know only a little or not at all – Miami, New Orleans, rural Alabama – makes me feel homesick. Your writing about being a displaced Southerner at Harvard, or in New York City, resonates with me, although I am not the same as you. I’m from a big city – the fourth largest in the country – and have moved to a small one; but your displacements feels familiar all the same.

You are, of course, one of the finest writers about food that I’ve encountered. At the risk of offending, I will say I don’t eat pork, because I don’t like pork; but your descriptions of cracklin’s (etc.) still make me wish I were there and not here.

I am not one of those “who went to speech school to get rid of their accents,” in part because I don’t have much of an accent, being from a city, but what I have I will keep – although I was at one point one of those, as you observe, who fear “they sound slow, or at least unsophisticated, to outsiders.” When I interviewed for a big-time academic job in the North, I worried about saying y’all. I shouldn’t have. I don’t apologize, any more.

Houston is many things, big and diverse, containing multitudes, and that is my single favorite thing about the place; this also means that Houston can be a bit schizophrenic, even self-loathing. You write that Atlanta “tears down its history with wrecking balls, and builds something bland and homogenized in its place.” Houston has done too much of that, although it’s done lots of other things with its history, as well.

This wasn’t supposed to be about me, but that’s the work your writing does. I see a lot of myself and my own experience, even where I see all sorts of adventures that are unknown to me. That’s a piece of work, in itself.

You’ve made a big difference to me. Keep up the good work. I wish you and yours all the best; you feel like friends to me now.

Thank you.

Julia


Tomorrow I’ll try again to write a book review.

%d bloggers like this: