The last Saturday in April is Independent Bookstore Day, which made me think of such bookstores I have known and loved. The first was during my college years in Athens, Ohio. Logan’s was way more than a bookstore. One could buy Ohio University memorabilia and textbooks, of course, but also everything from greeting cards to Vanity Fair underwear!
My next bookstore love was during my years in Canton, New York. It, too, sold more than SLU textbooks and related items. My cookbook collection started there. Everything from candles to pottery was at hand, as well as the work of local writers and artists. When it moved into what was once a hockey arena, the expanded space allowed for a coffee bar and comfortable seats scattered about.
Both of these bookstores are located in small towns with no easy access to larger cities, and so they took on the character of general stores of old.
Indie bookstores in cities are typically more focused on books and closely related items, such as journals, bookmarks, etc. And sometimes they have a specific mission. For example, Politics and Prose spotlights political and social issues in the books it caries and in the speakers it features.
I tend to seek out independent bookstores wherever I spend a lot of time. The Tattered Cover in Denver is an old, multi-story bookstore carrying books for all ages and interests. One can easily spend hours browsing books, magazines, and newspapers. The space is charming, with sunken reading pits, elevated areas, and appealing woodwork. And people ready and willing to help one.
The Fountain Bookstore on East Cary Street, in Richmond, is much more intimate than the Tattered Cover, but Kelly Justice is a treasure. She owns and operates the store and often features book signings and talks by local writers. Do stop in!
Other independent bookstores in the Richmond area include Chop Suey Books, bbgb Tales for Kids, Book People, Stories, and RED Books.
Independent bookstores are more than just stores; they’re community centers run by passionate readers. They are as good as secondhand bookstores in offering the possibility of serendipitous finds. In addition, they support the local economy through job creation and tax dollars. So buy local!
Independent Bookstore Day is a one-day national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the country. Every store is unique and independent, and every party is different: authors, live music, cupcakes, scavenger hunts, kids events, art tables, readings, barbecues, contests, and other fun stuff. Check out what’s happening in your area!
In a world of tweets and on-line searches, bookstores are not dying out. They continue to grow and expand and enrich the lives of readers and communities. So prepare to party down tomorrow!
When my ship comes in. Getting sacked. Raining cats and dogs. Cut the mustard. Knowing the ropes. Our everyday language is full of phrases we use without thinking of how they came to mean what they mean. But let’s cut to the chase here.
We all know that carouse means to party down, probably with a lot of drinking. But do you know how the word came to be? I didn’t until I read it here. “A ancient Roman goblet used by the Germans was made in the shape of a crouching lion, with the belly as the bowl so that a drinker couldn’t put it down until he finished his wine. This led to the German toast Gar aus!, meaning “Completely out!” or “Drink fully!” when drinkers lifted their goblets. Over the centuries Gar aus eventually became garouse and finally carouse in English, meaning to engage in a drunken revel or to drink deeply and frequently.
When it comes to books about language, one is never enough for me. In the past I’ve mentioned Bill Bryson‘s Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way. There are many other books around about the evolution of language. And while I find them good reads, they really aren’t handy references.
For quick, focused access, look elsewhere. For example, last week I was talking with a friend about how different parts of the country use different words for the same thing, such as bag, sack, or poke. She’d never heard of poke meaning any such thing. That led me to say, “Still common in parts of the south during my childhood. And have you never heard of a pig in a poke?” She hadn’t. And I was unable to explain clearly why that phrase should mean a blind bargain. But Brewer came through for me! “The reference is to a common trick in days gone by of trying to palm off on a greenhorn a cat for a suckling-pig. If he opened the poke or sack he “let the cat out of the bag,” and the trick was disclosed. The French chat en poche (from which the saying may have come) refers to the fact, while our proverb regards the trick. Pocket is diminutive of poke.”
The Oxford book gives similar information, but often in less detail. For example, Dutch uncle is defined as “a person giving firm but benevolent advice; the expression is recorded from the mid 19th century, and may imply only that the person concerned is not an actual relative.”
The Funk book is the opposite. Each entry is quite detailed, and a hair of the dog that bit you gets half a page, beginning “This stems from the ancient medical maxim, Like cures Like—Similia similibus curantur,” and goes on the reference the Iliad and trace the phrase over time.
Webster’s Dictionary of Word Origins is much the same, albeit with fewer entries. When it comes to general browsing, these are my favorites!
Last but not least, let me mention one of the more specialized references. As the cover promises, Ammer’s book is all about food phrases.
Delve into the origins of words and phrases. You will find amusement as well as information!
If you read only one magazine for writers, make it Poets & Writers.This is a bi-monthly publication that covers the waterfront for writers. Regardless of your genre, reason for writing, or skill level, there’s something here for you.
In the last six issues, topics covered include articles on literary agents and the business of writing; hot new writers; MFA programs; writing contests; and a personal favorite of mine, from last Sept/Oct issue, “Big Ideas for the Next President.”
Although there is a clear recognition of young emerging writers, P&W also carried a piece about 5 debut authors over 50—which is very comforting and inspirational for those of us who think we might have started too late.
As you can see from this Jan/Feb 2017 cover, topics for each issue range broadly, from learning from rejection to writing about trauma. The next issue featured George Saunders, known for his short stories, who has written a debut novel; also included are articles on writing getaways and retreats and savvy self-publishing.
The most recent issue again dips into current events, with its article on the NEA at risk/the arts funding under Trump.
I cannot endorse Poets & Writers too strongly. At least get a trial subscription.
I recently visited one of my favorite bookstores, the Raven, in Northampton, MA. I came away with three treasured books.
You may know that I collect dictionaries. And yes, I have shelves of them. What makes this one worthy of acquisition is that it spans multiple English-speaking locales. For example, the noun gam is British for oral sex, but in Australia it is a sanitary pad or tampon. The noun crack in the US refers to the drug; in Ireland and Britain it means a good time but when preceded by “the” it means what’s going on the latest news, or current ambiance. It’s also a vulgarism for vagina in all English-speaking areas. (Lots of slang refers to sex acts and genitalia.)
As an adjective, it’s British for top-notch or first-rate. As a transitive verb, it means to share or split.
(N. B., the meaning of slang often depends on context.)
My second find is a compilation of anecdotes and their attributions. More accurately, it’s a list of sources and related stories. For example, under Mark Twain there are 23 entries, such as “In a world without women,” Twain was once asked, “what would men become?” He replied, “Scarce, sir. Mighty scarce.”
The backmatter includes a source list, bibliography, index of names, and–perhaps most valuable to writers– a subject index.
Last but not least, I bought a book of insults. They are so often creative and funny. “He smokes the kind of cigars that leave you smellbound.” The contents are organized by subject.
One reason to love used books: they’re inexpensive. I got all three of these for $20.03, including taxes. The best prices are usually at library book sales or at yard/tag/garage sales.
But secondhand bookstores have the advantages of permanence and variety. I started my collection of slang dictionaries at Second Story Books in Washington, DC.
I browse used bookstores more broadly than others. When I entered the Raven, I wasn’t looking for the books I bought!
The Tattered Cover is another favorite of mine, though it is technically a hybrid: it sells both new and used books.
BOTTOM LINE: Check out used bookstores. You might surprise yourself!
In high school I played percussion, but I never mastered a tuneful instrument–which I’ve always regretted. So, I recently started taking dulcimer lessons. The instrument and the music are rooted in Appalachia, as am I. In short, it’s important to me.
But so far, I’ve managed only one lesson and one practice per week– usually the morning of the lesson. This is not the road to proficiency!
I truly intend to practice, but there’s always something else to do first. Make the bed. Empty the dishwasher. Celebrate my birthday with my bridge buds.
AND THAT BRINGS ME TO FIRST THINGS VS. IMPORTANT THINGS.
It’s easy to fill your life with things that are right in front of you–or that have a date certain–and never get around to some things that are truly more important.
When my children were little I often lamented the clutter and mess in my house. (I was a psychology professor at the time.) One day a friend with four children just older than mine said, “If they aren’t doing structural damage, don’t worry about it.”
Which brings us to the point: LOOK AT HOW YOU SPEND YOUR TIME AND DECIDE WHICH FIRST THINGS CAN BE MOVED TO LAST. If writing is truly important to you, make time for it.
Given that the most prominent spring holiday is Easter, my first inclination was to write about that. However, upon researching it, I found so much information online that anything I blogged would be a mere taste. So, if that is your interest, by all means search the web.
For some reason, whenever I think about Easter-related reading, I think Beatrix Potter. Maybe it’s the rabbits. In any event, her stories—the first published in 1901—are timeless, and still sell millions of copies worldwide. Why not dip into one—or more? You will be charmed. Or if you are a long-time fan, maybe you will be charmed all over again.
As you may know by now, I am an equal-opportunity celebrant. Although Easter is by far the most important holiday, there are numerous bizarre and unique holidays this time of year as well. Between now and Easter, we have the following.
4/11 Eight Track Tape Day (remember those?), Barbershop Quartet Day, National Submarine Day
4/12 Big Wind Day, Russian Cosmonaut Day
4/13 Scrabble Day
4/14 Ex-spouse Day, International Moment of Laughter Day, Look Up At The Sky Day, National Pecan Day, Reach as High as You Can Day
4/15 Husband Appreciation Day (3rd Saturday), Rubber Eraser Day, Titanic Remembrance Day
4/16 Besides Easter this year, fixed holidays include National Eggs Benedict Day, National Librarian Day, National Stress Awareness Day
So, whether you read about Easter and/or pick up a Beatrix Potter, why not crack open one of these lesser-known celebrations?
And never an explanation or even a mention of the jarring juxtaposition of ethnic heritages. Perhaps it is time to revisit issues around character naming.
I wrote a blog post in October 2015 about character naming. Let’s review:
What’s in a name? Perhaps a rose by any other name would not smell as sweet.
Consider your name.
How was it chosen? What does it mean? How does it look? How do you feel about it?
My father John shared his name with a brother of his mother. My mother’s, Alta Wavalene, came from her father’s youngest sister and her mother’s youngest sister. There are no Vivians on either branch of the family tree. Were my parents consciously striking out in a different direction?
One story I heard growing up is that Vivian was the name of my father’s first girlfriend, and he liked it. So, does this reflect my father’s dominance or my mother’s confidence?
Vivian means lively, and likes bright or vivid colors. The latter definitely applies, and I like to think the former does as well. As for appearance, Vivian is all spikes and angles, especially when written in caps: VIVIAN. Hmmmm. No comment. But I do know I felt out-of-place among the Sharons and Shirleys and Barbaras. As a child, I wanted a nickname and it was never forthcoming. As an adult, I like that I have seldom come across another Vivian, and only an Italian chef ever called me Vi.
Consider character names.
Your characters’ names are as important to them as yours is to you. Give them some thought. As with everything, there are books out there to help. My personal favorite is Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon. For one thing, it starts with an overview of things to consider. In brief, and paraphrased, the ten guidelines are:
Capture the persona
Consider heritage, personality, and trade/profession
If you choose a name that breaks the rules, make a point of it
Avoid names that others have made famous
Your character’s name is the usual introduction to the reader. Lydia is harder than Nora. Cynthia is more upscale than Bertha. Bart is stronger than most two-syllable male names.
In deciding on names, avoid not only the beginnings, but the endings. Alex, Alice, Amy, and Andrew will confuse readers and turn them off. At the same time, choose nicknames and/or endearments with care. I recently critiqued a manuscript in which William was Billy to the family, Victoria was Vickie,
Margaret was Maggie, Susan was Suzie, and endearments were honey and sweetie. Not a big deal, but if the reader notices, it’s too much.
I like Character Naming because of its breadth, and because it separates names by ethnic roots and meaning. But it isn’t the only book out there. Indeed, you can go to a local telephone directory and mix first and last names.
And if you are interested in the humorous side of writing, consider these:
That way you won’t inadvertently name two friends Barbara Smith and Barbara Morton and end up with BS and BM!
Consider the article “13 Surprising Ways Your Name Affects Your Success” by Maggie Zhang and Jenna Goudreau. The main points of their article are highly relevant to writers. If your name is easy to pronounce, people will favor you more. If your name is common, you are more likely to be hired. If your name is uncommon, you are more likely to be a delinquent. If you have a white-sounding name, you’re more likely to get hired. If your name is closer to the beginning of the alphabet, you might get into a better school. If your last name is closer to the end of the alphabet, you’re more likely to be an impulse spender. You are more likely to work in a company that matches your initials. Using your middle initial makes people think you’re smarter and more competent. If your name sounds noble, you are more likely to work in a high-ranking position. If you are a boy with a girl’s name, you are more likely to be suspended from school. If you are a woman with a sexually ambiguous name, you are more likely to succeed. Men with shorter first names are overrepresented in the c-suite. Women at the top are more likely to use their full names (e.g., Deborah, Cynthia).
And one final point for authors: Think carefully before giving your main characters long or hyphenated names. You are going to be typing those names a gazillion times!
I did not grow up in a book house. In my earliest years, the only volumes we owned were a huge two-volume pictorial history of WWII and several Bibles. Dad subscribed to Field and Stream and Mom subscribed to True Confessions. So I wasn’t exposed to children’s books till I was in school and able to read for myself.
The first book I remember reading was The Little Mermaid. I read it for two weeks, the amount of time we were allowed to keep books from the county bookmobile. Every time I read it, I wept. To this day, one of the reasons I love books is their ability to engage my emotions. The rule for the bookmobile was two books per visit, but I had a note from my teacher allowing me to take out as many books as I wanted. Every two weeks I walked home with all the books I could carry between my fingertips and my chin.
A second book I remember vividly was a world geography book. I can still see the image of an African village. That section fascinated me! Everything from the jungle, to the half-clothed bodies to the strange looking houses to the jewelry. And that’s a second thing I still love about books: they can take me places I’ve never been and expose me to people unlike myself.
At one point I was obsessed with fairy tales. This started with a book in my grandmother’s house. These were the old version of tales intended to teach morality lessons, often with terrifying consequences for the evil characters—not the prettified Walt Disney versions with their cookie-cutter princesses. For example, in attempting to fit into the glass slipper, one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters cut off her heel and the other cut off her toes. One thing fairy tales taught me was the willing suspension of disbelief that allowed me to embrace fantasy, magical thinking, and other things unreal.
Around what would now be called middle school, I became enamored of two heroines. For some reason, I was never drawn to Nancy Drew. Instead I was drawn to Ruth Fielding, an early twentieth century girl from a poor family who had a scholarship to a private girls’ school and Cherry Ames, starting with her first year in nursing school. Both were lively, and somewhat unconventional, often breaking rules for the greater good, etc. So, another function of books in my life was exposure to role models I saw nowhere in my real life. I still love series in which the characters grow and develop over time—Diana Gabaldon, for example, over Patricia Cornwell.
Although I did not realize it at the time, books taught me that the same situation or event could be seen differently by different participants. Before I started writing, I don’t remember ever hearing about point of view, let alone thinking about it. But the fact is that books showed me, indirectly, that not everything was as I saw it.
Books serve multiple roles in my life today: escaping down moods, relaxing, laughing. One of the best is leaning something new. My most recent acquisition in this realm is A Brief History of Bad Medicine, which deals with the strange but true history of quacks, weird surgery, and medical disasters. But, you will recall, I’ve also mentioned Bill Bryson, Mary Roach, and John McPhee as leaders in creative nonfiction. I might add Richmond writer Dean King to that list.