Banning Bookstores: Catching my TBR pile

I’M ACTUALLY CATCHING UP ON MY READING. This is the true meaning of adulthood!

I added a cat for reference. You're welcome

I added a cat for reference. You’re welcome

Throughout college, my for fun to-be-read pile was put aside due to my required reading for classes. Instead of Neil Gaiman, H.P. Lovecraft and Roxane Gay, I was busy reading Shakespeare, Anne Lamott, and…well H.P. Lovecraft (you know, Gothic Literature). Of course, my college reading didn’t stop me from going to bookstores and buying way more books than I could possibly read while in school. Over the years, my to-be-read pile got a little out of hand. It is an accomplishment to be able to actually photograph all the books I need to read.

Since my graduation, I have banned myself from bookstores until I actually read the books I have accrued over the past 4 years. I made exceptions for books I had been waiting on to be published, like Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, but other than that, no book buying at all.

I am determined to lessen the amount of books on my shelf going unread. If you’d like to join me in decreasing the amount of unread books on your shelf, we can do this together! Comment below for support, goodness knows I need it.

Non Reader, Gone Bookworm, Gone Writer: This One Time I Met Neil Gaiman

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The definition of a writer according to dictionary.com

Ever since I knew what growing up meant, I wanted to be a writer. I even was voted most likely to be published in my 8th grade class. Before that, I wanted to be an explorer. Partially because that’s what my sister wanted to be and I wanted to be my sister, but also because I have always had an inexplicable urge to see the world. But in my childhood, my view of the world was a little different. Imagine Skyrim, the video game, fused with Indiana Jones. I used to wander the streets around my infinitely suburban neighborhood, pretending my bike was a horse and peddling into caves and caverns and sunsets.

When I found out being an explorer wasn’t a real career (and archaeology wasn’t all that and a bag of chips), I tried to discover what the next best thing would be. That’s when I found books.

I used to hate reading. The main reason was because I was, and still am to be honest, terrible at reading out loud. During school when I was called on to read, I stumbled and butchered all kinds of beautiful words and stories because I couldn’t make my mouth form the words as fast as my brain was reading them. No one made fun of me directly, but I could hear the silent collective sigh of classmates when a teacher called my name to read. And the whole time I was reading, they were shuffling around in their seats in, what I assumed to be, annoyance.

I wasn’t good at reading, so I hated it. What changed me also changed a lot of the world. The Harry Potter series. My older sister read them, and I plucked the first one off of her shelf wondering what all the fuss was about. This story is much like other stories of my generation.reading-under-the-covers

Once I started reading, I didn’t stop. I would stay up entirely too late with a flashlight under my covers, reading and reading and reading until I fell asleep. I read during recesses at school. My favorite time of the day at school was free reading. I became a bookworm. And it wasn’t a phase.

As almost all bookworms do, I think, I began to want to write. I had a notebook I would carry around with me at school. I called it a novel, but it was really just me writing a fan fiction story almost parallel to the Pendragon series. It wasn’t very good, but I loved writing it.

I dabbled in angsty poetry in high school, I loved writing essays for school. I loved writing, but didn’t believe I could make anything out of it. I had ideas, but they were too strange. Kind of dark and I wasn’t sure there was any place for them but inside my head and in my journal.

No authors ever really came close to my admiration for J.K. Rowling. I didn’t think any authors ever could. But one day, a friend of mine and I were in a bookstore. Seeing someone we had met in high school, we walked over to the science fiction section where he was standing and chatted. “What are you looking for?” I asked him so I could help.

“Anything by Neil Gaiman,” he said picking up a novel with a graphic castle depicted on the front.

“Who’s that?”

“The most amazing author I’ve ever read,” he said, pushed the book with the castle on it back into the shelves and went to ask the bookkeeper where his novels are located.

“Start with American Gods,” he said handing me the book that would change my life. “Then go from there.”

And go from there I did.

I became obsessed, and still am. Neil Gaiman is my favorite author of all time. I absolutely recommend American Gods, then Anansi Boys, then Smoke and Mirrors, then Neverwherethen Fragile Things, then The Graveyard Book, then ALL THE THINGS. He is amazing. That’s the end of my plug, just go read him.

Neil Gaiman was the one who made my drive to write soar. He wrote about things I wanted to write about, weird worlds and intriguing characters and mythical creatures and dark themes. I know many other books have these details, but for some reason Neil awakened the feeling in me that I could do this somehow, too.

I found out he was doing a book tour for his newest book Ocean at the End of the Lane in July of 2013, and I was determined to meet him. I drove four hours to Ann Arbor, Michigan to meet him with two friends. He was late because there was a plane crash in California, and the airport was on lockdown, but he assured us on Twitter he was coming and he was sorry.

We all tweeted him, telling him we didn’t care and to stay safe. While waiting, I wrote him a note on some scrap paper I found, trying to tell him how much I loved him and how much he meant to me as an aspiring writer who didn’t think I could do it until I read his work. Of course the words fell short, but I tried.

When he came and talked and read some words out of his book, I felt like I was in a dream. Neil is a storyteller, that’s just what he does and it is magical.

After speaking, Neil went out into the lobby to sign some books. His agents or crew or people tried to convince him that it would be too late to sign two books for everyone, just sign one. But he wouldn’t. He signed two books for everyone, stood up for pictures when asked very nicely, and smiled. I waited for four hours, I think.

When I finally got up to his table, I clutched my copy of American Gods, Ocean at the End of the Lane, and my crinkled note to my chest. A lady asked for the books, and I handed them over. She asked me my name, and she wrote it down on a piece of paper so he would be sure to spell it right. When I got in front of him, he made eye contact with me and said hello and tried to pronounce my name. I kind of froze, smiled and said hi. As he was signing my books I said, “I know we don’t have time to talk, so I wrote this for you,” holding out the piece of paper in a shaking hand.

He smiled at me, his crew around him made an audible “awww” noise which made me uncomfortable. He did not break eye contact and he said, “I’m going to put this in my pocket and I will read it later. This is one of my favorite things to do after a tour, is read all the notes I get.” He put it in his suit jacket, and I was carried away by the mass of people waiting to meet him behind me. He kept looking at me with a tired, but genuine, smile as I was being pushed towards the end of the table. With a little wave, Neil turned to the next fan in front of him.

One of his crew handed me my books back. I immediately turned away from Neil (hopefully in time), clutched the books back against my chest, and cried. I can’t explain why. But I cried and cried and cried.

That moment was magic. That moment makes me want to be the absolute best writer I can be. That moment makes me want to write from my soul and never stop.

And it makes me believe I can. Because for some reason, I felt that Neil Gaiman, in that minute of talking to me, believed in me too. And I know it is stupid and crazy, but it is what gives me courage. So I’ll keep believing it.

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Post Script- Click here to read Neil Gaiman’s epic answer to how to become a writer.

A Quest for Local Bookstores

I recently went on a Great Plains adventure for my sister’s wedding, which was gorgeous and perfect and full of whimsy and dancing. Traveling to Nebraska, I found myself looking out the window with disdain. There really is, close to nothing, in that part of the country. We passed few gas stations, fewer still sites to see and things to do.

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You can imagine my surprise when I discovered a cozy local bookstore nestled between a gyro restaurant and an art store in downtown Lincoln. It was called A Novel Idea, and run by a generous and kind woman named Cinnamon.

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No, this is not off of Pinterest. I took this myself.

It was one of the most delightful bookstores I have ever been in. They had two fat cats roaming around the bookshelves. Newspaper clippings on the walls revealed these cats were rescued by the owner and loved by all customers. Along with this, the most literary savvy staircase I have ever witnessed can be found in this spot.

The staff was lovely. When I asked staff member Eowyn Ivey what book she would recommend I read before I die, she responded with 5 different novels I never would have picked up myself. I ended up with 2 of the 5, Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk and a magical realism novel titled The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. “Give The House of the Spirits a good hour when you read it,” she said. And I will.

I left that bookstore remembering what websites such as Amazon are missing: the smell of the pages as soon as you walk into a bookstore, the feel of the fuzzy cats on your legs as you search the shelves, and the camaraderie of knowing you are among your own people. People that love books, maybe more, than you do (but surely not). People that will show you the worlds they have found and loved. I’ve longed for this feeling since I left my college literature classes where we would talk about books and worlds everyday.

The nostalgic feeling of that bookstore stuck with me until my last day in Nebraska. I remembered the loved comments about a bookstore called Prairie Lights in Iowa from the 2013 In-Print guest authors at Ball State University, I can’t for the life of me remember who said it. Maybe Elena Passarello or Eugene Cross. On my way back home (which, for me, is Indiana) from Nebraska, I swung by to see what all the fuss is about.

Prairie Lights has some serious curb appeal. Two dark wood doors against a silver building with an awning that says, “Hello, we have so much knowledge in here your brain might explode.” I mean, just look at it.

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HEY THERE SCHOLARS. Don’t mind the trash can photo-bomb.

The people at this bookstore were not as hands on. This may have been because, I’m fairly certain, that weekend had been move-in weekend for incoming freshmen. I worked in a text/bookstore for a year, I wouldn’t want to approach any more nervous and frustrated students either. The important thing is, they were there when I needed them.

And I did need them.

After a while of browsing the crowded novels, I had a question itching in the back of my mind. I thought this seemed like a bookstore that would house Roxane Gay‘s new novel Bad Feminist. I had to ask or forever regret it. “I think we’re out,” a man with a ponytail told me over Dumbledore glasses. Disappointment crept across my face as the employee slapped a few fingers on the keyboard. “Wait, hold on,” he said.

I turned my attention to the mystery books on sale, not letting myself hope. I had been itching to get my hands on a copy, 2014-08-20 19.09.14but knew of few bookstores that had it. I know it is available online, but I wanted it in my hands at that very moment in the most selfish of ways.

“Here you go. Fresh out of the box,” the man said from behind me. My excitement could not be contained. My delight echoed throughout the store, or that’s how it happened in my head.

I purchased one other book here titled Emilie and the Sky World by Martha Wells, which has probably the most beautiful cover I have ever seen. I know this post is picture heavy, but just one more, I promise it is worth it.

We hear stories all the time about bookstores closing down, big chains breaking, and an all around difficulty of the publishing industry due to things like Amazon and Kindles. I get it, books are are hard industry, they always have been. But with places like these laying in wait for book lovers like me, and probably you, to stumble upon, I don’t believe that electronic books could ever replace good old paper and ink. Or at least I am hoping beyond hope.

It’s the people and the paper and the cats and the rustle of turning pages.

It’s the personal touches and contact.

It’s the palpable love for words.

That make these experiences irreplaceable.

Rape Culture is Ruining the Horror Genre

Sensitive material will be discussed in this blog post.

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What is rape culture?

Rape culture is a culture that makes sexual violence both invisible and inevitable. I like this definition because it does not make the issue about a singular gender or group of people. Sexual violence happens to many people, and the number continues to grow at an alarming pace. It has become a problem. We are a part of a rape culture, and recent horror films and TV shows have proven it.

During the past couple of months, I have been attempting to find a new horror film or TV show. I really enjoy being scared, but more than that, I enjoy the way the horror genre can make me think about the human race. Unfortunately, my thought patterns about these recent horror productions have been bleak indeed. My endeavors have included: American Horror StoryHemlock Grove, and Splice.

Every single one of these shows has a scene that involves rape. And all of them are completely unnecessary. These scenes add close to nothing vital to the plot or the developing characters. They are simply thrown into these shows in order to add shock and disgust.

Roman would have remained an asshole had he not raped his asian classmate.

Tate would have remained insanely creepy had he not taken advantage of Vivian.

The creature in Splice was already unnerving, there was no need to have the creature rape her nurturer.

What is worse, these rape scenes add no element of horror. Rape is not scary. It is appalling. It is painful. A rape scene makes me turn off the show or movie and walk away. It makes me never recommend that show or movie to anyone ever. It makes me want to scream and weep and wonder if this is the only way the world will be shocked anymore. Is rape the only thing that catches our attention? Are we so captivated that it must invade every area of our lives, from jokes to movies?

What happened to pure horror? I’m talking about Pet Sematary. I’m talking about Rear Window and No Country for Old Men. What happened to characters that make you shake using only a coin? Where are the creatures that made you curl into a ball in the middle of your bed, never letting a limb dangle off the side, thinking, “Oh god, what if that thing is in here?”

What happened to horror?

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