Roomies Synchronized Reading Post #2: Vacation Destination Memories

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

Our current Synchronized Reading is Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando.

Roomies is written with emails between Elizabeth and Lauren with Lauren in San Francisco and Elizabeth in a beach town in New Jersey. So for our second Synchronized Reading post on the book, Nicole and I decided to talk about a memorable vacation. Be sure to stop at her blog to see what she has to say as well.

I have not taken a lot of vacations that involve actually going places. I have been to visit family in New Jersey a couple of times. I have been to Disney World (which was glorious and fabulous and I want to go back right now). I went to Boston twice but don’t remember much of the first trip and the biggest memories of the second trip are going to the supermarket with my aunt and being shocked at how enormous it was.

In college I went on one spring break trip with my honors college to Montreal (this was before you needed a passport to get into Canada) where we saw the Notre Dame cathedral (church-like with a gift shop), went to the Musee de Beaux Art (amazing on every level and I wish I could have stayed longer), and ate poutine (*shudders*). Other things happened but aside from being cold all the time those were the highlights. Oh and I bought earrings shaped like Maple leaves.

I could talk about any of those vacations.

Instead, I’m going to talk about the trip I took to Los Angeles in 2006.

In 2006 I was a Senior Staff Writer for my college newspaper. I did not yet have my own column for book reviews but I did have a few articles I was really proud of among my clippings or whatever you call them.

That year through a series of weird luck, I was invited to attend a college newspaper conference with the editorial staff and a couple of other writers and photographers. It was totally bananas to be asked to go and totally cheap (I only paid airfare).

Now, as you all might have guessed, I tend to stay close to home. So I wasn’t sure about this whole flying cross-country thing. It was a weird time in the middle of a semester (which led to my having to redo a midterm for the first and only time in my live) and I had lost a lot of weight so none of my clothes fit particularly well (one of my souvenirs from this trip was a belt–no lie). But then my Aunt Linda and my mom and I were talking about it. And Linda said this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was something I’d be talking about for the rest of my life. And you know what? She was right.

I’m not even going to talk about the flights because they were miserable. Frankly, LA is a terrible city for people who don’t drive. It’s not a place I’d ever want to live. I’m not even sure I’d visit it again. But the trip was a lot of fun. (I recently reconnected with one of my roomies from this trip on Facebook and it was kind of nice seeing her photos of the trip were still online and still knowing there was proof out there that I was on it with her and everyone else.)

Somewhere I have an essay I wrote in my college memoir class about the saga that getting the Getty became. I have photos of the artwork and even brochures about the Courbet exhibit we went to see. It took hours but it was worth it. I would even brave LA again to visit that museum. I still have a keychain from there that I never use because I don’t want to break it.

I have pictures of the Hollywood sign and the walk of fame (there is so much walk of fame to walk) as well as pressed pennies somewhere from Universal Studio’s studio walk which probably has a different name in real life. Either way our hotel was near there and this walk would blast Nickelback’s “Photograph” all the time which has made it a song synonymous with that trip (in addition to being a personal favorite).

I don’t have a lot of the souvenirs I bought on that trip anymore. No crazy rhinestone baseball cap or fuzzy dice. No college newspaper t-shirt (it wore out). I’m not even in touch with a lot of people I went on the trip with although at the time we were all pals and had great fun (I did, anyway. I hope everyone else did too.) whether it was just me and my two roomies getting lost on our way to the Getty or the whole staff discussing favorite punctuation marks at the farewell dinner. All I really have left are some silly touristy keychains from the trip, photos of varying quality from my non-smartphone and the disposable cameras I had at the time and lots of memories which, it turns out, is more than enough.

Roomies Synchronized Reading Post #1: Last Summers and First Steps

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

Our current Synchronized Reading is Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando.

Meditations on change and the last summer of high school are big parts of Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando. So for our first Synchronized Reading post on the book, Nicole and I decided to talk about our own summers before college. Be sure to stop at her blog to see what she has to say as well.

I commuted to college. My high school was four blocks away and my university of choice was only a half hour on the subway (except that one time I had to WALK there during the transit strike to take an Art History final but whatever).

I had been working since I was 17 and I kept the same job through college and grad school. Later when I was underemployed in a place of employ that wasn’t even close to my area of expertise, I would question that choice as I would question many others. At the time all I knew was work study jobs did not pay as well and did not involve working fun YA books every shift.

I don’t remember much from that summer.

I can probably tell you I did things with my high school friends in addition to the expected undying declarations of friendship. But, like the declarations of friendship, the memories didn’t stick.

I definitely spent time with my mom because I always do that (she’s excellent company). There would have been street fairs and other summer-y things. Mom and I definitely watched Big Brother that year because I never, ever miss a season. I might even have some movie ticket stubs from that summer.

But none of those memories are ones that jump out.

I can go on goodreads and tell you what books I read (which seems to have included several formative titles like Emma, The Eyre Affair, Alice I Think and Sender Unknown). That year was the first year I read a lot of YA. Previously I had read a combination of childrens/middle grade titles (some of which were YA crossovers), mysteries, and classics.

That all changed when I started working with the YA librarian at my first place of employ. At the time I didn’t think of her that way, but she was a formative influence for me as well–not just a coworker or a librarian but that rare amalgam of those things and whatever else makes someone a lasting influence. I don’t know if the seed was planted right that summer but I can say with certainty that working with Karyn in the YA section (and Susan Pope–a children’s librarian who literally gave me a foot in the door) started me on the path to becoming a librarian myself.

I attended that year’s summer reading party to “help” (and have fun) and I still have a couple of giveaway books I took that day as well as some really solid memories of decorating a pencil case that would come with me to my first day of college classes. (A miserable day where I was trapped in the wrong wing of the university building for a solid thirty minutes, knew absolutely no one and had not yet fine-tuned the commute to that easy-to-manage half hour.)

What I also have from that summer reading party are the gifts Karyn gave me as she moved to a new position and I moved in a less drastic way to college.

She gave me this magnet:

It still hangs on a shelf near my desk and it is a sentiment that I have tried to listen to more and more as I get older.

Karyn also gave me a spiral notebook with a beautiful inscription from her wishing me great things. And I still have it because nothing has seemed quite special enough to use it. I have a hard time filling notebooks but that’s a whole other story.

(I already emailed Karyn a few weeks ago to thank her for giving me that start and to tell her how much it meant to me then and still means to me now. If you have someone in your life who filled a similar capacity, tell them. Gratitude should never be a secret.)

I guess what I really took from that summer even if I didn’t know it quite as specifically then comes back to Karyn’s gift: Be Yourself.

New beginnings are always scary. I’ve had some bad ones and some extremely scary ones. But I’ve always done what I know makes sense for me. I’ve always tried to be true to who I want to be. And now, with things coming together in various ways, I’m finally able to say that all of those beginnings and endings are starting to make sense.

Synchronized Reading: Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Synchronized Reading is back! This time Nicole and I will be reading Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando.

Be sure to check here this week and also check out Nicole’s blog to get the full reading picture!

I was Nicole’s wing-person for a Roomies event at McNally Jackson a few months ago. We both had a great time and really enjoyed exploring the bookstore (it was our first time seeing it). The craziest thing is (spoiler!) I really enjoyed Roomies but I had no plans to read it (or own it) before this even because I commuted to college and therefore had relatively little interest in the whole roomie experience.

Roomies has a lovely cover and I obviously had a manicure to match (this was also my birthday party confetti manicure–but what good is a manicure if it can’t multitask?)



In summary: Nicole and I will be reading Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando together. We will be blogging about it. It will be awesome. You, too, can read Roomies as it is already released.

Synchronized Reading Roundup: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

This month Nicole and I read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Here’s a rundown of all the posts I wrote up for the Synchronized Reading:

You can also head over to Nicole’s blog to see her posts:

Fangirl: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Fangirl by Rainbow RowellCath isn’t exactly ready for college. She isn’t even looking forward to much except the advanced level English class she talked her way into during registration.

College itself is daunting enough. Then Cath’s sister, Wren, announces that she doesn’t want to be roommates on campus. Suddenly the entire prospect has gone from horrible to possibly unbearable.

Cath’s roommate is loud and scary. She’s also kind of mean. And her boyfriend is around All. The. Time.

The dining hall is too horrible to even contemplate.

She’s worried about her dad who is going to be living alone for the first time in years.

And Cath doesn’t know what to expect from her classes.

In the midst of so much unwelcome change, Cath does have one constant: Simon and Baz.

Cath, like most everyone, is a Simon Snow fan. She knows the community. She goes to the release parties. She also writes fan fiction about Simon and his nemesis Baz.

The only problem is that Cath isn’t sure fan fiction alone is going to be enough to get her through a turbulent freshman year in Fangirl (2013) by Rainbow Rowell.

Find it on Bookshop.

Fangirl is a meandering journey through Cath’s first year of college as she adjusts to dorm life, college classes and even the nuances of dating and friend politics. (Not to mention all of her family drama.)

Epigraphs accompany each chapter with relevant excerpts either from the Simon Snow books or from Cath’s fan fic about the characters. The technique works surprisingly well as readers are drawn into the world of Simon Snow and come to care about him (and Baz) as much as Cath does.

One of the best things about Fangirl is that all of the characters are very well developed. Although the novel focuses on Cath it feels like any of the characters could be the star here–they all have their own stories.

Rowell’s writing is as excellent as fans would expect. She also unpacks complicated topics such as the line between fan fiction and plagiarism. Cath is a strong, neurotic heroine who is far from perfect but also very, very real. Fangirl also summoned all sorts of nostalgia about the college experience and friendships.

Because this book covers a large range of time some matters are addressed more than others; some things are tied up more than others. There are questions at the end of Fangirl but there is also enough room for readers to imagine their own endings.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Take Me There by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, Pivot Point by Kasie West, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Fangirl Synchronized Reading: Fangirl Post #2: Fanfiction and Fandoms

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

Our first Synchronized Reading is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

In addition to our intro posts and (of course) our reviews of the book, we’ve also decided to do at least two posts talking about points of interest during the book. Since Fangirl isn’t officially out yet, we knew we had to avoid spoilers. Luckily, the topic for our second posts was a pretty obvious one: fanfiction and fandoms.

Before starting Fangril I didn’t think much about fanfiction or fandoms. There are times and places for both but it wasn’t a personal point of interest–I will never choose to write non-publishable works based on other characters when I can create my own world and characters. But I love that other people can and do.

Then I started thinking about things and realized while it isn’t “fanfiction” per se, some of my first writing projects probably loosely fit the fanfiction bill. The first was when I was 11 or 12 and I finished A Wizard of Earthsea. Right after I started my own book that, in retrospect, was a thinly veiled remix of A Wizard of Earthsea. Then, a couple of years later, Emily of New Moon rocked my world (more even than Anne of Green Gables) and I started another project–this time in my English class notebooks–that years later–I realized was again a remix of a familiar story.

I never finished either story. There wasn’t much point when the original books did everything I was doing in a more or less similar way. But they are what got me writing. They are, in some ways, why I am still writing. And that’s valuable.

Which brings us to fandoms.

Confession time: I’m not a big Harry Potter fan. I went to a midnight release for book seven but I didn’t want to believe about Dumbledore. Or Snape. And I shipped Harry and Hermione. And Luna and Neville. Needless to say, with those things in mind, book seven was a huge disappointment and–over the years–my nostalgia for the  series diminished. It’s another thing that I see value in but I just don’t personally love.

I didn’t think I was a part of any other fandoms either. I like a lot of things. I have strong opinions on a lot of things. (Do not even get me started on all of Smallville’sfailings.) But I didn’t think fandom was really my thing.

Then I remembered that time I crocheted a Woodland Elf Usuki.

Here’s the inspiration:


And here’s mine:


So basically I play Neopets. I have since I was fourteen and I still do now in my spare time. Neopets is a virtual pet site where you can play games, raise virtual pets and do other things like college message board avatars (I have 322 which is pretty awesome–just saying). And crochet creatures inspired by site items. I am partly in charge of a guild on Neopets. I have friends through the site that I have known and texted with for years. And it sounds crazy but it’s fun and it works for me.

And if that doesn’t count as a fandom, I don’t know what does.

One of my pets. Isn’t she adorable?

The funny thing is Neopets also has a “newspaper” where users can submit different articles. Either game guides or other things. And I have written a few articles. Now these are usually things I write about my own pets but in the strictest sense of the word–that’s fanfiction.

Imagine my surprise to realized I’d been a part of a fandom (with a fanfiction community!) for years and I never even realized it.

So now you know my secrets. What about you? Any fandoms you’re a part of?

Fangirl Synchronized Reading: Fangirl Post #1: College and Community

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

Our first Synchronized Reading is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

In addition to our intro posts and (of course) our reviews of the book, we’ve also decided to do at least two posts talking about points of interest during the book. Since Fangirl isn’t officially out yet, we knew we had to avoid spoilers. So our first topic is a general one: the college experience.

(Check back next Friday for our posts on fanfiction in fandom. The week after that our reviews will post.)

Fangirl starts when Cath gets to college. It also starts when her twin sister announces that she wants a different roommate.

I didn’t dorm in college–I went to a college thirty minutes away in lower Manhattan and I commuted for all four years. I was also an English major (like Cath) in a school primarily known for its business programs. It was a great fit for me because it meant there was a smaller community and lots of face-time with teachers. It also meant there were never any huge lectures for classes (except my one science requirement) and teaching assistants were never very visible.

That’s all my roundabout way of saying a lot of Cath’s trials and triumphs were very foreign to me. (I have the same thing happen when I read books about enormous high schools.) One thing I did totally relate to was Cath’s efforts to find a community during that first year at college.

When I first got to Pace I desperately wanted to be a part of the literary magazine. That, however, didn’t happen until my senior year. But I knew I wanted to do something besides go to class so I signed up for the college newspaper. It was terrifying–even worse than being one of two freshman in a Seventeenth Century Lit class. Even worse than getting trapped between floors and in the wrong wing as I tried to make my way to my first class on my first day of college.

But I stuck with it. For a long time that meant showing up to meetings and not taking an assignment. But then, slowly, I took different articles. The editors got to know me and I started doing more. By senior year I even had a book review column. It was a great experience and one I am so glad I pursued even though it was far outside of my usual comfort zone.

It’s an interesting thing going to classes without really meaning to make friends. I don’t always connect with people. I’m prickly until I get to know a person and I am sometimes much better on paper/electronically than in real life. That said, it was always amazing to me how easy it was to talk to other English majors. College was the first time I was really around people who got it–the writing, the reading, the love of words. (It was also the first time I had friends who didn’t make me feel fat and gigantic compared to the short, waif-like friends I had in high school but that’s another story.) This feeling of connection only grew when I met people in grad school who felt that way not just about books but about youth books–wow!

The amount of nostalgia I had while reading Fangirl was staggering as I was reminded of my crazy thesis advisor, the friends I had on the paper and in classes, the drama of the English Department writing awards. I have strong (bad) feelings about Facebook but this book made me wonder if I should reconsider if, for nothing else, the chance to reconnect with some of those college friends I’ve lost touch with. But really the best thing about rehashing my own college experiences while reading this book was realizing that, while it didn’t always feel that way at the time, I wouldn’t go back and do anything differently.

Synchronized Reading: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Nicole, The Book Bandit, and I have decided to do a Synchronized Reading of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell starting this week. You can read Nicole’s explanation of things on her blog (and should since it has scientific proof–meaning she wrote down–that we are BFFs).

Nicole and I are both insanely excited about Fangirl so we waited a full hour (maybe two?) in line at BEA to see Rainbow (I harass Rainbow Rowell on twitter constantly so I’ve decided that means we are friends and I can call her by her first name–Nicole will back me on this logic) and get signed arcs of Fangirl.

I’ve been kind of overwhelmed by my to read pile I decided to pick out the next few books I would be reading and Fangirl was high on my radar. When Nicole said that she was reading Fangirl after she wrapped up a read-a-thon challenge, I decided to pick up Fangirl as well so that we could do a Synchronized Reading.

What is a Synchronized Reading, you ask? Nicole sums it up best:

“It’s kind of like synchronized swimming minus the water and swim suits … and the theatrics.”

Basically we’ll both be reading the same book at the same time (at our own paces) which surprisingly doesn’t happen very often despite the fact that we often read the same books. We will also be posting some special content on both of our blogs during the Synchronized Reading but we’re still working on the schedule for that.

Nicole is already getting ready with post its:


(I’m not allowed to use post-its or high lighters in books because I overuse both so I’m preparing with cryptic goodreads status updates instead.)

Then, because we take all endeavors seriously, Nicole and I also decided to do a couple of other things to prepare. In other words: We got themed manicures to match the cover of Fangirl. Since Fangirl only has a couple of colors on the cover, planning was pretty simple.

I was especially excited to see I had the colors I needed in my personal nail polish stash.


(That might be the only post-2000 photo in existence where my nails do not have nail polish on them.)

My mom doesn’t really understand the point of accent nails. But Nicole and I like them. So Nicole got a blue-green manicure with a red accent nail:


While I gave myself a red manicure with a blue-ish accent nail:


Then to take it to the next level I’m also using a handbag that kind of matches the cover (and I’m so good that I didn’t even have to plan that part! It just happened naturally!).


In summary: Nicole and I will be reading Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell together. We will be blogging about it. It will be awesome. You, too, can read Fangirl starting on September 10, 2013 when it officially releases.