Situational Friends vs Real Friends: An Anecdotal Post

I’ve had a lot of friends in my life. Some have stuck but many have not. It wasn’t until I read This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales–a wonderful book which has many clever insights about friendship–last month that I was able to articulate the exact reason that happened. That is when I came up with my theory that everyone has “real” friends and “situational” friends.

What follows is a very long but vague account of some of the friendships I’ve had and the various ways they’ve lasted. Or not. What I realized is that some friendships–situational ones–need a context to make sense while others can exist in any situation because they are real friendships that are meant to last.

I spent a lot of years feeling a lot of angst about the dissolution of my high school friendships. For my entire high school career, these were my close friends. We were a unit; everyone knew that. Even teachers.

Until, suddenly, we weren’t anymore.

I’d already gone through this in middle school (and I suppose to some degree elementary school although in grade school I feel like friendships never really have an expectation of extending very far–at least mine didn’t. I don’t think I even knew every friend’s last name.). My middle school friends were an interesting bunch. We enjoyed each others company, we sat together at lunch, we were friends in most of the ways you expect. But then one time I planned a rather elaborate party and every single one of them cancelled. The day before. It was devastating in a way few things are at the age of twelve or thirteen. But I let it go because I let a lot of things go back then. I was the friend who never held a grudge. I wonder sometimes what would have been different if I had.

Anyway, my middle school friends all went to different high schools–some with each other. (I was the odd one out staying at the high school that was connected to our middle school.) Their friendships got stronger. I think two even went to the same college though I’d have to check Facebook before I could be sure. Sometimes I’ll get a group message on Facebook (when I’m on Facebook so for at least five years I don’t know if these meet ups still happened) from them trying to plan a get together. Sometimes I’ll even go. And I’ll wonder why we aren’t better friends now. More often than not it will fall apart. The last one was scheduled the week before my mother had a doctor’s appointment that led to her hospitalization and brain surgery. I don’t regret backing out to spend the day with her instead.

I was so sure high school would be different. I tried so hard to be friends with people and find a group. A new girl came into the school my freshman year and she had a group of friends in no time. It was, somehow, the same group I never quite managed to join. But eventually I found people to call my own. I had friends in classes and to eat lunch with. My school was small so I was friendly with probably 80% of my graduating class–I never felt lonely even though later I would wonder what I did wrong.

My high school was small so by the end of senior year we were all wandering the halls signing yearbooks and making declarations that we would be friends forever. At the time I thought I meant it and I wonder if other people did too. I think the answer might be no because by the next fall all of my close high school friends had stopped talking to me. Not in a malicious way. Just in a “I’m not interested in this conversation” way. By the next year I was thoroughly disillusioned when I realized said friends were keeping in touch with each other. The only one left out was me.

And for a lot of years I blamed myself.

Obviously I was lacking. I did something wrong. I failed in some fundamental way and they all knew that.

It hurt but I moved on. I made friends in college. I started grad school and I made friends there. I deleted Facebook and stopped worrying about it.

Then I got Shiny New Job and came back to Facebook and all of the old doubts came back as Facebook told me People I Might Know. (I still hate Facebook by the way. I’ve reconnected with a lot of people and only two of them are people I’ve actually talked to and even then only twice.) Then I read This Song Will Save Your Life and I realized I was thinking about this all in the completely wrong way.

Maybe it was different for everyone else, but all of my friends in middle school and high school were situational. We had school in common. Out of that context there wasn’t much there. Now maybe if I had grown up later with more social media and texting that would have made a difference. But I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 16 and Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist yet.

The same thing happened with a lot of my college friends. One of my closest friends in college was a year behind me. We tried to stay friends but it just didn’t work–eventually things fell apart with a huge blowout over something that was ultimately stupid. Sometimes I’ll think about her and feel terrible about the way it ended. Then I’ll also remember that I didn’t like myself very much back  then, in the context of our friendship, and I’ll continue wishing her well but without trying to reconnect.

Then there are people I knew in high school and college who I desperately wish I had been friendlier with. But there’s no good way to say that in email or on Facebook so we just make promises to get together in real life that we inevitably won’t keep.

Work friends were also situational until Lousy Retail Job at the bookstore. There I met two of my really good friends–one who I text or email sporadically without feeling like an imposition and one who has moved out of state and is now a penpal. There were other friends who I thought would be better ones but again out of context it fell apart (or sometimes there was too much context but that’s a different story).

My only other work friend is Kiki Couture who I’ve known since 2005. She lives way uptown and I live way downtown so she never makes plans with me. Her job has terrible cell recpetion so we don’t text much. Still, somehow, I know she’s a friend even if I can’t explain how or why that works. Every other time I’ve tried to make a work friend into a real friend it fell apart sometimes rather horribly.

The friends I have now, the ones I know are real friends who make sense without any context are a mixed bag. Two girls from college who I dearly love but rarely see or talk to for reasons I can’t always articulate. Nicole who I am so lucky to have met in grad school. And my two bookstore friends. There are other acquaintances mixed in and the people I wish I were friendlier with. And, at the risk of shocking everyone, I have some online friends too–in Brazil and Europe and Canada, a famous actor’s second cousin in the US. I don’t think we’ll ever meet but we talk all the time and they are there for me which is what matters.

And of course there are friends who don’t fit any traditional context–my friends on twitter, the other bloggers I know, even some authors. Again, these might not be friends in a traditional sense but that’s okay somehow. I’m already planning who I’ll be able to meet at BEA this year.

I’m still holding out hope for some of the supposed “missed” connections on Facebook. Maybe I can finally get back in touch with the musician guy I knew in high school or the girl who was my perpetual roommate in college when we traveled (who still has photos up online from the two trips we were on together–something that was surprisingly touching for reasons I couldn’t entirely say). Maybe some of the friends at Shiny New Job will eventually not need that work context. Who knows?

A grad school friend, one who isn’t on Facebook and who I sorely missed, emailed me when she saw my posts about my mom on here. We’re seeing each other for the first time in two or so years next week. Another example that some friendships can and will make the leap from their original context and beginnings.

On Supporting Books Without Buying Books

Last month Jamie over at The Perpetual Page-Turner shared some thoughts on how being unemployed changed her reading (more specifically her book buying) habits. It’s a very thoughtful, honest post and it touched on a few things I’d been thinking about for a while myself.

Here’s the thing: I identify as a blogger, a reader and a librarian.

I do not identify as a book buyer.

I love books. I love reading. But I can’t buy books with wild abandon.

I tried to be but my mother and I share a small NYC apartment so there is just no space to buy tons of books. Since I was 14 I’ve had a rule where I can only buy books that I have either read already or know I will love. That strategy went out the window a bit while I worked at a bookstore and had an employee discount (literally this was the only perk–it was a terrible job) and access to hundreds of signed books. The temptation was far too great.

But it’s been a year or so since I left that job. Money and space are tight; I’ve gone back to by non-book-buying ways. For a while I budgeted a book a month but given the review copies and Advanced Reader Copies that come in and that I have to wade through, that was still too much. Now it more depends on events and things coming out.

Also: If I bring one book into the house I’m trying to get rid of at least five. This has been torture but my piles are finally all actually on shelves and it feels like I might actually read all of the books I have lying around in my lifetime. (That will completely be blown apart come BEA 2014 but I’m trying not to think about that and I’m not even adding new books to my goodreads to read queue and just generally avoiding new book talk to try and focus on what already exists and is taking up space in my house.)

Now a big part of supporting an author or a book does come with buying books or using a library copy. I don’t often do either. I get books from publishers through publicists or Amazon Vine or BEA. I get books from other librarians at Shiny New Job. I get books as gifts or trades from friends. I don’t have the money to “upgrade” from ARCs to finished copies so a lot of my books aren’t actually books–they’re galleys. (Granted a lot of them are signed but that’s a whole other bag of chips.)

For a while I felt really guilty about all that. Then I did more thinking. I looked at my blog. I looked at the authors I had interviewed. I thought about the books I recommended to people on goodreads or in blog comments.

It isn’t the same as buying books. It isn’t even the same as going to the library. But I realized I do support books and authors I love. Not always in tangible ways but by talking about them and sharing them. It’s still not always ideal getting an ARC signed for a blog giveaway or showing up at a bookstore for an event without buying anything (I do this a lot at the bookstore where I used to work because of the blood, sweat and tears factor–I figure it’s allowed in that one case). But it’s something.

So what do YOU, dear readers, think about supporting books? Is monetary support required? Are you a monster if you give away (or even get) a signed ARC? Let’s talk it out in the comments!

Always Be Polite and Other Advice from my Latest Birthday

I had a birthday earlier this month. That feels especially important now because I can now say, in every sense, that I am in a new year. Because I really, really needed to be in a new year.

2013 was very hard. Possibly the hardest although there was some stiff competition from 2009 and 2010. I have made a decision that I am not going to dwell on any of that, though, so I won’t get into further details. All I really need to say is that the last five years have been awful in just about every way possible and I am glad to see them go. I got a new camera recently and for this first time in a while I actually feel like photographing things. I’m starting to think in terms of months or even years down the line instead of being mired in getting from day to day. The change, honestly, is astounding–yet another difference you can only see when you look backwards or sideways.

With this new year I feel like I’m a little wiser and maybe a little smarter. I had tried previously to be Unflappable whenever possible. It turns out that is actually impossible in many scenarios even though it was an interesting exercise.

Now I’m just trying to be zen and make my peace with things. That’s where the advice I have to share comes in:

It’s taken a while but I’ve realized it’s much better to not dwell on things beyond my realm of control. People will stay in touch. Or they won’t. This new plan will work. Or it won’t. In the end, whenever the end is, everything will come together. I forgot that somewhere along the way but it is a help to remember.

Now that doesn’t make bad times easier or any more fun. But I’m hoping in the future if I hit another rough patch it might help with the crushing feelings of uselessness and inadequacy. (I won’t rehash but I will say it is only just now–a few months into Shiny New Job–that I can actually see my self-esteem and confidence coming back. I’m generally a confident, self-assured person so let me assure you that several years is a very long time to feel worthless even when you know intellectually it’s absolutely not true.)

One more piece of advice: being polite to absolutely everyone is life changing. In a good way. When things were rough (and when I worked in retail) I noticed there are lot of rude or just inattentive people out there.

I decided I didn’t want to be one of those people. Which, it turned out, was a really easy thing to change. I just decided to be polite to everyone. I thank bus drivers, I wave to Shiny New Job security officers in the morning, I ask cashiers how they are. It’s really easy and even on bad days, it doesn’t cost me a thing. But you never know when it will mean a lot to someone else. Just the other day I asked a worker at a bookstore cafe how she was. I told her it was my first time in the store and we just had a small conversation. No big deal. But her face lit up when I asked how she was because she thought it was so nice that I wanted to hear.

That’s a pretty good return for something that literally costs nothing, isn’t it?

I’ll end here by saying to all of you, dear readers, that if you’re in a good place I hope you can stay there for a nice, long while. And if you aren’t, I hope you get there soon and I have every confidence that you will. It might take a while, and it might not mean much coming from a faceless blogger, but it will get better. Hang in there. (And until then, I hope someone asks how you are today and wishes you well.)

On Judging Books by (Gendered) covers and Maureen Johnson’s CoverFlip

Last week Maureen Johnson made a fairly casual statement on twitter about books written by women (and sometimes marketed toward women) getting very different cover treatment as compared to books written by men.

So, being Maureen Johnson, she issued a challenge to Twitter: re-imagine some covers as if they were written by author of the opposite gender.

The results were posted on the Huffington Post website and, I’ve got to say, it’s interesting to see how tightly opinions are tied to covers on a subconscious level. I know covers play a role but it’s really interesting seeing how my opinions on a subconscious level reacted to the different covers.

You can see some of the flipped covers here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/07/coverflip-maureen-johnson_n_3231935.html#slide=2421931

You can also read Maureen Johnson’s essay about the problem here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maureen-johnson/gender-coverup_b_3231484.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

And thanks to book blogger Liz B I can also point you to this companion article from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2013/05/09/fix-the-girly-book-covers/

And then, because it sounded fun. I flipped a couple of covers (originals on the left):

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

Enchanted by Alethea Kontisenchantedflipped

Timepiece by Myra McEntire

Timepiece by Myra McEntiretimepieceflipped

I’m not quite a graphics wizard but I’m pretty pleased with the results and I think you get the point of the challenge. Both of the books above feature male POVs (half of Enchanted and all of Timepiece). Guess which part the marketers thought was more viable? THAT SAID I really love both original covers and I really really love that the publishers are keeping consistent covers for both of series of books.

On swapping books online

I love giving away books on here but my restrictive postage budget prevents giveaways from being a regular feature of the blog. However, being a book reviewer, I have a constant and often very large influx of books. Since the books keep coming, they also need to keep going out.

Previously I had been using the bookswap feature on Goodreads which, much to my dismay, is closing at the end of this month.

My main criteria in finding a replacement swap site was that I never had to pay postage to ship books. Since I already am giving the books away and rarely request books in return I had no desire to pay upwards of three dollars for every book I sent out into the world. That one requirement made my final decision surprisingly easy: My research yielded only one book swap site where senders did not pay postage up front. That site was Bookins.

The interface is inferior, the site takes a long time to load, and the process for listing ARCs (advanced reader copies) is more involved without being more effective. BUT I can list as many books as I want (ARCs included) and I do not have to deal with anyone–I just say I’m ready to ship a book and print the postage for free through their site (which someone else has “purchased” for a flat $4.99 fee). The major downside is that Bookins requires a credit card number and they do threaten to charge you for the postage if you print a label and fail to ship the book within 48 hours. But, once again, I don’t pay postage up front.

As I am sure some of you are also looking for a book swap site, I thought I’d share my latest find of Bookins.

You can view my swap list on Bookins as well.

On Writing Book Reviews

A while ago I discovered the wonderful and brilliant blog Emily Reads. Aside from having the best take on Greg Heffley EVER Emily’s blog is interesting because she posts review haikus. As far as I know she’s the only book blogger who posts reviews in haiku form (maybe in poem form period). Then I started looking around and realized everyone has very different review methods.

One of my best friends, The Book Bandit, features a book of the week (like this one) in a list kind of format (what it is, why she liked it, etc.) along with other reviews.

Blogs run by groups of people like Stacked or The Book Smugglers might have review conversations or multiple reviews with different takes on the same book.

Dog Ear often includes quotes in her reviews to support her stance.

I’m also really enjoying booked up‘s reviews because aside from having a really clean site, Nicole also takes her own pictures of each book instead of just posting the cover image.

You get the idea.

Anyway, that got me thinking about how I put reviews together–a process I thought I’d share with you below:

All of my reviews start with a summary–always written by me. I structure them much like a booktalk. Summaries never have spoilers or feature information beyond page 20 of the book (give or take for longer titles) or information not featured in the blurb found on the actual book.

Reviews also feature title, publication date and author. If I discuss a cover I try to mention the designers/artists involved.

Sometimes reviews are negative. I am always honest in my reviews and part of that includes reviewing books I didn’t love in a professional manner. Honestly, reviewing nothing but the books I loved would get boring. Reviews, especially negative ones, often help me as a reader to hash out what exactly frustrated me or turned me off in a book.

The end of a review will feature possible pairings. These include books, movies, tv shows, songs, etc. I feel fit with the book at hand. Sometimes that means there is a similar plot, genre or basic premise. In other instances the items will deal with similar themes or feature similar language and style. The pairings are, of course, subjective but I do put thought into it and try to put things readers will enjoy if like the book featured in the review.

Sometimes, if I have a lot to say about a topic not directly related to the review or my feelings about the book (often about the cover but sometimes other things) I will also place Exclusive Bonus Content at the end of a review. I cross post a lot of my reviews but that bonus content can only be found here.

Then, of course, every Wednesday I apply all of these guidelines to a Chick Lit Wednesday review which features a strong female character (or more!) and is often written by a female author.

Regarding the Love Triangle Bait and Switch

I’m not including any actual references to books here because it comes really close to being spoiler territory BUT I’ve been noticing in a lot of books lately something I’m going to start calling the “Love Triangle Bait and Switch.”

What is that, you might (fairly) ask?

Well, let me explain fully. What happens is this:

A book starts, let’s say with a female protagonist for pronoun consistency but really it could be a guy too, and she is all alone. Or she isn’t. Not the point.

Anyway, the Female Lead (the girl I mentioned before) meets/introduces a guy to readers. He might be her best friend or just this annoying guy who won’t leave her alone. Either way, he’s a constant for the Female Lead in some way. We don’t know it yet but this guy will end up being the Secondary Male Lead. This first guy we meet seems fine. He’s cute. Maybe a bit eccentric. He might be defined by one kind of basic character trait (nerdy, bad temper, conceited, anything really). But he seems fine and he grows on you, the reader.

Then Female Lead meets another guy. This is a bit more obvious than identifying the Secondary Male Lead, but that other guy she meets later? He’s going to be the Primary Male Lead. Sometimes it will be love at first sight. Sometimes the relationship will be normal and evolve over time. Sometimes it’s electric. There might be witty banter. Or tasers. There might be mysterious threats to stay away. There might be something else entirely.

Eventually it becomes obvious that Female Lead and Primary Male Lead are ultimately going to end up together. In that book if it’s a stand-alone. Over the arc of the story if it’s a series of some sort.

But where does that leave our intrepid Secondary Male Lead?

Sadly, he is now doomed.

He might die heroically.* He might become a vampire. He might become a super villain. He might just be evil. (Not literally evil because then he’d obviously be a super villain. Rather, his one character trait is amplified making him possessive, jealous, completely insane, etc. Kristin Cashore’s book(s) may or may not illustrate that.) Often some combination of these things happens.

Now the Love Triangle Bait and Switch is a fine plot device. Except that I’m sick of it. I’m tired of liking one character only to watch him become the (doomed) Secondary Male Lead. I’m tired of stories tricking me this way. It’s not necessarily bad or wrong. But I’d like a book where instead of creating this quasi-tension we have a legitimate love triangle with impossible choices instead of this weird imitation of a love triangle.**

I’m not sure why this annoys me so much except that perpetually preferring the (doomed) Secondary Male Lead gets old. The Secondary Male Lead is also, often, the more entertaining of the two being funnier, more interesting, or essentially better in some other way which makes the whole thing even sadder. I’m also starting to wonder why I always, always, always fall for this trick. To the point of being deeply saddened when despite my constantly hoping the Secondary Male Lead never gets his due.***

So, there you have it. The growing trend of the Love Triangle Bait and Switch explained in all of its glory.

*This happens in A Tale of Two Cities which is 151 years old so I  don’t think that counts as a spoiler. Know this Sydney Carton, I would have chosen you.

**Clockwork Angel: Excellent illustration of the true, impossible, love triangle.

***I’m looking at you, Puck (from The Iron King). I’ll always love you even if Meghan doesn’t.