New NSBCBC Podcast has been posted!

New NSBCBC Podcast has been posted!

In this month’s episode “Kickin’ the Clydesdale,” the gang tackles the future of publishing, our troubles with memoirs, and answers a selection of challenging questions from Chuck Klosterman’s “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.” This month’s panel includes: Nina Sclafani (Founder … Continue reading

May’s Reads—Why These Books?

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Hello Not So Book Clubbers!

Are you seeing what I’m seeing right now? Sunshine, people! Real, beautiful, Spring sunshine! I’m so excited my eyes are welling up with tears (sure, this may be 100% due to allergies but I will pretend otherwise).  So excuse me if this post seems hastily written. I’m dying to go sit outside and bask in it before Mother Nature tries to take another dump on my head. Oh Spring!

This month I kept my eyes and ears open, waiting for the books to present themselves to me. I didn’t want to force this selection, so I stayed away from my usual “must read” lists  and decided to go based on those magical moments when people sell you on a book through natural conversation. Although I was sweating about this until I finally found my third on Easter, I’m glad the list came to be this way, and I can honestly say I am really excited for all three books this month!

1. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls – David Sedaris

My good friend (and NSBCBC Podcast contributor, Amanda) told me about this one. Actually, she’s been trying to make a Sedaris book an NSBCBC Read for months! She truly loves David Sedaris and I can absolutely see why. This girl has got so many hilarious stories about growing up that I think she and David could be kindred spirits.

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One of Amanda’s stories includes this terrifying ventriloquist dummy named Charlie McCarthy. Recently he appeared at one of our hangouts and naturally we used him to scare the dogs. Today, when I texted her asking for the name of her “puppet,” she didn’t know who I was talking about because she refers to him as “her friend.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with David Sedaris, he is a writer who typically pens comedic memoirs. Now I know last week I went a little crazy bashing books of this genre, but it’s important to remember—Sedaris is a writer before anything. He’s no celebrity taking a crack at writing because… you know, someone said “I’ll pay you lots of money to yammer on about your life!” He does this because this is true talent.

Anyway, where were we? Right! David and Amanda are kindred spirits, and here is why. With Amanda’s stories, it’s all about the delivery. When listening to her stories, she adds so much of her personality to the tale, it’s no longer just about the words— it’s the word emphasis, the dramatic pauses, and the character voices. These are what truly bring her stories to life. And upon her request, this is how we should consume our Sedaris books because (as her kindred spirit) he delivers his stories in the same fashion that she does.  

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Self explanatory.

Ask anyone who listens to NPR around the holidays and they’ll agree. (The reading of his Crumpet the Elf  story from The Santaland Diaries is the perfect example of David’s delivery. His dry tone tells all.) So, for this collection of hopefully-hilarious Sedaris essays, I will do my best to consume majority of it via audio book, and apparently you should as well.

 

2. The Forgiven – Lawrence Osborne

Last weekend, while strolling around NY’s lower west side (killing time before heading to a brunch where I dove into a pit of bottomless mimosas), I stumbled upon a tiny shop that emphasized everything I love about bookstores. The warm mahogany bookshelves were filled with copies of literature from past and present, my fellow patrons appeared to have deep interest in the books they were sifting through, and the staff was genuinely enthusiastic to talk books with me. While I was checking out, one employee noticed me glancing at a new release from an author I had never heard of. When I asked about the book he said that it was good, however the author’s previous book was adored by the entire staff and that it was their favorite book of that year.

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And here is said bookstore!—Three Lives and Company. Find more information about this perfect little shop here, at threelives.com

He brought me over to Lawrence Osbornes’ The Forgiven and said if I was looking for something thrilling, dark, and exciting this was the book for me. He apparently read it in just a few days (as did the rest of the staff), and he insisted that if I were to start this book, I too would tear through it in no time.

The story, described as “haunting,” takes place in Moroccan desert, and shows how a seemingly random accident can either tear apart or bring together people from vastly different cultures.

To learn more about it, or to pick up a copy (in cause your local library doesn’t have it available), you can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Forgiven-Novel-Lawrence-Osborne/dp/0307889041

3. The Dovekeepers – Alice Hoffman

My aunt Rhonda has impeccable taste. Her house looks like it should be in Martha Stewart Living, her clothes are always fabulously unique items from little boutiques, and everything she ever recommended to me (from bronzers to books) have been real winners. So, when she told me about Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers, I listened.

First thing I will say, ignore the cover because from what I heard, it’s so much more interesting than what that cover depicts. (I’ve said this before, but I do think covers play into my desire to read a book. I would have never picked this up off the shelf unless I had someone tell me I should.)

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Always a sucker for a good pun…

The story’s synopsis is so much more powerful than that image. Hoffman’s story takes place “nearly two thousand years ago” when “nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived.” (Amazon.com)

My aunt emphasized that this book is “truly beautiful,” so I’m excited to jump into this one. I’ll just have to make sure I have a box of tissues handy because typically when someone describes something as “truly beautiful,” all I hear is “you gonna cry, girl.”

 

And those my friends are your May NSBCBC Reads! Hope you’ve enjoyed April’s and hope you’re ready for May!

And get ready for a new NSBCBC Podcast (which can be found at NSBCBC.podbean.com)! We are recording this Sunday, so if you have any book-related topics you’d like to hear discussed, shoot them our way! Post your suggestions on the facebook wall (https://www.facebook.com/nsbcbc), tweet us @notsobookclub, or post them right here on the wordpress!

 

Happy reading!

– Nina Sclafani

Founder of The Not So Book Club Book Club

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Haven’t heard last months’ podcast yet? Check it out here at NSBCBC.PODBEAN.COM!

 

I, Memoir

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Welcome to the memoir factory. Same story told 5,000,000 different times.

When I sat down to read Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, I was pretty excited. My friend (and Not So Book Club Podcast guest) Alison, had recommended it to me and I tend to not take her suggestions lightly. 9 times out of 10, our tastes perfectly sync. The story of how we became friends even reflects that. (She approached me because I was wearing a “Hey Brother” Buster Bluth t-shirt. She was sporting a Mr. Banana Grabber tote bag. And if you don’t understand why that was important, perhaps this is the reason why you and I don’t share as strong a connection as me and Al.) Anyway, she swore by this book and said it made her laugh so much that she was exiled from her home and forced to read it (noisily) at her local Starbucks instead. But when I cracked open the book, I didn’t have quite the same reaction. I chuckled here and there at a few odd stories about the author’s taxidermy-obsessed father and her mother’s ingenious solutions for their poverty-stricken home, but aside from that, I felt slightly annoyed. I kept thinking “why is this important? Why tell me this story? What should I get out of this?” And these are questions that have plagued me about the memoir genre for years.

 

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My feelings expressed perfectly by Shania Twain.

It all started a few summers ago when I went on a celebrity memoir binge. I first read Russell Brands My Booky Wook and absolutely loved it. His writing style perfectly reflected his speaking style—chaotic, fast-paced, and saturated with enough beautiful vocabulary words that I had to keep my Merriam-Webster handy at all times. Next was Tina Fey’s Bossypants. I had always been a fan of Tina and liked to pretend that if my life were to ever be made into a movie, it’d be Tina who would play me despite our age difference. Needless to say, I was almost pre-programmed to enjoy this one as well. Then I read Sarah Silverman’s The Bedwetter, and although I enjoyed it, I started to see some similarities with these books. By Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me it was clear. I had read the same book 4 times. They all had loving parents. They all grew up middle class. They all went through awkward fazes (and included pictures to prove it). All (with the exception of Russell’s heroin and prostitution addiction) shared the same basic plot points, and by the end I was wondering what possessed me to read their books in the first place?

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See, I wasn’t lying. Each of their memoirs included at least one picture of them flaunting their childhood awkwardness. (Top left going clockwise – Russell Brand, Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, and Mindy Kaling)

Perhaps it was voyeurism that made me pick up the books. These were books written by people I respected and watched on my television on daily basis. Perhaps, I thought, I just wanted a glimpse into their lives so maybe I could see how they reached such success, and maybe learn a thing or two so I could emulate that in my own life. But no. There wasn’t much of that. These memoirs were just mainly ugly duckling stories (i.e. I once was a loser at summer camp but now I’m a fantastically witty, albeit still nerdy-cool celebrity!)

And now a few years later, these stories make even less of an impact now that we live in an age where almost everything we do is posted on the Internet for others to see. With this new culture of oversharing, it has become so very clear—we all believe what we do is unique but in the grand scheme of things… most of the time it’s not. And as far as your typical memoir topics go, most of them have been beaten to death. As eloquently stated by New York Times writer Neil Genzlinger,

“Memoirs have been disgorged by virtually every­one who has ever had cancer, been anorexic, battled depression, lost weight. By anyone who has ever taught an underprivileged child, adopted an under­privileged child or been an under­privileged child. By anyone who was raised in the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s, not to mention the ’50s, ’40s or ’30s. Owned a dog. Run a marathon. Found religion. Held a job.”

Reading Genzlinger’s 2011 article (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/books/review/Genzlinger-t.html?pagewanted=all) I couldn’t stop thinking about the people I know who have traveled the across America—many of whom want to write a book about their experience, and I cringe because I think of On the Road, or Into the Wild, or this year’s best seller Wild. We love sharing our experiences because 1. We believe they are unique and 2. Because it’s a less flashy way to tell the world you’ve done something you think is interesting,  but we fail to recognize that perhaps the experience is only truly unique or interesting to us and in the end, it comes off as self serving. Even in my own writing, I struggle to find the balance between “hoping to inspire others” and “hoping others will see me as fabulous.”

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Yes, Hannah. We all do.

So how can this genre be saved? How can I learn to love the memoir genre again? And for those of us who write, what is the best way for us to tell our stories so that they are in their most genuine/purest form?

I’m not sure if I have the answer for that. I feel the war of the memoir wage within me. The positive Nina loves the idea that writing can bring people together so that we all have a shared human experience. But the negative Nina despises writers who think they’re so important that even their ordinary and mundane lives deserve book deals.

So this week, I need your help. Since I can’t seem to find an answer on my own right now, I’d like to pose the question to you, my Not So Book Clubbers. What do you think about the genre of memoir, and what do you think should be done to improve it? Share your thoughts on the Facebook page (www.facebook.com/nsbcbc) or in the comments section below. I’d love to hear what you have to say on the subject.

– Nina Sclafani

The Impact of Creativity

“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”

– Pablo Picasso

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Before I got laid off, I worked in the creative marketing department of a company that sold alternative teaching tools to schools. We prided ourselves on being “creative and innovative” and for the most part, the company was (except for the overuse of the phrase “we provide creative and innovative solutions.” I am guilty of doing that, as I was the copywriter for a short while.) Anyway, I absolutely loved working in the creative department. I loved working with a team to produce some really incredible projects, like the full comic book-style calendar, or our company newsletters that (with the occasional debate about appropriateness) were littered with jokes. However, throughout that entire time, I never created anything on my own—for myself. I was always creating within the bounds of what I was prompted to and for the working world it was fine, but for me personally, I was lacking something in my life.

Cut to the lay off, with all the extra free time and my new desire to read, I often found myself swimming through my own imagination. I found myself spending my evenings at a turn-of-the-century mysterious circus, bungee jumping off  the Manhattan bridge with my favorite comedian, floating weightlessly through the international space station, and eating the freshest fruits available on the streets in Southern Italy. Because my mind was experiencing all these new sights it needed an outlet and so I began writing more blog entries, taking more pictures, and writing more music.

Music was always a passion of mine and as you know from the previous entry, I even went to school for it for a hot minute. What I didn’t say in the other entry was that when I was in high school, I was incredibly creative. Despite being in 30 different clubs, I still found time everyday to play my piano and write my own music. I still look back on the songs I wrote during that time with pride. But when I went to Berklee, I no longer felt the desire to create. I was totally freaked out by the mass amounts of talent around me, and because of my self-inflicted intimidation of these people, I stopped creating. There was a drought within me—my creativity well was empty.

That loss of creativity really impacted me when my grandfather passed away in 2005. I yearned to write a song that could express how I felt about the loss of him, but that song never came about. I could never find the right words or the right melody to properly honor him, and show my love for him simultaneously. I didn’t want to disappoint my family either, by making something sub-par for this special man. Fast forward to 9 years later, something amazing happened when I read A Monster Calls. I connected to it on such a deep level, and associated the pain of losing my grandfather to the pain of the characters in the book, that I realized I could write a song about the story, and in doing so, I would write a song about my grandfather. Inspired by the literature, I could feel my creativity coming back.

Over the course of the month, I wrote the lyrics and the music, and with the help of my husband’s beautiful arrangement and recording skills, we were able to put it out onto the Internet. You can hear the song here:

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https://soundcloud.com/nina-sclafani/see-you-at-midnight

We threw it up on Facebook and Twitter and called it a day. And then something amazing happened. The author of the book, Patrick Ness, saw my tweet, listened to my song, and retweeted it! When I got the notification email, I almost screamed for joy inside of a bagel shop. (Sidenote: I was inside of a bagel shop when I got the email, so instead I squealed with my mouth closed and did a dance eerily similar to Eddie Murphy in the SNL “Hot Tub is Too Hot” skit.) I thought “THIS IS THE HEIGHT OF GREATNESS!” and thought it couldn’t get any better than that.

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Patrick Ness’ retweet about my song followed by……

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… my bagel store reaction to the retweet.

But then something even more beautiful and amazing happened with the song, and it still gives me chills/makes me want to cry.

A few months ago, a friend of our family tragically lost her daughter, and this week she was preparing herself for her daughter’s first birthday since her passing. By fate or coincidence, she found our song posted on my mother-in-laws wall and felt an instant connection to it. In the same way that A Monster Calls connected me to the loss of my grandfather, our song connected to her and the loss of her daughter. She wrote me the most beautiful messages throughout the weekend and she eventually passed the song forward, posting it on a message board for bereaved parents. I can’t even begin to express how I feel knowing that something I created helped her through this difficult time. It’s the same way that I used Ness’ book to help me through my loss and it is a cycle I cannot stop thinking about.

It’s a cycle of healing.

It’s a cycle of love.

And it’s a cycle of creativity.

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When I was working my 9-5 job, I forgot how to be creative for myself. I put it all into my job and the results were (in my honest opinion) not as great as I would have liked. But once I started reading, I felt as though I was exercising my brain and bringing life back into something I thought was long gone. I allowed myself to be inspired, and in turn, perhaps I inspired others to create. If not, at least I know that something I did made an impact, and that impact was more important than a company making a profit, or a company getting its name out there. It truly helped someone.

We are a world of artists—we just don’t tap into our own creativity often enough. We allow life to get in the way or our own insecurities to stop us from pursuing what we want, and I think it’s about time that ends.

So if you love to take pictures, take pictures. If you love to draw, draw. Sing? Sing. Write? Put that pen to paper and get to it! Because you just never know what kind of impact the art you create can have on someone else’s life.

– Nina Sclafani

 

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

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Blog title and photo will make sense right after the following paragraphs! Stay tuned!

Yesterday I realized it was April 1st, and that it is just under one month until my 28th birthday. Realizing that gave me sort of mixed feelings. 27 was a year filled with incredible highs—I started a great new job, got married to an incredible man, went on an amazing Thailand honeymoon, and started this book club. But it also had its lows—losing said “great new job” and struggling to pay for the little luxuries that I thoroughly enjoy. (Fear not parents. We are still eating. I’m only bitching about the fact that currently my roots make it look like I’m wearing a dark brown yarmulke made of hair on top of my blonde highlights.) Anyway, because of this mishmosh of life events, I will remember 27 as a year of learning.

Back in November, I had so much pent-up energy from unemployed life, if I didn’t channel it into something positive FAST, I’d be forever trapped watching TV in my pajamas, wrapped in blankets of self-pity. But once I chose to start this book club, something changed. I learned to love reading again. I learned new ways to fight boredom. And I slowly learned how to build something from scratch.

Now, building something from scratch had always felt foreign to me. For example, when I was in high school, I desperately wanted to be a famous musician (I mean really, who didn’t?), which eventually led to me going to the Berklee College of Music. But once I was there I quickly became discouraged. Not only was everyone more talented than me, they were also way more motivated than me. They were in the process of building up their musical personas and perfecting their skills, while I just wanted to be “discovered” on a street corner or something ridiculous. I wanted to go from A-Z without hitting all the letters in between. Needless to say, I didn’t make it through music school.

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Music school dropout.
I can’t help but feel a little gipped because when I dropped out, no Frankie Avalon person came to sing to me. The nerve.

My husband on the other hand, pursued his passion for music in the complete opposite way. He had been in bands since he was about 15 years old and in 2009, he joined a band called This Good Robot. Now I know this may sound biased, but they are ridiculously awesome and watching them play live is one of my favorite things to do. I adore them and all the hard work they put into the band, and I am forever flowing with pride whenever I see kids screaming along to all their songs. Anyway, this band didn’t always have a following. They earned that with hours of practice, long trips to hole-in-the-wall venues, and enough sweat to fill an olympic-size swimming pool (seriously, after shows they are drenched and it is disgusting). They worked hard to slowly build their success from scratch.

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TGR power stances all the way.
If you’re curious, my man is the fella performing a half-squat with a guitar on the far left.                    Photo credit: Hingwa Moy

The same thing goes for the characters in the books I love to read. I think about Eli Brown’s “Cinnamon and Gunpowder” (a NSBCBC January read), and the character of Owen Wedgwood. To remind you, Owen gets kidnapped by a wild group of pirates and over the course of the story learned to slowly adapt to pirate life. The character of Owen learned to prevail in this new lifestyle, but he had to earn that with hard work. He pushed himself to grow and take risks and eventually he learned to fight when he would previously cower. In Gabrielle Hamilton’s “Blood, Bones, and Butter”(a November NSBCBC read) Gabrielle pushed herself to open her own restaurant even though she didn’t have experience owning or operating a business. Starting with nothing but her love of food, she learned how to run a business and she worked tirelessly to make it happen. Hell, even Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter series is an inspiration to me! He was a completely average boy who decided to work hard by putting his fears aside and pushing himself to bravely challenge the evils around him.

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The evolution of Ron Weasley. From little scared (albeit adorable) boy, to total dark lord-fighting bad ass. Only took 7 books but hey, he too had to build himself up from scratch! You go Ronny!

In all of these situations, all of these people (my husband’s band included) did something amazing. They were ordinary people who chose to do something extraordinary, and they did it by building it themselves.

And so, I envy them. But instead of being jealous, I choose to use them as motivation. I want this book club to grow. I want more people to participate. I want to keep on writing in this blog, and I cannot wait to record next month’s podcast! I believe that even ordinary Me can do something extraordinary with this club.

I know we started this book club from scratch, and I know we have a long way to go. But I can’t help but feel that with all this motivation in my back pocket, and the great inspiration I see from the people and characters that surround me, this coming year is gonna be even better than the last. 

So, thank you for supporting this while we build it up.

– Nina Sclafani

P.S. - For those of you who missed it, this past Sunday we recorded our first Not So Book Club Podcast. Joined by a group of fantastic teachers, we had a great time recording it.  Stream it here for free at: nsbcbc.podbean.com

P.S. – For those of you who missed it, this past Sunday we recorded our first Not So Book Club Podcast. Joined by a group of fantastic teachers, we had a great time recording it.
Stream it here for free at: nsbcbc.podbean.com