How Working on This Project Has Felt Oddly Like the Plot of Titanic

Since we’re now a little over the 6 month mark, I decided this week to take a short reprieve and reflect on the ups and downs that have been trying to make The Not So Book Club Book Club successful. And what better way to describe this journey than to use the plot of Titanic to help me out. Dramatic you say? Sure. But kinda accurate? Let’s be fair and say it’s as accurate as the somewhat-accurate screenplay James Cameron wrote for this movie.

 

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 1. Nov 2013: Who could have guessed that a little Instagram picture encouraging my friends to read books with me would turn into all this? It was a long shot to see if anyone would participate, but like my Titanic counterpart Jack, I made my bet (kind of on a whim) and started the journey that would take over my life (and by life I mean free time). Obviously as seen in the picture, we were both pretty pumped about our new beginnings.

 

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In this version, the role of me is played by Leo and the role of my dog Max is played by Fabrizio. (Except in our version, Fabrizio doesn’t get all smushed from that falling part of the boat. He survives and learns to never eat out of the garbage again.)

2. By December 2013, I was so enthusiastic about it all. The Facebook page! The Twitter! The WordPress! It all gave me new purpose! It refocused me and stopped me from slogging through my days of unemployment, unproductive and unmotivated. It woke my brain up and make me feel like I was doing something great. I was so pumped to the point where I may have actually shouted “I’M THE KING OF THE WORLD!” right into my dog’s face. My poor dog.

 

Image3. Come Christmastime, I found myself with new and interesting things to talk about with people at holiday parties. Along with the books I was recommending, I had the NSBCBC to talk about. I no longer felt the need to describe myself as “recently laid off” but rather, “starting an online book club and writing a blog.” I felt fancy and felt proud that I had something interesting to contribute to conversations.

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SWEET SWEET SUCCESSSSSSS!

 

4. Along with that new confidence came my first successful blog post! The one about unemployment exploded in my little world of WordPress and I felt like I had really started to build a following.

 

 

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Da fuq?

5. But then there were the setbacks. For all the times I thought I was heading in the right direction, I started to question if it really was the start of something great, or had I just caught lightning in a bottle? I felt like that until….

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BOOM! Sweet sweet success againnnnn!

 

6. SUCCESSFUL BLOG NUMBER 2! Sure, it took a little while to get back here, but I made it, which meant I was capable of doing it twice! And with that I avoided calling myself a one hit wonder. Phewww…..

 

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“Oh hey Nina. It’s me. Iceberg. You’re working everyday this week. And I need you to stay late. K Thanks!”

7. But eventually reality hit me and I needed to start working again. To me, the iceberg was my job and that job really screwed up the freedom I felt when The Not So Book Club Book Club was my only priority.

 

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8. Slowly, I missed NSBCBC deadlines I made for myself and felt rushed reading through three books a month. I was afraid that this little project of mine would sink…. sink like the Titanic. The casualties wouldn’t be nearly as bad (that’s an understatement if I’ve ever seen one) but it would still bum me out significantly.

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Um… Hi gang. So did uh….anyone else really enjoy Beautiful Ruins?

9. And with the lack of Facebook posts and participation by others I wondered “is there anyone out there?” Am I just talking to myself here?

 

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“Name please” “Nina Sclafani. Ms. Book Club if ya nasty”

10. But like my beloved Rose, I’m going to forge ahead and keep this thing going because I love it. It’s been great for me. And I can only hope it’s been great for you too.

 

 

Till Next Week.

– Nina

Formally Laid Off Unemployed Person, Current Proud Founder of The Not So Book Club Book Cub

 

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Is This Cheating? (…Cause This Feels Like Cheating)

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Audiobooks Vs. Actual Books. Does it still count as reading the book if you never actually read the book?

Back when I was in high school, I worked at my town’s local library. Looking back at the job, it was probably one of the best (if not the best) jobs I’ve ever had. I say that because retrospectively, no other job allowed me to flip through interesting books all day (even though I suppose I did that on the sly). I would spend my afternoons organizing shelves, checking out what books patrons were taking out, and covering (or re-covering) books with plastic so that they always looked and felt fresh (but that’s where it ended, because no matter how many times you cover a book in new plastic, you could never cover up that old-book stink).

Of all the things I did at the library, my favorite days were the ones I’d spend in the back room, creating art for the windows. I don’t remember how I earned that job, or how often I was tasked with a new window, but I do remember spending hours in that back room—piecing together construction paper, lining my work with thick black sharpie, and blowing through glue stick after glue stick as I organized the shapes like a puzzle in order to create different scenes. And for all the time I spent alone working on these murals, the time felt like it flew by. This could have been because of amount of fun I had creating these pieces, but I also think it was what I listened to while I worked, that made it fly. Because this was a library, I had complete access to the CDs and DVDs that were in stock, and I used that unlimited access to monopolize the Harry Potter audiobooks.

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The only remaining picture of my brief career as an 18 year old construction paper artist.

Every shift, I would place one of the disks into the little boom box we kept in the back and get completely wrapped up in the wizarding world. In his slightly-Americanized English accent, the melodic voice of Harry Potter narrator Jim Dale would quietly guide me through the books, chapter after chapter, shift after shift.

But for all the hours I spent listening to these books over and over, I never felt as though I were reading the stories. When I talk about the series with friends (and yes, I roll with a crowd where this conversation comes up at least once a year), I never count the times I’ve listened to the stories when someone asks how many times I’ve read the books. I mean, why would I? My eyes never saw a single word of Rowling’s writing, my mind never gave voice to the words of the characters, and I never exhausted my eyes to the point where I’d fall asleep mid chapter.

But with that said, it never felt right to not include my listening sessions because so much of my listening experience was the same as my reading experience. Just as if I were reading the books myself, I experienced every word of Rowling’s writing and I watched every scene play out in my mind. Just like reading, I felt emotional during the exciting parts and nervous during the finale scenes. Essentially, I felt all the same things I would have, had I been reading the book.

So should it count as reading the book? Or am I cheating the book? 

A few years ago, this question came up when I tried to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Trying to read that book was an epic failure. With too much time spent on only three chapters worth of progress, I turned to the audiobook—and it helped… significantly. Although I experienced her language through my earbuds instead of on the page, it was fulfilling. For a while there, I even felt influenced by her writing style, as I found myself mimicking a certain type of grace in my work emails that had not been there prior (which was… awkward, but only because I was emailing people that clearly had no time for grace or beauty in their writing. They were NYS Medicare employees and they refused to read anything over 5 sentences long). I got all the positive side effects of reading a beautiful classic book, without having to actually read it.

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This popped up in my Google search for “Jane Austen writing” and I can’t help but wish this were a real line from Pride and Prejudice.

This month, under the insistence of NSBCBC podcast panelist Amanda, I dipped my foot in the audiobook pool yet again, in order to “read” David Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. (Side note: I tried to illegally download it because I didn’t want to wait for the library copy to arrive, and I didn’t want to pay the $20 it cost on i tunes. However, my foray into small time crime didn’t pay because I immediately downloaded a virus that took days to get out of my computer. Oy… never again.) Anyway, the experience thus far has been pretty great (aside from that virus business) and it has me thinking—perhaps this is the way some authors need to be absorbed. For example, a friend of mine tried to read this book and didn’t love it, but now that I’ve heard the audiobook, maybe she would have enjoyed it had she heard the author’s delivery of the text instead. His voice, his pauses, his pronunciation—it all adds so much to the stories that I’m not sure they’d be as rewarding without him.

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Here is David Sedaris, cracking up John Stewart on The Daily Show. See, John knows what I mean about David’s delivery. Amanda was so right about this.

But it this reading? Technically, no. But am I experiencing the story? Absolutely! I’m absorbing every word, learning new things, and experiencing feelings with every page that passes. And isn’t that what reading is all about? Whichever way you decide to take in a story, it is still a rewarding experience.

So the next time someone asks how many times I’ve read the Harry Potter stories, I’ll include the times I’ve listened, because really, shouldn’t the question actually be, “how many times have you experienced the story?”

– Nina Sclafani

The Top 5 Most Spectacular Settings We’ve Read About (So Far)

Over the past two days, I took a mini vacation to a little shore village in Italy. The town, which rested on the coast next to Italy’s Cinque Terre was pure perfection. Isolated from the rest of the world, this charming village swept me away from my hectic life back home. And the best part—I didn’t have to pay for air fare!

Now to be honest, I didn’t actually go there, but I went there in my book. Over the past two days, I powered through Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins and via his detailed descriptions, was completely transported to the sleepy village of Porto Vergogna (at least in my mind). It was the perfect mini vacation I needed and because I had such a lovely trip, I decided that this week I would list 5 of my favorite places we have traveled to (thus far) with The Not So Book Club Book Club.

1. Porto Vergogna, Italy from Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins

ImageUnfortunately, Porto Vergogna is a fictional place but since Walter’s chose this image as the cover of his book, I think this is probably the closest we are going to get to finding an image of this 1960’s paradise. In the novel, the tiny village only has one hotel, The Hotel Adequate View (owned by our beloved Pasquale Tursi), and features basically nothing else. However, there is one other hidden gem in this coastal town—a small cave that is beautifully adorned with paintings created by a traveling German soldier during World War 2. All I need is a time machine and a miracle to get there.

2. Kabul, Afghanistan in the 1950’s as featured in Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed

ImageIn Hosseini’s book, he describes how vibrant and exciting the pre-conflict Kabul was in the 1950’s. He painted a city that was rich in culture and richer in scenery. Resting in a valley and surrounded by incredible mountain ranges, the Kabul of today still holds much of the beauty of it’s past. I hope to one day see these gorgeous mountains in person, when Kabul finds peace yet again. In the meantime, I’ll just swoon over the pictures.

3. The International Space Station from Col. Chris Hadfield’s An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth

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I mean really… do I need to give a reason why this one made the list? Col. Chris Hadfield served as Chief of the International Space Station from 2006-2008, which means he got to see this view for 2 YEARS! Lucky guy. For those of you who listened to this month’s podcast  you know I’d give anything for that experience. So Universe, give me space! Give me zero gravity! Give me that view of our beautiful planet! I’ll take that over any other trip (even if it’s only for 10 minutes).

4. The Open Sea! As sailed in Eli Brown’s Cinnamon and Gunpowder 

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Apparently I want to be a pirate. I never knew this until I read this book and then quickly followed it with J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst’s S. (Ship of Theses). For an entire month, I was obsessed with the idea of sailing the seven seas. True, there is a lot of turmoil that accompanies the pirate life, but there are also a lot of pluses. 1. I love the motion of the ocean. I have never gotten sea sick (knock on wood), and I love the gentle rocking that comes with riding the waves. Sure, I know that as a pirate you have the potential to hit a storm, but until then, give me my sea legs! 2. What a fantastic tan you would develop on the deck of a pirate ship! I could easily transform my uber whiteness to a delicious off white! And really, who wouldn’t prefer working all day out in the sun over working all day under florescent lights? And 3. Fresh sea food! Crab legs. Tilapia. Tuna. Shrimp! No further explanation needed.

Man… I need to book a cruise.

5. The Circus Tents of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus

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I loved the concept of the mystical Le Cirque des Rêves tents in Morgenstern’s book. For those of you who have not read this one, each tent featured something intensely magical, may it be a heavenly maze constructed entirely of clouds, or the Ice Garden that transported circus patrons to a Narnia-esque winter paradise (where you didn’t even need a coat!) The idea that you could hop from one magical location to the next in mere minutes is too perfect for any adventure seeker or magic lover, and I like to consider myself as both.

And those, my friends, are my top 5 favorite settings we’ve read about so far! Send us your favorite settings by writing to the NSBCBC blog, posting on our facebook page, or tweeting us at @notsobookclub. And don’t forget to listen to this month’s podcast, found here!

Keep reading, NSBCBCers! Lots of Love!

– Nina Sclafani

Founder of The Not So Book Club Book Club

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

April’s Reads – Why These Books?

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Our NSBCBC April reads, as selected by you fantastic people.

Last week I asked for some help. I wanted to bring the Not So Book Club Book Club to not only a wider audience, but also I wanted the audience I already had to help me make this club even better. I asked for suggestions on how to increase participation and I asked for suggestions on what we should read next. Man, you did not disappoint. You sent in really wonderful suggestions and in doing so, you got me all sorts of pumped up for the future of this book club.

Over the past couple of months, I have had numerous people tell me that because of the book club they want to read more. They may not be reading the NSBCBC reads within the span of the month, (Hell, they may not even be reading any of the NSBCBC reads!), but they are reading. This victory, however small it may be, shows that what we’re doing together is working. We’re starting the conversations about literature and we are motivating others to share in the stories we are diving into every month. I don’t know about you, but for me that is just the best, and it makes me want to do even more.

So with that said, I’m happy to announce that this weekend we will be recording our first Not So Book Club Podcast episode! On the podcast (which will be available free to stream on nsbcbc.podbean.com) we will be discussing an array of literature-centered topics. And fear not! You do not have to read the books in order to enjoy the podcast! Anyone who enjoys reading, pop culture, technology, ect. will be able to enjoy this. I’ll post more about the upcoming podcast later this week on our facebook page (facebook.com/nsbcbc), twitter account (@notsobookclub), and instagram hashtag (#nsbcbc).

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The Not So Book Club Podcast- Just like Delicious Dish, but with even more sexual innuendo! Impossible you say? We shall see…

 

And now, without further ado, your April reads.

 

1. “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson

From what I have heard, Jenny Lawson (aka “The Bloggess”) is a pretty funny lady. Actually, I read her autobiography paragraph on her blog (http://thebloggess.com/about/) and it’s true. She is funny. And what do we desperately need as we slowly emerge out of the hell that has been this never ending winter? Some humor. Actually, I’m going to let my lovely friend Alison sell you on this book, as she did me. She happily pushed me over the edge with this comment:

“My first recommendation is the quasi-autobiographical/hilarious book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess). I cry a lot when I’m reading a great story but this one had me crying of laughter. John kicked me out of the apt for laughing too loud and the patrons of Starbucks were none too pleased by my presence.”

So there you have it. Let’s laugh inappropriately in public together, gang.

 

2. “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto” by Chuck Klosterman

My husband doesn’t read all that much, but when he does he tends to read books that have an air of cool around them—cool books that I thought I was not cool enough to get. Anyway, a few years back he read this “too cool for me” book (as did pretty much all of my male friends), and I thought they read it based on the title. Of course these fellas would be attracted to a book titled “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.” It’s like their altered lyric version to the von Trapp children’s “My Favorite Things!”

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The books I choose to read, vs. the books my husband chooses to read, as represented Steve Urkel and Stefan Urkel.

When it was suggested, I was skeptical. I didn’t think that even all these years later, I’d be cool enough for this book. But then I read the synopsis, and teeny part of a single sentence sealed the deal for me.

“Whether deconstructing Saved by the Bell episodes…”

Pause. Yes. Done deal. We’re reading it. I’m cool enough. Or it’s not that cool. Whatever. I’m in.

The rest of the sentence went like this,

“…or the artistic legacy of Billy Joel, the symbolic importance of The Empire Strikes Back or the Celtics/Lakers rivalry, Chuck will make you think, he’ll make you laugh, and he’ll drive you insane — usually all at once.”

And so, it was chosen.

 

3. “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Lawson

This was suggested by a NSBCBCer who reads a lot. She seems to have read every book that has ever been popular, ever.  I’ve gazed upon her book collection and have felt the tinge of jealousy that she has somehow over the years, despite her insane schedule, managed to read what seems to be every book to have topped the literary world. So, when she suggested this, I took it seriously.

I’ve considered putting this book on our list for a few months. It found it’s way onto many Best Of lists from 2013, and that always is a pretty good start. It takes place in Italy and everything about the cover screams “warmth!” to me. Perhaps this is so vitally important because currently I’m wearing two sweatshirts, am hiding under a down comforter with a micro fleece blanket on top of that, and when I accidentally poured scalding hot coffee on my own hands this morning, I felt more relief than pain. Have I mentioned yet that I’m over winter?

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Here is a candid picture of me from this morning, as I wrote this blog post.

Anyway, I’m not describing this story with any justice. I think my brain is frozen. Read the synopsis here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11447921-beautiful-ruins?from_search=true

I think you’ll dig it.

 

With that, this already too long post must conclude.

Happy reading book clubbers! I look forward to another great month of reading with you!

And thank you everyone who sent in suggestions! Every book felt like it would have been great, so stay tuned. You never know if your suggestion will be a part of May’s list!

 

– Nina Sclafani

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NSBCBC Founder

Beware the Idle March

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The month of March. My true frenemy.

For most east coasters, I think it’s fair to say that we would declare January to be our least favorite month. It’s cold, it’s full of snow, there’s no green growing, and no holiday to consume our minds. And in second place would be February—the month where all that garbage continues (Except in this month, we can decorate with hearts and celebrate love!) But alas, there is one more month that may perhaps be the sleeping giant vying for the title of crummiest month. The month that gives you hope, and then takes it away. It teases warmth and progress, and then pummels you with a wind chill of 20, all in the same week. That farty month is March and she has been playing some cruel tricks on me.

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Beware the Ides of March? More like beware the entire month. Good riddance March! (Side note: Me and one of my best friends have been sending each other warning texts about the ides every March for about 10 years. That’s some real nerd business right there.)

Now, perhaps this March is a uniquely rough one, and therefore I can’t entirely blame my negative feelings on the month. The complete lack of job interviews definitely plays a part. The hope I feel every time I send out an application to a job I feel I am perfect for, only to never hear a single word from the company. I never thought I’d find myself veer so far from my career path for this amount of time. But such is life.

So why is March taking all the heat? It comes down to this. With every hopeful application I send, there is an inevitable feeling of exhaustion that follows when the hope of the job is suddenly stripped away. March for me is the natural, physical embodiment of this feeling. The sun breaks through, followed by a frigid gust of wind, and rinse, and repeat.

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But we are just getting out of Winter! Dammit, Ned! Get your shit together!

I know this is completely affecting my ability to do what I love when it comes to this book club. For months, I have been writing about setting goals, and making room for reading in your lives. I’ve been touting that incredible feeling of accomplishment when you finish a great book, and have been pushing you all to find that same feeling. And here I am in the midst of March, not listening to my own advice. So how can I break free of that?

Well for starters, I have to be honest with myself about it. So here I am, being honest. I have allowed myself to become discouraged about the things I can’t 100% control, and in doing so have closed doors to potential opportunity, may it be with prospective jobs, or with reading. In closing those doors, I allowed myself to get sucked into the void of laziness. Sure, there absolutely are times where I can’t keep my eyes open the second I pick up a book, and there are times where I would rather receive my stories via television. (Sidenote: House of Cards and True Detective. Just do it.)  I just need to be aware of it when it’s happening and push myself to snap out of it.

We all go through this at one point or another, and March seemed to be my month. And so here are my new goals:

I have to accept the time I wasted, and try to not waste anymore.

I need to grab my book, and rediscover why I love diving into these worlds.

I need to remind myself that feeling down about a situation is never helpful.

And I need to become Spring and kick March’s ass out of this place.

So excuse me. It’s time to start kicking.

Look out March. I'm comin' for ya.

Look out March. I’m comin’ for ya.

I promise next week I’ll be back on track. Thanks for understanding.

– Nina Sclafani