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!

 

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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

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

Calling All Readers! Your Help is Needed!

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If I could make a career out of making poorly produced images on my phone, I’d be a millionaire.

Five months ago when I started the Not So Book Club Book Club, I had quite a few goals in mind. First, I wanted to encourage people to read. I wanted people to find the time in their day to discover new stories because far too often I heard people say they were lucky if they read one book a year. Next, I wanted these books to inspire others to produce new art, or music, or poetry, and I wanted them to feel comfortable enough to share their work with others. And finally, I wanted to be able to confidently answer whenever I was asked “What was the last book you read?” and I wanted to be able to easily list off a ton of book recommendations to friends in search of new literature. (For a book lover, I had found myself far too often struggling to answer those two questions. However, since November, with almost 15 new books under my belt, I have conquered that obstacle.)

Although we have started to meet a few of these goals, there is still so much more to go.

Every week when I post on this blog, I know what I’m up against. I’m competing with busy personal and work schedules, gossip blogs, pop up ads, 24-hour news networks, Facebook statuses, television shows—you name it, I’m competing with it. Turns out, the attention of even an interested audience is hard to maintain.

So I was thinking, how can I get you all more involved?

I know there are many of you reading this. I see the stats on my wordpress account and I read all the lovely messages you send, but I’m still shy of reaching those initial goals. Now I’m turning to you for help. I want you to let me know what I could do to get you to participate more.

Should I base my book selection off of NSBCBC member recommendations? Should I post discussion questions on the Facebook page? Should I post pictures more? Should I toss up some original art? What would you like to see and what could I do to interest you in participating?

I have this vision that one day, the NSBCBC will be thriving, completely filled to the brim with discussions, quotes, original art work, or interesting internet-found pictures, all put there by fellow members. What can we do together to help realize this dream?

Share your recommendations right here on the wordpress, post on our Facebook wall (facebook.com/nsbcbc), tweet me at @notsobookclub, or Instagram your recommendations using the #nsbcbc hashtag.

I sincerely look forward to hearing from you all! Let’s make this Not So Book Club a real community experience!

Your NSBCBC founder,

Nina Sclafani

March’s Reads- Why These Books?

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The March 2014 NSBCBC Reads!

This month, I decided to turn to more best-of lists to find our latest reads. All 3 of these books were selected from a mix of Goodreads reviews, Amazon best-of 2013 lists, and NPR recommendations. I’m really excited to read all 3 of these, and hope these help make the final days of winter a little easier! (I have my fingers crossed that by the time I’m on the 3rd read of the month, I’ll be able to read outside and bask in the spring sunshine.)

1. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Original concept by Siobhan Dowd)

For the first book, I decided to mirror the month of March and charge in like a lion—a really sad, disturbing lion. Although you will find this book in the YA section of your library, it is a complex, graphic-filled novel that is filled to the brim with emotionally heavy themes. From the reviews I saw, apparently this book will leave us devastated. Now, I know you’re thinking “devastated, huh? Sounds REALLY fun!” But I urge you to take the journey with me. The synopsis is too interesting to pass up!

The story explores the fears of loss and the unknown, and tackles “monsters both real and imagined.” The novel (originally conceptualized by writer Siobhan Dowd—whose premature death from cancer prevented her from finishing the story), follows a young boy named Connor, who is haunted by a monster that visits him every night starting at the beginning of his mother’s cancer treatments. Paired with hauntingly beautiful ink drawings, this novel brings a deeply moving experience that will help us understand how to overcome our own monsters.

And if that doesn’t sell you, read this excerpt from the New York Times:

“There’s no denying it: this is one profoundly sad story. But it’s also wise, darkly funny and brave, told in spare sentences, punctuated with fantastic images and stirring silences. Past his sorrow, fright and rage, Conor ultimately lands in a place – an imperfect one, of course – where healing can begin. A MONSTER CALLS is a gift from a generous story­teller and a potent piece of art.

—The New York Times

2. The Golum and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

I’ve always loved magical realism. The idea that mystical creatures could live among us regular folk has always made me smile, and in a way I have always hoped for it to be a real possibility. For example, although I’m 27, I am still holding out hope for an invitation to Hogwarts. (By the way…To the Admissions Office of Hogwarts, Seriously guys. I’m not getting any younger here.) So when I saw the synopsis of Wecker’s debut novel, I was very interested.

The story is about two mystical creatures (a golem and a jinni—and no, not Gollum from Lord of the Rings and Genie from Aladdin, although that would make for a really fun pairing) who go on a magical journey. Together, they experience the many different cultures of New York City during the turn of the century, and create a bond that defies their own cultural boundaries.

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Unfortunately the story does not follow these two, but if someone ever wanted to write that, I’d almost certainly HAVE to read it. I mean, what a dynamic duo!

3. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Shamefully, the bright colors of the cover were the initial reason I checked this book out (Props to the cover artist!). Then the synopsis drew me in a bit further.

The story follows a group of friends who meet at a creative arts camp in the summer of 1974. Throughout life, each of these people pursue their own creative passion, yet only some become successful, while others don’t. The story explores the dynamics between the group as they struggle to incorporate creativity in their lives as they grow and face life’s many challenges.

I also chose this story for my own selfish reasons. I always felt like my group of friends were particularly creative and talented (too much horn tooting?). Now that we’re in our late twenties, we are still exploring our creative sides—just some more than others. I felt like this story would be relatable, and I kinda wanted to see what happened to this creative group, perhaps out of curiosity for my own life’s path.

So there we have it! The March Reads for 2014. Make sure to post your thoughts, art work, poetry, and more to the NSBCBC Facebook page (facebook.com/nsbcbc); tweet us at @notsobookclub; Instagram your reading experience with the #nsbcbc hashtag; and share The Not So Book Club Book Club with your friends! The more readers, the merrier!

Happy reading!

– Nina Sclafani

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Never Judge a Book by its Movie

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This widely repeated quote can be found all over the Internet in the form of bookmarks, t-shirts, mugs, bathrobes… you name it, it exists.

Think back to your high school English class. You spend a month slowly plodding through a dense book that is filled with language you barely understand, lengthy descriptions of settings, and metaphors that fly right over your head. Perhaps it’s Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, or maybe it’s Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Despite your best effort to find enjoyment in the experience, the book feels like work. Every night on top of your math and science homework, you have to muster up the energy to get through another 20 pages of a book you can’t really wrap your head around. But there is salvation—the prize at the end of the journey. That beautiful week where your English class becomes a movie theater and you get to spend 5 glorious days watching that book you struggled through in easy to swallow half-hour increments. Does it help you appreciate the book more? Maybe. Does it help you write a better essay for class? Almost certainly. But does the film help or hurt the experience of the book? That is the question that’s up for debate.

This month, in order to try to answer that question, the The Not So Book Club Book Club decided to tackle books that were all made into movies. Two of the books’ movies had not been released yet, while one had already dominated a past awards season. All 3 books however, sported new book covers that mirrored their movie posters and included stickers that proudly declared “Now a feature film!”

To help address the issue at hand, I decided to power read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, and immediately follow it with the movie. I wanted the book to be so fresh in my mind that I’d be able to spot the differences faster than I would in a child’s Highlights magazine. I read for 2 days straight, finishing the book at 6PM and jumped right into the film at 6:30.

And right off the bat, I was struck by how frustrated I was by the changes in the film. The settings didn’t fit the landscapes my mind painted, the characters’ accents weren’t as drawn out as I expected from the southern heat, and the music felt too playful to be properly setting up the tension that would saturate the story. Even more so, I was bothered by the fact that subtlety fell by the wayside…hard. Instead of having the audience swim around the innermost thoughts of the 3 main characters, each and every motive had to be spelled out loud and clear. I found myself shouting things like “Skeeter would have never done this out in the open!” and “Minny wouldn’t have looked that worried! She was tougher than that!” My frustration mounted so high that the second the credits started to roll, I took to the Internet to feel the affirmation of fellow angry viewers. However, I was met with mainly positive reviews. People loved it and gushed about how it deserved all the accolades it received. So why did I take it so personally?

A few days after I watched the movie, I shared my thoughts with one of my close friends. She reminded me that despite her immense love of the Harry Potter series, she refused to watch the films. She went on to say, “Harry and his friends have been with me throughout all of my formative years. They have been like a family to me, and I just know I am not ready to watch my character family be portrayed in someone else’s vision.” And I think that was the thing that got me so hot and bothered about the movie watching experience— it was someone else’s vision.

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Harry Potter 3 ways. Here is a compilation of 3 different interpretations of what Harry’s second bedroom looked like. The first is by book cover artist Mary GrandPré, the second is by cartoonist Alec Longstreth, and the third is a still shot from the feature film Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

When we read, our mind meets the author halfway. The author gives us the words to construct the scenery and situations, but our own imaginations fill in the rest of the blanks. It’s because of this personal effort we feel so attached to what we read. We concoct our own perfect vision of the book, making it almost impossible for any two individuals see that same exact thing.

We also feel deeply attached to the characters. We read their deepest thoughts and feelings, and in doing so they become a part of us. When we see it acted out, we lose something. We lose a bit of that attachment because we become a viewer instead of a participant.

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What we see of the other person’s vision via film, and what we experience through our own experience reading the book.

Now that’s not to say these movies cannot be spectacular. They’re just another person’s view of the story, and despite how close it may be to your own, it will never be the exact picture your mind painted when you read the book.

So do movies help or hurt the reading experience? I think the answer is neither. It just shows us a different interpretation of the story we read and allows us to see someone else’s vision. And despite what people say, I think it’s impossible to say if the book is always better than the film, because it’s comparing apples to oranges— two great individual things that share similarities, but can never fully act as a substitute for the other.

A Note from your NSBCBC ringleader:

Dear NSBCBCers,

I truly hope you have been enjoying the experience of reading with me as much as I have enjoyed this experience with you! Together we have become a strong community of readers and I look forward to us growing in the months to come.

Make sure to check back next Tuesday to see what March’s NSBCBC reads are going to be and make sure to spread the word about the Not So Book Club Book Club!  The more people we have participating, the better the experience will be. Post your thoughts on our facebook wall (https://www.facebook.com/nsbcbc), instagram your reading experience using the #nsbcbc hashtag, and follow us on Twitter at @notsobookclub.

And most importantly, enjoy your reading experience!

Tons of love!

Nina Sclafani

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You Are What You Post – How Reading Changed the Way I Look at Social Media

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A snapshot of my Facebook lookback video. 10 years of glorious social media addiction captured in a 50 second video.

This past week, Facebook celebrated its 10th anniversary, and like myself I’m sure you only knew this because of the flood of lookback videos that filled your newsfeed. Like everyone else, I also took my stroll down memory lane and relived my years of social media-ing. I laughed at silly pictures and smiled at the collection of status updates that chronicled the biggest moments of my adult life. All in all, it was nice to see. As a snapshot of the past ten years, I was perfectly happy with it. Nothing too embarrassing. Nothing too schmultzy. It was a pretty decent representation of my life on Internet display.

Well actually, that’s not entirely true. There are things floating around the Internet from the early 2000’s that still manage to make my face turn red. For instance, my old Livejournal. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Livejournal, it was a site that functioned as an online diary (kind of like an early version of a blog). High schoolers would use it to spill their guts about crushes, day-to-day activities, and things they found funny or frustrating. But here’s the crazy thing—it was public. You wrote your most unedited and candid thoughts so your friends could read them. Going back and reading my own, it was clear—I had no tact. It was like someone cracked open my head and spilled out every thought my adolescent brain could muster. To call these journal entries embarrassing is an understatement. And then there was Webshots, which was the first place where my friends and I could publicly post pictures. It was filled to the brim with incriminating pictures of underage drinking and questionable fashion choices. But in some kind of Internet miracle, this past November Webshots wiped their data base clean and all photos that were once posted on the site no longer exist. Don’t believe me? Google yourself. That disastrous picture of you at a party in 2005? Gone!

I was lucky enough to make my poor Internet choices on sites that lost their popularity early on, but for those whose first crack at using social media was Facebook, they weren’t so lucky. With Facebook’s Timeline, every post you’ve ever made is readily available as long as you continue to scroll. For some people, you don’t even have to scroll very far down (or not at all) to find posts that portray them in a light less flattering, and this week in particular, I saw a few posts that really flaunted that. These were posts that went viral on Facebook and highlighted one of the biggest mistakes people make when using social media—posting without a discerning eye. These were posts that said more about the people who posted then I think was ever intended.

Shake My Head Moment #1: The Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony Rumor

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Headlines only! Apparently no one bothered to check the source of this faux article which circulated around Facebook following the Sochi opening ceremony.

Numerous times this absurd headline found its way onto my newsfeed, and of all the talk slamming the Sochi Olympics, this one really took the cake. The headline read, “Man Responsible for Olympic Ring Mishap Found Dead in Sochi.” People were outraged, making comments like “what a f’ed up place Russia is,” and how they were “officially NOT watching or supporting these games anymore.” However, it was clear that these people A) Only read the headline, and B) Didn’t check the source of the article. They didn’t bother to read the actual article (where they would have found ridiculous fictional quotes throughout), and they didn’t bother to google “dailycurrant.com,” because had they done so, they would have read that it’s a fictional news blog. But the post was made and the damage was done.

Shake My Head Moment #2: Miley vs. Duck Dynasty

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So…. what is being said here? Sex is bad? Praying is cool? Homophobia is a sin? Miley is bad at dancing? Free speech for some?

Then there was this gem. Right off the bat this picture made me cringe and it only got worse when I read the comment threads. The comments were a mixed bag of anti-gay rants, pro-religious messages, and a few free-speech statements here and there.

For those of you may not remember, this past year Phil Robertson of the A&E’s Duck Dynasty got in hot water for insulting the black community, and for calling homosexuality a “sin” and not “logical” in an interview he did with GQ magazine. Following the interview, A&E decided to suspend Robertson from the show in order to distance the network from his opinions. A&E received backlash for their decision, with Internet bloggers and talking heads stating this violated Robertson’s “right to free speech,” and soon after, he was allowed back on the program. Since the controversy, according to Time Magazine, Nielsen ratings show the program has been steadily losing millions of viewers week after week. (http://entertainment.time.com/2014/01/23/duck-dynasty-takes-a-ratings-dive/).

However, you would never know any of that just by looking at the picture. What the picture shows is a family praying. It doesn’t actually address the issues that plagued the family following the GQ interview. So did the person who originally created this use this photo to say that we need more religion in our media, or did they use this picture to mask Robertson’s controversial opinion by depicting him solely as a religious family man? Clearly the people re-posting and adding to the comment thread couldn’t seem to figure that out either.

So, how does this connect to the Not So Book Club Book Club?

As English students, we were taught to read with a close eye and decipher the nuances of each story and character. Like detectives, we were taught to attack a story from numerous angles, and pick the text apart in order to fully understand it. We are introduced to new ways of looking at the world with each and every text we read, and those new perspectives stay with us as we function in the real world.

When I see a headline, I think like a reader and search for a credible source. When I see a statement photograph, I pick it apart as I would with a text and figure out who created it, why they created it, and who do they represent before I publicly form an opinion on it. Books have taught me be a critical reader, and have helped me better understand the millions of messages that are thrown at me on a daily basis.

When I look at a major platform like Facebook, I think of it as a high school auditorium. For a few seconds, that status update or article I posted is center stage, standing in front of a highly critical audience of “friends.” That post speaks on behalf of me regardless if  I’m posting something to be funny or to make a serious statement about how I feel. It tells the audience “this is who I am and this is what I believe.” And as long as I  approach my social media with the keen eye of a reader, only then can I fully represent myself to the best of my abilities.

Read more, think more, and represent yourself better.

You Do You – Satisfying the Different Parts of Your Personality with Books

In the same way that people have figurative skeletons in the closet, I have skeletons on my bookshelf. These are books that I once loved but now am slightly embarrassed about. Case and point: The Twilight series (I refuse to call it a “saga.” It’s just too much!)

Let us rewind to 2008. I was in the final semesters of my teaching program at Stony Brook University, and up to my neck in serious lit and education courses. I was also involved in a wonderful but long distance relationship with my boyfriend (now husband). My life bordered on being somewhat dull. It was a life filled with poetry I didn’t relate to, and phone conversations that recapped the monotony of our daily lives apart. Because of that, I began to long for some excitement. And so, in came the Twilight books.

Just like that, I fell into an exciting world filled with vampires, and werewolves, and Washington state (oh my!). I found myself involved in lengthy conversations about who I felt should be cast as Edward, and even went as far as creating a Facebook sticker (yes, these were once a thing) that said something along the lines of “I’d rather be dating Edward” (Good God Andrew, I’m so sorry).  And for the last nail in my Twilight-obsessed coffin, I went to the book release party at Barnes and Noble for “Breaking Dawn” sporting a Twilight t-shirt!

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2008 – Here I am with my beautiful friend Alison, sippin’ on pure sugar “Edward” slushies, fully decked out in Twilight t-shirts, because that’s how you do Saturday night! No regrets!

Now, although I write this with a face that is slightly red from embarrassment, I have to be honest—at the time, those books were a lot of fun and gave me what I needed. With my boyfriend living 4 hours away and my days spent in the classroom, I craved excitement and romance, and I found that within the pages of the series.

Fast forward to 2014, although I pretend to have refined my taste in literature, I still essentially do the same thing. I feed my mind and soul what it wants. Last month, I wanted to experience what it felt like to be in outer space, so I picked up “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” by Col. Chris Hadfield. This month, I wanted to quench my yucky need for gossip, so I read “Most Talkative” by Bravo executive and host Andy Cohen. With each book, I satisfied a part of my personality that yearned for that element. (Sidenote: It’s a lot better to pick up a book and fulfill one’s need for gossip, rather than invite that sort of thing into your real life. Truth!)

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My spirit animals, Donna and Tom from Parks and Rec, reminding us all that it’s OK to “treat yo self” to what you want…. even if that treat is a book that is widely panned by critics and friends alike.

I’ve learned to accept that it’s OK to like what you like, and that you should always feel free to read what you want because 1. You’re reading (which is fantastic) and 2. You’re satisfying something that your mind is craving. Although I don’t really relate to the Twilight books anymore, there was a time that I did. They gave me what my mind needed and so I’m thankful for those books. I’m grateful for Twilight! (I never thought I’d hear myself say that… at least publicly).

And so in short, I suppose if there’s a lesson to be had, it would be that no matter what a critic says about a book you love, or no matter how bad your friends make fun of you for liking a book, you should never feel ashamed for liking what you like, because there is no better judge for a book than you.

– Nina Sclafani

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You do you! Satisfy your needs and embrace what you like!

Meeting the Challenge

I feared this would happen. The second I ordered the book off Amazon and received the email saying “Out of Stock! Will send as soon as possible,” I knew I was at risk. As per usual, I set up my NSBCBC reading goals, but I knew this shipping snafu would leave me with barely enough time to complete all three books. I feared the missing book would require the most time and energy, and that it would be sent to my house too late, leaving me with a meager week or two to tackle this Goliath. As predicted, this is exactly the situation I found myself in.

“S.” (the interactive concentration-requiring novel experience by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst) became the (enjoyable) bane of my existence. Every day I slowly sifted through the mystery and allowed myself to get completely wrapped up in the experience. But with only a few days left in the month, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated at myself for barely being able to reach my reading goals.

I voiced these concerns to my best friend and she pointed out how (and I paraphrase) these goals were all self inflicted and that

I made these goals,

I created the challenge,

I’m meeting the challenge,

and I’m bettering myself by doing so.

I realized that she was right, and despite my frustrations, these goals have led me to a new positive place in my life. They have led me to a path of self education.

I have enrolled myself in a school where I am both professor and student. I assign the writing assignments (the blog), I give the reading assignments (set daily goals for reading), and I have a strong desire to share the experience with others (others I want to “teach” or “learn with”). I have even found myself reading with a highlighter! And why do I do this? Because I have developed an intrinsic desire to learn.

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This is how I feel on the tiny campus that is my home. In my fantasy world, there is signage and shirts with logos, so I can properly show off my self-ed pride.

Even subjects that I once despised, I now yearn to learn more about. When I was in high school, I absolutely hated the subject of science. Although I learned what I had to in order to pass, I did not feel the desire to have my questions answered. I was apathetic to the subject. But now I find myself reading National Geographic magazine… with a highlighter… and a pen…. for note taking! What has happened to me?!

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This month’s National Geographic magazine is teaching me all about the brain! Note the highlighter and additional notes.
Prior to reading this article, the extent of my knowledge about the brain came from the 90’s classic film, The Babysitters Club. (“The brain! The brain! The center of the chain!”…. Anyone? Anyone?)

I think it all stems from my first months of unemployment. Post wedding, I allowed myself to spend days watching television while feverishly hitting the refresh button on facebook. I’d sleep in, not exercise, and not feel like socializing. (It’s ok. You can judge me for that. I judge me for that too.) I got so wrapped up in mundane, solitary life that when I spoke, I felt like I couldn’t even form intelligent sentences. My brain wasn’t working on all cylinders because it didn’t have to. I wasn’t challenging myself.

Then right before my husband and I went on our honeymoon, I instagrammed a picture of the three books I was taking with me and threw together a paragraph about wanting others to read with me. And so the Not So Book Club Book Club was formed. From that moment on, I felt I had a responsibility. I made a goal and a challenge to myself—to keep up with this project and to help it grow.

Since then, nurturing this project has made me want to nurture my mind. Meeting the goals I set for myself has given me purpose. It has made my days fulfilling, and although at times it can be frustrating (e.g. see paragraph 1), it has given me the desire to learn and better myself. And come the day I am once again gainfully employed, I will try my hardest not to lose sight of this feeling, because to me this is what life is all about.

Creating goals, meeting those goals, and bettering your mind.