3-Day Thursday: Drink up!

Madame Ambassador is splashing her way to the top of the rain puddles to talk to you about hydration.  Ironic, yes.  It seems that it has been raining, drizzling, or just plain damp for about two weeks in the Boston area.  Better now than in July during our 3-Day Walk, I suppose!

It is important to replace not only the fluid lost to perspiration during exercise, but to also replace the salt we lose.  You can do that by drinking a cold sports drink that includes some amount of salt, or by eating a slightly salted food along with the water or other fluid.

These tips from The 3-Day organization are a great guide for anyone embarking on an endurance event, long walk, or any other sweat-inducing exercise:

Pre-training walk/Pre-event:

  • Drink an extra 8 glasses (64 ounces or 2 quarts) of fluid during the 24 hours before a long training walk or the event.
  • Drink 2 glasses (16 ounces or 1 pint) of fluid 2 hours before exercise. This will allow time to excrete the excess fluid prior to walking.
  • Remember, in hot or humid weather you may need to drink more fluids.
  • If you are walking at a slower pace, you may not need to drink as much.

During your walk: Monitor your fluid intake. Drink when thirsty. Your urine should be dilute and you should be urinating frequently. Try to consume 4-5 ounces of fluid per mile (1-2 standard water bottles per hour). This should include water and sports drink.

Post-Walk: Drink a combination of water and sports drink and consume food with some salt after exercising longer than 1 hour.

waist-packI learned at our Expo event that The 3-Day doesn’t give cups/bottles of water at the hydration stations.  In order to save waste and money, our personal water bottles will be filled from larger containers.  I picked up this 2-bottle waist pack at Target, cute, huh?  The bottles each hold 16 ounces, which should be enough to get me to the next hydration station comfortably.  The pack itself has a large inner pocket (good for a change of socks and phone/camera) and two smaller zipped areas to hold ID and ‘whatnot’. 

One last tip for anyone who’s considering purchasing a waist pack or other equipment to use during The 3-Day:  train with it!  Yes, I feel a little silly walking the treadmill in our basement with this strapped around my waist, but it’s a good way to make sure the fit is comfortable, not chafing, and I can move my arms easily.


How am I doing?

I hit a bit of a road block a few weeks ago when my walking partner decided not to participate in The 3-Day.  I respect that she didn’t feel she was where she needed to be as far as training and fundraising (and I’m glad she made the decision sooner, rather than later), but I’ll admit that I wallowed in it for a week or so.  Picking myself up and moving on ….

FundraisingMy 3-Day page shows that I’ve raised $1031; this count is actually about $1630, because the funds from our yard sale haven’t yet been credited.  I’m committed to raising a minimum of $2300, and feel confident that I’ll get there.

Training:  I’ve deviated from the training plan due to a few weekends away and the general malaise I felt after my teammate’s announcement.  I’m back on track now, and really enjoy the walk training – it’s a great excuse to disappear with an audiobook for a few hours!  I plugged ‘swim’ into my calendar for tomorrow morning.  We have a lovely swim center in town, and I’m not using it as much as I should/could be.  Someone keep me honest and check in with me Friday afternoon to see that I’ve actually gotten wet from something more enjoyable than this rain!

The Walk is SIX WEEKS from Friday … see you next week!

Spotlight on Bookstores: *Ariel Bookstore at The Rocks* in Sydney, Australia

Today’s Spotlight on Bookstores is brought to us by Joanna Penn, author and blogger at The Creative Penn: Writing, Self-Publishing, Print-on-Demand, Internet Sales and Promotion…for your book; you can follow her on Twitter. Joanna is British, lives in Brisbane but was in Sydney for the Writers Festival and revisited this brilliant bookshop.  rimg0078

I left England in 2000 and arrived in Sydney for the Olympics as a tourist and casual worker. The atmosphere was amazing! There were big screens set up downtown where thousands of people would sit and cheer on their countries. It was then I first discovered the mass hysteria of watching sport and Ariel Bookstore at The Rocks. For those who don’t know Sydney, The Rocks is right under the Harbour Bridge and opposite the Opera House. It is prime Sydney real estate, tiny lanes packed with cafes and tourist traps, as well as the Modern Art Museum and Ariel. It used to be the red light district, where sailors drank and whored their nights away, and now tourists buy Prada and overpriced Aboriginal paintings. You have to go!

ariel1Ariel is a tiny shop really. It is not somewhere you can sit and read. There are no comfy chairs. There is no coffee shop. The only people in there are buying books. Ariel is so good because I swear every single book is one you want to read. There is no wasted space. No bargain bin. No second rate books. There are scant choices and few copies in each genre but every book on the shelves is considered and correct. It seems they know my taste perfectly (and probably yours as well!). To go into Ariel as a booklover is to get your wallet out, happily and willingly. Do not go in there if you just want to browse. It is a booklover’s heaven and hell.

I think their success is based on scarcity of choice, but excellence in what is presented. I love books and could browse all day but often I leave over-crowded bookshops unable to buy because I am overwhelmed. Another famous bookshop is Sydney is Gleebooks which definitely suffers from overcrowding. Although an excellent bookshop, I have frequently left unfulfilled, bag empty because of too much choice. However, if you are in Sydney, definitely visit Glebe Point Road on an empty stomach. You will find much to munch on as well as brain food there! folio1

While I have the floor, I have to mention my favourite bookshop in Brisbane (considered by many to be a cultural wilderness!). Folio Books is my solace when the day job gets too much, and is often a weekend pilgrimage. Their layout and selection is similar to Ariel, although they also have a number of huge art and architecture books, large in size and price. I buy presents from Folio – one for the birthday boy/girl and one for me.





Teaser Tuesdays: You just know something bad is about to happen …

TEASER TUESDAYS is hosted by MizB at Should be Reading; it asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • My teaser for this week:

    She awoke feeling better than she had for days, perhaps weeks.  The sun, which they had not seen since before the day the plane fell on the Heights, shone through the lace at the windows, making a filigree on the polished floor.

    I’m reading Anita Shreve’s Resistance for my neighborhood book group (meets tonight at my house, talk about procrastinating!).  The novel takes place in late 1943/early 1944 and is about a wounded American solider who is nursed in an underground network in a Nazi-occupied Belgian village.

    Have you read Resistance?  What are you reading this week?

    Book Review: *The Painter from Shanghai* by Jennifer Cody Epstein

  • painterThe Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co.; Reprint edition (April 6, 2009)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393335316
  • Back of the book blurb:  Down the muddy waters of the Yangtze River, through the raucous glamour of prewar Shanghai and the bohemian splendor of 1920s Paris, and back to a China teetering on the brink of revolution: this is the epic story of Pan Yuliang, one of the most talented—and provocative—Chinese artists of the twentieth century.

    She is Too Fond of Books’ review:  The Painter from Shanghai is a vivid and beautifully rendered mix of history and fiction.  As the author states in the opening pages, she “attempts to stay true to the broad strokes of Madame Pan’s life as depicted in the few sources available … however, the characters, events, and places depicted her are – like the paintings that inspired them – impressionistic portraits.”  You can read even in this brief Author’s Note, Epstein’s ability to turn a metaphor and bring us directly into the painter’s world.

    Just as I learned about the inspiration for Picasso’s Guernica mural by reading David Boling’s historical novel of the same name, The Painter from Shanghai augmented my knowledge of pre- and post-revolutionary China, and the place of female artists at the time.  Indeed, the novel introduced me to Pan Yuliang, undoubtedly the most proficient female post-impressionist Chinese painter.  In an art world dominated by men, her willingness, even eagerness, to paint nudes (with her own body being the model for many of the paintings) shocked and outraged.

    Pan Juliang developed her appreciation of color and pattern as she learned to embroider alongside her mother.  Later, as an orphan being raised by her opium-addict uncle, she continues to find what beauty she can in the world around her.  This ability is nearly extinguished after her uncle sells her to the madam of a brothel, where Pan Yuliang remains for many years. 

    The details of Pan Yuliang’s personal experience fill the senses – Epstein describes the sights, sounds and smells of the streets of Bejing and Paris, the brothel, and other settings in the novel.  My mind was filled with especially vivid pictures when I read passages that were written from the artist’s point of view.  The novel is written in present tense, which adds to the feeling of being surrounded by the world Epstein presents.

    Pan Yuliang’s desire to create art is finally unleashed after years of suppression.  Epstein creates dialogue which has one of Madam Pan’s colleagues expressing the same intense need, that art is as necessary as breathing and eating:

     … if I give up my art, I’ll end up eating my dreams.  And dead dreams are worse than hunger.  They’re poison.

    This conversation sums up the reason that Pan Yuliang chose to live the rest of her life the way she did.  To say she was persecuted for her choice of artistic inspiration is putting it mildly. 

    I highly recommend The Painter from Shanghai as a solid-based fictional source to learn about Pan Juliang and Chinese politics, even if painted with a “broad stroke”.  This would be an excellent choice for a book group; a 17-question reader’s guide is found in the back of the paperback edition.  Kudos to Pan Yuliang for staying true to her calling, and to Jennifer Cody Epstein for shedding a light on this talented ahead-of-her-time painter.  Epstein gives personality and passion to an artist that many know little about.

    I was of course curious about the paintings that had caused such a commotion in China in the 1930s.  Several are found on the author’s website, with links to the Anhui Provincial Museum in Hefei, China.

    This is the first novel written by Jennifer Cody Epstein, and was inspired by a 1998 visit to an exhibit on modern Chinese art at the Guggenheim Museum.  It was there that the author saw her first painting by Pan Yuliang, accompanied by a short bio placard briefly describing the artist’s rise from prostitute to Parisian-trained artist.   Jennifer Cody Epstein has previously published several pieces of short fiction and has written for Self, the Wall Street Journal, and the Chicago Tribune.

    I read and reviewed The Painter from Shanghaias part of Jennifer Cody Epstein’s blog tour with TLC Book Tours.  The full schedule of stops is listed below.  Check out her other tour stops; along with reviews, you may find an interview, guest post, or giveaway:

    BEA ’09 – so many people to meet and greet!

    bob-trimThere were so many fun and interesting people to meet at Book Expo America, not the least of which was this crazy guy, “who lives in a pineapple under the sea?!” 

    First were all my book blogging buddies, my “imaginary friends.”  Stephanie from The Written Word met me at Penn Station on Thursday afternoon, and we went over to the Javits Center where we connected with Julie from Booking Mama.

    After attending the Editor’s Buzz panel and the Keynote, we headed to Arno Ristorante and had dinner with several other book bloggers, their families, and friends from Hachette Book Group:

    (standing from left: Steph from ReviewerX, Steph’s mom – Kelia, Valerie from Hachette, Lenore’s husband – Daniel, Stephanie from The Written Word, Miriam from Hachette, Dawn, Julie from Booking Mama, and Brianne from Hachette.  Seated from left: Lenore from Presenting Lenore,  Amy from My Friend Amy, and Kelly from Hachette)



    The next day while walking the exhibition hall I nearly walked right into Rosemary Wells.  I believe the show etiquette is to not approach an author unless she is in a booth or at an autographing session, so I resisted the urge to grab her arm and tell her that our copy of My Very First Mother Goose has worn out from so many readings, and that our pairs of kids identify with the sibling relationships in the Max and Ruby books.  It was really hard to resist the urge to start up a conversation with her … I actually followed her a few steps, then turned and walked in the other direction when I thought I might start talking and babbling!

    There are three types of autographing sessions at BEA, most will result in you getting an autographed copy of a new or upcoming book, although a very few didn’t have books available and signed other promotional material, like a marketing postcard, instead.  All the autographing sessions were listed in the BEA Guide (over an inch thick!), so an attendee could literally plan her day around meeting her favorite authors.

    img_0223Some of my blogging friends had set their alarms early to get free tickets to the autographing sessions which were limited in number; these are generally the higher-profile authors.  Both these and non-ticketed sessions were held in the lower level of the Javits Center.  You’d arrive in the appropriate line at the given time, and wait your turn to say hello and receive your signed book.

    I didn’t camp out to get tickets, but was pleased to find tickets to Joyce Carol Oates’ (signing her upcoming novel, Little Bird of Heaven) still available when I arrived that morning.  I waited in line with Trish from Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’, and struck up conversation with the women in line near us.  It turns out that one of the women didn’t realize it was a ticketed event.  My Friend Amy came to the rescue: she was unable to use her ticket due to a schedule conflict, so she shared it with this lovely stranger and made her day.sarah-p

    I had connected with Sarah Pekkanen before BEA, and we made plans to meet at some point over the weekend.  She was leaving for home a day earlier than originally planned, so our meeting became a quick “hello” in the autographing area.  Here we are (left to right:  Trish, Dawn, Sarah, and Amy).  Sarah’s son is looking at Trish and thinking “Hey lady!  Aren’t you the one who won the Kindle at BEA Tweetup last night?!?”  If you’re not familiar with Sarah’s writing, check out her author website.  Her novel The Opposite of Me will be published by Atria early next year.

    waitingI caught Candace from Beth Fish Reads, Kathy from Bermuda Onion and Julie from Booking Mama resting in line while they waited to meet Emeril.


    Other authors I met in the autographing area were Amy Krouse Rosenthal with her children’s picture book Spoon, Francine Prose with her Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and Chandler Burr with You or Someone Like You.  Burr will be at the Harvard Book Store on June 18; I’m hoping to speed read his novel and be there for his reading.

    There were large acrylic boxes at the ends of the lines, with a sign suggesting a donation of $1 per book received in the Autographing Area.  This money was given to support The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) which works in opposition to censorship – I wonder how much was raised?!

    Many authors were scheduled to sign in their publisher’s booths as well.  This in-booth signing was new to BEA this year, and it seemed to draw a lot of excitement and attention to the booths.  While in line to meet Mary Casanova who was signing her latest American Girl book, Chrissa, I met Terry Doherty from The Reading Tub.  Terry told me that this non-profit has the ultimate goal to “get kids excited about reading and learning.”  The efforts and accomplishments of The Reading Tub are impressive!

    So, ticketed autographing, non-ticketed autographing, in-booth autographing, running into book bloggers and authors … BUT WAIT!  There’s more!  Over the next week or so I want to share a few more highlights of my BEA experience – breakfast events, book blogger signings, and the Editor’s Buzz and YA Editor’s Buzz.  Stay tuned!

    BEA '09 Opening Keynote with Steven Tyler and Clarence Clemons

    I warned you that my coverage of BEA would not be in chronological order … I’m jumping around from subject to subject as I’m inspired by something I uncover in my notes and other goodies that I brought back with me.  I’ve been suffering from a bad headache the past day or two, so it seems time to write about the opening keynote, which featured Steven Tyler and his upcoming book, appropriately titled Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?

    Before I get ahead of myself, I’ll share the official Book Expo America description of the keynote, per Lance Festerman, VP and Show Manager of BEA:

    “At BEA we have always prided ourselves on the diversity of programming and personalities that the show highlights, and this year we are taking it to a new level.  We are adhering to some great traditions while moving in some bold new directions.  Our Author Stage interview series is a big initiative for us this year and we are honored to have a rock legend like Steven Tyler and a music genius like Clarence Clemons, to say nothing of a talented writer like Chuck Klosterman, all on hand to kick off our series and our show!  It’s an embarrassment of riches.  These guys have seen it all and they will provide a wild opening to our show.  BEA is about featuring stories, whether real or fictional, and Steve Tyler and Clarence Clemons certainly have their fair share of stories!”

    To be in the same room as Steven Tyler (from the band Aerosmith, in case you’re too young to know!) and Clarence “The Big Man” Clemons (from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band) was too much to imagine … and at a publishing trade show, no less!

    tyler-lanyardReps from HarperCollins were at the door to the event venue, handing out lanyards with the Ecco imprint logo and faux backstage passes emblazoned with Steven Tyler’s picture.

    It was all I could do to keep myself from running to the restroom with a can of hairspray to recreate my favorite big-hair look from the 80s.  Stephanie and Julie held me back!

    The stage was set living-room style, like a talk show.  The host/moderator, Chuck Klosterman took a seat on the right.  I haven’t read any of Klosterman’s several books, but he came on my radar a while ago when I read a review of Sex, Drugs, and C0coa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto over at Fizzy Thoughts.  I was pleased to find a copy of his upcoming novel, Downtown Owl, on my seat in the auditorium.

    So, in walks Clarence Clemons and and co-author Don Reo.  The crowd went wild; it felt like we were at a rock concert.  Clarence was walking a bit stiffly with a cane; a quick Google search reminded me that he’s recovering from double knee replacement – best wishes for a speedy recovery!  Clemons and Reo sat to the left of the stage, and spent about 20 minutes speaking with Klosterman about The Big Man’s life and experience with Bruce Springsteen.

    I’ve got to tell you, The Big Man is appropriately named.  He is BIG!  Clemons’ hands have to be twice the size of the other men on stage.  While they sat with feet barely touching the floor (a la Edith Ann), Clemons feet were flat on the stage, with legs splayed to accommodate his size.  Check out the size of his custom-made sax in my video (below).

    He shared that he has not cut his hair since Springsteen announced the original breakup of the band, and dished more about what we can expect to find between the covers of Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales (coming October 21, 2009 from Grand Central / Hachette).



    After Clemons left the stage, Steven Tyler entered, to the shouts of the audience, flash of cameras, and glow of cell phones.  The man is brilliant, if a bit disjointed and rambling in the way he talks.  I hadn’t realized that he wrote all the lyrics to those rockin’ Aerosmith songs I’ve known and loved (c’mon, you know – Dude (Looks Like a Lady), Angel, Sweet Emotion, Dream On … I’m feeling younger just listening to the music in my head!)  Toward the end of the interview Klosterman mentioned Tyler’s new book:

    Tyleroh, it’s not out yet.  no, no.  we’re still working on it

    Klosterman: OK.  well, when will it be out?

    Tyler: who knows, who knows … you never know with these things

    FYI, pub date is listed as October 27, 2009.  I’ll be waiting for it!

    As Tyler left the set, the crowd (including Yours Truly) rushed the stage.  I wasn’t able to score an autograph, but I did get some closer photos …


    *Book Bloggers – Today’s Buzz Builders* panel at BEA ’09

    If you’ve stopped by She is Too Fond of Books in the past month or so, you know I had been looking forward to attending Book Expo America in New York this past weekend, and that I was especially excited about being on a book bloggers panel with some of my “imaginary friends.”  Here’s the catalog description of that panel which was held on Saturday afternoon:

    Book Bloggers — Today’s Buzz Builders
    Book bloggers, via their blogs, Twitter, GoodReads, Facebook, and more, are leading the way in creating buzz for books, offering venues for authors to connect directly with their fans and are reviewing more books than ever in a world where traditional book review coverage is changing. Six book bloggers, along with Harper Collins’ Jennifer Hart (and BookClubGirl blogger) will discuss how booksellers, publishers and bloggers can combine forces to bring readers and authors together.
    Moderator: Jennifer Hart, VP, Associate Publisher of Harper Perennial, Harper Paperbacks and Avon Books
    Candace Levy from Beth Fish Reads
    Julie Peterson from Booking Mama
    Amy Riley from My Friend Amy
    Dawn Rennert from She Is Too Fond of Books
    Stephanie Coleman-Chan from Stephanie’s Written Word
    Natasha Maw from Maw Books Blog

    The full audio of the panel is available thru Book Club Girl’s Authors on Air channel; the widget in my sidebar will get you there!  Do give it a listen if you want to hear every word and nuance of tone (turn up the volume, some of the audio is hard to pick up, especially when there’s a question from the audience).

    Pop over to Book Club Girl for a photo of the panel on the dais.  Here’s one that was taken outside the meeting room, after the discussion (from left: Julie, Natasha, Jennifer, Stephanie, Candace/Beth, Dawn, and Amy):

    I’m going to distill a few of the more prominent points here, beginning with our moderator’s opening remarks, which include a compilation of stats from our six blogs.  These stats represent the diversity of genres covered, reach of readership, and breadth of coverage – from book reviews, author interviews and events, and author guest posts over the past year:

    • 1 million page views
    • 746 books reviewed, featured or recommended
    • 159 authors interviewed or hosted as guest bloggers
    • genres run the gamut: literary, commercial and historical fiction; non-fiction; cookbooks; children’s; travel; pop-psych; chick-lit, romance, urban fantasy, parenting, Christian, mystery, thriller, suspense, etc.

    Several audience members were sending Twitter updates during the panel.  These include Kathy from BermudaOnion, Trish from Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?, and Jenn from Jenn’s Bookshelf.  You can search on the twitter hashtag #bbpbea to find these tweets and others that were sent during and after the panel, and commentary during the first broadcast of the panel audio.

    One of the first topics raised was what ideas we had for improving the blogger-publisher or blogger-bookseller relationship.  Some responses:

    • clear and respectful communication
    • making expectations known (on both sides)
    • what other type of promotion is available (interview? guest post? giveaway?)
    • know time constraints
    • we’re willing to work with booksellers cross-promoting

    Other topics include:

    • diversity of the blogging world
    • what pitches work best
    • how has social media (esp. Twitter) enhanced blogging
    • relationships between bloggers and local indies
    • blogging community (BBAW, etc.)
    • blog directories
    • blog tours
    • ideas for assessing the reach/influence of a blog

    There was a lot that was touched upon in the one hour allotted to us, and the audience interaction was enthusiastic.  The room of 300 seats was full; very heartening to see how many people were interested in the panel topics.  Some of the issues generated such a great response that they could probably be expanded into separate panels of their own.

    One audience member asked if our panel (which consisted of 7 Caucasian women) fairly represented the ethnicity and gender of book bloggers.  Book Club Girl conceded that it was a non-scientific sampling.  Here’s my short addendum to that answer: book blogging (indeed, using the internet to share news of any type) levels the playing field.  Unless a blogger’s photo is posted, or the blogger refers to his/her gender or ethnicity … you just don’t know who’s on the other side of the keyboard.  Gender, age, ethnicity don’t matter; nor does my income, the model car I drive, or how clean I keep my house.  Yes, after you follow a blog for a while you get to know the blogger, and not many of us keep our identities wholly hidden; my point is that our blogs are being read for content (including personality), because readers identify with other readers.

    Thanks to Jennifer Hart (Book Club Girl), HarperCollins, and the other panelists for the opportunity to discuss some of these issues.  My gratitude to the audience, both in the meeting room and on Twitter, who engaged in dialogue.  There is no “one size fits all” answer, but I believe we’ve addressed a few questions that may benefit many.

    Two of my favorite sound bites:

    • Not re-Tweeting a book review is a buzz kill (My Friend Amy)
    • Book bloggers are the new hand sellers (Beth Fish Reads)

    I may add others after I listen to the panel audio again; what’s your favorite sound bite from the panel or the discussions on Twitter?

    Click above to listen to our Book Bloggers panel at Book Expo America 2009

    A mad-cap re-cap of my BEA ’09 experience

    Detailed posts will be coming throughout the week; here’s a short/quick review of what I’ll cover:

    • meeting my “imaginary friends.”  I’m happy to be able to reassure my 13-year-old daughter that despite her misgivings about me getting together with all the bloggers, publishers, publicists and authors I’ve met via email, blogs, and Twitter, no one came close to the description of the axe-wielding murderers her DARE program in school warned her against!  Truly a pleasure to meet so many people face-to-face and put the names, avatars and voices all together.
    • Panels – Author’s Buzz, YA Buzz … and Book Bloggers – the New Buzz Makers (that’s the one I sat on, terrific opportunity!  Many thanks to Book Club Girl and HarperCollins)
    • Opening keynote with Steven Tyler and Clarence Clemons … rock and roll will never die
    • Evening events including the famous #BEATweetup at Greenhouse
    • Children’s Authors Breakfast – Julie Andrews and Pete Yarrow; two more authors I loved first as musicians
    • Author’s Breakfast
    • Meet the Blogger signings at the Firebrand booth
    • autographing area

    There’s so much more, and I’ll share the event here in words and pictures to the best of my ability!

    In the meantime, I have a bunch of reality (laundry, mail, phone calls to return) staring at me this morning, so I’m off to tackle that!  I’ll start at the end of the event – my welcome home!  J and the kids picked me up at the Amtrak station around 6 on Sunday; after a gorgeous few days we hit a quick rain storm, but were rewarded with a rainbow.  We then headed into Harvard Square for a bite to eat.  Our first official date (don’t ask me how we define “official!”) was at the Border Cafe.  It used to be a lot more of a dive than it is now; in fact, they’ve cleaned up their act so much that they’ve branched out to a couple other locations.  It’s fun to go back with four kids 18 years later to revisit the scene of crime!

    Spotlight on Bookstores: Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, Connecticut


    Today’s Spotlight on Bookstores is brought to us by Lauren Lipton, author of Mating Rituals of the North American WASP (review here) and It’s About Your Husband.  She lives in New York City and spends weekends two hours away in the home her family calls “The Great Big Hole in Connecticut We Throw Money Into.”  Here she shares a bit about a special place she can visit on those weekends, enjoying the trifecta of books, homespun yarn, and fresh local produce.

    The most appealing bookstore I know is not a store in the traditional sense, with four walls and a ceiling and comfortable chairs for reading.  Well, to be accurate, the Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, Connecticut, does have all those things.  It also has a lovely owner, Fran Keilty, who is particularly kind to local writers — who include Frank McCourt, Kevin Phillips, Francine Du Plessix Gray and, now, me (though I can guarantee this is the only time you’ll see my name alongside those luminaries’).  It also sells yarn from nearby Maple Spring Farm, which the Keiltys happen to own.  One time I went in and was seduced not by a book, but an enormous skein of creamy wool that I intend someday to turn into something, once I am a good enough knitter to justify its use.  Right now I am happy just to own it.

    The Hickory Stick is an appealing place all year round, but my favorite time to browse is in the summer, when staff members pack up a selection of books and drive a few miles up the road to a local farmers’ market, where they set up shop under a bright white open-air tent.

    The Litchfield Hills Farm-Fresh Market is one of my favorite Connecticut destinations.  It’s hard not to love any farmer’s market in the summer, and this one has the requisite beautiful vegetables — purple-tinged bunches of kale, lettuces like lush flower bouquets, old-fashioned cardboard baskets of silver-dusted blueberries.  Over the past two seasons it has evolved, and now you can find other delights, including brightly woven market baskets or the occasional CD from an independent musician.  There’s a couple that makes goat-milk soap, and they bring their wares, plus a pair of baby goats.  And then, last summer, the Hickory Stick Bookshop showed up, and now you can buy a cookbook to show you a new way to prepare those heirloom tomatoes, or a children’s book, or any one of a number of gems.

    This year, the Litchfield Hills Farm-Fresh Market will run every Saturday from June 13 (ironically, I’ll be signing books at the actual Hickory Stick in Washington Depot that afternoon) through October in the town of Litchfield, Connecticut.  If you’re in the area, stop by and say hello to the ladies of the Hickory Stick Bookshop.  And don’t forget to pet the goats.

    Book Review: *Mating Rituals of the North American WASP* by Lauren Lipton

  • Mating Rituals of the North American WASP by Lauren Lipton
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: 5 Spot (May 29, 2009)  
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446197977
  • Back of the book blurb:  After arguing with her live-in boyfriend about his inability to commit, Peggy Adams flies to a friend’s bachelorette party in Las Vegas, and wakes up next to a man she can’t remember.  Hung-over and miserable, she sneaks out of the sleeping man’s hotel room and returns home to New York, where her boyfriend apologizes for the fight and gives her a Tiffany box containing a pre-engagement ring.  Not what she expected, but close enough!  The next day she receives a phone call from the Las Vegas one-night stand, Luke, claiming she’s already married to him–and he faxes her the license for proof!  Both are ready for an annulment, until Peggy arrives in quaint New Nineveh, CT, where Luke cares for his Great Aunt, and the old woman makes Peggy an offer she can’t refuse.

    She is Too Fond of Books’ review:  You know the saying, life’s about the journey, not the destination?  I was reminded of that while reading Mating Rituals of the North American WASP.  I think most readers could predict the final pages of the book with accuracy, but the path Lauren Lipton took to get us there was delightful and unexpected.

    Yes, this is women’s fiction (dare I say, chick lit), a genre I don’t read often.  But when I say that I could imagine this book being made into a movie, I mean it as a great compliment to the author.  The book gives a fresh spin to an old story, with lots of asides to keep it interesting.

    Lipton’s description of Luke and his family and friends in rural Connecticut, and the New Yorkers who have weekend homes there, are right on target.  I was nodding my head in agreement at the contrast of “new money” city people and the established WASP community in the fictional town of New Nineveh in Litchfield county.  We lived for seven years in an area of Connecticut that was subject to the tension of “the way things have always been” versus supposed “progress.”  It’s a real issue that many of these communities are forced to manage, and Lipton addresses is straight on, with a touch of humor.

    Likewise, her descriptions of the old-money WASP society may seem stereotypical, but there’s more than a grain of truth in them.  From the dowager who reuses a teabag two to three times, to the “gourmet” peanut butter and bacon on a Ritz cracker served as an appetizer, I’ve seen these people … they really exist!  The touches of humor make a very fun read of this novel.

    Two different scorecards jumped out at me while reading Mating Rituals.  The first is when one of Luke’s friend’s asks about Peggy, “Is she us?”:

    The phrase was shorthand; no explanation was necessary.  Hubbard meant, Did Peggy measure up to the coded list of criteria that determined whether a girlfriend of wife was “our kind” – a list compiled within, Luke imagined, five minutes of the Pilgrims stepping onto Plymouth Rock, dubbing themselves America’s ruling class, and mixing themselves a congratulatory round of gin and tonics.  It took into account family background, appearance, alma mater, occupation, hobbies, and behavior, plus scores of other, subtler cues someone not “us” would never think to look for – participation in the right childhood etiquette classes; a family beach key at Martha’s Vineyard.  …

    The second scorecard was one Peggy and her girlfriend Bex used when assessing New York City bachelors:

    How quickly her dating days were coming back to her, when she and Bex had used the neck-nails-shoes system to rate men. [He] had earned a point for his nails already: They were neither bitten nor dirty nor manicured.  His shoes were marginal: They weren’t run down at the heels, but they were motorcycle boots – pretentious, Peggy thought, unless you were actually riding a motorcycle.  Half a point.  That left his neck: Was it properly groomed or slovenly and unshaven?  She leaned over the table to get a look.

    I don’t want to give away the stops that comprise the journey in Mating Rituals of the North American WASP.  Let’s just say that it’s a fun trip that examines, with tongue-in-cheek, several contemporary issues, wrapped in the context of Peggy and Luke’s sham marriage.  How these issues are resolved — or not — is part of the ride; buckle up!

    If you’d like a peek at Mating Rituals, you can find the first chapter here.  Lauren Lipton has posted information about her upcoming readings and events, and has an active blog.  She is also the author of It’s About Your Husband.