Talking to Strangers (About Books) Part 2

Greetings, intrepid readers! In my last post I talked about all the amazing things happening for bookworms on social media. I highlighted three different platforms (Goodreads, Instagram, and Litsy) and detailed the top 5 types of conversations you’re likely to have among fellow readers on those apps. Today I’m going to review some of the stellar books I’ve read as a result of these conversations with strangers. All of these books were outside of my typical fluffy/frivolous reading repertoire and I never would have picked them up had I not seen in-depth reviews and quotes from readers on bookish social media. I should add these are listed in the order I read them. And some of these were partially reviewed in my post last month about the 24 in 48 Readathon.

rupi kaur milk and honey by carol on litsy
Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur
It seemed like everyone who hadn’t read this book when it came out late last year was picking it up for the first time in April for National Poetry Month. I typically don’t read much poetry but I made an exception for this title. In her first book of poetry, Rupi Kaur takes us deep into her life with extremely personal poems about her childhood, past boyfriends, and learning to heal after trauma and breakups. It’s a quick read, but one that is extremely frank and open about what she’s gone through in her life. Even with all of the personal details, most women will find themselves somewhere in this book. I do love how it ends on an uplifting note, as if to say this too shall pass and I am stronger now for having gone through all of this. I also like the “everywoman” appeal of the poems as they invite each woman to look back on her relationships, her period, how she got through extremely trying times and came through stronger, though hurting.

lindy west shrill by carol on litsy
Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West
I am apparently the only person who had not heard of Lindy West before this book, and even so I got to it too late to see her at a reading in Seattle as she was traveling around the country on her book tour this spring. I regret not having her on my radar until now, but I have been forever changed by reading her book Shrill. Not only does Lindy tackle major topics like feminism, abortion, and rape culture, she is the number one poster child for squashing fat-shaming and having positive body acceptance. During her book I found myself questioning my own attitude towards my body, and asking myself why I let others’ opinions of what they think I should wear and what they think is appropriate or not for my body type affect what I purchase and what I wear. The day after finishing Shrill I wore a dressy pair of shorts to work. People saw my knees and I didn’t die!

roxane gay bad feminist by carol on litsy
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Reading Roxane Gay is a lot like talking with your most level-headed friend. Even if the subject matter is one that evokes strong feelings, she keeps her cool and tries to discuss these important things with you in a calm, clear manner. In Bad Feminist Roxane Gay manages to cover everything from pop culture to rape to feminism to a career in academia. She doesn’t talk down to us, but rather goes out of her way to lay out the inequalities, the injustices, the annoyances, and the facts in a matter-of-fact and yet empathetic way. There is a definite juxtaposition of mixing very serious topics with lighter ones. I was extremely fascinated reading about her time as a competitive Scrabble player. First of all, I didn’t even know that such a thing existed. But I realize that to do anything competitively there is a suggestion that your skills stand above the average person. To play Scrabble competitively implies an intellect and strength of character that few posses. Such is the case with Roxane Gay. She is smart. She is funny. She is working on a book called Hunger that I can’t wait to get my hands on, and I get the feeling I will always react with grabby hands when someone mentions a new release by her.

claudia rankine citzen an american lyric by carol on litsy
Citizen: an American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Every time something horrible, unjust, and tragic happens in this world, the bookish social media clusters swarm together in shared empathy, seeking understanding  to try and make sense of the senseless. Such was the case with Citizen. I want to live in a world where this book isn’t necessary–but the sad and disgusting truth is this book is very much-needed. There are many put-yourself-in-this-situation passages that are written in the second person. The use of the second person is clever and intentional in a book that tries to expose life in a racist country. Because as much as we would like to think we have evolved past racism, bigotry, and inequality, we have not. As a country, we still have so far to go it’s heartbreaking. But that’s why books like this are here for you, and why I recommend everyone read it. Everyone. Bookish social media declared this required reading for every American citizen and I wholeheartedly agree.

rebecca solnit men explain things to me by carol on litsy
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
Once again my bookish social media connections raved about a book, calling it necessary reading, and once again I picked up the gauntlet. And while this book isn’t just about mansplaining–a term the author has mixed feelings about–it definitely is about the disenfranchised and the cultural missteps that need to be corrected if we are ever going to improve our communities.The passages that really stood out to me involved having a voice and being heard. Historically it has been disgustingly easy for the group in power to silence anyone else whose opinions, thoughts, feelings, or civil liberties would infringe upon the leading group’s power. But the more that people band together to share one voice–civil rights, women’s suffrage, feminism, exposing racism in one’s community–the harder it is to ignore the message.

These relatively short books packed a mighty literary punch. While I wouldn’t have sought them out on my own, I am so glad my bookish comrades urged me on. Not only was I reading out of my fluffy comfort zone, I was seeing the world through some very different perspectives. You’ll notice these books were strong on themes of racism and sexism, feminist to the core. I’m currently falling down a rabbit hole of such, with book recommendations based on these books spiraling out from my TBR pile.

More books that bookish social media has recommended to me that deal with race and racism include Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis.

More books that bookish social media has recommended to me that deal with sexism and feminism include Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates, Sex Object by Jessica Valenti, and He’s a Stud, She’s a Slug and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know also by Jessica Valenti.

Hopefully you’ve not only gained some new titles to add to your TBR pile but also seen what good can come from social media. I’ve rarely encountered a troll on Goodreads, Litsy, or the #bookstagram portion of Instagram. It’s kind of like a book nerd’s utopia. We’re definitely living in the golden age of reading. Seize the day and your smartphone and join the reading revolution!

Talking to Strangers (About Books) Part 1

I know I’ve said this before but here it is again: we are living in the golden age of reading. Never before (at least in my lifetime) has it been so cool to be caught reading. It’s not unheard of to encounter people walking around town sporting vintage Vonnegut T-shirts or Jane Austen cell phone cases. Literary tattoos are plastered all over social media; chances are you know someone with at least one. We have Kindles and tablets and ebooks and downloadable audiobooks and so many ways to read a book without having an actual book in hand. Instagram has a whole community dedicated to books and readers known as #bookstagram, celebrities like Emma Watson have their own Goodreads book clubs that gets thousands of people across the world reading the same book at the same time, a new app for readers called Litsy has recently gone viral, and it seems like anyone with something to say about books has a blog–us included!

So it’s no wonder that I have been spending a lot of time lately on bookish social media. I manage some of the library accounts but most of my time on these platforms is when I’m acting as a private citizen. Goodreads, Instagram, and Litsy are populated with passionate readers who love to talk about their favorite topic: books! Today I’ll be talking about some of the different types of conversations/experiences one can expect to have on bookish social media.

when harry met carol on litsy
These are straight-up unadulterated fangirl or fanboy posts. Often initiated because of the acquisition of a long-awaited book, or one currently hot and trending. Sometimes it’s even more special, a rare first edition of a classic work of literature. People posting these photos have so much enthusiasm for what they’re talking about that their excitement practically makes the screen vibrate. Often it doesn’t take long for someone to reach out to the poster and let them know how they also have that book, or how they also want to read it so badly they just can’t hardly wait any longer. The bonds made over these posts can result in actual friendships.
Best platform(s) for this type of conversation:
Goodreads, Instagram and Litsy

mindy kaling pin on instagram by bildungsromans
Conversation #2: Look at this incredible cute/useful/rare bookish accessory I acquired!
Most often populating your feed during book/library/comic conventions, these posts can spark instant jealousy–but in a good way. With the rare exception, the bookish communities lurking on these social networks tend to be a welcoming bunch with nary a troll among them. So when I say jealousy, I mean in the kind of supportive way you’d expect from the nicest person you know. And often the person replying just wants to know where he/she can acquire similar because they love it so much. Much like a bargain hunter, bookish people love to show off their newest prizes and are happy to share the shop/convention where they got such a rad thing.
Best platform(s) for this type of conversation:
Instagram and Litsy

harry potter morsmordre bookflip by bildungsromans on instagram
Conversation #3: Photo challenges.
If you use photo-centric apps you are probably familiar with photo block. It’s like writer’s block but for ideas on what to photograph. When you feel like there’s nothing new going on in your reading life to post about, you can always jump in with one of the many photo challenges floating around. Usually run by book bloggers, these challenges are meant to give inspiration and also to bring people together. Each day there is a different photo prompt, sometimes based around a central theme for the month, like Harry Potter. By following the hashtag associated with the photo challenge, you can see what everyone else is doing. I have connected with some majorly creative people through photo challenges, though I do find that if I take a month to do a photo challenge I will skip the next month. I can only take so much structure. I blame my Bohemian ancestry!
Best platform(s) for this type of conversation:
Instagram and Litsy

a review by carol of headstrong on litsy
Conversation #4: Sharing actual quotes and illustrations from the book as I’m reading it.
What’s better than happening upon a truly insightful, inspiring, hilarious, or thought-provoking quote while reading? Sharing it instantly with strangers! You might be amazed at how many strangers you’ll connect with by sharing these quotes. I have witnessed spontaneous book clubs sprout up, and reading buddies unify. A reading buddy is someone who reads the same book as someone else at roughly the same time, like a two-person book club. Usually these are planned, but there’s something truly beautiful when you see two people connect halfway through reading the same book and then finish it out together. It can also be very satisfying to get validation from other people when you get to a particularly frustrating or profound part of a story. Even better when you have a differing opinion and opposing voices discuss it. Remember how I said nary a troll lives in the bookish part of social media? I meant it, and here’s where the proof lies.
Best platform(s) for this type of conversation:
Goodreads, Instagram, Litsy

giant days post on litsy by carol
Conversation #5: If you like that book, you will love these other 10.
How many of you have ever gotten a book recommendation from a librarian? A friend? A dentist? I have received great suggestions from all three, but it seems especially magical when this recommendation comes from someone I’ve never met and probably never will meet. In conversation #4 I talked about connecting over a book that someone is currently reading and continuously posting about as he/she goes along. Conversation #5 is often the result. You just discovered this way cool read? Here are a bunch of others by the same author/in the same genre/in the same weird literary niche. Not only will this help you travel down the particular reading rabbit hole you’d stumbled across, it will often get you to read outside your comfort zone or discover authors you’d never have found if you had been left to your own devices.
Best platform(s) for this type of conversation:
Goodreads, Instagram, Litsy

And that brings us to book discoveries as a result of bookish social media. Unfortunately I’ve run out of space, so this will continue with Part 2. Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion!

Embracing the Stereotype: The Modern Cat Lady

Growing up I had zero love for cats. In my defense I had every reason to keep my distance. None of my extended family had cats, and all my cat-loving friends tended to house whatever the feline equivalent of Cujo is. One friend in particular seemed to have an aversion to cleaning the litter box, so as a result the house just reeked. I thought that was how all cats smelled. I thought that was how all cats behaved. All of that changed in 2007 when in one afternoon I found myself with two kittens of my very own.

Over the ensuing years the number of cats in my house has fluctuated. Now my husband and I share our home with three, yes three darn cats:

  • The Dude, his name a blatant The Big Lebowski reference meant to win over my father-in-law, does indeed abide, though he can be a total spaz, too.
  • Tonks, named after my favorite Harry Potter character, is fiercely obsessed with all humans.
  • Gypsy, who was named after the squeaking heroine of MST3K, is the stereotypical ‘fraidy cat.

And stereotypes are what we’re talking about today, people. For one day I woke up and realized one giant truth about myself: I’m a cardigan-wearing, library-working, crazy cat lady. And I’m totally owning it! If you, like me, want to embrace the crazy cat lady stereotype, you’ll want to check out these books stat.

67 ReasonsFirst, let’s establish that cats are better than dogs. Don’t believe me? You definitely need to read 67 Reasons Why Cats are Better than Dogs by Jack Shepherd, who is responsible for launching the Animals section of BuzzFeed. Did you know that cats are better engineers, won’t eat your baby, comfort the afflicted, face their adversaries head-on, and are extremely hard workers? It’s true! Much like the website, this book is packed with imagery that proves point after point.

CHNA7291*catlady_case_1stPROOFS.inddat Lady Chic by Diane Lovejoy showcases dozens of glamorous, stylish, and posh women and their cats. These portraits range from classical paintings to iconic black-and-whites from Hollywood’s heyday to full-color photographs from the last few years. Marilyn Monroe, Ali MacGraw, Lana Del Rey, Lauren Bacall, Keira Knightly, Eartha Kitt, Twiggy, Ursula Andress, Eva Longoria, and of course Lee Meriwether dressed as Catwoman. These women embrace the stereotype and challenge it at the same time.

Cat PersonCat Person by Seo Kim is a collection of comics that started out as the author’s challenge to herself to create one new comic each day. I can tell she’s a true cat lady at heart because her cat, Jimmy, is featured in many comics in the front and back of the book. My favorites include the ways to hug a cat, different cat charades (imagine what chicken nugget and slug look like; if you have a cat this should be easy), and the horrible fate of unattended food left in front of a computer screen, Skype call in progress. Sometimes the panels so reflect my own life that I do a double-take. I’ve definitely found a kindred spirit in Seo Kim.

CatificationOnce I realized that being a cat lady isn’t so bad, I decided to see what more I could do to make life as a cat under my roof more enjoyable. That’s when I picked up Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for your Cat (and You!) by Jackson Galaxy and Kate Benjamin. I don’t have TV any more, so I hadn’t heard of Jackson Galaxy or his TV show, My Cat from Hell. But now I realize that Jackson is a genius. Yes, this book is packed with projects you can make to keep your cats happy and healthy inside your home. But it’s also got some great tips on recognizing your cat’s mood. You’ll also learn how to ensure your indoor-only cat can still have his animal instincts met (hunting, climbing, and so on). A happy cat is a happy cat lady. If this isn’t already a saying, I’m making it one.

PetcamSo what holiday gifts do you buy the modern cat lady in your life? Start with Petcam: The World Through the Lens of Our Four-Legged Friends by Chris Keeney. Any cat lady will appreciate all the trouble the three cats in this book went to in order to take some snazzy pics of their daily lives. Botty, Fritz, and Xander each wore small cameras around their necks and took photos of the places they traveled, the things they did, and the faces they saw along the way. If you think you’d like to get your cat lady a pet camera for her furry friend you may want to check out the back of the book before wrapping it. There are all kinds of tips and resources that will get you started.

Does your modern cat lady also work with customer service and/or social media? She’ll appreciate opening up QR Codes Kill Kittens by Scott Stratten. Scott was named one of the top five social media influencers in the world by Forbes, and his author photo on the dust jacket includes an adorable black cat. Consider:

If you knew that your terrible business decisions could cost a kitten its life, would you still do it? Of course not. No one wants to hurt a kitten, and no one wants to damage their own business through easily avoidable mistakes. But the trick is knowing which things are the wrong things to do.QR Codes

That’s where this book shines. Using real-life examples and plenty of illustrations, your modern cat lady will learn just what ideas that might seem great are actually hurting her image, both online and in real life, or IRL if you’re nerdy like me. Give your modern cat lady this book and she’ll thank you. In hashtags.

This year we at the library are participating in a Secret Santa game. Whoever is my Secret Santa knows me pretty well. I’m still not sure if this is a coincidence or killer intuition. But on the day I planned to write this post I received this little gift.


You don’t have to live life avoiding the cat lady stereotype. Embrace it. Own it. Be it. Love it. You can thank me in hashtags and/or catnip.

Twick or Tweet

Back in the seventies there was a lot of talk about the generation gap, the set of things that separates one generation from another. For example, my parents did not wear bell bottom jeans. I did. These jeans were one small part of the generation gap between me and my parents.

Music is another important part of the gap. As a child, I was defined by The Monkees, The Beatles and later The Boomtown Rats and Madness. My parents: Mitch Miller and George Jones.

In more recent times, technology has become perhaps the most important piece of the generation gap puzzle. It seems that kids these days are born knowing how to use devices that people of my generation can only stare at in wonder, waiting for them to open cans or launch a nuclear device.

As I approach my sixth decade (that’s age 50 for those of you who aren’t on top of the math thing), I’ve decided that I need to take a stand on what defines my personal generation gap. Thus, Twitter does not exist for me. Oh, I’ve used the MySpace and still use Facebook (while secretly hating it), but I have not and will never tweet.

But recently I’ve discovered books that use the limitations of social networking (i.e. how many characters can be in an entry) as a starting point. And this I find interesting. Setting a strict limitation and then trying to create art within that limitation is an exciting exercise.

And so, I leave you with a few titles, some twicks, some tweets.

The Ten, Make that Nine, Habits of very Organized People. Make that Ten: The Tweets of Steve Martin by Steve Martin 

Steve Martin is a generation older than I, but he decided to explore Twitter as a means of keeping his comedy chops sharp, of perhaps creating new material that he could use on his current bluegrass tour, and finally as a way of receiving funny responses from his followers. He has collected some of his tweets into a slim volume, perhaps a thirty minute read. It’s not the funniest book I’ve come across, but it is charming and fun to see how Mr. Martin used Twitter in perhaps a different way than most users, and how his usage evolved over time.

Eat Tweet: a Twitter Cookbook by Maureen Evans 

Yes Virginia, there is a Twitter cookbook. This collection of 1000 recipes follows the tweet format of 140 characters or less per entry, providing social networkers with a veritable feast of outstanding food. Betty Crocker, move over. But just a little bit; these recipes don’t take up much space.

Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less by Alexander Aciman 

The premise of this book is to synopsize literary classics in less than twenty tweets (making the maximum number of characters available 2800), with a sense of humor. This limitation forces long passages to be described succinctly. For example, from Tolkien’s The Hobbit: “Walking walking walking … Still walking – this is so boring!” Good for a chuckle or three.

iDrakula by Bekka Black 

Bekka Black’s iDrakula is a modernization of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The original text consisted of letters and diaries, and this update uses a similar format but with text messages, emails and Web browser screenshots. The story is not an exact retelling of Stoker’s classic, but Black sets an excellent tone with the opening text: “Renfield had a psychotic break. Carted off to Bellevue. More l8r.” An excellent addition to the Dracula canon.

For some more social networking inspired books, try the following:

Tweet Heart: a Novel in E-mails, Blogs, and Tweets by Elizabeth Rudnick
The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel by Daniel Sinker
Goodnight Tweetheart by Teresa Medeiros