East City Bookshop

I admire my more fiscally-savvy friends who get most of their reading material free from libraries. These far-smarter-than-me women only buy the books they really love.

But I can’t help it. If I need a new read, I’m dishing out the cash for my own copy. I love accumulating books (always the physical kind–I just can’t talk myself into digital books). I love the record they make of my reading journey. I love their color, with covers that are works of art in their own right. I love the enchantment and history and adventure each embodies.

And I especially like buying them from independent bookstores. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a hater of the big box bookstore. They have their own role in the book-buying-and-selling ecosystem. But nothing’s quite like an indie shop–they’re lovingly-curated little jewel boxes, full of surprise reads and knowledgable booksellers. And they’re intertwined in the local community in a way a national chain can never be.

Which is why I was so excited to discover East City Bookshop in Washington, D.C. (my new stomping grounds). Not unlike a good book, the store unveils ever better surprises as you progress. Reaching the store requires a jog down a flight of uninspiring concrete steps. You enter a small upstairs area with an artfully-shelved but small collection of books. A stationary section occupies much of the floor space. But then you notice a set of descending stairs and behold: a lower story that somehow manages to accommodate a beautiful children’s section, extensive shelves of adult and young adult fiction, a charming reading nook, book-themed art and knick-knacks, AND a seating area for author events… all without feeling cramped. Continue reading “East City Bookshop”

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A recent conversation between the husband and me:

Me: I really need to get enough sleep tonight. When we go to bed, can you remind me not to stay up late reading?

Husband: *Makes skeptical, non-committal noise*

Me: What?

Husband: I learned long ago not to come between a girl and her book.

Me: Really? Do I get snarly?

Husband: You definitely don’t get more friendly.

They say good communication skills are the cornerstone of a healthy marriage. Guess I’m doing something right.

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The Haul

“Are those armadillos are your feet?”

“Why, yes. Yes, they are.”

Note to you, dear reader: Step 1 in creating a perfect “reading kit” is to get yourself an excellent book. But Step 2 is to grab yourself something comfy for your feet. Some recommend fuzzy socks; flip flops are a classic choice if you’re heading to the beach. For me, it’s armadillo slippers or nothing. Just seems right for this Texas gal.

But I’ve skipped ahead, since it’s books first, fabulous footwear later. This post is admittedly several weeks overdue, given that it’s my book-related Christmas haul/to-read list for the new year. But it took a while for all the Christmas packages to make their way to South America. (Remember when I said Foreign Service folks get ridiculously excited about their long awaited mail?) Continue reading “The Haul”

Craving Those Comfort Reads

No doubt about it: I have Book Lust Syndrome. I already have far too many books on my “to-read” list. But that doesn’t keep me from adding new ones to my shelf when something catches my eye, or a trusted friend makes a reading recommendation (talking about you, Courtney!) In short, I’m a textbook (pun intended) victim of this adage:

 

Leona, 7, poses inside a labyrinth installation made up of 250,000 books titled "aMAZEme" at the Royal Festival Hall in central London
Photo credit: Olivia Harris/Reuters.

But as giddy as I get over cracking a new book’s spine and exploring the possibility contained within, there are times when a familiar read offers much-needed comfort. These comfort books aren’t always the most refined or revolutionary. But there’s something in their familiarity, in their resonance of a simpler time, that is soothing.

Life at this moment is definitely making me want to hide in some well-worn pages. The deadline for my massive, months-long work project is approaching with terrifying rapidity. I’m still juggling my writing and my full-time “real” job at the Embassy, along with all my other responsibilities, my relationships. It’s all I can do to get in my lap-swimming sessions. I haven’t picked up a paintbrush in months and that makes me sad.

Continue reading “Craving Those Comfort Reads”

All Key-ed Up

You may have noticed my blog has been quiet of late. Part of this is a result of busy months at work. But the last few weeks of silence have been for the best of reasons.

Vacation.

I find coming home to the U.S. after living overseas is like a big gulp of oxygen after holding your breath underwater. It’s not that Suriname is such a dreadful place to live. It just feels so good to be home.

This particular trip back was a whirlwind: a day in Houston, a weekend jaunt to the Midwest, down to Key West to meet my family on their vacation, a few more days in various Texas locales, then a week in my hometown on the Texas Gulf Coast (and surfing!).

With all that travel time, I wasn’t going to be caught without a book in my hand.

So one night in Key West, while my dad and twin brothers were being awesome and doing a night dive around an old shipwreck (their tales of octopus, shark, and fish sightings have made me determined to finally get my scuba certification), I was cheerily getting my nerd on at a local bookstore. Continue reading “All Key-ed Up”

Five Magical Realism Novels to Snag this Summer

I may have stumbled onto Magical Realism at some earlier point in my reading life, but the first book I can remember reading from this genre is Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells. As a psuedo-Southern girl–Texas falls on that fine line between the Deep South and the Southwest–I couldn’t resist the charm of the novel’s Southern setting and atmosphere. But what really captured me was the book’s unique style, the way elements of magic enlivened the otherwise realistic story in surprising ways. At that point, I didn’t have the literary term “Magical Realism” at hand. But this striking balance between the realistic and the magical kept me buying literally every book Allen has written since.

As you might guess, Magical Realism is something of a sister genre to Fantasy, sharing as they do a theme of, well, fantasy, But unlike Fantasy novels, whose magic occurs in unique worlds carefully invented by the author, Magical Realism novels have magic sprinkled throughout our own world, realistically-rendered. Compare, for instance, J. R. R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings and Joanne Harris’s Chocolat.  Continue reading “Five Magical Realism Novels to Snag this Summer”

Travel Writing & Trust

Since I’m currently vacationing in Thailand (hip, hip, hooray!), I’ll keep this post short and sweet.

Recently, I lucked into the opportunity to attend a writing class, my first in years. The course, led by British journalist and author Edward Platt, centered on travel writing. An interesting class, it’s core concept was the idea of writing about place as an emotional, personalitied essence. It was about tapping into a location’s emotional resonance.

Platt offered a variety of ways one might enter into this kind of writing. But of all the advice he offered, it was a concept he briefly addressed in his introduction that most resonated with me:

Trust. Continue reading “Travel Writing & Trust”