August Owl Crate Unboxing

I recently found out about a book lover’s subscription box called Owl Crate. I love books. I love subscription boxes, too, because it’s like getting a present. I have been using Stitch Fix for two years now so that I could build a more professional wardrobe. I really dislike shopping for clothes, and I often get items in my Stitch Fix box that I might not pick but that I love once I try them on. So I definitely wanted to check out Owl Crate and see what it was about.

Owl Crate has three plans. You can go month-to-month for $29.99 plus shipping. You can do three months for $28.99 plus shipping, and you can also do six months for $27.99 plus shipping. Be aware if you choose three- or six-month subscriptions, you will be charged up front for all three or six months up front. If you want to cancel, you just need to be mindful of the dates because Owl Crate auto-renews until you tell it not to.

Owl Crate’s book focus is on YA literature. I happen to teach high school English, and I love YA literature, but if you don’t like it, then Owl Crate might not be the best subscription box option for you.

I received my first box today.

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A little bit Potterish, no? I think Harry Potter might indeed have been an inspiration.

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The box was packed full of goodies and fun eco-friendly crinkle-cut fill. The card on the top has information about this month’s theme: Fast Times at YA HIgh—just in time for back to school.

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Now for a closer look at the goods. First up, what’s inside this little blue organza bag?Photo Aug 18, 5 46 04 PM

A unique Eleanor & Park necklace! I loved that book. You can check out my review here.

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Don’t you love the little mix tape charm?

Next up, a handy Decomposition Book notebook. This is a small memo-sized notebook.Photo Aug 18, 5 47 01 PM

And some cute buttons.

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And a Harry Potter print by Susanne Draws that looks like it’s about 6×9 inches. Love this!

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An adult coloring book with patterns designed to relieve stress. I will probably need that as I go back into the classroom after summer break.

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Wrapped in cellophane with a set of golf-sized colored pencils for the coloring book was this month’s reading selection, Kasie West’s P. S. I Like You in hardcover.

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It was just released last month. I think my students will enjoy this one in our classroom library. Here’s a better look at the cover, out of the cellophane.

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There was also a letter from Kasie West about the book and a signed bookplate.

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I stuck it inside the book right away.

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It’s so cute! It matches the book.

Next, I found a teaser about next month’s theme, which sounds perfect to get into the RIP Challenge! (Incidentally, anyone heard anything about that challenge for this year?)

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I don’t know what it is, but it will be something connected to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

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I am familiar with Out of Print. They make all kinds of cool bookish and nerdy things.

And that was it for this box.

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Here’s another peek at all of it.

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If I had to guess, I’d say that buying a similar necklace on Etsy would cost about $15-20 based on items like it already for sale. The book runs for about $11.00 right now on Amazon, as does the adult coloring book. The Decomposition Notebook currently runs about $5.00 on Amazon. By the time you add in the unique extras, the box is a deal. Plus it’s a lot of fun. You can check out past boxes on their website, which might help you decide if you want to try it, too. I can think of a lot of teacher friends who might like it.

Full disclosure: Owl Crate did not pay me or compensate me in any way, nor did they ask me to review their subscription box, but I did use my referral link in the first paragraph.

Bookish Gifts

beautiful books

Years ago, my local Barnes & Noble had a Christmas tree set up in the center of the store. It was decorated with gift tags, and each tag had the name and age of a local boy or girl who was in need of a Christmas gift. I had so much fun buying books for boys and girls that year. I haven’t seen anything like it since, though my school did a book drive for a local chapter of Girls Inc. I don’t know why I haven’t seen the tree idea used again. I suppose it’s possible it wasn’t very successful, but I find it hard to believe (of course, that’s also because I bought a lot of the books myself, so naturally I assumed others did, too).

I find it harder and harder to figure out what books people might like for Christmas. Even me. I hate to admit it, but I’d much rather receive a bookstore gift card than a book. I can spend the money on whatever strikes my fancy at the moment. I find this to be true even if I want a particular book, though I can’t say why, particularly because a book chosen as a gift usually sends the message, “I saw this and thought of you,” or “I loved this and wanted you to love it, too.” And I love to give books, even if I do have trouble figuring out what others will like.

One of my new roles at work involves working on the YA collection in our library. I also give book talks to the middle schoolers, and I absolutely love sharing books I enjoyed with them. Even more, I love it when they tell me how much they enjoyed a book. A student who heard my last book talk stopped me in the hall to tell me she read [amazon asin=0525478817&text=The Fault in Our Stars] in one evening and just loved it. Their teacher recently told me that many of her students were already finished with the books, which they had to read over their holiday break, and were requesting them for Christmas.

In a way, I almost feel like I gave those books as gifts, even though I didn’t physically do it. However, I have several books that have been given to me, book I actually really want to read, and I haven’t read them yet. Maybe 2013 is the year I need to do that. It feels sort of rude not to read a book given to me as a gift.

So what books are you giving for Christmas? What books do you hope to receive?

Merry Christmas to everyone.

The Sunday Salon


Fall Foliage trip to New Hampshire 2011

Sunday Salon: Book Club

Fall Foliage trip to New Hampshire 2011

I get to live in a place that looks like this in the fall. How lucky am I? I didn’t take this picture, and it’s actually New Hampshire rather than Massachusetts. The leaves have just begun to turn here. Right now there is a very soft rain falling outside. It’s perfect weather for curling up with a cup of tea and a book.

I recently became the new advisor of the Book Club at my school, and as you might expect, it’s full of smart girls. I wish we could have talked more boys into joining. If they were smart, they’d have joined if for no other reason than that they can meet girls. For their first book, the girls picked Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The plan is to read half the book by our next meeting on Thursday, and then finish the other half for the following week. Then we are going to go see the movie. I am more excited than I can say about the Book Club. For one thing, it’s a proper book club. The girls are serious. They love books. It makes me so happy. If you have ever been an English teacher and tried to get students to love books, then you understand how I feel. If you feel like the world would be a better place if only more people were readers, then you also understand how I feel.

I have also become something of a go-to person for YA in the library, and in the next few weeks, I plan to request a big stack of books for the library. I believe that the school library should be driven by student interest as much as by curriculum. Certainly teachers should request books, but it is my hope that students will also see the library as a place to check out the books they want to read. I will be helping one of our librarians out with a display for Teen Read Week. I am so excited about this role because I’m excited to influence and support our students’ reading. I have been fortunate to hear from parents and former students about my role in their development as a reader, and nothing gives me more pleasure than fostering a love of lifelong reading in a student.

I am about 60 pages into Perks, and so far, what a great book! Charlie, the protagonist, makes a mixtape for his friend Patrick, whom he has drawn as a Secret Santa partner for Christmas. I recreated the playlist minus the Beatles songs, which aren’t in Spotify (I substituted with some cover versions). I shared it with the Book Club girls, so I thought I’d share it with Perks fans here. Take a listen.

Enjoy this glorious fall Sunday!

The Sunday Salon

Books I Had to Have

Mrs. Duffee Seated on a Striped Sofa, Reading Her Kindle, After Mary Cassatt

Stefanie at So Many Books found a fun book meme. I know a few times I have absolutely had to have a book and then promptly put it on the bookshelf.

  1. The Day the Universe Changed by James Burke. I absolutely loved this series. I think I caught reruns of it on The Learning Channel when it actually was an educational channel. That was a long time ago. Now it’s a massive cess pit of reality TV. Anyway, I actually kind of waffled about whether to buy it until another lady at the bookstore asked me if it was the last copy, which sealed the deal (because it was). I didn’t want the other lady to buy it and prevent me from owning it. I have no idea where this book is now. The other lady probably would have read it.
  2. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom. This is a very fat book. Harold Bloom. Don’t get me started on that guy. I probably will never read this one. I don’t know.
  3. Nigel Tranter’s The Bruce Trilogy. Bought during my Scottish phase. I did read and truly enjoy a lot of books about Scotland, but never did read this trilogy, and heck if I know where it even is now.
  4. Bernard Cornwell’s Arthur books. All of them. I absolutely love Arthurian legend, but for some reason I never read these.
  5. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Yeah, I know. And I’ve had it since 2005.
  6. Who Murdered Chaucer? by Terry Jones. I actually have read part of this. And it’s a gorgeous book about a subject in which I’m very interested. Maybe this summer I’ll finish it.
  7. Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt. Still will read it. I know right where it is on the shelf.
  8. Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland. I just loved Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Life Studies: Stories. So of course, I picked up her new book. Yeah, it’s been on my self since September 2008.
  9. Same goes for People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, which I ordered at the same time as the Vreeland.
  10. How to Read Novels Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. Now I loved How to Read Literature Like a Professor. I just knew I’d dig into this one as soon as it arrived. Not so much. I’ve had it longer than the Vreeland and Brooks.

Of course I still plan to read some of these books, but I think the ship has sailed on others. What about you? You ever run out and have to purchase a book only to let it collect dust on the shelf?

photo credit: Mike Licht,

Booking Through Thursday: Something Old, Something New


This week’s Booking Through Thursday Prompt asks: “All other things being equal–do you prefer used books? Or new books? (The physical specimen, that is, not the title.) Does your preference differentiate between a standard kind of used book, and a pristine, leather-bound copy?”

My answer isn’t terribly deep, and I’m afraid it will disappoint anyone who has romantic notions about the way books smell and how the pages yellow, and all of that, but I just like to read. I don’t really have a book fetish. I am attracted to pretty covers, and I prefer a book I purchase to be new. If it’s going to be marked in or damaged in any way, I prefer that I am the person to do it first. I know used books can be cheaper, but there it is. I don’t collect old books, either, and I guess I’m one of those folks who doesn’t much see the point in doing it. Autographed copies are different to me. I love to get my books signed by authors.

After I bought my Kindle, I had some friends who thought I had gone over to the Dark Side. I kept hearing things like the books smell so good, and you can’t beat the way paper feels, and, and and… And I don’t get books to sniff them or touch them.

I have a strong romantic streak about just about everything. Except books. Weird because of how much I love to read, I know, but there it is.

I can actually hear you clucking your tongue, and it’s not bothering me. Not even a little bit.

photo credit: Ian Sane

Cool Kindle Tricks

KindleIf you have a Kindle and the most recent software update—2.5—you can do some pretty cool things.

Most Kindle owners probably know that you can highlight and annotate passages in the Kindle. You probably also know that you can download Kindle on your PC or Mac and iPhone and read books on all of your devices.

What you may not know is that you can access all your highlights and notes from your Kindle account. Simply visit the Kindle account page and log in. Really handy for creating blog posts. I used it when I quoted passages from Medieval Lives in my recent review. If you want to turn this feature off, from the main menu screen, press the Menu button, go to Settings, and move your cursor to Annotations Backup and turn the feature off. I think it is on by default. You can also delete notes from your Kindle account page, which is handy if you heavily marked a book, such as a textbook, and you no longer want to access those annotations.

With the 2.5 update, highlighting can be social. The update has a feature that allows you to see the most frequently highlighted passages in Kindle books. No notes or identifying information are shared, so you need not worry about privacy, but it might be interesting to see what other readers thought worthy of highlighting. To toggle this feature on or off, from your main menu, press the Menu button, select Settings, move your cursor to Popular Highlights, and turn the feature off. It is on by default.

Another interesting addition in the software update is the ability to link your Kindle to social networks. You can currently link your Kindle to either your Twitter or your Facebook account if you want to share highlights or notes with followers or friends. Once again, you can toggle this feature by pressing the Menu button from the main menu, selecting Settings, and moving your cursor to Social Networks. You have to activate this feature by linking it to your Twitter or Facebook account; it is not on by default.

Another new feature that I am really excited about is Collections. You can create collections for your books based on whatever organization scheme you want. I don’t have too many books on my Kindle right now, so Fiction and Nonfiction are appropriate, but if you have a big collection, filing your books by genre or even author might be helpful for organization. To make a new collection, press Menu from the main menu and select Create New Collection. You can change the titles of your collections later, and you can add books to multiple collections if you like. If you accidentally delete a collection, the books will just return to the main screen, so you don’t need to worry about accidentally deleting books.

Other new features include password protection and PDF zoom. I had the unpleasant experience of putting a PDF on my Kindle, only to find it hard to read because the PDF was displayed at the size saved, and it was impossible to zoom. The only way I could read it was to change the orientation, which was awkward for me.

Kindle 1 owners won’t be able to download 2.5 software. If for some reason your Kindle hasn’t downloaded the new software, you can follow Amazon’s instructions for downloading it manually.

Know of a trick for the Kindle you want to share? Sound off in the comments.

photo credit: goXunuReviews

Note: I have decided to create a posting schedule for this blog so that it is updated at least three times a week. Sometimes almost a month goes by with no updates! To that end, Tuesdays will be dedicated to book news, Kindle news, reflections on reading and books, and the like. Thursdays will be dedicated to Booking Through Thursday.  Sundays will be dedicated to reading updates and will be tagged with my “in-progress” tag. It will give me a chance to talk about books I abandon and my initial impressions, reflections, or other thoughts about what I’m currently reading. I will still post book reviews whenever I finish books, regardless of the schedule.

Goodreads Bookshelves

Goodreads has a lot of options for organizing books. So many in fact that I decided when I joined up that I would have to wait until summer, when I would have more time, to create tags for my books. Goodreads calls their tags “shelves,” which is appropriate for a social network/organization system focused on books. After shelving all my books, I checked out the book tag cloud feature. Here is a screenshot of my book cloud as it looks today:

I feel as though I should explain some of my tags. I labeled some books “fantasy/sci-fi” when other people might not have, but my reasoning is that if there is any element of the supernatural, it’s fantasy or sci-fi. Thus, I tagged Macbeth as fantasy because of the witches (I also labeled it “feminist” because Lady Macbeth is an unusually strong female character for both the time in which the play is set as well as written). I probably should have tagged it gothic also, but for some reason, my definition for gothic was more precise. I tagged some books “feminist” when others might not consider them feminist. For my purposes, a feminist book is any book that has a strong female character for her time — someone who stands up for herself. Feminist books are also books that criticize patriarchal attitudes and structures (which, I think, is probably the more standard definition). Therefore, I labeled The Scarlet Letter as feminist even though I believe it might give Nathaniel Hawthorne a heart attack (if he were alive to have one, that is) to hear me say that about his book. However, books with modern women who stand up for themselves and hold their own I didn’t label feminist because I think that’s what modern women do and it’s acceptable for modern women to do. If, however, that modern woman lives in a society that suppresses women, that’s a different story. I used the tag “taught” for any books I have taught in the past or will teach this year. I cannot believe I have taught that many books.

I have to watch it. I can login to Goodreads and wind up spending hours fiddling with my books and reading reviews.

If You Liked…

If you’re looking for modern fiction to pair with classics, you might be interested in my post “If You Liked…” at my education blog.

By the way, if you have any trouble finding your way around here, let me know, and I’ll help you out. I’m moving away from categories in favor of tagging, so look for more specific information through the tag cloud in the sidebar rather than the archives page.

This is a Literary Blog

I have decided finally that the focus of this blog will be my reading, which should come as no surprise to regular visitors, as that has been it’s unstated focus for some time. I may still share non-literary information from time to time, but I wanted to warn you in case you no longer desired to read this blog if its focus is on books. I felt a change in theme was in order in honor of this blog’s new purpose.

To do:

  • Clean up CSS so that the sidebar looks right.
  • Clean up archives and categories. New archives page and tag cloud in sidebar.
  • Widgetize sidebar and put my extras back in sidebars (Currently Reading, DailyLit, etc.)
  • Change favicon.
  • Implement WordPress tagging and do away with Technorati tagging. Tag cloud in sidebar.
  • Put credit for Literary Life theme in footer.

Not to do:

  • Delete non-literary posts.
  • Categorize old literary posts — too much work and not enough time.