Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Write Around Portland

I first heard about Write Around Portland (WAP) through Willamette Week's Give!Guide publication listing various local non-profit organizations. Write Around Portland uses writing to transform lives and build communities. This was definitely a cause I can support. Aside from giving money, I was able to convince my old job to hold a journal drive. In our little calendar store, we were able to donate over 100 journals.

I was "too busy" to do any actual volunteering with them over the next few months but I told a lot of people about WAP. I even got a friend of mine to put in some hours with them. Around the following holiday season, I decided to attend their latest anthology release and reading. I wasn't sure what to expect but I thought the whole thing was cool and unique. Not only do they provide free writing workshops, they also publish a seasonal anthology of the participants' works. Then, they hold readings like the one I went to. I’ve been to a couple of these events and I’ve always been impressed by everyone involved. Talk about empowering- seeing your name in print and knowing there's a roomful of people supporting you. That's what writing can do.

I was lucky enough to attend one of their writing workshops over this past summer. I thought it was well moderated with enough prompts and opportunities to share what you wrote.

I also recently volunteered with them as part of the anthology selection committee. That was a great opportunity to see a behind-the-scenes process and to meet people who also believed in the power of words.

Write Around Portland is a wonderful organization I look forward in helping out more in the future and I hope a lot of other people will as well.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NaNoWriMo Kickoff Party

November is National Novel Writing Month- or NaNoWriMo, for short. There’s a site that encourages people to meet a writing goal of 50,000 words for that period. Sometimes, that’s what it takes to get started- or to get started again. I signed up last year but after the initial first day excitement, all I accomplished was registering for an account. I figured I’d try again this year.

NaNoWriMo is a big deal for a lot of people. There are a lot of events throughout the month to get together with other participants and write. I decided to check out the Kickoff Party for the Portland region and see what exactly it was about.

The turnout was definitely larger than expected. Close to a hundred people were there. People were encouraged to bring snacks and drinks and a lot of people did. This was more of a social gathering than a write-in.

For the most part, I think people were happy to be with others crazy enough to take up the NaNoWriMo challenge. The main activity was a roundtable meet and greet. Anyone who wanted to was given the opportunity to introduce themselves and share whatever was on their minds. Usually it was about their previous NaNoWriMo experience- or lack thereof- and how many times they had “won”. A lot of people went on to share what they would be writing about, getting very detailed. It also served as a chance to meet possible write-in buddies.

With such a large group, it took longer than planned. There was only time to do that and then trade “plot ninjas”- which were basically prompts we had written on index cards that may help another writer with their story.

I was glad to see a few kids in attendance. I’ve only been telling as many people as I can about NaNoWriMo and their Young Writers Program. As much as I didn’t feel like participating, I'm glad I went. There were a lot of great ideas being shared. It was interesting and got me looking forward to get some writing done.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Nancy Pearl

Nancy Pearl is a celebrity of sorts. She initiated the "One City, One Book" library program to create a strong sense of community through reading. Her books- "Book Lust", "More Book Lust" and "Book Crush"- are great resources on what to read when. Besides that, what other librarian has their own action figure?

She was at Powell's recently to promote "Book Lust To Go"- recommendations for the travelin' type. The reading was so much better than I expected.

Nancy Pearl looked like a librarian. Or, at least she gave off that vibe. Everyone could tell she was a Reader with a capital "R" from the get-go. She was forever recommending titles throughout the night. She shared many interesting and hilarious anecdotes- including the time she got locked in a hotel bathroom with nothing to read. Amusingly, she had the habit of going off on tangents, leaving unanswered questions and unfinished thoughts behind.

She then gave the rundown of "the perils of a life of reading". The first was having a "reader's vocabulary" in which words get mispronounced all the time based on how it looks on a page. Her own examples were "awry" and "misled". Not bothering to look up the actual definitions of words and relying too heavily on contextual clues was the second. The final peril she shared was accidentally borrowing the lives of the characters you've read. You may have a memory of something that happened to you only to realize that it was actually a storyline in a book. Why, I remember, when I was a young boy, I had to do a bit of whitewashing. I didn’t want to at all and I somehow tricked a bunch of other kids to do it for me! Those were fun times….

In a more somber moment, she said she was in an "existential funk" concerning the state of bookstores and libraries- and the actual book itself. She did encourage a librarian-to-be to stay with the program though. One of the things she said that really stuck out was even though everyone can read the same book, they read a different version of that book.

After going to so many readings, I finally had something for an author to sign- a copy of "Book Lust Journal" I had bought earlier that day. I also made small talk asking her if she was attending the many literary events that were planned that weekend- Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association and Wordstock. (Yes on the former. No on the latter.)

It would be horrible of me not to include some of the books Nancy Pearl recommended. Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom", Karl Marlantes' "Matterhorn", and Tatjana Soli's "The Lotus Eaters" were the more current ones she mentioned.

All in all, it was a great experience.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Children's Book Bank

I first found out about the Children's Book Bank when I was looking for organizations to possibly donate to during last holiday season. While that didn't pan out, they were someone I kept in mind; and, I actually ended up volunteering with them for their Earth Day Book Drive earlier this year.

The Children's Book Bank is a Portland-based organization whose purpose is to provide books to low-income children. They accept donations from the community and have volunteers repair and package books to get them ready for kids. These kids not only get to have their own libraries now but they are getting a head start in reading which will benefit them in the long run during their school- and adult- years beyond.

The Book Drive was such a rewarding experience for so many reasons. Literacy- especially childhood literacy- has become an important issue in my life so anything I can do to help kids get access to books is great. It was also nice to talk to the community and see how many people took time to stop by and donate.

When my work- McKenzie Books- started a sustainability club and was looking for volunteering opportunities, I immediately mentioned the Children's Book Bank to them. Many people were interested which led to nine of my co-workers and a couple of their family and friends spending part of a beautiful Saturday afternoon indoors cleaning up books for kids.

It was hard not to share stories of books we read as kids (or were read to us) when we came across ones we remembered from childhood. All in all, it was another rewarding experience for me- and I hope to everyone else involved.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

National Library Week

April 11-17 is National Library Week.

Over half a century old, it’s a celebration of libraries and librarians. This year’s theme is “Communities thrive @ your library.”

What are some ways to celebrate?

If you don’t have one already, get yourself a library card. Get everyone in your family one, in fact. This card gives you access to books, movies, music, and all sorts of other entertainment. In my opinion, it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself.

Make a financial contribution to show your support.

Volunteer. Donate your time. Donate your gently used books.

Shop at any Friends of the Library stores.

Some libraries are also having their Amnesty Week at the same time. They’ll waive a portion- or all- of your fines after you a pay part of it or bring in canned food. Check first before visiting your local branch.

So, come on and celebrate! Happy Reading!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Read to Rebuild- A Haiti Benefit Reading

Books and charity are two things Portland is known for. I thought it was cool that Reading Local found a way to combine both with their first ever event: Read to Rebuild- A Haiti Benefit Reading.

I’m always going to advocate people who are fans of literacy and who make others aware of what’s going on in the Book World. Reading Local does that for Portland with their website. I spread the word as much as I could about the event. I was pleasantly surprised by how much support local bookstores and other businesses were showing as well. Not to sound like a commercial but I was also glad McKenzie Books stepped up and donated some generous gift packages for Reading Local to raffle off.

Read to Rebuild was held at the Writers’ Dojo, an organization which I was vaguely familiar with because they were at last year’s Wordstock Festival. Next door to a martial arts center, I almost missed it. Once inside, with shoes off, of course, I found it to be quite a charming establishment. A spiral staircase led up to the Writers Room but the first floor was where the action was.

The founder of Reading Local was greeting people and taking care of the entrance fee- a suggested donation of $10- and raffle tickets. Tables were set up with snacks, coffee, wine, and all the prizes to be given out. Soon, people were pouring in and I thought the turnout was great- around 50 people. Writers’ Dojo was packed.

Aside from just exploring and enjoying the space I was in, I was amused by the handful of people who were settled in their chairs reading. I’ve been known to sneak away to quieter rooms during parties but while that act just seemed anti-social, it was almost expected here.

Six local writers read from their work throughout the evening. It started off with a group sing-along, in fact. And that pretty much set up the mood for the rest of the evening. There was a lot of fun to be had that night (including some nice sounding music during intermission) but the reason why we were all there didn’t escape us. The Director of Mercy Corps’ Health Programs shared his account of what it was like being in Haiti after the earthquake hit and how the money being raised was going to help a country rebuild itself.

I did have some nitpicks. First of all, I felt cramped with how close all the chairs were. Then the raffling off of prizes was a little weird. I would have thought they’d pick someone and that said person would then pick a prize they want. Then there wasn’t enough time to do it all so the raffle is still ongoing to the best of my understanding.

Aside from that, I’m glad I went to this event. Great job to Reading Local and everyone else who participated one way or another!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Elizabeth Kostova

When I found out Elizabeth Kostova was having a reading at Powell’s, I was excited. That’s an understatement by the way. “The Historian” is my go-to recommendation for anyone wanting to read a good book. I was also extremely happy that I lived in Portland because I get to go to all kinds of literary events such as this.

I made sure to get there early since I was expecting a full house. In my mind, if you write a great book, they will come. I was disappointed when this was not exactly the case. The important thing was I had my seat. It was nice being with that group of people because I felt surrounded by actual readers and book lovers.

Elizabeth Kostova seemed friendly and intelligent from the get go. I just wanted to be friends with her. She gave a shout-out to independent bookstores before reading a couple of chapters from “The Swan Thieves”. True to the book’s style, she first read a chapter later on in the book and then proceeded with the prologue.

When it was time for the audience Q&A, I was worried no one was going to ask anything and that would be it. Luckily, the questions came- about her writing process, her background and, of course, “The Historian”.

Common to both her novels are the shifts of time and perspective. The way the modern world interacted with the past always fascinated her. She also enjoyed the research process for her projects. It was this passion that made her tell “The Historian” in epistolary form.

With the success of “The Historian”, did she feel pressure on writing a next novel? She had been writing for over 20 years so she wasn’t really worried about it. Reading inspired her to write. She started off imitating the writers she admired until she eventually found her own voice, her own style. She was a fan of the very, very rough draft. The writing process, for her, was “a magic circle” in which everything but the story was forgotten. Her solution to writer’s block? Just move on. Set it aside and move to something else that makes you want to write.

Kostova also shared the fact she was already writing her third novel. What’s more interesting was she dreamed of seeing the book in paperback form with its title along a creased spine. It was similar to how “The Historian” came about in which scenes just seemed to come to her after a hike. Sweet stuff, if you ask me. But, regardless of how her stories come to be, as long as she shares them, all is good in the world

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Audrey Niffenegger

I can’t even remember when I first picked this book up. But, at long last, I finally finished it. It’s a nice love story, the concept was interesting, and the writing was good but for some reason, I just couldn’t get into it. Some parts just seemed to drag so instead of reading on, I’d start on a new book. And I must have read at least a dozen books in between the first and last pages.

-from my review of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger

My review of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” may not have been exactly full of praise but I do recommend it. Its success - a book club favorite and later turned into a movie starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams- was so huge that even if I didn’t like it, I would still have gone to see Audrey Niffenegger speak. She recently made an appearance at the Powell’s at Cedar Hills Crossing to promote her latest novel, “Her Fearful Symmetry.”

I arrived thirty minutes early to find a surprisingly thin crowd. For such a bestselling author, I expected a larger audience- standing room only, in fact. But that would be later. Until then, I took the time to inspect the people around me which consisted mostly of middle aged women who looked like they belonged to book groups. Not that that’s a bad thing. There were also younger folks- both male and female- and I happened to sit in the same row with a bunch of high schoolers who had to write about attending a speaking engagement such as this.

She started out reading a passage from her newest novel and took questions from the audience afterwards. She had some sort of accent- perhaps from Michigan where she was born? For some reason, I thought Audrey Niffenegger would be a stuck up sort of person. Maybe because she had red hair and was an artist? Maybe, as a wanna-be writer, I was just jealous of her tremendous success? But she turned out to be quite likable and entertaining. The first question, not surprisingly, was about “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and how she managed to keep the chronology accurate. Her response to this, as well as to a later question in regards to how she kept her facts straight with “Her Fearful Symmetry”, was to give credit to her copy editors. In fact, she seemed a self-deprecating sort.

The most interesting thing for me was hearing her writing process. Her novels took her years to write. As a visual artist first, writing was really more of a hobby. No regular schedule. Tons of research. (With “Symmetry” she ended up becoming a tour guide for the Highgate Cemetary in which the story takes place.) She lived with the characters in her head and, once their stories were told, they would no longer exist for her but passed on to the readers. That’s why she would never write “The Traveler’s Daughter”, she joked.

Niffenegger talked about how writer's block was just an opportunity to change direction, to reformulate the situation. As an example, she mentioned how the original premise of "Symmetry" involved a male ghost trapped in his Chicago apartment and a woman who would visit him. She gave praise to independent publishers for giving unknown writers the chance to be read. "The Time Traveler's Wife" was rejected multiple times before becoming the bestseller it is now and led to a bidding war for her next novel which fetched her a five million dollar advance.

Niffenegger is currently working on novelizing what started out as a short story called "The Chinchilla Girl in Exile". I did remember reading about this a few months ago in a Writer's Digest article she was interviewed for.

I wasn’t really in a hurry to read “Her Fearful Symmetry” because of the so-called sophomore slump that every artists seem to get cursed with. After attending this event though I’m definitely looking forward to picking it up- as well as her other “novels in pictures”.