The Agony and The Ecstasy: Summer Reading

18 years ago this week found a desperate, 17-year-old me scrambling to secure a VHS copy of The Elephant Man from my local library because school was starting and I had yet to read the required (and dreaded) Summer Reading assignment*!  Now friends, believe me when I tell you that cribbing on a test was waaay harder before the advent of the internet; Sparknotes and Pink Monkey were the stuff of the procrastinating student’s (read: my) dreams.  Instead, I was shelling out $4.95 at Walden Books for a book version of Cliff Notes.  (The irony that I read a Cliff Notes book to avoid reading the actual novel is not lost on me.)

Almost two decades later I’ve crossed over to the dark side, creating and correcting Summer Reading tests instead of sweating through them, attempting to fool my teacher into believing I read the books with vague references to conflicts, plot structure, and theme in my essays. 

The (only) great thing about my checkered academic history is that I know ALL the tricks because I’ve pulled them.  I assign my students two books for Summer Reading–one classic and one contemporary.  I know that most of them use Sparknotes and the like for the classic…but not for the contemporary one! 

As I was grading Summer Reading quizzes (given the first day of school!) last year, I came across these gems.  The candor!  The wit!  I love my job.  Let’s have a look at a few of my favorites from 2008.  What will 2009 bring?  One can only imagine!

sparknote

"I didn't read this book because I thought that Sparknotes had every book. So, I was planning on reading it last night but Sparknotes didn't have it. 😦 "

C’mon!  Does it get any better than that?   Well, maybe…

 note2

And this, in a nutshell, is why I love my job and adore Summer Reading–if only for the fodder they both provide my blog. 

So, were you a concientious student who always did his/her Summer Reading or were you a hellion like me–waiting until the last possible second to do your school work?!?  Does Summer Reading serve a purpose?  Did your school district spare you (or your kids) from the pain that is Summer Reading?  Inquiring minds want to know.

*The Collector by John Fowles was the other book I was required to read.  When I finally got around to reading the novel (a few months into the school year) it became one of my favorite books! 

Cheat Sheet: Basics of Stumbleupon, Technorati, and others

A few days ago, prolific book blogger and commentor extraordinaire, Kathy (Bermuda Onion), mentioned wanting a better understanding of some of the blogging and social marketing tools available to us on the web.  This one’s for you, Kathy! 

I drafted up this simplified glossary for anyone looking for a basic understanding of some of the technology out there that can promote not only your blog or website, but other blogs and websites that you enjoy.  I’m not promising a dissertation here, just a very basic sketch of a few networks.  Feel free to edit via the comments–I’m no expert!

technoratiTechnorati:  Technorati is a blog-based search engine that indexes over 112 million blogs and 250 million tags–the words/phrases we use when we type our posts, the themes or main ideas.  In plain English, Technorati offers an up-to-the minute return of results for specific issues being discussed on the blogs as they happen, as opposed to a Google search which might return older information.  Technorati also ranks blogs by popularity and authority–authority being how many links the blog has received in the previous six months.  There’s much debate of the accuracy of Technorati’s ranking, but feel free to claim your blog (joining is free) and you will be able to see who’s linked your blog and get an idea of how your blog fares against others. 

stumbleStumbleupon: This is a fun one–I love stumbling.  Stumbleupon is a search engine that relies on user recommendations and ratings, allowing Stumblers to rate and recommend blogs or websites to their friends via social networking.  Say I stumble upon a fun site that I think a few of my friends would like, I simply let them know about it via Stumbleupon.  Once you join (free), you can install a toolbar and click the Stumble button–and, a bit like the Time Traveler, you’ll magically end up at a blog or website within the parameters you set (ie. cooking, food, baking OR books, reading, literature).  It’s a nifty way to find niche blogs and websites that you might not have otherwise found.  You are encouraged to rate AND submit sites–Thumbs Up or Down–to help other Stumblers on their way.  You can stumble a great blog post or fun website.  Take it from me, you can pass an easy hour stumbling from site to site!

digg

DIGG: Digg is a social website where people submit news, stories, or web content and other readers can comment and vote on the information.  Stories can be voted into the upper echelon–they are “DUGG”, while less popular stories are “BURIED”.   Per Wiki, the site has come under fire for ‘allowing users too much control over the site’s content allowing sensationalism and misinformation to thrive’. 

deliciousdel.icio.us:  del.icio.us is an organization freak’s best friend.  Simply install the toolbar and you’ll be on your way to keeping your favorite websites in order!  It’s a social bookmarking site in that you can share your bookmarked sites with your del.icio.us friends.  Say, as a book blogger, I have 100 websites that I love to visit–NY Times Book Review, B&N, publisher sites, NYMag,  etc.  I can tag these (ie. reviews, New York, publishers, magazines) and sort my 100 favorite sites by tags, keeping everything nice and tidy. Now imagine that Kathy from Bermuda Onion and  Trish from HeyLady! Whatcha Readin’?  join up and become my friend.  I can now link them to my bookmarks and they can link me to theirs.  Kathy might have some great sites I haven’t seen before and Trish might be excited to find that she can search my New York tags and see what’s going on in the city!  Another handy tool to keep you organized.

So, these are just a few of the many sites out there to help promote blogs and websites and to create a sense of community.  I hope you gleaned a bit of info that can help you decide if any of these applications are for you!  Enjoy the holiday weekend!

Review AND Giveaway: Up For Renewal by Cathy Alter

WIN A COPY OF UP FOR RENEWAL!  See the review for details. CONGRATS to JESS of Book Reviews by Jess; She’s the winner!

renewalTitle: Up For Renewal

Author: Cathy Alter

Genre/Pages: Memoir/336

Publication: Atria Books; July 2008/Washington Square Press (re-release); July 2009

Rating: 3.5 BOOKMARKS

A year in the life of a woman who has committed herself to change, taking advice from glossy magazines on the big Fs: fashion, fitness, food, finance, and, ultimately, FINDING herself.

I’m a huge fan of essays and memoirs–Jen Lancaster, Bill Bryson, David Sedaris–are some of my favorite nonfiction writers.  I have laughed my way through so many memoirs that deciding to review Up For Renewal was a no-brainer–it was a memoir AND the premise hooked me!

At the age of 37, Cathy Alter’s life wasn’t exactly going according to plan.  Recently divorced and spiraling down a bleak pathlittered with sexual conquests and take-out food containers, Alter commits herself…to change.

Over the course of one year, Alter focuses on improving herself.  Each month she tackles a different aspect of her life–fitness, finance, fashion, relationships.  Using the magazines as her holy grail and life map, she charts a new course for herself and learns that sometimes it’s necessary to cross choppy seas to get to a safe harbor. 

An entertaining read, Alter doesn’t sugarcoat her bad behavior, nor does she apologize.  She takes responsibility for her actions–good and bad–and is able to learn and move on.  Though I had difficulty relating to some of Alter’sbehaviors, I enjoyed the memoir and found her writing to be witty and easy to read.  Her tirades against Saran wrap had me snorting with laughter.

That said (and since there is a giveaway associated with this review), some readers with more Victorian sensibilities might be a bit put off by profanity and adult situations.  Consider this fair warning.  For the rest of you corrupt little scoundrels, carry on!

For a chance to win a  copy of Up For Renewal, simply leave a comment and tell me which magazines you love to read.  Contest ends Friday, September 4th at 8pm EST. 

Thanks to Minjae Ormes for the review copy!

Winner, winner! Chicken Dinner!!!

In the last six months, my book collection has increased exponentially.  Sadly, my lone bookshelf is filled to capacity and can’t hold one more page.  I’d been letting books pile up on my desk, nightstand, and (gasp!) on the floor in my office; things were spiraling out of control so I entered a giveaway for a new book shelf over at Bethany’s Dreadlock Girl

The punchline?  I WON IT.

i won!

Now, thanks to Bethany and her dee-lightful sponsor, CSN Office Furniture, yrs. truly can finally clean up the mess o’ books and organize it–by COLOR, of course!  I’m frothing, positively swooning with excitement! 

Not only have I won something, but I finally have SOMETHING TO TWEET on Twitter!  Yes, I drank the Kool-Aid and am a card-carrying member of Twitter (booklineNsinker)–be sure to add me…or follow me…or friend me…or tweet me…whatever it is that you do on Twitter.

I’ve won other things in the past–a few books here on the blogs, a few radio contests, including tickets to see MC Hammer (it was the 90s, what can I say?), two tickets to the 1995 MTV Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall, and $100 in a Super Bowl pool. 

But what I really want to know is about stuff that you’ve won!  A book?  A new car?  A trip?  The lottery?  Tell me all about it.