Friday, November 17, 2017

A Very Bookish Holiday

With the arrival of the holiday season comes the pressure to pick the perfect gifts for your loved ones. I know I struggle to find gifts that are meaningful and that serve a real purpose, so this year I put together a list of books that I'd recommend to give to the bookworms in your life.

You can access my 2017 Holiday Gift Guide by clicking here.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Birthday Q & A

Hey, Readers!

Today I turn 25 and to celebrate, I asked readers to submit their questions to me via Instagram. (You can find that post here.) As I type this, I'm already receiving birthday wishes from bookish friends all over the world. So thank you. I am incredibly grateful for my bookish community and feel so lucky to have made real friends who love books and reading just as much as I do.

Questions about Reading Habits & Preferences

As a teacher I have to ask, HOW do you read all the books you do? I have read 50 this year so far, but I don’t know how you do it. Do you have a reading schedule?

The short answer is that my reading fluctuates based on what's happening in my personal life. In years past, I've averaged between 50 and 70 books (during my college and graduate school years), but this year has been an outlier. I've read over 100 books already and it's mostly due to the fact that I've prioritized reading and made more room for it in the margins of my life. (I've also read books averaging less pages than in previous years.) I set a Goodreads goal each year but it's a flexible goal - I don't feel the need to read a certain number of books each month. 

I've talked about this recently on my Instagram, but I make it a priority to stick to my bedtime routine, which includes at least an hour of reading each night before I go to sleep. That's when I get the majority of my reading done. But I also sometimes get to read for a few minutes before leaving for work in the morning, and I do put aside time on weekends to read as well. So I guess you could consider that as somewhat of a reading schedule, but the truth is that I just love reading and that's what motivates me to pick up books so often.

My fellow teachers out there know that often our work follows us home, and I'll admit here that during progress report season, my reading definitely declines. Other than that, I try to be as efficient as possible during my prep time at school and after school to get things done so that I can bring less home with me. Keep in mind too that in this season of my life I don't have children, so when I come home I have space and time to do what I want to do.

I’m curious how many books you read a week during the school year vs the summer — it seems like a lot!

This past summer, I read probably 3ish books a week. I wasn't working, we were moving, I was transitioning to a new job, so I had more free time on my hands and could spend more time reading during the day. During the school year, I generally read 1-2 books a week.

What makes the perfect reading spot for you? Does it change with the seasons?

My hometown is right on the water and there's a little beach that's generally unknown by tourists, so I like to take my book there and sit by the waves. That beach is one of my favorite spots in the entire world, and I can spend a whole day reading in the sand, only taking breaks to float in the ocean and comb the beach for sea glass.

In the fall and spring, I like to bundle up and take my book to a park in my hometown that overlooks the open ocean. The water is really important to me, so when I can be in that setting, I feel most content.

In the winter, my favorite spot is curled up on the couch with a big cup of tea, a soft blanket, and my kitty. (And preferably a Christmas tree twinkling in the background.)

Does your boyfriend like to read as much as you? 

I don't think he'd describe himself as a bookworm, but he does enjoy reading. He's pretty particular about the books he picks so I like the challenge of finding something that peaks his interest. I asked for your recommendations for him here and it was so helpful, so thank you! I would say he does most of his reading as it relates to the news -- he's extremely well-versed in politics so he does a lot of informational reading on that subject.

Do you purchase the books you read or borrow them from the library? Do you have to stop yourself from purchasing books like many of us here do?

I do both! I love using the local library, but I'm also a pretty sentimental reader, so I love keeping books on my shelves. There's a Japanese term to describe a person who hoards books, tsunkdoku, and  I think it can be accurately applied to me. Specifically, it describes someone who buys books but doesn't read them and let's them grow in various piles. It can take years for me to actually read a book after I buy it. In growing my personal library, I do a lot of library sale shopping and I rarely buy brand-new hardcovers, unless it's for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club or the Diverse Books Club. When I use the public library, I tend to put things on hold that I know I want to read. I also like to wander the stacks and pick at random.

How do you prioritize your TBR? I'm sure a lot has to do with DBC these days but do you ever feel overwhelmed?

My TBR is definitely primarily influenced by the DBC since our launch in September. This month, I'm reading our November picks alongside members and previewing a few titles for early 2018. From there, I prioritize books I'm working on for partnerships with publishers. My main publishing partnerships are Random House and Simon & Schuster, so my followers see a lot of their new releases on my feed. Next, I add in Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club picks. I've also just recently joined the Black Heart Reads Book Club on Instagram, and occasionally I'll jump in on the picks for Emma Watson's book club, Our Shared Shelf. I don't go into each month with a set TBR, because I like the flexibility of picking books based on my mood. So if I stop by the library and pick a few random titles or get something new from the bookstore, I don't feel bad about shifting my pile to make room for those. Case in point, this week I read El Deafo for the DBC, Murder on the Orient Express to prepare for the movie, I'm currently reading Braving the Wilderness in partnership with Random House, and I picked up A Death in the Small Hours last night because I borrowed it from the library. So my reading has been all over the place just in the last week.

To answer your second question, yes. Since I founded the DBC, I've felt overwhelmed a number of times by the combined demand of the club and my own blogging life. We're still working on streamlining our processes within the DBC, so it's taking more time behind the scenes. Eventually, I'd like to redirect that energy to actually interacting more with our members. And in the meantime, I'm putting less effort into blogging. But I'm giving myself grace, too.

 Do you ever DNF books you aren't loving?

Absolutely! I abandon books all the time. Just recently, I abandoned Hunger by Roxanne Gay, because I couldn't handle the intensity of the content. I'll also abandon a book if it's just not holding my interest. I'm a firm believer in the right book at the right time, so if something isn't working for me I'll try it again at another time.

I'd love to know your favorite podcasts and favorite audiobooks. I'm trying to get into audiobooks but having a hard time!

In my experience, becoming an audiobook listener takes practice! I don't listen to audiobooks or podcasts in the car because my attention wanders too much. I listen while I get ready in the mornings, walking on the treadmill, or while cooking and cleaning. You can find a whole list of recommended audiobooks here. My favorites have been: A Wrinkle in Time (read by Madeleine L'Engle), The Tale of Despereaux, A Quiet Life in the Country, Anne of Green Gables (read by Rachel McAdams), and A Man Called Ove. My favorite podcasts are: What Should I Read Next? (I'm on Episode 72!), Overdue, Sorta Awesome, and most recently, Ear Hustle. I also find that during busier seasons, I prefer podcasts over audiobooks because my attention can't be sustained for quite as long.

Questions about Blogging & Instagram

How do you make time for blog posts and Instagram? Do you set time aside on the weekend? And how much time do you devote to those things?

As you may have noticed, I've been on somewhat of a hiatus from writing blog content. Right now I'm focusing on growing the DBC, so blogging is my last priority. It used to take a lot of time out of my week (somewhere around 20 hours), so I took some steps this fall to reduce that demand. At the moment, I spend probably a half hour each weekend taking snaps for Instagram (which is only necessary because we don't have daylight anymore during the week), and I write up the posts just before I share them. I spend quite a bit more time on DBC-related tasks right now, and I'm okay with that. When I'm on Instagram, the majority of my time is spent responding to direct messages. I'd say that probably takes me a half hour each day total to make sure I can get back to everyone, plus another half hour or so sending encouragement to all my fellow bookworms! At this point, I don't always have time to respond to every single message which is unfortunately one of the downsides of a growing account, but the interaction is what's most important to me.

Do you ever think about leaving teaching and doing something with your blog, books, etc as a full time job?

The short answer is yes and no. I've wanted to be a teacher since I was little, but it can be incredibly hard and frustrating to be in the field of public education. The best thing about teaching is the children, and the worst is that unfortunately, it's not always about the children. So sometimes I daydream about turning my career path towards something to do more with literature. But then I think about the kids that I work with, and I know that I would miss them too much. On hard days, I think that maybe life would be easier if I did something different. But on hard days, I also wonder if anything else would feel quite as fulfilling as the work I do now. I'll also say that I didn't intend to become a special education teacher (I have licenses to teach both in the classroom and as a special educator), but my crew of kids has my whole heart. I know that I'm good at what I do and I'm a fierce advocate for the needs of my kids, so there's also a part of me that believes I was meant to land in a special education role all along.

How do you, or do you, separate your Instagram life from your personal life? Do you keep a separate personal Instagram account or just use this one for everything? (I tried keeping 2 separate accounts for a while but it became too much so just wondering how other people do it!) Do you ever worry about getting judged for your reading choices or for what you share on Instagram?

I do have a separate account on Instagram for my personal life. And even though I've received follow requests from bookstagram followers there, I don't generally accept them. That account is how I keep up with family members, friends from high school and college, and the families I used to babysit for.  I don't post on it often, and occasionally I'll post something similar on both my accounts (such as with our Halloween costumes this year), but it's important to me to have that separate. 

As a reader, I like what I like and I'm not apologetic about it, but I do recognize that my opinions aren't going to be shared by all readers. If I was that worried about what others thought, I wouldn't continue with the blog or the DBC. I try to stay pretty true to myself, and so far the feedback from my readers has been that being myself is entertaining enough. (My boyfriend likes to say I'm genuinely quirky and that's why people think I'm interesting.)

When did you start TST and how did you grow it? 

I started TST on New Year's Day in 2014. It was a creative outlet for me while I was an undergrad, because I didn't have a reading community at school and felt like I wanted to talk about my love of literature with others. It was actually my boyfriend who suggested that I start blogging. At the time, I remember saying to him, "Wouldn't it be cool if I could get free books?" I laugh at that now because four years later, my shelves are overflowing with the generosity of publishers, but the free books aren't the best part of TST. It's the reading community, and having a space where I can talk endlessly about books with readers who are just as excited as I am. TST grew pretty organically -- I don't even have a business account on Instagram, and it's really just for fun. I don't make money (besides Amazon affiliate commissions, which are practically negligible), and I genuinely enjoy it as an extension of my reading life. TST experienced the most growth after I appeared as a guest on What Should I Read Next? and from there I've had a pretty steady increase of readers joining in on the conversation, which just makes my heart happy. I honestly don't know what direction TST is going to take in the future, and right now it's a question that I'm not feeling pressured to address, so thanks for following along with me as I figure things out on the fly!

Miscellaneous Questions

You seem like a very organized person. 
How do you organize your day and your time and all you do?

This is probably my number one most-asked question, so I'll address it in another post. The short answer is that organization is something that comes naturally to me, and I enjoy being and staying organized. I get anxious pretty easily when things are out of order and being organized is one way I deal with unexpected changes in life, which are always inevitable. As a special education teacher, much of my teaching style is based in establishing and maintaining routines for the benefit of my kids. Similar to my students, I thrive in routine and structure, so I put it in place for myself in every possible area. Because I've received so many requests, I'll share more about precisely what I do to keep organized in a future post.

 Do you struggle to make time for other hobbies?

Reading is really my only hobby during the school year. Being a teacher means that I'm up at 5am to exercise before work (because I'm too worn out by the end of the day) and that my nights are often spent planning lessons, writing reports, or debriefing with my colleagues over the phone. I also keep a pretty early bedtime so I'm at my best for my kids, so there's just not whole lot of time for other hobbies. Generally, that doesn't bother me, because I find reading to be very fulfilling as a hobby. In the summers, I like to practice my sewing skills and cook. If organizing counts as a hobby, then you can add that to my list too.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live? (Another reader asked a similar question: Do you have any dreams of living elsewhere in the world or are you content in Massachusetts?)

I would love to live in a cottage overlooking the ocean, with a wildflower garden and a sunny reading room. Wherever that exists, that's my dream. In reality, I love our hometown of Marblehead, Massachusetts and want to eventually move back to raise a family there. What's important to me is community, and Marblehead has a wonderful spirit that I haven't seen replicated in the other places I've lived so far. There are town traditions that really mean a lot to me, and being near the ocean is good for my soul. So I guess you could say that my dream would be to move back home. If we ever got the chance to move abroad, my first choice would be Denmark. I love their culture and I wholeheartedly agree with their approach to education, so I think I could be very happy there as well.

Where's the coolest place you've traveled?

In high school, my parents gave me the opportunity to travel abroad with a community service organization called ARCC. My first summer with them, I traveled out of the country for the very first time on a 30-day trip to Thailand. There, I explored almost the entire country, visited temples, rode an elephant, attempted to speak Thai, and learned how to scuba dive off the coast of Koh Tao. It was the most incredible experience of my life. The second summer, we traveled on another month-long trip to Spain and Morocco. I stayed with a host family, tried my hand at Spanish and Arabic, learned to surf on the coast of Morocco, rode a camel through the Sahara desert, and hiked through the Atlas Mountains. Throughout those trips, we volunteered in schools and orphanages, and I gained a new understanding of connection and community. I'm grateful for those two months because I think they shaped me in a lot of ways.


That's all I can answer for today, but thank you to everyone who submitted questions! More importantly, thanks for being a reader of TST. This community is so wonderful and I'm grateful that you're here.