Thursday, June 5, 2014

Two Book Subscriptions: Which is Better?

So let's talk books, one of my favorite topics in the entire world!

As many of you may know, there are a million subscription boxes out there where generally you pay a price and a surprise box shows up at your door!  Well, good news for readers -- there are at least two out there that cater to our needs!  I have been a subscriber to Indiespensable from independent bookstore Powell's (out of Portland, OR) for more than two years; however, I recently decided to try Quarterly, which is organized by the good folks from Book Riot.  To my delight, both of these subscription boxes showed up on the same day this week so here is a side by side comparison:

Quarterly by Book Riot ($50):  First, the packaging is done thoughtfully -- nice first impression.
Notice the the quirky book-themed tape around the box?  Nice ....

Next -- I opened it up!

Box 2
Lots of papers on the top and under the papers ... books!  I see books!  Here was my first look:
Once I took everything out of the box, here is what I found:

As you can see above, there were four books:  Sarah MacLean's A Rouge by Any Other Name, Jordan Sonnenblick's Drums, Girls, + Dangerous Pie, N.K. Jemisin's The Killing Moon, and A.S. King's Please Ignore Vera Dietz.  There was also a poster to accompany the romance book, a poster that highlights why you should read romance books, along with a Young Adult pin and a pack of literary playing cards.  There was also a 2 month free subscription to Oyster Books (an online lending library).  The papers included a handwritten note (though copied for the folks getting the boxes) from one of the authors, N.K. Jemisin.  Apparently, there was a giveaway going on with the boxes and some folks got extra things -- the book by Sonnenblick was a lottery winning for me and not the usual part of the box (5 lucky readers got a Kobo Arc Tablet in their boxes!).  Looking up the value of all these things, I estimate that my box was about $85 so I definitely got more than the value that I paid for the subscription box.

Pic 2
I like the printed items that came with the box -- I have to admit that I might have just ignored the romance book but the commentary included with the box talks about the preconceived notions that someone might have about the so-called "low art" of romance novels (a genre I ate up when I was in junior high and high school!).  
The poster was a nice touch to make a case for reassessing our biases against this genre in general -- so I am up for the challenge.  This will be the first book in the box that I tackle!

The other three books are a nice mix -- and represent three books I did not know about.  Jemison's book is an epic fantasy (according to the commentary) and I love the fact that the letter  below(again, from the author!), accompanies the book:


The two books by King and Sonnenblick seem to be Young Adult (thus, the cute little button included in the box!) and both look to be fairly interesting based on a quick skimming of each of them.  And I love book-themed swag -- so the little pencil pouch from Out of Print (a company I already love!) was a nice touch!

Powell's Indiespensable ($40):  Each box from Powells has been something I look forward to about every 6 weeks or so.  Most of the time, I have been exposed to books that I had never heard about, authors who aren't always in my radar.  For example, though I had heard of Donna Tartt, I had never read anything by her until I was sent The Goldfinch as one of my Indiespensable selections and I fell in love (probably one of the finest modern novels I have ever, ever read!).

So a typical Indiespensable is focused on a theme, often something to do with the book itself (and because Powell's tries to stay local, the extra product(s) are usually from small, local businesses.  I forgot to take a picture of the box, but once I opened by package from Powells, here is what I found:

As usual, the main feature came with another book, an extra from a small company, and a cute little booklet that explains the entire box (definitely less paper than the Quarterly box!).

The highlight of this box is that the feature book is in a special hardback edition, enclosed in a beautiful slip box, and signed by the author.  Very cool!  This time, the book is All the Light We Cannot See, an amazing epic historical work that has already gotten a lot of buzz (see the NYT review here!)   I loved Anthony Doerr's collection of short stories The Memory Wall from a few years back so I am anxious to start reading this novel!

The little booklet doesn't fail to please me this time either!
Not only is there an interview with Doerr in it but there is also some great discussion of the other book included in the box, Leslie Jamison's The Empathy Exams, a collection of essays from a writer that so far seems to remind me of Joan Didion.  This is another example of someone I had not heard of before but my brief skimming makes me want to read more.

As you can see from the first Powell's picture, this box came with a heart shaped ... something.  I wasn't sure what it was until I read the booklet that accompanied the box -- it is a die-pressed graphite heart (I guess connecting this to Jamison's book!) that is a sculpture and a writing tool -- how cool is that!  It is hard to put a price tag on a signed slip covered edition of a book that you can't really buy anywhere else so I think $40 is more than fair for these boxes (and you help to support one of the few independent book stores left in the country to boot!)

The Winner?  Trick question -- there is no winner!  Both boxes are great and I think you get your money's worth with both.  Of course, both of these box subscriptions work best for people who like getting surprises in the mail -- and perhaps being exposed to writers who you may not find on your own.  The book nerd in me gets super excited when a Powell's box shows up on my doorstep -- and now every three months, perhaps even a Quarterly box!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Dissertation Break: Wanna See My Stylish Surprise?

OK, before jumping right back into dissertation stuff tomorrow, I do want to share the "Stylish Surprise" box that came from Modcloth on Saturday.  So here is how it works:  Modcloth sales apparel items for $10 (it was $15 last time!), $10 for shoes, and then $5 for accessories or home items.  You have no idea what you are going to get other than just indicating your sizes.  Sometimes -- as most folks know -- sizes are not consistent so you never know if the item will fit you or not (and no returns).  So when the sale first started (and there ended up being a technical glitch that I will explain at the end of this entry!), I purchased five items -- four apparel items and 1 shoe.

Here is the box itself:

I loved this first glance!  I loved the color that I saw!  And print!  I see prints!  (if you don't know, I am a print kinda gal!)  So after taking this picture, I took everything out of the box and tried it on!  (and I googled for images of the items on the Modcloth web site -- a little tricky to do since most of the items in the Stylish Surprise boxes are no longer available for purchase via Modcloth!)

Dress #1 --  "That's Doll Folks":  This was the dress I saw at the top of the box.  Love, love, love!  It has a cute Russian doll print and it fits!  I think the original price for this dress was around $60.  The belt is a little cheap but I am fine with using my own belt!

That’s Doll, Folks Dress, #ModCloth

Dress #2 -- "All That and Demure" dress -- again, major love!  And it fits!  Love the color, too!  The fabric is lovely -- sort of an the heavy side in a good way (definitely high quality!).  I saw this dress listed on another web site for just over $100.  So not so bad for $10!

All That and Demure Dress in Daffodil, #ModCloth  

Dress #3 -- "Cute to the Cordial Dress":  Of all the items in the box, this is the only one that is not going to work for me.  I love the idea but it's too big.  This dress is definitely going to go up for swaps in my swapping group!  (again, this is a dress that was approximately $50-60).

Cute to the Cordial Dress, #ModCloth
(Sorry -- no picture of me modelling it!)

Clothing Item #4 -- Antarctic Social Circle Sweater:  Now when I first saw this in the box, I was like, "Nope.  Hate it."  And then I tried it on.  Super cute!  And soft!  I am going to put this away for next winter.  Or maybe I will wear it tomorrow?

Antarctic Social Circle Sweater, #ModCloth
(I forgot to get a picture of me wearing this!)

The Shoe Item -- "Mix and Match Heel" (Poetic License):  I cannot say how much I adore these shoes that -- luckily -- fit me perfectly.  These shoes run around $125-150 on Modcloth so I think I am super lucky to have gotten these shoes in my box! (for $10!)  Sure, these are not shoes that (1) I would have ever purchased myself mostly because of the price, and (2) are not shoes I would have been attracted to if I were going to spend that much on a pair of shoes.  I have been drooling over some of the shoes from Poetic License on Modcloth but never dreamed a pair would show up in my Stylish Surprise box! Most of the ones I have been coveting have been on the more flat, modest side but the more I "play" with these, the more I love them!  Pretty English teacher-y, don't you think?  However, I probably won't be wearing them to work (I move around too much!) but I can see wearing them out!  :D

Mix and Match Heel in Yellow, #ModCloth

So in a nutshell -- my Stylish Surprise (SS) was a success!  For $50, I would guess I got items that valued about $400+  And four out of the 5 items fit and are my style so now I have some new items to blend into my wardrobe .... There will be a part II to this SS blog entry, however.  See, when the sale first started, the Modcloth web page for the SS went crazy and failed.  Some of the orders got through, however, including this order.  But I didn't know for sure for a couple of hours and at one point when the folks at Modcloth tried to run the sale one more time (before that attempt also failed), I panicked and made another order (four clothing, one shoe, and two accessories make up the second order).  And a day later I discovered that order went through too.  So guess what is coming in a day or two?  Yep, another Stylish Surprise box.  I noticed through the FedEx web site that this box weights about a pound less so I am guessing the shoes are not so heavy and nice quality like these -- and perhaps the clothing items are more light weight?

Anyway -- stay tuned!

Friday, March 21, 2014

And So We Move on to Plan B ...

So I guess the title of this entry says it all:  I am now moving on to Dissertation Plan B.  If you remember, Plan A was the following:  (1) work like crazy to come up with a complete, ready-to-go dissertation, (2) set a defense date based on the fabulousness of the complete PDF draft, and then (3) get all the paperwork in order before the April 11 deadline for graduation.

This isn't going to happen.  I have some issues with Chapter 6 (the conclusion) that need to be worked out (along with some other editing that is more minor) and I want to include an epilogue that just didn't get written when I did the complete draft (I wasn't going to do one at first but now I think I will).  However, Plan B does mean getting the dissertation defense done before the end of the semester (probably April).  I will miss the deadlines for graduating in May and so I won't be "officially" finished until December (the next graduation opportunity).  The end of the semester should bring the main part of this to a close, though -- that darn defense represents the last "hard" thing that I need to complete (and any editing after that should not be too big of a problem).

I am writing this after a long day of sessions at 4C's -- the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the conference that we college writing teachers look forward to every year (this year in Indianapolis).  Not only did I present today (and, geeze, was I nervous!) but I went to several sessions that will help me re-think some of the ideas in my conclusion (and even bigger ideas post-dissertation).  In a nutshell, I just had an exhausting day.  Wrapping my head around the "not graduating yet" thing on the day I was presenting at C's, as well as just being generally annoyed at my body right now, just made for a rough day (and we won't even get into the deep stacks of grading that I am running behind on, a task I take seriously on behalf of my students).

I have had lots of people tell me at different times during my life that I always seem to have so much energy, so how do I get everything done that needs to get done?  I am beginning to wonder myself.  Right now I am feeling tired and but there is still so much that needs to be done (with my dissertation, with my students, with my life, with my triathlon training, etc).  But I do know that I have the support of the best husband ever and the best graduate adviser ever so I just need to take a moment to rest, I suppose, and get right back in the saddle (God, I hate cliches!).

For tonight, I am about to head up to my room way up on the 17th floor (I am using the Internet in the lobby since apparently when you stay in a super expensive hotel, the hotel can't be bothered to let you use the Internet in your room for free).  And what will I do once I get there?  Though I would like to say that I am going to turn on the television and veg (especially since I just came back from the gym), I know that isn't the truth.  Instead, I will get crackin' on some of those student papers and work on an epilogue for a dissertation.  And I will focus on this quotation:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Spring Break!

So a week ago, I was in the midst of dissertation-alooza and knew that I would have a tough week catching up on all the student work that I had to ignore for three days (a task in itself for me!).
BUT -- here I am on the other side of all of that!  In one week, I managed to come up with a complete 304 page dissertation now in one glorious PDF file, I graded three sections worth of ENG 101 essays (about 50 or so students), and I gave feedback on 34 or so ENG 102 Annotated Bibliographies!  But -- all done!

Folks have been asking me what the next step in the process of "dissertating" is and here is the answer:  wait!  I need to get feedback from my fabulous adviser/ dissertation head/ mentor to see if she thinks I am ready to defend the sucker.  Believe me, you don't want to schedule a defense and not be ready!  So worse case scenario -- I need to do more revisions and defend in April or May (which would mean a December graduation).  Best case scenario -- my current PDF version is "good enough" and I can defend it ASAP (late March?).  So right now I don't know.  But it was sorta cool to be able to look at my computer and see something like this:

No matter how bad it is (and I hope it's not too bad!), it is an amazing step to see the whole research as one PDF file -- and the fact that it turned out to be just over 300 pages is staggering for me -- I have never had a project quite this big before!  The big conference for us college English types (Conference on College Composition and Communication -- or 4C's for short!) is coming up next week (starting the 19th of March).  I will be presenting many of the findings that I came up (in short, an analysis of using themed writing prompts in first year writing).

First, though, I get to take a little holiday!  Jim and I are flying to Portland, Oregon, tomorrow so I can (1) see my fabulous grad school friends Bonnie and Amy whom I haven't seen in 17 years! and (2) go to Powells, the best (independent) bookstore in the world!  Jim will get to see one of his favorite pals as well (who will be driving down from Seattle).  And fish!  Lots and lots of fresh fish!  I am so excited to get close to home!  Of course, I cannot resist to end this blog entry with a scene from one of my favorite shows, Portlandia (with the genius Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein!):

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Dissertation Girl Official Announcement!

Yesterday I drove the two hours to Carbondale to see my fabulous, fabulous adviser Dr M in order to talk about my most recent revisions of chapters 4 (Results) and 5 (Analysis).  For those of you who don't know, I have been working at SIUC as a PhD student for about 12 years, but working hard on my dissertation (post coursework and comps) since 2008 (so about 5 years).  I did an ethnographic study that was difficult to complete in terms of problems in early 2010 and then I was diagnosed with cancer just after completing the first part of that study (the actual fieldwork component).  It probably took me a year to get back to my research and I was lucky enough to get selected in 2012 to attend the Dartmouth College Summer Seminar for Composition Research that served as the pivotal component to get me back to working on writing up and analyzing my study.

And so here we are today  -- almost done.

I applied for graduation before (last year) and it didn't work out so I am little hesitant to report that I have, indeed, applied for graduation again.  As in "May 10" of this year.  I figured that writing about this situation in this very public forum might make me more accountable -- and many of you know that I work best under peer pressure and deadlines.  It is just the way I work.

So here is the deal -- I can graduate in May if -- and only if -- I manage to pull the entire study together by next week.  And that is -- in theory -- quite do-able.  As you can see below, Dr M and I worked yesterday for a few hours in going through these chapters and detailing every little thing that needs to be added/ deleted/ further explored.  Since I have chapters 1-3 already done (though there are a few minor revisions to be made), I can work on these two chapters this weekend, as well as finishing up the reshaping of the last chapter draft (the conclusion).  By next week,  I need to sent the entire package to Dr M as one document (about 250 pages, I think).


If she believes that I am ready for the Defense after reading the entire document (and you do not want to go into one of these NOT prepared!), then she will work with my committee to schedule the Defense -- right now this looks like it could happen the last week of March.  I will then have a deadline for Format Check through the graduate office on April 4 and then the Final Submission deadline on April 11.  If I meet all of those deadlines, I graduate in May.  If I don't, I graduate in December.

So I suppose the good news is that I will graduate in 2014.  I would like the month to be May so I just have to work my ass off this next week.  And I can do that.  And I will.  Thankfully, there are no huge sporting events for me this weekend (I am going to practice my swimming on Sunday morning, though, so I know that I will have a break over the weekend).  I know what I need to do and I just need to sit down and do it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Stitch Fix #5 Review and Plea for Help!

I love coming home and seeing this next to my front mat!

By door
(PS:  I know Zora the cat has been gone for a year now but I can't seem to get rid of the mat that reminds me of her every time I come home!)

Yep, that is a Stitch Fix box, a subscription box that I have been trying for the last few months.  If you don't know, basically you pay a $20 styling fee and then your stylist sends you five items that he/ she things would work for you (I have a Pinterest board to give the stylist an idea of what I like).  If you like the items, you keep them (with a 20% discount if you keep all five items).  Anything you don't like gets sent back in the included bag (that already has postage!).  You have three days to decide.  It's good to choose at least one item because the folks at Stitch Fix take the $20 from your styling fee as the credit for the box (and it doesn't roll over so you have to use it!).  The whole point is to be introduced to new styles that can blend with your current wardrobe.  Since I am becoming grumpy when I head out to the mall, this is a great alternative where I can try stuff on at home and see how the item works with my wardrobe! As you may have noticed from some of my prior reviews, you can tell your stylist a price point but that doesn't mean that is what you get.  I think many of the items are on the expensive side but I will say that I have noticed some great quality in the items that have been sent to me.

So I need your help, dear readers!  Here are the five items I received and I am still not sure what I will keep (in terms of item #4 and item #5)!

Item #1:  Yumi Clay Owl Print Button-Up Cotton Cardigan ($28)

Sorry for the selfies throughout this review.  Jim, the photographer, was actually at work (perhaps making money for the clothes I always want to buy!).  Anyway -- I literally giggled when I saw the Yumi brand at the top of the box when I first opened it -- and with owls on it!  WTF?!  I love Laura, my stylist!  My favorite designer and one of my favorite types of prints!  Winner!  And was I looking at the invoice wrong?  Does that say $28??  Yeah, that is so staying in my closet!
And look!  Patches at the elbows!  How cool is that?!
The back of the cardigan had this at the top -- that is when I noticed that the eyes on the owls were little beads.  Total giggle-fest.  Dianna is in love!  (Please don't judge me!)

VERDICT:  Need I say it?  KEEPER!

Item #2: 41Hawthorn Harriet Aztec Print Fit and Flare Dress ($64)

I have discovered that the brand "41Hawthorn" is the house brand for Stitch Fix so it is common to get something by this brand in your box (I already have two shirts that I love that came in previous boxes).  Usually, I am a "Fit and Flare" kind of a gal.  But not this dress.  The waist was a little high (I didn't think my torso was too long but the waist hits me in a weird place).  As the picture shows, the top didn't quite fit me either.
Dress two
Some of my skin was popping out from the underarms.  Not a pretty picture at all.  But I kept the dress on to check out item #3!


Item #3:  41Hawthorn Benson 3/4 Ruched Sleeve Blazer ($78)
Dress cardi

I added my own belt to try and rescue the waist of the dress but the belt wasn't working.  I loved the idea of the blazer before I put it on -- pretty "heavy," though, which might not work as (1) we head toward spring and (2) Dianna still suffers from the sweat of menopause!  I do love the pop of color but, in the end, the shoulders were a little tight (I must have the shoulders of a linebacker!) and for $78 I would need to LOVE this item to keep it!


But the last two pieces?  Help! Read on!

Item #4:  Pomelo Lombard Printed Mixed Material Blouse ($88)

Why do I always fall in love with the most expensive item in the box?!  I love this blouse -- it is comfy but professional and has some cool details (the mix of cotton and something synthetic, the cute buttons on the sleeves) but ... $88?  Really?  So not fair.  (I checked online and can't find it anywhere else at any price)

Item #5:  Sold Design Lab Giovanna Skinny Ponte Pant ($110)

And, of course, I am being indecisive with the other super expensive item in the box -- these ponte pants (here there are with the shirt above!)
Unfortunately, since the pants are black, it is super hard to see them here.  I tried to get an up close picture and this is the best I could do:
This is not a super flattering picture either.  Basically, these are sort of like leggings but "nicer."  The material is a little heavy and feels top notch.  I know that Jim hates it when I wear leggings, so I had left a note for the stylist to consider something "like" leggings but "not" leggings.  But $110?  Why do they have to be so comfortable?  Why?  Why?

So there is my dilemma.  The owl cardigan is never leaving my closet.  Ever.  The dress and the blazer are going back for sure.  That leaves the shirt and the pants.  What should I do?  Any thoughts?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Brief Dissertation Break!

And ... the dissertation rewrites continue.  I am in the midst of redoing the conclusion (chapter 6) and I will hopefully hear back about the revisions to the previous two chapters soon.  Honestly, right now I am super nervous about whether or not I will be able to graduate in May which is keeping me up at night, constantly thinking about my research (How in the world you you turn "worrying" off?!).  But there is a positive to being up in the wee hours of the night -- I have been reading like a man woman!  And, luckily, there are a stack of books sitting right next to my bed.

So I have a goal with this blog entry -- not only will I "write," something I need to be doing all the time but I also have two books to recommend that were sent to me via the fabulous Indiespensable Subscription program through Powells Books (one of the best independent book stores EVER over in fabulous Portland, OR).  Basically how this program works is like this:  About every 6 weeks, the good folks at Powells pick a newly published book usually from an independent press.  The book often comes in a slip box and is signed by the author.  Along with the book, Powells packages your read with some other goodies that have some connection with the book (even if that connection is not super clear to the reader).  For example, the last book I got -- Orfeo by Richard Powers -- came with some super cool "Hot Chocolate on a Stick" and some yummy popcorn.  The character in the book, Peter, eats a few times so maybe that is the connection?  No fears, though -- both of these treats were delicious (and long gone).

The first of the two books that I want to mention came a few months back and I just finished it recently (it spent its first few months in my house living on my bed side table since I was already reading a few other books).  But wow!  What a book!  The book I am talking is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (and she signed the front page o f my copy in purple ink!).  

You may have heard of this book before -- I think it has won a ton of prizes.  Here is what Powells has to say about it:

This story about a boy named Theo Decker, who loses his mother in an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, does so many things well, it's hard to know where to begin. Its sprawling Dickensian plot? Its extraordinary cast of characters? Tartt's sublime sentences? Or complex, compelling, heartbreaking Theo at the center of it all? As Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times put it, The Goldfinch is "a novel that pulls together all [Tartt's] remarkable storytelling talents into a rapturous, symphonic whole and reminds the reader of the immersive, stay-up-all-night pleasures of reading."   Tartt's fans old and new will devour it.

I don't want to say too much more about the plot -- so I don't give anything away -- but I was mesmerized by the characters right away.  And once I hit the last 80 pages or so I literally could not put the book down.  It isn't the type of read that I usually get into but it was amazing.  Simply breathtaking and amazing.   I haven't read Tartt's other critically acclaimed books -- The Secret History or The Little Friend -- but I am putting this on my "To DO" list!

We had yesterday off from SWIC (Lincoln's Birthday!) so instead of jumping into revising that chapter I needed to be working on, I slept in (something I don't usually do) and then took a long, leisurely bath in which I finished the book I had been reading until about 2 AM earlier that day -- Orfeo, the book I mentioned at the very beginning of this blog entry.  

This was a book that -- at first -- I had a hard time getting into since the plot has much to do with musical compositions.  But then it hit me -- Powers' main character, Peters Els, is a composer of music much in the same way that I am composing language.   Like I did above, here is the short summary from Powells:

Peter Els, a classical composer who dabbles in microbiology, gets fingered as a bioterrorist and, after a national manhunt is launched, spends the rest of the novel on the lam. He revisits the seminal people and music from his past and contemplates the decisions that shaped his life's work. A gorgeously written, masterfully plotted, deeply moving story of one man's quest to create something genuinely new, Orfeo is both a thrilling read and a deeply satisfying novel of ideas. 

Anyone who is into classical music -- or composing -- is going to latch on to this book right away.  It took me a little longer to connect to the whole thing but the idea is amazing -- Peter Els is using chemistry as a way of composing music.  As someone who is deeply interested in how people "compose," I am so disappointed with myself that it took me a hundred pages or so for me to recognize that what Els is trying to do with chemisty and classical music is what I am trying to do, in some small way, with my dissertation (so does that mean reading this novel equals dissertation work?).  How we compose -- heck, even what we compose -- is a brilliant place to think and write.  

So the lesson here?  Powells is doing a great thing with their Indiespensable project -- I don't think that I would have ever read either of these books on my own.  Sigh ... back to Chapter 6 now!