• Bookish,  mental health,  Writing

    Mean Girls & Mental Health Awareness

    Mean Girls: the cult classic

    Mean Girls: the memes

    Mean Girls: the musical

    Mean Girls: the pandemic


    March, 2020

    I remember when everything shut down a little over a year ago.

    There was lots of talk of when we could be back together, how things would be different, and the appreciation for human contact.

    But as the year continued another storyline developed – the mean girls (and guys) who emerged from the pandemic.

    Plot twist

    It was easier to be a Mean Girl.

    Hiding behind a computer keyboard in an email.

    Texting passive/aggressively and ending said text with a smiley face.

    Or the worst, hiding in plain sight on Zoom calls. Prime time to say things in a public forum to someone’s face without in-person consequences.

    All because of distance and screens.

    I loathe Zoom

    The last scenario recently happened to me and it was a virtual face slap that hurt worse than a real one.

    Why?

    I was alone. I had no one sitting next to me in that meeting.

    And because we have all grown so numb to these virtual interactions, no one knew what to say.

    No one stood up for me as a person.

    No one told this woman to stop her baseless attack.

    It was only after she finished her attempted assault on my character and reputation that I was able to get a word in to defend myself.

    I am convinced that this never would have happened had this been a meeting where we all physically occupied the same space.

    And even if this person had been so bold, I believe the consequences would have been very different without screens to separate us.

    Eventually one person did speak up and told this woman why she couldn’t get her way. But the damage had already been done.

    Mission accomplished, drama mama.

    Context

    We have lost our context, our human frame of reference.

    We get our groceries delivered, we wear masks, and we stay home to hide behind technology.

    Here’s some context for the Zoom interaction I had: my mental health was at its lowest point in over a year.

    I struggle with depression and anxiety and always will. I have PTSD that will never fully resolve.

    Guess what is a trigger is for me?

    Being blindsided and attacked. And all this happened at a time where pulling myself out of bed some days was an accomplishment.

    Did this woman feel bigger? Better? More important in that square on the computer screen? You bet.

    But back to the context. Did anyone know where I was coming from?

    Sure, a few knew that I had spent the better part of the year being bullied by this person.

    But no one knew the context – where I was standing or functioning on a daily basis.

    Or how I felt that night in the meeting, alone in my study, facing a screen of many who I thought to be friends.

    Or what it’s taken in these past weeks to pick myself up and move on for my own health.

    Off/Mute

    When this incident happened to me on Zoom, I was mortified.

    People who didn’t know me at all and certainly had no context saw me as someone called out, questioned, and attacked.

    I was in tears but I could turn my camera off, hit mute and exist in a dark square that only displayed my name.

    But the day is coming where that won’t be possible and these pandemic mean girls won’t be so brave.

    Half the time I dread this and the other half – bring it, girls.

    Mental health awareness month

    So why share this story and parts of my own mental health struggles?

    May also happens to be the month we focus on mental health.

    The month we talk about removing the stigma.

    The month we talk about having open conversations with our friends.

    The month we acknowledge that many struggle with mental illness.

    This month – as the pandemic hopefully is winding down – is the perfect time to really be aware of those around us.

    Because some of us have been wearing more than one mask during COVID.

    Return to “normal”

    As life slowly returns to whatever our normal is going to look like, be gracious with one another.

    We have little or no context for the lives we are entering back into for the first time since COVID began.

    Take the time to understand. Talk. Ask questions. Don’t assume that everyone came out of this the same as you.

    And certainly don’t continue the entitlement some felt as they were hiding behind technology, doors and masks.

    Enough hiding.

    No books, no sequels, no musicals, no memes… Mean Girls: the pandemic is coming to an end.

  • ARC's,  Book Reviews,  Bookish,  Recommendations

    NetGalley 101

    I am a book snob. Like a physical book in my hand with pages I can turn snob. I got used to ARCs (advance reader copy) showing up on my front porch almost everyday. Books to read and review before they were released? Life was pretty good.

    Then COVID hit.

    I started getting emails notifying me that the ARC that was supposed to be headed my way was in NYC, the heart of the publishing industry, and wasn’t going to make it to me in time for the blog tour or publishing date. Certainly understandable and a problem that reached beyond the publishing house – I didn’t want to needlessly expose a postal worker or UPS delivery person to one extra home or package when I had another way to get a book.

    Enter NetGalley.

    I’ve had an account for a few years but never was very active. But when you want to read new books, review, and promote them, a reader will do just about anything. So I purchased an iPad mini (my preferred eReader) to use the Kindle app on, dusted off my NetGalley password, and got to downloading books and requesting more.

    Want to access ARCs from NetGalley? Here’s how:

    1. Set up an account. Be as clear and detailed when filling out your profile as possible. Include your number of Instagram followers, blog readers/metrics, how long you have been reading and reviewing books, the genres you love, what kind of work you’re available for (promotions, reviews, giveaways, blog tours, etc.). Also link Twitter and LinkedIn (if you have them) to your account.
    2. Blogs. They are important to publishers. Your blog reviews show up in Google searches while Instagram reviews do not. They are not a must but they are a great platform for detailed reviews. Plus, with Instagram changing something every week and questions about who owns the content I’m all for blogs if you’re serious about reading and reviewing books.
    3. Link your Kindle account to NetGalley. Every Kindle account has an email address and that’s how NetGalley sends the eBooks to you.
    4. Find your favorite publishers and request some books. When you are approved for a title you will get an email with a “widget” to click on to download the book. You will also get declined. It’s not personal. But the longer you review on NetGalley, the higher your review rate, and the better your stats are outside of NetGalley, the better your chances are of getting approved. A great place to start is with Read Now titles. Anyone can request and review them.
    5. Review, review, review. Look at each publisher’s requirements for the timing of reviews prior to the publishing date. Be on time and be sure to share the links to your reviews that you post outside of NetGalley I.E. your blog and Instagram. And lastly, share your reviews on Barnes & Noble and Amazon using the NetGalley site. Simply posting your review on NetGalley isn’t enough.

    A few tips:

    • Don’t go crazy requesting books. Publishers respond in their own time and the last thing you want is 50 books waiting for you to read and review.
    • If an actual person from the publisher sends you the widget, be sure to respond to them. Thank them and then when you review the book, also send them the links. This is a great way to establish relationships within publishing houses and this alone has opened up multiple opportunities for me for physical finished copies and giveaways.
    • Keep your profile up to date. That’s the first thing publishers look at when they get your request.
    • Only pursue this route if you’re serious about actually reading and reviewing books. This is not the site for getting book mail to post on Instagram. Requesting books and doing nothing with them is not a good way to develop a solid reputation with publishers.
    • Always include the disclosure! Something like, “Thanks to NetGalley and X publisher for a gifted copy of this eBook in exchange for my unbiased review.” This is an FTC regulation and a must.
    • Lastly, here is an example of a recent NetGalley blog review and the corresponding Instagram review.

    Please let me know if you have any questions! I have loved using NetGalley and plan to continue to use it even after COVID is over. It has made me reevaluate and realize that I don’t need a physical copy of every single new book.

  • Book Reviews,  Bookish,  mental health,  Writing

    Wednesday Words: trigger warnings

    Can we all take a moment to agree that saying “I am triggered” as a joke is actually not something that is funny?

    We don’t do this with physical illness and if you do well…. that’s not funny either.

    Because this is something I am intimately familiar with, let me explain what it’s like as someone who can be triggered; as well as a caregiver of someone of the like.

    You are going about your day. Maybe you are in Anthropologie, your favorite store. Or maybe you’re in the library. 

    A person walks past and you catch a whiff of their cologne that most love.

    You break out into a cold sweat. Tunnel vision sets in and the exits disappear. You are transported back to “that place” where the worst thing happened to you. Your heart is racing and you can’t breathe. 

    Now you’re making a self-perceived spectacle of yourself in one of your favorite stores or places. 

    If you are lucky you have someone with you who can remind you to breathe. They see what is happening. There’s the five-finger trick where you have something associated with each finger that grounds you. You use your hands to feel the floor, the chair, the person you are with and you are slowly transported out of your worst nightmare and back to current reality.

    But you still feel like shit and the public embarrassment isn’t even part of that. A surge of adrenaline does incredible and also devastating things to your entire body. An occurrence like this can render one worthless for the rest of the day.

    But what happens when you are alone, reading a book at home that everyone has raved about – or even worse, a public place?

    The same thing.

    There are movies and TV shows my family and I avoid because they have content warnings. We know the triggers and take the warnings seriously. Some rated R movies are fine while others are not because the details for the rating are listed below the “R”.

    Ninth House is a wildly popular book that is shown all over Instagram. I saw it in countless top lists of 2019 – which is fine – but I never saw a single mention of a warning about the content that quite frankly, would have upset people who don’t even have PTSD. Instagram is huge so it is always possible I missed a mention of this but it’s not just this book.

    I don’t know why books don’t carry warnings. It would take up so little space to include: child r@pe, extreme hazing, violence against women including drugging and assault… you get the point. And all of these and a few more should have been included in a blurb for Ninth House. Not to mention, the author of Ninth House is a popular young adult author. She has made it clear that this book does not fit that genre but I have seen this very book in the young adult section at multiple bookstores.

    Back to ratings: it’s not that difficult. But that may mean that a group of people don’t buy a particular book. I would hope the publishing industry isn’t as calculating as this seems but one has to wonder when all other forms of media carry warnings.

    With a warning, some may skip the book entirely. However, I would argue that a simple trigger warning would allow a reader to chose to buy the book and then come back to it when they are in a good mental place. Everyone wins – the reader is respected and the author is read.

    The last thing I will mention is context. Because as a writer that is something to be considered. Does the graphic description do something to advance the plot? Is it integral to the character and their personality? Is it being used as a message to be shared? I will still argue that graphic content may not be necessary – we leave readers to their own imaginations all the time with far more innocent plot lines.

    I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t know how this changes unless more readers speak up. But until then, my reviews will include trigger warnings. Because I know from personal experience that a praised book can take me to a dark place fast and that is certainly not the point of reading and I never want to be responsible for transporting a fellow book lover back to their worst moment.

    The world is scary enough already.

  • Book Reviews,  Bookish,  Writing

    Fleishman Is In Trouble: a book review and the lies we believe

    There was no way for her to voice an opinion without being accused of anger. Everywhere she turned in her own home, there was a new insult. She would wake up in the morning and walk out the door with Toby and the kids and before she headed in the direction away from the school, she would hear the doorman talk about what a hero Toby was for taking his own children to school.

    ✂️✂️✂️✂️✂️/5

    Rachel is a wildly successful agent. Toby is a respected doctor. They are getting a divorce and one morning Rachel drops their kids, Solly (9) and Hannah (11), off at Toby’s apartment at 4 am.

    Then Rachel disappears from their lives and her voice from the book.

    Toby is a good dad, there’s no doubt about that. But how good of a parent are you when you hold open contempt for the other parent and question their love for their children?

    Toby scrambles for childcare and is met with sympathy and accommodating help. And against the backdrop of Rachel’s disappearance, she is left without perspective during the pages upon pages airing Toby’s grievances against her, far beyond her disappearance.

    The entire story is told through the eyes of Libby, a longtime friend with struggles and frustrations of her own. From a literary standpoint, the use of her as a narrator was both fascinating and creative.

    And it drove a subtle point home as she is also largely quiet for long portions of the book. The women in Toby’s life don’t have the opportunity to say much.

    Fleishman Is In Trouble… but which Fleishman?

    Toby does his own investigative work and determines that Rachel is having an affair on top of abandoning their children. Double standard: they are technically still married but his extensive use of dating apps and hook-ups are treated as nothing short of normal.

    It was so interesting to me the amount of sympathy, help, support, and passes that Toby received while his wife was torn apart for her career, her drive, and the role reversal within the marriage – that he benefitted from, all while complaining about it at the same time.

    We don’t hear from Rachel until the latter part of the book and while some suspicions were confirmed, what we really found was a woman broken by the belief that women can have it all.

    The writing, the narrator, the stories told within the story, and the subtle way that the author created appeal to almost any adult reader made this a five star book for me.

    There were parts of this book that struck incredibly loud chords with me. Yes, this book may appear to be about divorce – but only on the surface. Sex is a prevailing storyline so no, this book is not for everyone. But if you were taught the lie that a woman or a man could “have it all”, this book is well worth a read.

    Much like Rachel, I spent 20 years in a male dominated industry. Locker room talk, harassment, and all the other fun things that come with the territory were the norm. I believed that I could have it all but it never happened – something always had to give.

    That something was everything from respect from colleagues to the death of a certification I wanted and studied out my guts for.

    That’s where this book really began to resonate with me. I’ve been there and have fought the stress and untimely pause or death of a dream. Sure, I could have gone in the direction of Rachel but we would have ended in the same place.

    Angry and insulted no matter our achievements.

    Women are tired. Men are frustrated. The lies are everywhere. In the book, Toby was free to exhibit little drive by keeping the same job, even when given opportunities for advancement, while he watched Rachel climb the endless corporate ladder which benefited the entire family.

    A fancy apartment in the city, a house in the Hamptons, the best schools – all things Toby begrudged while blaming Rachel for everything. Decisions made jointly were suddenly Rachel’s ideas and Rachel’s career help Toby’s back,  and of course the kids, they preferred Toby over their mother.

    Rachel couldn’t have it all. But neither could Toby. And it broke them.

    Because Fleishman was in trouble.

  • Book Reviews,  Bookish

    The Lost Books Of Jane Austen: a review

    About The Lost Books of Jane Austen

    • Hardcover: 304 pages
    • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (October 8, 2019)

    In the nineteenth century, inexpensive editions of Jane Austen’s novels targeted to Britain’s working classes were sold at railway stations, traded for soap wrappers, and awarded as school prizes. At just pennies a copy, these reprints were some of the earliest mass-market paperbacks, with Austen’s beloved stories squeezed into tight columns on thin, cheap paper. Few of these hard-lived bargain books survive, yet they made a substantial difference to Austen’s early readership. These were the books bought and read by ordinary people.

    Packed with nearly 100 full-color photographs of dazzling, sometimes gaudy, sometimes tasteless covers, The Lost Books of Jane Austen is a unique history of these rare and forgotten Austen volumes. Such shoddy editions, Janine Barchas argues, were instrumental in bringing Austen’s work and reputation before the general public. Only by examining them can we grasp the chaotic range of Austen’s popular reach among working-class readers.

    Informed by the author’s years of unconventional book hunting, The Lost Books of Jane Austen will surprise even the most ardent Janeite with glimpses of scruffy survivors that challenge the prevailing story of the author’s steady and genteel rise. Thoroughly innovative and occasionally irreverent, this book will appeal in equal measure to book historians, Austen fans, and scholars of literary celebrity.

    Review

    Cheap books make authors canonical. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, cheap and shoddy versions of Jane Austen’s novels performed the heavy lifting of bringing her work and reputation before the general public.

    From the sanitized, Victorian-era Jane Austen to a modern day cover of Pride and Prejudice that had schoolgirls convinced that Mr. Darcy was a vampire, this has by far been one of the most fascinating books I’ve read this year.

    If book covers captivate you like they do me, this book will grab your attention as you take a historic walk through the book covers of Jane Austen’s works – many considered “lost” today.

    The reader is also given a look into the publishing industry, trends, and perhaps the biggest reason we are obsessed with book covers – marketing.

    And it’s not a new strategy. 

    I thoroughly enjoyed this well-researched book, full of Austen covers I never thought I would see. My favorites were the cheap paperbacks rather than the first and collectible editions – which illustrates a large part of the author’s argument that it’s the inexpensive books that make an author live on forever.

    If you love Jane Austen, if you collect her books, and if you adore books in general, you will find this book to be an absolute gem.

    About Janine Barchas

    Janine Barchas is the Louann and Larry Temple Centennial Professor of English Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity and Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel. She is also the creator behind What Jane Saw (www.whatjanesaw.org).

    Purchase Links

    Johns Hopkins University Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

    Thanks to TLC Book Tours, Johns Hopkins University Press, and Janine Barchas for providing me a copy of this beautiful book to read, review, and promote.

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