The “Why” of a Book Choice

I agree with the saying “You are what you eat”, and I think it is even true to say “You are what you read”.  Or more accurately, “You will become what you read”.

You eat a banana – you are not going to become a banana. You read a book – it’s in your brain. The seed is there. It can grow or wither. It can consume your soul and invade your dreams. This holds true for fiction and non-fiction books. This is why I’ve always been curious as to “why” someone makes a particular book choice. Saying “I just want to escape” only goes so far. That works better for television than for books. Reading is a different beast from the creatures on television and movie screens.

bookmarks_magThis is why I let out a big ‘YES‘ when I opened my mailbox and read the new Bookmarks letter from Jon Phillips, the magazine’s Editor. Phillips wants to start a new feature in the magazine. A page full of chunks of text from readers everywhere explaining why they are reading the book they are currently reading. Phillips sees value in this even beyond sociological curiosity. He rightfully picks up on the response many of us get when ask others about books:

“I’m not reading anything right now.”

I’ve always let the conversation hop topics at that point. Phillips takes the next step (which I am going to start doing as well), which is to ask:

“Well why not? What’s in the way?”

Just imagine the insights you’ll be given into your friends’ worries or your co-workers’ stress. What a great way to pick up on where they think they are and how they think they’re doing. What a great way to learn from and (hopefully) take a first step in helping those around you.

Phillips is asking anyone who wants to share “what you’re reading now and why” to email him Jon [at] bookmarksmagazine.com. I plan on contributing, but I also plan on posing his questions to folks I bump into this week. So send in the “why” of your book choice to Jon and the Bookmarks magazine crew if you feel like it!


Fun Stop Motion Book Video

The folks at Type books up in Ontario produced this stop motion video, called The Joy of Books almost three years ago and it’s still a good one.

What is it about sitting back and watching all the books go ’round? I also have to say that the whole “shelve your books by color” contingent is bolstered – it really works when the rainbow of book spines are moving along to the beat.

Creative people are cool. Creative book people are +1 beyond that though.



Free eBook Focuses on Political Attack Ads

I haven’t read this one yet, but I hear good things. John G. Greer’s In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns is a FREE ebook until the end of October. The publisher, The University of Chicago Press have made it free until then. So you have just a few days.

Greer_AttachAdsIn Defense of Negativity came out in 2006 and I remember it because Greer takes an opposing view from my own: he thinks negative political campaigns are good for our country and the political system. I’ve skimmed through the book and saw some points that seemed valid, but I’m going to have to wait until I read it to really say.

I can’t argue with Greer’s notion that there are major problems within the U.S. political system. He just seems to think that we give way too much weight to negative political campaigns and that they’re not the problem at all. In fact, working through ads spanning from 1960-2004, he thinks they have contributed more to the political landscape than they have detracted.

If you’re curious too, click through to get the free download. Should be a good one to discuss over beer with friends sometime.

I have no affiliation with The University of Chicago Press Books, but if you like smart non-fiction books, their free monthly offerings were pretty good this year. You may want to sign up for 2015 through their e-mailing list. It’s free. They also have a really robust catalog of interesting books that is worth checking out.


The Expanse is Expanding

The universe of the duo-author team, James S.A. Corey, is expanding with more books and a planned television series (this is all a good thing, as the books rock).


There is a certain vein of science fiction called ‘space opera’. These are usually pretty lengthy story arcs (running multiple books) and are driven by a strong plot. You get to know all the spacemen and aliens because you spend so much time with them. All this to say – you have to get involved. So it takes a special kind of story to keep you going book after book after book. The books making up The Expanse series are just such books.

cibola_BurnI’ve only read books one through three. The fourth book, Cibola Burn just came out and new books have been announced that will take the series through nine books. I hope they keep the same cover artist as well. They’re done by Daniel Dociu and are wonderful.

And if that wasn’t cool enough, the SyFy channel is planning a television series based on The Expanse books. Sounds like the pilot is already written, but I can’t find when they think the show would start shooting. I’m always nervous when the folks at SyFy get their hands on a good book. These books deserve to be done right and I hope they will take the time to do so. Hopefully they’ll go more Battlestar Galactica and less Sharknado with it. I’m excited to see what they do.

So if you haven’t picked these up yet, check them out. I’m willing to bet that the books will be better than the show anyway.


Find Free Books in Birmingham

Books are great, but FREE books get a whole different section on the Awesome Meter. Fortunately, book people are high on the Awesome Meter themselves – want proof?

Just check out these three places around Birmingham where readers can find free books all stocked by folks who understand the value of books and the joy of reading.

Crestwood Coffee Company

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As soon as you walk into the Crestwood Coffee Company you will see the books lining the wall to the right of you. The selection is a good one for a “take one and leave one” kind of a set up. Lots of big names and hardbacks. Certainly worth checking out. The book conditions run the gamut from bent covers to brand new with stickers still on them. It’s a great place to find free books (and the coffee is tasty too).

Little Free Library Avondale


The Little Free Library movement is a great one. Boxes and birdhouses of books are cropping up all over the country. This one is found in a street-side courtyard at the Methodist Church in Avondale. I have no idea who maintains this or how often the stock is updated. When I stopped by it was all paperbacks with a mix of fiction and poetry. All the books were in the condition you’d think they’d be if left in a box outside.

Literacy Council Book Cart

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This cart is maintained by the folks of the Alabama Literacy Council. It is rolled outside almost every day, and it’s always worth checking out. You have to stop by early though as the cart of free books sits in the middle of the loft district. So every dog walker and jogger has a chance to pick through the offerings. Please note: the LC offices and cart are temporarily on 2nd Ave. North after a fire damaged their building on 1st Ave. North. I’m not sure when they’ll move back.

LC_photo 1

What am I missing? Are there other good spots around Birmingham for picking up free books? Let me know… of course… I wouldn’t blame you one bit of you wanted to keep your find a secret.

Birmingham Book Events


Hope your Summer was a good one! I was able to take a sizable notch out of Mount TBR which feels good. I also got to visit a few new-to-me bookstores which I’ll have to share. But up first, what book events are happening in and around Birmingham, AL that you – the ever alert book lover – might enjoy?

Here are three local book events that you may want to add to your calendar:

August 20th at 7 p.m. – prolific thriller novelist James Rollins will be at Books-A-Million at Brookwood Mall signing copies of his novel The 6th Extinction. James Rollins appearance is also in support of his veterans-support efforts. You can read more about this here.

August 23rd from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. – author S.L. Duncan will be at Little Professor Bookstore in Homewood signing his debut novel The Revelation of Gabriel Adam. This book is a YA novel and you can keep up with Duncan on Twitter as well.

August 25th at 4 p.m. - author Michael Pitre will be at Alabama Booksmith signing his new novel Fives and Twenty-Fives.

book sale feature

Book Sale Hoover Library

This weekend there is a massive used-book sale at the Hoover Library. Looks like hardback books will be $1 a piece and paperbacks will run cheaper. Definitely worth checking out.

The sale will be open on Saturday, June 21st, 10:00 a.m–5:30 p.m. and then open again on Sunday, June 22nd, 2:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m.

used book sale

The sale will take place at the Plaza near the Friends of the Hoover Library Bookstore. But be sure while you are there to check out the “extra book room” downstairs. This room is usually full and the books found here are all for sale and always $1. But this weekend it sounds like the $1 fun is spread out through all of their books.


Stephen King’s Money (kind of)

One of my favorite new-to-me blogs is Emily Schultz’s Spending the Stephen King Money, where she is journaling what she buys with the money she makes every time a Stephen King fan accidentally buys her book.  You see Schultz’s book Joyland came out almost 9 years ago and in 2013 Stephen King released a book titled Joyland as well.


King’s book is not available in eBook, but anxious Stephen King fans searched online stores and clicked on the first Joyland title they saw… which was Schultz’s. Whether it was their error or not, a disappointed rabid fan is an irate rabid fan. So after weathering the trolls Schultz decided to have fun with it all and air everything she does with the money she makes. Plus, she weighs in trying to figure out if Stephen would like the purchase.

So check out what Emily Schultz is buying. It is shaping up like she will be having a really fun time with it. It’s just one of those things that reminds us how quirky, weird and fun the book world is.


Cool Book Discussion Event

They are calling it a “Book Hangout with Carrie and Cal“. What it is though is cool! No doubt about it.

Basically you buy a $10 ticket to get in the door at 7 p.m., Tuesday, June 24th. You get eats, coffee and a $10 coupon towards a book. No real loss here is there? But you get to spend that $10 on a book AFTER you’ve sat around and chatted about some of the cool new and old books that are out there. Think about that. When is the last time you got to sit around with smart knowledgeable book folks and talk about books?

Even if you’re in a book club, this event immediately brought to mind the “salons” that were held at Shakespeare & Co. and the discussion groups that F. Scott and Zelda attended all throughout Therese Anne Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. You remember… the ones where Zelda and F. Scott would have their public pouting and shouting matches… anyway…

I’m sure this book discussion will be a little more low key than all that, which is all the more reason I would check this event out, if I were you. Birmingham needs more groups and bookish folks gathering to talk about good books and reading. Kudos to Carrie and the crew at Church Street.

jane austen fragment

New Jane Austen Scrap Discovered

Go ahead and list this discovery in the “could never happen with an ebook” column. Earlier this week the Jane Austen museum purchased a book about Austen that was written by her nephew. Inside the book they found a five inch by one inch piece of paper with writing on it.

Scribbled on the scrap, in Jane Austen’s handwriting, is the following:

“Men may get into a habit of repeating the words of our Prayers by rote, perhaps without thoroughly understanding – certainly without thoroughly feeling their full force & meaning,”

jane austen mansfield parkWhat is so neat about this, is the insight it could possibly give to how the thoughts and development behind now-classic book Mansfield Park came about.

Jane Austen experts say:

  • the scrap was written in 1814, which is the same time Mansfield Park was released
  • the words seem to be from a sermon Jane Austen’s brother was preparing.

So they are not her words, but they certainly echo much of her thinking put forth in her book. So did the whole Austen family feel this way too? How heavily was Jane Austen’s book influenced by her brother? Or (was it the other way around) how heavily did Jane Austen influence her brother’s sermons? Or was Jane writing a note in church and got caught? (Just kidding… I’m no Austen scholar.)

ereader apps

Two eReader Apps You Should Check Out

Here are two iOS ereader apps that I think you should try. Both Readmill and Marvin read ePub files and offer features that iBooks is nowhere close to rolling out.


This app has quickly become my favorite app to read in. The design of Readmill is fantastic and they have pioneered many of the highlighting-type features that kindle and iBooks have adopted.

readmill ereader appsWhat really makes Readmill great is the community and sharing aspects. Basically, (if you turn on the features) it turns any book you’re reading into a book club. You don’t necessarily “follow people” (though you can), but while in a book other people’s highlights and comments pop up, just as if they were scribbled in the margins of a paper book. In Readmill you can reply to their marginalia or highlights and then others can respond to you, etc. You’ll have a full blown discussion before you know it… all centered on this shared experience of that very book you are reading. Of course, you can also ‘@’ people not reading the book to help promote the book or spur interest/discussions among your friends, but the idea of a group of people gathering around the shared reading of a book is fantastic. I really like the notion of discovering people to follow based on their ideas and observations alone.

readmill ereader appsI have always read business books in paper. I need to scribble and make notes in non-fiction books. But I recently gave Readmill a go for a business book and can honestly say I was better for it. I stumbled on a few people, in the Readmill community, who had read it before me and made some fantastic connections inside that book. These were ideas that  I may never have come up with on my own. It was a cool experience.



Marvin is a fun app to read in as well, but for totally different reasons. You do have amazing controls over the color, brightness, etc. and the design is solid. Plus, they have some nifty features to help folks with dyslexia or near-blindness. Marvin also allows one-click downloads from free eBook sites, Dropbox, Readmill, ODPS, and Calibre integration.

marvin ereaderBut my favorite feature of Marvin is the Deep View. Once you click ‘OK’ the Marvin app will quickly read your whole book in about a minute. It will then offer you a list of every name in the book with external links and how the names appear to be related in the book. It will also offer you a summary of the book (free Cliffs Notes!) if you’d like one. It will also compile a list of articles about that book, article about the author, and other internet content related to the book. It’s like setting your own private wiki-pedia for the book you happen to be reading.

marvin appOnce you integrate that with IMDB, etc. it gets to be very very fun. I’ve found I enjoy reading older books in this app as I’m always amazed at how many author “from the days of yore” knew each other, hung out together, berated each other, or mentioned each other in their books and reviews.

For every Brat Pack in Hollywood, there were at least 10 groups of authors paying attention to each other.


While neither Readmill or Marvin have direct access to a robust bookstore like iBooks or kindle, these two ereader apps are worth the extra two clicks to getting an ePub side loaded to read. Check them out. I’d love to know what you think.


Romance Readers & Writers Event

Tickets for the 2014 Romance Readers Luncheon, Birmingham, AL, are on sale now. The Romance Readers Luncheon isn’t until November 1st, 2014, but with the line-up the SouthernMagic crew have put together you’ll want to mark your calendar.

Romance Readers Silvia DayAuthor Sylvia Day is the 2014 Keynote Speaker. Day is a #1 New York Times bestselling author. She also has written more than 20 novels which have been translated into many languages.

Day is best known for her Crossfire series of romance books.

Romance Readers Naima SimoneSouthern Magic‘s own President  and author Naima Simone has
already been slated to deliver the open remarks. Simone writes erotic romance and romantic suspense.

It sounds like there is limited seating, so click through the links to see about getting tickets at the Early Bird rates, if you’d like to go. And romance writers take note – they also have opportunities for published authors to get their books seen at the event.

You can follow Southern Magic on Twitter as well.

Books, Publishing and Birmingham