Twin Cities Book Festival

This past weekend was the super fantastic Twin Cities Book Festival. Don’t know what that is? Here, go learn! It’s a great event full of interesting books, awesome speakers and panels, and tons of book people. I was trying to remember why we missed last year, but it was because I was speaking at NerdCon. We had a great time this year wandering around, picking up books and literature about organizations of interest. The whole event is also a total exercise in avoiding eye contact, as many of the vendors are very eager to talk to people, which is FINE, but is not my thing unless I’m interested. I was, however, very glad to bump into all kinds of area writers and to meet cool new people, too.


Here are some pictures of the day.



I took this picture to make sure to remember to order this book.

We bought one of these tiny accordion-fold zines for my artist brother.


An important debate Matthew instigated.


We were Carrie-less for this event, but Sajidah and Peter did great!

I was so glad to get to meet S.K. Ali in real life after lots of Twitter interaction. She was lovely. Her book is wonderful, too.

This was another good panel.  Make sure you read Malinda Lo’s recent blog post about LGBTQ YA by the Numbers: 2015-16. Also, her new book is FANTASTIC. I took a picture of this book cover because I feel like that’s the face I’m always making. Also, so is Sam Weir.

I also finally get to meet Rachel Gold IRL. She approached me and said she was pretty sure I was who she thought, but she’d peeked at my socks during the panel and that solidified her hunch. My brand on Twitter is fun socks, books, mental health, and donuts. Truth in advertising.

I can’t wait to read both of these.

Of course we bought this. OF COURSE WE DID.

Looking forward to our next Rain Taxi-sponsored event in a few weeks!

Super gigantic book sale

I dug deep into what tiny bit of energy I’ve been able to hang onto and made it to the Half Price Books giant clearance sale at the state fairgrounds on Friday and Saturday this past week. Callum and I were off work/school on Friday and Matthew took the morning off. Nerds like to be first at book clearance sales. We weren’t first. Not even close (though in the first 200, as we got free tote bags!). Friday was more chill there—busy, but not jammed. We were there for two hours. I was hunting down specific books for work and also just content to rifle through tons and tons of books rather aimlessly. When we went back Saturday, it was MUCH busier. People were taking it upon themselves to pull unopened boxes down from the stacks along the walls and start sifting through them. I used Saturday’s return visit to get some childhood favorites for some flashback reviews. Though I paid for it by being desperately exhausted after we left, we had a blast. Here are some pics from our visits!

Tell me your favorite words

I’m writing this on Saturday, day 9 of enjoying this horrible virus that has made my body its captive. No, I’m not dramatic about it at all. Though I dragged myself to work every day (sorry, coworkers!), I came home and went directly to bed, sometimes sleeping for 14 hours at a shot, sometimes reading and feeling sorry for myself, sometimes just being in bed, waiting for this to magically go away. I am a terrible patient, usually. Usually, I am desperately ill and still like, But my to-do list! I should clean. And run errands. And be productive. But this round of illness, I said hell no to all that business and went to bed.


After reading three books yesterday, my eyes started to give out, so I decided to instead make a list of some of my favorite words. Sometimes my brain completely spins out thinking about how there are only 26 letters in the alphabet and they make up alllllll these words (and putting the words in certain orders creates books and conversations and ideas and discoveries and and and!). My whole life I’ve had favorite words—and words I absolutely hate (don’t even get me started on pamphlet).

Here’s the list I made of some of my favorites:


If you’re reading this, chances are we know each other in some capacity. And if that’s true, chances are our interests overlap in some very important ways (I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess books/libraries). So I assume you’re a word person, right? So, tell me your favorite words! Tell me on Facebook or Twitter. Send me running to the dictionary. Give me something new to try to casually work into conversation. Maybe later we can talk about words we hate (I mean, seriously, look at that lump of consonants in the middle of pamphlet. mphl. So gross).

Recent reads

Still sneaking in some reading beyond what YA I review for TLT or need for research. I’m also reading chapter books like a mofo, now that I work at an elementary library. I tweet about them and did quick Post-it Note reviews of them on TLT, but didn’t include them here, since I’ve read SO MANY lately. I’ve also read a giant pile of picture books in the past few weeks.

What adult books have you read and liked lately?


The Windfall by Diksha Basu

Probably circa 15 years ago (dear lord), my pal Leo Landry said to me something along the lines of, “Your ideal book is about a gay Indian girl and there’s glitter on the cover.” My reading tastes do not change much, so that statement still holds true. I love fiction set in India, so when this colorful cover caught my eye, I snapped it up. Anil and Bindu Jha come in to a LOT of cash when Anil sells this website. They move across Delhi to a fancier neighborhood, which brings new pressures and drama with it. Their son Rupak is having his own issues in America, where he’s supposedly working on his MBA but really is struggling (and secretly seeing a white girl). A fun if sometimes really slow comedy of manners.


Class Mom by Laurie Gelman

I read almost this whole thing on a plane ride to San Francisco. It was a totally fun, quick read. Jen is in her late 40s and has two college-age daughters and a kindergartner. She gets roped into being the class mom and, unsurprisingly, finds herself embroiled in lots of classroom/parental drama. She’s exchanging (possibly?) flirtatious texts with an old high school crush, training for a mud run, and trying to solve the mystery of a perpetually absent mom. This was funny and really easy to get completely roped into.


I Know What I’m Doing — and Other Lies I Tell Myself: Dispatches from a Life Under Construction by Jen Kirkman

In the early summer, I read Kirkman’s other book, I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids. This second memoir picks up a few years after the previous one, looking at Kirkman’s life post-divorce and exploring how, even in her 30s and 40s, life is still very much a work in progress. She’s hilarious, even when tackling serious subjects.


No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America by Ron Powers

Pretty self-explanatory title, right? Powers writes about the history of mental health care (or “care,” as all too often is the case), detailing the horrific past treatments (or failures to treat), the current debates, and how far we still have to go in getting accessible, compassionate, adequate treatment for all. He pairs this historical and research-based narrative with a personal one—his two sons have/had schizophrenia, with one son eventually dying by suicide. Though often dense and occasionally meandering, this extensive look at the disastrous history of mental health care is fascinating and enraging.


The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn

YOU GUYS. Holy crap. For about 10 days, this book was my life. Every night while Matthew made dinner, I would recap the day’s reading for him. I read the last 40 pages out loud to Matthew and Callum. This book was RIVETING. It’s a super detailed and dense look at life inside the Jonestown cult. I really had no idea at all about the group’s deeply socialist perspective and works. Guinn goes all the way back to Jones’s parents, telling readers about them and their marriage, then takes us through Jim Jones’s entire life, from being an odd but charismatic child to his strong dedication to racial and economic equality to the eventual drug-addled, paranoid, power-hungry demagogue that I thought I knew all about. I knew nothing. I seriously want to read this book a second time already. If you’re into cults (as I am), or just like a really great but really slow-going nonfiction read, check this out. Guinn’s Manson book is now in my library queue. GAH.


God is Disappointed in You by Mark Russell, Shannon Wheeler (Illustrator)

For an atheist, I sure read a lot about religion. Or maybe it’s because I’m an atheist that I read a lot about religion. Matthew was listening to this book on audio and dying of laughter, playing me his favorite parts. While I’m a huge fan of podcasts, I have never been able to listen to books on audio. My brain wanders and I don’t absorb the words the same way. Maybe it’s because I know there’s a book out there and I’d rather just read it. Who knows. Anyway. This hilarious cut-to-the-chase version of the bible will leave you howling… unless you have no sense of humor about religion. Then this book is probably not for you. Bonus: the audio is read by the fab James Urbaniak (Arthur from Difficult People, the best show ever to exist ever EVER).


Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Lois’s life as a software engineer in San Francisco changes when she orders some soup and sourdough bread from a new restaurant. Not long after her addiction to this delicious food starts (and she stops living off of Slurry, a gross nutritional gel), she begins baking bread, too, using the starter the restaurant’s owners give her. It opens doors for her she never knew she needed, giving her a hobby, connecting her with people, and eventually pushing her toward new ideas at work and a new lease on life. Weird, funny, and completely engrossing.

Dachshund pictures galore

I have often said that probably the only reason I have so many followers on Twitter is because of Edward and Billy. Come for the books, stay for the dachshunds. It was kind of Billy to recently entertain everyone by getting stuck inside of a sweatshirt sleeve. He provides quality content to my Twitter stream.

Please enjoy these pictures of my dogs–because we can only spend so many hours a day looking at things online that enrage us.


Their best recent picture is clearly this one:

Edward: Brother, let us arrange ourselves in visually pleasing classic dog positions so when our mother appears she will find us very refined and charming.

Billy: Nailed it.

I put this dog bed here because sick little Billy often sits in the middle of the stairs, not sure where he wants to be. I moved it from a spot where usually only Edward uses the dog bed. Clearly he was a bit irritated that I moved HIS bed. No sharing.

Sometimes my dogs have to FaceTime my mom’s dogs. Chester was too busy to come to the phone (he was sleeping). Henry always tilts his cute little head when he hears us. And see my dogs up in the corner? Raising a ruckus. They had a lot to tell him.

Okay. Less writing, more doggy pictures, right? Here you go. 


I am not too old for a blanky

On Live from the Poundstone Institute a few weeks ago, they talked about a 2010 survey that said 35% of adults in Britain sleep with a teddy bear or other comfort object. There was some giggling. All I thought was, only 35%? What’s wrong with people? 

The second-longest relationship in my nearly 40 years of life is with my baby blanky (the longest being with, of course, my mother). My Oma (grandma, my dad’s mom) made it for me before I was born. Here she is finishing it (she’s on the right):


I have slept with my blanky nearly every night of my life. The only nights I did not were when I was a child and my parents would pack it for me so I could go to my grandparents’ houses, and I’d pull it out of my packed bag to drag it around the house and then forget to grab it again. I still remember just sobbing when my grandma suggested I sleep with a towel in place of my absent blanky. Unacceptable.

My blanky went with me to college. My blanky traveled around England and Sweden with me. It was at the hospital with me when Callum was born. Every night, I sleep with it tucked under my head. When I’m sick, I still drag it around the house with me. I like to put it in the freezer and then hold it to my head when I have migraines. The ultimate show of my love for Callum is that I have allowed him to snuggle with it in bed at various points (though I always go back in and snag it once he’s sleeping). The dogs pretty much do whatever they want in this house, but I absolutely draw the line at Billy trying to nest in my blanky, which he will try to do the second he spies it.

In my teen years, Oma would say she fully expected me to drag that thing down the aisle if I got married. She passed away about a year ago, but right up until the end she noted, nearly every time I talked to her or saw her, that she would’ve made that blanket out of something stronger if she knew I’d still be sleeping with it as a grown adult.


My blanky is still in one piece. Matthew’s mom added  ribbon around the edges probably 15 years ago or more to help preserve it. Most of the little animal appliques have come off. I have them in a box. I am not a particularly sentimental person. I don’t put much emotional value on things. After my dad died, I only took one thing to remember him—a tiny metal figure of someone playing the trombone. But my blanky… my blanky is different. It kind of feels like that tissue paper-thin thing is the repository of my childhood, my family, my emotions, my everything. Whenever I hear stories of some parents taking away their kid’s blanky (or whatever other lovely they have), I think, YOU MONSTERS. Also, wtf? Who cares if your kid likes to sleep with a blanket?

This is what my beloved blanket looks like these days. I’d say it’s pretty well preserved for being almost 40.

Do you sleep with a blanket or special stuffy? I want to know. I need to know who the cool kids are. Tell me on Facebook or on Twitter

A deep dive into nonfiction books on addiction

A few weeks ago I hit a wall in the novel I’m writing. I needed a little distance. I like to think of that time as me sending it to camp—look, I love you, but you need to go away from me for me to like you again. Or maybe to some intensive therapy, where someone else could say, mm-hmm, things here are looking maybe promising, but have you considered trying this? In other words, I sent it to my agent. But I couldn’t just sit around not writing something, so I started a new novel, which is the one I’m currently giving my attention to. I know. That other novel came back from camp and I was like, oh, hey, I guess I’m glad to see you, but I’m kind of giving all of my attention to this novel now. Catch you in a few months! (It’s probably a good thing I only have one child, huh?)


This new thing has no real title, but I’m calling it Teenage Mutant Nightmare Friendships. It’s about disintegrating friendships, porcupines, meth, and a water park.


While I’ve been writing this, I’ve been thinking a lot about these quotes/lyrics:

Just the old blood
Rising up through the wooden floor again
Just the old love
Asking for more again.
Minnesota, The Mountain Goats


“The past is never where you think you left it.”—Katherine Anne Porter


And I’ve been listening to this song a ton:


Anyway, here are some of the books I’ve been reading as research. I know a lot now about dopamine and addiction. I also desperately, desperately wish more people understood that addiction is a chronic disease and not a choice/behavior/moral failing. What a different world we would live in if people could understand that and if more people could get effective medical treatment for intervention and recovery. 

Actually, first, before I show you the books, please observe how useful dachshunds can be. Look at them research for me!

Scenes from a California Vacation

We just returned from our vacation to California. We stayed in Windsor, with my cousin. Windsor is just outside of Santa Rosa and looks like a California version of Stars Hollow, the town in Gilmore Girls. We also ventured to Northern California for a weekend stay at a refurbished logger’s cabin in Elk Meadow. It was a fantastic time. Here are some pictures from our trip.


While we were in CA, the dogs were on vacation in lovely St. Peter, Minnesota. We’ll check in with them later.
Me packing: Hmm, what black t-shirts should I bring?
No MacGregor vacation is complete without stopping at a bookstore or two.
MacGregors also need candy stores.
Callum and I could live here. SO. MUCH. CANDY.
Honestly, same.
This basketball game is getting out of control.
I opened our bedroom window to see this dude just feet away.
Pretty okay view with my morning coffee.
Solitary elk.
55 elk enjoying their breakfast.
Guess what? More elk.
Callum contemplates the ocean.
The ocean. Good thing I captioned this one so you’d know.
Down at the beach in Trinidad.
I am solidly an indoor person, but there just might be something to this whole outdoors business. Kind of pretty.
I resisted my juvenile urge to kick this over.
Fern Canyon. Cool to walk through, terrifying to drive to.
Apparently there is a Big Tree here in this forest of Redwoods. Go fig.
Some big trees, but not THE Big Tree.
Callum contemplates the trees.
Nice face, guy.
Oh, nature.
Let’s check in on the dogs. Here is Billy, looking quite refined.
Edward enjoys the sun.
These flowers are called Naked Ladies. We never got tired of saying, “See the Naked Ladies?”
Librarians on vacation visit libraries. Of course we do.
Librarians around the country are glad that dang eclipse is over with.
Children’s room at the library.
We hit up the Friends of the Library sale.
I laughed at this sign every time we passed it.
Such a specific house rule.
Again, a rather specific sign. Year of the Woman Accordion Festival.
Dachshund check: All is well.
Feels like home.
We never stopped marveling at how different CA looks from MN.
So cool.
Another bookstore, this one in Santa Rosa.


Okay, but can this animal relief area be for humans who desperately need some relief via doggy snuggles?

Recent reads

Summer’s waning, which means my time to power through as many books as humanly possible is waning, too. Soon school will start up for Callum and work will start up for me and I’ll be juggling those things with writing my novels and blogging and reviewing and and and. My consumption of books written for adults will taper off, which is fine, because YA holds way more appeal to me anyway (duh). So I’ll still be reading a ton and writing about those books at Teen Librarian Toolbox, but probably will have to give up my “fun” reading time. To see what else I read this summer, you can look here and here for recaps of 20 books.

I want to know what you’ve been reading, too. Tell me on Facebook or Twitter.


We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

This collection of essays was FANTASTIC. I’m an easy cry when reading, but it’s much harder to make me laugh. I laughed and laughed while reading this book. Irby, who describes herself as “an old garbage bag full of blood, patiently waiting for death to rescue me,” finds existence and humanity exasperating, so you know I’m automatically like, tell me more! A sample of her hilarious writing, regarding her cat, whom she lovehates: “Free to an even marginally good home, but a terrible one is preferred. Black-and-white domestic shorthair, definitely part goblin, spayed (for the good of the species), fully vaccinated. Bites, hisses, growls when provoked, pretty malignant overall; won’t destroy your furniture or living space, but definitely is in regular communication with dark spirits.” God, I just did not want this book to end. Also, instead of dedicating her book to some important person in her life, she dedicated it to Klonopin. That page alone assured me that Irby is my kind of people. SO DAMN GOOD.


The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

Why do grown-up books have to be so long? After nearly twenty years of almost exclusively reading YA, I find myself irritated if it takes me more than two days to read something. Doesn’t this book know I have a TBR list that demands attention? That said, though very long, I’m glad I picked this book up. It’s rare to find anything that feels truly fresh and unique and this look at two women who work in animation and together strive for success, search for identity, and work through their pasts really felt like a new story. It spans their time together at college through the professional success they eventually achieve, sending them to New York and also back to their hometowns, where they mine the past for their current projects. A smart look at friendship and art.


Sex Object by Jessica Valenti

Valenti asks, “Who would I be if I lived in a world that didn’t hate women?” Good question. Valenti’s memoir is built around the unifying theme of sexism and being objectified. She doesn’t just look at specific incidents or examples but looks at how, systemically, sexism has affected her entire life, how it has shaped her, and how she has learned to stand up against it. She documents her experiences and uses feminism to critique those experiences, her reactions, and her choices. Though less interesting to me than her other books have been, this quick and at times infuriating read held my attention but didn’t feel particularly illuminating or thoughtful.


The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green

Pretty much every summer, I can count on getting to read a new book by Jane Green. If you’re not familiar with her, there’s a huge backlist to check out. This new one is about a dying mother and her hope to bring her mostly estranged girls back home together to get over their dysfunctional pasts and move forward together. It’s not as much of a bummer as that summary makes it seem. This one was slow to start—the first many chapters jump from year to year, giving us snapshots of the family, and that really didn’t work for me. It was too slow and I couldn’t really care. But about 1/3 of the way in, the story really takes off, with the last 1/3 or so finally totally capturing my attention. Not my favorite by her, but another solid summer read.


Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld and illustrated by Joe Sumner

This short and spare graphic memoir packs a punch. Dark—both metaphorically and quite literally, as many pages feature large swathes of black—and poetic, the story follows young Evie from her family’s summer home in Australia to their usual home in England. Through it all, Evie is consumed with thoughts of sharks, assuming they are always lurking around (not just in the water) and waiting for her. Her anxiety is endless, causing her to envision the worst-case scenarios of the harm sharks can cause. She grows obsessed with the story of a shark attack survivor and continues her interest in sharks even when they disturb her, eventually using stories about them to help distract her bullied and beaten brother. The story jumps ahead to her adulthood and takes a more obvious look at the “ebb and flow of life… and death.” Haunting and weird—two of my favorite things.


Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke

This graphic memoir was PHENOMENAL. Truly. It’s a stunningly profound look at grief, ruins, impermanence, loss, and meaning. It jumps around from Radtke’s childhood to her college and grad school years to later parts of her adulthood. During college, she begins to grow fascinated with abandoned towns and the ruins of civilizations. She begins traveling the world looking at these sites, searching for some kind of meaning or solace as she mediates on how easily things are lost or left behind. The art is amazing and the writing is equally masterful. The story goes to many unexpected places and Radtke manages to weave all of the pieces together into a powerful and breathtaking examination of loss. Just beautiful.


The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

Yes, I’m on an illustrated memoir kick. And they’ve all be so good. At 329 pages, I kept thinking about how long it must’ve taken to write and illustrate this book. Thi Bui tells the story of her mother and father’s young lives, the events that shaped (and haunt) them, and her family’s eventual escape from Vietnam in the 1970s to the United States. She bookends her story with moments from her own son’s birth, reflecting on what it means to be a parent and a child, the damage we do to each other (and have done to us), and the power of family. This incredibly detailed story about identity and home was riveting and emotional.


Meaty by Samantha Irby

This is Irby’s first book of essays, though I tracked it down after reading We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, her second book. She is now one of my new favorite essayists. I laughed and laughed at Meaty (and the fact that she generally refers to her body as her “meaty pre-corpse”) and then also cried my eyes out while reading her essay on what it was like caring for her mother, who had MS and other health issues, while Irby was just a child. If you like swearing, hilarity, and virtuosic levels of snark, these books are for you.


A Different Pond by Bao Phi, Thi Bui (Illustrator)

This picture book, good for ages 5-9 (and, of course, beyond 9), is lovely. Thi Bui wrote that graphic memoir I wrote about just up above here, and it was a real joy to see her art in a larger and more colorful format. The story, about a young Vietnamese boy and his father’s pre-dawn fishing expedition in Minneapolis, is about so much more than just fishing. His father takes him fishing for food, not sport, before going to work his second job. There are references to his parents’ homeland, the war, and family, as well as scenes of the young boy’s life at home—helping his mother, watching both parents leave for work, sharing a meal together once they are home. There is so much love and warmth and beauty in this quiet and important picture book.


According to a Source: A Novel by Abby Stern

This may be the fastest I have ever decided to bail on a book. I stopped reading on page three. I know. Usually I can give something more of a chance before deciding to nope on out. Or I can overlook things that seem irritating/unbelievable and keep going. Here is why I quit: on page 2, the main character explains that her full name is Isabella Warren, which is on her credit card. She has a regular table at the Chateau Marmont, where she hands this card over all the time. She goes by Bella Warren publicly, so this is the name she uses to reserve her table there (etc). Stick with me. She works for a gossip magazine, working “undercover” so she can get all the dirt, and the name she goes by for this job, and the name that appears as her byline, is Ella Warren. She lives in fear of someone figuring this out. This. Her super-awesome undercover name. That is one letter off from her real name. This name that is not exactly a leap from her full name of Isabella. I’m Bella Warren! I’ll go by Ella Warren! No one will ever guess!  Yeah. I got so hung up on how incredibly stupid that was, I just rage quit.

Dachshunds being cute

It’s about time to just look at a whole bunch of pictures of my dachshunds again, isn’t it? Billy has been desperately sick for nearly two months, but he remains desperately cute. Edward is jealous of the attention I’ve been heaping on Billy and, for the first time in his 13.5 years, spent two days completely ignoring me—like, sitting under the bed and staring at the wall. These doxies.