This one time, I read Jane Austen's disputed first work in print

Aug 27, 2010

Another one of my cool book-related jobs was when I worked in a used bookstore. I loved it. I was surrounded by books crammed into random heaps with no rhyme or reason. I got to help people hunt down that perfect book they were looking for. I got to lovingly organize, pack and ship wonderful books to people around the country.

And once, I got to touch a book from 1792 that is (disputably) Jane Austen's first work in print.

We took in a lot of books from people. "Here," they'd say, plopping down a box full of mildew-y books. "I found this in my garage. You guys can just take it."

We'd take it, and at first, I was fascinated by the really old, leather-bound books. They must be worth so much! I would think, excitedly looking them up to price them. It didn't take long to learn that most nineteenth-century books were worth peanuts.

So the day I found the magical book, I almost threw it away. The front leather cover had come completely off, and it was old-- 1792, it said. I reached toward the garbage box, but then sighed. My boss wouldn't be happy if I didn't at least check. I entered the title: The Loiterer, a Periodical Work in Two Volumes. 1792.

And the price that came up shocked me. It was worth over $3,000.

After I gathered my jaw off the floor, I eagerly read past the price tag. What was it about this old book that made it worth so much? The description read:

"Jane Austen's two older brothers, James and Henry, published a periodical during their time at Oxford with 60 issues published in 1789- 90. After the final issue, James had the 60 issues bound into two volumes and published a limited number of copies. Their younger sister Jane was thirteen years old when the periodical was published. Although it has not been substantiated, many believe that she wrote a letter in the 9th issue under the name Sophia Sentiment."

Practically giddy, I called my boss. He about fainted when I told him how much it was worth.

As for me, I felt like I was clutching an object of holy writ. Jane Austen had (possibly) written a letter in this book. She might have even touched this very copy I was holding. I practically hyperventilated. Then, I opened to letter number 9 and read it. Twice. And almost regretted telling my boss about it and not just sneaking it home for my private collection.

So, folks, time to share. What's one of your most memorable experiences with a book?

Book Review: The Maze Runner

Aug 24, 2010

Alright, folks! Everyone know what today is, right? Mockingjay release! And I'm as excited as anybody.

It is also the release of the paperback version of The Maze Runner by James Dashner. In honor of this, and in preparation for the review I'll be doing of the sequel, I'm doing my first book review today.

I've got to admit, I've shied away from book reviews simply because I don't know if anyone really cares what my opinion is on a book. But let's assume you do!

Here's the book jacket description:

"When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind."

The book starts out strong, with an enticing hook-- Thomas in a box, not remembering who he is. The introduction to the Maze is also intriguing. Things slow down a bit for a while as Thomas presses his new companions for information about the Maze. They pick right back up, though, and the precarious situation in the Maze grows more dangerous by the day. The middle to the end is particularly driving, and the end itself was satisfying-- and creepy.

The characters were interesting, and I found myself both liking Thomas and finding him annoying at points (much like some of his new friends). It wasn't annoying like, "ugh, I'm annoyed with the way this character is written," it was annoying like, "this kid just needs to shut up a minute." In other words, he was characterized well, with realistic flaws that could also double as strengths.

Overall, I enjoyed The Maze Runner as an interesting and driving post-apocalyptic novel with a unique setting. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the genre.

And, just so you know, The Scorch Trials is (in my humble opinion) SO MUCH BETTER. It's being released October 12, so look out for my review coming soon!

Another Contest of Epic Proportions

Aug 18, 2010

In case you haven't heard, Shannon Whitney Messenger is holding an awesome ARC contest right now! If you enjoy YA and middlegrade, you should not only check out the contest, but check out her blog!

How Books are Made: From Print to Ship

Aug 16, 2010

I've had a lot of experience working in the "book" industry, for which I'm grateful. In college, I worked for a used bookstore for a year, and at the campus library for two years. But probably the most interesting book-job I've ever had was the two years I worked at a book bindery. I gained a lot of knowledge about how books are made.

If you've ever been curious about how your book goes from computer to book-on-a-shelf, read on! (Note that this is for paperback books-- I've never seen how they make hardbacks, and don't know how different it is.)

The first step is, of course, the printing. Books aren't printed on the little pages you'll read them from-- they're printed by gigantic presses on gigantic paper. I'm talking 2-3 feet square kind of paper, with 10 pages or more of the book on a single sheet. I never got a chance to work on the actual presses, but I did get to watch the workers-- and hear the noise. This is a typical press:
Speaking of noise, the next step is for the gigantic sheets to go to the folding machines. These things are so loud you have to wear earplugs to work on them.They fold the pages down to actual book size. Because each printed sheet contains many pages of the book, the folder spits out small sections of the whole book as a "signature." The signatures, or sigs, are then bundled into large stacks, loaded onto wooden pallets, and moved to the next machine. Here's an example of a folding machine:
The next step is sort of a combination on one big binding machine that does several things. First, each sig is placed in "pockets" that feed down to a conveyor belt. The machine pulls one sig from each pocket and gathers them into the right order so they're ready to be bound.

This is called the gathering unit, and it's something I worked on a lot. Workers are responsible for keeping the pockets filled with the proper sigs-- usually one worker to two or three pockets, depending on how fast they're running the machine. If it's running fast, so are you! It's not uncommon for a sig to stick and stop the machine, so you're also in charge of fixing it and getting the machine going again. Just picture yours truly as one of those people filling the pockets:

The books run from there into the binder. Glue is placed along the spine, and the book comes out the other end to have a cover put on the still-hot glue. Here's a look at the covered binding area:
From there, the book runs down the final conveyor and, at least at my bindery, onto a table. Employees are waiting to "catch" them and stack them onto a pallet. Catching involves a lot of paper cuts from the rough edges of the untrimmed pages and covers. A lot of times, you'll also do spot-checks at this point, to make sure the books aren't missing sigs or doubling them.

From there, the books go from there to the trimmer. An enormous blade slices the edges from three sides of the book, trimming the rough edges and getting the book down to size. These things are huge.
Interestingly, on the trimmer we used, there was a protection device to keep your hands from being sliced off. There are two buttons on either side of the machine, and both must be pushed, completing a circuit, for the blade to come down. A friend and I experimented and found that if she pushed one button and I the other, and then we linked hands in the middle, the blade would come slicing down.

Finally, the book is boxed and shipped.

So there you go. Now you're an expert on how books are made!

P.S. If you're interested, I just found this video on how hardbound books are made. It's actually pretty similar to the process described above-- although the machine they're working on is a lot more streamlined.

The Awesomeness of Mail

Aug 14, 2010

I love the mail. Every day when I get home from work, I immediately go to the mailbox, anticipating treasures. Most of the time, of course, there is only junk. But sometimes, something awesome comes, and it makes the mail anticipation totally worth all those days of disappointment.

Today, for example, I opened the mailbox to find this awesomeness:
Oh yes, my friends. That would be an ARC of the fabulous James Dashner's The Scorch Trials. And...
Oh yes, my friends. It is signed. Woot! Thanks, Mr. Dashner. :)

I literally whooped when I pulled it out of the envelope. Check back in a week or two, when I'll be doing a review! And in the meantime, go check out the first book, The Maze Runner. It even comes out in paperback on August 24th. Go forth and read!

Vacationing from Writing

Aug 10, 2010

I'm back from the fabulousness of Disneyland! Not only did I have a blast with my family and get to enjoy my son's constant excitement, I learned something interesting about writing.

It's good to take a vacation from it.

I got virtually no writing done on the vacation. (Duh, 'cause I was on VACATION!) I barely even thought about my wip. And then something amazing happened. When I started revving up my writing gears again, everything seemed so clear. I could see how my pacing was off. I realized where my character development was lacking. I knew which scenes I needed to tweak to bring in things that were missing.

In other words, I got perspective. After a week of zero writing-related thoughts, I came back to my story seeing it as a whole. Not only did that give me a better idea of what things to fix in a future rewrite, but it helped me better understand where to go next.

I always knew it was good to take a break from your work once you're done with it. Who knew a mid-wip break could be just as helpful?

I'm a Guest! On Setting, Part II

Aug 4, 2010

Part II of "Setting: The Forgotten Middle Child" is up over on Literary Life Notes! Once again, thanks for the opportunity to do a guest post, Chersti. Go check out the post, and Chersti's blog.

Here's a quick teaser!

"4. Plan your settings ahead of time.

We plot our stories, craft our characters, but what about our settings? Do you ever plan yours out? Some people map their worlds, but I also like to plan out my smaller scenes. This can help you identify themes and tones your setting can enhance. For example, in my current novel, I listed out some of my major settings. I realized that all of them were either in a state of (or representative of) death and decay. This is something I decided to emphasize, to bring a sense of cohesiveness to the tone and themes of my story. By knowing this ahead of time, it helped me pick those details I wanted to emphasize."

I'm a Guest! Setting: The Forgotten Middle Child, Part 1

Aug 2, 2010

So, today I'm guest blogging over at Literary Life Notes on Setting: The Forgotten Middle Child. Here's a teaser-- go check out the rest!

"Setting is much more than just what the physical surroundings of your story looks like. It’s the entire world, and how characters react to and interact with it. They affect it, it affects them, and that relationship affects the reader. Now, I’m not going to talk about macro setting here (your entire world, with all its societies and locations). We’re looking at micro setting—those smaller, immediate settings that really grab a reader. It can be as simple as a bedroom or as elaborate as a low-g bounce house on the moon..."

Raffle Winners and Disneyland

Aug 1, 2010

Okay folks, the winners of the raffle for the Reach for the Stars Ghana education project have been announced! Congrats to the winners. :) You can still donate at any time through the website and help the kids get their high school education.

In other news, I'll be out of town this next week. Disneyland, here I come! This will be the first real vacation with my little man, and the first trip in over a year with my hubs, so I'm extra excited. Needless to say, I won't be blogging much. However, I do have 2 guest blogs this week over at Literary Life Notes! So go visit my friend and writing group buddy Chersti to see what I have to say on the importance of setting. (I'll post links here on separate posts.) And check out some of Chersti's other posts, she's got some good ones.

Hope ya'll have a fabulous week!

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