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Words and phrases I would like to ban until further notice:

  • Unprecedented
  • These uncertain times
  • An (over)abundance of caution (not seeing this one as much lately since things that initially were cancelled out of “an abundance of caution” are now cancelled as part of “the bare minimum of things we should be doing these days.”
  • When this is all over (caught myself saying this way too much).

Okay, now that I have that off my chest, how are you? Life is weird for pretty much everyone now, but I know it’s been a heck of a lot harder for some folks. We’ve been very blessed in that our income hasn’t changed, unlike so many people we know who have been laid off work. Ross is teaching from home, which is fascinating to me. All over the country, spouses are realizing, “Wait, THAT’S how you sound when you’re at work?” Since I worked from home anyway for my day job as an executive assistant, not much has changed for me, other than being busier. I work for a nonprofit that provides healthcare in West Africa, so it feels like we’ve been sprinting since late February.

Life during the pandemic has been a strange ping-pong of anxiety over current conditions and enjoyment of the slower pace of life overall (work busyness notwithstanding). I have friends and coworkers seriously affected by the virus and it’s impossible to read the news and not be (rightly) concerned; the world is mourning and will be for some time. But I do think finding the bright side to all this is healthy on a personal level.

Here are my favorite things to do during these unprecedented, uncertain times until this is all over and we can go back to an underabundance of caution:

  • Get outside. I know not everyone can do this right now so I don’t take it for granted, but it’s the number one thing improving my mood these days. We go on long walks and runs with Calvin all the time, and he loves it but is baffled by current circumstances, not to mention exhausted by them. He’s currently slumped at my feet after an hour+ run during which he finally just planted his feet and refused to go farther.

That's the 7th walk today. What the heck is a coronavirus?

  • Looseleaf tea. One of my coronavirus splurges has been ordering tea online from Chad’s Chai and Tin Roof Teas, and it’s my best pandemic decision to date. Both shops are running coronavirus sales. Bonus: you get to support local business.

Chad's Chai tea and mug

  • Get takeout. Speaking of supporting local business, we’ve been trying to keep some of our favorite restaurants afloat by ordering curbside pickup. Neomonde, Sitti, Tangerine Cafe, El Rodeo are some we’ve tried. We even dressed up for date night at home one night.

Date night at the kitchen table

  • Read. My concentration is shot these days, and I’ll bet a lot of you are in the same boat. Light and funny books are the name of the game for me. I recommend Terry Pratchett and James Herriott, for starters. I listened to It Can’t Happen Here on audiobook, and that was a terrible mistake. I’ll save the fascist dystopias for happier times, thank you. Another coronavirus splurge of mine was buying a few new books. Do I have a zillion books to read already? Oh yes. Was I thrilled to get new books anyway? Oh yes.
  • Immerse myself in Icelandic culture. Since our trip to Iceland has been postponed indefinitely (I’m still hoping we can make it in late June, but I’ve reluctantly come to the realization that we may not be able to go until summer of 2021), I’m taking this opportunity to improve my Icelandic, take an online course on Medieval Icelandic Sagas, and read more Icelandic books (see above note about new books I didn’t need).

Sagas of the Icelanders book

  • Video chat with friends and family. This is becoming a double-edged sword because now we chat with folks every night, and it almost feels like we’re too busy again, but it’s still so lovely to see friends’ faces. We’ve caught up with folks we haven’t talked to in years, and I hope this tradition continues long after the pandemic is a thing of the past. We’ve even been playing board games like Settlers of Catan over Skype.

Playing boardgames over Skype

  • Watch TV. Pre-pandemic, I was so busy that I was hard-pressed to squeeze in one hour of TV per week, which made keeping up with shows almost impossible. Now, especially with so many sites offering free month-long trials, I’ve been able to see most of Picard and a few other Trek episodes on CBS All Access, finally finished Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Acorn TV, and have watched the occasional movie. Shocking!

What are some of your favorite coping mechanisms during all this insanity? Are you doing okay? Let me know!

I love lists. I love lists of lists. I would probably love lists of lists of lists, but I cut myself off there because it seems like straying into the territory of dangerous obsession. Since books are one of the few things I love more than lists, I of course have endless lists of books. To read, have read, loaned out, borrowed, you name it.

So obviously creating an online catalog of all of the books I own is something I did a loooong time ago, with great delight. To some, this in itself probably already seems obsessive, but there are some practical reasons for cataloging your personal library:

  1. Makes book shopping easier. Was it book 3 or book 4 I was missing from that series? Do I already own this particular Agatha Christie novel? Is this author I ran across at the shop the same one who wrote that one book I liked so much? Do I already own too many Louis L’Amour novels? (Of course not.) Bring up my library on my phone, and I have my answers.
  2. Makes it easier for family to buy books for each other. My husband has access to and updates our online library as well, which makes buying books for each other MUCH simpler.
  3. Helps rein in your book-buying. We can comfortable fit around 1500 books in our house, and having an online library keeps us accountable, both financially and in terms of space. We have a rule (at least for now) that for every book we buy, we have to give away or sell one, and we can track how often we buy books, and how many.
  4. Keeps your books organized. On the shelves, our books are organized by genre, then alphabetically by author’s surname (with the exception of history books, which are organized chronologically by time period that they cover). Because my online catalog has columns for these genres and is sortable by author surname, I can look on the catalog and instantly know where any book is in the house.
  5. Helps to rebuild your collection. Heaven forbid, if I lost books due to fire or flood or some other disaster, I’d know which books to replace.

So how do you set up an online library catalog? There are a slew of options:

  • Goodreads. Goodreads already has an option to check the “owned” box for books, and I tried using this for a bit. I love using Goodreads for managing my read and to-read lists, but for me, it turned out to be impractical for a catalog. Searching for the particular edition I owned on Goodreads took too much time, and a lot of my very old books weren’t on Goodreads anyway.


Yeah, pretty much none of these bad boys showed up.

  • LibraryThing. This one was super tempting, and I almost went with it. At the time, though, my phone was sketchy and wasn’t reliably scanning barcodes on books. Entering them manually had the same issue as Goodreads; finding my specific edition could be tricky, and really old books weren’t always on the site.
  • Libib. Very similar to LibraryThing, but wasn’t around when I was building my library.
  • Shelves, Home Library, Delicious Library, and BookBuddy are similar apps, so if you don’t mind scanning books, one of these may be your ticket.

Ultimately, I went a pretty clunky and labor-intensive route, but I have to admit, it works flawlessly for me because it’s so customizable. My books were already organized on their shelves, which made things pretty easy. I created a Google Spreadsheet and manually typed in every single book I owned. Ha. Yes. That did take awhile, though not as long as you’d think. Here are the column headings I use most often (click here to see larger image):


This works best for me since I can sort by author, title, category, whether I’ve read it or not, etc., and if I want to add additional columns (whether I’ve loaned a book out, for example, or to track book-buying), it’s easy to do so and to remove them when I’m done. I can search for particular words, and I can make specific notes on editions when I care to do so. For example, I have two copies of Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine de Saint Exupery, and I have a note in the library that one specific copy includes hand-written notes in the margins from a particular philosophy discussion group. But if the particular edition doesn’t matter to me, I can just leave it blank instead of having to select an edition in an app. Also, when I’m out and about, I can browse this quickly on my phone without using a lot of data, and since this is a Google Sheet, I can share it with whomever I wish.

Before I got married, I had read all but 20 or so of the books I owned. Then Ross’s massive book collection got added to the mix, so there are a lot that we own now that I haven’t read (and to be honest, probably won’t read since he and I don’t have all interests in common). I did convert him to my library idea, though; he ended up cataloging all of his comic books in a similar way, and we created a tab for our movies as well.

Warms my organized little heart. 😉


I just finished How to Publish Your Book by Jane Friedman, part of The Great Courses, and I felt it deserved its own blog post.

It also deserves a spot on the must-read list for anyone who would like to get their writing published, even (perhaps especially) if they intend to self-publish. The course is written by Jane Friedman, possibly one of the most qualified people in the country to do such a thing, and it outlines in great detail how to find a literary agent, how to write a great query letter, and a lengthy list of what NOT to do at each step of the way towards, during, and beyond publication. Friedman is kind but doesn’t sugar-coat, and she doesn’t waste the reader’s time. Her realistic, professional approach to the market was refreshing, and I will be recommending this book to many of my editing clients.

While the book mainly focuses on the traditional publishing market, this is invaluable information for someone self-publishing too. To compete effectively, or at all, with traditional publishing, self-publishers need to understand the market–and it is a complex, rapidly changing one. The publishing landscape has changed so radically in the last twenty or even ten years that many of the strategies that worked before simply aren’t viable. Don’t expect to make it big doing what someone else did to make it big in 2009; times have changed, and writers have to change along with them.

You can get the book on The Great Courses website, naturally, but I was able to listen to the audiobook for free using the Overdrive library app, which I highly recommend. Don’t miss out on these insights!


I ordered the eighth House of Niccolo book, Gemini, by Dorothy Dunnett from BetterWorldBooks because I’m working on the seventh book currently, and I’m no idiot: one does not finish a Dunnett without having the next book in the series on hand. Those cliffhangers are murder.

This was the shipping notification I received:

Hello Stephanie,

(Your book(s) asked to write you a personal note – it seemed unusual, but who are we to say no?)

Holy canasta! It’s me… it’s me! I can’t believe it is actually me! You could have picked any of over 2 million books but you picked me! I’ve got to get packed! How is the weather where you live? Will I need a dust jacket? I can’t believe I’m leaving Mishawaka, Indiana already – the friendly people, the Hummer plant, the Linebacker Lounge – so many memories. I don’t have much time to say goodbye to everyone, but it’s time to see the world!

I can’t wait to meet you! You sound like such a well read person. Although, I have to say, it sure has taken you a while! I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but how would you like to spend five months sandwiched between Jane Eyre (drama queen) and Fundamentals of Thermodynamics (pyromaniac)? At least Jane was an upgrade from that stupid book on brewing beer. How many times did the ol’ brewmaster have one too many and topple off our shelf at 2am?

I know the trip to meet you will be long and fraught with peril, but after the close calls I’ve had, I’m ready for anything (besides, some of my best friends are suspense novels). Just five months ago, I thought I was a goner. My owner was moving and couldn’t take me with her. I was sure I was landfill bait until I ended up in a Better World Books book drive bin. Thanks to your socially conscious book shopping, I’ve found a new home. Even better, your book buying dollars are helping kids read from Brazil to Botswana.

But hey, enough about me, I’ve been asked to brief you on a few things:

We sent your order to the following address:

From there it gave the usual shipping notification info and signed off, “Eagerly awaiting our meeting!”

I already liked the impact BetterWorldBooks is making in the world (seriously, check out how much they do), but this just cemented my love. I have to wonder, though, what kind of book filing system puts Dunnett in between Jane Eyre and the Fundamentals of Thermodynamics? 😉

Getting gifts for book lovers should be easy, right? Just buy them books! This has backfired for me mightily before, though. Someone may be a great friend but have very different reading tastes, and just because *I* love Steinbeck doesn’t mean that everybody else wants every book he ever wrote on his or her shelves. Apparently. I’ve also had the opposite problem, where I excitedly purchased a favorite book of mine to give to a friend, only to see that said friend already has a copy on their bookshelves. Maybe even two copies. And yeah, you can always get gift cards to bookstores, but sometimes that just feels too impersonal.

Bookish gifts are a great compromise. I recently was approached by Melissa at Literary Book Gifts to see if I’d be willing to feature her shop here on the blog. I admit, I was fairly skeptical since I’ve never done anything even remotely approaching sponsorship before and was leery of the idea. After checking out her shop, though, I was extremely intrigued. She features t-shirts and tote bags with old book cover designs that are just lovely. Here are some of my favorites:

War of the Worlds t-shirt

Velveteen Rabbit t-shirt

Wizard of Oz tote bag


The Hound of the Baskervilles tote bag

Now, the really cool bit is that Melissa offered a 20% off discount code for readers of this blog! Just use the code QUOTHTHEGIRL20 at checkout to get 20% off anything in the store. No minimum order, and the code doesn’t expire.

I didn’t receive any compensation or products in return for this feature–just the code, which all of us can use. If you order anything, let me know in the comments what you think!

bd0676c5eeacc7a6b3dc6c8fa400bae6I love sharing bookish articles, discoveries, or musings that I’ve run across in hopes that other folks will enjoy them too. Here are a boatload!

If you want to know what I’m reading these days (and my usually very strong opinions thereon), check out my Goodreads!

I failed to tell you about our adventures at the tea room! *wavery back-in-time music*

The Olde English Tea Room, alas, closed its doors for good on December 23, 2016. My friends and I had the intense pleasure of being able to visit (for the first time, for most of us) on its final day of business. I was both elated that we managed to check it out before it closed and devastated that we could never go back again.

Isn’t it adorable?? And the tea was exceptional.

We all dressed up because that’s what you do at an old English tea room. Each afternoon tea came with its own tiny tea pot, which you could get refilled with hot water as much as you wanted. We basically sloshed our way out of the place.

They even had sugar cubes!! I had never actually seen sugar cubes before. And, as you can see, there were tea sandwiches, scones, and petite desserts. The food was incredible.

And such good tea. Not pictured in the group picture: my amazing sister-in-law, who took the photo for us. We all had a glorious day, topped off by a visit to some antique shops and a book shop.

I recently discovered the Oak Park Tea Room, so a reunion may be required to explore that new location and see how it measures up.

Here are some bookish internet discoveries for you:

Next up, all the other adventures I didn’t have time to write about when they were happening!

The conference in VA Beach went smoothly, and may well be the last conference I have to run onsite! I’m super excited about that. Due to long hours at the registration desk, I spent all of 20 minutes on the beach, but I did get to see some glorious sunrises:


The Hubs was able to come with me for the first time ever, so I enjoyed spending my evenings with him in our swanky hotel room. We also found Yukai Japanese and Sushi Buffet on our last day and desperately wished we had discovered it sooner. REALLY good food!

Book Reviews:

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. Whew. I had read The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett and disliked it, but I thought I’d give the author another go (probably due more to my affection for the movie adaptation of The Thin Man than for any charitability towards Hammett). I do believe I loathed The Maltese Falcon even more. How this book became a classic is beyond me. Clumsy, endlessly repetitive description! Uninteresting, trudging plot! Thoroughly irritating characters! I wouldn’t have minded a bit if everyone were killed off in the end, but sadly most of them survived to be amoral, sleazy manipulators into the future.

Ransomed from a one-star review on Goodreads (just barely) by the fact that Sam Spade epitomizes a genre, but heck if I know why, and for the audiobook narrator, who did a grand job with Gutman’s and Spade’s voices.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gabran. Three and a half stars on Goodreads for this book is probably more accurate, but the language was beautiful enough to elevate the score (subject of this post is stolen from this little book). We received the book as a wedding present, and I savored the wisdom in it–while recognizing that much of the beautiful language was lacking in substance. I can see why the book was so popular during the hippie movement; there is a strong undercurrent of “do what feels good” running throughout, and God loves everyone and we’re all God and bro, have another smoke, etc. And yet I feel badly for mocking it because there WAS wisdom in it too. Perhaps younger Stephanie would have been more deeply affected.

In spite of my four stars, I would say that this lovely book had very little impact on me.

Tik-Tok of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Continuing the tradition of reading Oz books aloud with my husband whenever we’re traveling (whoever isn’t driving gets to read). Gotta say, not too impressed with this one. Baum completely disregards continuity, and the title is fairly nonsensical given that Tik-Tok features so little in the book. Still enjoyable because I have such affection for the Oz books, and the scene discussing why Toto doesn’t talk makes the whole book worth reading.

I really like lists. They’re just so SATISFYING. I had a little time on my hands each evening for the past few weeks, so I’ve been gradually going through our books and cataloging them in a Google Sheet. (Yes, I know there are apps for that, but for reasons of my own, this worked better.) It’s incredibly therapeutic. We have over 1300 books, not counting comic books (which I’ve been afraid to touch–that shelf is…daunting). Listing them has been really useful for discovering books we have waaay too many duplicates of (*cough* The Wizard of Oz *cough*) or books we really should get rid of. A pilgrimage to Ed McKay’s will shortly be in order, methinks.

I leave Tuesday for Virginia Beach to run another conference, which should be far more fun than usual since the Hubs is on fall break from teaching and gets to come with me! While I’m gone, check out these cool links:

I stayed up till the wee hours last night (this morning), finishing Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck. I expected to love it because Buck’s skill is matchless, and this book was no exception. The book is a fictionalized account of the life of Tzu Hsi, the last empress of China, a formidably intelligent and manipulative woman. She ruled for 47 years until 1908. Having just read Under Heaven, which takes place in the 8th century, I was struck by how similar Imperial life was in the 1800s. And that was Tzu Hsi’s main struggle: change was coming to a country that had seen little change in over a thousand years. Buck does an excellent job of humanizing a figure who could otherwise be seen as a power-mongering villain; the reader ends up rooting for Tzu Hsi throughout her lengthy and impressive life. This portion of Buck’s introduction sets an apt tone for the book:

Her people loved her–not all her people, for the revolutionary, the impatient, hated her heartily and she hated them. But the peasants and small-town people revered her. Decades after she was dead I came upon villages in the inlands of China where the people thought she still lived and were frightened when they heard she was dead. “Who will care for us now?” they cried?

This, perhaps, is the final judgment of a ruler.

You know what I love? A lanky schoolteacher with gorgeous eyes. But aside from my husband, here are some other things I’m in love with lately.

Stranger Things. Guys. I know I’m late on the bandwagon, but I am now FIRMLY ON THE BANDWAGON. I marathoned this little show (the first season is only eight episodes) in two days and am yearning for more. I haven’t watched a show this good (acting, music, story, characters, the whole shebang) in a frighteningly long time. Creepy, but not too scary, and hits all the right 80s nostalgia buttons. Season two will air in 2017, so catch up on the first season now.

Overdrive. Download the free app on your phone, enter your library card info, and you instantly get access to your library system’s ebooks and audio books on your phone, tablet, or computer. You can download the books directly to your device or stream them, and after two weeks, the books return themselves. I’m currently listening to The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett during my commute. So cool!

Hasfit. The Hubs and I do three of the 20-minute workouts a week, mixing it up, and they’re pretty tough. We blithely kicked off with an intermediate workout when we first started and realized pretty quickly we’d bitten off more than we could comfortably chew. We’ve worked up to them now, and while I’m sure our downstairs neighbors don’t love us jumping around like lunatics, it’s a great way to stay in shape when it’s just too darned hot to run outside.

These links:

Goodreads. You know how the villain in cartoons lounges on a pile of cash? That’s me and books lately. I’ve been luxuriating in reading more like I’ve done in years past (as opposed to the aberration of the least couple insane years). As a result, I’ve been spending way more time on Goodreads too. They’ve changed a few things around recently and I’ve followed some new folks, and overall it’s just been tremendously enjoyable.

Granted, not everything I’ve read has been great. In the Days of the Comet by H.G. Wells was singularly disappointing. One can just barely call it science fiction (you could blink and basically miss the comet itself, contradictory to the implications of the title), although I didn’t have a Goodreads shelf for “preachy socialist claptrap” so I had to stick this book somewhere. The titular comet is merely a vehicle for Wells to rant endlessly about the evils of capitalist modern society and how abolishing the ownership of private property will solve everything. EVERYTHING. The comet’s gas trail somehow changes nitrogen to some other gas (?) that makes people nobler, wiser, happier (??) and initiates worldwide reform literally overnight (???). The comet gas makes people other than human, in other words. Very little of human nature remains, although we’re expected to believe that the comet gas just “cleared away” the trammels of old ways of thinking to enable people to be as they always were underneath. One wonders if Wells has ever actually met another human being; the naivete levels in this book astound. The book plays out the idea of the abolishment of individual ownership to a degree I wouldn’t have expected but which is obvious in retrospect: if nothing is yours, that would extend to romantic relationships as well, so your spouse isn’t really yours, and anything goes. But it’s okay because now everyone lives in communal utopias unfettered by such droll, inconsequential matters of respectability. The frame narrative around the story is nonsensical as well, but that was the least of my complaints after struggling through the whole book. The only reason I didn’t completely demote it to one star is because Wells’ language is beautiful in parts (when he’s not sermonizing), and his intelligence isn’t completely dampened by all of the dull preaching.

In contrast, I enjoyed The Legacy of Heorot by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes far more than I expected, and found myself devouring it late at night at a frightful pace. I’ve not had great success with books by two authors in the past (they always seem to be plagued by inconsistent characters and general sloppiness), so I assumed three authors would be even worse. Pleasantly, in this case, not so! The story’s premise is basically Beowulf in space, which sounded deliciously pulpy to me. It ended up being a more sophisticated and nuanced book than I anticipated. The characters are all ridiculously flawed people and quite unlikeable, but by the end I found myself surprisingly attached in spite of it. Still not brilliant literature, and the characters’ obsession with sex (while understandable in the context of a colony trying to perpetuate itself in the face of low numbers) felt downright juvenile, but I’d give it up to a 3.5-star rating. There’s a sequel or two that I may check out one day.

At last, I read The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman. I read Cushman’s Catherine, Called Birdy eons ago and had been meaning to read her other incredibly well-known book since I was 12 years old or so. Only took 17ish years! I wish I’d read it when I *was* 12–I would’ve loved it. It’s a blink-and-it’s-over read; I got through it in an hour or two. The book is an un-sugarcoated look at medieval village life for a young girl without any prospects, but it’s not consumed by bleakness at any point. Excellent YA historical fiction!

You seem to have stumbled upon a storytelling of ravens. Watch for falling collective nouns; you may find a wing of dragons or a charm of hummingbirds caught in your hair. Hardhats are recommended.

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