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What Makes a Book? (Print, Audio, and eBooks, Oh My!)

Audiobooks 1            Reading is a treasured leisure activity of mine, but with the encroachment of technology I’ve always been something of a “purest.” I like the sound a new book spine makes when you first crack it open. I love the smell of books—old and new, dusty or crisp. I love the feel of crinkled pages and water stains on a well-worn library book leading me to wonder what the previous readers’ have experienced while enjoying its literary pleasures. But over the last few years, out of lack of space and money, I’ve slowly begun experimenting with new book forms.Audiobooks 2-1 Audiobooks 2-2 I started with eBooks. They don’t give me the same kind of flutter of childhood nostalgia as print books do. I can’t stare endlessly at their pretty color covers reminiscing about all my favorite parts of the story when I’ve finished reading. I can’t page through to the end of the chapter to test the width of pages left between my fingers to determine if I can finish now or if I should find a midway stopping point. But the more I read eBooks, the less quarrels I find with them. Sure they don’t have the same feel and nostalgia associated with print books, but I can read them anywhere. Wherever I have an app—my phone, my e-reader, my iPad, my MacBook—I can access my books, which lets me accomplish a lot more reading. I find myself with a few extra minutes before an appointment? I’m reading. When I take my lunch break, I’m reading. I don’t have to worry about lugging my 400 page novel with me everywhere or make important airplane packing decisions between my toiletries or all the novels I think I’ll have time to read on vacation. I’ve also found my reading speed has increased because I’ve cut down on the time I take flipping pages. With eBooks it’s just a simple swipe of my finger to go to the next page. I probably gain a whole second or two per page! (Although I have to admit when I go back to reading print books and find myself uselessly swiping a page to no avail I feel pretty silly). I also love all the eBook services they have out there that show you special deals on digital books so you can snag up a popular book or novel in a series for a discounted price. (Many times under $5). EBooks also make library checkouts super simple since you only need a computer and can easily tell what’s checked in or not. In short, eBooks have made reading so much easier and simpler for me. Yes, they don’t have the same physical presence that I love about print books, but they have so many other benefits that were previously incomprehensible before books entered the digital age.Audiobooks 3-1 Audiobooks 3-2 Once I had conquered eBooks, I decided to delve into another form of reading that I had an even greater aversion to: audiobooks. Audiobooks have, of course, been around much longer than eBooks, but I always saw them as some sort of cheat to reading. Why listen to someone in a silly voice read you the story when you could read it yourself with your own voices and accents. And you might miss the pretty illustrations at each chapter opening (e.g. the Harry Potter series).

I can remember listening to an audiobook for the first time in my friend’s car as her parents drove us to the mall. It was a chapter from Harry Potter, and it was an incredibly weird experience for me. If we talked we would miss the story. If we didn’t talk, then we’d be awkwardly sitting in silence together for the 30 minute drive made only slightly less awkward by the audiotape. Plus you could only ever listen to the story in the car so if you didn’t travel that much it could take you a month to listen to one book. I had no interest in that. My college boyfriend said that he and his family used audiobooks for long, cross-country trips—usually listening to a book from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The idea of this—though I love Tolkien—made me wonder how they stayed awake driving while listening to those tapes.

But with the increase of new technology—like apps for my phone and MacBook—that would allow me to listen to audiobooks anywhere, I thought, why not give it a try? I’ve been doing a lot of traveling over the last year or so and I struggle to stay awake with just music. Talk radio tends to help and I wondered if an interesting audiobook would be my perfect solution. Then I could stay awake and feel like I’m accomplishing something! (I don’t want all those hours of driving to go to waste when I have a 50 book-reading goal for 2015.)   I started with “The Scorpio Races” by Maggie Stiefvater (one of my all-time favorite authors and a book I couldn’t find available in a library except in audiobook form), and within the first few hours of listening, I was hooked! It kept me awake and mentally engaged. It filled out the world for me with accents, tones, and pronunciations of mythical words. And I could take it with me anywhere. I could do chores at home while listening. I could listen before bed in the dark when my eyes were too tired to read, but I was still mentally awake. I could listen in my car on the way home from work when I would usually struggle to find a suitable radio station that played more than the “Top Hits” on a repetitive cycle that makes my brain melt. So far I’ve listened to two other books “Beauty Queens” by Libba Bray (which is an AMAZING audiobook with it’s “commercial breaks” and distinct voices for each of the characters) and “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher (which is based on the main character listening to audio tapes so it seems appropriate to listen to in audiobook form), and I’ve loved them. I can imagine that not every book would be good as an audiobook, but I feel pretty lucky to have picked ones that have worked out great so far.

So all in all, is a book still a book if it isn’t made of paper? Yes, yes it is. A book is an experience. It’s not just a physical object made from paper and ink. It has meaning far beyond what you can touch. Ebooks and audiobooks give readers different experiences but ones that have just as much meaning as a print book. You don’t have to pick one; you can have them all! The key is to just never stop reading. And the more technology there is, the more opportunities we have to read. And who can argue that?

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Get Your Priorities Straight (Novel Writing: Month 14, Chapter 14)

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Novel writing in February didn’t go quite like I anticipated it. Between it being a short month and being incredibly busy with work and life requirements, the month got away from me, and it was March before I even knew what was happening!

I did make a bit of progress on the chapter at the beginning of the month. My intention was to weave in pieces of my original writing from high school so I needed to spend a fair amount of time researching (if researching can include reading over your own horridly simplistic writing from 6 years ago). I did accomplish this task, going through and marking chapters and passages and then copying over those pieces which I felt were important to include in this new retelling. But the process of actually making Chapter 14 make sense and flow with an intended plot line from the previous chapter didn’t quite make the February cut.

What I really took away from my Novel Writing Journey in February actually has nothing to do with my novel or even writing specifically. I realized this month that while it’s beneficial for me to pursue a personal growth goal of writing a novel, I can’t forget the more important priorities in my life.

Like finding a new job and making the next step in my life in 2015!

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I realized about midway through the month while looking at my over-packed and completely undoable to-do list that I had to prioritize better or my brain would explode. Writing is important to me. My YouTube channel is important. My blog, my novel, my boyfriend, my family, my job, my search for a new job, reading…the list goes on and on! They’re all important to me! But I’m realizing that if I want to make 2015 different, if I want to find a new job and make this year count, then I need to do something different. I need to prioritize differently. I don’t want to, but I have to. And I have to make sacrifices with my personal goals, but at least I’m still working at something.

In February, I found a job I REALLY want. Like I’ve never been so excited about applying to a job before and felt like I actually had all the credentials for and would do very well at, and it gave me the courage and motivation to redo my resume, write a banging cover letter, and finish my website (check out kaitlynpendleton.com if you want!). And in order to accomplish my work/future goals, I couldn’t work on my novel as much this month as I wanted. I console myself with the fact that I got a little bit of writing done, AND I applied to that job. This might not sound all that impressive, but for someone who has a hard time getting the motivation to apply for jobs (despite the fact that I really want a new job, I know it seems contradictory), it’s a pretty big deal!

I hope that since I did a lot of my job search grunt work in February, then March will be easier to do both job applications and novel writing. Perhaps it sounds ambitious to finish Chapter 14 AND write Chapter 15, but hey, aren’t you supposed to be able to accomplish anything you put your mind to? Well, it never hurt to try!

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The Impossible Idea of Losing Your “Home” (Thoughts on the Closing of Sweet Briar College)

Sweet Briar 1When I learned of the Board’s decision to close Sweet Briar College, I was hit with a hard punch to my gut and hollowness in my chest. It wasn’t my alma mater—at least not my “academic” one, but Sweet Briar is, in a way, a “nourishing mother” to me because I’m from Amherst County. Sweet Briar was my first introduction to true academia and liberal arts. I went to preschool and kindergarten on the grounds. I spent winters sledding with my friends on the sloping hills. I had nightmares about Daisy, ghosts, and the “Screaming Statue.” I practiced dance in the studios, went to prom in Prothro Hall, attended performances and had my art displayed in Babcock Performing Arts Center, and explored STEM at a girls’ science camp. To imagine my home without Sweet Briar seems impossible.

I saw the faces of the girls after they had heard the news. Pure, raw anguish and confusion burned on their brows. Tears filled their eyes as if something much more horrific had happened—a school shooting, perhaps. Though no student lives were lost that day, there was an announcement of death even if in the form of a century old institution closing its doors because of “insurmountable financial challenges.” And that death is no less tragic to those who know and love Sweet Briar.

Sweet Briar 2My first thought after hearing about Sweet Briar’s closing might have been nostalgia for my childhood where much of it was spent on that beautiful campus, but after seeing the girls’ faces, I felt an even deeper compassion towards them. Because all I could think was “What if it was my Alma Mater?” That is, what if now or while I had been a student, The College of William and Mary had up and announced at the beginning of March that they would be closing in 6 short months? That I would need to reapply somewhere else to continue my studies? That I wouldn’t be able to attend homecoming with all my fellow alumni that fall? That I would be separated from my friends and colleagues, professors and mentors? That I would need to start over at a new institution and learn to love somewhere else when I had already found my home? As a member of William & Mary’s Tribe, I know what it’s like to be consumed with love for your academic institution. We call it “Tribe Pride,” and it isn’t something that vanishes when you graduate. It isn’t just a privilege of enrolled students. It’s a part of who you become as a result of immersing yourself in the culture of William and Mary. For example, I’m not a big sports fan. And I really don’t enjoy basketball, but with W&M playing in the CAA tournament this past weekend, I was watching the games and rooting for my school. Because it’s home.

After I told someone where I went to school once, they snarkily remarked, “Oh the old Colonial hamster wheel, huh? How do you like that?” I was appalled! Yes, William and Mary is an academically intense school known for its stressed out students and suicides, but NO ONE but members of the Tribe get to criticize it that way. Because while we know the pain, we also know the love for our Alma Mater.

Sweet Briar 3-1 Sweet Briar 3-2I seem to have digressed into a “Hail William & Mary” spiel, but see, that’s the point! I love my school. And those Sweet Briar girls love theirs just as much. It’s their home, whether they are a freshman or from the Class of ’62. And they’ll fight for what’s theirs even if the Board won’t.

So now we have #SaveSweetBriar and SavingSweetBriar.com and a lawyer hired on to the case and over $2 million pledged in support of keeping the school open and over 500 women confused as to how to proceed. And I don’t really know where I stand. From my compassion and nostalgia for the school and fear of the economic impact it’s closing would have on my home area, I want Save Sweet Briar to succeed. But I’m also always skeptical and I want to believe in the good intentions of leadership—like the Board of Directors had to have a good reason for closing, right? It had to be impossible even with the help of alumnae, right? I fear for the people involved in Save Sweet Briar, that all that time and effort and pledge money will come to no good—nothing but burst hopes. But I also want them to succeed. To show the world that grassroots campaigns can work. That the Internet is a powerful tool. That Sweet Briar, academia, women’s education matters to people and that’s enough to keep it open.

I want it to be enough because if Sweet Briar can save their school like a plot out of a Hallmark Saturday Night Special then maybe, any girl can fight for what she wants and win.

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