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A Winter Reading Euphoria — WAB style

My, oh my. It’s hard to believe that the holidays are over, that the festivities are ending, and that January is tomorrow! If you’re anything like me, after surviving several Rochester winters (yes, I’m pulling the quintessential “Rochester weather card” typical of many Rochester natives), what got you through the first several weeks (or couple of months) of the season was the prospect of the holidays. The frigid late October winds, followed by the (dare I say) whimsical breezes of a nearly forgotten August, the early November snow falls juxtaposed by the even earlier December thaws (wasn’t it 45 a couple days ago?). No matter, the holidays were before us – we were distracted, we could bear it, none of it mattered…or at least it didn’t matter that much, am I right?

Well, now that the menorahs are extinguished, the wrapping paper is discarded, and we are finally noticing how much those Christmas tree needles sting when they prick us in the soles of our feet, we are presented with the reality of our situation – we have to survive the next several weeks (or couple months …or several months, God help us) without that wanted/unwanted/anticipated/dreaded/needed/ignored/longed for/rejected/but-really-I-don’t-care-about-the-stress-anymore-I-just-am-ready-for-____(insert applicable holiday here). (Take a minute to read that sentence over again…I needed to as well.)

In short? We all have a long winter ahead of us, especially without any major holiday to distract/transfix/irritate/enthrall us (insert applicable emotion and/or reaction here). As sad as it is to say, many of us go back to (gasp) work after the New Year. Those five day weeks are about to re-institute themselves. My college friends? I may have graduated this past semester, but I am not ignorant to the fact that the semester starts shortly. We are all in for the long haul, no matter what that “long haul” may be.

So? What will get us all through? Well, my friends, what gets us all through anything? Reading, of course. All of us at Writers & Books know what it means to survive those long, wintery/springy/wintery-springy/make-up-your-mind-Rochester-seasons weather. So, here’s a short and unofficial guide to help you do the same.

1.Grab a mug!! Yes, we realize that we included this in our guide to blissful autumnal reading, but mugs are applicable to more than one season, perhaps even more so during the winter. What is your winter beverage? Coffee? Chai? Tea? Cider? No matter what it is, what may or may not be more important is the mug – is it big? Can you wrap your hands around it? Cuddle with it? Can it keep you warm? We sure hope so, because if not, then the only other hope you have is probably a …

2.Magnificent blanket. An afghan crocheted by a long lost relative? A quilt you inherited from a cheek-pinching great-aunt? A featherbed comforter? Or, just a fuzzy throw you bought last week at Target? It doesn’t matter. Wrap it around yourself with or without your beverage and mug suggested in step one and curl up on a couch or chair or rug with an…

3.Empathetic companion…your cousin? Grandma? A sister who you haven’t connected with in “that way” for years until just now? Or…a fictional friend who is so perfectly spectacular that he/she simply can’t be “real”? No matter who, what, where, why, or how – find a someone, a something to share your experience with. It will make the (hypothetically) cold, dark, and lonesome, months we consider to be winter a little less cold, dark, and lonesome. (Still stuck? Find some new literary connections at any one of WAB’s reading series!) And, if none of this works out for you then, well, just rely on…

4.A good winter read. We all need it, want it, crave it even, weather we know it or not. If you, prior to reading this post, hadn’t found yourself yearning to throw yourself into the winter romance of reading, then hopefully these past few suggestions have you just craving to heat up a bev, warm yourself up, call a friend, and most importantly lose yourself amidst the pages of a new book. We hope that you have a particular book in mind – a read that will get you through, keep you company, leave you satisfied while simultaneously wanting more (that same yearning that keeps us all reading.) However, if you don’t have that perfect read in mind, if you simply can’t think of anything beautiful and powerful enough to engage you more than the frost on the windows and icicles on the weather panes, then scroll down. Luckily, some of us at WAB have a few suggestions that just may be the perfect fit for your otherwise lonely, listless wintery mornings, evenings, afternoons, and everything in between. (And also a few more tips to make sure the winter reading experience is positively snow-stopping.)

From the lovely Kristen Zory King:

(No the above image is not Kristen in her footie pajamas among piles of books, unfortunately.)

I’m a big fan of seasonal reading and winter is no exception. January through March I like to read something hardy – something thick that will make my head hurt and my vocabulary expand. To me, winter is a time to read books that broaden one’s outlook on life, books that really challenge the reader. Don’t give me books for the beach – my mind doesn’t need a warm vacation despite how much my body might miss the feel of the sun. In the coldest months of the year I want to read something as deep and consuming as the snow on the streets.

While I will read anywhere (and I mean anywhere – a cafe, a bus stop, upside-down on the couch, the floor) my favorite place to read in the winter is my bed. My bed is used for so much more than sleeping in the winter, it is my activity center – I will do everything I can in it (eating, crafts, reading, aimlessly stumbling around the internet). I have an amazing mattress pad, six pillows (what? I like pillows!), and these delicious soft flannel sheets that feel like I’m lying in a cloud. Additionally, in the winter my apartment is freezing and for some reason one of the only places heat gathers is the bedroom, so there is really nothing better than coming home, changing into yoga pants, and setting up camp in my winter hideout. My favorite way to end a cold winter day is by snuggling up in bed and beginning a new story.

And from the marvelous Alexa Scott-Flaherty:



Winter reading for me this year is filled with books I HAVE to read for my job. How cool is that? I highly recommend The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey which is our If All of Rochester Read the Same Book… pick for 2014. It is a haunting book and I read it in three long chunks. Be prepared to read well into the night if you start reading before bed. I couldn’t put it down. It’s snowy, magical, dark, mysterious… It took me by complete surprise. Like most great books I can’t explain why I couldn’t put it down. What’s it about? A Russian fairy tale, a couple of homesteaders in Alaska… clearly it is not the plot that grabs you, but so much more. It is a book with soul. Next I read The Circle by Dave Eggers for our Turning Pages Readers Circle membership level. The Circle, Eggers 10th work of fiction is a novel of ideas. What sort of ideas? Ideas about privacy, about social media, and the effects corporate ownership of privacy may have on the nature of Western democracy. As Margaret Atwood says of The Circle, “As we move deeper into The Circle we may recall the Snow Queen’s palace in the Hans Andersen tale, where hearts are frozen, the cold queen rules from her throne on the Mirror of Reason, and the puzzle of “eternity” cannot be solved without love. We may also be reminded of the “stately pleasure dome” from Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan,” “a sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice.” The poet dreams of recreating this fabled edifice through art, but others find something demonic about his enterprise. “Weave a circle round him thrice,” they chant. The woven circle is to protect others from him, because he’s entranced; in modern parlance he’s been drinking the Kool-Aid and is, like, totally out of his mind.” Another good read. Thanks Writers & Books.

And my book recommendation?


Well I’m with Alexa on The Snow Child. It is a truly enchanting read with a sense of mystery you just can’t put your finger on (even if you use your finger to keep your place on the page). But if that doesn’t strike your fancy, or if you happen to have already devoured this year’s If All of Rochester Read the Same Book…, then here is one more suggestion. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. This one pulls at my heart strings in a personal way. Many nights of my childhood were spent by the wood-burning stove in my parent’s living room, surrounded by my fellow pajama clad sisters, listening to my father read to us from the Chronicles of Narnia. Needless to say, this installment seems the most fitting for winter, seeing as Narnia is seemingly doomed for an eternal winter. Another magical, captivating story, I find that every time I’ve read it since, I appreciate it more and in different ways. While it may technically be a children’s book, I feel as though we all have something to learn from this truly timeless read. I hope you’ll feel the same.

Best of luck and happy reading!

Keep loving, keep living, but most importantly, keep reading.
May you ring in the New Year as loudly and/or as subtlety as you wish.


Rylie, Kristen, Alexa, and the rest of the Writers & Books staff.

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Thanks to our “ROC” Stars!

Writers & Books wishes to express our sincere thanks to all who helped support us during this year’s “ROC the Day!” With your generous support, our adult and youth scholarship programs have greatly expanded, and we are so thankful to all in the Rochester community who believe in our mission of bringing words and people together. You all “ROC!!”

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Teen Literary Journal Writing Contest

Canvas-LogoCanvas Teen Literary Journal has put out a challenge to all teen writers.

Canvas Lit wants you to write a story in which a book plays a major role. This can be any kind of book – an old heirloom from the protagonist’s grandparents, a wizards book of spells, the one book that the antagonist check out from the library and never returned, whatever you can imagine…


Contest Guidelines:

  • Fiction only
  • Please limit your submission to 5,000 words
  • Last day to enter is December 31, 2013, midnight
  • Only one entry per person
  • Participants must be 13 – 18 years old
  • First place, second place and any honorable mentions will be published in the Winter 2014 issue of Canvas
  • To submit to “THE BOOK INSIDE THE STORY” short fiction contest, go to


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Rylie’s NaNoWriMo Survival Guide Part 3

Well everyone, let me extend to you my most sincere congratulations! You’ve done it. You’re here. The month is over and you’re still alive. While this is more than likely not because of the NanoWriMo Survival Guide I’ve offered over the past month, I would like to think that I have had at least a small hand in the maintenance of your sanity. Whether or not you’ve directly applied my suggestions to your writing or written them off (no pun intended) is, I suppose, moot at this point. Seeing as it is December 1st, you may be wondering why I’m bothering with this final installment. Well, I purposefully planned for this final blog to be after the “official” conclusion of NaNoWriMo for a few reasons. Firstly, I figured that you all would be far too consumed by your caffeine-induced, sleep deprived frenzies in your race to the finish, to concern yourself with a lowly blog post. (I mean let’s face it, most of us needed to be reminded to eat, bathe, and even breathe in the final days, am I right?) Secondly, I felt as though we all could use a little encouragement and support after 30 days of hard work. Finally, and most importantly, I chose not to include this final post within the confines of NaNoWriMo month because as the clock wound down last night and the harrowing strokes of midnight drew closer and closer, I found myself feeling that this wasn’t the bitter end of something, but rather a hopeful beginning. Such a statement may make some of you wonder if I’ve finally lost it or question my credibility if not my sanity. However, before you draw any conclusions, consider for a moment these final two suggestions.

1. Take What You’ve Learned…This is only the beginning

“Take what you’ve learned” – such a basic concept, but one which is so easily forgotten. Look back at the past month. What happened? What didn’t? What could have? In the second installment of this series I encouraged you to reevaluate your expectations. I encourage you to do the same now. Only now, instead of reprogramming yourself for days of endless marathon writing, I suggest you analyze your expectations offor yourself as a writer overall. Now that you’re a pro at identifying priorities, recognizing your strengths, and distinguishing your writing habits and tendencies in the stressful, demanding context of NaNoWriMo, why not take what you’ve learned and apply it to the writers you’ll be for the rest of your life? Consider what this past month has taught you. (I’ll pause now and let you determine for yourself what exactly that is….) Whether, when you reflect on the past thirty days you grimace, smile, break down and cry, or burst out in laughter, take what you have learned about yourself and the writing experience away with you. Consider it a road map for the rest of your career. Fold it up and put it in your back pocket, you’ll need it. After all, this is only the beginning.

2. Never Underestimate the Power of the Draft

This suggestion is two fold. Whether your work this month has materialized in a completed novel the length of Steinbeck’s, or whether you have only produced a chapter or two, whether this is your first experience trying your hand (or pen) at NaNoWriMo or if you’re a schooled veteran, this will apply to you all. Firstly, be proud of what you’ve done. It’s yours. It’s real. It never existed to this degree thirty days ago. Whatever it you have in front of you, whether you love it or hate it, it’s yours – and that sure is something, I’d say. But remember, drafts are tricky things. Undoubtedly they are something for which to congratulate yourself (didn’t I just force the concept of self-satisfaction down your throat?). However, they have the power to trick us into believing we’re done. (You may, considering you’ve been writing exhaustively for the past thirty days, be tempted to put me in a choke hold for suggesting that you’re not done, but before you do, hear me out.) Let’s face it, despite the amount of blood, sweat, and tears we’ve put into our writing lately, despite the calloused hands and baggy eyes, we aren’t done yet. We haven’t done laundry in God knows how long. (That yogurt stain on the sweatshirt you’re wearing right now? It’s from the 17th.) We can’t remember the last time we swept the floor (The dust bunnies may or may not have become characters in your stories.) And that friend that called three weeks ago? You may want to factor a large box of chocolate into your December budget…maybe more than one. But despite all we have sacrificed, all we have learned this month, what we’ve created is only a draft. A wise writer once said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” (One of William Faulker’s timeless words of advice.) I don’t think there’s any other way of looking at drafts and the process of editing. Don’t be overpowered by the romantic notion of your first draft. It’s not done. Not at all.
However, (get ready for that second fold now), the draft is powerful in an entirely different way. It speaks volumes for your work ethic, your skill, your dedication. But besides this, it is the foundation. You’ve built it, now just expand upon it. Whether, during the process of editing, you contrive an entirely different story or if you merely change a few scenes here or there, return to the draft and return to it with a sort of reverence. It’s a powerful thing. Consider it the fuel for your hike through the journey of writerhood (Shakespeare isn’t the only one who can make up words.). Through your travels, let it be the bottled water in your backpack, the energy bar in your zip-up pocket. Or, better yet, let it be the trail mix you grab handfuls of when you need a little “umph”. (Oh…and let all your best characters, scenes, and plot points be the chocolate chips and M&Ms. I mean, admit it, that’s the only reason any of us buy trail mix anyways.)

And so, my friends, I leave you, for now at least. And I leave you with most profound admiration, genuine compliments, and earnest hopes for your future as writers. As always, take these suggestions straight to heart or print out this post and use it as scrap paper as you begin your editing process.

Whatever it is you do though, keep living, keep loving, and most importantly, keep writing.

It’s been a pleasure.