Curled up in a bookstore

I’ve just popped into Denver to go to the Tattered Cover which has been talked about endlessly on NPR.

It is fabulous and all wooden inside. Floors, beams, ceilings, bookshelves, furniture. It’s all wooden.

It has a coffee shop, is cosy and feels like a place of great knowledge. It’s kind of like a library, but better because the hush isn’t from fear of librarian wrath but from the peace of those inside. Sipping a coffee, hiding in a cosy nook and thumbing the pages of a good book are part of the charm of this place.

It is well-lit with soft, vintage ceiling lights – no harsh fluoro lights. The books are given plenty of space to hold their own the shelf, falling over slightly in a “pick me up” repose that makes you curious beyond the cover. Staff picks and displays abound, making ever corner you turn a new discovery.

I imagine this would be a great place to escape on a cold Denver day.

I’m excited because I now have 18 hours of Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea to listen to on my roadtrip and fill in the miles of highway to my next destination.

A great volunteer experience

What are you reading? wall
What are you reading?

Awhile back, whilst on a search for new friends in LA, I decided to volunteer at the Festival of Books.

Today dawned my first of two shifts at the LA Times Festival of Books and although I’m not so concerned with making friends now as I’m about to embark on a great American roadtrip, I came away from the day after having talked to a number of Americans and having a great time.

Wearing my wide-brimmed hat I’d bought in Venice Beach, I opted for an outdoor volunteering role (in spite of the suddenly 30ºC heat) and found myself being line monitor for a number of book signings with authors I’d never heard of before. My job description said I had to ensure that the lines were orderly, people were happy and that they only had three books for signing. I also had to hand out little post-it notes for the people who wanted their books inscribed with their names. Just so’s the authors could spell it correctly.

I was kind of surprised to note that the other volunteers in my area avoided people. They avoided speaking to them and they avoided being in places where they might be asked a question from a guest at the festival, like behind the signing booths, or sitting under a tree. I put myself out there. I made, or in some situations, tried to make, conversation with people in the lines. Not only was I helping their time in the line move along faster, but I was staving off the boredom I would feel if I didn’t have conversations with people. I also used this opportunity for my own good, and found tips and suggestions from people for my roadtrip.

Most of the people I spoke with were probably of the RV crowd, and they were excited to share their thoughts on various destinations across America. I used the Sharpies and post-its to take notes. I heard about national parks and cities and various routes. It was great research.

When the authors and book signings had thinned out a bit, I stood near the stack of programs and maps to help people out. Most were looking for the children’s area. I wasn’t just going to sit about. I had volunteered because I wanted to meet people. I want to note a few of the characters I met:

  • The guy who asked me what my native language was then wore a surprised look when I said “English”. He thought I was Asian as he’d taught a number of Chinese, Malaysian and Korean students. This is the first time someone has told me I look Asian. I think this guy just looked stupid.
  • The ebayers. This type of festival goer can be easily picked by their trolleys and canvas bags laden with books. They are professionals and linger all day to get all the signatures. They are typically older- say in their fifties – are plain looking, overweight and have ruddy faces.
  • The young guy wearing a black CAA cap (Creative Artists Agency – a major Hollywood agency) perched on his black hair, a green t-shirt and jeans that gaped to show the elastic of his underwear when he sat down. He also hung around the signing area for a good portion of the day. He struck up conversations with others in the line about whether they’d read the book and then spoke at length to one of the more popular authors who said to call him after he’d read a couple of books.
  • The volunteer from Christian College with short blonde hair and tattoos circling her forearms who looked like someone from home. Her and her friend hardly said boo.
  • The volunteer author escort with shaking hands who barrelled up to me and said at rapid-fire, heightened-stress pace “I have the mystery panel here, where are they supposed to go?” I pointed him in the direction of my bookworm supervisor because I had no idea what he was talking about. I had equated mystery with potluck, and so I thought it was like some kind of mystery hotel deal, you don’t know who you’re seeing until you get there. In reality, it was a panel of mystery authors. I think the yellow t-shirt I was wearing reflected onto my hair making it look blonde.

After my shift finished I wandered through the festival, still being stopped and asked where the nearest restrooms were and the children’s area. I got to sit in on hearing a woman demonstrate how to bind books, pick up a free postcard, buy a stack of discounted Lonely Planet guidebooks and enter a competition to have a private screening of a Focus Features film. It was really fun. And I get to go back tomorrow.

Hanging out at an American university

USC lecture theatre
In the lecture theatre

I’m volunteering at the LA Times Festival of Books this weekend and part of the deal included an orientation.

I have to admit to being reminded during the two hour session that I have an attention span shorter than a gnat. It was a little boring. On the upside, I got to sit in a real life American lecture theatre (same same but different to Australia) and pretend that I was a university student in the US.

Cinema studies
Big building named after a person

We then went on a tour of the University of Southern California campus near Downtown LA to see where things were going to be located so we could point the 150,000 visitors in the right direction. As we wandered the campus I drank in all the details: the buildings all named after large donors to the university; that USC is a private university whereas UCLA is a public university; the beautiful brick buildings; the lawns and common areas; the statues; the plaques; the students congregating in plazas; the beach cruisers parked out front of buildings. It was all so fascinating and it made me want to be a student again.

Dusk on campus
Dusk on campus
And here's the obelisk

The most surprising thing though, was the obelisk. There is an obelisk on campus. That just seemed out of place and a little OTT.

Goodwill hunting

The day finally dawned when Michele and I hit the road for an op shopping adventure.

We jumped in Esmeralda, rolled down the windows, opened the sunroof and cruised on down Hollywood Boulevard to the Goodwill store in Silver Lake. With a prime location in a beautiful modern building with big glass windows on Sunset Boulevard it is a lovely environment to go op shopping in. There are long aisles of clothes categorised by type and colour, and lots of staff on the floor.

Scouring the racks, I tried on a few dresses and ended up buying a couple of wrap dresses which will be handy come summer. Michele also got herself a new outfit with only shoes left to find.

Then, we well and truly got stuck into the book section. We were checking every single shelf and exclaiming when finding a book we loved. Bibliophile Michele would pull a beloved book off the shelf and then ask if I’d read it. Unfortunately for the most part, my answers were no. I haven’t read a lot of books recently, and in the past year, most of my reads have been Latin American fiction by either Isabel Allende, Paulo Coelho or Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I found books I wanted to share with Michele, like the Clan of the Cave Bear series by Jean M Auel. We traded stories over the Confessions of a Shopaholic books and how they led to a strong urge to hit the shops. We discussed Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, even though neither of us had read it. The crowning glory would have to be Michele finding a 1966 hardback edition of her favourite book, with red tipped pages. That made her day.

Despite me deciding that I wouldn’t buy books to weigh me down in LA, that I would just borrow them from the beautiful, fresh Silver Lake Library, I was tempted by the low prices (with no tax added on top) and came away with seven books to read.

So I’d best get off the computer now and into a book.


I am not one of the cool texty kids. I knew that before I met this confounding symbol ❤

I clearly remember the first time I encountered this little text abbreviation and the ensuing “wtf” thought patterns. Let’s just take this for example:

“I can’t believe you just did that <3”

Now I know that when you read the book name on the spine the words start at the top of the book and run down, so that should be the normal head tilt direction. However in this rather special circumstance, I do it the latino way and read the flow from the bottom of the spine to the top.

So I was reading:

“I can’t believe you just did that ❤ (dick)”

not, I repeat not

“I can’t believe you just did that ❤ (heart)”

So the moral of this post is to be careful which way you tilt your head when reading text speak.

Quite the epiphany when you get it but my excuse is that the smiley face made me tilt left   : )

Parla italiano?

Once upon a time, six years ago, I wanted to learn Italian. I had just returned to my hometown from a year-long journey where I had learned Spanish to the point of  being able to read, write and have conversations with people.

I had found a job with Italian employers, and whilst some random words sounded familiar to my Spanish-enabled ear, I decided I wanted to learn Italian. So I did all the things you do when you decide to do something. I bought a lesson book, audio CDs, a dictionary and the Big Green Book of Italian Verbs, 555 conjugated Italian verbs.

Like a health kick, it started off well. I dedicated some time to it, and completed a few lessons. Then somewhere along the line, my enthusiasm waned (no doubt distracted by the most recent infatuation) and I abandoned my Italian studies. I think I justified it to myself as “I don’t want to forget/lose my Spanish by learning Italian.”

In my desire to downsize pending the move to LA, the Italian resources got the chop. A Facebook status update advertising all these resources free to a good home netted a response from a friend who is passionately in love with the Italian language, has been to Italy a number of times and who admitted to me today, dreams about having an Italian boyfriend.

So over a coffee at a cafe run by my former Italian bosses, we exchanged plans for 2011 and I handed over the books.

My plan is to focus on improving my Spanish. I’m sure there will be ample opportunity to learn, study and practice Spanish in LA, so rather than spread my language skills thinly like Vegemite on toast, I’m going to focus on immersing myself in Spanish like a big thick goop of peanut butter instead.

What language are you learning (or continuing with) in 2011? My best wishes and encouragement go out to you as you pick up the lingo.