Thursday, September 29, 2011

Netflix for Books?

In addition to being an ardent follower of Christ and an amateur foodie, I'm a major bibliophile. I'm an author, writer, avid reader, and general student of the publishing industry. So today I'm talking book stuff, and this bit of news could become a game changer for readers, authors and the publishing industry.

You're familiar with Netflix, right?  You pay a monthly fee and get movies mailed to you for free. You return them for free when you're done with them, and they send you another movie from the list of movies you want to see. You can also stream the movies right to your TV or computer.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Amazon is planning to launch a similar lending service that would offer customers access to a large library of e-books. It would be like having access to the largest public library in the nation, on your Kindle, for an annual fee of $79. That annual fee also gets you into the Amazon Prime program, affording you free shipping on all your Amazon purchases.

For readers, this could be incredible. We now live in the information age. The number of new titles published grows each year.  In 2005, 172,000 new books were published. By 2009, that number grew to 288,000. 

Most readers find themselves with more titles they want to read than time to read them, space to store them, and money to buy them. This Amazon service could solve two of those three problems. At least for Kindle owners who currently spend more than $80 on books each year. I fall in that category.

The obvious worry, however, is that this kind of service would eat into the market that public libraries serve since they also lend out books. So lovers of local libraries like myself find themselves torn.

As anyone with publishing industry connections could imagine, many publishers aren’t thrilled with the idea. They fear the program would cut into their sales figures, devalue their books, and hurt their relationships with stores carrying the actual books at traditional prices.

Because publishers control what can be done with the electronic versions of their books, this is not a done deal yet. Publishers want the same kind of control they have over their printed books — and in the case of lending, they are trying to assert more control than they have with printed books. When you buy a physical book, you are free to sell it or lend it to whomever you wish, but e-books don’t carry those same rights.

Many bibliophiles still like to own books. They like to hold them, turn the pages, write in them, and share them with others.  So an Amazon e-book lending library isn't the end-all-be-all. Nonetheless, it's a attractive option.

The bottom line is that the nature of the book and the book industry is changing, just as virtually every other form of physical content is being affected by the move to digital formats. Amazon has been at the forefront of those changes with its Kindle and its current library-lending program. This rumored Netflix-for-books program is an indication that Amazon plans to continue pushing that transition forward.  

What do you think about this idea? Would you be likely to sign up for Amazon's "Netbookx"?

"Safe in His Arms," you are the winner of this week's giveaway. I cannot find your contact info so please email me your mailing address. Truth be told, when I couldn't find any contact info for you, I did the drawing again. Your comment came up the second time, so clearly you are meant to get this book. :) 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Making Enjoyment Meaningful

I have a devotion publishing today with Proverbs 31 Ministries called Why It’s Not Meaningless. In that piece I said that a driving force behind why I get out of bed each morning – besides to take care of my family of course – is to craft a life that is pleasing to both me and God. Towards that end, I try to enjoy my life.

What gets you out of bed in the morning? If it’s nothing more than the delicious smell of fresh-brewed coffee, I think that’s fine reason to get up. Especially if you enjoy the brew in your cup – and thank God for it.

I wrote today’s devotion from Ecclesiastes 2:24-25:

“A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?”

As Christians, I think sometimes we can get so focused on pleasing God – on following the rules and sacrificing for the cause – that we forget or miss the fact that walking through this life with Christ should be a joy. Should be enjoyed.  

Yes, difficult times will come, no doubt. (He can be trusted in those times!) And I know the periodic, necessary dying-to-self required is not exactly our favorite way to spend an afternoon. But still. Ever still, I fully believe God intends us to enjoy this life, this breath, this earth, this time we’ve been given. And to thank Him for the gift of it.

So let me hear from you today: What will you do to intentionally enjoy your life today?  And can you see it as a gracious gift from God?

Tell me your thoughts on this verse, the devotion, or your plans to enjoy today and you’ll be entered to win a copy of my book It’s No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know. I'll also slip one of my favorite things into the package before mailing it. Have a really great day!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What do you read on planes?

It's 10:47 PM Pacific Coast time. That would be 1:47 AM my time back home on the Atlantic Coast. I've already slept two-and-a half hours tonight. I couldn't help it. I was so tired I was stumbling around my hotel room as if I'd just spent the day north of here in the Napa Valley rather than South of here on the Monterrey Peninsula.

Monterrey Peninsula, California

The combination of a three hour time zone difference, leading a four session weekend retreat, and that large bowl of fettuccine pesto I had for lunch at the FishWife caught up with me. Big time.

My lunch was so filling, I didn't even eat dinner. Didn't want any. Which is good because now I'm in a hotel by the airport and food is scare. There's a free hotel breakfast tomorrow, but it starts at 6:00 and I leave for the airport at 5:10. I really hope there's something good for breakfast in the Oakland airport.

I need to go back to sleep, wake up at 4:30 AM and be on an eastbound plane by 6:30. I will spend all day flying and changing planes. I leave here at 6:30 AM and get home at 8:30 PM. But that's OK because I do some of my best reading on planes. I can read novels for hours completely guilt-free on a plane! Well, it's not like I could do much else during that time.

The problem is, I forgot to pack a novel this time. I only have non-fiction with me. So I hope the Oakland airport also has a good bookstore.

What do you read on planes? If you are a novel reader too, I'd love for you to do me a favor. Pop over to the She Reads site and answer as many of the questions as you can in the poll on the current post.

At the very least please comment there to say if you prefer "Parlor fiction" or  "Attic fiction." I kind of like those terms. Well, off to sleep my way through my last few hours here on the West Coast. I'll be back here on Tuesday with another post.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dinner easy as ABC

Do you follow Ree Drummond over at her insanely popular blog The Pioneer Woman?

Well did you see her Food Network debut?  She now has her own TV show by the same name. So the other Saturday morning I had to tune in for her premiere. Once I watched it, I had to make one of the recipes that very night.

Of course, it required a trip to the liquor store.

What's that you say? ... Oh, for the food, silly, not for the cook.

You mean your meals don't require trips to an ABC store? 

my final product

I made Ree's Pasta Vodka Sauce. Follow the link for the recipe and I'll tell you my experience with it here in case you want to stop by the liquor store today and pick up dinner for tonight.

Having made quite a few tomato-based Italian style sauces from scratch, I was surprised at the short cooking time on hers. So I made mine that Saturday evening shortly before my husband, son and I had to be at the show my daughter was singing and dancing in.

Well, the short cooking times apparently weren't long enough to fully cook off the Vodka because it tasted Very Vodka-ie. Want to know how I know that taste? Read the RSVP chapter of my book here.

Tasting it before serving it, I was slightly nervous about feeding this to my 10 year-old. It was strong I tell ya, and I didn't even use the full cup of Vodka she said you could use. The onions I used were really strong too. That plus the red pepper flakes made for one zesty bowl of pasta! But I liked it and figured I could tweak it next go round.

I was relieved, however, that my daughter wasn't home for the dinner because I was certain she'd hate it. She doesn't do spicy and I knew she wouldn't like the idea of Vodka in her food, even with the alcohol cooked off. She'd take one bite of this and resist eating another.

On Monday I came downstairs and found her gobbling up the leftovers reheated in the microwave after school. "Mom, this pasta is awesome," she said while I stared at her in disbelief. "Give me a bite of that," I demanded as I wondered if she was destined for a life in an alley drinking Vodka from a paper bag - GOD FORBID.

It tasted so smooth. So creamy. So mellow. It was awesome. None of the sharp flavors from the first night remained after a day or two in the fridge.

So this is my kind of dish - tastes one way (but good) the first night, and tastes different (but good) as left-overs a few days later with no additional effort on my part.

I've since made Ree's Vodka sauce again - I have a whole bottle of Vodka to use after all. I cooked things longer the second time and decreased the Vodka by about a 1/4 a cup. It was much less zesty. It was good but I kinda missed some of the zestyiness.  So I'll go back to Ree's way next time.

Oh, and the only deviation I made from Ree's recipe (the first time) was to add a couple pinches of sugar to the sauce when I added the tomatoes. Sugar cuts the acidity of canned tomatoes. Then I covered the top with shredded Parmesan cheese before serving, Mmmm.

Let me or Ree know if you try it and like it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fall Bible Study Plans

Since Ecclesiastes is my current favorite book of the Bible  I was excited to learn that Pastor Tullian Tchividjian is preaching a series on the book this fall, and the videos are available online. If I've got you pondering Ecclesiastes, watch this one today or the next time you're spending some time in the book.


Tonight I begin a Bible study with a great group of women in my local area. We're using one of Priscilla Shirer's video studies - Discerning the Voice of God. I'm looking forward to it as I've not done one of hers before and I hear they are fabulous.

And tomorrow my new online quiet time/Bible study accountability group begins. I'm joining my friend Karen Ehman and a couple of other women who live in other states in this cyber accountability group through the Good Morning Girls program.

If you're looking for an online Bible study and some accountability to do it, head straight over to Good Morning Girls (then page down for enrollment info) and see if you can get set up in time to begin with everyone tomorrow. The 12 week study is on the book of 1st John.

What are your Bible study plans for this fall?

Hilda - as comment #2 you won the giveaway of A Confident Heart by Renee Swope. Congrats!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Is there sarcasm in the Bible? And other questions. Plus a giveaway!

I just finished writing a devotion for a special project P31 is doing in conjunction with Zondervan. The devo is on some verses in the book of Ecclesiastes - my most recent favorite book of the Bible.  (First it was Proverbs, then it was Colossians, then Matthew, then Galatians ... my husband is probably hoping Song of Solomon becomes my next favorite. But I digress.)

I'm guessing not many people would name Ecclesiastes as their favorite book.  Probably because the writer of the book sounds like he's in serious need of some Prozac. Lines like these make his serotonin seem in short supply:

~ "And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive." Ecc 4:2

~ "I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind." Ecc 1:14

~ "What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless." Ecc 2:22-23

~ "Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals." Ecc 3:19

~ "And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another." Ecc 4:4

~ "For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow?" Ecc 6:12

Seriously? First time I read it I thought, can somebody please prescribe this guy some Zoloft? Or maybe sit him in front of one of those light therapy boxes? Throughout the whole book he keeps saying everything is vanity; it's meaningless. He says it 38 times in 12 chapters. I hear Zoloft is suppose to help get rid of bothersome thoughts.

Is he just another manic-depressive writer in his depressive phase? Did he suffer insomnia, then run out of coffee before he met the morning's word count and nothing else was in his fridge but he had a strong craving for chocolate cake even though it would go straight to his thighs? Wait, I think I digressed again. Or is there more in this guy's book than meets the eye?

It's like the rest of the Bible is cruising along saying God is good. He can be trusted. He will help those who follow Him. His plans will not fail. Listen to Him. Become wise. Put your trust in Him. He is redeeming His people and eventually the earth.  And then the writer of Ecclesiastes comes along and says, "Everything is meaningless and we're better off dead."

Makes you wonder how this book ever made it into the Bible. I mean besides the fact that Ecc. 3:1-8 made for great lyrics for that hit song by The Byrds. The rest of the verses could pretty much be any angst-filled teen anthem of today.

I spent a year focusing on the book of Ecclesiastes, asking God to help me understand it. Was the author a pessimist with a wicked sense of sarcasm? Is there sarcasm in the Bible? Is God sarcastic? Or does this book have some sort of deep meaning that's relevant to you and me today?

Tell me in a comment what you make of Ecclesiastes - or if that's too daunting, what's your favorite book of the Bible - and you'll be entered to win Monday's giveaway of Renee Swope's terrific new book A Confident Heart. This book will help you deal with your doubts and insecurities. I recently read it and it's better than Prozac. Not that I've ever had Prozac; I haven't. Not that I'm saying there's something wrong with prescribed anti-depressants. Wait, I digressed again. Sorry. You were about to say? ...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Why I Use Twitter

Are you on Twitter?

I'm not sure how long I've been on Twitter, but I do know it didn't take long for Twitter to become my favorite form of social media.

When I first joined the ranks of those who speak in 140 characters or less, lots of people asked me the same question: Why?  In fact, they often phrased it in the same way, "Why do you care to hear what people had for lunch?"

They were making a huge assumption that all anyone ever did on Twitter was say, "I just had a chicken-salad sandwich."  Or, "Running carpool to the baseball field now."

I'd answer their question by explaining, "The people I follow don't tell me what they had for lunch."

The people I choose to follow on Twitter give me helpful information.
  • They tell me which products or technologies have worked best for them.
  • They tell me what they've read recently that's worth seeing, and give the link.
  • They tell me what's going on in their industries. And in my industry.
  • They tweet Bible verses or share their insight into the gospel.
  • They answer my questions when I ask.
  • They keep me abreast on breaking news.
  • They tweet inspiring quotes.
  • They make me laugh. 
  • They alert me when there's a new post on their blog - giving the topic and link should I be interested. 

All this in a short, digestible, easy to skim format. I use TweetDeck to organize the tweets of those I follow. I sort people into lists with a separate column for each list: Publishing industry folks, P31 girlfriends, Insightful pastors, etc.

Twitter and TweekDeck have pretty much replaced blog subscriptions, Google Reader, and RSS feeds for me. And I waste less time Internet browsing now that I'm on Twitter.

Still don't believe Twitter is helpful?  Check this:

By the way, I really want to know what book that guy is reading - it must be compelling!

So that's why I use Twitter. Because it's helpful, useful, entertaining and very doable for me.

I do have to confess that a couple months ago I started following some fellow foodies on Twitter. These are serious food industry types.  And they sometimes do tweet what they had for lunch.  Believe me their lunches are interesting! So now I have to revise my answer to the "Why do you care what people had for lunch" question.

My new answer is, "That's the beauty of Twitter. It gives you instant access to the people and information that YOU would like to have access to."

Twitter is like the world's coffee shop. Day or night there's community and conversation going on. And all you need is a twitter handle - and maybe a hashtag - to find the people you'd like to chat with and jump into the conversation. Stay awhile and sip a latte, or just get your coffee to go.

So are you on Twitter?  If so, who are some of your favorite people to follow?

You can follow me at @RachelOlsen.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How I Read a Book

I am a word aficionado. Not a word-snob, but a lover of words and language.

There's power in words. Beauty in words. Grace in words.

Words create movement. They craft nations. They seal a marriage. They cast vision. They make us laugh. They expand our horizons. They script our possibilities.

Few things fascinate me like the power of words. So it's no wonder I read a lot. Recently I asked readers here to tell me if they tend to be book finishers or book abandoners. And I promised to tell how I read, so here it goes.

I'm fairly picky on the front end about what I'll buy or bring home. There's too many options and too little reading time for me not to be discriminate. If I have access to the Internet, I often check reader reviews before deciding on a title. But a book doesn't have to get 5 stars for me to read it.

With any book I pick up, I see the title, note the author, read the back cover, and then note the publisher. Before entering the publishing arena myself I didn't pay much attention to the publisher, now that info tells me something about the book, particularly in the case of Christian books. Different publishers can have different bents, or theological leanings.

Next I open the book and scan the table of contents. I want the chapter titles to intrigue me but also to give me some sense of what the chapter contains. Next I flip through and spot read on various pages throughout. This is often the biggest determinate for me. I have to be intrigued, pulled in. I have to find at least two places during spot reading that make me want to keep reading.

It might be compelling content, brillant analysis, the author's voice, or the beauty of the wording that pulls me in. But it's got to pull me.

Once I officially begin reading a non-fiction book, I read with a pencil in hand. It must be a pencil, not a pen and not a highlighter - strong color visually divides and messes up the pages for me.  It tends to prevent me from engaging with the non-highlighted stuff on a second or third read through. That's a problem because at different times in my life different things will speak to me.

I underline sentences often. I sometimes write the topic of a great passage at the top of the page. And I occasionally make short notes in the margin.  If a question gets raised in my mind, I'll put a question mark in the margin beside it. If an action is suggested that I want to do, I'll draw a to-do style check box in the margin. If something is a key point, I draw a key shape to the side.

Being a busy woman and a lover of words with many interests, I'm sometimes tempted to stop reading a book before the end, even if I've been enjoying it. I might get restless, or distracted by another title I want to read.

On a case by case basis I decide if I will push myself to finish it or let myself move on to another book. If I decide to move on, I also decide not to feel guilty about that. It was an intentional decision.

Some books make their argument for me or teach me their premise well enough in the first several chapters. And sometimes the author runs out of new things to say before they meet their mandatory word count (shhh, don't tell them I told you that). And once in a while, a book just fails to deliever or resonate with me. If that's the case, I put it down and move on.

Life is not college, (beyond the Bible) there is no manditory reading list. Still, I can't imagine life without books. My life is better for having read a great many of them. And for having finished most of those I started, and consciously abdanonded a few to move on to what will move me.

Chances are you are a book lover too. Feel free to share your reading tips and tendencies.  And if you're looking for a Christian non-fiction book to read, or even half-read, you can try mine here.