A Month of Faves: Picking Favorites #2

So I just need to accept that picking a favorite out of all the fantastic posts is going to be hard. There’s just too much good to choose from is the thing.

A Month of Faves

I’ll say the standout for me this week is Wesley’s 5 Favorite Travel Tips posted over at Library Educated. I’ll be doing some traveling next week, so those tips are right on time and handy. I especially need to remember to always have food. You’d think I’d know better by now. I mean, honestly.

5 Strategies for Reducing Student Email

Today’s A Month of Favorites topic is five most useful digital lifehacks, so I’m going to talk about something that has made my digital life easier: reducing the number of emails I get from students.

Email, email, email

Student emails can’t be avoided, but the problem with most student emails is that they tend to be thoughtless and rushed, which winds up making more work for me in the end. I don’t like doing extra work. Like, at all. So here are some things I’ve done so that I spend less time answering student emails and more time doing, well, anything else.

1. I teach effective email strategies on the first day of class.

As I mentioned, student emails tend to be thoughtless and rushed–even more so now that a lot of them send emails from their phones and treat emails like text messages. So on the first day, I review audience and purpose with my students, especially as it relates to email. I remind them that they usually want their professors to take them seriously, so it’s important that they send respectful emails that make it seem like they actually care. We go over subject lines and signing emails and making sure to use correct grammar and spelling.

I also make sure my students know that I do not check my email at all hours of the day. I explain that I do not check email on my phone, and that, for me, email lives in the computer, and I do have a life outside of work. (This helps for the students who expect an instantaneous response.)

I forgot to do it this semester, but next semester I am also going to go over problem solving (i.e., don’t email me with a problem; email me with a possible solution to the problem.) I figure that will eliminate some back and forth as well.

2. I refer students to the syllabus.

I do this constantly. CONSTANTLY. This requires some front-loading, but it’s totally worth it. Any questions/situations that repeatedly come up go in the syllabus. In class, when students ask me a question that’s answered in the syllabus, I say, “It’s in the syllabus” or “What does the syllabus say?” That trains the students to look there first before asking me, which in turn cuts down on how many students email me to ask questions that are answered there.

Also, when students email me with questions answered in the syllabus, I reply with “It’s in the syllabus” or “See the syllabus.” It has the same effect.

3. I write detailed and comprehensive assignment sheets.

Just like with a good syllabus, a good assignment sheet can eliminate unnecessary emails. If someone asks a question about an assignment, I tell them to check the assignment sheet.

Here’s what happens when I do #2 and #3: students email me only AFTER they have checked both (and tell me they have checked!). A lot of students think it’s easier to email than to investigate on their own except it’s really not. It’s a lot faster for them to refer to the material first to see if the answer is there–especially since they have to wait on a response from me.

4. I changed my late work policy.

I used to have a strict no late work policy, which actually worked pretty well when I was working as an adjunct. However, once I went full time, I kept getting emails from students with all of their sob stories (some valid–I’m not making fun) or their begging, and it all just became too much. After reading this post over on Bedford Bits, I completely changed the way I accept work. I pretty much adopted Traci’s policy except I have a late homework policy and a late essay/major assignment policy. Mine reads:

Late Homework Policy: Assignments are due on time. However, I will leave assignments (except essays and revisions) open in Canvas [the LMS my school uses] until I begin to grade them. At that time, I will close the assignments with no warning, and you will not be allowed to submit.

Late Essay Policy: Essays and revisions (except for essays due the last week of class) will be subject to a due date, grace period, and deadline policy.

  • A due date is the day that your assignment is due. Every student has a one-week grace period after the due date during which the assignment can still be submitted.
  • The grace period occurs between the due date and the deadline. Work submitted during the grace period will be marked as late in Canvas. There is no grade penalty for work submitted during the grace period; however, we will not work on the assignment in class after the due date nor will I provide feedback on your work in progress after the due date.
  • A deadline comes one week after the due date and is the final day that an essay will be accepted. After the deadline, Canvas closes the assignment, and you will no longer be able to submit your work. You will receive a zero for any work that is not submitted by the deadline. There are no extensions on deadlines.

That has worked out surprisingly well. Most students turn their work in on time, and those who don’t have zero reason to email me about it. They don’t have to beg; they don’t have to explain.

For the homework, some students say they are more likely to get their assignments on time because they don’t want to get locked out of an assignment. I don’t know why that works better than a hard deadline, but it does, so I just go with it. It does freak a lot of them out that there is no penalty for late essays whether they use the grace period or not, but it’s one less thing for me to worry about, and I love it.

5. I send emails to the class listserv/post announcements in the LMS.

If I get emails from two or more students asking the same question (that is not in the syllabus/on the assignment sheet, of course), I send a clarification email or post an announcement to the entire class. That way, I preempt repeat emails from other students. This seems like an obvious one, but sometimes I answer two or three and then realize what I’m doing. I also make a note of the question so that I can make sure future syllabi/assignment sheets are clear on whatever the question refers to.

Again, all of these strategies take more work on the front end, but I find them 100% worth doing so I’m not depressed every time I log onto my computer and see a bazillion unnecessary emails from students. There are some days when I don’t have any emails from students at all, and that definitely was not the case before I started implementing these strategies. Anybody have other strategies that they use to curb their emails? I’d love to hear about them.

2014: A Year in Books

Today’s topic for A Month of Favorites is a look at our reading over the course of this year.

A Month of Faves

I’ve tried this a couple of different ways, and I’m stuck, so I’m just going to go with the questions from the prompt.

What month did you…

1. …read the least?

January. Poor January. I only read two books. I think that’s largely because of the back to school blitz, which makes sense because my September reading was also pretty low (4 books).

On the plus side, I really enjoyed both books I read!

They were:

  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

2. …read the most?

July. I read 9 books in July, mostly because of my weekly book club, but also because I read a couple of graphic novels. To be fair to the other summer months, though, I read 8 in May, June, and August, so it was almost a four-way tie. But, you know, July won by a book.

3. …read the book you liked LEAST for the year?

Also, July! The book was Kick-Ass by Mark Millar. Great artwork and an interesting story, but there was some casual and obnoxious racism and misogyny that I just couldn’t overlook. Blech.

(I should point out that it’s the book I liked least that I actually finished. I’ve DNF-ed around five books so far this year.)

4. …read your longest book?

I didn’t keep track of page numbers this year (I have in the past, if you’re worried about my nerd status), but I’m pretty sure the longest book I read was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I read it via audiobook, and that was around 11 discs. Goodreads tells me that the hardcover is 473 pages, which sounds about right.

Oh wait, I just checked to see how long The Circle by Dave Eggers is, and it’s longer (508 pages), so I’ll just list both since Unbroken still counts as the longest audiobook I’ve listened to so far this year. Too bad I couldn’t make it through Game of Thrones, eh?

The Circle = March; Unbroken = November.

5. …try a new genre?

I was going to say I didn’t try a new genre, but I think In the Shadows by Kiersten White may count. It’s a story that alternates between traditional prose and a graphic novel with no dialogue. I really liked it. I read it in June. Props to book club on that one because I probably would have skipped it.

6. …fall hard for a book boyfriend/girlfriend?

No book boyfriends or girlfriends this year, alas. Though I probably do love Princess Ko from The Cracks in the Kingdom (read in April) the most.

7. …re-read a favorite?

November! I was in a terrible, terrible reading slump, so I reread two books from one of my favorite series and all was right with the world. Well, that’s overreaching. In truth, reading those books broke my reader’s block, so yay for that.

8. …read something you’ve been wanting to read for a long time?

That would be right now! I just finished The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner because I really, really want to read The Queen of Attolia and could not, in good conscience, read it without first reading The Thief (they’re part of a series). I am also currently listening to Scarlet by Marissa Meyer in the car and will probably listen to Cress when I do some traveling as well.

I’m also going to put October/November because Unbroken is the first audiobook I’ve listened to in over a year, and I’ve been wanting to get back into those as well.

9. …read the most books that you rated with four or more stars?

This one is a tie between March and November (so far…I have a lot of books on tap for December). I read a five-star book in each month and three four-star books. March may have the edge, though, because those were all new books while November has some re-reads.

10. …read the most books toward your challenge goals?

May for Diversity on the Shelf, and June for Adventures through Awkwardness. We don’t talk about the other ones. Yet.

This is another so far answer since December isn’t over yet, and I have a lot of books in a pile by my bed that I aspire to get to that will fulfill both challenges.

I think that’s a good place to stop. If you’re interested, you can see my list of books read for the year and how I rated them over on Goodreads.

A Month of Faves: Picking Favorites #1

A Month of Faves

Today’s Yesterday’s topic was a post we’ve loved from someone else this week.

This one was hard! I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read so far from all the participants. One in particular that stands out to me from this past week is Alysia’s “5 Favorite Audiobook Narrators” over at My Little Pocketbooks. It immediately got me thinking about the narrators I love–enough so that I started curating a list of my own. It was also timely because Trisha over at eclectic/eccentric had a question about audiobook narrators, and I was totally ready to chime in with some recommendations. So, props to Alysia for helping me prepare for a moment I didn’t even know I was training for.

6 Degrees of Separation: The Cracks in the Kingdom

As part of the month of favorites, the six degrees of separation meme has been expanded so we can pick one of our faves and see where it takes us. Since The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty is one of my favorite books of the year, I thought I’d use it.

6 Degrees Cracks in the Kingdom

1. The whimsical nature of the prose and story really reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones–more specifically Witch Week.

2. One of the repeating lines in Witch Week is “It hurts to be burned,” which, of course, is talking about fire, so that can only lead to one book, Invisible by Pete Hautman.

3. Since Invisible deals with a really close friendship gone wrong, that reminds me of Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King and the relationship between Charlie and Vera (which also has something to do with fire!).

4. Anyway, Vera’s dad is in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) just like Hannah’s dad in The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder.

5. More importantly, though, Hannah and her best friend Zoe go on a road trip! I love road trips. Of course, they are in search of that intangible something just like Heidi in So B. It by Sara Weeks.

6. Heidi’s something turns out to be a family secret just like what drives Liane Moriarty’s book, The Husband’s Secret. Did you know Jaclyn Moriarty has a sister? She does! And they’re both brilliant.

Okay, that was a lot of fun. I can’t wait to read everyone else’s!


Fave Book Covers of 2014

Another day, another Month of Favorites post! Here are my ten favorite book covers of books I read this year.

Top 10 Book Covers of 2014

And, yes, I put The Great Greene Heist on there twice. I love both versions of the cover so much that I couldn’t choose between them.

Also, I’ll be honest: I didn’t love the Charm & Strange cover that much until I read the story. I don’t find it particularly striking, but it fits the story so well that I had to include it.

I was going to pick an absolute fave, but I just can’t. Although I’d probably have to declare a tie between These Broken Stars and Grave Mercy. Those dresses! That crossbow! Ugh, but I love so much about the other ones, too.

So yes. No absolute fave. Just a whole lot of pretty/striking/awesome.

5 Faves By & About People of Color

I’m participating in the Month of Faves hosted by Estella’s Revenge et. al. Here are five of my faves from this year:

Five Faves

1. The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang — Lots of great humor here. Plus: superhero!

2. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han — FAKE DATING. Enough said.

3. The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson — Super fun book about a lot of interesting personalities.

4. Pointe by Brandy Colbert — Theo is one of my favorite main characters of the year.

5. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd — I don’t normally have an interest in novels about slavery, but I really found myself caught up in this book club pick.

I’m tired.

I missed posting last week because I was grading, grading, grading.

And I was all set to post something this week, but then the Ferguson decision happened and the shooting of Tamir Rice happened, and I was consumed by rage and so many words that I couldn’t even get them out.

What it all boils down to is that I’m tired.

It’s exhausting being a black person in America. I cannot keep having the same conversations where I have to keep asserting my worth and the worth of my family and the worth of my child and my friends.

I have so many words that they are all inadequate to express my rage and frustration and grief.

So I am infinitely grateful to the people who are able to articulate their rage, frustration, and grief. To the ones who write think pieces and explain over and over and over and over and OVER again that Black lives matter, that diverse fiction/media is important, that racism has not gone away and here are all the ways we can see it playing out over and over again.

A student asked me on Tuesday if it was wrong for him to be nervous about going to FSU (there was a shooting there), and I told him, no it wasn’t wrong. But I also told him that he was probably in more danger just walking down the street. To which he kind of shrugged and nodded.

That’s why I’m tired. Because we both know that’s true, and so many other people are still failing to see that that’s the reality we live with. Those people are instead choosing to condemn us because we’re upset and angry.

So, yes. I’m tired.

I’m tired.

Top Ten Characters I Wish Would Get Their Own Books

Links go to my reviews!


1. Rachel Elizabeth Dare (Percy Jackson series) — I love Rachel Elizabeth Dare so much. Like, so so much. I want to see what wacky adventures she gets into when she’s not popping up to talk to Percy and Annabeth about the latest prophecy. What is her life like? Did she have a crush on Percy? GIVE ME MORE.

2. Hogwarts (Harry Potter series) — I want a story set at Hogwarts that has nothing to do with Voldemort or Harry Potter. Just a story about some random Ravenclaw/Hufflepuff/Slytherin/Gryffindor and the wacky adventures s/he and his/her friends get into. I want to see Hogwarts from a different perspective. In fact, my ideal would be a collection of short stories set at the school

3. Tina Hakim Baba (Princess Diaries series) — Basically, I’m putting her on every list ever because I love her so much.

4. Chrysanthemum “Chrissy” Everstar (My Fair Godmother series) — What does she DO when she’s not complicating mortals’ lives? The book hints at the parties and stuff she gets into, but I really would like to see the world she inhabits.

5. Isabelle (Belle Epoque) — She was by far the most interesting character in that book. I’d love to see her wacky scientist adventures.

6. The Capitol (The Hunger Games trilogy) — I really wish the movies had done more with/about showing how the other districts–especially the Capitol and District 2–experience the Games. They are so different than District 12 and 11 (and all we know about them is what Katniss tells us) that I would really enjoy seeing how someone so far removed from the Games but glamorizes them (or maybe doesn’t, like Cinna!) experiences the whole thing.

7. Einar (Son) — Oh, I love him and Claire so much (separately and together) that I really, really would just read a whole book about them.

8. Reece Malcolm (The Reece Malcolm List) — Not grown-up Reece since I have a clear handle on her, but I’d love to see teenaged/young adult Reece. She’s so fascinating.

9. Deb (What Happened to Goodbye) — Deb was a standout in What Happened to Goodbye. I was so intrigued by her and her varied interests. I am sure she would follow the contemplative mode of all of Dessen’s narrators, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, but. I do think she would have a rich interior life, and I am here for it.

10. Cecile (One Crazy Summer) — She is so complicated and so interesting! When I read the second book, I loved her letters more than anything. Cecile! More please!

Movies Based on Books: Gone Girl

Gone Girl

The best thing for me about watching movies in the theater is observing audience reactions—especially one that’s based on a pretty popular book. I read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (my Goodreads review) about a month before going to see it whereas the friend I went with had read it more than a year ago. The women sitting behind us clearly hadn’t read it AT ALL, and so we all had different reactions to what happened.

See, the crazy was fresh in my mind, and my friend remembered that there was a lot of crazy, even if she couldn’t remember anything beyond the big stuff. Those other women, though? Gasps and exclamations throughout. Lots of “OMG” and “What the…?” Me, I was just like, “Yep, everybody in this story is still crazy.”

As for how I felt about the movie, I thought it was a pretty solid adaptation. All the main points were hit and some stuff was condensed for the movie, but, all in all, I had the same reaction to the book as I did to the movie–mainly that everyone was terrible except for Go and Boney, and they were the only two I felt anything for. Oh, and I thought Tyler Perry was awesome as the lawyer. I liked that character more in the movie than the book.

There were two changes that I didn’t particularly care for:

  1. In the book, Nick drinks pretty constantly, and I don’t think that was emphasized as much in the movie.
  2. I was really, really upset by something that happened at the very end. [SPOILER]I hate, hate, HATED that Nick physically assaulted Amy at the end. First, the point was that he didn’t and wouldn’t. Second, it just brought up all kinds of icky “she deserved it” feelings/commentary that should not have entered the conversation. My friend is a DV advocate, and she had very mixed feelings about it, and we both agreed that it just should have been left out altogether—especially since it wasn’t in the book. We know he’s frustrated; we know he feels powerless. Even her non-reaction was troublesome. Ugh, that whole part annoyed me. Just…let’s not.[/END SPOILER]

Now that that’s out of the way, this movie also crystallized something else for me:

I really hate sex scenes. The nudity didn’t bother me at all (except during that one scene, which is supposed to be bothersome because it’s the height of effed up). But I seriously do not need to see people have sex, even if they are fully clothed. I mean, after about two seconds, I get it. They’re having sex. Okay. Can we move on now?

(I feel the same way about sex scenes on TV. And I grew up watching soap operas! Which, again, I always felt those sex scenes went on too long, and those are just people rolling around with sheets strategically covering their bodies and soft music playing. Seriously, though: WE GET IT.)

(I realize I may be in the minority on this.)

So, yes, that’s my big takeaway from Gone Girl: I hate sex scenes. Also, you know, I still like Go and Boney the most. (I was going to say love, but really. Neither version leaves a lot of room for love at all.)

In conclusion: A great adaptation, which left me feeling pretty much exactly the same as the book did.