Category Archives: adventures at the library

July Books

I had a very good reading month in July, which is great because I haven’t read anything since! Yikes!

“The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood

This short story was recommended as one of the scariest stories ever, and as you know, I love a scary book. I found “The Willows” to be really intense and a really great read. There is looming doom through the whole book. Definitely one to read in October if you have a chance. I am going to request this collection again this fall to see if I like any of his other “weird” short stories.

Howard’s End by E.M. Forster

This is supposedly Forster’s “masterpiece” but…I didn’t love this. Maybe it was over-hyped? While I appreciate Forster’s writing and I liked the story, it wasn’t a book that I was eager to pick up every day. I appreciate the social commentary–a modern, bohemian woman married to the conservative older man, and refusing to adapt to his old ideas–but this book just didn’t grab me the way that A Room with a View did. I do wonder if I would like it better after a book club discussion. (Fun fact: most of our book club reviews get better after the discussions!)

Stationery Fever by John Komurki

I borrowed this for the eye candy and ended up reading it. It’s full of pictures of vintage and new stationery, divided by topic. At the end of each chapter, there are a few pages highlighting stationery shops around the world. It was a good overview of the history of the most useful stationery supplies, and delves into classic companies that make them. It left me wanting more…not in a bad way…in a I’ve had a taste, now I want more details kind of way. Also, now I want to travel the world seeing the best stationery shops.

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett 

This was for book group. If you don’t know, Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man Series which were turned into some of my favorite old movies. In our group, the book got mixed reviews. It is about a detective hired to clean up a town that is out of control with corruption. The characters and alliances are very confusing…I actually made a character map to try to figure things out. As someone in book club said, once you give up trying to figure things out, it’s an enjoyable read. Hammett is a really sharp writer and there were so many quotes that I marked as perfect descriptions or things that made me laugh. I really love Film Noir and this book made me feel like I was reading an old movie. Supposedly The Glass Key is one of his best, so I’ve added that to my list for later this year.

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury 

I can’t remember ever reading Bradbury before. This one came up in a discussion as a great summer read and I love a seasonal book so… It was really lovely. I just notice the library stickered it as Science Fiction, but it wasn’t sci-fi at all. It was a coming-of-age story (How many of those have I read this year?) about a boy growing up in a small town in Illinois. Basically, he realizes his mortality this summer and learns to appreciate the moments of life, especially the making of dandelion wine with his grandfather. The wine will be enjoyed over the winter and remind them all of specific happenings on these summer days. Supposedly the book is semi-autobiographical. Dandelion Wine was just a beautiful summer reading experience.

Bright Center of Heaven by William Maxwell

Have I mentioned how much I love William Maxwell? This was his first novel, and it definitely wasn’t as developed as Time Will Darken It or Song of the Lark or The Folded Leaf, but Maxwell already had honed his perfect ways in describing relationships and feelings. The story revolves around artistic guests and the lonely owner of a boarding house in the early 1930s. It takes awhile to get to the “conflict” which is the tension between the black lecturer who was invited to stay at the boarding house and the other guests, but even though the conflict is imperfect, the rest of the story is engaging and beautifully written. (But I may be biased…) I have one more Maxwell to read and then I’ll be finished with his novels…it feels bittersweet. I might save it as a Christmas present to myself.

This Saturday is book club and we’re reading an autobiography…looking forward to finishing my first book for August!

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June Books

 

I squeezed in a short story on June 30th, but I’ll talk about that next month. I had to take my book stack picture early because No Surrender was due and I wanted to be a responsible library patron.

I was pretty pleased with my reading in June. Each book was really different, but let’s not get too crazy! They’re all old!

No Surrender by Constance Maud

This one came highly recommended by Persephone Book fans but I thought it read like a made-for-TV movie about the suffrage movement in England. It was good…but not great. I definitely felt like a learned a ton about what those women went through and what sacrifices were made for the right to vote, but I never really connected with the characters and it sort of slogged midway through. Still, I’m glad I read it, especially since I just happened to be reading it during the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment passing here in the US.

Letters of Arthur George Heath

This one was for book club and is really different than the books we usually read, but it was universally loved by the group. It’s a non-fiction book of one soldier’s letters to home. Arthur George Heath’s family published his letters after he was killed early in World War I. The letters were both ordinary and moving. In some, he asks for mundane details about his family’s new home and he requests a new pipe, books, and pajamas. In others, he’s telling his mother that if he dies, she should still enjoy places that he loved at home and not let them cause her pain because he is gone. He’s also very funny, suggesting that his fellow soldiers shouldn’t start War & Peace because “if one makes ambitious plans like that, one certainly gets killed in the middle.” It was a pretty easy read, and of course I loved that it was letters. A book club member shared this article after our discussion and it was really great for filling in some of the historical gaps about war letter writing.

Time Will Darken It by William Maxwell

This is my third Maxwell book of the year and I absolutely loved this book. It’s a story about a couple, Austin and Martha King, who have visitors staying with them for an extended period of time during a summer. They are Austin’s relatives and his foster cousin, Nora, is in love with him and the other relatives take advantage of Austin’s community connections and make some bad business deals. These two things create the slow downfall of Austin’s relationships, both with his wife and with his small community. (Oh did I mention the story, like most of Maxwell’s books, happens in a small Illinois town?) While there is not a ton of action in most of the book, I just love the way Maxwell is able to explain the human experience. I loved every minute of it.

I think I’m going to try to read the other two Maxwell novels that I haven’t read yet. I just finished my first book for July and haven’t decided what’s next, but I think my plan to read back-to-back E.M. Forster may be a mistake…

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May Book Report

I’m back with another tiny book stack.  I’ve decided if I can read two books and a short story per month this summer, I’ll be doing pretty well!

Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath

This one came out earlier this year, but was written by Plath when she was a college student in 1952. It felt very Shirley Jackson-ish, like a Twilight Zone episode. You know Mary is on a train trip to somewhere and it slowly becomes apparent that she is going to an ominous place. I loved it, but you know I love a good, dark short story.

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I tried to love this book. I loved The Great Gatsby. I enjoy books about women with mental health issues who are being cared for by their doctor/husband. (Hello, “Yellow Wallpaper!”) I enjoy books about affairs and beach vacations and lots of drinking. This book had it all, but seriously…it was the worst. I really wanted something juicy to happen at the end (perhaps a drunk car crash off a cliff?) but sadly, that didn’t happen. (If you liked this book, I’d love to know why! I feel like my entire book club and I must be missing something! It was the lowest rated book in a long time!)

To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski

The book starts with married couple, Deborah and Graham in bed, Deborah promising fidelity while Graham is gone to war. Graham isn’t making any promises (because he’s a man, obviously…) I just knew I was going to love this wife and all of the trouble she gets into. Deborah has many, many, many escapades and she works the system and is able to create quite a rich life for herself while her husband is gone to war. Her standards get lower and lower as the book goes on, and her justifications get more wild. I had such a good time reading this book, which was written in 1946 and in some ways explores how different wartime expectations were for women compared to men. I love that Deborah is “bad.” She definitely made this book a different kind of wartime novel. The descriptions of the cocktails and the dinners and the gifts were also amazing and really just made this a great read! It was good to enjoy something after that book club book…

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Returning to the JC Penney Museum

When you’re back in Hamilton, you cannot miss another opportunity to see the J.C. Penney Museum! My dad and I took Naoto and showed him around. We felt like after our visit four years ago, we were qualified to be J.C. Penney Museum docents.

Of course I pointed out all of the old typewriters… I tried to notice and photograph new things this time… I was especially fond of the old catalogs and the first credit cards! I know it’s better now with saving paper and all, but I really miss looking through catalogs. I always loved looking through them and imagining myself as a grown-up lady. 
I’m so glad we went back. Postcards (which I shared yesterday) were still ten cents each, making them the best deal in town!

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All I’ve Been Doing is Reading

The title is true. Other than work, a few custom card orders, writing letters, and watching my way through Schitt’s Creek and The Office, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Our apartment is a mess, Naoto has been doing 95% of the cooking, and I’ve been neglecting my emails, but man, I’m really enjoying books lately.

What Diantha Did by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

We read this for book club in January. I picked it because we all loved “The Yellow Wallpaper” and it’s always fun revisiting authors we’ve enjoyed in the past. Diantha’s marriage to the man she loves keeps getting pushed back because he can not afford to provide for her and his mother and his unmarried sisters. So Diantha takes control and starts her own cleaning business which takes off like crazy until she rules over a cleaning empire. The book really makes you think about the value of women’s work and the roles of women at home during the 20s. Diantha’s fiancé has a very difficult time understanding why she works and can’t come to terms with her role as a provider. The ending felt a little rushed but in general, I liked it a lot.

The Odd Women by George Gissing

Have I mentioned here how much I love a good spinster novel? (I need to write a blog post about the book that started my infatuation with these books!) This one really fit the bill. The title comes from the fact that there were about one million more women than men in England at the end of the 19th century. The “odd women” were the unmarried women. The book explores five women: two “early feminists,” unmarried by choice, two by happenstance (their parents died and they had little family money,) and one woman who marries for financial security, which ends up being a terrible mistake. It shows the limited options for women back at the turn of the century, especially women without family money. I’ve never read Gissing before but now I’m curious about some of his other titles.

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

I can’t believe I haven’t read this before. Lucy Honeychurch falls in love on vacation in Italy but ends up engaged to another man back in England. She has to decide between following her social class and the old rules of Victorian society or following her own heart. I loved the main story, but all of the supporting characters made this book such a fun read. (There were spinsters!) We read Forster’s A Passage to India in book club, and now I want to read Howard’s End and Maurice.

“Afterward” by Edith Wharton

This was recommended a few years ago during our book club Halloween reads and I never finished it. At Christmastime, I picked it up again and finally set out to read it last month. I’m annoyed that I waited because it’s so good, such a well-crafted short story. Pick it up at Halloween, or at Christmas, because apparently reading creepy books at Christmas is a thing?

The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell 

This was our book for February’s book club. We read Maxwell’s They Came Like Swallows a few summers ago and everyone loved it. Maxwell’s writing it so beautiful and there are a lot of autobiographical details in his books. The Folded Leaf is a coming of age story about two boys in Chicago: Spud, strong and confident, and Lymie, weak and thoughtful. The book follows the two friends from grade school to college and gives a wonderful glimpse into life in Chicago and Illinois in the 1920s. In book club, we had a good debate at book club about whether it’s a friendship novel, or a love story.

Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto

I read Yoshimoto’s Kitchen last fall after reading The Convenience Store Woman. I loved Kitchen, and its companion short story, “Moonlight Shadow” so much. Both just were so emotional and magical. I had high hopes for Asleep and it fell short for me. It was actually three separate stories, all having to do with sleep and death and mourning and ghosts…similar themes to Kitchen, but just not executed as well (to me.)

So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell 

Ugh…this one was killer. The narrator is looking back on a small town murder that happened fifty years earlier. The murder happened after an affair was discovered between two neighboring families. The story of the murder is slowly woven into the coming-of-age story of the narrator, who ends up moving away and seeing his old friend years later in Chicago. (Oh yes, it’s another Illinois story by Maxwell.) This book is only 135 pages, but again, like The Folded Leaf, Maxwell does such a masterful job getting you to feel his regret and sadness, all those years later.

Hardboiled & Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto

Again, nothing beats Kitchen…”Hardboiled” was interesting, about a women who is celebrating the anniversary of her ex-lover’s death. Again, there is a lot of sadness and a little bit of a mystical aspect happening… And “Hard Luck” is about a woman whose sister is dying and she’s falling in love with someone new. So, a little bit of loss and a little bit of promise…I’m taking a break from Banana Yoshimoto.

Unpunished by Charlotte Perkins Gilman 

This one wasn’t printed until well after Gilman’s death but it’s fantastic! It’s a detective story that had me thinking about The Thin Man movies. Of course, since it’s Gilman, there are a lot of feminist themes throughout the book. The detectives are a husband and wife team and the murder victim has been killed five times, five different ways (but you’re not sorry for him because he was a controlling, abusive jerk.) There are some great twists and some great symbolism but it’s still a light, fun read.

Since I started this post, I finished another book, but I’ll save that for my next book report. I’m starting a book by another Japanese author tonight (I think!) My reading is going to have to start slowing down though so I can get some projects done and get ready for my first craft show of the year next month. It’s been so nice though…I guess I just need to give up some other things so I have more time to read…

I’d love to hear what you’re reading!

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Very Serious Crafts Podcast

serious crafts podcast live taping, harold washington libraryMollie is the first “internet friend” I ever met. I went to a little stitching meet-up for her Wild Olive blog readers back in 2011 and we’ve seen each other a few other times over the years and obviously have kept up over social media. She and two other professional crafters (Haley Pierson-Cox and Heidi Gustad) host the Very Serious Crafts Podcast. I’m an occasional listener, so when they announced a live taping at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library, I signed up to go.During the podcast, the hosts talked about vintage crafts and what books got them started in crafting. They each passed around vintage crafts and supplies, including this kooky hairy couple and weirdly sweet kitty. There was also a terrifying clown made out of fabric yo-yos (sorry Mollie!) and some vintage needle books.

At the end, we each made a coffee cup sleeve using various techniques. I embroidered for the first time in a long time and it was pretty fun, even though my stitches were uneven and imperfect. I think I need to find my embroidery supplies and start making again!

They tape the podcasts in advance so I’ll let you know when it is live in case you want to listen in! Do you have any podcasts you listen to regularly?

 

P.S. Speaking of podcasts…Naoto still hasn’t posted his…

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Summer Book Report, Part 2

summer reading, a good man is hard to find, we have always lived in a castle, a country doctor, consequences, convenience store womanI gave myself until the technical start of fall to finish my goal of reading ten books, and I’m going to call it complete. I finished my last book on Tuesday, and one of my choices is technically a short story, but…it’s all good. I’ve been reading up a storm, finishing all of these this month. (Don’t be too impressed…one book was a layover from August and the others are quite short!)

A Country Doctor by Sarah Orne Jewett (1884): This was for book group and it was kind of meh. The writing is really lovely, but many parts were too verbose and I didn’t feel the same connection to the characters that I have in other books. Oh, and it’s another single woman, finding her way in the world, struggling between career and marriage…I’m not complaining. I love those books. This just wasn’t my favorite.

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor (1953): It’s a short story that I can’t believe I’ve never read. I can’t tell you anything. Don’t read about it. Just get it and read it. It’s perfection.

Consequences by E.M. Delafield (1919): Another spinster novel…I loooooved this. It took me almost a month to read it and I had to take a break from reading it to read for book club. But, every time I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. It is a tale of a misunderstood child turned single woman who makes many bad choices in life (a life constrained by society’s expectations and restrictions) and has to live with the consequences.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2016): Oh look! It’s a book written this century! Naoto’s sister recommended this book to him a couple years ago and it was the book that got him back into reading. He read the Japanese version and I was a little bummed because it wasn’t available in English when he told me about it. Then, I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Work Over Easy, and I was reading this post thinking “huh, this book sounds like that one Naoto read!” and sure enough it was! I immediately ordered it from the library and read it in one day. I loved it so much, but it’s hard to explain why. Weirdly enough, it’s another book about a single woman who has made some “non-traditional” choices. I loved the main character and I loved how the author paints the perfect picture of life in a convenience store. (Sidenote: convenience stores are way better in Japan…perhaps I need to write a new Japan Does It Better post.)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (1962): I haven’t read enough Shirley Jackson. “The Lottery” is one of my favorite short stories ever. This was the perfect introduction into my spooky October reading. The book was creepy and captivating and funny…and the first paragraph is one of the best ever written:

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.

For book club next month, we are reading Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and I just started Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, another Japanese book that I read about in the New York Times review of Convenience Store Woman. Perhaps I’ll be back with a fall review soon! In the meantime, here are some of my favorite book club reads from October!

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Summer Book Report, Part 1

summer book report, summer reading, little women, o pioneers!, the precipice, classic literatureI’m only halfway to my goal of reading ten books for the summer. Of course, I consider September summer still…autumnal equinox isn’t until September 22 after all. I need to buckle down and put my phone down more often and pick up a book from my towering stack of library options. (I’ve also been reading some non-fiction–cookbooks, a book about tomatoes, and a book about cleaning–on and off while I watch TV. I suppose I should consider these in my ten summer books but they’re more for personal and garden improvement. I’ll probably do a separate post about those kinds of books.)

I know I’ve mentioned my book club before, but we only read books written before the 1950s. We’ve made some exceptions, but nothing we’ve read is contemporary by any means. I cannot express how much I love these books, which are sometimes tedious and slow but almost always rewarding. Our discussions are usually really good, even better when we disagree on how good the book is or have different interpretations about a character’s motive or something. Someone in the group always brings up something really profound about the book that no one else thought of. And usually by the end of the meetings, we all like the book more than when we initially finished. When I read things on my own, I find myself popping onto Goodreads to see what other people say about the book, just so I can try to learn more and see things I didn’t see during my reading.

So…a little synopsis of my reading thus far:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868/69): We read this for book group in June and half of us had read it as children and the other half were experiencing it for the first time. I was in the latter group. It didn’t hold the same magic for me that people talk about when you mention Little Women. I found the little vignettes to be tedious and saccharine. I’ve since read some feminist perspectives about the book and Alcott that made me appreciate it more, but…I think I missed my chance to fall in love with Little Women. It probably would have been dreamy in fifth grade.

The Victorian Chaise Longue by Marghanita Laski (1953): Kathy recommended this one to me a long time ago and I finally had to just buy a used copy because no library could get it for me. It reminded me a lot of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which I’ve read too many times to count. Victorian Chaise Longue is terrifying and haunting. A modern woman who has tuberculosis falls asleep on a used chaise lounge and wakes up ninety years earlier (mid-1800s) in the body of another woman who also has tuberculosis. It’s a good feminist read, and sort of sticks around in your head after you’re done.

The Precipice by Elia Wilkinson Peattie (1914): We read this for book group last month and I flagged so many passages. The main character is a Chicago social worker at the turn of the century during the early years of Hull House. All different types of women are portrayed, from feminist progressive women, to women who held traditional roles as wives and mothers to women who were making compromises between the old and the new worlds and career versus family. It felt a little contrived at times…everyone fit into a box, but it was a nice perspective about life for women at that time and it’s always fun to read a Chicago book.

Death Takes Priority by Jean Flowers (2015): I talked about this one last week. If you like light reads and the post office, I recommend this book! (Mom, you would like it!)

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather (1913): We just finished this one in book group over the weekend. I just love Willa Cather. (The group read My Antonia before I joined, and we read Song of the Lark a few years ago, which is the opposite order that the books were written as the “Great Plains Trilogy.” We also read Lucy Gayheart, which is one of her later books, and another Chicago book.) Her prose is so lovely, and O Pioneers! was a peaceful read. Nothing happens for the first two-thirds of the book but you don’t mind because she’s painting a beautiful picture and setting up the “action.” (I use that term loosely.) Her story structure is so good…there’s a point in the book where there’s a perfect break, a tiny breath between acts. And her description of winter as a pause between the abundance of fall and the promiscuity of spring was nothing less than life-changing. (Mom, you would love this one, too!)summer book report, summer reading, little women, o pioneers!, the precipice, classic literature, Presley the cat

Next up for me is Consequences by E.M. Delafield. It came as a recommendation as a good post World War I spinster book during a podcast about Lolly Willowes (which probably deserves its own post…it was such a fun read and so different from the other spinster novels of the era! We read it for book club and it was a surprise pick that everyone loved!)

Presley and I would love to hear what’s on your nightstand.

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Mavis Staples at the Library

Mavis Staples, Greg Kot, I'll Take You There, One Book One City, Chicago Public LibraryLast month, Naoto and I went to the Harold Washington Library to see an interview with musical legend Mavis Staples. Greg Kot, one of the hosts of our favorite NPR show, Sound Opinions, wrote a book detailing Mavis’s life and her musical and civil rights history. The book, I’ll Take You There, was the One Book, One Chicago choice for 2017.mavis staples, greg kot, one book, one chicago, I'll Take You There, Harold Washington LibraryI haven’t finished the book yet, but Sound Opinions devoted two episodes to Mavis this year (First episode, second episode) and she’s an incredible storyteller and has lead such a fascinating life. She has been singing professionally since 1950, starting out as a gospel singer with her family, The Staples Singers. Gradually, they branched into blues and pop. Even when Mavis was young, her voice was low and husky. She joked that people used to think she was a “fat old woman” until they saw her on stage, a young girl with a big voice.

Eventually, Mavis embarked on a solo career that’s been going strong since the 60s. Her father was close friends with Martin Luther King Junior and civil rights and social justice themes show up often in her music. When we saw her in concert last fall, she mentioned that she’s been fighting for social justice for sixty-eight years and she’s “not tired yet.” We’re big fans of 1960s protest music here at the Adami-Hasegawa house and Mavis has been a big part of that mix. Kimberly and Greg Kot, one book one chicago, mavis staples, I'll take you there, Harold Washington LibraryGreg Kot stayed after their discussion to sign books, so I had him sign mine. (We lamented the fact that Bob Dylan wouldn’t come on stage and sing with Mavis during their tour, which was a huge disappointment for all of us when we saw them.) I’m looking forward to getting back into the book once I finish my book club book this week. If you love music, history, and the Civil Rights Movement, you can’t go wrong with I’ll Take You There.

Here’s President Obama talking about Mavis at the Kennedy Honors reception in 2016. He gets the last word today.

 

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Stamp Out Hate 

Stamp Out Hate, resist, #resist, political postcards, Paper Pastries, sakura moonlight gel pens, letter writers allianceDonovan of the Letter Writers Alliance has taken letter writing to another level with her latest project, Stamp Out Hate. Stamp Out Hate is a “project devoted to spreading hope through the mail.” It encourages positivity and kindness by writing letters and postcards. Each month, there is an action item where Donovan shares the story and address of a person or an organization who could use some positive mail vibes. So far, it’s ranged from mosques and women’s groups to individuals who have received hate mail for speaking out. Stamp Out Hate, resist, #resist, political postcards, Paper Pastries, sakura moonlight gel pens, letter writers allianceDonovan has also been hosting mini letter socials for each action. This month I had a chance to go to one at the Read/Write Library in Chicago. There were pens, rubber stamps, stickers, a stack of postcards, and plenty postage. She had the addresses and stories ready to get us started writing. It took about fifteen minutes to write three postcards. It felt good to be a part of something positive. Sometimes writing elected officials brings out anger and stress. Writing people and organizations who are helping make the world a more welcoming place makes my heart a little bit lighter. (Not that I’ll stop writing my elected officials…it’s just not always fun.) If you’re interested, here’s the Action Items for July. Obviously you don’t have to meet Donovan to write a letter. You can write on any postcards or stationery you have at home, or print out some official Stamp Out Hate postcards or stationery. And there’s stickers, stamps, and postcards available to buy in the Letter Writers Alliance shop. But really, I think just writing is the key to Stamp Out Hate. The other stuff is icing on the cake. Spinning J's pie, raspberry lemonade pie, pie and coffeeSpeaking of cake…or pie…if you DO end up going to one of Donovan’s Stamp Out Hate Socials, they are often in her neighborhood which means you will be close to Spinning J’s Cafe & Bakery. I highly suggest you treat yourself to a slice of pie.

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