Wednesday, August 31, 2005

More Adventures in Reading

Someone at Readerville told me that she's heard some publishers are stretching the YA category (which has always been vague, anyway) to include people in their early twenties. We got into a discussion of how the literary world is concerned that "young people" don't read, and by "young people" they might mean twenty-somethings, since teen titles are moving right now. Thus, stretching YA to include people in their twenties might be an attempt to create some kind of product that those people will read.

This made me recall that when I was in my twenties I actually had trouble finding things I wanted to read. I would reread mysteries I'd read back in college (I didn't read much during the school year, then, either because I had too much to do with my classwork.), but I can also recall going to the library and just finding nothing there that grabbed me.

Such is not the case now. Now I go to the library and know very well that I'll never get to reading all the things that interest me.

For instance, I was in the library Monday and passed on Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood, 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published, The King's English, Adventures of an Independent Bookseller, and Neverwhere. Maybe some day.

I brought home Away Laughing on a Fast Camel because I'm a sucker for Georgia Nicolson, Whales on Stilts even though I don't think it looks all that promising because I liked one of the author's other books, and Godless because I read another book by the same author this past summer.

And I took out When Bad Grammar Happens to Good People because I'm always worried it will happen to me, The Polysyllabic Spree because I've read other books by the author, and The Gate to Women's Country because we're going to be discussing it at the YA bookgroup at Readerville.

Gee, I seem to be attracted to books because I've already read something by the author. If I keep that up, my reading is going to become very narrow. But I'm not going to worry about that while I have this stack of library books in front of me.

Plus I had three from an earlier trip.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Adventures in Reading

On my way to a medical appointment yesterday, I realized I'd forgotten to bring the book I was reading. I'm reading Freddy and Fredericka by Mark Helprin. I'm rather enjoying it, but it's a big book and I really need to spend every moment I can spare reading the thing. So I turned around to go back home to get it, then decided that was obsessive and turned around again and went on my way.

This meant that in the medical office I had to read one of their magazines. I, of course, picked up some kind of organic or natural living magazine because I'm really into reading that kind of stuff, though not necessarily living it. I found an article on clearing your house of pollutants and what do I read but that I should be cleaning that pan under my fridge that collects water every month and not two or three times in the life of the fridge the way I usually do. So I got all upset about that and at four-thirty yesterday afternoon I was pulling that little grill off the bottom of my refrigerator. Only to discover that I didn't even have a pan under my fridge. Since it is several years old and I just discovered that yesterday you will get some idea of how often I get under there.

The whole job was a complete waste of time because it was filty under there and needed to be vacuumed. But if I had had my own book with me, I would never have read that magazine and never have used up that valuable reading time cleaning.

The moral of this story is, for the love of God always carry a book.

Helprin has also written a set ofthree children's books, which I haven't read but will certainly look for now.

Friday, August 26, 2005

This Puts an Entirely Different Spin on Things

According to a Yahoo News article, analysts were expecting a bigger boost for Barnes & Noble sales as a result of the Harry Potter release. Though HP6 was the "fastest-selling book in history," many retailers were selling it at big discounts in order to compete with Amazon, which right now appears to be selling it for a little more than half price. Barnes & Noble is supposed to have sold most of its HP6s at 40% discounts.

Now, this article is primarily about how Barnes & Noble is doing. It doesn't get into why B&N, and other bookstores if I read the article correctly, were selling the book at such deep discounts. Was the book, perhaps, too pricie? Three days after the book was released a librarian was speaking with me and wondering why the book had been priced at nearly $30 when no one was charging that for it.

For quite some time now book people have been buzzing about the cost of hardcover books and even high quality paperbacks. The high cost of reading may be what's turning off many readers.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

An Attempt to Better Explain my Feelings About the Ending of I am the Messenger

And also talk about How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren.

Now How to Read a Book has some good stuff in it, but said stuff is somewhat hard to find. You have to, in fact, know how to read a book to get much out of it because the authors are big believers that if something is worth saying it's worth saying again and again and again. What's more, why say something simply if you can twist it up a bit?

However, the authors say some things that I think relates to the book I was discussing the last time I was here. First off, while nonfiction books "try to convey knowledge...Imaginative ones try to communicate an experience itself..." Second, "...we can learn from imaginative literature...but not in the same way as we are taught by scientific and philosophical books. We learn from the course of our daily lives. So, too, we can learn from the vicarious, or artistically created, experiences that fiction produces in our imagination...In order to learn from such books, we have to do our own thinking about experience..."

Now, how this relates to I am the Messenger: That book ends by hitting us over the head with a message, something for us to learn. We should have picked that up through the experience the author created for us in writing the book itself. We weren't allowed to do our own thinking. Maybe the author didn't trust us to do it, or maybe he wasn't confident of his own ability to create an experience we could learn from.

Adler and Van Doren also say that writers create a world and that readers should "become at home in this imaginary world; know it as if you were an observer on the scene; become a member of its population, willing to befriend its characters, and able to participate in its happenings by sympathetic insight, as you would do in the actions and sufferings of a friend."

I think that in I am the Messenger Markus Zusak did create a world, and I did become at home in it. I did befriend its characters. But then Zusak destroyed that world with his ending. That's a disturbing payback for readers who have invested so much in reading a book.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Snatching Defeat Out of the Jaws of Victory

At least, almost.

I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak is a marvelous book. I enjoyed it a great deal. It has a wonderful main character and deals with post high school people who aren't going on to college, a group that often doesn't get a lot of attention. The quality of the writing, the imagery, is fantastic.

If only it had a different ending.

The ending is gimmicky with way too obvious a message. I was left wondering if Zusak couldn't come up with an ending and wrapped the story up with what we see here.

As I was reading I am the Messenger, I kept wondering what made it a YA book. Okay, Ed, the main character, is nineteen. But he could just as easily have been twenty-nine or thirty-nine or even forty-nine. There was nothing about Ed's situation that was specifically young adult. Plus there was plenty of adult language and sexual situations that were handled in an adult sort of way.

An instructive ending, though, definitely marks a book as being for the young. Adult readers don't expect to get a blatant lesson with their literature, and I can't think of any cases offhand in which they do. With a better ending, I am the Messenger could have been a crossover book like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

Which is not to say no one should read this book. It's a great read with one big flaw.

What's With These Quill Awards?

The number of book awards just seems to grow and grow and grow. This isn't a bad thing, by any means, since awards should bring good books to the attention of the public. Though, of course, there's no guarantee that that happens.

At any rate, we've got a brand new one called The Quill Award, which allows the reading public to vote for favorite books. I like this democratic attitude, but how were the books the public gets to choose from nominated? "Quills staff identified thousands of English-language titles, released in the U.S between August 1, 2004 and July 31, 2005; that had received starred reviews or had appeared on national bestseller lists during the year." Then a Nominating Board chose its favorites and those became the nominees. So it's possible that some of these books are popular (appeared on national bestseller lists) rather than good (receiving starred reviews). Though God knows it's a mystery how some books receive their stars.

So here are the nominees for categories we're interested in:

Children's Chapter Book/Middle Grade
DRAGON RIDER by Cornelia Funke, translated by Anthea Bell (Chicken House/Scholastic Books)
HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Mary GrandPré (Scholastic/Levine)
IDA B...AND HER PLANS TO MAXIMIZE FUN by Katherine Hannigan (Greenwillow Books)
PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (Disney Press)
A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS BOOK ELEVENTH: THE GRIM GROTTO by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist (HarperCollins Children's Books)

Young Adult/Teen
47 by Walter Mosley (Little Brown and Co.)
ABARAT: DAYS OF MAGIC NIGHTS OF WAR by Clive Barker (Joanna Cotler Books)
HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff (Wendy Lamb Books)
WORMWOOD by G.P. Taylor (Putnam Juvenile)

I'm not a fan of Cornelia Funke, didn't care much for this year's Harry P. book, and really disliked Ida B.. Two of the books in the YA category were written by well-known adult writers, so they may have made it onto bestseller lists for that reason. I haven't read the third sisterhood book because I didn't like the first one. However, in this category I have a very clear favorite--I'm a big fan of How I Live Now.

I hope I can get the other members of my household to watch the awards show in October.

Friday, August 19, 2005

What I'd Give for a Good Book

Many of us compulsive readers have to finish reading any book we start. It's supposed to be a sign of maturity--or old age--when you can bring yourself to throw in the towel when you're reading something that's taking you nowhere.

Well, I've thrown in the towel on at least six books this summer. They were all adult books, so I shouldn't go into them here. I will say that the last two didn't seem to have a story. Or I couldn't find it. One of them was a work of fiction that I thought was supposed to be philosophical. I kept thinking, When's the philosophy starting? Then I realized that maybe it already had, and I just didn't get it.

I've gone back to YA and am reading I am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak. A bank robbery is foiled in the very first pages. I was reading along and thinking, Thank God! Something is happening!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A Good Word for Libraries

Going to the library is a wonderful experience. It certainly was for me today.

I stumbled across a book called Best Books for Middle School and Junior High Readers by John T. Gillespie and Catherine Barr. Call me vain, but whenever I see a book like that, I look to see if I'm included. It could happen. And in this case, it did! Three times!!! Club Earth, Hero of Ticonderoga, and Saving the Planet & Stuff were all listed as best books.

So then, I saw another book right next to the first one. Except this one was called Best Books for High School Readers, by the same authors. So I thought, I'm going to be greedy and look in this one, too. I was there! Saving the Planet & Stuff made both books!

I don't get this kind of excitement often.

Jane Yolen Got Some Press Recently, Too

Newsweek's website did an interview with her. Now, I've heard for years that Jane wrote a wizard book pre-Harry P. that was interestingly similar. This interview gives the details.

This Was Enlightening

I loved Lord of the Flies when I read it as a sophomore in high school. It may have been my first experience with symbolism, and I ate it up. I thought the book was deep and profound and wonderful.

Years later I convinced a young relative to read it. He hated it.

So I was very interested to read Rebecca Traister's article Reading "Lord of the Flies" on Salon. Traister isn't a fan of the book, either. She makes the symbolism I found deep and profound and wonderful sound just a little bit obvious.

The really interesting thing about her article, though, is that Traister says that when she was first exposed to Lord of the Flies (eighth grade for her), she realized she could write papers on books just on the basis of class discussion. She didn't have to read the books. And, by golly, my young relative did that, too. Quite a bit, from what I've heard.

I hope he didn't get started down that road because I made him read Lord of the Flies.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Yes, What Does It All Mean?

I've started listening to The Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobswhile I'm ironing clothes or sewing. (Yeah, yeah, yeah. I iron and sew.) The Know-It-All is about Jacobs quest to read The Encyclopedia Britannica. All of it.

Jacobs gets to the end of volume "C" and says something about not knowing what all this knowledge means. He doesn't feel any different. (I can't actually quote him because I'm listening to this on CD and can't figure out how to reverse without listening to an entire track again.)

His comment reminded me of my summer study on writing short stories. I have this vague hope that at some future date (also vague)I'll start doing fantastic revisions (yup, vague, too) of my short stories. But beyond that, I don't really feel any more competent than I was before.

So, since I'm not feeling particularly improved by my last round of studying, I'm going on to How to Read a Book--as I may have mentioned before--so I'll have more knowledge that won't make me feel any different.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

This is so Familiar, It's Creepy

This article on the music industry sounds so very, very much like things I've read and heard about publishing. What all this kind of talk makes me think is that eventually publishing of all kinds of media will return to small or even personal businesses that accept that they aren't going to make a fortune and will be more responsive to the public.

More Thoughts on Point of View--They Just Won't Go Away

I'm reading a book called The Lake, The River & The Other Lake by Steve Amick. Definitely not a kids' book or YA, though there are some teen characters. I'm bringing it up because of the point of view. It bounces among a wide array of characters living in a scenic town in Michigan. Now, I think I used to read books of this type when I was younger and, perhaps, more intellectually spry than I am now. (Didn't Dandelion Wine jump around? I loved that book back in my college days.) But I haven't read one in a while. I believe books with a "point of view character" are more what you're likely to find now.

I do like many of the characters, some more than others, but some of my favorites disappear for long periods of time as we bounce among the others. I also like books with a strong sense of place, and this book definitely has one. But I keep going, Where's the story? What's the point?

Is there something that books written like this are supposed to accomplish that I just don't know about? Is that strong sense of place supposed to be particularly meaningful here? Is the place the point?

Some day when I find that monastary with the point-of-view monks, I'm going to ask them these questions.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

What a Day!

First off, let me be right up front and say that the only work I did involved reading over the same few pages I've read over and over again and doing some freewriting. However, this morning I found the roll of 100 thirty-seven cent stamps I thought I bought for a mailing I'm doing to schools in this state. A good thing. It was at the bottom of my gear bag.

Then, I returned a crockpot to a friend from my old writing group and the friend invited me to be the author speaker at a weekend writers' retreat next winter! This is very exciting, but, like speaking at the teachers' conference, I can't say anything more about it until it's a done deal.

A good day, though, in the midst of this not-so-great summer.

Speaking of Summer Makes Me Think of More Summer Study

I've finished my short story study, though it remains to be seen whether or not it will have an impact on my writing. Now I've started reading How to Read a Book by Mortimer and Van Doren. I got it for Christmas a few years back, having asked for it because I'd heard about it at Readerville. But I also have The Annotated Brothers Grimm from the library, which I wish I'd dipped into further instead of starting How to Read a Book. What to do, what to do?

All this summer study means is that there's a lot I don't know.

Monday, August 08, 2005

More on My Private Summer School

While I was reading Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular by Rust Hills hoping to find out what the heck I've been doing wrong all these years, I was also reading The Art of the Short Story by Dana Gioia and R.S. Gwynn. The Art of the Short Story is an anthology of short stories and "insights on writing" by "52 Great Authors." It definitely seems like a college textbook.

I can't say I got a great deal out of the "insights on writing," but I was exposed to writers I've never read before, including Sandra Cisneros, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ha Jin, Katherine Mansfield, Alice Munro, Leslie Marmon Silko, Alice Walker, Eudora Welty, and, of course, Franz Kafka, which I wrote about earlier. I've read Kafka! I probably shouldn't be writing about this because I think it's probably a terrible indictment of myself because I'd never read anything by these writers. But I'm so excited because now I've read Alice Munro! I've read Alice Walker! Eurdora Welty! And did I mention Kafka?

Will any of this reading make me a better writer? I don't know. But I've read

And on the Writing Front

I have reason to believe that I will not be distracted for a few hours tomorrow and may actually do a little work. Last week I changed the breed of a dog in a book I'm working on, named it, and wrote a good sentence. Hope I can do as well this week.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Boy, Was I Disappointed

I finished The Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer and thought it was a disappointing entry to the series.

In my humble opinion (and if the reviews at Amazon are any indication, it is only my humble opinion), Colfer goes wrong in a couple of the same ways that Rowling goes wrong. First, he confuses "series" with "serial." The Opal Deception is something of a continuation of The Eternity Code just as The Half Blood Prince is a continuation of whatever the heck Rowling's fifth book was called. Rowling just assumes everyone has memorized every detail in her books. Colfer, on the other hand, spends a lot of time awkwardly bringing readers up to speed. Second, Colfer feels compelled to kill someone off. The Artemis Fowl books are clever, witty, thrillers. They aren't deep, they aren't going to explain the meaning of life to anyone. The death wasn't necessary, and the grieving was out of place in a book that relies heavily on fart jokes. Oh? You say that in a series with so much mayhem it's unrealistic that no one dies? Need I remind you that these are books about fairies, pixies, trolls, and gnomes? We gave up on reality a few years back. What's more, the dead character was replaced with another almost like the one who bought the farm.

The plot is very choppy, too, with all kinds of jumps from character to character and place to place. This was true of one of the earlier books, but it wasn't nearly as grating as it was this time.

What a bummer.

More on the Goose Girl

I read the Grimm version of The Goose Girl. I'm very impressed that Shannon Hale found the original tale inspiring enough to come up with her The Goose Girl.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Gail and Fairytales

She doesn't like them. I can remember enjoying fairytales that were included in my elementary school reading books, but since then they have left me cold. And my dislike for fantasy is well documented. For romance, too.

In spite of all that, I really enjoyed The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. Hale's Goose Girl is a reworking of a fairytale I'd never even heard of. The main character, Ani, is a crown princess who feels she may not be up to the task. Her mom marries her off to a neighboring prince. During the six month trip to her fiance's castle, her lady-in-waiting and her male companion revolt, planning to replace Ani with the lady-in-waiting. This is the old days, remember, no photos, long distances between castles, etc. Ani escapes but has to live anyway she can to survive, and she becomes a caretaker for a flock of geese. The experience changes her. She becomes a stronger person, a better princess.

Ani changes in believable ways as a result of her experiences. Okay, you have to accept some communicating to animals stuff, but, once you do that, the storyline is pretty logical. And there's only a limited amount of prince charming material to have to tolerate.

I liked this book so much that I've become interested in fairytales in general. I've got a copy of Grimm's The Goose Girl upstairs that I'll be reading soon, and I'd like to do a little research on fairytales. For instance, are they archetypical stories related to human experience? I'm not asking if there was ever a princess who had to become a goose girl. I mean does the story represent the way sometimes people have to go through bad things in life in order to become better people?

If I find any information on this subject, you can be sure I'll let you know.

Monday, August 01, 2005

I Am So Ashamed

I didn't blog this past half hour because I was playing a lengthy game of solitaire. I did win, however.

In Case You Still Had Doubts

Bothering Snape and Trouble At Hogwarts prove, once and for all, that there are people out there with way too much time on their hands.