Sunday, June 08, 2008

48 Hour Book Challenge--The Final Summary

Number of Books Read: 8
Number of Pages Read: 1,580
Number of Hours Spent Reading: 22 and 3/4
Number of Hours Spent Blogging: 2 hours and 25 minutes

Someone here is disappointed that I didn't make 24 hours of reading. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's never what you did. It's what you could have done.

This was a satisfying Book Challenge. I feel steeped in the short story. In fact, last week before I even started reading short stories I spent some time reading about writing them in What If? to sort of prepare myself for my weekend.

I'm not sure that I've actually learned anything, though I am very aware that the YA or kidlit short story writer should be concerned with making her piece not just a good short story but good YA/kidlit fiction as well. I just don't know how exactly I should go about doing that.

Nonetheless I'm feeling good tonight.


Saturday, June 07, 2008

48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Eight

Well, folks, I ran out of books of short stories and the one book of essays (my secondary theme for this weekend) I found looked way too long and dull for me to finish before my time is up. So I took a chance on The Quikpick Adventure Society by Sam Riddleburger, which I sprang for a few weeks ago since it wasn't turning up in any libraries around here.

It's too bad it isn't in the local libraries, because it's really good. And different. In a good way.

I had been anxious about reading it because its author stops by my blog occasionally, and I was worried I wasn't going to like his book. I'd heard that the word "poop" appears numerous times in this story of three kids who head out on a quest to visit a sewage treatment plant on Christmas Day. I have no objection to the concept of poop, but I find the word, itself, way too cute. As I've been pointing out to friends and family for years, I am not a woman who does cute.

Well, the word doesn't appear all that often when you consider what a large place sewage has in the story.

Don't think for a minute that this is a tale that panders to young peoples' taste for toilet humor. On the contrary, it's a charming and funny story about three kids who are old enough to be out from under their parents' watchful eyes but still young enough to get psyched over the prospect of free soda. The first person narrator has a wonderful voice. It's the voice of innocence, I decided. His little asides in his report on the Society's adventures are his way of making sure all the truth gets out, and truth sometimes is funny.

So are the poop haiku. None of those short stories I read this weekend made me laugh the way those things did.

There's a lot more going on in this book than just excrement jokes. Riddleburger hits on some of the same things other kids' authors have been covering--friendship, attraction to girls, fitting in--he just makes you feel as if you're not reading the same old, same old. The fact that he can write about WalMart without getting all high and mighty suggests that this man has a future in literature.

I can't wait to pass this book on to BDT for his classroom library.

Reading Time: 1 and 1/4 hours

Number of Pages: 127

Blogging Time: 25 minutes

It's 11 PM. My 48 hours will be over at 7 tomorrow morning. I think it's time for me to call this a weekend. I'll total up my reading and blogging times tomorrow.


48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Seven

I've been on the fence regarding Avi. Years ago I liked his Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway? a lot, but other books not so much. Some time ago I read another themed anthology in which his offering was the stand-out by far.

His stories in Strange Happenings, Five Tales of Transformation are all quite good, too--well written, and some of them are very original. Being tales of transformation, they definitely have the change element that is required of short stories.

Some of these are what I think would be called fairy tales, something I don't usually care for. A couple of them don't have child characters. I don't know much about fairy tales or why they are so attractive to children. Perhaps there is some kind of change aspect to fairy tales, and kids, who are going to change, connect for them for that reason. This book is from the library's kids' room, not the teen room, and the stories do seem like good quality work for children.

Reading Time: 1 and 1/2 hours

Number of Pages: 147

Blogging Time: 15 minutes

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48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Six

Well, Thirteen, edited by James Howe, is no Necessary Noise, I'm afraid. This book describes itself as being "Thirteen stories that capture the agony and ecstasy of being thirteen," but a lot of the agony and ecstasy covered is pretty stereotypical early-teen angst. (Though I do understand that one person's stereotype is another person's classic situation.) And a lot of the writing of that stereotypical material isn't handled in unique or elegant ways. I have to admit, I had to skim at least a couple of these offerings. One of the stories sounded very much like a video you might see in health class.

Some of my favorites, though, were Thirteen and a Half, Rachel Vail's hysterical piece about exposing the young to death (though I wonder if teen readers will appreciate it as much as I did; I also wonder if there's something wrong with me because I laughed); Jeremy Goldblatt Is So Not Moses, a different approach to the teen uniformity story, both in terms of content and structure, by James Howe, and Angel & Aly, by Ron Koertge, in which we get the parents-don't-pay-enough-attention-to-their-children story without feeling we're being lectured on parenting.

Reading Time: 3 and 1/2 hours

Number of Pages: 278

Blogging Time: 15 minutes

Can I knock off another book before I pass out tonight? Let's see!

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48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Five

I finished Necessary Noise (Michael Cart, editor) at 9:30 this morning. Then I had to take five hours off to frolic in the woods. I did refuse to drive to and from the event so I could read 60+ pages of book six, and now I'm back in Book Challenge mode until 7 AM tomorrow morning.

I read one of Michael Cart's anthologies a few years back and liked it. This book, too, has a lot of high quality writing. (Though there is one story I found quite dreadful. But I won't dwell on that.) The variety of subject matter/content here makes for good reading, too. Also, I can see the change thing going on in many of these pieces.

Once again, though, I have to wonder if some of these things are specifically YA. Visit by Walter Dean Myers is fantastic but written from an adult's point of view. A Woman's Touch by Rita Williams-Garcia, also very good, is told from a child's point of view (I can't recall exactly what age), and I can certainly imagine a teenager reading it. But I can also imagine adults reading it in an adult literary journal. It deals with a boy whose mother has moved the family in with her quite butch girlfriend, a woman who is willing to take on the traditional responsibilities of father to this boy, which his biological father is shirking. Perhaps I felt that way because the irony of a woman accepting that role seems like something an adult would appreciate more than a young person. Or maybe the story isn't meant to be ironic at all. I liked Lois Lowry's Snowbound a lot, too, and can even imagine myself reading a novel about this family. But this story seemed very adult to me. It deals with an adult fear and while the point of view switches include the children's points of view, not enough.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with YAs reading adult fiction. They're supposed to. They're supposed to make the transition. But, you know me. I'm always struggling with definitions.

Reading Time: 3 hours

Number of Pages: 239

Blogging Time: 20 minutes

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Friday, June 06, 2008

48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Three

When I go on these study binges what often happens is that I find myself more and more confused as I am exposed to more and more information.

Book Number Three was Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales edited by Deborah Noyes. Now I don't know a lot about Gothic literature, though I've certainly read some over the years. In her introduction, Noyes raises the question of whether or not a gothic story is a horror story. I had thought they were dark and creepy but within reality--freaky old houses, mysterious older men, damsels in distress, dark secrets. Noyes says that "'s probably more accurate to think of gothic as a room within the larger house of horror...In horror stories, the boundaries between innocence and malevolence are often clearly marked in blood. In the gothic, evil frequently triumphs; beauty certainly fades; monks may be wicked and thrive; murderers can and do claim the moral high ground."

It's almost as if there's more justice and closure in horror than in gothic.

Many of these stories in Gothic! did seem like horror or ghost stories to me. That's not to say they were bad. I had just never thought of gothic stories in terms of that, and now I have to.

Regarding the business of whether or not something happens in these stories that changes the protagonist, which is supposed to be the mark of a short story: Well, if you're alive at the beginning and dead at the end, I guess that's a change. If you have a face at the beginning, and you don't at the end, that's a change I suppose.

We these stories, since they are supposed to be YA (in the introduction Noyes says as much), you have to consider what makes them YA. Is it just a teenage protagonist? Or should a gothic story have something thematically about it that makes it YA?

I don't know. This is what I mean by becoming more confused.

I think the best story in terms of being both what I think of as gothic and what I think of as YA is Gregory Maguires' The Prank.

Reading Time: 4 hours

Number of Pages: 234

Blogging Time: 25 minutes

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48 Hour Book Challenge--Book Two

I remember ripping through books during Year One of the Book Challenge. Things seem to be going much more slowly this time around.

I read one or two of Jack Gantos's collections of Jack Henry stories years ago and definitely admired them. Today I read Jack Adrift and feel the same way. Gantos writes short stories readers of any age can enjoy.

Most of these short stories, while interconnected, also fit the classic description of a short story in that something happens to the main character that changes him. I think reading these in the class room would give students a pretty good idea of what a short story should be.

One of the things I like about the Jack Henry books is that the parents are struggling yet not dysfunctional. They aren't a sitcom couple, but they're there for their kids.

Reading Time: 3 hours

Number of Pages: 197

Blogging Time: 10 minutes

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48 Hour Book Challenge--Book One

Many books of short stories for kids and young adults are "themed books," meaning someone came up with an idea for a book of short stories and then contacted some writers to ask them to write on that theme. Well, Friends, edited by Ann M. Martin and David Levithan, is one of those. It describes itself as "Stories About New Friends, Old Friends, And Unexpectedly True Friends," but it doesn't actually use the term "short stories" anywhere.

That sounds as if I'm nitpicking, but some of these things read like memoirs--memoirs that were dashed off quickly between other writing jobs. Some of the pieces here come across as just telling what happened to me without much filtering or shaping into a piece of literature. Most of the memoir-type pieces don't come off very well, except for Virginia Euwer Wolff's Doll, which is excellent.

Among the better short stories are Shashikala: A Brief History of Love and Khadi by Tanuja Desai Hidier (though it may be a little too sophisticated and difficult for younger readers), The Wild Prince by Brian Selznick, and Flit by Patrick Jennings. I think kid readers would probably find Flit to be the best fit for them.

The reviews at Amazon describe this book as being for the upper elementary grades or middle school students.

Reading Time: 3 Hours

Number of Pages: 181

Blogging Time: 15 minutes

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

The 48 Hour Book Challenge

For me the 48 Hour Book Challenge starts tomorrow at 7:00 AM.

I have found the Book Challenge is much more satisfying if I have a theme. Last year I just read off my "To Read" shelves and basket. Not so great as the first year when I read titles I'd collected that were related to magical realism.

So this year I'm reading collections of juvie and YA short stories and the one book of essays for kids that I found. I'm interested in short stories and essays because those are what kids are asked to write in school. Yet I'm not aware of kids being assigned a lot of short stories and essays to read. So I want to see what's out there.

Plus I'm interested in writing short stories and essays for adults, and I have this project in mind for flash fiction for kids. So I'm hoping all this reading will be improving.

I'm also hoping you'll hear from me a couple of times tomorrow as I start knocking off books.


Friday, April 04, 2008

I Need A Theme

The 48 Hour Book Challenge is coming. I'll spend the next two months trying to come up with a theme for my reading. I get very excited for this event, which suggests that my life is sad, sad, sad.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Final Stats For This Year's Book Challenge

Total number of books completed: 4
Total number of pages read: 1,430
Number of books given up on after starting: 3
Number of hours reading: Say, 30 over a 48-hour period, with breaks for writing two blog posts, taking two showers, making a trip to the Chinese restaurant to pick up takeout--the usual.

My family is quite humiliated for me because I read only 4 books this year over a 30 hour period while last year I read 7 over a 23 hour period. However, I actually read more pages this year--1,430 vs. 1,312. And that's not counting the 60+ pages I read on 3 books I didn't like.

On the surface, last year's Challenge seems more successful for me because I liked all the books I read and felt I was getting the hang of magical realism, since I read only those types of books. However, I definitely got something from this weekend's experience, too. Like many serious readers, I've always had a need to finish reading every book I start. Over the last few years, I've been able to begin to get over that compulsion by skimming books I'm not enjoying. I've only recently started giving up altogether. Giving up on 3 books in 24 hours as I did this weekend was a liberating experience.

The number of books published goes up and up and up, but for some reason or another the number of hours in the day remains constant. How much of my life do I want to sacrifice reading stuff I don't like? Not much, it seems.


Power Corrupts

The Problem Child by Michael Buckley begins awkwardly and barely ends at all because it's the third book in The Sisters Grimm series, which, if this book is any indication, is much more of a serial.

But as serials go, this one isn't too bad. And I say that in spite of the fact that the whole twist on fairy tale thing, which appears to be a fantasy sub-genre, is not a favorite for me.

Buckley's big strength appears to be his witty way with twisting fairy tale characters. Two of the Three Little Pigs have formed a construction company and argue over the benefits of using brick vs straw as construction material. The Little Mermaid used food to deal with rejection by her human love and now has a substantial weight problem. A witch (who I should probably recognize from some fairy tale tradition but don't) is seriously into Days of Our Lives.

And like many fantasy books for young readers, this one involves characters who learn that they aren't who they think they are. After their parents disappear, The Grimm Sisters learn they are descendants of the Brothers Grimm, and their function in life is to serve as fairy tale detectives in a Hudson Valley town where fairy tale characters are forced to live. Just as young women are attracted to Georgette Heyer romances because seemingly powerless female characters win the romantic heroes, young people are probably attracted to books like The Grimm Sisters because powerless child characters find that, really, they are exciting people, perhaps even powerful ones.

Not too powerful, though. That's the message of this book. I'm reading along, seeing how things are going to go, and I'm thinking, No! No! Power is good! Gimme some power!

Clearly, there would be no hope for me in The Grimm Sisters' world.

By the way, The Grimm Sisters books include a marvelous, Peter Pan-type character named Puck, a Trickster King who wants to be a bad boy but who keeps showing up to pull the Grimms' fat out of the fire.

48 Hour Book Challenge:

Charlie Bone and the Hidden King, 441 pages
Sylvester or The Wicked Uncle, 410 pages
London Calling, 289 pages
The Problem Child, 292 pages


That Was A Surprise

Last night I started one of those flip-between-different-world books, read about sixty pages, and gave up. I picked up London Calling by Edward Bloor. I've had London Calling for more than six months but have put off reading it because I disliked Bloor's last book, Story Time so much. So very, very much. It's an anti-standardized testing rant with cardboard characters doing ridiculous things in the name of satire.

It's hard to believe London Calling was written by the same person.

London Calling is a time travel story about a seventh-grade boy with a troubled life in the twenty-first century who is "called" to London in 1940 to assist a young boy living through the Blitz. Why would he be called back there? Both boys listen to the same radio, a radio that belonged to the main character, Martin's, grandfather who worked at the U.S. embassy in London along with a war hero connected with Martin's school. It's not coincidence--it's what links young Martin to the older period.

A lot of what I liked about this book is what it had to say about history, period, not just the period addressed in the story. History is not just the story of great men in London Calling. The place of the poor and powerless in human events is a big issue here. In addition, the whole question of who gets to decide what is history is brought up.

As it turns out, those are both aspects of the study of history that interest me.

There are portions of the story that seem a little too instructive. When Martin is in the past, I did feel that we were getting a bit of a history lesson in the manner of The 1940s House. And the working class characters who voice their frustration with what is going on around them aren't too subtly handled. The Sacrifice of Isaac story that keeps recurring isn't terribly subtle, either, and in the end I don't think it particularly works. Again, as it turns out, this is a story that interests me because it is so incredibly awful and unexplainable, so I didn't mind it.

The connection between depression and alcoholism and the genetic factor involved in both was handled in a more subtle manner. Personally, I thought the religious aspects of the book weren't overdone, either.

There's a lot going on in this book--history as a field of study, a couple of mysteries, a contemporary school problem, family dynamics, alcoholism, and personal spirituality. I think some readers are going to find that some aspects are drawn together better than others. On the other hand, with so much there a lot of readers should find something to interest them.

48 Hour Book Challenge:

Charlie Bone and the Hidden King, 441 pages
Sylvester or The Wicked Uncle, 410 pages
London Calling, 289 pages


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Off To A Bad Start

Last year when I took part in the 48 Hour Book Challenge, I read only books that had been recommended to me as magical realism. It was sort of a research weekend, and I had a great time. If I recall correctly, the worst book I read all weekend wasn't all that bad.

This year I'm just using this weekend to try to make some headway on the 30 or 40 unread books I've got stacked up here. Things are not going anywhere near as well.

I started reading at 7 last night, and by twenty of eight I'd already started two books and given up. If I'm going to spend a weekend on a reading binge, the books are going to have to be something I want to read. I don't want to read fantasies that are just a collection of strange names and weird events rather than a real story with a well-developed world. And I believe I've mentioned this before so I'm sorry if I'm repeating myself, but a plot is not a list of random events. The events in a plot must have a causal relationship--A leads to B leads to C and so forth. If I want to deal with random events, I'll stick to my life.

Anyway, the book I finally spent the evening reading was Charlie Bone and the Hidden King, the fifth in the Children of the Red King series by Jenny Nimmo. I read the first book nearly two years ago, and while I wasn't enthralled with it, it held some interest for me.

I think the series' basic premise is interesting. Nine hundred years ago, a red king became the father of ten children, five good and five bad. Some of these offspring are endowed with a power of some kind. The good and bad descendants of this king continue to fight to this very day.

Unfortunately, the good and bad characters are very one-dimensional. And there are a great many characters. And once again, you get characters with funny names and situations that are there pretty much just because they're odd, not because they need to be in the story. This particular volume includes a quite awful banquet scene where all kinds of information is revealed in an improbable way.

Reading it was a chore.

But here's the thing--I've now been exposed to enough of these fakey fantasies to wonder if they aren't part of some kind of little mini-genre that I just don't get. This book received 38 Reader Reviews at Amazon and people seem to like it. The reviews can't all be from the author's mother.

The sixth book in the series was published in this country at the end of May.

Book 1 of 48 Hour Book Challenge: Charlie Bone and the Hidden King, 441 pages