Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Banned Books Week

I know everyone's posting lists of banned/challenged books and finding horrible stories about schools banning books and bookish things like To Kill a Mockingbird quote tee shirts. But I think I'm going to take a moment to appreciate one of my favorite YA authors (and one of the more fascinating men I've had the pleasure of meeting): Chris Crutcher.

I don't think there's a book of Crutcher's that hasn't been challenged. And because I seldom come across his books on other book blogs, I'd like to draw some more attention to them.

I was introduced to Chris Crutcher's books through my adolescent lit class when I was in college. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, the book we read, remains one of my favorite YA books. It was certainly the best book the class read. I sought out other books of his afterwards--Whale Talk. Chinese Handcuffs. The Sledding Hill.

And then, joy of joys, I learned that he was going to be talking and reading at Claire's Day 2006. And he was going to be at a local library two night before that. (I, of course, attended both.)

Chris Crutcher & me, Claire's Day 2006

Plenty of adults have a ton of problems with Crutcher's books. They are turned off by the language and frankness of his characters, but his characters are amongst the most real teen protagonists I've encountered. Crutcher's ability to write these kinds of characters stem from his work as a therapist for teens, who inspire his books. Others find his characters to be disrespectful of adult authority, but the adults in his books who earn respect get it. Many find his portrayal of religion to be appalling. Others (and some of the same) are disturbed by the discussions in his books of race, abortion, masturbation, body image, sex, abuse, etc. You know the rigmarole of challenging books. Crutcher doesn't shy away from writing about anything.

Chris Crutcher's website
is uniquely concerned with censorship. I love the page on which he answers challenges, be they book challenges in school districts across the US or messages from parents sent to his e-mail address. And in The Sledding Hill, one of his fictitious titles is being challenged by parents in the school system. (He even throws in a cameo appearance at the board meeting scene.)

If you haven't read one of his books, I'd suggest that this would be an especially good week to do so.

Crutcher signs my sister Katie's book at the Elmore Public Library, Elmore, Ohio.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Don't Call Me a Crook! by Bob Moore

My friend Josh agreed to take up the challenge of reading this one and writing a review.* Thanks, Josh!

“It is a pity there are getting to be so many places that I can never go back to, but all the same, I do not think it is much fun a man being respectable all his life…”

So begins a book--a dark memoir that this reviewer was shocked to learn was deemed worthy to be republished (originally published in 1935). I am not alone in my opinion that this book has no redeeming qualities.

As a precautionary measure before plunging in to Bob Moore’s telling of his life as a wayward Scotsman; don’t say I didn’t warn you!

A self-proclaimed thief, liar, and gunrunner (one must add racist, drunk, and murderer to the list!), Don’t Call Me a Crook! is a 245 page slog through the murky waters of violence, corruption, and all else in bad taste.

The book is separated into fourteen chapters but his telling of the story feels disjointed and hardly goes together seamlessly from one part to the next. And as an added insult grammatical errors abound; that Dissident Books (the publisher) purposely left in to illustrate the sparse and saucy language of the time. It does not work in the book’s favour, rather creates a choppy, broken progression that detracts from the prose.

More than once I was ready to throw the book in to the trash. It is painful to read. The author is a despicable character.

Don’t Call Me a Crook! is a work of self-denial. Bob Moore is a crook!

*I couldn't finish it; I read to page 79.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Walking People by Mary Beth Keane

This book deserves to be taken to a quiet, calm space so that readers can adequately focus on the story and the characters, regardless of the rest of their lives going on around them.

The Walking People is the story of three young Irish who immigrate to America in the 1960's. Michael, from a tinker family, decides he wants to try staying in one place. Johanna and Greta are sisters who have no discernible sustainable future in Ireland, and one of them dreams of the fancier, easier life America offers. And, of course, their lives in America turn out far different from the ideas they'd had.

Keane's writing is virtually flawless. Her scenes are seamless. Her characters and settings are rich, lush. It's kind of writing you want to describe with lists of adjectives.

This book made me miss having a clawfoot bathtub; it deserves that kind of "me time."*

I had one during my first year of teaching, and I'd take a leisurely bath every night, reading for about an hour and forgetting about grading and lesson plans. Plus, I thought it was important for my students to know that I thought reading was important enough to make time for; they knew how much I read because I loved talking books with them.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Book of Eve by Constance Beresford-Howe (book group)

The Book of Eve is the tale of a 60(+)-year-old woman named Eva who decides, pretty much on a whim, to leave her life and start over on the $16 in her pocketbook and her tiny pension cheque. Her life had consisted of making a home for and taking care of an invalid husband she never really loved. She finds a room to rent and little ways to make herself more comfortable and happier, if shabbier.

I was surprised that Eva had stayed so long in a life that was relatively comfortable but which was also making her silently unhappy; then I realized this book was published in the early 1970's and that while divorce wasn't unheard of for younger couples, for a woman who had been married for forty years or so, abandoning her marriage would have been huge. And of course, there are times she considers going back to her husband. Her adult son tries to talk her into going back. She even almost does, but even when she finds her new situation completely depressing, she still thinks it's better than what she left.

And though Eva isn't a particularly social person in her new life, she does, after a while, make some friends--and finds herself with a new lover, the Hungarian who lives upstairs. I liked the Hungarian way more in the beginning of their relationship than I did toward the end of the book; I felt that if she stayed in the relationship, she was in danger of falling into a life similar to the one she had left. (Albeit with a man she at least felt passion for.) But I'm not going to tell you what happens with that.

Overall, the plot's pretty basic (which makes for a mostly quick read), which is to say the story's completely about Eva's character, and though she puts herself in a situation for which many people would judge her, readers never really feel that they're qualified or justified to condemn (or condone) her actions; we must just sit back and watch the outcomes of her decisions.

This is a surprisingly satisfying book. I'm not in love with it, but I enjoyed the crafting of the characters, even when I didn't like them. Not recommended for everyone, but if you enjoy a more literary sort of book (and/or creating feminist critical analysis while you read), go for it.

I read this book months ago, but when book club decided to postpone our meeting till September, I rescheduled the posting of my review. And when I checked the review, it had disappeared. Grr.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Catching Fire discussion--Literary League: Read 'til YA Drop

Hi, all. Just a reminder that the Literary League: Read 'til YA Drop online book group is discussing Catching Fire in its discussion boards on Facebook. So, if you're on Facebook and have read the book, come join in! If not, read the book and then join in!

(Don't join in if you haven't read it; participants are assumed to have read the book, so spoilers abound.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

BBAW 2009, Day 5: Room for Improvement

Today's challenge: Tell us, in 50 words or less, what you love best about your blog! And then in 50 words or less where you want your blog to be by the next BBAW!

Next year, I'd like to have a totally different layout. Definitely an original header. Maybe even my own domain, a whole new blog!--or maybe I'll just switch to Wordpress. And I will try harder to keep my reviews to 200 words or less. Okay, maybe 300 words or less.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

BBAW 2009, Day 4: I Just Couldn't Resist

Today, we're directed, "...let’s talk about that book you know, the one you discovered only because you read about it on a book blog and then you realized you couldn’t live without it! And then you read it and you loved it so hard! Tell us about it and about the blogger (or bloggers!) that introduced the book to you!"

I admit, I don't often remember who recommended a book to me when I've read about it on a blog. There are just so many bloggers to keep track of all the recommendations. But amongst the books I might not have heard of or come across or bothered reading were it not for other book bloggers' enthusiastic recommendations:

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins--too many book bloggers raved about this YA book and I forget whose review pushed me over the edge.

  • Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart--Amy of My Friend Amy encouraged us all to go out & buy this one during its first week of release, and without that recommendation and push from Amy, it would probably still be on my wish list.

  • Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BBAW 2009, Day 3: A Reading Meme

Today we are answering some questions posted over on the BBAW site about our reading habits. I'll keep them short--which might be hard, if you look at the answers I gave Angie of Angieville in my interview yesterday. But I'll try to keep them short. Really.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
Sometimes. I like cookies best.
Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I have written in margins. Mostly I stick to Post-Its and Post-It flags. (I don't like reading books that are written in, with few exceptions.)
How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?
Whatever scrap of paper is handy. Sometimes with the book of Post-It flags (but those don't stay put well).
Laying the book flat open?
Not usually.
Hard copy or audiobooks?
Typically, I like to be able to flip the pages, but hubby & I like audiobooks for road trips.
If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
Hardly ever. That's why, for nearly a decade, I thought "nonplussed" meant "not impressed."
What are you currently reading?
Hush, Hush. 4 Poets. A couple other books I haven't officially declared that I'm quitting for good.
What is the last book you bought?
Catching Fire
Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
It's easier to read when my husband's out of the house. He's really distracting.
Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
Deerskin by Robin McKinley. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes.
How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
Usually, I have a shelf of ARCs and review copies, then under that, two shelves of books I want to read next. Then a shelf of books I wanted to read at one time, but no longer feel a need to read immediately, if ever. Then there are shelves and shelves of books I've already read. And I have a shelf of signed books and books I've had a hand in (I'm even named in a couple of them). Of course right now, somehow, our books are all still in their boxes from our move in July.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

BBAW 2009, Day 2: The Book Blogger Interview Swap

Today, I have the pleasure of sharing my interview with Angie of Angieville. How neither Angie nor I have come across each other's book blogs before our interview assignments baffles me--we have so much in common! Getting to know a little bit about Angie has been a joy, and I am, immediately after posting this interview, adding her blog to my favorite book blogs folder.

1. The picture on your blog makes you look like one of those people who might be thirteen or thirty. So: Just how old are you?

*laughs* I actually had to think for a second as I just turned 31 and it still feels a bit weird to say. My husband is a photographer and takes rather a lot of pictures of me and I look different in each one of them. The one on the blog is not a particularly recent one but I sort of liked how it looks like I’m trying to decide which book to read next.

2. What are your family’s reading habits?

Ooh, that’s a loaded question! We’re big readers in this house. We read aloud, silently, alone, or in pairs, trios, or quartets, and at all hours of the day and night. My husband is big into nonfiction, though he dabbles a fair bit in literary fiction. He listens to most of his books on his iPod and has a Kindle he’s quite fond of. He also humors me by allowing me to read my most favorite of favorite books to him aloud, usually in bed at night or on road trips. We’ve read everything from Harry Potter and Stephanie Plum to Ender’s Game and the Alanna books. We just finished The Queen of Attolia and I always look forward to our next read. My boy Will and I are just finishing up the Chronicles of Narnia together. They’ve been our bedtime reads and he always begs for, “Just one more chapter, Mom!” So far his favorite seems to be a tie between The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Magician’s Nephew. My baby girl Piper is a big fan of Dear Zoo and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. She loves turning the pages and is always very careful not to rip them. Apparently she absorbed some of my reverence for books while in the womb! As for me I read whenever I get a chance and I can’t seem to fall asleep at night, no matter how late it is, unless I’ve read a good chunk of something first.

3. How did you become a reader?

I come by it honestly. Both my parents are voracious readers. They have quite different tastes in books but the one series they have in common is the Nancy Drew books. So those are some of my first reading memories. The Hidden Staircase scared the crap out of me as a kid, though, so I had to cool it for a bit till I was ready. I remember reading and loving The Witch of Blackbird Pond and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler with my mother. When I was ten my aunt sent me a set of the Chronicles of Narnia and the rest, as they say, is history.

4. You’re an editor for an educational publisher. What’s your job description (as you’ve experienced it--which we all know can be very different from how the employer writes it up)?

I spend most of my time researching and writing reports about countries and cultures from around the world. I work in the K-12 department so these reports are geared toward students of all ages. The fun part is I get to correspond with historical experts from all over making sure our information is accurate and current. And from time to time I get sent on trips in which I gather images and video and conduct interviews on life in that particular country. The other fun part is it’s a small office filled with cool people who love to read. It’s a good job and I’m grateful to have it.

5. When you graduated with your MA in literature, what was (and maybe still is) your dream career?

When I started my MA I think my dream career was being a writer. While I worked on my MA I had the opportunity to teach freshman composition and fell in love with teaching writing on the university level. So much so that I continued teaching after I graduated. I’ve missed teaching since I became and editor, though I employ many of the same skills. Now I believe my dream job would be a Young Adult lit editor or a YA librarian. Nothing gives me a high like putting great books into the hands of people who will love them. That’s certainly a big part of why I love blogging.

6. You haven’t posted your review of the ARC of Catching Fire you got at BEA. Have you read it yet?*

I was embarrassingly late in finishing and reviewing my ARC of Catching Fire, it’s true. I had it and Fire by Kristin Cashore in my hands and opted to read Fire first. Interestingly, I actually read Graceling and The Hunger Games back to back last year. Anyway, Fire blew me away so completely that I got thrown off track and didn’t get around to Catching Fire for awhile. Once I did, I was immediately re-immersed in Katniss’ world and the intensity and Utter Peril got to me so much so that I actually set it down and had to take a break. That doesn’t happen to me very often and I was a bit shocked by my response. But when I finally got the nerve to pick it up again I read it through to the end in one sitting. And it was absolutely and comprehensively awesome. Team Gale FTW!

7. When you started your book blog over three years ago, did you know there was such a huge community of book bloggers? How did you find it? (How many book blogs are in your RSS reader?)

I had no idea when I started. I thought it would be fun to keep an online log of my reading each month and perhaps make a few Best Of lists. I was pretty taken with designing the layout and playing around with images and links, etc. I updated it monthly and didn’t really spend a lot of time on it. It didn’t take me too long, though, to have my eyes opened for me. And once I ventured out into the book blogging world I was completely addicted. Bookshelves of Doom was one of the first blogs I stumbled across and I immediately loved the honest, hilarious way Leila went about reviewing books and promoting literacy, combined with the occasional bit of pop culture. Bookshelves of Doom was my gateway book blog. J

I’ve currently got 123 book blogs in my reader.

8. What are your favorite author encounters? What authors would you like to meet?

One of my most memorable author encounters was getting to meet Tamora Pierce and hear her read aloud. I’ve been a fan of hers ever since I was twelve years old and discovered a book called Alanna: the First Adventure on the shelves of my local library in San Antonio, TX. She’s a superb presenter and I sat there rapt, clutching my book in delight.

Though it doesn’t qualify as an “encounter,” one of my most prized possessions is a letter I received from Lloyd Alexander in answer to one I sent him thanking him for his wonderful books. It was the first letter I wrote to an author and his response (typed on an actual typewriter and signed in blue ink) hangs on my wall over my desk. It never fails to make me smile.

The list of authors I would love to meet is rapidly getting longer. I would love to sit down at a table with Ellen Emerson White and John Green because I think they’re two of the smartest writers out there and because they don’t underestimate their readers. I would love to meet Juliet Marillier and Sharon Shinn because they write beautiful fantasy novels that I read over and over again. And I would love to talk books while watching Veronica Mars with Diana Peterfreund because…it would be an awesome good time. With the Logan. And the books.

9. Are you a cat or dog person?

Dogs all the way.

10. On your blog, you tell a frustrating story about looking for a bookstore in Orlando. How have you tried to ensure that experience doesn’t repeat itself?

It was a scarring experience, Jena. I still have nightmares. First of all, I make it a rule never to make the same mistake and travel with only the first book in a series. I have to have the first three, at least, depending on the length of the trip. Once I set out on a trip to Italy to visit my parents with the first two Harry Potter books. We were in route to London when I finished the second one and I remember my first priority upon landing was rushing into the nearest bookshop to get my hands on Prisoner of Azkaban. Fortunately they had one. Now I just make sure to carry with me twice as many books as I think I could possibly need and that generally sees me back home. My back suffers but my soul is happy.

11. You want to talk up Ender’s Game to a handful of teen guys you get the feeling would love the book, but you only have 45 seconds or so before they disappear--get on a bus or spaceship or whatever. What do you tell them?

Crotch punch of death!

Thank you, Angie!

And thank you Amy, for pairing us up!

* These questions were asked in August, before the release of Catching Fire and the posting of Angie's review.

BBAW 2009, Day 1

So, I'm a little late getting started. My family was in town visiting last week and I neglected all my usual bloggy reading till this morning. The Book Blogger Appreciation Week site has asked: What book blogs mean something to you? Who are your most trusted sources for recommendations, your greatest help, the blogger you turn to for a laugh or to vent? Whose writing do you admire or who introduced you to a whole new genre you didn’t know about? We want to hear all about them... because we want to know them too! Please share about the blogs we haven’t had a chance to meet via BBAW and let the party begin!

I haven't looked too closely at the shortlists for the awards, but I'm especially fond of The Literate Housewife, Devourer or Books, Presenting Lenore, and The Book Lady's Blog for their reviews and their tangents. I've especially enjoyed The Book Lady's tales of bookselling, though I don't think she's posted any recently (nudge, nudge). And though I've only just recently learned about her blog, I'm really enjoying Angieville.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins

I think I convinced three people in the store to read The Hunger Games when I went in to pick up my copy of Catching Fire, which had been sitting behind the counter with my name on it for a week, waiting for September 1. (I declared I would read Catching Fire twice before my family arrives for a week-long visit this weekend--because that's how much this story gets into your head.)

Like Amy at My Friend Amy, I'm not sure how to review this without spoilers, so I'm just going give my opinion, saying as little as possible about the plot.

Better than The Hunger Games? Maybe not--but it's every bit as good. My inner teen self thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I totally let her take over during this reading, just like I did with my first reading of The Hunger Games. (My adult self hasn't really read Catching Fire yet.)

I love Katniss's feistiness--at the end of one chapter, I laughed and laughed and declared her--out loud--"cheeky" for the stunt she'd just pulled, though "cheeky" was a really mild word for the occasion. You'll know which part when you get to it.

I wish Peeta had been a little more rounded out. Yes, we know he loves Katniss and that his life would be miserable for the remainder if she died or something, but I want to know about his home, his parents--how what he said about his father in The Hunger Games affected his parents' lives at home.

Likewise, I'd like to chime in on the whole Team Gale/Team Peeta thing, but I don't feel like I can form an opinion without knowing Gale better--which I really hope happens in the third book. I totally expected it in this one, and it doesn't happen. (That's not much of a spoiler, really. I promise.)

Also, I was surprised by a lot more of the plot twists in this book. Yes, a lot of it is still predictable, but there were things I really was not expecting. Argh. I want to talk about this with someone, but no one I know here is reading it. I guess I'll have to wait for The Literary League's online book club discussion.

So, how long do we have to wait for the third (and final?) installment?*

*It should be noted that I do feel that the third book may be treading some dangerous ground; I'm not sure whether I'm going to like the end of this trilogy--though my not liking it would not necessarily indicate a bad ending.