Thursday, July 24, 2008

Oddball Nightmare

I can thank this class for ending my fear of manga, though I don't know how much I'll be seeking it out in the future. I think the biggest effect might be a change in my attitude toward anime--before it shared an "it all looks the same--shouty" category in my brain, but now I'm growing into the stories and looking beyond the shouting. So that's nice.

After School Nightmare is an interesting digression from the previous books. I'm glad we're getting a glimpse of some of the weirdness--sexual and otherwise--that you don't get as much in American literature/comics and that are such a big part of manga. The main character is a high school student who is a boy from the waist up and a girl from the waist down. He lives as a boy and is happy to be one, but he just started his first period, and he's upset and fraught. On the same day, a mysterious teacher at his school takes him into the previously unnoticed "basement infirmary" and begins his new lessons, in which he and his classmates wander through each others' nightmares. In these dreams, each person is revealed and transformed into their most frightening self--except our main character, who already considers himself such a freak.

Two admissions, up front. One: it seems weird to me that, before puberty, you could call someone "a boy from the waist up and a girl from the waist down." I mean, if you're a girl from the waist down, up until you're 10, that pretty much makes you a girl, right? I thought that was a little inconsistent. Two: I'm not a big fan of dreams in literature. Dreams are boring and dreamy and all symbolic and junk. They don't generally drive me.

That said, I think that the complexities of our hero's situation (sorry, I can't remember his name) are fascinating to me, and I can see how they would be incredibly appealing to teens. This is about everyone thinking you're someone you're not, and being ashamed of who you "really" are, and hiding it. It's about coming clean or coming out or being exposed to a few people, and how that plays. It's about being the boy all the girls have a crush on, and one of the best athletes who quits the team because his period means he can't "really" be a boy. It's about being a boy who's sort of a girl who is lusted after not just by all the girls but by some of the boys, too. It's about how none of this stuff makes any sense, and you can't sort it out, and all you really know for sure is that if anyone finds out, you're a goner, so you'd better keep that secret like hell.

And then, it's about discovering power, being chosen for the special class of those who can or must do something dangerous and mysterious. It's about the sense that there's a layer going on underneath things that you don't really know about, but that's really important in the world--you can't graduate without it. (I know this feeling well; my whole adolescence, I was sure that everyone knew something I didn't. Really, up until a few years ago.)

As a metaphor, as a simplified story, this is the story of someone feeling exactly all those feelings of the teen years--only symbolized, simplified, and made easy to explain in three paragraphs. I can absolutely see why this book would be so popular.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Fascinating Experiment

So I'm accumulating a list of books about religion for teens for a class project, and the process is fascinating. For the books I choose, I'll be able to annotate them with the fascinating Amazon reader review quotes and tidbits of oddness that I've run across, but for the ones I'm discarding, some of this stuff is falling by the wayside, so I want to wrap some of it up in here.

First of all, I think I picked a pretty difficult subject, if only because I don't think your average teen reader is going to pick up a lot of religion books for fun. (I myself didn't discover nun books until a bad flu in college had me watching The Nun's Story with Audrey Hepburn on A&E. When I learned it was a book, I was thrilled, and after reading it, when I learned that there were all kinds of books about nuns out there. I never looked back.) I'm trying to balance the assumption that some of this info is going to be needed for school projects with the idea that there are teens of faith who want information, and teens with no faith who want to understand it. I'm trying to balance eye-appeal with real issues, and interesting topics (religion through various pop-culture lenses) with meaty information (basic outlines of belief for things like Buddhism and paganism).

The topic of religion appears to bring out the worst in a certain strain of Amazon reviewer. You'll find a book with good editorial reviews and a bunch of five-star customer reviews, followed by two little one star reviews. You scroll down to those, wondering which you're going to find: someone who doesn't understand how someone could get God so wrong, or someone who's chosen this book to vent his spleen that anyone is still bothering to write about God nowadays.

The other interesting thing is these booklists I'm working from. Voya (Voice of Youth Advocates) publishes lists of good books for young adults on different topics, including a bunch on different religions, and they're proving to be a great starting point. Some of them are great, some of them still look kind of dry to me when I look at them more closely, but I'm picking and choosing, and it's been incredibly helpful (looking for books on religion is easy--looking for ones that will specifically appeal to young adults is kind of hard). The lists are written by individuals, though, not compiled by the organization in general, and you can sometimes see that in the entries. For example, the Evangelical Christianity list contained a book that it listed as a "must-read" for teens, giving overviews of world religions. I have been really torn about this one, though, because Publisher's Weekly and some of Amazon's readers point out that the book's author, an Episcopalian minister, is actually not much of an expert of world faiths--he refers to Jehovah's Witnesses as a cult, gets a lot of his facts wrong about the Mormons (confusing the tabernacle with the Salt Lake City temple, for example), and flat out says that most Muslim countries treat women "like slaves." So he appears to be doing some gross oversimplifying. But on the other hand, he gets better reviews than most other "all world religions summarized under one cover" books that I've found.

I'm also having a hard time not passing on my biases when I'm making decision. I'm trying to think of teens, but it's hard not to think about a teenaged me. So a teenager who wants to learn more about these faiths in a theoretical way is easy to imagine, but I'm finding that I'm nervous about buying anything that appears to support any specific religion. I'm looking through the Mormon list, and I'm really hesitant to get any of the books published by the Church itself. It seems like that would be supporting it, which is silly--I've got the Bible in there, right? So why not the Book of Mormon? I mean, statistically, there are fewer Mormons than Christians in my town, but that's not what bothers me. It's that stocking Mormon literature feels like advocating for it--unlike, say, stocking books about Hinduism. It's funny, not having worked in a library, I'm one of the people in my class who isn't worried about community or administrative blowback--I err in the other direction, I guess. Gotta get past that.

This is a really tough decision-making process. I'm trying not to err on the side of too "fun" and "teen friendly," but how can I not include The Dharma of Star Wars. Honey, I don't think that's an option.

PS. I had to add this footnote. VOYA's listing for The Book of Mormon lists Joseph Smith as the translator. That is not how I would have put it. I'll have to look and see if the Koran is listed under Muhammad's name, and whether he's author or translator. Or maybe co-author.

I'm sorry. I can't help the irreverence. I'm trying, really.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pain Hurts

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, by Peter Cameron. I read this book in one long sitting yesterday. It's very good--smart, often funny, well-written, tragic, moving. I'm not 100% sure how I feel about it as a young adult novel, though.

The story is told in first person, from the point of view of 18-year-old James Sveck, who is both introverted and depressed. I don't know a whole lot about depression, but I have learned something of introverts in my time here on Earth, and I will tell you that he doesn't deal with it well. As the narrator, he goes on at length about what he's thinking and how he views the world, but, in spite of being intelligent and very articulate, he can't seem to either say what he thinks to the people in his life, or to find anything at all to say much of the time. I know there will be plenty of teenagers who can sympathize with that--what's going on inside me is complicated, but I can't say anything.

The developmental assets this book most made me think of, interestingly, are the "constructive use of time" assets--that one should pursue creative activities, religious practice, and time at home (presumably with family). Though I think these guidelines are somewhat off base (missing the point--not all passions are creative, and some people might want to be tinkering with car engines or practicing their backhand and they might still be getting a lot of the same pleasures and improvement that come with art and music), I do like the idea that a person should pursue something with some diligence and commitment, and that it will bring focus and accomplishment to their lives. I think this is a big part of what is missing in James--and truly, often a major sign of depression in general.

I also think it's interesting that most books' relation with the developmental assets is to illustrate a situation in which they're missing. As Amy mentioned, there are a lot more books about young people who are on their own, lacking support or opportunity or whatever asset you'd like to look at, than there are stories about people who are happy. This relates to the missing parents syndrome, but I think it also relates to the need for conflict in narrative, and to the idea that people who are striving to overcome a lack often make themselves stronger in other ways to compensate.

Interestingly, the parents in this story are not negligent, though they are preoccupied. It would be more accurate to say that they're not equipped to deal with their son--mostly because he's not equipped to deal with them, or anyone else. James just doesn't fit comfortably in the world. Everything makes him a little sad, especially happy things. Very occasionally, he'll find something beautiful, usually something very, very tragic. It's not surprising that people don't understand him, or even, given everything else about James, that he doesn't understand them.

I think this book would appeal to advanced readers, to people who are already selecting most of their reading from the adult section of the library. And I think this book would be very appealing to adults; in spite of the fact that it's narrated by a teenager (not by an adult looking back on being a teenager), I think that more adults will relate to James' dislike of people his own age, his tendency to see happiness as a reminder of pervasive despair, what is almost his ennui.

The teenager this is meant for definitely exists, though, and perhaps this book is uniquely suited for him or her. I think that someone who, like James, hates young people who are full of hope and promise (at least partly because he knows that in some fundamental way he "should" or is expected to be that person) must feel very lonely, and would cherish the sense of connection that might arise from reading a book like this.

So I love this book, and I recommend it (Katie, if you're out there, I think you might like this). I imagine it's not going to fly off the shelves the way the vampire books do, but the teenager who is roaming the stacks ravenously and is lucky enough to find it might just be blown away.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

That Takes Me Back

Observation first made in my psychology-major undergraduate days: the more titillating the subject of an academic paper, the drier and more intensely academic-sounding the paper will be. The homework reading was entitled, "The Secret Source: Sexually Explicit Young Adult Literature as an Information Source."

Beyond the academic-speak, however, the article was interesting, though it didn't say much beyond what seemed intuitive to me. Teenagers get information about sex from novels they read--not necessarily (or maybe even primarily) biological or anatomical information, but info on the nature of people as sexual beings, what's okay, what's "normal" to feel and to want, and how to deal with it.

I can hardly remember not knowing about sex, possibly because my mother was always very eager to keep me informed of things, even when I REALLY didn't want to talk about them (thanks, mom, and I don't mean that sarcastically), and partly because I was reading "grown-up" novels from a pretty young age. I remember my father suspecting that The Mammoth Hunters was maybe too mature for me, and my reassuring him by showing him the page I was on, all about cave paintings--including, in the next paragraph, a pretty straightforward description of a stylized depiction of female genitalia. My parents are really pretty cool.

I have a lot of thoughts about this--about how awkward it is to talk about these things as teenagers, and how we avoid that awkwardness as adults by letting school handle it, or assuming that they understand the jokes in the TV shows we're watching together, or the subtleties of the love scenes in the movies we're watching. I was fascinated by the questions quoted from the book Letters to Judy, which I'm going to have to run out and read. I would have asked Judy Blume, when I was that age, too.

This topic also brings up what I think is a flaw in the Developmental Assets list, which is that restraint from and resistance to the temptation of sexuality is a necessary part of being a healthy teenager. Not that I think teenagers should be having sex, but Just Don't is not a healthy description of teenage sexuality, and it's such a one-dimensional one. Teenagers aren't adults, but they're practicing to be. So the issue isn't NOT to have sex, sexual thoughts, or sexual feelings. The question for all of us to ask is: what does "practicing" a healthy attitude toward sex look like?

No crude jokes, please. I'm working on this one.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Geraldine Brooks

So I finished The People of the Book the other day. I was excited when I heard it was out, which is sort of surprising given how I felt about her previous two novels.

I read The Year of Wonders a few years ago, and I really loved the first 90% of it. Then the end went all Big Tuna on me (for those of you who haven't seen Wild at Heart, that is to say "freaky all out of proportion to even what you have been led to expect). You're reading this tragedy where you think you know all the characters, and then there's this U-turn and you're all, "okay, this is surprising and I'm not sure how it changes the theme or meaning of the novel, but it's an interesting surprise and I'm impressed." And then there's another, far more troubling U-turn, and you're all, "What? What point could you possibly be making by sneaking this in at the end? This completely changes the theme of the book!" The book was, at the last minute, rendered a setup for the tragic punchline at the end.

I read March when it came out, too. This was more of a mixed bag--I think that, if it hadn't been playing off of the beloved Little Women and changed the tone of the characters whose purity I have long admired, I might have liked the book. It's emotionally and morally complicated, and a lot of it is about misunderstanding and how people sometimes aren't communicating and don't even know it. There's a lot of painful violence, and a serious loss of moral innocence in a grown man. Like I said, if it hadn't been Jo and Beth and Meg and Amy's father--Marmee's husband, for crying out loud!--I think I would have found it a good book, if harrowing. But as it is, it left a slightly bad taste in my mouth.

So why was I excited about The People of the Book? I know Geraldine Brooks is a great writer, and I can't say enough how I loved The Nine Parts of Desire, her nonfiction book describing her experiences as a reporter in the Middle East. The book was written in the late 90s, so it lacks the context of the past 10 years of change, but she creates an amazing picture of what it's like to be a woman in an Arab country. The best part, I think, is that she traveled to many different countries, and met a wide variety of people, and she really takes the time to differentiate among them. There's a big difference between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, and she tells about all of them. I think this is what makes the book still useful, I think--even though the details have changed in most countries, it's so easy to ignore the differences and call them all "the Middle East," and this book helps to illustrate the range of differences between how Islam is practiced and women are treated in all these places.

So--The People of the Book. I'm not a huge fan of short stories, but this book does something amazing with what are essentially a series of short stories, cinched tightly together by the narrative of the woman who's investigating the history of an amazing, unlikely volume--a centuries-old Jewish book illuminated in the Christian style. We follow Hanna on her detailed investigation--analyzing an insect wing tucked in the pages, a wine stain, a stray hair. We meet her cold, disapproving mother, her mentor, her lover. She's not perfect, but she's smart and competent and sympathetic.

And then, as she learns the scraps that science can tell her about each clue, we get the full story of where each clue comes from. And this is a remarkably well-balanced saga of the history of Jews in Europe. We meet a girl in the '40s who flees from Sarajevo at the beginning of the Holocaust; a Jewish doctor who treats the Christians who hate him in the 1890s, a rabbi in Venice as the Inquisition approaches, and a number of characters in the painful position that is Spain.

Because the modern part of the story is told in Sarajevo, and because more than one story takes place in Spain, the religious theme of the uneasy interaction between faiths in Europe is actually a three-way balance, and the Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish balance is really at the heart of this book. It's so exciting when I learn something (about history, about conservation of old texts), AND am stimulated to think about deeper themes, AND find myself anxiously following the fates of irresistible characters. You should read this book.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Not as YA-y as I Seem

I wonder if I grew up while I wasn't looking. I don't have any huge problem with You Know Where to Find Me, by Rachel Cohn. I don't have any problem with it at all, really. It's just kind of bleak, which makes it not so much my book. It's definitely not a reluctant reader book, in that it is not at all action-packed, and is in fact very moody. It actually strikes me as pretty "literary," which of course is not a term I often use in a flattering sense.

I think it's just not my type of book. The main character is depressed and angry at the world, and as we all know (probably YA writers best of all), writing about someone who's suffering from chronic boredom, ennui, or aimlessness is very hard to do well. I don't think she does the job poorly, I just think that the protagonist, Miles, is too grouchy for me. She wants to do nothing, to shut the world off, and while I understand the impulse, I just want to shake her. Her existence seems so pointless--I suppose that would appeal to teens who feel that way, but it doesn't really appeal to me.

I feel like such a crank, complaining about all these books. I'm supposed to love this stuff, right? Of course, none of these are things I wouldn't stock in a library--this person exists and needs books about herself. It's interesting, I guess there are two ways for books to use the Developmental Assets--one is to demonstrate them in use, through the plot, and the other is to have a plot about them coming into a person's life. Miles is lonely, adrift, with no purpose, self-esteem, close ties to others, supportive environment, or anything really. I assume that by the time I finish this book, things will have changed. We'll see; an upbeat ending cures many ills, for me.

In other news, I want to GUSH about The People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks, but I'll save it for another, non-class post. Suffice to say, though, that this was a wonderful, engaging, thrilling, heartbreaking book. I think the structure of the story really allowed her to do some of the surprising things she does in her other novels without my feeling that my involvement in the story has been upset the way I felt with her other novels. Really excellent.

Talking to Teens, Supplemental

I realized that I forgot to include a list of the books that I had used when I talked to the teens. The list can be found on my school webspace. I used this list to show the books to the folks whom I interviewed via email.

I also wanted to add a comment about how all the kids indicated that they absolutely hate reading "classics." Some of them referred to this as "any reading for school," while others seemed to like some school stuff, but really don't like "classics." This makes sense--I've always been an avid reader, but absolutely hated anything by Charles Dickens, and The Scarlet Letter caused me an almost physical suffering. Which is funny, because in retrospect, it's a very good story. Anyway, the first book I loved for school was Jane Eyre, which was summer reading my senior year. I started it two weeks before school started, and ended up staying up all night and reading almost in one long sitting. But that was after 11 years of faking it--reading 2/3 of the book and writing a paper about a character who dies early, or the author's use of language.

Sorry, Mrs. Meyers.

But this element, which seemed perfectly natural and not really worth mentioning when I was talking to the teens, took on a new level of significance when I read Connecting with Reluctant Teen Readers the other day. It made an excellent point that a lot of teenagers who might be avid readers of things they enjoy are turned off because everything they "know" about reading comes from school, from an English teacher. Most of their reading has been "classics."

This brings me to the question of WHY the books we teach in school are these choices. I mean, I can understand why we're not giving pop quizzes on Gossip Girl, and even why Boy Toy might be too much for the classroom, but what are we hoping high schoolers will get out of The Grapes of Wrath? There's a good answer to this question: cultural literacy. These books are modern history, it's English as Art class.

But that doesn't seem like enough of an answer. Is the point of English class to expose teenagers to the content of high culture, or is it to teach them the tools of reading, analyzing what they read, finding themes and morals and discussing the use of language to affect the reader? Because those are far more universal, practical skills, and those can be done with books that might have a much broader appeal. Moby Dick can be saved for, say, your senior year of high school, or maybe even college.

More later today on my newer reads!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Talking to Teens, or Can This Possibly Count as a Paper?

When you interview the teenagers who just happen to be hanging out reading in the Young Adult room at the library, you’re probably going to get some kids on the high end of the reading-for-fun spectrum. It’s a fun way to meet people! (Especially when the librarian does the tapping people on the shoulder asking them to take a survey part of the job for you.)

First let me say that Molly Collins, the Young Adult librarian at Malden Public Library, is exceedingly awesome. She’s fairly new in town, but not to YA librarianship, and she knows her stuff and her group. I can’t thank her enough for her cheerful help, her time, and her encouragement.

The Malden Public Library is located right across the street from the high school, so during the school year, the after-school crowd floods in for the afternoon. But even during the summer, they have their regulars, and a thriving summer reading program—the end of June is a hugely busy time in this library.

What are kids reading? MANGA is the number one answer—unsurprisingly. She says that circulation has gone up about 50% since the manga collection really took off. Other things? Urban fiction, vampires, and fantasy. Stephanie Meyer (author of the infamous Twilight), the Bluford High series, Gossip Girl, Kimani Tru, Clique. Series books are kept in a separate section, because they don’t always have the same author, but people like to go straight to them. Most of these are books for girls—guys, she says, lean more toward manga and fantasy. Post Secret is also very popular, and almost never in the library.

What she says pretty much reflects what I hear from the three teens I talk to in the reading room. The two girls I talk to are both African American, and both are interested in urban fiction. V (17) tells me about Street Pharm, one of her favorite books, about a drug dealer who meets a girl who helps him get his life back together. She says she’s very interested in African American books, although she gets a lot of her reading material from the adult section of the library. In my stack of offerings, she said she had planned to read Homeboyz and Grace After Midnight anyway. Her attention is also caught by Another Fine Prom Mess and Last Days. As a library page, I get the feeling V, like me, can’t resist the books she sees as she’s shelving them over and over.

B is 15, and her response to my stack of books is similar—Homeboyz (she was so jealous I had a copy; the reserve list at the library is long, since it’s a summer reading book in Malden), Grace After Midnight, Last Days. She also expresses interest in Hitler Youth and Re-Gifters—she’s interested in history and likes comics—though she prefers the Japanese kind that you read back-to-front. But what she really loves is romance—she’ll read anything fun that has romance in it, or is scary. The book she’s reading, I notice from the cover, is an African American love story. What does she hate? “Lollipop books,” the kind with bright, spare candy colored covers, about being in high school. “I’d never read Gingerbread or anything like that.”

H is 17, an Asian guy into fantasy, adventure, and history. My stack of books doesn’t appeal to him much at all—the only one he’d find interesting is Hitler Youth—an oversized, photo-heavy nonfiction book. He’s dying to get at the third Eragon book. He’s also the first one I’ve talked to who says he spends a LOT of time online (an observation backed up by the librarian; he’s a regular).

This is Malden—a diverse community with a gorgeous, busy library. I’m glad I got a chance to meet some of the kids who use my favorite library.

I also talked to a brother and sister from rural Maine. Their taste was somewhat different from my local acquaintances—both were big fantasy/science fiction fans, and fairly heavy readers. L, the boy, is 15, and observed that he’s interested almost exclusively in the action of a story, and it has to move fast. He says girls are more interested in issues and themes in the books they read. (This doesn’t explain why he’s currently reading St. Matthew, the New Testament (apparently with the intent of arguing theology with his classmates), alongside the Han Solo Trilogy. This guy impresses me.) This is born out by his sister, M, who is 17 and says she’s interested in books she can relate to somehow, either through character, plot, or some other element. Although she lists a bunch of fantasy titles as her favorite and recent reads, she says she’ll read anything—fiction, nonfiction, whatever catches her eye.

I think it’s interesting to see the similarities and differences between these groups. As a big fantasy fan, I’m pleased to see its universal appeal reflected in the people I talked to. And I guess it’s not too surprising that the white teens from rural Maine were not as interested in Homeboyz as the African American girls living near the city. I think I see here that readers are looking for something that touches their lives, whether that’s a character who’s like themselves (or an idealized version of themselves), an adventure they’d like to be on, or a problem they can see themselves facing. It doesn’t surprise me to find that guys are interested in plot, while girls can be drawn by romance or personal drama, in addition to plot.

I'd also like to point out that Molly knows her customers.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


One thing that I've found myself noticing about all these books as we read them is the presence or absence of parents in these kids' lives. Gossip Girl is a good example; only one of the 4 characters I've met so far has parents who are not explicitly absent, as in off touring the world and not in any way about to show up. The parents in Boy Toy and Nineteen Minutes were present, but seemed to be entirely missing the point of their kids' lives. Snoop had foster parents who loved her, but who weren't aware of what she was doing, or even what the fabric of her life looked like.

I find this interesting in a couple of ways. First, I don't think all of these books are making a point about parents. It seems more like parents are in general a fairly minor part of the lives that teenagers lead--family life is a known quantity, while the rest of life is what needs to be navigated and explored and figured out. Books for teenagers are about defining yourself apart from family, and so family takes a back seat, or maybe is missing altogether. They also want to be about empowerment--parents are, by their nature, either somewhat controlling or somewhat neglectful. To explore a teenager's power, the story needs to keep the parents in the background or make them agent against which the protagonist is acting.

(Aside: why am I talking like this? I keep lapsing into academic-speak. Not sure why; apologies.)

Also, the nature of a good story usually indicates that a person have a certain level of being on their own, in the same way that most Disney protagonists are either orphans or, at least, missing a mom. Concerned, involved parents make life a little easier in some ways, and relieve the solitude that seems to be such a theme in the lives of the characters in all these books.

I just think it's interesting that this theme comes out in all these books--and so many others. There are different developmental assets at work in all these books, but the presence or absence of parents could be seen as related to all these things.

Huh. Just a thought.

Mea Culpa

Well, after reading Linda's comment, I feel bad saying this, but my judgment based on page 1 of Gossip Girl has changed after reading pages 3-24. The first two pages are a blog entry by the mysterious Gossip Girl herself, which is funny and smart and coy and which I loved. The actual text of the book, though, is so far not so much those things. My main complaint is that all of the adjectives used to describe the characters are long, hyphenated phrases: Dan is described as "stained-brown-corduroys-wearing" and Serena's feet are "Urban Decay Piggy Bank Pink-toenailed." The branding is troubling, too, though I understand that the point of this is to impress upon me deeply the true level of wealth and materialism at work here among the youngsters.

I'm not saying it's awful, but it's not going to bring me running back for more. But again, we'll see. Page 24 is not yet at the point of my 10% rule. I'm not putting the book down either way, but I don't get to lay claim to full judgment till I've passed page 40.

I finished Grace After Midnight this morning--it was compelling and quick, and I think it would be an excellent choice for reluctant readers. It reads like speech, and it keeps you guessing. I think it's interesting that Snoop has moved fully away from her dangerous and illegal life after many false starts, but she seems to have few regrets about her whole journey. I find that interesting--she makes statements about feeling bad about people whose lives she's messed with and being sorry about things she did wrong, but they're fairly bald, and she doesn't dwell on those feelings. Her whole story, even the saddest parts, seem to be about looking forward toward the next thing, accepting everything about yourself, and trying to be better without beating yourself up for NOT being better yet. I feel like I should feel a little differently--like she should have more regrets--but as it is, I really like the message, that having regrettable things in your past doesn't mean you have to be full of regret.

I'm also reading The People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks. It's very good so far, but I've just reached a point where the Holocaust is encroaching on the life of the main character in the section I'm reading, and I need to gather up my emotional wherewithal before I dive into that bit too far. I'm really hoping that the segmented nature of this story makes it a little easier to follow to the end--her other novels, March and The Year of Wonders both had me going until the end went all Big Tuna (slang from my college days for absolutely wacko insane). I will, however, always recommend her nonfiction book, The Nine Parts of Desire, about her time in the Middle East as a news correspondent, and everything she learned about the different countries, about Islam, and about the lives of women there.

So, I'm keeping busy. Happy Independence Day Weekend!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Deep Fears

I've just started Gossip Girl--actually, It Had to Be You: A Gossip Girl Prequel. I'm only one page in and already I have a terrible fear that I'm going to enjoy it a lot and not be able to stop reading the whole series. This just seems like a terrible fate--I mean, do I need more trashy stuff on my list? Forgive my use of the pejorative, but come on. Uber-high-society teenagers, already jaded about sex and partying and consumption, turn to intrigue to fill their empty lives. This is not where I want my reading life to go, but I can see it shooting off in that direction, because so far, the book is just juicy. Sigh.

I've also started Grace After Midnight, by Felicia "Snoop" Pearson, which is interesting. The actress/memoirist has a coauthor/ghostwriter, and the book does a great job of capturing her voice--it's very street, with short sentences using the grammar of speech ("I still got my braids." "Those jams were poppin' everywhere I went.") My initial reaction to this was complicated--I really like it as a style, especially since it's clearly the voice of the person writing the story. This is not a woman who came from the streets and is now teaching at Harvard; she's an actress now, but the characters she plays are based on the life she's led. And, although it takes time to get used to the rhythm, once you are into it, it's musical and communicates a lot.

But I had a much more prim reaction, too, which is that young, reluctant readers shouldn't be reading this and learning this terrible grammar! Luckily, that part of me shut up in about three seconds, because reading to better your grammar is not, I'm happy to say, a major swaying factor for most people. My role is not to push people toward complex sentences that use pronouns and adverbs properly. These aren't typos--it's the language of speech, and if I love it, then it's for sharing.

Anyway, so far so good. In other reading news, Maria V. Snyder has joined Shannon Hale on my list of writers I'm dying to read more of and kind of want to be when I grow up. Her style is not as polished as Hale's, but she makes up for it with note-perfect plots that are well-paced and full of absolutely enthralling characters. Poison Study and Magic Study are great, and now I'm itching to get at Fire Study. I'm trying to ignore the fact that they're published by the fantasy division at Harlequin--it's not a romance, and you can sort of tell that the romantic part of the plot (while integral) has been beefed up a bit in lavishness to fulfill the publisher's needs, maybe. Still, absolutely fabulous fantasy.

And I finished The Dead and the Gone in two days. It was everything I hoped--quite different in many ways from Life as We Knew It, with characters coming from very different places in life, a whole different set of troubles, and a much more raw, gritty grimness. But there's also more of a sense of hope, I think--community means more, and faith is much more of an issue. I think if I had to pick I'd choose Life as We Knew It for my favorite, but I still really hope she produces one more about this before she finishes.

So it's been a busy week. I'll have more to say about these two that I've just started, before too long. Till then!