4.26.2012

reading decisions

choosing what to read

i've decided not to read fifty shades of grey by e l james.

much like i didn't read the da vinci code.

being a bookseller, i have a lot of biases. it's actually something i have to consciously curb when i'm at work.

people will come up to me and ask me for chicklit or ask me about the best book i've read lately and i'll point to whatever amazing book and they'll give a little grimace and say "oh. yeah no, i don't read short stories." or "isn't that a guy book?" and i give a little smile and move on.

it gives me such heartache. all the weird labels of the world - and the book labels that grew mostly from the marketing departments of modern publishing.

so when i first found out about it, i only knew about the indie ebook story part. which i love. then i found out about the part where it came out of a twilight fan fiction workshop, which made me a little bit leery. and then i found out that it has been labeled - wait for it:  "mommy porn"

what?! WHAT?!!!

so bizarre.

what? mommies can't relate to "regular" porn? i am a mom, and i beg to differ.

speaking of labels...

 i heard about the fault in our stars by john green through a co-worker, a mother with 2 teenage daughters. all the kids were reading it. but she insisted that this book was a strange and wonderful force. teenagers were doing good and positive things because of it.

i was intrigued when we got the book in. for a while i just observed the energy around it. YA is a strange medium (more labels!). in the past 10 years it has become a very trendy, one track genre of the moment:
everybody write about mean rich teenagers.
everybody write about angels/vampires/werewolves/insert desired supernatural creature here.
everybody write about dystopian society with a strong young hero/ine.

am I exaggerating? a little. but only a little. I was getting tired of wandering over to our YA section and seeing that it was 90 percent dan brown for kids. 10 percent sophie kinsella for kids.

and then hidden in there, one percent at a time: books like the fault in our stars. it's a very interesting phenomenon; these readers would pet the book when they got it and hug it to them. totally different energy. i wasn't sure if i would take the plunge and read it though. i've read a lot of the nouveau YA (as opposed to not so much of the new-best-thing in adult fiction (celestine prophecy killed all that desire).

a reader's trajectory

i am 42 years old - and i'll admit it, i totally judged women my age that didn't see the twilight series for what it was (i'll leave that alone). but i am a reader, and between the ages of 14-22 I read a whole range of crap. not just crap, but a lot of crap. from jude devereaux to a whole range of series mysteries and sci-fi that i barely remember. old school intrigue like helen mcininnis and semi-gothic romance/mysteries by mary stewart (with nine coaches waiting still ranking very high on my pleasure reads list), every non -series agatha christie, all of john lecarre, robert ludlum and jack higgins (I thought I was going to be a spy). my point here is, i think that every reader has a trajectory. i don't enjoy the twilights and the the hunger gameses and even yes, (potentially) the fifty shades of greys as much as I maybe would have 20 years ago. I've just read too much.

but really excellent books transcend their genre. like, for instance, the fault in our stars by john green. i read this book in one sitting and i would not get up, not even to pee, until i was done. here's why i think it transcends its genre: it about bigger things and it doesn't hide that fact. some of the most moving anthemic books in every generation take the simplest formulas and hold up a mirror for kids to see themselves; clever, shallow, desperate to belong, desperate to be unique. this book just happens to have the extra bonus that most of the main characters are kids dying of cancer. oh yeah, tearjerker as well. also, very funny.

it's hard to choose when you are a bookseller. sometimes you feel a certain responsibility to your customer to read the same books they are reading - but my take is this: i have more of a responsibility to myself as a reader and bookseller to read what i think i should pass on to other readers - because they may not pick that book up otherwise. the fault in our stars needs me to pass it on to people that are not 16 years old (and to 16 year olds that may not pick it up), fifty shades of grey doesn't need me.

i don't think i'm a better person because i won't read every book that becomes uber-popular. but i do think it's made me a better reader.



disclaimer: the reader's bill of rights (thank you to daniel pennac) enables me to change my mind about reading fifty shades of grey any. time. i. feel. like. it. also, please note that fifty shades of grey and dan brown and sophie kinsella are all symbols in this blog post. don't be so literal.


also please visit john green's vlog (also with his brother hank - who is also super cool). because it's hilarious. also see nerdfighters; because if i had had that when i was 14, i think i would have rocked my own world instead of hiding in my room all day reading. oh but then you may not have this really poorly updated book blog to read! yeah. let's not talk about it.

3.09.2011

fairytale angst

fractured by joanna karaplis is the kind of book i would have loved when i was YA (and, ok, yes, i'm still very YA at heart). what i love about this book is all the classic elements of fairytale lore intertwined with true-to-life teenage problems:

the main character in the first tale is a teen named yuki white, (yes, that's snow white to you) - and the title is snow white and the seven dorks. the seven dorks are the computer club geeks that yuki befriends at her new school. they are the quintessential computer nerds:

They’re all so stereotypically nerdy that I wondered, at first, if they were for real [....] the computer lab quickly became my second home, which is how I basically became the one-and-only female member of the Computer Club. Not that I officially joined or anything... can you imagine the yearbook photo? Me with my shit-kicking boots and them with their T-shirts that came free with the latest computer game? 
so the dorks are super dorky and we love super dorky because secretly or not we all suspect we are too. i know i am a dork and  i also knew i was in high school. so, like, yuki, although i kinda was trying to be all rebel and cool i preferred the company of geeks. and so does snow white, safe in her computer lab with her 7 dorks.

but the story is not just high school angst - it's also heavy into mixed race cultural identity and the weight of grief brought on by the loss of a parent:

when yuki's japanese mother dies and her father brings her "to his hometown, this tiny little place in the middle of nowhere where I felt like the only non-blonde, non–blue-eyed person for miles around." (hence the dorky friends and new school) you can feel 'snow's' alienation setting in; so much so that she doesn't even care that everyone at school ends up calling her 'snow' - at least its not 'yucky' she says referring to the usual mis-pronunciation of her name.

the loss of her mother is clearly something yuki is not really ready to process; when one of her best dorks, kevin, brings up an anime fan photo on the internet, yuki's cultural identity and her mother's death all get tied up in a knot of emotion:
“Sorry, I don’t watch anime.”
“But you’re Japanese!”
“Half-Japanese. Maybe I only got the sushi-loving genes. I definitely missed out on the anime ones,” I snapped.
and she leaves the scene upset by happy memories of her mother's manga reading and guilt ridden that she never thought to keep her mother's collection of japanese comics.

here's where the cool kid, jason, decides he needs to be her friend too. now, there's nothing wrong with being blonde and beautiful with a gorgeous smile. but you can kind of tell things are moving in a different direction when he shows up in the computer lab completely out of the blue to say "cool" three or four times to yuki:
and then Kevin stated the obvious:
“Well, that was weird,”...
yes, kevin. yes, it was.

but - wait! there's more fairytale analogy! not only is there a prince and all that - but there is also the apple! the poisoned apple! - cleverly disguised as a little pill and cloaked in good, yes, i'll say it amazing feelings and a first kiss. that goes very, very wrong. chalk it up to princey wanting too much too soon. luckily yuki is only conscious enough to realise she's being taken advantage of but luckily  kevin, already crushing on her, has been watching jason's moves and doesn't like them one bit. rescuing and bonding ensue and yuki goes home to face a good grounding but not before realising she's lost nothing in dissing jason and gained a lot in trusting kevin, her main dork.

yay! the dork wins!


tale #2: cyberella

how much did i laugh while reading this tale? a lot. very funny dialogue - joanna karaplis deserves huge kudos for her very true to life teenage dialogue. or in this case text-a-logue. or whatever.

cindy, the main character in this tale, and her best friend, matt, are huge fans of the reality tv show, true2life; the story is told weaving the the messaging between matt and cindy and the fan blog posts for the tv show together. cindy, of course, has troubles at home what with the evil stepfamily always on her case, but she is determined to win vip tickets to the "castle" nightclub to participate in the halloween episode where the cast of the show will be mingling with the the vip. and maybe then she will meet her favourite cast member, ryder. and meet him she does! this is a great modern redo of the cinderella fairytale that is charming and fun to read.

tale #3: swan song

this tale is a serious commentary on our values as a society and the pressure marketing and social media puts on youth to ascribe to a certain image - especially young women.

tag line for the story is:
(this “little mermaid” found out the hard way that change must come from within. some of us will learn  from her mistakes. some of us won’t.)
if you have read the hans christian andersen fairytale (not the disney version) you will know how this could end, and karaplis doesn't pull any punches with the harshness of the original moral.


the story begins with adriana after a very bad choir practice where she has been mocked, again, for her most predominant facial feature, her nose. the reader quickly realises that adriana has a self image problem that she is in conflict with herself and her mom about. she wants a nose job. her mom thinks she is too young. but after much discussion her mom relents. in the meantime, to boost her potential singing career, adriana's best friend, fiona, has convinced her to upload a video of herself to youtube. she works up the courage but decides to sing with her face obscured, as "bedroomsinger" so that no one will recognize her. they don't, and her videos end up going viral on youtube. she gets "spotted" by a producer for "talentvox" a youtube talent show and he invites adriana to audition for their show. meanwhile there is a lot of facebook bullying going on and adriana convinces herself that her upcoming surgery will save her life and make all of her problems go away.

but after a brief moment of a smaller nose and a full heart vindicated, everything quickly spirals out of control: nose, voice, life.

while i read this story, i forgot about 'the little mermaid' throughline and was entirely caught up in the true-to-life characters and plot thus i forgot to anticipate the ending (something very good story should make a reader do) - so i won't deny the catch in my heart and breath when i realized what the ending had to be.

these three stories wonderfully original modern takes to classic fairytales, thanks joanna karaplis and mckeller & martin for really great fridayreads!

3.06.2011

eschew the label, girls!

i can't tell you how much i appreciate this book. i am so glad that it exists. thanks emily mullock for being a) such a cool and talented illustrator b) for twisting around the girl themes a bit without taking sides.

(also, thanks mckellar & martin for rocking the sparkles)

go away, unicorn! shows us girls everywhere that it's ok to not to like unicorns but it's ok to like them too, and it's really about what we are inside that counts; and unicorns can be good friends too.

here's the story:
a unicorn shows up to alice's 10th birthday - but not because he was invited: more because he smelled cake. but then he saw alice and her gold party hat. what follows is a wonderful schtick of unicorn-meets-girl, girl-doesn't-want-to-be-with unicorn, unicorn-finally-gets-the-picture story. but it turns out unicorns are really good friends after all.

the illustrations are bold and expressive (i've never seen a unicorn look so shocked when alice tells him she would prefer a goldfish) and the story is charming and funny. and my seven year old son liked it too.

i was a unicorn loving girl that didn't like pink either so this story speaks to my inner seven year old too.

11.03.2010

march on


i read the back blurb of this book because it said “winner of the 2006 pulitzer prize” on the cover. And as i started reading it, realized that it documents the fictional life of mr. march, the father of the louisa may alcott’s little women

then, of course, a tingle of anticipation went up my spine.

march has joined the unionist cause in the civil war in an idealistic fervor, but the harsh realities of a brutal war and his subsequent disillusionment lead him to question his faith and the moral code of the world he lives in. filled with beautiful prose and vivid portrayals of famous characters in history (emerson! thoreau! john brown!) – i really can’t recommend this highly enough – its depiction of the politics of the civil war is gray enough to be realistic and really helped me understand a political landscape that i had always imagined was fairly straightforward. this novel explains how complex it really was. and judging from the most recent elections in the United States, the politics has only gotten more complex (and polarized) as time has gone by. 

i have read a couple of other novels by geraldine brooks:  year of wonders and people of the book and i must say i am constantly impressed by her stunning narration and engaging characters. 

10.25.2010

love lost

february by lisa moore

i let the cover of this novel fool me for a long time.

and i’m not even sure what I expected from the cover – but it wasn’t this:

hard-living, straight-talking, wonderfully honest lonely helen o’mara trying to emerge from her husband’s death – a victim of the real-life sinking of the oil rig the ocean ranger, a disaster that took the lives of all the crew. but instead helen doesn’t emerge from her grief and her husband’s death becomes a blanket of loneliness that serves as comfort, because she has convinced herself that she knew it had happened, their bond was that strong.

a beautifully written novel of a family dealing with the unexpected senseless loss of a father and husband set in the eighties in st. john’s, newfoundland. this novel is a testament to the lives lost and a vivid, if fictional, account of personal loss and love.