Monthly Archives: March 2013

MarkReads in Syracuse

A few weeks ago, I posted an entry about MarkReads.net. Just this week, he had a tour stop in Syracuse which I and a few of my friends were able to attend. Very few YA-oriented literary events usually occur in Central New York, so I was especially excited to learn he was coming to Syracuse. My two friends and I hit the highway and made the hour-long trek down to LeMoyne College. Despite my dislike of highway driving and the slightly embarrassing difficulty we had navigating LeMoyne’s small campus, the drive was worth it.

Mark Oshiro started out the evening with a lecture.* His topic was online reading communities. He placed a strong emphasis on the idea of creating a space of inclusion and personal connection when running an online community – whether a blog, a forum, or something completely different. I think it would be interesting to compare his brand of literary criticism – which places equal emphasis on the emotional and intellectual experience of reading – with more traditional, scholarly literary criticism. While it makes sense that literary criticism functions well when everyone has the same terms and phrases to describe a piece, I’m very intrigued by the idea of more informal, personalized literary criticism emerging through the Internet. Book blogs, forums, and review sites like GoodReads certainly make a greater variety of literary criticism accessible. I do realize though that online literary discussion has its limitations as well – not everyone has regular Internet access.

Although I enjoyed the lecture Mark gave and found it immensely helpful both as a blogger and aspiring YA librarian, my favorite part of the evening came afterwards. He delivered a dramatic reading of one of the most ridiculous fanfictions I’ve ever read. The story is called “Gurren Jesus,” and though I’ve never seen the anime it was based on, it was no less amusing. Jesus and an anime character team up to ride motorcycles and try to assassinate Hitler, who is dressed up as Chester Cheetah. Before I’d finished laughing over that story, he went into a real-life annecdote that involved drunken Tennessean nerds playing gladiator with tree trunks. It made me wish I was better at actually telling stories rather than writing them.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet. It gives me a way of connecting with far more people than I ever would in person, and helps me gravitate towards people with similar interests. But this event was a good reminder of how enjoyable it is to connect with other readers face-to-face. It’s a great feeling to be laughing with a room full of people who appreciate the same kinds of jokes, read the same kinds of books, and who probably spend the same amount of time on the Internet as I do. I came away from the event energized by a renewed sense of my love for both online and in-person communities of readers.

*Maybe “lecture” gives the wrong impression – his talk was far more entertaining than the word lecture usually connotes.

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“The Piper’s Son,” by Melina Marchetta

She can claim sole responsible for introducing me to the word, at least.
Image from http://www.bookworld.com.au/quotes

Many bookworms I know dread having to answer that well-intended question, “What’s your favorite book?” Although I’m normally a rather indecisive person, I can answer this one with ease: Melina Marchetta’s The Piper’s Son. A long time Marchetta fan, I paid more for shipping than I did for the book, utterly unable to wait for the US release. I ordered it from Australia. Oh, the things we do for love. It was worth it, though. And besides, I personally prefer to have the original version of the book rather than the ones edited to be slightly more understandable to American audiences.

The Piper’s Son is technically a follow-up to one of Marchetta’s earlier books, Saving Francesca, but could easily be read on its own. Its main protagonist, Tom, was somewhere between a supporting and minor character in Saving Francesca. Tom’s family has more or less fallen apart following his Uncle Joe’s death in the 7/7 Tube bombing in London. Tom’s mother has moved to Brisbane with Tom’s little sister, Anabel. Tom’s father has gone who-knows-where, downing whiskey after whiskey to get through the day. And when his flatmates kick him out, Tom has no choice but to move in with his pregnant Aunt Georgie.

Australian version of the cover. Did you know that Australian novels put dialogue in single quote marks (‘like this’) rather than double quote marks (“like this”)?

Georgie, older sister to Tom’s Uncle Joe, serves as the story’s other protagonist. The story alternates between sections told in Georgie’s and Tom’s points-of-view. In short, everything in both Tom and Georgie’s lives have gone to pieces since his Joe’s death two years ago. I love stories where everything is in shambles, and the course of the book shows the protagonist struggling to set things right again, so this was a book I was naturally drawn towards.

What I find most impressive in this novel and in Marchetta’s writing in general is the abundant presence of complex characters. Everyone in the story from Georgie’s best friend, Lucia, to Tom’s love interest, the “smart, stubborn, ridiculously uncool” Tara Finke, is presented as a three-dimensional, well-developed character. Marchetta’s ability to turn every character into one with unexpected depths is what first drew me to her books in the first place. When I read Saving Francesca in high school, I remember being struck by the idea that every person – even the ones we unthinkingly write off – has so much more to him- or herself than what we see in passing. When Marchetta does use stereotypes, she plays with them rather than letting them serve as the character’s entire identity.

Lastly, I owe Marchetta one more thing – my love of Australian rock musician, Paul Kelly. Paul Kelly and Melina Marchetta are alike; wildly popular in Australia, less so in the States. Throughout The Piper’s Son, frequent references to Paul Kelly’s music are made. In some ways It’s the music Tom grew up on, when his family was still a cohesive unit. He wishes his father would reunite his Mom, like in characters in a Paul Kelly song. His band covers a Paul Kelly song. Most heartbreaking, there’s the family story of how when Uncle Joe was in college – or rather, “uni” – he and his friends ending up at the police station for getting drunk and stealing a street sign. While there, Joe called Tom’s father and started singing Paul Kelly’s “How to Make Gravy,” changing the lyrics to fit Tom’s family.

One of my favorite lines from the novel is Joe’s description of the song to Tom: “It’s a love story, Tommy . . . It’s a love story between Dan and Joe and every member of their family.”  That sums up the heart of The Piper’s Son – a love story between Tom and every member of his family.

Melina Marchetta’s Website
Great Interview with Marchetta About Writing Heroines
A Melina Marchetta Fan Tumblr

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MarkReads (and reads, and reads, and reads)

Only four posts in, and the time has come already – blogception. This post will be a blog about a blog, specifically MarkReads.net. I discovered MarkReads the fall before last, during my time in Istanbul. While some days I loved wandering through the city in its perpetual autumn drizzle, sometimes it was just as satisfying to spend the day curled up in my dorm with a cup of apple tea and my laptop. I’d been trying to decide between the two Harry Potter conventions happening in the summer of 2012, Ascendio and LeakyCon. I saw Mark Oshiro of MarkReads listed as a special guest for Ascendio. Interest piqued, I innocently clicked the link to his website. I then proceeded to work my way through the entirety of his “Mark Reads Harry Potter” posts in only a few days

He’s even edited and compiled his posts into e-books, available at markdoesstuff.com

MarkReads provides some of the most in-depth book reviews I’ve ever come across. Mark Oshiro does chapter-by-chapter reviews of popular books and series. His whole enterprise started in 2009, when he undertook someone’s challenge for him to read and review the entire Twilight series (which he ended up hating). He later took on the Harry Potter series, writing reviews for each and every chapter of all seven Harry Potter books (which he ended up loving). I cannot even begin to fathom writing that many blog posts. Although he doesn’t review exclusively Young Adult books, many of the books he has reviewed in the past have been YA – Looking for Alaska, The Book Thief, His Dark Materials, The Hunger Games. For those of you less interested in reading, he also has sister sites called MarkWatches and MarkPlays, where he does similar-style reviews for television shows and video games.

On the surface, reading a review for every chapter of a book or series of books might not sound that enticing. This is where Oshiro’s writing comes into play. His writing tends to be full of humor, honesty, and enthusiasm. He sometimes includes details from his own life to explain why he connects especially strongly to a certain scene or chapter in a book. His posts contain unconcealed glee for well-developed characters and expertly executed plot twists. It’s not the kind of book review that gets printed in the New York Times but maybe it should be.

One of the best parts of MarkReads is that Oshiro knows little or nothing about each book he reads, which keeps the element of surprise almost completely intact for him. This leads to much ironic humor, as sometimes he’ll make joking speculations about future events in the story that turn out to be completely correct, or he’ll be totally off base with his predictions. If you’ve read the books Oshiro’s reviewing, reading his posts is the same kind of fun found in soap operas or books with third-person omniscient narrators; you know the endings, the character motives, the future betrayals, while he gets to be the hapless character, bumbling blindly through the book.

I suppose I should reveal my own secret bias. Right now, he’s reviewing all of Tamora Pierce’s books. He’s finished the first quartet (The Song of the Lioness) and is halfway through the second (The Immortals), and has already become a Tamora Pierce fan of my own magnitude. I sometimes think that the key to my heart is Tamora Pierce; every person I’ve ever met who enjoys her books turns out to be someone awesome (my former roommate, a friend from Germany, my little sister, etc). So nothing makes me happier than watching someone else fall in love with her work.

I’ll just wrap up by mentioning that Mark Oshiro is going on tour soon. For those of you who are also in the Central New York area, he is having an event in Syracuse on March 27th. At 6:30 p.m., he’ll be giving a talk at Le Moyne College called “Mark Reads & So Do You: Literacy Development Through Online Communities.” In his own words, it’ll be about “how Mark Reads started, why [he’s] so interested in promoting literacy and being a bookworm online, and how educators in the future need to consider things like online communities, identity politics, and the power of being a nerd when teaching English and literature.” I’d really encourage any local English and Creative Writing majors to attend; it’ll be a chance to get some insight from an extremely successful blogger, and any talk he gives is bound to be a lot of fun.

MarkReads
Facebook Page for Syracuse MarkReads Event

Edit: His reviews do tend to contain a lot of spoilers, so my advice is to either only read reviews for books you’ve already read, or read along with him. Much thanks to Carol for suggesting I add this disclaimer.

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