Tag Archives: Reading

Indies First (and other assorted endeavors)

Hello, BookEnders! Sorry to leave you hanging for a month. I have many excuses, most of which revolve around the fact that suddenly and not entirely unexpectedly, my life’s been reduced to a flurry of classes, group projects, and dinner shifts at the retirement home. Lately I’ve barely had enough energy for Gossip Girl, my latest Netflix obsession.*

When I have read lately, the last thing I’ve felt like doing has been stringing together coherent thoughts about them. I will say that I was underwhelmed by Trish Doller’s Where the Stars Still Shine and overwhelmed by Hilary Smith’s Wild Awake. Both books revolve around mental illnesses of their characters, and reading them within the same week reinforced the emotional impact I personally felt was absent in Doller’s novel.

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Are we friends on Goodreads? If not, we should be.

Are we friends on Goodreads? If not, we should be.

Despite having limited free-time lately, I’ve still managed to reach my 2013 Goodreads goal this week, about a month ahead of schedule. I’ve been very good this year about the number of books that I’ve read, but less so about challenging myself to read books out of my comfort zone. I have read many more excellent books this year than I have in past years. However, I didn’t get through any of the classics I had hoped to read.

Lastly, today I had a bit of a book endeavor. The Saturday after American Thanksgiving is known as “Small Business Saturday,” a movement for supporting small businesses which emerged to counteract the chain-centric shopping that happens on Black Friday.** As part of Small Business Saturday, author Sherman Alexie suggested an event called Indies First, in which local authors would handsell and recommend books at nearby independent bookstores.

I had been looking forward to Indies First for about a month, and it finally arrived yesterday. Unfortunately, due the string of days I had off from class, I lost track of the days of the week. I totally forgot about until an hour before I had to leave for work. Luckily, I still had enough time to stop by Eliott Bay Book Company. There I browsed a bit before going over to talk to author Jennie Shortridge for a few minutes. She was very friendly, and had some good recommendations. Although I was sorely tempted by a beautiful collection of Louise Glück’s poetry,*** I settled on a few of Shortridge’s recommendations, both set in Seattle. The Glück will still be there next time I go.

The books I got from Eliott Bay Book Company (Where'd You Go, Bernadette and Hotel Angeline)

The books I got from Eliott Bay Book Company (Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Hotel Angeline)

And hopefully I will go again soon, or to one of the other numerous indie bookstores in the area. I’ve shifted to buying many of my books online, due to sheer convenience. I tend to get book cravings, where I remember a certain book and I want to read it immediately. But more often lately I’ve been getting both my e- and hard copy books from the public library. I won’t apologize for enjoying my e-books and frequenting my local library, but there is something to be said for going to the bookstore instead sometimes. Instead of pulling everything off the shelves that looks interesting, you have to pick out a single, perfectly promising book (or two or three). There’s definitely more at stake when you’re playing for keeps.

It was nice catching up… we should do it again sometime. This post was more of a combination platter than the whole enchilada****, so thank you for bearing with me. I’ll be on break from school in about a week, so hopefully I can end out the year with some quality posts. Until next time!

* I’ve been quite conflicted as I like to finish shows before starting new ones, but I still have two season of Gossip Girl left and I suddenly want to start The OC. But I eventually need to return to The West Wing and finish that up. Decisions, decisions.

** I’m not sure that that is the actual origin of Small Business Saturday, but that’s what seems to be generally inferred.

*** Any immediate family members who might be reading this may want to take note of my love for Louise Glück and the traditional exchange of gifts that coincides with the rapidly approaching Christmas holiday.

**** Yes, I am craving Mexican food; no, I probably won’t abandon my inclination toward mixed food metaphors any time soon.

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Reader’s Block

It’s impossible to get a degree in creative writing without hearing the phrase “writer’s block” approximately 10 bajillion times. After constant discussion of it, I’ve come to the conclusion that writer’s block is kind of like Santa Claus – he sneaks into your house in the middle of the night, distracts you with shiny new playthings, and you run out of cookies a lot faster when he’s around. Most of all , the older I get, the less I believe in his existence. Nevertheless, he’s in so many stories and ringing bells on so many street corners, it’s hard to escape the idea of him. He might as well be real.

See? Lying in wait, always watching for any moments of weakness. Photo from here.

This post is not about writer’s block or Christmas (or my weakness for creating increasingly labored metaphors). It’s about a phenomenon I personally have never heard discussed, but have experienced several times. It’s like Santa Claus’ evil twin, the one who secretly goes around punishing those on the Naughty List and suppressing all the elf uprisings. Every now and then, I find myself locked in a fierce battle with him: reader’s block.

I first encountered him when I was eight and several chapters into Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. There was a creepy disembodied voice only Harry could hear and students were being attacked every which way. Simply put, I was so scared for Harry, Ron, and Hermione* that I couldn’t read on for several weeks. My father had been reading the book at the same rate and I eventually had to let him read ahead of me, a tremendous blow to my childhood pride.

Fast forward twelve years and The Book Thief, once I finally started it, nearly drove me to a complete reader’s block relapse. I generally read a lot like I eat – not necessarily fast, but singlemindedly. While I usually finish a book like The Book Thief in a sitting or two, it took me a month. The book was set in Germany during World War II, centered around a family who harbors a Jewish acquaintance in their basement. I could only read it in bits and pieces, a sense of familiar dread growing as I couldn’t help getting more and more emotionally attached to the characters.


Trailer for The Book Thief‘s upcoming movie!

Why do I bring it up now? Because almost a month after the release of Battle Magic, a new book by one of my favorite authors of all time, I’m only halfway in. I haven’t touched it in weeks… I’m never “in the right mood.” Battle Magic is a novel set in between already-released books in Tamora Pierce’s Circle universe. From reading the The Will of the Empress, I know that this story is about the time that Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy – characters I know and love – get caught in the middle of a war. I know the experiences they have in Battle Magic are enough to give them all nightmares and PTSD.** As much as I love Pierce’s writing, it’s hard for me to know that these characters, who I think about like I do my own friends, are about to go through something so horrible.

It makes me wonder what it’s like for a writer to do something like that to her characters. You have to, or else there’s no story. You have to know them, and you have to make them suffer. You may not always have to kill your darlings, but you always have to at least torture them a little. I’ve never gotten to that point in my own fiction writing. With short stories, I feel like I always catch my characters before they hit rock bottom. I write a lot more poetry, usually, a different beast entirely. And with creative nonfiction, well, it’s writing down the things that have already happened. Though there’s still that same impulse to try and protect my characters.

Which books have you gotten stuck on? Any advice you have for getting yourself to move past it?

*Which I then read as “Hermy-own,” which my entire family persisted on until Goblet of Fire set us straight. I also read Neville as “Neh-veal,” a pronunciation I’ve never heard of anyone else ever using.

**Not spoilers, by the way. This emerges very early on in The Will of the Empress, and doesn’t give anything away about the earlier books in the series.

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To the Library, and Beyond!

As a student about to start her master’s in library and information science, it probably won’t come as a surprise that I, you know, like libraries. Throughout high school and some of college I probably single-handedly kept my public library in business with my excessive fines. I know some people will go to the library, pick out a book or maybe two, then return it and find another. My library style has always been a bit more gluttonous: grab everything that looks interesting off the shelves. A week or two of fines adds up when you have fifteen to twenty overdue items. With the help of phone alarms and e-mail reminders, my on-time return rate has greatly improved in recent years.

The past few weeks have taken my appreciation of libraries on a very practical level. On one of my mom and sister’s last nights in Seattle, we watched Matilda together. While watching the disdain of Mr. Wormwood, Matilda’s father, for reading, libraries, and anything remotely intellectual, I was struck by an important but fleeting thought: I’m lucky to have been born into a family that loves the library as much as I do. One of my earliest memories is my mom doing up my hair for the Beach Day-themed story hour, and the highlight of middle school was the annual system-wide interlibrary “Battle of the Books” competition. So I suppose I’ve taken libraries and easy library-access for granted, just based on their continual presence in my own life.

As I mentioned last post, my apartment for August has no WiFi. I do have a smartphone, for which I’m grateful, but I have a limited data plan and too much impatience to use it for sending e-mails or messages longer than a sentence or two. It’s like trying to live on Ramen after years of dining hall meals – endurable, but hardly satiating. And my first month in Seattle has definitely given me experience in being creative with limited resources, both virtual and victual.

Coffee shops have been my first destination for Internet access. I have a found a few rare gems – coffeehouses with plentiful seating, power outlets, and low prices. But even the cheapest coffee shop still costs a few dollars, and I feel guilty for staying past the end of my tea. While I’m writing this, I’m actually at the coffee shop with the best drinks I’ve had in Seattle yet, but the worst WiFi. I’m lucky if I can get it to work for five minutes. At the moment, it’s not working at all.

At any rate, enter the library. The magical solution to all the world’s problems. Honestly, my dad had to suggest it to me when I explained my dilemma. At first I brushed off the suggestion, thinking that since I’m not yet able to get a library card (as I lack proof of address/Washington State ID), so I can only use their computers for thirty minutes at a time. Then it occurred to me that I could bring my laptop and use their WiFi for free. For as long as I wanted. So I’ve started spending lots of time at the library, either on my computer or reading books. Unfortunately, as I have no card, I can’t check things out. But I can use their Internet to look for jobs, housing, catch up on my Netflix. And just sit there and read books for free, so I don’t fall too terribly far behind on my 2013 GoodReads goal. The possibilities are endless.

IF YOU LOVE BOOKS AND LIBRARIES AND HAVEN’T EVER SEEN THE PAGEMASTER, YOU’VE BEEN MISSING OUT.

So this blog post has mainly been a combo testimonial and public service announcement. Don’t take your local libraries for granted. They’re a brilliant resource that do more than provide written entertainment for the masses. Next time your computer or WiFi or television breaks, if you want something new to read but it’s not in the budget – head to your library. Add them on Facebook, or check out their summer programming. And for those of you that already have, if you’re anything like me, I suggest you check your due dates!

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2,583 Miles Later…

Hello, blog readers!* This post is coming to you from the other side of the country. I have officially made the transition from Buffalo, New York to Seattle, Washington. Because I have a weird unique and incredibly loving family, I did not make the move alone. My mom, two sisters, and I turned it into two-week, cross-country (semi-Oregon Trail-themed) road trip. Huge props to my dad for valiantly staying home to hold down the fort while we were gone.

My mom, sisters, and I at the Pacific Ocean for the first time. I’m on the right.

Trip highlights include visiting my friends Mackenzie and Patty, Taste of Chicago, climbing up a 102-foot “Hermann the German” monument, and seeing a buffalo walk down the middle of the road. Things have settled down in the past few days. I moved into my first apartment (which I’ll actually be moving out of at the end of the month), started putting out my job applications. And my family left. I’ve spent my free time exploring the area, shamelessly using coffee shops for their WiFi (this apartment has no Internet), and going for runs.

Oh yes, I also sat on the foot of a 60-foot-tall Jolly Green Giant.

These kinds of major changes are exciting, character-building, and generally invaluable experiences. But they’re also hard. As much as I’m loving Seattle, it’s hard not to be a little homesick (okay, sometimes a lot homesick). Most times I try not think about how long it will be before I can hug my mom again, or tickle my little sister under the chin (she might deny it, but she’s just as ticklish there as she was when she was five).**

This is not a wallowing, moping post. I just want to acknowledge that for every awesome opportunity and exciting event here, there are things (and people) that I’ll miss back home. So I thought I’d share a few of my favorite books for times when there my life’s own setting changes. Whether you’re leaving for a new school or job, studying abroad, or just moving, these books help ease the transition.

1)      Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery – Hold on a second, you might say. Weren’t those books written way back at the beginning of the twentieth century?*** Aren’t the Anne of Green Gables books just heartwarming stories about an imaginative orphan?

Anne of the Island departs strongly from what most people would probably expect from a woman writer of the early 20th century. For instance, in Anne of the Island, Anne Shirley leaves her beloved home in Avonlea to obtain her B.A. from Redmond College. She moves somewhere totally new, deals with financial burdens, and makes housing plans with friends. It’s the quintessential college story, an era of life sadly overlooked in literature.

2)      Just One Day by Gayle Forman – Let’s skip ahead to a book published nearly a hundred years later. This book was released this past January, but I didn’t read it until June. Honestly, I hadn’t thought I would like it. The premise of the book is that Allyson Healy goes on a trip abroad a few weeks before she starts college. While in London, she meets actor Willem and spends a day with him in Paris. She wakes up to find him gone. She returns home, starts college, and tries to forget about him. Unable to, she eventually struggles to track him down.

Here’s the thing – the summary makes it sound like the novel is about Willem, but it’s not. It’s more about Allyson spending her first year of college trying to figure out who she is and who she is going to be: the reliable Allyson she was throughout high school; the daring “Lulu” she was with Willem; or someone else entirely? This is another novel that covers the college transition – living away from home for the first time. Making new friendships and reevaluating old ones.

All I’ll say is that this is one of those Don’t-Judge-A-Book-By-Its-Cover books.

3)      A Stranger to Command by Sherwood Smith – Let’s try some fantasy. Fifteen-year-old Vidanric, born into a noble family, lives in a small country where the tyrannical King Galdran rules. To both keep their son out of danger and help prepare him for the future, Vidanric’s parents send him away to a foreign academy in the militaristic country of Marloven Hess. While there, Vidanric struggles to learn weaponry, command, politics, and how to understand a culture starkly different from his own.

This was one of my favorites while I was in Turkey. It addresses adjusting to and partaking in foreign customs. And let’s face it, I love books that include any sort of specialized training, such as the skills Vidanric has to learn. This is a great book for those who enjoy vicariously learning how to be a warrior.

While I would love to keep writing about my favorite books, I think I’ll stop with those three. After all, I’m in Seattle! My new home for the next two years. Some protagonist I would be if I spent all my time reading and writing instead of adventuring and learning to ride a horse the bus.

Side Notes:

*I really should have a cooler nickname for my readers than “blog readers”… Hmm… BookEnders? That sounds strangely menacing. I like it. Other suggestions?

**I suppose I should mention that she is, in fact, nineteen-years-old and only occasionally sacrifices her dignity to let me tickle her chin.

***You might not actually say that, people who aren’t as excessively into L.M. Montgomery might instead think of it as just generally “way super long ago” or something to that effect.

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Book Binging for the Broke

Friends and devoted readers of this blog might know that I have no qualms about playing favorites when it comes to seasons. What’s not to love about summer? Ice cream cones from that drip all over your hand, no matter how old you get; trips to the beach that only cost you a sunburn; constant outdoor parades and picnics and paloozas galore! As much as I enjoy these festivities, however, I have to admit that my favorite summer activity generally causes long hours indoors in a somewhat sloth-like state: book binging.

Me, age three, collapsed on the couch with a pile of books and my cat. Some things never change…

Book binges are primarily a summer indulgence. Even though I usually work over summer and have a few other side projects going, the absence of homework allows me to go through books rapidly, sometimes three or four in a single day. Sadly, as a soon-to-be grad student, I don’t have as much money to spend on books as I would like. Although there was no stealing involved, all of the above books were acquired through copious amounts of begging and borrowing. Whether you’re short on cash or just trying to save a few books, I thought you might appreciate suggestions for feeding one’s ravenous inner bookworm without breaking the bank.

  1. There is no better source for free books than your local library. Aside from their own collections, libraries often have interlibrary loan systems set up so you can request books your own branch might not have. Something that I’ve only recently discovered, though, is my library systems fairly extensive e-book collection. If you have trouble getting to your library for whatever reason, many libraries allow you to borrow e-books and audio books online. It’s great for when I’m looking for something to read late at night.
  2.  Public domain is your friend; if you have any interest in older works, try looking for books whose copyrights have expired. There are many databases, such as Project Gutenburg, that have classics available to read online or download as PDFs or audio files. Louisa May Alcott and L. M. Montgomery are two of my favorite public domain authors. One of my favorite features of my Kindle Touch is that I can e-mail PDFs to my device and have them converted to e-book form; those with tablets, smart phones, or other e-readers might investigate if their devices offer similar services.

    Me, age twenty. Different format, same bookworm tendencies.

  3.  Follow publishers’ social media accounts. Publishing companies frequently offer special deals on e-books, often to promote interest in an upcoming sequel or new release by the same author. Whether you use Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, publishers are a good choice to follow. Libraries, librarians, and authors themselves also often share book deals. WriteWorld, a tumblr dedicated to providing writing advice, has compiled a great directory of writing resources on Tumblr, including those of authors and publishers.
  4. Raid your sister’s bookshelf. Okay, I said there was no stealing involved, so maybe “raid” is not the right word. Nevertheless, some of my favorite books have been discovered amongst my sisters’ books. I started Harry Potter when my older sister, in the midst of Chamber of Secrets, left Sorcerer’s Stone on her bed. I fell in love with Melina Marchetta when I wheedled my little sister into letting me extract Saving Francesca from her stack of library books. In return, I have lent her more books than I can count. Even if you don’t have sisters, consider setting up an exchange with friends or family who have similar tastes.
  5.  Although I’m sure freebies have existed as long as humankind itself, I believe the Internet has ushered us into the Golden Age of Giveaways. Obviously there’s a lot of scams out there, and you want to be careful what information you give out over the Internet. However, for those who might prefer paper books to e-books, book bloggers, authors, and tumblr users often give away free books in order to connect with readers. GoodReads also has a page for giveaways.
  6.  This one may be for the true scrimp-and-pinchers. When I was in high school, I usually didn’t have much money for books. My weekend plans usually included begging my parents to “abandon” me at the nearest Borders (R.I.P.). There I would spend hours reading an entire book. While I haven’t indulged in this practice in quite awhile, it’s a nice way to spend a day.

Don’t get me wrong. For authors I admire, I am usually more than willing to spend my money to purchase their work. And I want more than anything for bookstores, especially local bookstores to stay in business. However, when times are tight, sometimes it’s good to have a few extra ways to read a little more and spend a little less. Besides, if I read a book I love for free, when the author’s next release comes out, I’m usually first in line, ready to buy it at whichever bookstore’s closest.

Stay tuned for my upcoming review of Sarah Dessen’s new book, The Moon and More – a summer read if there ever was one.

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“A Corner of White,” by Jaclyn Moriarty

Last post I mentioned my intention to tackle Jaclyn Moriarty’s recently released (well, recently released in the U.S.) novel, A Corner of White. I actually finished it up the day after writing that. While I wish I could make my books last, I usually gulp them down in one or two sittings. I’d categorize myself as member of species Biblio devourus rather than Biblio savorus. Can you tell I just finished a term paper on evolution and biological classification?

Australian cover for A Corner of White

Back to A Corner of White. The story utilizes two braided strands. One takes place in modern day Cambridge, England. It mainly follows Madeleine Tully, a fourteen-year-old girl who has trouble adjusting to life after she and her mother run away from their luxurious life with Madeleine’s father. Madeleine’s mother took only a sewing machine with her when she left, leaving her struggling to make ends meet through mending clothes. As the novel is narrated in omniscient third-person, this strand of the narrative also includes some scenes between the two other students with whom Madeleine is homeschooled, Jack and Belle. Through Jack’s perspective, Madeleine is initially characterized as mysterious and ethereal, causing readers to wonder if she might be connected to the magical world of the other narrative.

This magical world of the second narrative strand is called “the Kingdom of Cello.” It does have many similarities to our world – televisions and trains and high school physics. However, it also has some notable differences. While Cello does have much of the same technology, they still rely heavily on fax machines. The organized sport of choice, deftball, revolves around some sort of supercharged, skyrocketing root vegetable. The biggest difference, however, is the Colors in their world. Rather than simply a visual phenomenon, they’re natural disasters:  Violent Purples, fatal Yellows, waves of Red that send everything haywire. The protagonist of this strand of the novel is fifteen-year-old Elliot Baranski. He’s nearly single-minded in his determination to rescue his father, Abel. Elliot believes his dad has been abducted by Purples (although most of the town believes  Mischa, the fetching high school science teacher who disappeared simultaneously, to be a far more likely cause of Abel’s disappearance).

U.S. Cover for A Corner of White

It wasn’t until probably a third of the way through this 400-page novel that I felt myself becoming fully engaged. I always have trouble switching between narrative strands. As soon as I found myself beginning to understand Madeleine, I was yanked back to Elliot, and vice versa. The story really took off for me once Madeleine and Elliot started communicating – writing letters to each other via a Crack between Cello and the World. In Madeleine’s world, the Crack is located in a parking meter. This leads her to believe that her penpal is some fantasy-enthusiast who takes role-playing a little too seriously. Through Elliot’s letters to Madeleine, Moriarty is able to explain some of the idiosyncrasies of Cello to readers. I also greatly enjoyed Madeleine’s letters to Elliot. In them, she critiques Elliot’s description of his life and kingdom as though it’s entirely made-up, the humor being that of course it is completely made up, but to the readers, not the characters. Through events in both worlds, Madeleine and Elliot come to rely upon each other.

I would give this book a solid four stars. I thought it did a great job setting up the worlds, plot, and characters for the next book in the trilogy. I also thought it did a great job showing character growth. Both Madeleine and Elliot start the novel as somewhat unsympathetic characters, but gradually become more aware of themselves and others. Although A Corner of White got off to a slow start due to two very disparate narrative strands, it eventually picked up the pace and became a compelling read in a world I can’t wait to revisit.

Which book cover do you like best, the U.S. or the Australian? Let me know in comments!

Jaclyn Moriarty’s Website
A Corner of White on GoodReads

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Sunsets and Sidewalk Chalk

I had my blog post for today all planned out. I discovered earlier this week that one of my favorite authors had a new book released in the U.S. a few weeks ago. Jaclyn Moriarty – another Australian YA author – started a new trilogy with the book A Corner of White. It’s a braided novel which switches between two worlds – Cambridge, England and the Kingdom of Cello – and promises to deliver Moriarty’s signature whimsical style. I bought it for my Kindle last night, and planned to finish it up today and write up a review.

But this afternoon, a shocking thing happened: I didn’t feel like reading. It’s one thing for me to not feel like reading when I have no good books up my sleeve. It’s another thing entirely when I have a thus-far enjoyable book by an author I know to be excellent. I blame the weather. It was gorgeous out today, warm and breezy. I saw people playing Frisbee and catch, heard them playing volleyball (the volleyball crowd was very loud) and I just couldn’t do it. Also, although I intend to keep this blog running, this is my last required post for my creative non-fiction class. I wanted to do something different from a usual review.

So I broke out the sidewalk chalk I got in my Easter basket this year. I took it outside with my camera. I doodled and wrote, looked at the lake, and mostly thought. I thought about how on Earth I was supposed to connect sidewalk chalk to reading. I mainly was reminded of something writer/dancer/papercutting artist Kimi Eisele said when she came to one of my classes as a guest lecturer last semester. She talked about the importance of having some kind of second genre or medium for “play.”

At the time, I mostly thought of it in regard to myself as a writer. Writing, for all that it’s a wonderful form of creative expression, can be and often is hard work. It seems like maybe I should start thinking of that in terms of reading, too. Reading is an activity that’s always come easily to me, and that I’ve always loved. But since starting this blog and taking several creative writing workshop classes, it’s sometimes hard to read with my writer mind off. I pay more attention to the choice of verb tense and the consistency of characters’ voices. Not to say I don’t still get completely immersed in what I’m reading, but there’s always questions the back of my mind – “What would I write about this?” or “Does that point-of-view shift contribute anything to the story?”

So I guess at the end of the day, writing and reading, as much as I love them, can also be pretty taxing. So I decided to expand my creative horizons a little, step out of my comfort zone. Despite my compulsive doodling habits, I’m no artist. But I do enjoy drawing things from time to time, and there’s something so alluring about sidewalk chalk. Maybe it’s that instead of writing at a computer or doodling in a notebook, whatever you do is immediately out there in the world, instantly available for others’ scrutiny. While I was drawing out there today, I was half-embarrassed, almost ashamed to be caught in the act of creating in public, especially something that wasn’t “good.”

I kept at it though, until my hands (and camera bag) were covered in chalk and the little pieces of gravel seemed permanently embedded in my knees. I came out with a few new poem ideas, remembered a few books I’d forgotten about, and got a chance to see one more Oswego sunset. I raced over to the banks of the lake to snap a few shots of the sun, as it slid right out of the sky. Once it starts going down, it goes down fast. I enjoyed my afternoon of play and some of the ideas it gave me for new writing and reading projects.

One of the books I thought about while I out there I’ve browsed but haven’t gotten a chance to “use” yet. It’s called Turkish Delight & Treasure Hunts, and includes provides and activities from classic childhood books. It includes recipes for “Tempting Turkish Delight” and “Brucie Bogtrotter’s Heroic Chocolate Cake” and directions for making a “liberally garlanded hat,” as Anne Shirley does in Anne of Green Gables. It’s half practical, half humorous. It’s a good reminder that aside from being fun companions while you read them, books are also a fun place to look for inspiration for something to do when you don’t feel like curling up with them.

A Corner of White
Turkish Delight & Treasure Hunts

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Summer Reading

I’m not entirely sure it’s spring yet here in Oswego. Although we’ve had our share of nice days in the past week or two, in mid-April there’s still the possibility of some more snow sneaking in. Yet with graduation only four weeks away, I can’t help jumping ahead to my favorite season: Summer. Although I appreciate autumn for its vibrant oranges and reds and spring for its balmy breezes, they can’t compare to summer’s constant atmosphere of celebration. And whether I’m going on an impromptu trip to Bennett Beach or going to see a free performance of Shakespeare in the Park, I like to have a book along.

A picture from last year's performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Delaware Park.

A picture from last year’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Delaware Park. This year they’re doing Hamlet and Measure for Measure.

Finding good summer reading material isn’t a simple task. For me, a beach book needs to be easy to read – hold the dense sentences and experimental structure, please. And I don’t mind if it tackles darker topics as long as it has a mostly happy ending. One young adult author really fits the bill for my summer reading choices – Sarah Dessen. Although Dessen, who’s now published ten young adult novels, has written some books that deal with topics like abusive relationships and sexual assault, most of her novels are a little bit lighter, but still substantive fare. I’ll highlight a few of my favorite books of hers that I think also make great summer reading.

Keeping the Moon: Fifteen-year-old Colie visits beach-town Colby to stay with her Aunt Mira for the summer while her mom, fitness guru Kiki Sparks, tours Europe. Colie expects the worst from her summer with her strange, artsy Aunt Mira. Instead, she finds herself waitressing at the Last Chance Bar & Grill and making friends with her slightly older coworkers; sharp-tongued Isabel, friendly Morgan, and easy-going, artistic Norman. Colie slowly stops judging her Aunt Mira, and appreciates her for who she is – not the town weirdo, but a woman completely sure of who she is. Through her time there, Colie starts to stop expecting the worst from Colby, and the rest of the world, and take both herself and others as they are.

The Truth About Forever: After her father’s sudden death a year ago, Macy has focused on being the perfect daughter. She’s become a stellar student and started dating Jason, a highly-motivated student and considerate guy. She even helps out from time to time with events for her mom’s real estate business. Her summer is carefully planned out, full of SAT preparation and logging hours at the library help desk, filling in for Jason while he spends the summer at a camp for gifted students. But when Macy spontaneously accepts an offer to work at disorganized, chaotic Wish Catering and starts getting to know the crew there, she starts thinking about whether perfect is all it’s cracked up to be.

Along for the Ride: As the child of two intelligent, competitive professors, Auden has been an adult since about the age of five. While her older brother, Hollis, has always been able to get away with most anything, Auden’s met her parents’ expectations, academic and otherwise. Auden continues to excel in school, even though she finds herself unable to fall asleep during and after her parents’ rather nasty divorce. About to leave for college in September, Auden makes the impulsive decision to leave her mother’s and  spend her summer at her father’s new house in Colby – along with his new wife, Heidi, and newborn baby, Thisbe. When Auden gets to know some of the locals, including fellow insomniac, Eli, she starts to wonder if it’s ever really too late to learn to be a kid.

These books are set over the course of the summer, and, yes, there is usually a love interest. But I think it would be a mistake to write off Dessen’s work, even her more beach-appropriate books, as romantic fluff. While romantic relationships are a staple of Dessen’s books, most are just as focused on the characters’ other relationships – with their parents, siblings, friends, and themselves. Aside from enjoying summer’s festive mood, I also usually find summer to be a time of individual growth and healing. In the “Note from the Author” section on her website’s page for Keeping the Moon, Dessen writes, “If you read my novels, you’ll see that I love a book set in the summer: it’s such a good, concise time period, and there’s endless potential for what can happen.” In the summer, anything seems possible. Her books capture the potential for a person to change course completely, fix relationships, form friendships. A lot can change in a summer.

Sarah Dessen also has a new novel coming out on June 4th. This one’s called The Moon and More, and also looks like a Summer Book. Check out this article for a description and the first chapter!

Sarah Dessen’s Website
Sarah Dessen’s Tumblr
GoodReads Pages for Keeping the Moon, The Truth About Forever, and Along for the Ride.

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YA Questionnaire

Some of you may know I am currently working on a thesis about how the Internet affects the YA reading experience. As much of my opinion has been informed by my own experiences as a young adult reader, I am genuinely interested in others’ experiences as YA readers in the Internet Age. In order to learn more about other YA readers, I’ve created a questionnaire with related questions. I would really appreciate it if anyone could either fill out the survey and e-mail it to me at heretherebedragons00@gmail.com or share the questionnaire with others who might be interested. I will be taking responses until April 30th. I posted it on my blog as it seemed too long for tumblr and most of the survey sites have ten-question limits.

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This questionnaire is specifically seeking to understand the activities of Young Adult (YA) literature. Please only take this survey if you read YA literature, and answer all questions as they relate to YA literature.

Age?

Gender (optional)?

How did you learn about this survey?

How and where were you introduced to YA literature?

How old were you when you started reading YA literature?

What are your favorite features of YA literature?

What are your least favorite features of YA literature?

Rank these subgenres in order of preference. Write “0” for a subgenre you rarely read. (Realistic fiction, fantasy, science-fiction, dystopian, paranormal, non-fiction, other)

Who is your favorite YA author and why?

Have you ever interacted with a YA author in any way, either in person or through the Internet? Please describe any and all such experiences.

How do you usually stay informed about YA authors’ activities and/or writing?

What is your favorite work of YA literature why?

What do you do after you finish a work of YA literature?

Are you involved in any YA literature-centric communities or discussions online (i.e. GoodReads, tumblr, etc.) If so, describe your involvement and experience in these communities.

Are you involved in any YA literature-centric communities or discussions outside of the Internet? If so, describe your involvement and experience in these communities.

Do you read, write, and/or review fanfiction based on YA literature? If so, describe your experience with fanfiction. If so, what kind of fanfiction do you usually read or write (Canon, Alternate Universe, Alternate POV, etc.)?

How do you learn about new young adult literature?

Where do you gain most of your YA literature recommendations?

Please share any additional comments about why and how you engage with YA literature.

I am considering creating a website where I can share some of the responses I have received. Please let me know if you do not wish me to publicly share any or all of your answers outside of my thesis.

Again, please e-mail the completed questionnaire to me at heretherebedragons00@gmail.com .

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“The Key to the Golden Firebird,” by Maureen Johnson

Last week, I wrote an entry about a trip to a book event in Syracuse. I’m currently on another, much further trip – Philadelphia! I came to the city for an honors conference, not a literary endeavor. Nevertheless, as we chugged along on the highway in our extremely large, rented black van, passing skyscrapers and buildings so ornate they must be Historical, I was reminded of one of my favorite young adult novels: Maureen Johnson’s The Key to the Golden Firebird.

Maureen Johnson’s twitter profile… and a sample of her kind of humor.

In the world of young adult literature, Maureen Johnson’s name is more or less synonymous with “superstar.” Aside from having published ten novels, she has an abundant online presence. She’s particularly well-known for her offbeat tweets. I first discovered her work, however, long before she became an Internet sensation, probably before she had a twitter account. When I was fifteen or sixteen, I pulled The Key to the Golden Firebird off the shelf of my local library. I didn’t know that a Firebird was a car, or that the novel was set in Philadelphia. I picked it up because of its bright yellow and pink cover.

The Key to the Golden Firebird mainly follows May Gold, the sixteen-year-old middle child in the family of three girls. May’s father dies of a sudden heart attack at the beginning of the novel. The story then jumps to a year later, and explores the different ways the Gold sisters cope with the loss. May’s mom works over-time at the hospital to help pay the bills, leaving May and her two sisters to fend for themselves. Brooks, the oldest of the family, quits softball and starts hanging out with a different, more booze-fueled crowd. Palmer, the baby of the family, tries to distract herself with softball practice and television. May – the bookish, unathletic sister – to try to hold things together.

And then there’s Pete Camp. A long-time family friend, he and May have always been… well, less than friendly. Good-natured – and perhaps less well-natured – pranks once drove the relationship between the two. When May fails her driving test – an experience to which I personally relate – Pete ends up being the only one around to teach her. The two attempt to put aside their differences for the sake of May’s driver license. In one notable scene, Pete tries to take May driving on one of Philadelphia’s highway. It was this scene that reminded me today, as our professor wove through the mess of last-minute lane-changing cars, that reminded me of the novel.

Photo of Philadelphia as seen from the highway in our enormous black rental van. Photo taken by Paige Belisle.

I think what really made this book was the characterization. Although the book focused around May, the narration sometimes shifted to her sisters, Brooks and Palmer. Each girl had their own individual ways of dealing with their father’s death. And for a book about death, it stays remarkably, refreshingly free of clichés and cheesiness. The bonding between the sisters didn’t take place in the form of hugs and shared cups of coffee; instead, their connection shone through in a road-trip convenience store stop and a wild dash off the field at Camden Yards.

To address the YA elephant in the room – yes, there is some romance in the novel. I think Johnson does an excellent job of balancing the love interest aspect of the story with the sisters’ relationships and development. For May, her growing interest in a guy feels natural; instead of distracting from the other themes of the story, it reinforces the idea that May needs to learn to live her own life; as much as she loves her sisters, it’s not up to her to be responsible for them.

This book came out quite awhile ago, but it’s one I still like revisit quite often. What rereads do you still enjoy years later? Any books you stumbled upon a bit by accident and ended up loving? Let me know in comments.

Maureen Johnson’s Website
Maureen Johnson’s Twitter
The Key to the Golden Firebird on GoodReads

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