"If I open you, I will finish you."
This is the creed I stick to whilst reading. I am incapable of not finishing a book. I can take a book out of the library, mind you, and not read it, but once I start it, it's on.
Holy Toledo - there were four commas in that 22 word sentence. That's way too many. I'm just going to leave them there as a kind of cautionary comma tale.
I believe the worst experience was in Grade 11 when we were all forced to read Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O Mitchell. The classroom jokes included calling the book Who Has Seen the Plot and "Woooaaaahhh, Mitchell - your book is bad." I think I was the only one who finished the cursed thing. I realize that hating this books makes me a bad Canadian, and an even worse Saskatchewanian, but I FINISHED IT.
Thinking back, there are only four books I haven't been able to finish. I'll start with the least traumatizing and work my way up. Give the pictures a clickaroo for more info on the books (especially Abadzis' awesome Laika "micro-site").
This books is full of plucky, spunky, funny, articulate essays on everything from Harriet the Spy to Forever (yes, Skurnick's definition of teen is kinda liberal). My plan was to read one of the essays each night before bed. That meant I would take at least a couple of months to finish the book, but it would be a fun lil' pre-sleep routine. Well, not so much. Why? The dang thing was chalk-full of spoilers! While I had read a good chunk of the titles featured in the book, there were many still in my "To Read" shelf on goodreads. So, I had no choice. I had to put it down a mere twenty-some pages in. I know I just could have plowed through, as no plot synopsis or analysis is a substitute for the real thing, but I just couldn't do it. This is not to say that Shelf Discovery is a bad book. Quite the opposite. But I just couldn't live with the spoilers.
There are two things in life that scare me: spiders and home invasion. I have had an irrational fear of both since childhood. This means that I can't handle Coraline or The Graveyard Book. I've never even attempted Coraline because so many people have warned me against it (my spider fear is intense, folks). But I was determined to read The Graveyard Book because what kind of self-respecting youth librarian isn't all over Gaiman? Besides, everyone told me the scene at the beginning is quick, non-explicit, and that it can be easily digested by nine-year-olds. I gave up by the second page, scared out of my bloomers. I've tried several times, even skipping over the first few pages, but I just can't hack it. (Note: I also tried The Graveyard Book audiobook. That didn't work either. Gaiman's voice box clearly comes from the same factory as Boris Karloff's. Spooksville).
Man, I love well-written, angsty YA. Gayle Forman, Jandy Nelson, Sara Zarr - I love it. I like some grit, some real trauma, some good ol' fashioned naughty bits. When I read the (mostly starred) reviews of Before I Die, I knew it was for me.
The premise is simple (teen girl has just months to live and wants to go off her chain before the end) but all the reviewers said the execution was brilliant, raw, and beyond expectation. Since it's in this blog post, you know I couldn't get through it. I gave up around page 30. Maybe things turned around in the end (I don't think they do), but I couldn't get over the "die" part. This was three years ago and lately I've been thinking of trying this one again. But for the time being, it remains an Unfinishable.
I tried to read this at the lake this summer. 'Tis not beach reading, y'all. Laika was the first animal sent into space. It didn't go so well.
I was about 2/3 into this book before my other half had to come outside, extract my bawling self from a lawn chair, and say firmly "I don't think you should read this anymore." He then had to hide it at the bottom of his suitcase and return it to the library for me because I couldn't even look at it. The only thing more upsetting for me than this book was when I thought the baby alien was going to die in District 9. Seriously.
Laika is terrifically well done, but I think that was the problem for me. I still can't shake it. It's like Old Yeller but in Russia/space. That makes it about 40 million times more intense.
In my experience, I find that recommending an Unfinishable to a child or teen is more effective than anything else. If I can honestly say "I was too traumatized to even finish this book," it will fly off the shelf. Of course, I'm not going around trying to traumatize chidlers. But Unfinishables make great sells. They issue a challenge:
I couldn't get through this book. Can you?
Most of the time, I write a post because I would like to think I have something kinda, sorta interesting to say or share.
However, I am writing this post because I want to be able to say I told you so.
For the most hardcore of the hardcore young people's book/culture peeps, this probably won't be breaking news. But I want to officially throw my hat into the "The 1920s are going to be the next big thang with young people" ring.
I'll preface this by saying that I'm probably missing a lot of stuff here - if you know of something else, throw your hat in the ring too! That's what the Comments Section is for! You'll be happy you did it when this trend really takes hold. Embrace smugness with me.
Lauren Conrad has a thing for the 1920s
In an interview with Seventeen earlier this summer, Lauren included The Great Gatsby on the list of her favourite books (in addition to her own books, of course - super classy) and said she dresses up like a flapper almost every Halloween. While Lauren isn't the peon of fashion or culture for anyone over 17, she's a mover and shaker with lil' pups born after 1994.
Anna Godbersen's Bright Young Things
Surprisingly, I read The Luxe (and the plot summaries of the next three books in the series on Wikipedia) and I didn't consider it a total waste of my life.
Godbersen's next foray into bubblegum YA lit will be Bright Young Things, to be released in October 2010.
The book's set in...you guessed it...1929. The synopsis includes a whole lotta exciting nouns like "flappers" and "showgirls" and "socialites." I guess there isn't much sexy about "The Great Crash," but, y'know, that wasn't too big of a deal.
Libba Bray's The Diviners
This promises to be the thinking person's Bright Young Things. As Publishers Weekly reported, Bray got a seriously ballin' advance for a four-book "supernatural fantasy series set in Manhattan during the 1920s." Bray is universally regarded as awesome by both teens and librarians, so this is going to be a big deal come 2012.
The Great Gatsby Video Game
Most people heard of this and thought, "What a cute lil' thing to tweet and put on my Facebook." Meanwhile, I let out a maniacal laugh as I added it to my mounting list of evidence.
Teen Vogue and the Twenties
Teen Vogue has been all over the twenties lately. Most recently, their "best dressed reader of the day" (caps are so outta style) proclaimed that she loves the twenties because "It was such a classy era, but at the same time, the clothing choices always hinted toward mischief and revolution." "Hinted toward mischief and revolution?!?" I wish I had been that articulate at sixteen.
Even Snooki gave the twenties a (historically inaccurate) shout-out!
Yes, I watch The Jersey Shore. On the first episode of Season Two (i.e. - two Thursdays ago) Snooki was washing clothes in the sink (after an accident involving white booty shorts and a red alcoholic beverage) and lamented, "I feel like a pilgrim from the friggin' 20s washing s---." Lovely.
So, there you have it. I've got my fingers crossed that the 1920s really is the next big thang, and not just kind-sorta-the-next-big-thang like fallen angels proved to be.
You know how Oprah always asks people, "What do you know for sure?" and they always answer with syrupy stuff like "My mom was always right," and "There is nothing better in this world than a child's laugh," and nonsense crap like "I am finally myself." Well, this is what I know for sure:
Brad Pitt is an attractive man.
Even when he's all bearded and dirty, you can still tell there is a really good-looking man under all that mange.
Wouldn't you, too, acknowledge that Brad Pitt is a very attractive man, even if you are not attracted to him yourself? If not, please pretend you do, because the entire conceit of this post depends on you agreeing that Brad Pitt is an attractive man.
I am one of those people who can see, objectively, that Brad Pitt is a stunner. But the thing is, I'm not personally attracted to him. It can be the same with books; I can objectively tell that a book is really great, has a definite audience, and meets a real need without truly loving the book myself. Thus, I give you the definition of a Brad Pitt book:
brad pitt book n. a book that one can, no matter his/her personal preferences, recognize as possessing high merit.
When learning any new concept, examples are helpful. Here are some of my personal Brad Pitts. Before you go off your chain in the comments section, remember the definition of a BP. I'm not saying that any of these are bad books or even mediocre books. Far from it. These are books that I know are great, and that I enjoyed reading, but just didn't reach out and grab me by the throat. If I had reviewed these books I would have given them a great review (just like I gave two thumbs up to seeing Brad Pitt's tush in Troy).
Perhaps one of the greatest BPs of all time for me has been Harry Potter. I understood why others would eat their own foot to read the books, but I couldn't get beyond a little nibble of my baby toe. Again, like any BP, I enjoyed it, but didn't fall in love. Same with the Westing Game; got the decades of hype, but didn't feel it myself.
A more recent example is Smile by Raina Telgemeier. Fabulous book. I even had similar orthodontic drama involving pulled teeth and braces. But, for whatever reason, my heart wasn't in it.
I should also make it clear what a Brad Pitt book is not:
A book that everyone else likes but I really didn't like
Comparable celebrities here are the likes of Josh Duhamel, Bradley Cooper, and Robert Pattinson. These are all dudes that many people find scrumptious but I, well, don't.
Savvy was a big one for me. Also, Incarceron. Unlike the BPs, I didn't enjoy these books at all and had trouble seeing what others saw in them. To each their own kinda thing.
A book that looks pretty on the outside but (I think) is a stinker inside
Don't forget that Brad Pitt is not only good-looking, but also a stand-up fella (wife swapping aside, he's charitable). Therefore, a true BP book has to be good on the inside and outside.
The Carrie Diaries is one hot little number. The jacket feels kind of leathery and soft and I can't resist that pink, spray-painty font. But unlike two of my favourite, very insightful YA reviewers (Tea Cozy and Reading Rants), I dang well hated it.
I'm always interested to hear what other people consider BPs. It's also interesting to consider which books are true BPs (i.e. - have merit but didn't grab you) and which have just been over-hyped (i.e. - BPs in Robert Pattinson's clothing).
I haven't yet done a post about how much James Marshall meant to me as a kid (and how much he still means to me as an old, festering adult) but the short version is that I was (and am) obsessed with his books. It was just me and my mams growing up so I spent all of my time either reading or engaging in high-concept, multi-part dramas with my Maple Town figurines. I found Marshall uproariously funny and would spend hours trying to draw Fox and Eugene and Emily (note: I am not artistically inclined). This obsession bled into my adult life in the form of my easy reader thesis and hyperventilating in the Kerlan Collection. Oh, and my general, all-encompassing personal and professional interest in young people's literature.
I get giddy anytime I see anything about James Marshall; a new tidbit of information, a mention, anything. So, when I stumbled across Multi-Grade Readers Theatre: Picture Book Authors and Illustrators by Suzanne I. Barchers and Charla R. Pfeffinger, I was so excited to see James Marshall's name in the Table of Contents. I scrambled to the page and found the header "The Trouble with a Pen Name: James Edward Marshall 1942-1992." Then there was "Summary and Background Information," "Presentation Suggestions," and some "Introductory and Follow-Up Suggestions" followed by a three and a half page interview script with "James Marshall." I was so excited to see Marshall's name that I didn't really even bother to understand the premise of the book.
The premise of the book is this:
The scripts in Multi-Grade Readers Theatre: Picture Book Authors and Illustrators provides students with a snapshot of the lives of thirty-six well-known authors, illustrators, and poets. Drawn from biographies, autobiographies, interviews, news articles, obituaries, and Internet sources, the essential facts of each person's story have been carefully researched. The conversations, however, are largely fictional.
Each picture book creator essentially has one "theme" that sums up the trajectory of their readers theatre script; Hans Christian Andersen's dad was a shoemaker, Kate Greenaway liked dolls, and James Marshall sometimes used a pen name.
Oh yes, and every single person featured in the book is dead.
My initial reactions went something like this:
"Aaahhhh! This book is chalk-full of made-up words of dead people! Children's book zombies!"
"What the $*%*)@*!? Marshall used a pen name, like, a handful of times! Why the *#)($** would they have a **%(*#! pen name define the career of a #@)@## genius like Marshall!? This is so reductive, I could spit."
"HUH!? Marshall would have never said that."
"Oh, that's convenient. Leave out the part where he was tipsy when he made up Edward Marshall's back story! Looks like someone didn't read page 98 of Leonard Marcus' Ways of Telling!" [This is, of course, a ridiculous response, as primary grade children probably don't need to know what is imbibed at lengthy publishing lunches.]
After having a good steam, and hunting for omissions and inaccuracies, I realized that my evaluation was, perhaps, coming from the wrong place - the place in me that thinks of James Marshall (and many of the other authors in this book) as someone I love and know, and therefore feel I must protect. Because the truth is, I would have loved to play James Marshall in my Grade 2 class (God help the teacher if she had selected someone else) and I think educators could really find this book useful.
But no matter how hard I try, I can't shake my protective feelings. Why invent words when, more often than not, these authors and illustrators left behind brilliant words on their own work and craft? Aren't there so many other, more authentic ways to get children excited about picture books?
Perhaps these feelings would be less acute if James Marshall (and all the other geniuses in the book like Lobel and Steig, etc.) were still alive and were still able to speak for themselves. Or if my love and respect for Marshall's work wasn't cranked up so high.