Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Warrior, the Lover, and the Cultist: Three Brief Reviews

With the increased flexibility at my new job, I've had a lot more free time in the afternoons, which means I've been reading a lot more. In fact, over the past week, I've finished six whole books, which is quite a lot for me (and I'm well on my way to finishing the seventh, which would average a book a day). Aside from dedicating my newfound afternoon time to reading, I've also deliberately been eclectic in what I pick up. Two of those books have been romances, two of them graphic novels (one a memoir and one fiction), and two of them YA (a cult story and a thriller).

The Divine by Asaf Hanuka, Tomer Hanuka, and Boaz Lavie
The art in this - done by twins Asaf and Tomer Hanuka - is gorgeous, with really rich colors. The story it helps tell, though, isn't well-crafted. It aims to be a sort of mish-mash of modern war story and ancient magic, but it comes off as kind of half-baked. It's ostensibly about child soldiers in Thailand (the story takes place in a fictional Asian country called Quanlom), but I only knew that because of the creators' afterword, which is a good deal more resonant than their story. The protagonist is kind of dull, his best friend is a caricature, and the central conflict about two twin Quanlom kids committing acts of violence for their country (helped along by some magical powers) never gels into anything meaningful. I wish I liked this one better; it's a fine purchase for adult collections (for the art especially), but a bit of a letdown overall.

The Earl's Mistress by Liz Carlyle
I read a lot of historical romance, and I enjoy pretty equally books that are on the tame side as well as those that are rather spicy. This one is definitely on the spicy side. It may be the spiciest historical romance I've yet read, which is saying something. Isabella Aldridge goes to interview for the position of governess with the Earl of Hepplewood, and he turns her down, but offers her a different role instead, which you can guess by the title of the book. He's kind of skeezy in the beginning, and the book gives off a bit of a Fifty Shades vibe, though the earl isn't really tortured like Christian is supposed to be. He gets better later in the story, and this isn't the only historical romance guilty of making its hero a little too unlikeable at the beginning. The developing affection between the two leads is done well, though. The narration by Carolyn Morris is good and the book was enjoyable enough despite its flaws - I checked out a few others by Carlyle on its merits.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
Kelly reviewed this one not too long ago, which made me want to read it myself. So now you have two people (at least) telling you that it's absolutely worth a read. I normally shy away from stories set primarily in prison, but this one wasn't all about fights and how awful prison life is (which just makes me feel sad). It was a very personal story about Minnow and how she comes to terms with what happened with the cult and what she did to land herself in the detention center (refreshingly, she actually did do what she was convicted of doing, which we learn straight off). Minnow emerges at the end of the story a much stronger person with a stronger voice and a better understanding of what she wants from her life. What really made this story stand out for me, though, was the writing. I read a lot of YA books with fairly straightforward writing styles, good for much of the fast-paced action-oriented stories I enjoy. It was nice to read a book by an author who clearly enjoys playing with language - and is good at it - for a change.

Books received from the publisher, except for the Carlyle, which I borrowed from the library.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar

I received Louis Sachar's latest middle grade, Fuzzy Mud, in the mail a couple weeks ago and deliberately read it before I looked up any professional reviews. It's a given I would purchase it for my library, but I wanted to make up my mind as to its quality without other librarians telling me about it first. This is unusual for me since I normally read (or at least skim) a copious amount of reviews for every book I read before I dive in. But I'm glad I went into this one pretty blind. (In case you'd like to know now, it's gotten positive reviews from all major trade journals, with a starred review from Booklist.)

My verdict: It's good, but it's not great. It's going to be compared to Holes; of course it is. In comparison to that nearly perfect middle grade book, Fuzzy Mud is not quite as deftly plotted, its characters not as rich. It feels a little thin. Taken separately from Holes, it's still a worthwhile read with a great middle grade voice, but even then, I wouldn't call it a great book. It is a very good one, though.

Tamaya Dhilwaddi is in the 5th grade, and her mother forces her to walk to and from school with 7th-grader Marshall Walsh. They're supposed to avoid the woods, but one day Marshall shoots right for it, telling Tamaya angrily that he knows a shortcut. Unbeknownst to her, Marshall is being bullied by Chad, another 7th grader, who has threatened to beat him up on his way home that day. Marshall hopes to avoid the bully, and he doesn't particularly want to explain it to Tamaya, who rushes to keep up with him.

It turns out there's a good reason to avoid the woods. Tamaya stumbles across something she can only call "fuzzy mud," because that's exactly what it looks like. And Chad finds them anyway. In their rush to escape the bully, Tamaya throws some of the fuzzy mud into Chad's face. They go home and try to forget the incident - except Tamaya now has a strange rash that won't go away.

As Tamaya's rash worsens, the school notices that Chad hasn't been seen in a while. Tamaya is stricken, knowing that while she just got some of the fuzzy mud on her hands, Chad got it in his face. Marshall won't tell anyone that Chad is in the woods, but Tamaya knows she has to go see if he's still there, if he's still alive. By now, the school is on lockdown, but Tamaya manages to get away. This time, Marshall follows her.

The story is told from Tamaya's and Marshall's alternating points of view, though Tamaya's is a bit more memorable. Interspersed are transcripts from a national hearing about the fuzzy mud, which takes place sometime after the other events of the book and show how catastrophically things escalated. There are also some ominous mathematical equations whose sums demonstrate the same thing in a different way. Both plot devices are well-used and very Louis Sachar.

Just what exactly the fuzzy mud is unravels over the course of this pretty short (under 200 pages) book. It's a cool and somewhat unsettling concept having to do with clean energy and more broadly environmentalism and scarcity of resources - plus some animals rights issues, possibly, and the science of mutation. These are absolutely concepts kids can get, and placing them in the context of bullying and an adventure in the woods makes them digestible and interesting. The book has a dash of Wayside School since an understanding of exponents is essential to the story. It's a slightly weird book (and a funny one), perhaps not as weird as Holes, but it has the same sort of flavor. It's definitely a Sachar book, with writing that speaks well to a middle graders. He just knows how to write for this audience.

Where I felt a little let down was the overall thinness of the story. Middle grade books definitely don't have to be (and most shouldn't be) doorstoppers, but 192 pages feels not quite long enough to tell this story adequately. There are a lot of big ideas presented very quickly, particularly in the sections with the hearing/debriefing of the fuzzy mud incident. And because these sections split up the adventure in the woods at several points, Tamaya and Marshall's story feels a bit scant, too. I felt that the bullying subplot with Chad was a little underdeveloped as well - its resolution felt too pat and a bit touchy-feely, with Chad's about-face coming easily and quickly.

These weaknesses aside, this is a unique, fun, and interesting book for kids from a writer who excels at writing middle grade. There will be high demand and the concept should make it an easy sell.

Review copy received from the publisher. Fuzzy Mud publishes today.

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Monday, August 3, 2015

On The Radar: 10 Books for August

One of the most popular posts I do over at Book Riot is the round-up of upcoming YA fiction titles, and one of the most popular questions I seem to get on Twitter and in my inboxes is "what should I be looking out for in YA?" For a lot of readers, especially those who work with teens either in classrooms or in libraries, knowing what's coming out ahead of time is valuable to get those books into readers' hands before they even ask.

Each month, I'll call out between 8 and 12 books coming out that should be on your radar. These include books by high-demand, well-known authors, as well as some up-and-coming and debut authors. They'll be across a variety of genres, including diverse titles and writers. Not all of the books will be ones that Kimberly or I have read, nor will all of them be titles that we're going to read and review. Rather, these are books that readers will be looking for and that have popped up regularly on social media, in advertising, in book mail, and so forth. It's part science and part arbitrary and a way to keep the answer to "what should I know about for this month?" quick, easy, and under $300 (doable for smaller library budgets especially).

For August, here are 10 titles to have on your radar. All descriptions are from WorldCat, and I've noted why it should be included. 

A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz: Beckan, an immortal teenage fairy, and Tier, a young activist, are on opposite sides of a war, but strike up an unlikely friendship anyway.

Why: I have read nothing but positive reviews of this title, and Moskowitz continues to emerge in the YA world as an author to watch. This is her second release this year, and it's in a completely different genre than Not Otherwise Specifed

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle: Every October Cara and her family become mysteriously and dangerously accident-prone, but this year, the year Cara, her ex-stepbrother, and her best friend are 17, is when Cara will begin to unravel the accident season's dark origins. 

Why: This one has had a ton of publicity and press, and it sounds like a fun, different supernatural tale. 

Bright Lights, Dark Nights by Stephen Emond: Walter Wilcox's first love, Naomi, happens to be African American, so when Walter's policeman father is caught in a racial profiling scandal, the teens' bond and mutual love of the Foo Fighters may not be enough to keep them together through the pressures they face at school, at home, and online.

Why: I read this one, and while it's imperfect, it's timely and should evoke some great discussion. The romance here is well-drawn and through the perspective of Walter, which makes it stand out in the current YA world. This is also a hybrid novel with illustrations, so it has tremendous appeal. 

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott: When a scheming lord tears Jess's family apart, she must rely on her unlikely friendship with Kal, a high-ranking Patron boy, and her skill at Fives, an intricate, multi-level athletic competition that offers a chance for glory, to protect her Commoner mother and mixed-race sisters and save her father's reputation.

Why: I've read nothing but great reviews of this one, and it's had some good publicity. Elliott is no novice in the SFF world, but this is her first foray into YA. 

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys edited by April Genevieve Tucholke: Inspired by classic tales and films, a collection of fourteen short stories ranging from bloody horror, to psychological thrillers, to supernatural creatures, to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, by acclaimed YA authors of every genre.

Why: Again, really positive reviews of this one have piqued my own curiosity, as well as a stellar lineup of writers with short horror stories. There's always room for more horror in YA, and in this instance, a collection of short stories is a unique way to offer it. With the names included, an awesome opportunity for new readers to discover the longer works by authors' stories they enjoy, too.

Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman: Katerina, on a mission to kill the queen, falls in love with Alexander, Prince of Macedonia. Jacob will go to unthinkable lengths to win Katerina, even if it means having to compete with Hephaestion, a murderer sheltered by the prince. And far across the sea, Zofia, a Persian princess and Alexander's unmet betrothed, wants to alter her destiny by seeking the famed and deadly Spirit Eaters.

Why: Aside from the big push this one has gotten from the publisher, adults might be familiar with the author, who has written the adult non-fiction titles Sex With Kings and Sex With The Queen. She knows her stuff, and I suspect it'll be interesting to see her take that knowledge and apply it into a YA novel. 

The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Kate Alender: Sixteen-year-old Cordelia and her family move into the house they just inherited in Pennsylvania, a former insane asylum the locals call Hysteria Hall--unfortunately the house does not want defiant girls like Delia, so it kills her, and as she wanders the house, meeting the other ghosts and learning the dark secrets of the Hall, she realizes that she has to find a way to save her sister, parents, and perhaps herself.

Why: Again, this is a solid horror novel, and Alender has sort of carved a niche for herself here, too. She's an excellent writer of suspense and tension, and this particular novel features a smart main character who knows how horror works, so there's an extra layer of tension added therein. It plays with the tropes horror readers love in unexpected ways.

Reawakened by Colleen Houck: A visit to an Egyptian exhibit brings teen Lilliana Young face to face with a recently awakened mummy-turned-handsome-sun-god as she gets caught up in an adventure with more twists and turns than the Nile itself

Why: Houck has written a series before that did quite well, and this is the first entry into a new one. A mythology-based fantasy sounds fun and different. 

After The Red Rain by Barry Lyga, Peter Facinelli, and Robert DeFranco: Set in a future world of environmental collapse and mass poverty, where a mysterious boy named Rose discovers he possesses inhuman powers that can irrevocably change the lives of everyone on the planet.

Why: While the description really doesn't make this one sound particularly unique, look at the names on this book. They're huge and this collaborative effort has seen some good reviews. 

Most Likely To Succeed by Jennifer Echols: Sawyer and Kaye fall in love despite hating each other.

Why: Weak description from WorldCat, but Echols continues to produce well-written romance-driven YA novels, and this entire series has been solid. Bonus: look at that black girl on the cover, right in the center. 

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Let's Make Change Happen Right Now

I'm not going to write a lengthy post about the removal of Courtney Summers's Some Girls Are as an optional -- OPTIONAL -- reading choice for students at West Ashley High School in Charleston, South Carolina. I'm going to instead direct you to Courtney's impassioned discussion of this challenge to her book, along with Leila Roy's commentary, and commentary from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

I am a staunch advocate of intellectual freedom and have been since day one. I find it horrifying and small minded when one parent's problem with material overrides the rights of every student to have access to material that not only impacts their lives, but that they would have the opportunity to discuss and engage with under the guide of adults who care about them and who want them to KNOW that they're cared about.

To say this particular removal -- one laden with missteps and subverting policies left and right -- feels particularly brutal is an understatement.

So I'm doing something.

Thanks to a few phone calls, I was in touch with Andria Amaral at the Charleston County Library System about what could be done to get this book into the hands of the teens who want them. She feels as passionately about this as I do, as she said to me that she wants to stand at the door of the high school and pass this book out to kids. More copies of the book have been purchased for the library for their access, too.

Let's do something together with our collective reader, intellectual freedom loving power, shall we? Can we get this book into the hands of kids of West Ashley who want it?

If you are willing to buy a copy of Summers's Some Girls Are, I will send it down to Andria, who will get it into those kids hands for free.

Between now and August 17, I would love to see my house become overfilled with copies of this book. I will box them up and ship them all down to Andria that week, so she can get them into the hands of eager readers. Because Andria is also coordinating the efforts of the Cynthia Hurd memorial donations, it is easier for me to collect everything and send them down to her once, rather than have them trickle in to her.

Think this is a costly endeavor? Let me direct you to how you can participate, even if you're short on funds.

Some Girls Are is currently $1.99 on Book Outlet, and What Goes Around, which is a bind-up of Summers's Cracked Up To Be and Some Girls Are is $1. Right now, there are over 200 copies between the two of these books on Book Outlet. Let's make them all disappear.

Can you spring $1 or $2 or $10 to get this book to these kids? It seems like a cheap way to tell these teenagers that their voices -- their lives -- really do matter.

You can, of course, send a copy from anywhere. I am not going to do anything but drop them into a big box to ship out.

If you want to take part, please drop your name and email in this form, and I will email you with my mailing address to make this happen. If you cannot participate yourself, please pass this along to anyone who might want to help out.

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Prima Ballerinas: A YA Reading List

There are two things in YA that will make me pick up a book no matter what. The first are stories set in a juvenile detention facility. It's not that I love seeing bad kids; rather, it's about how these stories -- and shows like Beyond Scared Straight, which I love -- are about how adults are not giving up on teenagers who do dumb things. Rather, they're stories about how there's so much hope to make the lives of these teenagers better. 

The second thing in YA that I can never get enough of is the ballet story. I used to take ballet as a kid, and I think that might be part of why. It's a dream that never was for me, despite making a pact when my best friend at age 5 that we'd grow up together and become ballerinas together. 

Neither of us are ballerinas. 

Because there's been a handful of ballet-themed YA on shelves this year and because it's such a perennially great topic in YA with a lot of timelessness to it (competition, drive, and dance don't change when a book is 10 years old, as opposed to brand new), I thought I'd pull together a book old booklist. All of these books, some old, some new, and some to hit shelves in the near future, include ballet as a major part of the story. Likewise, I have included non-fiction on this list because it absolutely thrills me to see that the non-fiction in YA about ballerinas we're seeing isn't about the ideal white girl dancers we are so accustomed to seeing. They're different. 

All descriptions are from WorldCat unless otherwise noted. If there are other ballet themed YA books I missed, I'd love to know in the comments. And as always, I once again plea that someone write me a book about a black male dancer, a la the story of the boy in "Save The Last Dance." I want to read that story so bad. I suspect many a YA reader does, too. 

Audition by Stasia Ward Kehoe: When sixteen-year-old Sara, from a small Vermont town, wins a scholarship to study ballet in New Jersey, her ambivalence about her future increases even as her dancing improves.

Bunheads by Sophie Flack: Hannah Ward, nineteen, revels in the competition, intense rehearsals, and dazzling performances that come with being a member of Manhattan Ballet Company's corps de ballet, but after meeting handsome musician Jacob she begins to realize there could be more to her life.

Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy by Elizabeth Kiem: After a harrowing defection to the United States in 1982, Russian teenager Marya and her father settle in Brooklyn, where Marya is drawn into a web of intrigue involving her gift of foresight, her mother's disappearance, and a boy she cannot bring herself to trust.

Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You by Doreen Cirrone: Sixteen-year-old Kayla, a ballet dancer with very large breasts, and her sister Paterson, an artist, are both helped and hindered by classmates as they confront sexism, conformity, and censorship at their high school for the arts while still managing to maintain their sense of humor.

Feuds by Avery Hastings: n 2135 Ohio, Davis Morrow, a fiercely ambitious ballerina, has been primed to be smarter, stronger, and more graceful than the lowly Imperfects but when a deadly virus, the Narxis, begins killing Davis's friends she turns to Cole, a mysterious boy with his own agenda, and their love may be the only thing that can save her world.

Jersey Tomatoes Are The Best by Maria Padian: When fifteen-year-old best friends Henry and Eve leave New Jersey, one for tennis camp in Florida and one for ballet camp in New York, each faces challenges that put her long-cherished dreams of the future to the test.

Marie, Dancing by Carolyn Meyer: A fictionalized autobiography of Marie Van Goethem, the impoverished student from the Paris Opéra ballet school who became the model for Edgar Degas's famous sculpture, "The Little Dancer."

On Pointe by Lorie Ann Grover: In this novel written in free verse, Clare and her grandfather must deal with changes in their lives when Clare's summer growth spurt threatens to end her dream of becoming a ballet dancer and her grandfather suffers a stroke.

Pointe by Brandy Colbert: Four years after Theo's best friend, Donovan, disappeared at age thirteen, he is found and brought home and Theo puts her health at risk as she decides whether to tell the truth about the abductor, knowing her revelation could end her life-long dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer.

Rose Sees Red by Cecil Castellucci: In the 1980s, two teenaged ballet dancers--one American, one Russian--spend an unforgettable night in New York City, forming a lasting friendship despite their cultural and political differences.

Taking Flight by Michaela DePrince: The memoir of Michaela DePrince, who lived the first few years of her live in war-torn Sierra Leone until being adopted by an American Family. Now seventeen, she is one of the premiere ballerinas in the United States

The Broken Hearted by Amelia Kahaney: When seventeen-year-old Anthem Fleet is suddenly transformed into an all-powerfull superhero, she must balance her old life with the dark secret of who she has become. (This description doesn't tell you that Anthem was a ballerina before the transformation). 

The Melting Season by Celeste Conway: Giselle, the sheltered daughter of two famous ballet dancers, comes to terms with her relationships with both her late father and her mother, realizing some important truths that help her move forward both in her life and with her own dancing.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma: Orianna and Violet are ballet dancers and best friends, but when the ballerinas who have been harassing Violet are murdered, Orianna is accused of the crime and sent to a juvenile detention center where she meets Amber and they experience supernatural events linking the girls together.

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton: Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance -- but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette's desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever. When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.

Unlovely by Celeste Conway: A boy is torn between his newfound love for a ballet dancer and the fear that she might be out to kill him.

Up To This Pointe by Jennifer Longo (January 19, 2016): Harper is a dancer. She and her best friend, Kate, have one goal: becoming professional ballerinas. And Harper won’t let anything—or anyone—get in the way of The Plan, not even the boy she and Kate are both drawn to.
Harper is a Scott. She’s related to Robert Falcon Scott, the explorer who died racing to the South Pole. So when Harper’s life takes an unexpected turn, she finagles (read: lies) her way to the icy dark of McMurdo Station . . . in Antarctica. Extreme, but somehow fitting—apparently she has always been in the dark, dancing on ice this whole time. And no one warned her. Not her family, not her best friend, not even the boy who has somehow found a way into her heart. (Description via Goodreads).

Various Positions by Martha Schabas: When talented, dedicated fourteen-year-old Georgia Slade becomes a student in an elite Toronto ballet academy, her confusing feelings toward one of her teachers lead to disaster.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Crowd of Caldecotts

Normally we focus on books for older kids and teens here at Stacked, but books for younger kids have been on my mind lately thanks to my new position (where I'll be involved with materials for kids of all ages). A few years ago, I did a post on Newbery honors and winners that I loved as a kid, and I thought it would be a fun exercise to do the same for the Caldecotts, though I've also included a few I came to as an adult (I have to go back further in my memory for picture books and it's tougher). Which Caldecotts are your favorite, both to read and to teach/recommend?

The ones I remember and enjoyed as a kid:

Strega Nona by Tomie DePaola
Honor, 1976
I loved all of Tomie DePaola's books as a kid (particularly his two about Texas wildflowers, which are more problematic for me now as an adult). His books are some that I remember as vividly for the pictures as the words. A lot of award-winning picture books our school librarians and teachers read us had illustrations that were either very realistic or very ornate. DePaola's are neither, which I really liked.

The Amazing Bone by William Steig
Honor, 1977
I liked this story about a pig named Pearl who came upon a bone that could talk, which eventually gets her out of a scrape. It was such an odd idea to me (in a good way), and I still remember a lot of Steig's narration.

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe
Honor, 1988
This is one that I remember our school librarian reading to us. I loved that it was a fairy tale, and a different fairy tale from the ones I was already well-acquainted with. I remember the vivid illustrations quite clearly, particularly the bold colors and the striking cover image.

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales illustrated by Lane Smith
Honor, 1993
Long after I had given up picture books for my own personal reading (as opposed to the reading forced upon me by teachers), I still returned to this one over and over. It's still funny, with hilarious illustrations that compound Jon Scieszka's side-splitting humor. Never was there a more perfect marriage between writer and illustrator. I loved The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, published in 1989, just as much.

And a few faves I've read as an adult:

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems
Honor, 2004
It's the pigeon. Willems' illustrations are simple and expressive, and no one really does this kind of story better. He just gets kids of this age.

Flotsam by David Wiesner
Winner, 2007
I like illustrations that are unique or a little wacky or super detailed, but then sometimes I just want something beautiful, and Wiesner is my guy for that.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Winner, 2011
I love this sweet story and its sweet illustrations. The idea of animals visiting a zookeeper when he's sick is just too good, and Stead's drawings are unique and a perfect fit. Betsy Bird describes the elephant in this way: "Look at this cover and then stare deep into that elephant’s eyes. There are layers to that elephant." It's hard to make me care about books about animals, but Stead does it handily.

Journey by Aaron Becker
Honor, 2014
This is a favorite of mine to give to parents of newborns (not because it'll be great for newborns, but I do think it's a good book to grow into, for a kid to find on a shelf one day and get lost in). It's been likened to Harold and the Purple Crayon for a new generation, but the art is very different (in a way that I appreciate). I love the watercolor-type style of the illustrations and I love the color palette, not to mention the story that ignites kids' imaginations.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

The Mid-Summer Review: On Backlist Reading

Summer's already half-way over, which is really hard for me to grasp. I love summer so much -- I live for those hot, sticky days that virtually everyone else loathes. I credit living in central Texas for the appreciation. 

With taking a month off of blogging, I had a lot of opportunity to sit down and do some of the things on my reading goals list that I'd talked about in my post about slowing down. Rather than let myself succumb to the pressures of reading every new book months before it hit shelves, I decided to step back and catch up on some backlist and classic titles I've been meaning to read but hadn't yet. 

The project so far has been going extremely well. In slowing down more than one part of my life with the blogging break, I was also able to take reading the books I wanted to at a much better pace. I'm not a particularly fast reader, but I dedicate a lot of time to reading; having a plan of books I wanted to read helped me more quickly move from one book to the next, without the stress of choosing what next. And since I wasn't then sitting down feeling like I needed to write something thoughtful or coherent about the book, I was able to instead let the words and pieces I felt important permeate my mind and only my mind. 

In some ways, being less social with my reading made me appreciate reading for myself a little bit more. But it's been interesting, too, not sharing those thoughts with fellow readers. It gives me time to work the things I need to work with into my own life, rather than spending time thinking about the broader take aways to an audience. 

Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye was the first book I picked up that I talked about in my initial post. It was also the first book since I graduated from college that I found myself wanting to take a pen to and mark as I read. It's a short book, but reading with pen in hand forced me to slow down, to savor the language, and to mark the passages that really stood out to me. 

And you know, I didn't write anything about the book yet. I feel I got a lot of value in reading it, taking the time to pull from it what I needed for me, and letting the rest of the pieces of story land within me how they were meant to land. I do plan on writing more in depth about this particular book, but it's not something I feel pressure to hurry and talk about. I want that slow burn to take hold, and I want space between when I finished it to better inform what I have to say about it when I pick it up again to look through the things I marked while reading. They stood out to me for a reason in the process of reading -- will they still hold up later? Will they resonate even more?

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood really hit me hard, which I completely expected going in. I knew I'd love it from the minute I started, but what I found most valuable about this particular reading experience was that I had zero baggage attached to the book. It wasn't something I'd ever read before, and as I read, slurping down each of the words and images and carefully constructed sentences, I realized how much more I was getting out of the book than I ever would have gotten had I been assigned to read this in high school or college. I always loved classroom discussions, but I was always the person who chose to skip out on participation points because I don't care to discuss out loud. I like the act of listening to others talk and thinking about how their points and ideas do or don't fit into the framework of my own thinking about a text. It's in that act that I'm able to consider a piece of art. That's why writing about books works for me -- I get as much private time thinking about other's words and my own as I need before I share something. 

But what was interesting about reading Atwood's book was that there were times I found myself sharing her words or wanting to talk about her words. I restrained myself, only copying one particular passage onto Tumblr to share, which was this:

Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it really isn't about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn't about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it's about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing.

The thing about the quote that haunts me is that it's not just about sexism. It's about racism. It's about classism. It's about ableism. It encompasses so many systems of oppression and yet...Atwood does it in such an economy of words that it's a gut punch. 

I'll be honest: I haven't read a lot of other books on my goals list from earlier this summer. I'm definitely going to get to Americanah, and I'm definitely going to dive into Harry Potter. But beyond that, I'm actually finding interspersing these back list reads with titles I'm really looking forward to for the fall is helping me appreciate both a little more. Likewise, I have been reading more adult non-fiction, a category of books I have always loved but sort of pushed a bit to the side in favor of the newest, latest, and the upcoming. But this summer, I dove into reading Ta-Henisi Coates's Between the World and Me and Claudia Rankine's Citizen, both of which should be required reading alongside Jessmyn Ward's Men We Reaped, which I read in late spring. All tackle the complexities of race in America. That's such a simplification of what these books are about, but it's the best way to adequately capture why reading them should be vital. I think for anyone who works with teens especially, it's tough reading but it's important. Reading those three book did a lot more for me in terms of thinking about race than my reread of To Kill A Mockingbird did. 

This summer I also blew through a huge pile of YA horror. I read about haunted houses and ghosts. In non-fiction, I spent time learning about the history of the board game Monopoly (which is yet another entry into the story of how women paved the way for influence but were overshadowed by men) and I learned about the Beanie Baby phenomenon of the late 90s -- I hadn't realized that so much of that frenzy took place in my backyard and how my own experience with and to beanie babies would have been different were I not a child in the Chicago suburbs. 

There's still half a summer left, and I'm eager to see where my intentionally slowed-down reading takes me. I am absorbing more and I'm observing more. The pieces are sticking where they should, and I'm allowing my brain and my heart new places to explore. Pushing myself has been fun. It's damn fun to walk into the library and pick up not just the normal stuff I'd read, but to stumble upon a new book of poetry from a favorite poet who I haven't read in nearly a decade. 

Maybe it's because I blog and because my job is to be on top of the book world, but slowing down and being deliberate has really been invaluable in terms of reconnecting with what reading is to me and what it adds to my life, my thinking, and my place in the world. In many ways, choosing to be quieter and slower has given me better capacity to speak and be critical in ways that hurrying, that feeling like I need to perform, hasn't. 

I'm being a better listener now. 

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