Saturday, June 30, 2012

One last time -- at least for now.

I didn't want to talk about this again. Despite my best efforts to try to remove myself from what I started, I can't, and the truth is, I own it and I'm okay with it. What I hoped would start a conversation did. It's been a grueling few days, and I made the conscious decision to not follow the blog posts that popped up, the Twitter conversations that emerged, the civil and not-so-civil comments left on my original piece. I didn't need to further explain myself or my thoughts. I couldn't have been more clear where I stood.

But I want to point out that this isn't a new conversation in the least. This has been going on for a few years now. The fact it's getting attention now, though, signals to me that maybe we're ready to start figuring out a solution.

I can't talk a whole lot more beyond that because I know there are wheels in motion to make change happen. Actual, real change. It feels like I -- we -- have finally been heard on this issue.

What I wanted to do was round up all my old posts on this topic so that new readers and those who stopped by thinking this was some sort of plea for attention understand that it was not. Or that those who are new readers know this is a charge I've been championing for a while now. If you want to think about this like a book, I'll phrase it this way: here's the back story. They all go together. They all make where we are right now, at this strange tipping point, make a little more sense.

Something I'll add, too, just because I think it's something worth stating -- people grow and change and adapt in whatever it is they do. Who I was as a blogger and a librarian in 2009, when this blog started, is different than who I am as a blogger and a librarian now. You become more mature the longer you do something and you become more attune to yourself and to what and how other people are going to react. If you didn't, you wouldn't make it very long. 


BEA 2011 in Review: It's Not All About the Books
"That's not to say there aren't legitimate bloggers who aren't professionals, because there certainly are, but rather, there are some bloggers who are clearly only in it for free stuff."

Library Journal cited me, too.


On Being Critical
"Being classy is responding appropriately, no matter what the forum. Being classy is not firing off a blog post about it without thinking through everything and figuring out a way to state my opinion without devaluing or belittling the opinions of others. Being classy is giving myself room to cool off when someone tells me I have no idea what I'm talking about. Being classy is not diving into drama to create more of it.

Being classy is being critical."

Librarians, Bloggers & The Lines Between
"I like to think of the book world as a type of eco-system. We all grow and thrive when we allow one another to do so. This means feeding and keeping one another in check. It means being respectful and thoughtful every step of the way. When you're contributing the good, you get the good back. When you're not, you're only harming your environment."

On ARCs, Ethics, and Speaking Up
"[T]he value in an ARC is the value in what it does for the book. An ARC and a book aren't the same thing -- the ARC precedes the book, and the ARC can help push sales of the book through early buzz. That's why they exist and why bloggers have become part of the publicity machine. If you're truly invested in helping promote books and reading, then you promote the purchase of the book, and you work toward halting the buying and selling of ARCs."

Competition, Envy, and the Fine Print

"It's our responsibility as bloggers to stand up and choose whether or not we participate. It's our responsibility to decide whether or not we're going to let ourselves get anxious or nervous about them, too. It's our responsibility to speak up and speak out.

We blog because of the freedom it allows us. The only way to keep it free is to remember we have the right to say no thanks and we have the right to step out when we're not comfortable with how things are going." 

Who Are We and What Do We Do? 
"When a valid and important topic worth having a dialog about emerges, so often it devolves, turning into mud-slinging, rather than discussion. Drama, rather than discourse. Having all of these tools at our disposal to have these conversations turn into means for guessing, assuming, devaluing."

You Can Like What You Like 
"We live in a world where the louder you are and the more you talk, the more perception of power you have. Where the more you produce, the more you're valued. It's unfair, but it's true. We're a world that focuses heavily on the notion of product and of end result and one that shies away from thinking about or exploring process in and of itself. We want a tangible outcome, a defined start and finish. In being this way, so much of the beauty in the act of doing something is overlooked and devalued. So often we chide ourselves if our process to do something takes a long time or requires more than we expected. Rather than allowing ourselves or others to allow the pleasure in the act of doing, we reward based on the result."

Truth: Blogging is Hard 
"Just like an author worries about how their book will do when it's out in the world, I worry about what I write and post right here. It's not the same but it is the same. It's sharing a part of yourself and your thinking and even if it's something you're passionate about and love doing, it's still work. It takes effort and sometimes you wonder and worry about whether it's worth it at all."

The single tweet that launched a post:

The ARC stops here
"I do not for a second believe that ALA should be entirely closed off from those who aren't librarians. I think it's an incredible convention for those who love books and reading and knowledge and literacy and technology and the many other facets of librarianship interest that exist. It's valuable for so many people, including teachers and bloggers and those who are simply readers."

So to that end, I hope the story makes a heck of a lot more sense now. I have been overwhelmed with response, and I just can't respond any further than suggesting that the responses already exist here. The belief this isn't a legitimate concern has me mulling over even more bloggable topics, including belittling professional interests and speaking as an expert on a topic when you have no clue what the topic being discussed even is.

I have avoided reading posts and comments, but I want to do something in this space. I want to say my post was never meant to be an attack on the girls who made the video, and I'm repulsed by anyone who did that. It was meant as an example of the behavior that's been going on for a long time. I am impressed by their response.

Like I said, people learn and grow. And within days? Those girls got it. I'm impressed as hell.

Will I say more on this? Maybe. But what I want clear is that this time, I was heard. In two days, there were over 10,000 hits on the blog. Thousands of Twitter replies. I hit a nerve that went well beyond my control -- but you know, there it is.


Continue reading...

Links of note

I always say this and then I'm always a liar, but this biweekly installment of links you should read will be shorter than most. I missed out on a lot of noteworthy posts this week because of ALA and, if you want to know the truth, because I am recovering from what may be known as being overwhelmed with response to my carefully constructed, worded, and conceived-of blog post on Thursday. I think it's really unfortunate how much my words have been twisted and made into something they're not, but that's the risk of writing, isn't it? And if you want the truth, I still stand by every word I used and every thought therein. I will go as far as to say I'm proud that this became an issue, and even though the sort of backlash I received has been less than fantastic, the fact it's being discussed at the rate it is makes it worth it.

But let's move on!

  • Nova Ren Suma wrote what might be one of my favorite blog posts in a very long time, about what it means to be a woman and to chase ambitions and goals that aren't necessarily the same ones everyone else looks for. I related to so many of the things Nova talks about in this post -- about the way society looks at women who are married or don't keep a wide circle of friends or who don't necessarily have a "career" and who find their centers with things that don't necessarily come with a reward to them except self-satisfaction -- and because of that and the bravery with which she writes it, it's worth reading. 
  • I love a good book set in the Midwest. This is where I grew up and it's where I live now. Flavorwire offers up 10 of the best books set in the Midwest. I've only read two of them, but a couple of titles I'd add to the list include Jenna Blum's The Stormchasers and Ann Patchett's The Magician's Assistant (though technically, that's only half in the midwest). Oh, or The Horizontal World by Debra Marquart, though that's a memoir. Or what about Capote's In Cold Blood?  
    • Nathan Bransford asked his readers last week what they thought about him switching from full RSS feeds to partial RSS. His reasoning was he felt that discussions had gone down because people in RSS don't bother to click over and comment. If you know anything about me or have been reading this blog, you know I am very against partial RSS feeds because I read every blog through an RSS reader. It keeps me organized, allows for quick perusing, and it lets me hit everything when I want to in one place. I also have no shame of unsubscribing the second that a feed goes partial -- no matter how much I like the blog. Why? Well, I think partial feeds are self-serving and work to do nothing but bring hits to a blog. People who read your blog via RSS are your regular readers. Think about it this way: RSS readers are like those who subscribe to your magazine and get it in their mailbox. They get it every time there is a new issue and it's there for them when they are ready to read it. People who go to your blog without an RSS aren't better or worse; they're just choosing to go to the store to buy the magazine whenever it comes out. So when blogs choose to stop giving a full RSS feed, in favor of a partial feed, they're asking their readers to go to the store for the whole story. And for me? That's an extra step. When I'm reading hundreds of blogs, I am not going to go to the store specifically for yours, especially when I was already getting it regularly in my mail. If it's numbers and stats that concern you because of this, let me remind you that your RSS subscriber numbers are easy to find. Ultimately, Nathan chose not to pursue partial feed, but I am really resentful of his dig at his readers here: "I do have to chuckle a bit at the people who couldn't! possibly! be bothered to click through under any circumstances. I'm not judging because I make decisions like that all the time, but it's kind of hilarious how we can no longer spare those extra two seconds." 
    • As part of their YA for Grownups feature, The Atlantic Wire asked a number of people to contribute the books they read that stand up to rereads. Also, I'm going to link to their post of books that feature empowered females. Aside from thinking it's a good post, I'm going to give them some major kudos -- and you know how I feel about this publication and giving kudos. When the post went live, I noted they misattributed the source of their story. They were then informed that Jackie had brought the entire "How to Survive" issue to light, and they edited their post accordingly. 
    • Amazon's compiled their top ten YA books of the year so far. So one of them was actually published in 2011, but who is looking at that. Also, it seems like "best books" really means "best selling" and "biggest budget" titles. But there it is.
    •  It's been quite a few years since I've read The Great Gatsby and with the movie coming out (holding all comments on it or the production or the interpretation), it's a book I plan on revisiting. The Chicago Tribune wrote a really lengthy -- but interesting -- piece about the book and how it's been read and interpreted over the years.  
    • Here is probably one of my favorite discussions to come up lately: blog tours. Lit agent Kate Testerman probably has the best round up of the story on her blog, and the links she provides are each worth a stop. Leila chimed in on the topic, too. Here's my perspective: we participate when it's a book or an author we really support. This is why we do very few blog tours because rarely are the pitches we get for that. Often, they're for new authors who we don't know yet or haven't read their books. There's nothing wrong with that, but I don't like the pressure of reading something and potentially disliking it (I have bowed out of a tour because of this before) and I really dislike guest posts which aren't on topics I've proposed. I also HATE character interviews; they're so off-putting for anyone who hasn't read the book. The simple reason is I don't read them myself. The other thing I dislike about blog tours is this -- if I happen to post a review of  a book during that blog tour and not as part of it, it gets lost in the noise. I really understand the point of tours and think they can do a lot for a book or author if done right, but rarely are they done right. Also, I don't really read them myself unless, well, it's an author I know or a book I like. I know. The truth is, I think blogger-initiated features and tours just do a better job.
    • And let's look at the worst book covers ever. I'm laughing about this one because the final book on the list is one I've shared before because it is just so....classic. 
    • I got this link sort of late while making this post and only got the chance to skim it, but I liked it enough to share it. Over at Comics Alliance, to celebrate the end of Gay Pride month, there's a round up of the 50 most important LGBTQ comics and characters
    • Maybe these covers are inspired by the Twilight phenomenon or not, but there's a piece in the NYT about new covers for the classics. Okay, let's have a moment here. How long ago were the Twilight books published? And a huge sensation? They are definitely still popular, but the teens who had these books as their "big books" of teen hood? They aren't in high school anymore and aren't reading the classics in high school classics. So I think it's a bit misleading in the headline. I think the new covers are great and I think the commentary in the story is worthwhile -- that they actually show the somewhat right age of the book characters -- but the headline! Come on. I think YA lit gets a lot of flack over Twilight and of course it's because it's an easy reference point, even if it's not the right one. 
      • It's been a really long week, guys. REALLY long. So you know what that means? You get to enjoy the new Lana Del Rey video in this links of note roundup because I like it: 

      I'm not sure why I feel guilty having "so few" links this time, but I hope something here is worth reading! Also worth noting: Audiosynced is going to be late this month. I'm hoping to have it next weekend -- the number of posts I collected for this roundup is huge because June is audiobook month. So forgive me; it's coming! 

      Continue reading...

      Friday, June 29, 2012

      Come See About Me by CK Kelly Martin

      It's a freak accident that kills 19-now-20-year-old Leah's boyfriend Bastien and she is saddled with grief that is much heavier than what she thinks she can handle. She and Bastien had their lives ahead of them: they were living together in an apartment in Toronto, they'd made plans to get a dog in the future, and they'd settle into great jobs and living the life both of them had dreamed of. But now with the accident and Bastien ripped from her life, Leah's left to pick up the pieces of this future and put them together in a new way. For herself.

      The thing is, it is not easy. Leah's family lives on the other side of the country, and she does not want to move back. She wants to stay where she is because it is where she was happy. But she cannot be happy in her apartment any longer knowing that Bastien isn't there. She can't make it through school any longer and drops out. Her job at the museum is also just a little too much to take, so she quits showing up and now, she lacks an income to even pay for her apartment. Time is ticking for her to figure something out.

      As luck would have it, Bastien's aunt has a place in suburban Oakville, and she offers Leah the chance to live there without having to pay rent -- she only spends a few weeks a year there to check up on her business anyway, so Leah would have the place to herself. Leah takes the place. It's not easier, though, as she continues working through the loss and the rattling of what looked like the perfect future. Then she meets Liam. Runs into him quite literally and on more than one occasion. So when Leah finally gets the nerve to talk to Liam and ends up spilling her guts, she starts to realize how different it feels to open up. As she begins opening up to him physically and emotionally, Leah grapples with how she can move forward without Bastien without forgetting who he was to her and without moving on.

      CK Kelly Martin's Come See About Me is an adult novel, and because of a marketing issue, it was hard for this book to find a traditional publisher. So Martin published it herself. While I tend to avoid books that are self-published, Martin's track record for writing strong contemporary stories appealed to me, and knowing how raw and powerful her YA titles are, I was incredibly curious how she could infuse a book for the adult audience with that power. This book was not disappointing in the least, and if anything, it proved Martin has the ability to write across audiences. And let me say this much, too: she can write a sexy story. Come See About Me is a title that's going to stick with me for a long time, and it's one I can see myself revisiting.

      Leah is a complex and pained character who is struggling not only with overwhelming grief and loss, but she's at a time in her life that is already so confusing. She's on the path she's been led to believe is the right one -- she's living in the big cosmopolitan city of Toronto, and she's going to school full-time while balancing a part-time job. But when Bastien dies, Leah finds herself wondering whether or not this is truly what she wants to be doing. It's not that she was unhappy with her future plans when Bastien was a part of them, but rather, losing him forces Leah to reassess her own life. She comes to the realization that doing so many of these things simply didn't fulfill her. While she's letting school and her job go, of course she falls into a deeper stage of grief, but through this, she also begins to learn a lot about who she is and what matters to her. It's not grades or a full-time career. It's finding peace in a way that's not achieved through racking up "adult points." That is, her happiness and fulfillment aren't going to be found through finishing college or finding a full-time career. At least not at this point. What she needs to be happy are meaningful relationships. This is part of why her move from the city into the suburbs is huge. It's the first step in Leah reclaiming control of her own life.

      Enter Liam. From the start, he cares about Leah, but the problem is that she's not entirely ready to let herself become involved in another relationship. Especially one that could become romantic. But without thinking too much one night, Leah has the overwhelming urge to be sexual with Liam. She lets go of the tight control she's held, particularly over that physical piece of her relationship with Bastien, and allows herself to give into the moment. And it is sexy. In the moment, at least -- when Leah pulls herself from the situation later and realizes what she allowed herself to do, regret and remorse consume her. It's not just emotional either; it's manifested physically. What scares her about this is that for the first time since Bastien's death, Leah allowed herself to give into sheer desire. For the first time in a long time, she wasn't grieving or analyzing her world. It's in those moments after, though, where things become painful. Leah's scared to death of what she's allowed herself to do because she feels like she's let down Bastien. As readers, we feel the regret she experiences, but at the same time, we want Leah to allow herself the chance to give into her desires, especially with a guy like Liam who is so caring and concerned about her.

      Let me not get ahead here, though: Liam is far from perfect. He's here in Oakville because he, too, is trying to rebuild a life that was left in tatters. He's from overseas and working on a local theatrical production. After a very public infidelity scandal, he knew he needed to get away and it's here he has found a safe place. It's here he hopes to rebuild his image. I wouldn't say he hides this all from Leah, but he's not entirely open about it, and part of the reason is this: Leah isn't necessarily interested in hearing about it. At least at first. Liam can sense that from her and he allows her to take what she needs from him emotionally and physically. He offers himself to her in a way she needs. In doing such, well, what his past is really doesn't matter.

      The more time Leah and Liam spend together, the more intimate they become. And it's intimacy this time, not simply raw desire. Martin has a knack for writing great sensual scenes in her YA novels, and given her platform with an adult novel, she's able to amplify this. No doubt, this book is sexy; it treads a very fine line of incredibly tender and slightly dirty. What makes it work so well, though, is that these intimate scenes are powerful for Leah -- they open her up in the way she needs to be opened up. She allows herself incredible vulnerability. We feel it with her, and these moments are powerfully mature in a way that goes well beyond how they're played out physically. Over the course of her time with Liam, Leah begins to understand it's okay to give into her feelings, into her own desires, and she's allowed to let herself feel good. That that would be what Bastien would want for her. Leah, though, continues to set up strict boundaries in her relationship with Liam: she wants this to be nothing but physical. She wants no emotional investment in what they're doing. To her, that would be hurting -- almost shaming -- what she had with Bastien.

      Of course, that cannot happen. We know this. As much as Leah pushes away from the emotional side of her relationship with Liam, she simply can't. It's when Leah confronts Liam's past head on where she discovers that her emotions are much more tied up in this relationship than she expected. She realizes how vulnerable she really is. It's painful to watch her fall apart, particularly because as readers, we are watching Leah get stronger and find herself, even if she herself isn't acknowledging it. When Leah approaches Liam about his past, she finally comes to realize that what she's experiencing isn't loss or hurt. It's acceptance: of herself, of Liam. Of Bastien's death. And just when it looks like everything will be gone, well, Leah will really get a surprise she wasn't expecting.

      One of my favorite threads throughout the story is a small one, but it's one I think summarizes the entire journey Leah experiences. Bastien was passionate about creating a comic book called "Johnny Yang" -- he was a bit of a superhero. Unfortunately, when Bastien died, he hadn't completed the story. Leah found it important, though, to reconnect with this comic. She wants to finish it, if for no other reason than for Bastien's dream to become a reality. It's about a third of the way through the book when Leah finds a real turning point in this goal, where she realizes that "Maybe what [Johnny Yang] needs is another world to tempt him." More importantly -- and sure, this is minor spoiler territory -- Leah doesn't finish the story over the course of the book. It's a continuing process, rather than something that's opened and closed. But as readers we know that the process of creation and the process of exploring new worlds with Johnny Yang will help Leah move forward in the future.

      Come See About Me is about how life is about stepping forward, even when there are a million things that can hold you back. It's as much about grief and loss as it is about love and acceptance. Martin strips her characters down to their barest pieces and allows readers to watch as these characters struggle to find themselves. Her writing is strong and engaging. While at times I found myself becoming a little wearisome of the focus on the mundane, these bits of routine were important to the story -- they were ultimately what helped ground Leah into her world. It was important when she went to the store to get food for her pet and when she went for a walk. These were aspects of Leah learning how to go through with being Leah. There's a very fragile balance of being on your own for the first time and learning that you aren't immune to awful things happening in your life. That you're not as shielded from pain as you think you are.

      It's that last part that will make this book appealing to both older teens who are mature enough to handle the intimacy aspect, and it's this very last part that will make this book appealing to adults, as well. Come See About Me avoids so much of what I find challenging about adult fiction in that it doesn't aim to incorporate every item on the checklist of adulthood. Leah is imperfect, as is Liam, and neither of them are interested in chasing those items that make adults "adults" in our society. Rather than forcing these characters to conform to an ideal, they're allowed to bend and mold to what they want their own ideals to be. And for me, that's the truth of what adulthood is. It's not about settling into a career, into a mortgage, into children and marriage, into saving for retirement and making sure your resume is pristine. It's about figuring out what matters to you as an individual and making that enrich your life. In my mind, this isn't a "new adult" novel (a label I really dislike). It's an adult novel. I think the more we try to segment books, the more we allow ourselves to think of books as one sort of thing or another -- just like I did in suggesting why I don't like adult books. Martin's book is hugely refreshing, and I think more books like this on the market is a good thing. It's not entirely new, either: Tom Wolfe did it with I Am Charlotte Simmons, Curtis Sittenfeld did it with Prep, and Megan McCafferty did it with her Jessica Darling series, among others.

      Although I could not relate to Leah much myself, I found her reminiscent of so many people I know, and I can see readers easily relating to her.  I appreciate, too, how Martin also made this book incredible diverse without every writing a "diverse" novel. Rather, we know Bastien wasn't a white character because from the start, Leah says he was not white. But she doesn't dwell on this. It's a fact we learn and she moves forward. Likewise, Leah's friends are not white, and we get that via their names and their cultural experiences that are simply incorporated into the narrative without fuss. Oakville is a suburb of a major metropolitan area, and it's through this diversity that it comes alive. 

      I'm not one to usually write down memorable quotes from books, but there's one that stuck with me as I was reading this one that summarizes not only the whole of the story but of the power of Liam's relationship with Leah and Leah's relationship with Bastien (and, of course, Liam): "Bending instead of breaking. That's probably always a better option if you can take it."

      Come See About Me is available now in all formats, and it can be purchased digitally at Amazon or Smashwords. It is also available in print via Amazon. This book suffers none of the trappings of many self-published books, so do not worry about any editing issues. Martin's book is the real deal and will appeal to those who like contemporary fiction, strong characters, emotionally powerful stories, and who enjoy their sex steamy. If you want more or want to check out a sizable sample from the book, Martin's developed a website exclusively for this book right here.

      Finished copy received from the author for review.

      Continue reading...

      Wednesday, June 27, 2012

      The ARC stops here

      I mentioned in my last post I didn't see a lot of bad blogger behavior regarding ARCs at ALA. But as soon as I posted my piece, I did a search for "ALA book haul" and stumbled upon a video made by a pair of bloggers showing off what they picked up at the conference. This video, which ran nearly 22 minutes long, was a stream of book after book after book after book. Twenty-two minutes of showing off the books picked up at ALA. Badges of honor earned by trekking through the exhibit halls at a professional librarian conference and making sure to plan, to schedule, to arrive at different publisher booths at just the right time to snag what was sought (or not -- it doesn't always matter what the book is, just that it's a book and it's there and it's free and it's from ALA).

      I watched the entire video, both fascinated and appalled.  Fascinated because that was a hell of a lot of books for two people -- one copy for each of them -- and appalled because of the same reason. This wasn't promoting the books picked up. It was bragging.

      On Sunday of ALA, I had a little free time to do what it was I wanted to do at the conference. After what was an overwhelming opening night of exhibits on Friday, as well as an overwhelming few minutes in the exhibit hall on Saturday morning -- overwhelming due to the sheer number of people, the crowds, the inability to move at all down an aisle -- I poked my head into the hall and saw it was much calmer. I decided I'd walk around and pick out the few things I was really interested in reading.

      Let me back up for a second: on Friday night, during the frenzy, I approached one of the publicists and asked about two books on display. I asked if it was possible to get copies or if they'd be available during the show. Note that when I approached them, I had my single tote bag with two other books in it. I was told they'd be available "sometime later at the convention" and was brushed away. No time frame. No commentary about the books themselves. As much as I walked away frustrated for being dismissed, because I did, I also felt bad for the publicist who did that to me. She was clearly overwhelmed and struggling to avoid being trampled by the hordes. I looked like anyone else at the convention, so she couldn't know that I was a librarian (AND a blogger). She couldn't know or take a second to find out that I was on a committee and had to spend most of the open exhibit hall hours in meetings (or preparing for a presentation). She didn't have a second to stop and talk to me at all. I made a note to myself to come back later and ask again, when things would be calmer.

      When I went back on Sunday morning, I approached the same publisher, but a different publicist (one I knew and who knew me well). I asked if she could hook me up with the books I was interested in, and she said was more than happy to. But when she looked through all of the cabinets, she couldn't find copies of the titles I was interested in. She felt bad for it, and she took me cabinet by cabinet, asking if there was anything else I might be interested in. The bulk of the cabinets were empty. Lucky for me that because she knew me, she took down the titles I wanted and said she'd send them along to me after the show.

      It seems wrong that on Sunday morning of ALA -- only a day and a half into the exhibit hall hours that ran through Monday afternoon -- the cabinets at one of the publisher's booths were almost empty. This isn't a small publisher either. This was one of the big six.

      But as I watched the 22-minute long video earlier, I saw both books I was interested in showed off by both of the girls. They'd won them! They'd fought hard, they'd stalked the booths, they talked to the right people or pushed the right people out of the way. Whatever the deal, those two non-librarians were able to get the two books I'd wanted from the publisher but was unable to get.

      I'm a paying member of ALA and of YALSA and of PLA and of ALSC, and I attended the conference because I had committee obligations this year. Because I'm working. Because I was giving a presentation to librarian colleagues. Money is incredibly tight right now because I'm not working a regular job. I paid out of pocket for my memberships in both associations, as well as for my plane ticket, my hotel room, my transportation to and from the airport, around Anaheim, for my meals. I don't get reimbursed. Every penny I spent at ALA was a penny I couldn't spend on other things. Something I've talked about before, in what was probably the most personal blog post I've ever shared publicly, was the notion that librarianship is a very selfless profession. And it is -- librarians go out of their way not only to give back to their field but also to reach out and share with as many people as possible. Librarians work on committees to select the best books of the year in any number of categories. They work to read and promote books among their patrons. To help create their collections. ALA for most librarians isn't at all about the free books. It's about working. The books are a part of the whole, and they're a very small part. Just consider that a committee like mine meets from 1:30 - 5:30 on Saturday and Sunday. That leaves just the morning hours free for perusing the exhibit hall, and even then, those hours are juggled with any number of other responsibilities, meetings, presentations, and so forth.

      I understand completely why publishers schedule out their ARC distributions at ALA. I get it. There is only so much space in the booth, some books sit in storage until later on, some are held until the author is on site to do a signing. And I also get that it is impossible to get everything I'm interested in getting. I'm not entitled to it nor do I believe I should be.

      The video I watched of two non-librarian professionals coming to a book event was 22 minutes long.

      In thinking about how librarianship is a giving field, a selfless field, there's something really uncomfortable for me in admitting that sometimes, there are ARCs I would really want to pick up at ALA. Even though I'm not working right now, I still need to stay on top of my game with what's publishing so that when I am working again, I can jump in and be fresh, knowledgeable, prepared to not only develop the best collection I can, but also to book talk and get the titles into teens' hands. But really? I don't think there's anything selfish in saying point blank that there are ARCs I want for myself to read for myself and to blog about for myself. As much as it makes me feel weird and egotistical to say this, I will: my stats and my reviews are solid. I know what the hell it is I am doing and what I'm talking about. Even though I am adamant that I have not sold a book -- because selling a book requires that I've had the book and got money for its sale -- I know my posts and reviews have some influence on getting the word out about books, particularly those lesser-known titles. I want to pick up books at ALA that interest me, that I will be able to get the word out about. I want to have conversations with the publicists at ALA and tell them what it is I am interested in and get their feedback on what's coming out I should know about. They're the gatekeepers to knowledge I want in the same way that I am a gatekeeper to the audience they want that knowledge (and product) shared with.

      While it's true I could ask the reps via email for titles anytime, I really don't LIKE doing that. Likewise, it's impossible to keep up with the contacts as they change so often and at times those changes mean that I'm treated less-than-kindly by overwhelmed reps who have no idea who I am from anyone else (and I say that because I think I've earned my cred as a blogger and shouldn't be treated the same way someone who "just started" blogging is treated). I want to converse with the reps at ALA. I want to be handed a book, dammit, and I don't think that I'm being selfish in believing that at my own professional conference -- one I am paying a lot to attend as a librarian who is working -- I should be able to do that.

      Moreover, librarians who are working as part of a committee don't always get boxes of titles sent to them for consideration. Many of the books they read and talk about come from titles they find via ALA conferences. So while the very librarians who are at ALA working to make the lists of best books work, they're losing out on the opportunity to discover additional titles for consideration that are available in the exhibit hall. They're missing out on the chance to talk with the publicity folks. And yes, sometimes titles that end up on an awards list come from the books picked up at a booth in the exhibit hall. Not from a box of books sent to the committee for consideration.

      Librarians are missing the chance to pick up a book that they want to read. For themselves.

      I do not for a second believe that ALA should be entirely closed off from those who aren't librarians. I think it's an incredible convention for those who love books and reading and knowledge and literacy and technology and the many other facets of librarianship interest that exist. It's valuable for so many people, including teachers and bloggers and those who are simply readers. But know I say this, too, with the mind of a librarian: I want knowledge shared and spread and disseminated in a manner that's accessible to the most and not the least. It's an utterly selfless profession and one that gives and gives.

      The video I found today, if I can remind you, was 22 minutes long. A laundry list of the books these two bloggers -- non-librarians, non-professionals -- picked up at ALA.

      It's not going to be easy to find a solution to this, but something needs to be done. I do not for a second believe that all non-librarian/non-teacher/non-ALA members who blog are bad people. What I am saying, though, is those few rotten apples are spoiling this for EVERYONE, and they're spoiling it for people who are working hard, who should be able to treat themselves to something they are interested in, be it an ARC or be it having a second to talk with a publishing rep. Anyone can get into ALA's exhibit hall for a mere $25 and some people are abusing that opportunity, taking it as their chance to pick up and carry home as many ARCs as possible. They're taking away from the folks who are not only spending gobs more money -- gobs more of their own money -- to attend a professional conference but who are attending it to work to make the profession what it is. To award those books. To spread the word about the things that are coming out. To develop as professionals in librarianship. This is something that needs to be dealt with and it needs to be dealt with at the convention organizer level. That means it needs to be dealt with BY the American Library Association, which works to serve the needs and goals of their members, librarians and library supporters who pay for membership. Who pay for voting. Who pay to have their thoughts heard. Who pay to attend this convention in so many ways.

      This isn't about what you do with your ARCs when you're done. This isn't about the "noble causes" bloggers are picking up books for. This is about what the goals of the ALA convention are. What the goals of the publishers are in attending these conventions and distributing these books.

      My solution -- and note this is my solution and mine alone -- is that bloggers/non-professionals who pay the minimum amount to attend the convention be limited to one day attendance at the end of the convention. That they be allowed to attend but that their attendance is after librarians and other professionals using this convention to develop as such have the opportunity to get what it is they need and what it is they want out of their own convention. If they choose to pay the full conference amount or are themselves members of the organization, then they can have full access just as anyone else does. I don't think this is hard and I do not think it's at all unfair on any side of the equation. Those who would find this disagreeable are part of the problem.

      As a librarian, I know what my influence is, and as a librarian who blogs, I know this even more so (I don't need to mention in this space the over 500 responses I got within an hour when I tweeted the question of what authors would feel like knowing their book went into the hands of a non-librarian at a librarian conference -- it's not about showing off or bragging but rather that people are listening). I don't for a second believe I'm being selfish. I believe I'm allowing myself to be a professional librarian. I believe I'm also allowing myself an opportunity to do something for me. And since I'm paying for it, I think I deserve it.

      A 22 minute video showing all of those books picked up at ALA by non-librarian bloggers.

      I'm a voracious reader and blogger, but even I can't get through that much. All I was hoping for was a pair of titles from a publisher and the chance to talk with a few others about the things they were most excited about. But I didn't get the first and I had to fight to get the second.

      Continue reading...

      In My Suitcase: ALA 2012 Edition

      I mentioned in the last post I picked up really few books at ALA because I was so busy working and so stressed whenever I went into the exhibit hall. But I've been told more than once how helpful these lists are of what was available, so I thought I'd share what I did pick up.

      One of the things I thought about when leaving was how behavior was this year, whether or not there was any strong divide between librarians and bloggers. I have to say, I think there was. While there wasn't the level of behavior there was at Midwinter, I felt like there was a definite increase in the number of bloggers who attended ALA and saw it as "a book event." It's not. It's a professional conference wherein professionals are attending meetings and working.

      That said, I have been pleased that there haven't been "book hauls" posted left and right this time like there was at Midwinter. There haven't been posts about giveaways of books picked up at ALA. So, while I think in-person behavior was still a little (a lot) frustrating, the online behavior afterward was really refreshing and positive.

      Anyway -- the books. Sorted by publisher and publication date. Links go to Goodreads. All of the books pictured below didn't make it home with me -- some went home with someone else.


      Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas (August 7)
      Beautiful Lies by Jessica Warman (August 21)
      Send Me A Sign by Tiffany Schmidt (October 2) -- I finished most of this on my ridiculous plane journey yesterday and can say it's not only a great read but it's going to have massive appeal to your Jenny Han fans.


      Shadows by Ilsa J Bick (September)


      Ferocity Summer by Alissa Grosso (Available now)
      Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills (October) -- I've read this one already and it's definitely one of my 2012 favorites. I cannot wait to reread it.

      Houghton Mifflin

      What Came From the Stars by Gary D Schmidt (September 4)
      The Wrap-up List by Steven Arntson (January 8, 2013)


      Speechless by Hannah Harrington (September) 

      Harper Collins

      Defiance by CJ Redwine (August 28)
      What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang (September 18)
      The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini (September 25)
      The Turning by Francine Prose (September 25)
      One Shot Away by T. Glen Coughlin (October 2)


      Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks (Available now)
      Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (February 2013)


      The Journey Back by Priscilla Cummings (December)
      Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (February 2013)


      The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (September)
      Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities by Mike Jung (October) 

      Simon and Schuster

      Forget Me Not by Carolee Dean (October)

      St. Martins Press

      Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin (Available now)
      Spark by Amy Kathleen Ryan (July) -- Kim and I were both really excited by the first book and are so looking forward to the sequel.

      Continue reading...

      ALA 2012 Highlights

      Whenever I sit down and think about events like ALA, my mind always organizes things into themes. If I had to think of a theme or two to describe my experience this year at ALA, it would probably be anxiety then relief. Those are two pretty lame things to read about, right? But I've spent a lot of time thinking about what made this ALA so different -- and maybe more rewarding -- than the others I've been to, and I think it's this: I worked like crazy. That is probably the most enticing way to sell the rest of this post, isn't it?

      On Thursday, I took a late morning flight out to Anaheim, which was in and of itself an adventure. I enjoyed a cup of gelato at 8:30 in the morning before getting to stretch out a bit on the first leg of the flight. As soon as I landed in Denver a few minutes later after knowing I had a 20 minute layover, I had to book it across the airport to make my connection. I did -- but just barely. Alas, when I got to Los Angeles, I waited a long time for my luggage, then hopped the shuttle for a TWO HOUR shuttle ride from the airport to Anaheim. That was half the length of my flight from Milwaukee to Los Angeles.

      I got to my hotel and pretty much was done at that point. Jackie and Rachel showed up a couple hours later and Jackie and I worked a little bit on our presentation for Sunday. Oh, we also ordered this insanely large salami pizza for $16. It was pretty much one of the worst pizzas I've ever had.

      Friday, I got up early (because California time is 2 hours different from where I am, it actually felt a lot like sleeping in). We worked a bit on our presentation then headed over to the convention center to pick up our badges and registration information. So here's the thing: I really dislike Anaheim a lot. I've done a convention here before and felt the same way -- it's incredibly spread out if you're not at one of the hotels right near the convention center. We were quite a way from the convention center, so trips down there had to be well-planned in order to catch the shuttle or walk.

      After grabbing our badges, we came back to the room and worked a bit more on our presentation until Sarah came over. She and I have never been able to spend time just the two of us at a convention, so we made it a high priority this time. We grabbed lunch at an Italian place and had a great conversation about books, authors we love, and about how hard it is for her to be unable to talk about anything she's read this year, since she's on the Printz committee. It was really nice to catch up since we never get the chance to.

      I got back to the hotel room and worked some more on the presentation (this is why I have almost no photos because they'd be of nothing but me sitting at a table in my hotel room weeping right onto my keyboard) before heading to the exhibit hall for opening night. I had the chance to meet up with Kellie at that point. Kellie was on the Cybils with me this last year, and I think she was one of the most enjoyable people to spend time with.

      The exhibits were really too much for me to handle on opening night. A bunch of us had made plans to wander them for an hour before going out to dinner, but I was so underwhelmed by behavior and overwhelmed by the mob action that I snuck out after about 15 minutes. I picked up a grand total of 6 books.

      A bunch of us went out to dinner afterwards, where I ordered a $7 hotdog. I know. But it was actually really tasty and it was on a really nice bun, so it was worth the cost. The company was pretty nice, too.

      Kellie and I grabbed a cab after dinner and made our way to the first official event: the Little Brown dance party at the House of Blues. The theme was the 1920s, based on Libba Bray's forthcoming The Diviners and she was, of course, the guest of honor. But the twist of the party was that the music was music from the 80s. We all dressed up like we were from the 20s but rocked it many-decades-later style. I was finally able to run into Liz, who I hadn't seen yet once at the conference. We danced the entire night away, in between being thoroughly entertained by Libba Bray's antics on the dance floor (she shut the place down in more ways than one). The folks at Little Brown always throw fantastic parties, and this one was no exception to that.

      I mentioned thinking about things in themes, and I think the theme of anxiety and stress was most apparent on Saturday. I don't tend to get worked up about things a lot; I wouldn't necessarily call myself a "Type B" person, but I very much go with the flow. I prefer to sort of wing presentations and making plans because I like to allow alternative avenues. That said, I stress out immensely about little things and when I feel like my attitude impacts other people's stress levels.

      When I got up, I went down to the exhibits for a bit, but because I was so overwhelmed, I only stuck around for half an hour. It was nice to get a chance to talk to a couple of the publishing reps I had been hoping to connect with but I was so stressed about finishing the presentation, I didn't have the energy to put into staying longer. Jackie and I worked for a couple of hours -- wherein I dealt with internet that wouldn't work at all and required two phone calls the the hotel front desk and two more to the company providing the hotel's internet -- before we got ready to meet Melissa Wiley for lunch. But just as we were getting ready to go, I looked at the time -- a bit after noon -- and realized that getting to the convention center would take at least 15 minutes and my committee meeting, which started at 1 pm, was 15 minutes in the opposite direction of the convention center. There was no possible way I'd make it. So I had to skip out on lunch plans . . . and enjoyed leftover salami pizza. Cold. Because the microwave in our hotel room didn't work (it should be noted I think cold pizza is pretty disgusting). During the few minutes I had I scrambled to put more work into the presentation but couldn't. Because my internet wasn't working.

      Cue MASSIVE stress.

      I walked over to my committee meeting early, and when I got all set up in the room, I found I still couldn't get the internet to cooperate during the meeting. Which meant I still had no chance to work on the presentation.

      Cue EVEN MORE massive stress.

      The committee meeting was really fascinating. I'm not a voting member, only the administrative assistant, which means during discussion I don't get to weigh in. Can you imagine how hard it is for someone who loves books not to be able to talk about them for three hours when everyone else is? Either way, listening to the process was really enjoyable, despite the overwhelming urge I had to cry from the anxiety of not having the presentation done. When the meeting was over, I walked back to my hotel and got dressed up for a publisher's dinner. But . . . I ended up not going. It was so far away from my hotel that there was no conceivable way to make it there on time and really, I was so stressed that I needed that time to stick around in the room and work. And eat another slice of bad, cold salami pizza.

      I think stress hit a critical level and I somehow managed to knock out quite a bit of work in a short period of time, and as soon as I could no longer stand looking at our stuff, I decided it was time to walk over to the YA Blogger meetup I was co-hosting with the YA Highway crew. Kirsten had sent me a message about how nice a space the place we were holding it at was, and when I got there with Kellie, I could not have been any more thrilled. She and Stephanie Kuehn introduced me to a ton of the YA authors they were eating with, and then Steph kindly took me to the bar and bought me a drink (and yes, that drink merited a mention here because it was so needed). I got to meet Jessi Kirby, who I had barely missed at the last ALA, along with Gretchen McNeil, Corrine Jackson, and a bunch of others before the crowds poured in. And I mean poured in. I was utterly blown away by the turnout at the meetup, which was easily more than 75 people (the photo to the right was yanked from YA Highway since I got too caught up in talking to take pictures).

      I'm not a very good mingler at events, so I'm really thrilled people actually sought me out at the event (that sounds egotistical but by that I mean I'm so glad people I really wanted to meet were kind enough to come introduce themselves). I had the chance to see Liz and Melanie, and one of my favorite librarian Twitterers Anna came to meet me. I spent the bulk of the meetup, though, chatting with Allison, Lali, Michelle, and Kirstin Cronn-Mills (we tried our best to share stories of life in the Midwest around all those Californians). I also got to talk for a while with Whitney, who runs one of my favorite blogs. Of course, we talked about books and reading. But what I loved about this event was not just the huge turn out -- seriously, I'm still trying to wrap my head around this -- but how much everyone is on the same page about the value of reading and of writing. There aren't any walls between authors and librarians and bloggers and agents at these things because they're so casual and laid back (which is my thing, if I haven't mentioned that yet). Age and experience mean nothing, too. For me, it's just nice to put a face to a name and at least at this event, it was so nice to meet some of the people I've been really eager to talk with in person. It definitely took my stress levels down for a few hours. A huge thank you to the ladies of YA Highway for helping coordinate.

      The best $7 I spent at ALA was on the cab ride home from the event, if you were wondering. It would have been a really long walk.

      On Sunday morning, I decided I couldn't even think about proceeding with the day without a decent breakfast. Our hotel didn't have it continental style, so I debated long and hard about paying the $13 for their restaurant breakfast and then decided to break down and do it. And it was worth every penny. I decided, too, that after breakfast I was going to allow myself to do just one thing for me at ALA, since I had yet to actually see anything not related to working. At Midwinter, I went to the Sterling/St Martin's Press book battle preview which I enjoyed, so I decided that would be what I went to this year, too. I appreciate how this preview is really fast paced, to the point, and highlights just a few of the titles on their respective lists. When I got there, I tweeted something about being scanned in and waiting for the session to start . . . and then was tracked down and called out by the Macmillan library marketing department. I try to be kind of under the radar at ALA but it didn't happen this time.

      The preview was as good as the one at Midwinter and just as entertaining. In thirty minutes I learned about a ton of new books without feeling overwhelmed and got to laugh at some of the gems coming out (like the one in the picture -- it's a lift the flap book of animal back ends which is hilarious). When the buzz session ended, I wandered down to the exhibits to talk with one of my favorite publicity folks at Walden Pond Press (she and I have a shared fondness for Jersey Shore and her name is also Kellie) before deciding to head back to the hotel and put in just a little more work on the presentation. 

      I've not mentioned my stress because it was unbelievably high to the point I was just shutting it down. But when I walked back in the room, Jackie said she thought it was done, and we had a moment just to celebrate and take a huge deep breath. Both of us had committee meetings, so we rushed to those shortly after and made a plan for the presentation itself, allowing ourselves a huge chunk of panic time before giving it.

      Sitting in my committee meeting this time was even more nerve-wrecking than when I didn't have internet access to work on the presentation. This time, I couldn't concentrate on reading my notes and preparing. I kept looking at the clock and wishing for it to be 6 pm and for our presentation to be over. But at 2, I left and headed toward the convention center. And stewed. And panicked. And panicked. As soon as Jackie showed up, she started to follow suit, but she took the route of pacing up and down the hallway. I cannot say enough how much it meant to have people cheer us on and send us good wishes and, well, come down to where our presentation was and keep us entertained to avoid thinking about it. While this wasn't my first presentation at ALA, this was the first time I've given a full-out presentation; in the past, they've been roundtables to much smaller audiences.

      The first people to arrive to our presentation were Kellie and my friend Kathleen, who I went to grad school with and who kept track of time for us. One of them snapped this photo for us before we took on a whole new level of panic as we watched people start to pour into the room. And before the photo where Jackie literally took a swipe at me after I said something I shouldn't have (but the mic was off). We had a little bit of a technology glitch, but we got it figured out, and when the clock struck 4, we were on.

      The room was packed. Nearly every seat was filled, and we had a handful of people who were seated on the floor. For our presentation. It was absolutely mind-boggling to look out and know people were here to listen and learn from us. Rather than give the rundown of the actual presentation -- you can see what the Prezi looked like and collect all of the notes from here -- I'll say this: I think it went well. At one point, Jackie became so impassioned about what she was saying, she almost cried. She paused and collected herself but I think it was a really touching moment and proof of how important the work was we did and were doing. We went way under the time we thought and I think we missed talking some of our points. But that's something only we know. I can count on one hand the number of people who left our presentation while we were giving it, and while at times we wondered if anyone was really listening, when we put up the final section of our presentation with a link and QR code to where attendees could gather more information, we saw an entire room either lifting their phones up or writing something down.

      I was so utterly blown away by this, I asked if I could take a picture. But I think the real moment of feeling like we did something came at the very end -- after a few audience questions, we got a really nice round of applause. And we took it. It's sort of a hard feeling to capture in words, but knowing how much time and energy and tears went into making this come together, particularly over the last couple of days, it was really nice to feel like it was a success. None of the flaws that we noticed mattered because only we knew of them. And after people began to leave, we had many others come up to the front of the room and either tell us congrats or give us hugs. Strangers! Giving us hugs! It was incredible. We were also approached by someone at ALA who asked if we'd write an article about our topic and submit it for publication. Whoa.

      As soon as the presentation was over, though, we didn't get a chance to celebrate or decompress. We were off immediately to a dinner with Macmillan. I've been to a few publisher dinners before, and they're all a little bit different. Jackie and I were under the impression this was going to be a nice sized gathering, given that we knew quite a few people who had been invited. But it turns out it was pretty much the opposite of our expectations -- there were roughly 15 people who weren't either affiliated with Macmillan as editors, marketing/publicity folks, or authors. I was really flattered to be invited to such a small affair.

      The dinner was assigned seating, and I was seated near Gennifer Albin (author of the forthcoming Crewel), as well as Lisa S, of Macmillan's editors. It was neat to hear from Gennifer about her book and writing process, and I really enjoyed how energetic she was because, well, I was so exhausted from presenting that I couldn't hold a conversation to save my soul. Dinner itself was delicious -- it started with some seafood appetizers, then a salad, a variety of really nice fish entrees (and chicken for poor people like me who cannot stomach fish), and then a nice sampler of desserts. Between the entree and dessert course, there was a switch up of where authors were sitting, and I ended up getting to talk with Faith Erin Hicks (the author of Friends with Boys who drew me a sketch in my book) and Karen Hesse (author of the forthcoming Safekeeping). To be honest, by this time we'd been at the dinner for three hours and we hadn't had a second to come down from the presentation anxiety, so Jackie asked if I was ready to go back to our room and enjoy a big glass of wine. I was. Other folks at the dinner included a number of the reps who I talk with regularly (and I loved putting a face with a name!), as well as Leigh Bardugo (author of Shadow and Bone) and Marissa Meyer (author of Cinder). It was a lovely dinner, and I was so grateful to be invited.

      As soon as Jackie and I got home, we popped open a bottle of wine -- which she picked up on her trip down to Anaheim from Seattle -- and we had a nice toast to being done. While we celebrated, we read through the tweets of those who attended and were really blown away by the kind things people said. As much stress and panic as the entire ordeal caused, knowing that people learned something from us and enjoyed what we had to say was worth it.

      If I had to pick a favorite day of ALA, though, it would definitely be Monday. I had no obligations, so I indulged in another $13 breakfast, then took a long morning nap. I had talked back and forth a bit with Katie, and decided that I'd head over to the convention center in the afternoon to watch Angie compete in Battle Decks. Battle Decks is a competition where a number of library "personalities" compete to give a coherent presentation on the future of librarianship based on a series of images they do not get to see beforehand. And the images have nothing to do with librarianship or with one another (think of your favorite memes and funny images and string them together incoherently, and that's what the participant has to use as the basis of their presentation). Angie came in second last year, and we were hoping to see her be victorious this year. She gave a real fight, but ultimately ran out of time and didn't finish her slides, but no doubt her presentation WAS the most coherent among them.

      Immediately afterward, Angie, Katie, and I indulged in hot, cheap pizza across the street before we were off to the crown jewel of ALA: the Printz reception. I didn't get to go last year, but this year, I splurged and decided I had to go listen to the winners give their speeches. And it was excellent! Not only did everyone give great speeches, the variety of tones and approaches was neat. I've read three out of the five books, which made the experience a little more special, I think. The photo on the left there is of Daniel Handler, who had an accordion and wrote and sang a song for the librarians.

      I think, though, the most touching thought was the last one from Corey Whaley which was simple. He told everyone to take out their phones and tweet the simple line #SaveALibrary. I don't really need to say more about his speech because that sort of captured everything.

      As soon as the speeches finished, we were welcomed into a reception room, where we could mingle amongst the authors who were honored, as well as many others. This was when I was finally able to spend some time catching up with everyone who I hadn't had a chance to see at ALA, including Liz. We played a little musical chairs and I was the loser...but she kindly shared hers with me, and thus, we were able to capture the magical moment on the right.

      I didn't stick to sitting though, and I got up and wandered. I got the chance to talk again with Jessi Kirby, and then I walked right up to Corey Whaley and gave him a congrats and got a photo with him. He's just as genuine in person as he comes across in his speeches and in his social media.

      Jackie and I couldn't stick around as long as we'd have liked to because the shuttles were leaving fairly early and because I had a 4 am wake up call. But in my running around and saying my goodbyes to the people I am so lucky to call not just colleagues but friends, I ran into Martha Mahalick (editor at Greenwillow) and Rae Carson, author of The Girl of Fire and Thorns. I didn't get to chat with them, just got a quick introduction as I was heading out, but I think it was then I got what might be one of the most flattering comments I've ever heard. Rae said she's a reader of STACKED, but she religiously and consistently disagrees with us. It was one of those comments that really stuck with me the more I thought about it because I not only appreciated the honesty (and truly, it does shock me every time someone tells me they read STACKED anyway) but I appreciated that someone who disagrees with our thoughts on books still finds them valuable to read.

      After a round of hugs, Jackie and I made it back to our hotel, where we ate creamy cheese, crackers, and polished off a bottle of red wine.

      ALA was such a great experience this year, despite being utterly exhausting, stressful, and a ton of work. There's a lot more I want to talk about, but for now, these thoughts sort of sum up everything. Being so involved this year made those moments of networking and socializing so immensely valuable to me, and as I mentioned already, I cannot express how lucky I am so many of these people are my friends and not just people I know from the library world. They're smart, savvy, and damn funny people who love to share their love and passion for the same things I do: reading, literacy, spreading the word of good books, and holding the belief that teenagers are a great age group to work with and fight for.

      Continue reading...

      Tuesday, June 26, 2012

      A Couple of Disappointments

      As an adult, I've come to enjoy realistic survival stories. As a teen, I needed some sort of fantastical element to make it compelling, but I don't require that anymore - the promise of real-life danger is excitement enough. So when I saw the blurb for Michael Cadnum's latest, Seize the Storm, I figured it would be my kind of book. The premise is pretty simple: a family is taking a vacation on their fancy yacht and come across an abandoned boat full of cash. They decide to take the cash, not realizing that the drug dealers - including the drug lord's teenage son - who own the boat (and the cash) are after it too.

      It's a great setup, but I found myself pretty disappointed in the execution. There's a long list of characters: the teenage son of the drug lord, a teenage assassin, and another man in the employ of the drug lord all on the plane sent to retrieve the cash; plus a teenage girl, her male cousin, her parents, and a teenage sailor all on the boat that took the cash. Cadnum tells at least some of the story through each character's eyes, which means there's no true protagonist and we're encouraged to root for the "bad guys" just as much as the family on the boat. Unfortunately, while Cadnum gives us a little insight - via telling rather than showing - into each of the characters, it's not really enough to make any of them truly compelling. 

      The story itself is surprisingly thin, too. The family finds the boat and takes the cash; the drug runners hunt down the boat and a stand-off ensues. I expected there to be more of a sense of danger, a bit more action, more excitement overall. Perhaps I would have been more invested in the story had I cared about the characters, but what little development we get makes them all pretty unsympathetic. I know it's not necessary for characters to be likeable to also be well-drawn, but everyone was just so unpleasant, I honestly didn't care what happened to them. If they all drowned, I wouldn't have felt much of a pang. 

      I went in expecting a survival story, but what I got was more a story about some unpleasant people who make a series of bad decisions. I think kids who go into this book expecting a thrilling read will be disappointed, although I'm sure it will have its fans among those who like books told from the "bad guy's" point of view.

      Justin Halpern's Shit My Dad Says was a surprisingly fun read for me. I appreciated that it didn't eliminate sentimentality entirely in favor of the profane humor, and I looked forward to more of the same mix in his follow-up, I Suck at Girls. In this volume, Halpern chronicles his romantic interactions with the opposite sex, beginning as a young child. He strives for ribald humor peppered with deep thoughts, but he's not terribly successful on the humor front.

      There are certainly funny bits - unfortunately, they're mostly relegated to Halpern's conversations with his father, which is what made the first book such a stand-out. When it's just Halpern dishing about his girlfriends, the book is mostly forgettable; when it's Halpern discussing girls and women with his father, it's frequently hilarious. What this makes for is an uneven book that doesn't linger very long in the reader's mind.

      Perhaps part of the problem is that Halpern's dating disasters aren't really disastrous - they're fairly run of the mill and not terribly exciting stories in themselves. He's got a nice way of writing, but it's not enough to elevate his pretty pedestrian stories into comedy gold. His father is still the star, and he doesn't make enough appearances to salvage the book. Still, if you're a fan of the first book, this is certainly worth a read.

      Review copies received from the publisher. Both books are available now.

      Continue reading...

      Monday, June 25, 2012

      So You Want to Read YA?: Guest Post by Kate Hart

      This week's "So You Want to Read YA?" post comes from the crazy talented queen of infographics, Kate Hart. 

      Kate Hart is a YA author and blogger extraordinary, represented by Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary. She blogs at and she's a regular contributor to YA Highway.  You can find Kate all over the internet (you may recall her infographics about YA book covers, among other things), and she tweets @kate_hart.

      My presents are never much of a surprise. Holidays, birthdays, baby showers, or any other gift-giving occasion, I'm like Oprah: "YOU get a book! And YOU get a book! YOU ALL GET BOOKS!"

      Which is why I relish opportunities to foist YA on unsuspecting adults, whose minds are consistently blown by the fact that "young adult" doesn't mean "dumbed down" or "written in teen slang" or "vampires 101." At least I get to surprise them a little. But for the sneak attack to work, I have to consider the recipients' particular interests. Here are a few category suggestions to help you plan your own YA ambush.

      For the Wanderlust-er

      Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins: Paris.

      Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly: Paris with history nerd bonus.

      Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard: Beautifully-written and illustrated backpacker romance that traverses Central America.

      Red Glass by Laura Resau: Love and family on both sides of the Mexico border.

      Going Bovine by Libba Bray: Road trip with a garden gnome. (I mean really, what more do you need.)


      If I Stay by Gayle Forman: Two tissue minimum.

      Before I Die by Jenny Downham: Get the whole box.

      The Fault In Our Stars by John Green: Might as well break out a bedsheet.

      For People Who Think YA Can't Be "Real" Literature

      The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: It takes a lot to make me like a book about flesh-eating horses, but Stiefvater somehow did it.

      How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff: It takes a lot to make me root for a cousin couple, but Rosoff somehow did it.

      Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson: Unflinching look at anorexia that manages to neither glamorize nor trigger.

      The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson: Found poetry plus a little heartbreak.

      Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor: Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a critical darling, but this short story collection is the one that almost killed me with writer jealousy.

      For the Dirty South

      Hourglass by Myra McEntire: This time travel romance has just the right touch of contemporary southern city life.

      Knights of the Hill Country by Tim Tharpe: Heavy on the east Oklahoma dialect, but the on-field football scenes are exciting even for non-sports fans.

      Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement: A fun combination of north Texas, lost mines, and campy witchcraft.

      Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley: Having characters named for Arkansas towns was distracting to me, but Whaley shows a great balance of the good and bad of a small I-40 town.

      For Badasses (or Badass Wannabes)

      Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi: Working in southern Louisiana heat is tough enough, but Nailer has a whole cutthroat post-apocalyptic world to deal with on top of it.

      Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers: Mean girls on steroids. (The story, I mean. Not the girls.)

      Ashfall by Mike Mullin: Darla is a badass where Alex is not, which is always helpful when you're trying to survive deadly volcano fallout.

      Divergent by Veronica Roth: Tris chooses to be a badass when she doesn't have to, which gives this dystopia an interesting twist.

      The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: You think you have it hard? Try Junior's rez life on for size.

      Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan: Two words: Tiny. Cooper.

      Continue reading...

      Sunday, June 24, 2012

      ALA Presentation Notes

      I don't usually post non-book related stuff on the blog, but because I am so proud of and pleased with the presentation that Jackie and I put together for ALA that I am sharing it here for anyone interested. Our presentation is called "Passive programming that's anything but: reaching teens subversively," and it's all about passive programming for teens and passive reader's advisory. For non-librarians, that's programming you do with teens that requires little to no work, and book promotion that isn't hand-selling a title.

      I've embedded our prezi here for you to enjoy, and here is the link to look at our entire (massive) list of programming ideas. You are more than welcome to steal -- just give credit where it's due. We are hoping someone in the audience tweets what we're saying, and if they are, the hash tag to look up is #subvertala. I take total credit for that.

      Thank you to everyone who came out to see us, who tweeted about our presentation, and who offered us kind words and support when we were still putting this together in the hours before we had to give it. We hope you get something out of it!

      Continue reading...
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