Archive for January, 2013

Link Round Up: January

As part of my resolve to write more, I’m adding a few more regular posts to this blog.  I’m starting with a monthly round of of interesting book and/or library related links I’ve come across.

 

16 Great Library Scenes in Film

From The Music Man to Ghostbusters, this list includes an eclectic compilation of movie scenes involving libraries.  It’s a great list, though I think I might have included practically every episode of the first three seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Maybe a list of television library scenes is in order.

 

FYA’s Best YA Books Of 2012

There is a glut of best books lists out there and every one of them is useful in it’s own way.  However, as someone who really started getting into YA lit as an adult, Forever Young Adult has a special place in my heart.  Plus, those ladies are hilarious.

 

‘If I Stay’ Lands Lead Chloe Moretz, New Director

If you haven’t read Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, stop reading this and go find it. Or at least go check out my review of it. I’m really excited to see how they’ll pull off this novel in movie form, but I think Chloe Moretz is definitely a great choice for Mia.

 

 Why I Hate Jane Austen

I’m including this mostly because I disagree with it and wanted to comment.  Not liking Austen is perfectly valid, but I object to the author’s reasons for stating that no one should like Austen.  I feel as if she’s constructing the same type of argument that is so common of those who like to denigrate women authors and women’s literature.   By saying that Austen’s work is “just” about relationships, love, and familial devotion and has no deeper meaning or lesson, she’s suggesting that those topics – topics so often found in literature aimed at and enjoyed by women – are unimportant and lesser than other (often more masculine) topics, which is a dangerous implication.  How are love and relationships not “deeper problems”? And really, how many times can we see the Austen vs. Bronte sisters argument?  Besides, in my opinion, anyone who will try to claim that Austen isn’t a witty writer or ignores her influence on modern writing is probably not looking very deeply into the subject.

 

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at 200: looking afresh at a classic

Here’s a little more Austen for you.  Several modern authors have taken on a discussion of each of the major characters.  I especially like Tandon’s take on Mrs. Bennet.  I’ve found her a much more intriguing character since a former professor of mine changed my previous negative opinion about her in college.

 

Bookish Pinterest Directory

This is a pretty extensive list of Pinterest boards pertaining to books, reading, and libraries.  There are even lists dedicated to book arts and edible books.   It’s a very neat collection for anyone who loves reading and libraries.

 

Announcing the Delirium TV Series

Following in the footsteps of The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, and many other popular YA series, Delirium by Lauren Oliver has been optioned to be  made into a television series.   I’m pretty excited about this one.  It’s such a neat setting and there is a lot of material there that could really be expanded into a great show. Check out my review of the first book in the series.

Book Review: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Release Date: December 1st 2009
Publisher:  Little, Brown and Company
Series: Caster Chronicles (#1)
Pages: 563

Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles, # 1)

From the book jacket:

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

Plot:

The book cover actually outlines the plot pretty well, without giving away any of the many twists and bits of action.

Overall Thoughts:

I bought this book expecting to like it – I mean, I’m pretty much down with anything about teenage witches or southern gothic and it has both – but I ended up loving it.  I devoured it so much more quickly than I expected.  The book might start out feeling like yet another paranormal romance with the same old plot, but Garcia and Stohl manage to pack enough of mystery, humor, social commentary, and action in that it is quite an original story.  I really appreciated the fact that, in addition to the paranormal aspects of the story, they did focus so much on the idea of small town prejudice.  The townspeople hate Lena, not because she’s a witch (they don’t know), but because she’s an outsider.   There’s a great part where Ethan realizes that, no matter what he does, the town will forgive him because he is one of them and that’s all that matters, but they won’t ever extend that to Lena.

Characters:

I’ve read a handful of reviews that mentioned they had trouble connecting with the characters, but I didn’t really feel that.  Granted, the authors could have spent a little more time building up the characters and taken out some of the angsty she loves me/she loves me not, but I didn’t find them unappealing.   Ethan is super adorable and Lena is pretty awesome.  Together, the two of them are really sweet.  The supporting characters are really the best, though.  There are too many to mention here, but they’re all so quirky and interesting that I want them each to have their own book.

Setting:

Garcia and Stohl really excel at the world building.  The town of Gatlin is the consummate small southern town, full of secrets and prejudices and colorful characters.  It’s the perfect backdrop for the story of a boy and girl coming to terms with who they are, albeit in different ways.  There’s the added bonus of flashback to the Civil War that heighten the history and gothic feeling to this town.   They also slowly feed you bits of the Castor world that really had me wanting more.  You discover it a little at a time, but they leave you with the feeling that there is so much more to it.

Writing Style:

Having Ethan as the narrator threw me off at first.   For some reason, I was expecting the story to be more from Lena’s point of view.  However, a few chapters in and I was glad for it.  It helped to hear the story from an outside perspective, so the mystery was revealed slowly.  However, there were a few times when it was hard to believe that he was a 16-year-old boy. I hesitate to say that, because I don’t want to buy into the stereotype of what a teenage boy should sound like, but it’s easy to remember that this book was written by two adult women.  It wasn’t so bad that it was distracting, though.  The one thing I did find somewhat distracting was the accents.  They were realistic, but they got a bit tedious at points.

Extras:

The library!  I don’t want to spoil too much, but a library plays a pretty big part in the story.  I would love to have the job of Marian the librarian (shout out to The Music Man).

Favorite Line:

Mortals. I envy you. You think you can change things. Stop the universe. Undo what was done long before you came along. You are such beautiful creatures.

Read This If You Like:

Secret Circle Series by L.J. Smith

The Immortals Series by Alyson Noel

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Book Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

With my new  resolution to review more books, I decided to come up with a new format for the reviews.  I took ideas from the more structured look of my review database project from library school and information I like to hear when books are recommended to me.  So, here is this year’s first review with the new format!

 

Release Date: February 1st 2011
Publisher:  HarperTeen
Series: Delirium (#1)
Pages: 441

Delirium (Delirium, #1)

From the book jacket:

Ninety-five days and I’ll be safe.  I wonder whether the procedure will hurt.  I want to get it over with.  It’s hard to be patient.  It’s hard to not be afraid while I’m still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet.  Still, I worry.  They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness.  The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t. 

Plot:

In futuristic America, love has been declared a deadly disease.  A procedure has been developed to cure people of the disease once they reach their 18th birthday.  This cure is supposed to protect the citizens and the country from the ravages caused by love and passion, what the scientist and government identified as the cause to all pain and war.  Seventeen-year-old Lena is just a few months away from her procedure and she can’t wait.  She wants to be protected from the love that destroyed her mother and she wants the pain from the memories to be erased.   Lena is literally counting down the days until her procedure when a chance meeting changes everything.

Overall Thoughts:

This is a book that, the more I think about it, the more I enjoy it.  On the surface, it could be classified as typical dystopian love story, but there are so many layers below the action.  She does fall victim to a few of the more common tropes of dystopic literature, but she can be forgiven for those when considering them in the context of the whole.  Oliver’s commentary on love and what it means to be human is so incredibly effective in it’s subtlety.  Upon reading the description, one might be tempted to only consider romantic love as the focus of the story.  However, this society has erased all love: love of parents for their children, love between friends, love of pets, even love of activities.  The people in this society are unable to care for anything, unable to feel empathy, and the implications in that are huge.  There is one horrifying scene involving a dog that really drives home what it means for a society to live without the ability to love.   To me, the idea of what love means to humanity is just as big a story as that of Lena, herself.

Characters:

Lena is one of those characters who is both flowed and totally loveable.  Watching her come into herself and deal with her past is awesome.  She starts out so fearful and accepting of her situation, but as things progress she breaks out of her shell and starts questioning everything.  At the same time she’s happier and more brave than she’s ever been.

Alex is adorable, of course.  He’s a perfect foil to Lena, but he’s also interesting in his own right.  I wish we had been given more of his story, but this is Lena’s book after all.  I don’t want to say too much about him to avoid spoilers.

Hana was a surprise favorite.  I was worried for awhile that she was going to turn into one of those horrible fake best friends that are so common in some YA, but she came through.  Lena’s relationship with her is one of my favorite parts of the book and it makes the idea of losing the ability to have a friendship like that after the procedure so heartbreaking.  It almost makes me wish there was a version where platonic love was the focus rather than romantic love.

Setting:

The book is set in Portland, Maine, so the beach and the ocean are huge factors in the story.  Oliver’s descriptions make me wish I was there on the beach with the characters.  She also really brings the city of Portland to life.  With resources limited, many of the citizens lack the comforts that we find typical.  She draws a great picture of a hot, dirty, suffocating city hidden under the guise of safety and protection.  The setting provides the perfect background to Lena’s story.

Writing Style:

Oliver’s writing is beautiful without being the least bit flowery.  She is so descriptive – of the setting, the characters, the emotions – that you can see and feel everything.  She’s also a master of the opening sentence.  For example, this start to Chapter 18:

The lights from the guard hut get suctioned away all at once like they’ve been sealed back behind a vault. 

That once sentence is so full of imagery and metaphor that you have to keep reading.  The book is filled with great little bits of writing like that.

Extras:

Oliver creates an entire belief system for her society based on the combination of Christianity, Science, and American History.  The beginning of each chapter includes quotes from history books, children’s rhymes, songs, and websites that she has created as part of this system.  It’s such a neat addition to the story and really fills out the setting.

Favorite Line:

As I lie there with the hurt driving through my chest and the sick, anxious feeling churning through me and the desire for Alex so strong inside me it’s like a razor blade edging its way through my organs, shredding me, all I can think is: It will kill me, it will kill me, it will kill me.  And I don’t care.

Read This If You Like:

Crossed by Ali Condy

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Fiction and Empathy

I have a new book review in the works, but until then check out this post from OnFiction called Effects of Fiction on Empathy.  I wrote a couple of papers in library school discussing the psychology of fiction and many of these studies played a big part.  They’re great stuff!

Literacy Isn’t Optional

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across this blog post on literacy privilege.   I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  The author states she is a recovering grammar snob and goes on the explain why she no longer gleefully corrects others’ mistakes.  Her reasons for refusing to continue to do so are  most definitely worth a read, but what I found the most shocking was something she included towards the end of her post:

I like to shock the new tutors I train by quoting statistics from the International Adult Literacy Survey. I ask them to estimate, in a developed country like Canada or the U.S., what percentage of the population has literacy skills below the very basic level needed to function well in our society. People usually guess ten percent, fifteen percent, maybe as much as twenty-five. Then I pull out the sad, stunning facts: nearly half of all North American adults cannot cope with complex written material of the sort that the other half of us take completely for granted. HALF, you guys. This should be considered a national crisis. Not fodder for sport.

The picture becomes even more dismal when you consider the other statistics from the survey.  Approximately one-fourth of U.S. adults performed at the very lowest level of literacy.  Only 59% of U.S. adults at the lowest two levels of literacy were employed.  This is compared to 77% at the mid level and 82% at the highest levels.  Other sources present more bleak findings.  55% of adults with below basic literacy did not graduate from high school.  60% of prison inmates and 85% of juvenile offenders have literacy issues. 75% of those on welfare are functionally illiterate.  The country’s literacy levels do not appear to be improving overall, either.

Literacy is also not being appropriately addressed in our schools.  Of the students who do graduate from high school, 25% have only received the equivalent to a 8th grade education.  Approximately 20% of high school graduates are functionally illiterate.   Whether this is an issue of demographics, educator assumption, methodology, or undetected learning disorders, a large number of students are falling through the cracks.

It is unthinkable that a country which claims the be the greatest in the world would accept this.  It breaks my heart and it makes me angry.

Literacy isn’t simply related to the ability to read a book.  Being literate is vitally important for an individual to maintain a successful and enjoyable life.

  • Literacy is directly related to employment and career successes. See the statistics above for evidence.
  • It is fundamental to educational success.  Almost all learning is predicated on it.
  • It’s related to criminal behavior.  Inmates have lower levels of literacy than the general population.
  • It is needed to fully understand and participate in society.  Illiterate adults risk social isolation.
  • It is necessary for survival.  So much of our existence is dependent on the ability to read and understand certain important  information.

Literacy impacts almost every facet of our lives.  So why are so many people still operating at the very basic or below basic levels?  And what can we do about it?

Aside from adopting new education policies that ensure all students are literate, the issue of those who already made it to adulthood needs to be more sufficiently addressed.  Despite many areas across the country implementing literacy initiatives, efforts tend to be spotty.  Though there are national literacy efforts, these don’t fare as well as is needed to curb the problem.  Without a sufficient nationally organized and funded program, it is difficult for literacy workers to reach all the vulnerable individuals.  Additionally, the ways in which literacy programs are advertised often are counterproductive.  If the programs are only advertised in print or at the library or school or in other areas unlikely to be accessed by those who need the services, they are not going to be aware of them.  Even if an individual learned of the program, the stigma attached to illiteracy prohibits many from seeking the help they need.  In certain areas of the country, language barriers can also make it difficult for individuals to access literacy programs.

So, what can libraries do to help?

The American Library Association has several resources and suggestions to help libraries address adult literacy issues.

  1. Ensure that adults with literacy issues are given equal access.  This can be accomplished by providing literacy classes, materials, and services to limit access issues.
  2. If your library doesn’t have a literacy plan, develop one. 
  3. If a plan is in existence, evaluate its effectiveness.
  4. If you live in an area with a large non-English speaking population, make sure they are being served by your programs.
  5. Reach out to community literacy programs and adult education programs to share resources and referrals.

Finally, something we can all do is contact government officials at all levels and charge them with addressing this epidemic.  Our country needs a concentrated, organized, sustained national effort to truly combat adult illiteracy.

For more information on the history of literacy policies and libraries and proposed solutions, check out this interesting lecture by Robert Wedgeworth.