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Welcome to July’s Bestselling Women’s Fiction Book Club in which we discuss Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt/Carol. It’s original title was The Price of Salt and that’s what some editions in the US still call it. In Australia and the UK it’s called Carol. That’s how I think of it because that’s the edition I first read and fell in love with in my early twenties.
This is the first book we’ve discussed that one of us knows really well. I’m a huge Highsmith fan. Have read everything she’s published as well as all the biographies and memoirs of her I can find. So this discussion is a little different from the previous ones.
Because the book was originally published as a hardcover but did not take off until the paperback edition came out I thought it would be fun for you to see the different covers. Quite the difference, eh? From what I’ve been able to figure out it was that second version that sold the most copies. At least one of the dates in the image bleow is wrong. The hardcover version of Price of Salt was first published in 1952, not 1951.
Note: in the discussion below my information about the original publication of the book and how many copies it sold comes from Patricia Highsmith’s 1989 afterword which is now included in most reprints of the book. She says almost a million copies. As you can see some of the paperback covers above claim only half a million.
One last thing: apparently Todd Haynes is currently directing Cate Blanchett in a movie version to be called Carol. Yes, I’m excited.
For the discussion on Twitter we’ll be using the hashtag #BWFBC. You can also join the conversation in the comments below.
If you haven’t read Price of Salt/Carol yet there are many spoilers below.
And here at last is our take on this bloody brilliant book:
JL: This is my third or fourth read so I’d really like to hear your take on it first. Very curious to know what you thought.
KE: I’m about a third through.
I think it is quite well written. And I’m really impressed by how she captures Therese’s stunned attraction. Also, something about Highsmith’s point of view is so interesting to me and I’m not sure I can put my finger on it. Maybe because the situation doesn’t feel as desperate as some of the other books where we can tell from the subject matter and the tone that a dire fate awaits the women characters. This isn’t precisely a comedy, but it is a book in which there is a fragile sense that a woman can contribute to her own destiny? That she has a hope of happiness and success of a kind? Does that make sense?
I’m enjoying it. The initial phone call exchange where Carol rings up and realizes who it is who called her is brilliant.
JL: Yes to all of that. Except that I think Highsmith is a genius and her writing perfect.
The pov is deeply strange. It verges on omniscient.
The description of Therese’s desire, love, obsession is remarkable. Every time I read it I’m absolutely desperate for them to kiss already. WHY AREN’T YOU BOTH KISSING ALREADY?! And I do mean kissing. They barely so much as hold hands for most of the book. Sexual tension = this book.
I can’t help thinking how disappointed the 1950s straight men who read lesbian pulps for the titilation must’ve been with this book and how beyond delighted the lesbians must have been to discover it. No wonder it was an underground hit.
Have you finished yet? Didn’t want to write more of my thought until you’ve finished.
I will say this one thing since it’s clear that Richard is like this early on. I’m struck by how in every single novel we’ve looked at there’s a guy who will not take no for an answer and who pathologises the woman for her refusal to marry him/be with him.
KE: Yes. Richard doesn’t seem bad at first but then it turns out he’s awful. Dannie is better because of he isn’t bothered (seemingly) by the revelation that Therese has had an affair with Carol, and because he genuinely does seem like a person who will not demand.
The man who won’t take no for an answer is a familiar and comfortable trope, still present today in guises that make such a man seem worthy and attractive, but in all these novels the writers simply skewer that notion.
JL: It’s lovely to see that revulsion at that guy is not a recent development. He’s been loathed for much longer than either of us has been alive. And yay for that! Now if only we could get him to go away forever.
I just reread Malinda Lo’s review of the book. I was really struck by how weird I found it that she saw it as a love at first sight novel. I didn’t read it that way at all. I mean Carol doesn’t even realise that it was Therese at first she thought it was some guy who served her that day. Carol pretty clearly isn’t immediately attracted to Therese it’s more of a slow burn. The falling in love is even a slower burn. I feel like Carole doesn’t even take Therese seriously until she realises that she’s a set designer.
Therese is very much attracted straight away. But that’s not love at first sight that’s lust at first sight which I’ve never found hard to buy at all.
KE: I absolutely read it as Therese falling in love at first sight. Carol feels the attraction but, I think, is mature and experienced enough to be amused by it because she knows what it is.
But I simply can’t agree that it is lust at first sight.
JL: Wow. I think I have a totally different understanding of what love at first sight as a narrative device is compared to you and Malinda. Because I really disagree. I’ve always seen it at as something that happens to both in the pairing—a la Twilight or Tristan and Isolde. They might struggle against it but they both feel it. A narrative in which only one person is into the other is not a love at first sight narrative.
Carol definitely does not feel it. She doesn’t even remember who Therese is at first and if Therese hadn’t contacted her Carol would never have thought of her again.
Therese feels an attraction—I think it’s lust—that she doesn’t quite make sense of until she sees Carol a few more times. But, yeah, I think her immediate attraction to Carol is physical. And that she lets herself understand it as something more romantic because she doesn’t quite have the means to understand being attracted to a woman. It’s part of what she tries to talk to idiot Richard about when she asks him if he’s ever been attracted to a man. So, yeah, I definitely feel the attraction is instant but the love comes later.
I don’t read Therese as truly being in love with Carol or even truly understanding Carol until the very end of the novel when she’s wowed by Carol’s bravery in deciding to be with Therese even though it means she’s going to lose her daughter.
One of the many things I adore about this novel is that it shows the reader Therese and Carol getting to know each other fairly slowly and falling in love fairly slowly. Therese learns that Carol is not, in fact, who she thought she was.
KE: Therese is so sure of herself and how these feelings permeate her. I think it’s beautifully written in capturing the sense of floating and surety. Besides the really good writing I think what I love most about this book is that Therese never questions herself, never hates herself for having what most people at that time (and too many even now) considered “unnatural” feelings. The power of the emotion that hits her is so strong that she simply accepts it in a way that might typically be written in a heterosexual romance of the time (and still today). There’s no agonizing forr her, it’s Cupid’s arrow straight between the eyes. I love that. Although over the course of the novel Therese slowly comes to realize what it means for her and Carol in terms of society’s disapprobation and the real threat it poses to both of them for different reasons.
JL: Here we can agree. (Though I think Cupid fires lust darts, not love.) I adored Therese’s surety about her own desires too. And it’s a huge part of why it sold almost a million copies in paperback and caused so many lesbians and gay men to write to Highsmith about the novel. Here was a story where a woman falls in love with another woman without believing that she’s deranged or infantile or any of the things that awful Richard acuses her of being. Here’s a story in which the lovers get to be together at the end.
KE: So, yes, put me firmly in the love at first sight camp.
Carol’s is a slower burn but I read that in part as caution and, as you say, in part that at first she seems to find Therese more amusing (and maybe a little flattering) than anything.
(Very true about Cupid. My bad.)
JL: If she’s a slow burner than how on earth is it love at first sight?! That makes no sense! I read it as Carol being depressed. Her ex is awful, she’s just broken up with her best friend, her daughter’s with her awful ex, she has a housekeeper she doesn’t trust, she has no job to distract her. So, yes, as you say she’s enjoying the flattery of Therese’s crush on her but doesn’t take it seriously beyond that. She’s certainly not imagining them living together. Pretty much until they go on the road trip Carol tries to encourage Therese to stick with her odious boyfriend.
KE: The set design does change Carol’s view of her. I wonder if you have any thoughts in how Carol reacts (with the negative criticism)? It could be seen as a compliment (I’m being honest) or as a little more passive aggressive. Or some other option. It’s interesting though.
JL: For me that’s the first moment Carol starts to really see Therese and not just the flattery of this pretty young thing having a crush on her.
I read her criticism as part of Carol’s general discomfort. Carol’s up against so much that she’s not talking about. Two break ups in a row. She’s constantly kind of on edge and irritable and I see the picking at Therese’s designs as another part of that. She spends a lot of time trying to push Therese away. And there’s a lot of weirdness around her break up with Abby and Abby’s interaction with Therese. I also think she’s a bit freaked out by her growing feelings for Therese and the ramifications for Carol. She is, as you say, much more aware of the consequences of being a lesbian in the 1950s in the USA than Therese is.
I’m coming out of YA where there’s a metric tonne of love at first sight in the sense I mean it. In the fairy tale sense. And YA is where Malinda is from as well which is how I read her as responding to the book: “Oh, God, not that awful trope again.” Whereas I think this novel is SO not that trope.
However, I still don’t see Therese as instantly in love. Intrigued and crushing, yes. Full of desire, yes. In love? No. I also see a very slight amount of omniscience in the narrator. Through those eyes I feel like the novel is very lightly mocking—mocking is too strong a word—Therese’s growing obsession with Carol. But there’s a definite feel of someone much older telling the tale of this nineteen year old’s first real experience with love.
KE: If you are defining “love at first sight” as necessarily mutual, then no it isn’t. But I’ve never defined it as having to be mutual.
In Carol’s case, she even says toward the end that she went over to Therese in the department store because she was the least busy, and not wearing a smock.
JL: I don’t think either of them really start to fall all the way in love with each other until the road trip when they get to know each other and discover they have great chemistry in bed.
KE: Nah. I just disagree. Therese is in love from the get-go, although I should specify that I think of it as infatuation-love rather than love-love, if that makes sense. But it is not just lust. The emotion made Therese stronger and more sure of herself. Lust (to my mind) doesn’t create the same grounding.
JL: It’s lust with romantic longings. That ain’t what I call love. I do not call infatuation love. I call love what you’re calling love-love. So I think we’re agreeing but we have definitional disagreements. Frankly I don’t believe in love at first sight. I believe in lust at first sight, infatuation at first sight, but not love. Love takes time. You can’t love someone if you don’t know them.
KE: I should note that I myself am skeptical about the idea of love at first sight. On a personal note I actually have a statement about “love at first sight” in my forthcoming YA fantasy novel, in which a father tells his daughter about the first time he saw her mother. He emphatically does not believe in “love at first sight” and then describes what pretty much what in any book would be “love at first sight.”
I should also note that from my own experience I know that “instant attraction” (sometimes sexual but often a more intangible quality that is an instinctive “connection” between two people) does exist but I have experienced it with both men and women. It always startles me when I instantly like and feel drawn to someone (even as I know I don’t really know them, but something sparks that connection and I am sure I have no idea what it is).
JL: Yes to all of that.
KE: I’m enjoying your analysis of Carol. I think in this case that is a perspective that can’t be gained from a single reading of the novel but only from a re-read.
JL: It is true *cough* that this is at least my fourth read of this novel. It fascinated me because it is so not like Highsmith’s other books yet at the same I can see so many places where it could take a turn into Highsmith territory. Like when awful ex, Harge, shows up, there’s a moment where either Therese or Carol could plausibly have killed him. The fact that Carol brings a gun on the road trip and it never goes off! If this were a regular Highsmith Carol could have wound up killing that detective.
KE: Yes, I recognized the business with the gun and felt it was, perhaps, a tip of the hat to her thrillers? I was pretty sure it would not go off because the tone of the story wasn’t right for it, but it was a reminder that the entire narrative could have taken a far darker turn.
JL: Oh, I like that interpretation. Hadn’t occurred to me. It’s just the sort of thing Highsmith would do too.
KE: What’s interesting is that I think the story may have been far more important to readers because it did not take that dark turn.
KE: The ending is brilliant and adorable, and the cinematic romantic in me is just beaming because it is so sweet and yet somehow Highsmith pulls it off without making it saccharine; she makes you want it.
JL: The first time I read it I cried. Sobbed my heart out with joy. Not just because it’s a (relatively) happy ending but because they’re both now in a place and the novel takes place over at least a year and a half where they’re right for each other, mature enough for each other, and brave enough for each other. *sniff*
KE: I must say that I did feel a pinch of anger at Therese for that business of “she choose Rindy over me” because I’m a mother and so I entirely empathize with Carol’s situation. Having said that, Highsmith has carefully set up that Therese has no reason to understand “motherly love” as she never got any and, in fact, was herself discarded when her mother chose her second husband over Therese. So it makes psychological sense.
JL: Oh, sure. I also think it’s meant to be a bit appalling. Even without her awful background Therese is still very young. It’s a very young person’s selfish thought.
KE: So while Therese’s story ends well, Carol’s remains filled with a combination of triumph and heartbreak, very bittersweet. In my fanfic, Rindy will start writing secret letters to her mother and then, as 16, will start seeing her mother secretly and, at 18, tell her father where to go.
JL: That’s hilarious. I was going to tell you that I imagine Rindy constantly running away from her dad until he finally gives in and lets her go live with Carol and Therese. He won’t mind because he’s found himself another trophy wife and had more children. And Rindy’s proven herself to be too much trouble.
But, yes, my heart breaks for Carol.
One of the lovely things at the end of the book is that we finally get to see Carol without all those weights on her. She knows, at last, where she stands with her ex, she’s lost custody of her daughter. She doesn’t have to hide. She doesn’t have to pretend anymore. That brittleness about her is gone.
KE: The only thing that mitigates my annoyance with the plot device of Carol having to lose her child in order to be “free” (very dicey plot device, that one) is that I know that legally it would and could have happened in that way. But in this particular case the plot line of a mother losing her child always comes across to me as traumatic.
JL: It happened to a close family friend in the 1970s. Lesbian mothers didn’t start winning custody battles til later in that decade. At least not in Australia and I bet it was just as bad in the US. So I never thought of that as a plot device but rather as absolutely what would have happened. Because that’s what did happen. Sometimes still does happen.
I also think is clear Carol doesn’t see losing Rindy as making her free. She’s clearly heartbroken. But in the choice between denying who she is to people who hate her and won’t to keep her from her daughter and will use any excuse to do so she chooses love with Therese.
KE: I’ve thought a bit more about this and I realize that in fact Carol doesn’t read to me as heartbroken and in fact her relationship with Rindy never felt true to me; it is the one thing in the book that doesn’t ring true to me. It feels obligatory but not emotionally authentic. So it isn’t the plot device that didn’t work for me — the legal aspect — it’s that I never quite believed in the mother/daughter relationship as depicted between them so that it came across as a plot device rather than something I truly cared about because I never (as a reader) invested in the Carol/Rindy relationship. All the other relationships felt true to me, even the minor ones like Mrs Robichek.
JL: Again I disagree. One of the things I’ve noticed on rereads is that Therese is not a reliable narrator though she absolutely strives to be one (which is a key distinction between kinds of unreliable narrators). but everything about Carol is filtered through her gaze. Therese does not give a shit about Rindy. She doesn’t much ask about Rindy except in a pro forma way. So Carol doesn’t much talk about Rindy with Therese. Yet even so she’s there haunting the entire book and a huge part of Carol’s grief and brittleness. When letters arrive Carol always reads Rindy’s first. And Therese is puzzled by that. To me that was a huge tell that Therese just doesn’t get Carol’s love for her daughter.
KE: If that is the case, and I think you make a compelling argument about something that might not be as obvious EXCEPT on a re-read, then there’s a second layer to all this in that Therese essentially acts as did the second husband for whom her mother discarded her. It would be interesting to think about how and what it means that, as an abandoned child, she can’t (yet) empathize with a girl about to be separated from her mother.
I wanted to make a brief mention of how brilliantly Highsmith uses excerpts from letters. She’s such a skilled writer, and it’s interesting to see how the narrative voice differs from the voices displayed in the letters (naturally, but it’s not easy to do).
JL: As I have now mentioned multiple times I am a huge fan. Can I admit now that you’re initial comment that Highsmith writes “quite well” had me fuming? Yay, that you saw the light.
KE: Justine, “quite well” is a huge compliment from me. I don’t gush much. If I say, “that was a good book” it is strong praise.
There is a period of several chapters where Therese does a cascade of “growing up” that turns her into a person of budding maturity and—quite the most interesting to me—a woman with determined goals and a sense of herself. She is a woman who will succeed and also be true to herself (in many different facets of her life). Wow. What a fabulous emotion to leave the reader with.
JL: Yes to all of this. I too think that was beautifully done, which I guess is pretty obvious given how many times I’ve read it.
KE: I would like to hear more about the context of this book’s bestsellerdom because I confess it surprised me that a book with this content would have been a bestseller in 1952. I’m not surprised people wrote to Highsmith. Again, I can’t express enough how unusual it is EVEN TODAY but especially then to read a lovely story like this in which her sexual coming out (if I may use that term) is depicted so positively, and sexily. And without any need to ever have Therese question, doubt, dislike, or try to “change” herself.
JL: It may not be technically a bestseller. But it did sell close to a million copies and it was one of the bestselling lesbian pulp paperbacks of the 1950s. It did not do well in its original printing in hardcover though it got some nice reviews including from the NYT. But it’s real impact was in paperback.
Those lesbian pulps were mainly aimed at titilating straight male readers but many lesbians also read them and I’m pretty sure this novel would have stood out like a sore thumb. It became a novel that was passed around by lesbians and by which they could recognise each other. Marijane Meaker (M. E. Kerr) was one of Highsmith’s lovers and talks about the book’s impact in her 2003 memoir about her relationship with Highsmith:
Pat was revered [in the lesbian community] for her pseudonymous novel, The Price of Salt, which had been published in 1952 by Coward McCann. It was for many years the only lesbian novel, in either hard or soft cover, with a happy ending.
It stood on every lesbian bookshelf along with classics like The Well of Loneliness; We, Too, Are Drifting; Diana; and Olivia.
KE: The book dragged for me a little in the middle, mostly because I was waiting for dragons or ninjas to appear and they never did. But the ending is really masterfully written.
JL: You do realise that there will be no dragons or ninjas in any of the books we’re looking at, right?
So glad you had us read this one! I’d never even heard of it. But then again, because of the lack of dragons and ninjas and sword fighting, I tend not to have heard of a lot of mainstream fiction.
This passage from Kate Rundell's gorgeous Rooftoppers always makes me think of an impressionistic painting:
Paris lay still below them. From where Sophie stood, with both her hands wrapped round the neck of a carved saint, it was a mass of silver, except where the river shone a rusty-gold colour in the lamplight. (p.224)
The way she adds the 'rusty-gold' to the 'mass of silver' - what a lovely contrast of warm and cold metals... and look at those tiny yellow specks from 'the lamplight', which you can just see, can't you, on the surface of the Seine?
I love the fact that it's a child seeing all this from above, from a place that people generally don't go to, and that she's there with her arms hugging a stern, stone figure - as if trying to give it the affection it's never had. For me, it's this painting:
|Gustave Caillebotte, Rue Halévy (1878)|
Stories almost never unfold in my head like films when I read, but I do sometimes 'see' static images - paintings, photographs - often specific styles or artistic currents. Sometimes it's the other way around: I'm reminded of a book when I look at a work of art. The other day I went to Madrid for the first time, and I saw in the huge and wonderful Prado museum this well-known triptych by Bosch:
|Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights (1490?)|
Immediately I was reminded - of course in part because I'd just read it - of
Robert Galbraith's The Silkworm
, with its grotesque gallery of monstrous protagonists and torture scenes:
But also, one little detail called back to my mind a similarly gripping summer read from years ago I'd almost entirely forgotten, Michael Connelly's A Darkness More Than Night
... A Harry Bosch adventure, not coincidentally:
|it's a story full of Boschian owls, that's all I can remember...|
Now Galbraith and Connelly are linked in my mind as inextricably as Rundell and Caillebotte.
Generally, it happens with very famous rather than obscure works of art, perhaps because those tend to stick in one's head more. In children's literature, here are other associations, personal and therefore not always logical, though some are much more obvious than others:
|Lois Lowry's The Giver and the 1956 French film The Red Balloon |
|Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses and Norman Rockwell's 'The Problem We All Live With' (1964)|
Sally Gardner's Maggot Moon
is Anselm Kiefer
all the way. Anne Fine's The Tulip Touch
is this Edward Hopper...:
|yep, it's the Bates Motel, too... not a coincidence, I'm sure.|
I didn't like Neil Gaiman's Coraline
very much (sorry), but it was Louise Bourgeois's 'Maman' spiders:
Some authors make explicit reference to paintings, films or other visual art forms, like Marcus Sedgwick in Midwinterblood
. I love that - I love looking up the works of art mentioned in books, especially when I have no clue what they are and it throws a completely new light on the text. Some painters, some paintings and some movements seem to crystallise writers' attention. Da Vinci, of course, but also the Surrealists in general, it seems.
Similarly, when I write, I never really picture my characters in my head, but there's always a lot
of colours, and many static images, like paintings or stills from films or photographs. Fun adventure stories, whether I write them or read them, look quite like Sonia Delaunay's circles and spirals:
|Pippi Longstocking! |
Is it a kind of synaesthesia? Not sure, it's not automatic - it only happens with some books, and some paintings or works of art. It also depends hugely on what I've just read or seen, and in which contexts. Does that happen to you too? With which texts and which images?
Clementine Beauvais writes children's books in French and English. The former are of all kinds and shapes, and the latter humour/adventure series - the Sesame Seade
mysteries with Hodder, the Holy-Moly Holiday series
with Bloomsbury. She blogs here
about children's literature and academia and is on Twitter @blueclementine
Title: The Lost Planet
Author: Rachel Searles
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
ISBN- 13: 978-1250038791
ARC provided by publisher
The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles is a rollicking sci-fi adventure for middle grade readers.
A boy wakes up with a blaster wound to the back of his head and no memory except the phrase, "Guide the star." He's told that his
Sometimes danger is hard to see... until it’s too late. My thoughts:It's no secret that I love the Hush, Hush series. Becca Fitzpatrick is one of my favorite authors, so when I found out this book was going to be given out at BEA, I had to have it. (Special thanks to Dan Cohen for making sure I got a copy since I missed the actual book drop.) This book is very different from the Hush, Hush series, but I was still sucked in.
Britt Pfeiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn't prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants—but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage.
In exchange for her life, Britt agrees to guide the men off the mountain. As they set off, Britt knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there... and in uncovering this, she may become the killer’s next target.
But nothing is as it seems in the mountains, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally?
Britt is an interesting character. At times she comes across as being very dependent on the men in her life. I didn't like this part of her personality. But there are other times when she's extremely strong and the men in her life depend heavily on her. Showing both sides helped the reader to see how Britt grows as a person throughout the book. I was really glad to see her moments of strength because without them, I would have had a hard time rooting for her.I did love how Britt put totally set herself up for trouble, first agreeing on a trip with her ex-boyfriend, who happens to be her best friend's older brother, and then by claiming a total stranger is her new boyfriend just to save face and having her ex confirm her story. Luckily that stranger goes along with Britt's lie, and isn't she surprised when her truck gets stranded in a snow storm and she winds up on that very same stranger's doorstep. ;)
From there, trouble begins and Britt isn't sure who to trust, especially since there is a murderer on the loose. I admit, I figured out who the murderer was early on. *Sigh* I'm really cursed when it comes to figuring out plots before I'm supposed to. But anyway, I still really enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.
By: Carmela Martino and 5 other authors
Blog: Teaching Authors
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, George Ella Lyon
, J. Patrick Lewis
, Laura Purdie Salas
, Poetry Friday
, UCLA Extension Writers Program
, Writing Classes
, Add a tag
For Poetry Friday, I'm sharing a poem from a book coming out this fall from J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon. I just received an ARC of Voices from the March on Washington
(WordSong), and I've only read three of the poems. But they all knocked my socks off! I'll share more closer to the publication date, but here's a sneak peek to whet your appetite.
black without white
white without black
--J. Patrick Lewis, all rights reserved
This lovely poem especially connected with me because I just wrote three poems about diversity for consideration for a friend's scholarly book on children's literature, and the one he chose uses blizzard/snow imagery as well!
And I love the way you can create many different complete thoughts that kind of overlap each other because of the line breaks. Gorgeous.
Here I am reading Pat's poem:
Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, creators of the amazing Poetry Friday Anthology books, are hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup
at Poetry for Children. Don't miss it!
Now on to what I've been reading. I've been working on attacking my to-read shelf this summer! I joined the Book-a-Day Challenge through Donalyn Miller and the Nerdy Book Club (http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2014/05/18/the-sixth-annual-book-a-day-challenge/
). My goal is to average a book a day (surprise:>) And it's not too late! You pick your start and stop days, so if you have one month left of summer, go for it. Commit to reading a book a day, and share your books on your blog or Twitter (#bookaday). I post mine on Twitter--that accountability is great. Anyway, the thing I've learned most is that having a book-a-day really helps me get to a lot more picture books and poetry books--which are my favorite books, anyway. But they often get lost in the shuffle as I read research books or escape into mysteries. Below are the most recent 10 books I've finished. I have more in progress.
Looking over my list, I would say two other things I've learned are that I abandon books without guilt now (a major change from 10 years ago), and I want to read MORE picture books and poetry. Once book-a-day ends, I might have to come up with a picture book plan to keep me going!
P.S. Check that last book for the most finely-crafted nonfiction picture book I've read in months.
P.P.S. Those of you in the Los Angeles area who are aspiring picture book writers, check out Teaching Authors' April Halprin Wayland's upcoming class
, Writing Picture Books for Children. It's Wednesday nights from August 6 through September 10. It might be just right for you, so don't miss out :>)
Happy Monday! Here's my Mishmash of thoughts:
- Construction We had water damage to our house and the downstairs had to be completely gutted and treated for mold. It's a nightmare. I've been out of my house since last Wednesday and will be out all this week too while it's being repaired. I'll do my best to respond to comments during that time.
- Revision I'm still revising my MG sequel. It's been slow going thanks to the disaster going on in my house and having to relocate for a while.
- Schedules I'm a very scheduled person and my schedule has been so off this summer. Adjusting to that has been tough.
- Reading I discovered a bunch of books on my Kindle that I forgot were there. I'm going back and reading those before I purchase more. Right now I'm reading Hereafter by Tara Hudson.
- Deal Announcement The official deal announcement for Into the Fire and Perfect For You is here. It's always exciting to see these. :)
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?
Title: Pretty Deadly Volume 1
Author: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Illustrated by: Emma Rios
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
ARC provided by publisher via NetGalley
Pretty Deadly Volume 1 collects the first five issues of the Pretty Deadly comic, which is an Eisner Award nominee. Kudos to Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios for creating such a
Hey everyone! Clara Kensie here. A few times a month at Adventures in YA Publishing, I post a question for you and the Adventures in YA team to answer. The questions cover all topics important to writers and book lovers: craft, career, reading, books, and more. Join the discussion!
Question of the Week:
WHICH SUPER-POPULAR BOOK(S) HAVEN’T YOU READ? WHY NOT?
|Source: Nomadic Lass|
I haven't read The Fault in our Stars. I know, I know! I really need to read it. I generally don't read contemporary books, so I haven't gotten around to it. Lisa Gail Green:
Yikes. Too many, unfortunately. Mostly it’s a matter of getting through my horrifically long TBR list. But most are sequels and I do try to read as many first books as I can between those. So I’m dying to get to the last books in Cassandra Clare’s series, which I adore for example. Martina Boone:
Too many. Reading is the best perk of being a writer. I can read and consider it work, but I still struggle with guilt over that a little bit, as if “just” reading is something I have to justify. I’m forcing myself to get over it, though, and I try to stay current on what is being loved by readers. Right now, I’m behind on the Mortal Instruments series and the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare, which is something I need to remedy. I’m also trying to get to Ransom Riggs’ Hollow City. On the other hand, I’ve been binge reading books that are coming up later this year, and I’m beyond excited about a lot of those. This year has been amazing—so many outstanding books from my favorite authors and new authors whose work is truly exceptional.Katharyn Sinelli:
I just read The Giver last month. To tell you the truth,I put off reading it despite recommendations because the old guy on the cover really creeped me out. It's like there should be a saying about not forming opinions of books based solely on their exteriors. Alyssa Hamilton:
Quite a few but I'll narrow it down. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I have read Eleanor & Park and didn't completely love it, so I think I just put Fangirl off. Maybe when the paperback comes out. The Maze Runner by James Dashner. I've started this one but I really really disliked it so I never finished it. I've read 2 of John Green's books and am pretty apathetic towards them so I have no desire to read any more. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi. The writing style just holds no interest for me so I know I won't be picking it up either!Clara Kensie:
For me, it's a matter of time. I could copy Lisa’s answer and paste it here, except that I haven’t read any of Mortal Instruments. I have the first book sitting right there on my bookshelf, staring at me every time I look up. I really want to read it, but there are so many books in the series, and I know if I start, it will take me forever to finish. Same with Game of Thrones. And there are so many books on my TBR list that are just as excellent as the super-popular books, but haven't made the bestseller lists. Maybe I'm alone in feeling this way, but I want support those lesser-known books by reading them first.WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Which super-bestsellers haven’t you read? Why not?
October 8, 1940, after an air raid on London
There is no Frigate like a Book
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –
(This version of the poem is found on the Poetry Foundation website.)
By: Jen Robinson
Blog: Jen Robinson
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Here are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include authors, book lists, the Cybils, common core, aging, ebooks, apps, growing bookworms, kidlitcon, reading, writing, play, schools, libraries, and summer reading.
Books and Authors
Stories from authors about school visits "gone terribly wrong" at Wild Things blog http://ow.ly/zcwJO @SevenImp @FuseEight
75 Years Old, Still Showing off her Scar, fun details about Madeline from @SevenImp + @FuseEight at Wild Things blog http://ow.ly/z94Jk
Book Lists and Awards
Amazon-backed Booktrust Best Book Awards‘ Lifetime Achievement Award turned down by Allan Ahlberg | @TheBookseller http://ow.ly/z3OLT
The Wildest (bold + unique) Children’s Books of 2014 as picked by @100scopenotes http://ow.ly/zcxat #kidlit
Teen blogger Summer from @miss_fictional looks back on Favorite Books from her Childhood http://ow.ly/z5flg #kidlit
Who knew that there could be a list of Top 5 Picture Books about Ninjas? @rosemondcates could! http://ow.ly/z3KJl #kidlit
Thanks! RT @145lewis: #CYBILS are an amazing resource Looking for summer reading ideas? http://dadtalk.typepad.com/cybils/finalists/ … #kidlit #edchat #elemed
Common Core and STEM
#CommonCore Becomes Touchy Subject for Governors Group, reports @WSJ, as both parties are internally split on CC http://ow.ly/z5fA0
Tap the STEM Resources in Your Community! | ALSC Blog post for librarians by @amyeileenk http://ow.ly/z3KzZ
RT @tashrow 5 Stereotypes Positive Aging Picture Books Avoid | Lindsey McDivitt http://buff.ly/1zmZLk9 #kidlit
eBooks and Apps
RT @TWhitford: Great Apps To Introduce Coding to Young Kids http://goo.gl/uUdGX0 via @mattBgomez
Malorie Blackman: ‘I love gadgets, but e-reading has to be carefully handled’ | @GuardianBooks http://ow.ly/z3P8z via @PWKidsBookshelf
What Do Phonics, Phonemic Awareness and Decoding Mean? @CoffeeandCrayon has the scoop http://ow.ly/zeLEb #literacy
How #Comics Create Life-Long Readers -- @MaryAnnScheuer interview with @jenniholm http://ow.ly/zeLPW #kidlit #literacy
Teaching My Daughters to Read -- Part III, Phonics from @ReadingShahahan http://ow.ly/zcvyn #literacy
RT @LiteracySpeaks: 5 Simple Ways to Improve Reading Comprehension from This Reading Mama! http://fb.me/6BtWnEOln
Fun times @everead | How I Stopped My Children's Whining with Story Club http://ow.ly/z5eUD #literacy
BOOM: And we are LIVE! Why you should attend this year's KidLitCon, from co-organizer Tanita Davis, FindingWonderland http://ow.ly/zcvbM
The registration form for #KidLitCon14 Oct. 10-11 in Sacramento is now live: http://ow.ly/zc0lr A great way to see friends + talk books
October will be here soon, soon, soon — @bkshelvesofdoom is coming to #KidLitCon14 Are you? http://ow.ly/z3GYs
RT @CBethM: The 8th Annual @KidLitCon - Spending Time Face-to-Face with Kindred Spirits by @JensBookPage #nerdybookclub http://wp.me/p21t9O-1zS
On Reading, Writing, and Publishing
On having (and integrating) multiple Reading Lives by Kristin McIlhagga @TeachChildLit @NerdyBookClub http://ow.ly/z94kV
Cultivating Curiosity, on love of stories vs. love of words at So Obsessed With blog http://ow.ly/z94SO via @catagator
Food for thought at Stacked: Growing Up, Leaving Some Books (Narnia) Behind by @kimberlymarief http://ow.ly/zi3Ac #kidlit
Why Book Reviewers Would Make Awesome Authors, by @Miss_Fictional http://ow.ly/zcvDd
A proposal from @100scopenotes | All Middle Grade Novels Should Be 192 Pages. No Exceptions. Thoughts? http://ow.ly/zcvYJ
Here's what @medinger thinks about @100scopenotes idea for Putting a Stop to Middle Grade Novel’s Increasing Girth http://ow.ly/zcwej
Confessions Of A Binge Reader (Or, How I Read So Much) | Ryan Holiday at Thought Catalog http://ow.ly/z3LKY via @tashrow
Why Readers, Scientifically, Are The Best People To Fall In Love With @EliteDaily http://ow.ly/z3NZQ via @librareanne
How Much Activity Do Our Students Need? asks @katsok How do you help kids who can't sit still, in era of less recess? http://ow.ly/z92pA
Did What You Played as a Kid Influence Who You Became as an Adult? asks @FreeRangeKids http://ow.ly/z933H
Powerful post @KirbyLarson by Michelle Houts on adults looking back and regretting childhood acts of bullying http://ow.ly/z3K36
Schools and Libraries
Bridging the Gap: Making #Libraries More Accessible for a Diverse Autistic Population | @sljournal http://ow.ly/z3Omk
Corporal Punishment in Schools: Can it be Justified? @TrevorHCairney thinks it's not the right approach http://ow.ly/zi3el
Top 10 Ways to Turn Classroom into a Hotbed of Enthusiastic Readers by @megangreads + @muellerholly @NerdyBookClub http://ow.ly/z5eFi
This could keep us busy for the rest of the summer! 50 Fabulous Movies based on Children's Books from @rosemondcates http://ow.ly/zcvGP
#SummerReading Tip20 @aliposner Set up your vacation accommodations in ways that make literacy more likely to occur http://ow.ly/z3LbF
#SummerReading Tip21 @aliposner Encourage your kids to author “vacation books” when you are traveling this summer http://ow.ly/z5eOF
#SummerReading Tip25 @aliposner | Read the SAME BOOK that your child is reading independently + discuss it together http://ow.ly/zeM9u
#SummerReading Tip26 @aliposner | Try to connect reading to your kids’ summer activities http://ow.ly/zi3mT #literacy
Reading Is Fundamental Study Says Summer Reading Is Not Priority | reports Lauren Barack @sljournal http://ow.ly/z3OeW @RIFWEB
© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.
Have you met the Soulless and Passionate? In the world of 1770 where supernatural beings mix with humanity, Alexia is playing a deadly game.
SOULLESS, Book 2 in the Maiden of Time trilogy
Alexia manipulated time to save the man of her dreams, and lost her best friend to red-eyed wraiths. Still grieving, she struggles to reconcile her loss with what was gained: her impending marriage. But when her wedding is destroyed by the Soulless—who then steal the only protection her people have—she’s forced to unleash her true power.
And risk losing everything.
What people are saying about this series:
"With a completely unique plot that keeps you guessing and interested, it brings you close to the characters, sympathizing with them and understanding their trials and tribulations." --SC, Amazon reviewer
"It's clean, classy and supernaturally packed with suspense, longing, intrigue and magic." --Jill Jennings, TX
"SWOON." --Sherlyn, Mermaid with a Book Reviewer
Crystal Collier is a young adult author who pens dark fantasy, historical, and romance hybrids. She can be found practicing her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, three littles, and “friend” (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese. You can find her on her blog and Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.
COMING October 13, 2014
I hope you're all enjoying summer (well, at least those of you in the Northern Hemisphere!). These are definitely not "lazy, hazy days" for me. I spent much of our blogging break working on lesson plans for upcoming classes, including a children's writing camp that begins today. (If you'd like to see my summer class offerings, check out my website.)
Today I'm kicking off a series of posts in which we TeachingAuthors talk about a book we recently read or are currently reading. Thanks to the lovely Linda Baie over at TeacherDance, I know about a meme in the blogging community called "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?" hosted at Teach Mentor Texts. I'm happy to have a blog post that qualifies for the roundup!
The book I'd like to discuss is John Green's The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton). Even though this bestseller has been out since 2012 and has been made into a "major motion picture," I didn't get around to reading it till this month. I might not have read it all if it hadn't been selected as one of our Anderson's Bookshop's Not for Kids Only Book Club titles for August.
I'm happy to say that even though I don't typically read or write contemporary young adult novels, I enjoyed this one. I was especially struck by two things right at the beginning:
A. The Author's Note:
In case you haven't read it (or somehow missed the page) the book includes an unusual Author's Note before Chapter One:
Author’s Note This is not so much an author’s note as an author’s reminder of what was printed in small type a few pages ago: This book is a work of fiction. I made it up.
Neither novels nor their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.
I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.
This note struck me for two reasons:
- It reminded me of a question I'm often asked. Since my novel, Rosa, Sola, is based on events from my own childhood, readers often want to know how much of the novel "really happened." I think many who ask it are disappointed by my answer: None of it "really happened" because my life events happened to me, not to Rosa Bernardi. I don't think I could have written the story if I hadn't been able to separate myself from my character.
- Green's note made me think more deeply about the nature of fiction and our purposes in reading/writing it. The note also reminded me of something I read years ago--that fiction is about Universal Truths, or "truth with a capital T." As a writer, I sometimes get so caught up in plot and craft, etc., that I can lose sight of the Truth.
If you'd like to read more about what Green meant by his Author's Note, see this page on his website
B. That a story about cancer and death can be humorous:
Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.
I have to admit--after first reading this sentence I wasn't completely sure Hazel was being sarcastic. After all, this was a book about a girl with cancer. But it soon became apparent that cancer hadn't killed her sense of humor. That surprised me, as did other things about the book. I'm not going to risk spoiling it for those of you who haven't read the novel yet by telling you what those other things were. I'll just say that I enjoyed the book more than I expected. And, reading as a writer, I learned from it.
I wonder how many of you, our readers, have read Green's book. I'd love to know what you thought of it. And if you have any "summer reading" recommendations, do share them with us.
Happy writing (and reading)!
Blog: Kelly Hashway's Blog
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Happy Monday! Here's my mishmash of thoughts:
- I have a roof! Finally! The addition isn't finished yet but I have a roof, which means no more raining in my house. Yay!
- Beth Fred's Blurb Writing Class Beth Fred is teaching another online blurb writing class in August. Beth is great at writing blurbs so you're going to want to sign up here.
- Revisions I'm working on second round revisions of my MG novel this week. I still have more to trim off my word count.
- Kiss of Death My Touch of Death prequel novella from Alex's POV will be ready soon, and it will be free! I can't wait to share it with you.
- Reviewing I need to catch up on reviews. I have two waiting for me to write them. Hopefully they'll get taken care of this week.
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?
Hey everyone! Clara Kensie here. A few times a month at Adventures in YA Publishing, I post a question for you and the Adventures in YA team to answer. The questions cover all topics important to writers and book lovers: craft, career, reading, books, and more. Join the discussion!
Question of the Week:
BUY OR BORROW?Which do you do more often: borrow books from your library or purchase books from the bookstore?
When I hear about a book I want to read, the first thing I do is look for it on my library’s website to see if they have it already or if it’s on order. In fact, I keep my To Be Read list on my library’s website, where I can tell at a glance if the books I want are currently available for immediate download, if they’re on order, or if they’re available for checkout. My library has an phenomenal digital collection of YA, and I always try to get my books as a digital loan first. If it’s not available in digital, I’ll borrow it in print.
While I always prefer to borrow from my library, I purchase lots of books too. I automatically buy books written by my author friends, either in digital or print. If a book I want is digital only and my library doesn’t have it, I’ll buy it. I also cannot resist Kindle Daily Deals and Nook deals or used books stores. I buy dozens of print books at my library’s used book sales.
I read ebooks exclusively, so I purchase them from Barnes & Noble. I got used to reading on a Nook before I got my iPad, and I still prefer their reading app.Lisa Gail Green:
I buy far more books than I borrow, but sometimes I can’t afford to support my bad habit and I do go to the library. I’ve always loved libraries and definitely fed my teenage book habit using the library, however. My own mother is a retired librarian. But I try to support authors by purchasing when I can. Plus I love to own my books and use my Kindle. Martina Boone:
I love libraries. I practically lived in them through my teenage years. Until recently, I
bought a lot of books but I also borrowed a lot. Lately, I read a ton of ARCs, and I read a lot of digital books. I know the library carriers lots of digital books, but so far, I have not figured out the mechanism for reading on them. I should though, because when I love a book I’ve read digitally, I usually end up buying a paper copy as well. That might be my solution for avoiding buying multiple copies of books. On the other hand, I have to admit that one of the reasons I LOVE reading digitally is that all my favorites are there with me instantly. My iPad has become my security blanket, except that instead of being fuzzy and soft, it’s filled with places that offer comfort and adventure. I’m hooked.Katharyn Sinelli:
I usually buy more than I borrow, especially via Kindle since it doesn't feel like I'm spending real money. Our local library has stepped up it's digital list of YA titles, so I'll also get my fix there. I do like to own copies of my friends' books and titles I'm likely to reference in my writing process. Sometimes I want to know things like how Lani Taylor differentiated Karou's description of Prague from Akita's. Yep, literary nerd through and through. Alyssa Hamilton:
Well I work in a bookstore and it is seriously just temptation after temptation for me everyday. And I usually give in very easily. Having a discount has saved me so much money I can't even believe it. We also get to borrow books from the store, so it's my own personal library :) I haven't taken a book out of a library though in a really long time. I have this extremely bad habit of needing to own my books. One day I'll get back into it!WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Do you borrow most of your books from the library, or do you buy most of your books from the bookstore?
A few weeks back @bysshefields was being really smart on twitter about being a young adult excluded from conversations about Young Adult literature. This is something that has often annoyed me, that the go-to “experts” on the genre for the mainstream media are almost never young adults themselves, that we only rarely hear from the people at whom the category is purportedly aimed. I asked Bysshe if she would write a guest post on the subject for my blog and happily she said yes.
All the words below are hers:
My name is Bysshe and I’m a 19 year old aspiring author who lives in Brooklyn, NYC. I spend most of my time reading and writing.
Two different conversations led to my tweeting about the way YA voices are being ignored. I was talking to a friend (who is also a writer) about how no agent will want to take on my manuscript because it deviates too far from “the norm” (aka straight white girl protagonist being a badass and defeating the government). Both of us know that the audience for our stories is out there; if we and our group of friends, and THEIR groups of friends, and so on and so forth want to read about queer girls of color, then someone out there is lying about what’s actually popular in YA (particularly speculative fiction).
The second conversation occurred when my friend and I were discussing high school trauma, and how we felt that we couldn’t turn to YA because there weren’t representations of kids in our situations. Instead, we were reading books like The Godfather and Fight Club and who knows what other adult-marketed books because there was nothing heavy enough in YA to match how heavy we felt.
In what I’ve written below, I know there are misconceptions about how YA publishing works but I’ve left them in because I think they represent how little communication there is between those who market YA books and their audience. That also ties into what the idea that it’s harder to sell books about non-white/non-middle class/non-straight characters.
I truly, deeply don’t think it’s that they’re harder to sell, so much as people aren’t working as hard to sell them. Social media has taught me that the market is there. My own existence has taught me that the market is there. In my experience, the only people who truly think that diverse books might be harder to sell are people who wouldn’t buy them.
I’m certain that if Sherri L. Smith‘s Orleans got the same explosive blockbuster treatment as, say, Divergent, it would sell. Thinking that it wouldn’t is another example of young adults being underestimated because it suggests that we’re incapable of handling differences, which just isn’t true. I think that if publishers, or whoever’s in charge of properly exposing books, put the same effort into exposing diverse books, we would see a change in how they sell.
Young Adult is defined as the ages of 15 to 25. By this definition, I’m about four-ish years into young adulthood. So far, it feels like a lot of things. It’s stifling, frustrating, exhausting. Sometimes I feel like I won’t make it out of these years alive. As a young adult, a lot of my decisions have already been made for me (if not by an adult, then by circumstances that were generated under adult influences). What little freedom I have has been cut down almost to the point of nonexistence (again, if not directly by adults, then by systems that adults put in place long before I was born).
In spite of the release that reading is supposed to give me, I’ve noticed a trend in mainstream YA literature: it’s exactly the same as reality, in that I have close-to-no input with regards to what happens in it.
There are a lot of teams on the playing field of the YA lit scene. Out of everyone, I feel a lot like Frodo at the Council of Elrond as I struggle to assert my voice over the Big Folk who seem to think that only they know what’s best for Middle-earth.
Just like Middle-earth, the world has become an increasingly toxic place for people my age to navigate. And basically, the parameters for the books we turn to for empathy and escape are shaped and defined by people who have little to no idea what we’re going through; people who make laundry lists of what YA is/is not, or what YA does/does not need. People telling us what we can/can’t handle, what we are/are not ready for despite the amount of things we’ve already been through. As we write our own stories and seek publication, I’ve had my own friends go over YA parameters they disagreed with but feel the need to adhere to. They’re always something like this:
- No blatant sex, drugs, violence, or cursing.
- Nothing too complex.
- No adults.
- Stick to characters and themes that are easy to understand.
Otherwise, the book “won’t sell”. Won’t sell to whom?
I’d sure as hell buy something that went against each and every one of those points. You know how that list translates to me?
- Sex, violence, and so forth are not a part of adolescence.
- Young adults are unintelligent.
- Young adults have no adults in their lives.
- Young adults don’t have real problems—never mind the harsh and diverse realities of abuse, rape, deportation, international terrorism, identity crises, mental health, the trauma of high school, etc. Let’s dumb this down, then turn it into a blockbuster film series. The end.
Have the majority of editors in YA publishing houses ever actually spoken to a young adult? If you have, have you asked them what they needed to read? What they needed empathy for? Have you, as an adult, tried to think back on what you needed to hear when you were my age or younger? Because if yes to any of those, then it isn’t showing. None of the Big Folk seem to have ANY idea what I needed to read at the age of 16, and what I still need to read now at the age of 19.
When I was an even younger young adult than I am now, I needed to read about sex. I can already visualize a bunch of mainstream authors pulling on puppy faces and gesturing to copies of their novels: “But what about my—?”
Stop right there. As a young, queer girl of color, I needed—no, NEED to read about sex. Heroines of my race having sex in a way that isn’t hyper-sexualized. Heroines having sex that isn’t just romanticized rape. Heroines having sex with multiple partners over the course of a series, because the first-boyfriend-only-boyfriend model is a dangerous misconstruction of reality.
I wanted heroines who know that it’s okay to fall in love multiple times. Heroines who know that it’s okay to leave relationships. I wanted to read about queer kids having sex. Period. None of those fade-to-black sex scenes between straight characters have ever taught me anything about safe, healthy sexual relationships. Sure, I could go to Planned Parenthood for that, but that’s embarrassing and terrifying for a kid to have to do and I’d rather just access my bookshelf like I do for everything else.
You know what? Sixteen-year-old me wanted to read about sex because she wanted to read about sex. Period. Good portrayals of sex are something that sixteen-year-old me desperately needed, and that nineteen-year-old me desperately needs now. Good portrayals of sex help kids to learn the signs of abusive, coercive relationships. “But that’s too explicit” my ass. The virgin, white-girl heroine never taught me anything except that my version of adolescence was dirty and needed to be kept off the shelves.
I needed to see violence—not some sick gore fest or anything, but something that subverted the violence happening around me. I grew up in Detroit—America’s capital of violent crime and murder. If you know anything about Detroit, then you know it’s closer than any city in America to becoming a modern urban dystopia. And yet the only message I’ve managed to pull from half the dystopias on shelves is that “the government” is “after me”.
How is the government after me? Is it the devastating impact of capitalism on the working class? Is it the fucked up education system? The school-to-prison pipeline? The military industrial complex? The ever present hetero-patriarchy that many, YA writers, editors, and publishers included, are complicit in? Because after taking a long list of classes and reading a long list of essays, I’ve finally figured out that, yes, those are the problems. But somehow my books couldn’t tell me that. Interesting.
Surprisingly, I need to see adults. I’m really curious about this one. Why do adult writers of young adult books tend to write adults out of the picture? Or else portray them as flat, villainous characters?
Throughout high school, I had a very tumultuous relationship with my mother, and definitely needed to see people my age communicating effectively with their parents. After having endured many mentally and verbally abusive teachers, I learned to neither trust nor respect adults, but to fear them. Even though I was going to be an adult soon, I hated all of them and had no idea how to approach them.
Reading about abusive adults in YA lit hasn’t done anything to heal me from that. I definitely needed to see that it was possible for someone my age to have a connection with an adult that wasn’t full of miscommunications and didn’t border on abusive. At this point, I’d say that stereotyping adults as vapid villains does more harm than good.
More than anything, I need a spectrum of issues—a whole rainbow of characters and themes to match my identity, and the identities of the many people I know. This is probably more important to me than any of the above.
Adults in the publishing industry are currently responsible for the devastating and, frankly, embarrassing lack of diversity in the YA canon. Publishers and edits and basically everyone else who’s not writing what they see for a living, don’t seem to think we’re capable of handling a catalog of diverse narratives—which is complete and utter bullshit.
Don’t project your racist, sexist, transphobic, queerphobic, xenophobic, and otherwise marginalizing overview of reality onto my generation. Our realities encompass racial identity, gender identity, sexuality, religion, mental illness, disability, abusive relationships, poverty, immigration. The list goes on and on, and we need to see people with complex identities and narratives in our fiction.
We need to see people coping with racism. We need to see queer and trans people coming out of the closet. We need to see queer and trans people doing things OTHER than coming out of the closet. Seriously. There’s always been more to my life than queer angst. There is more to my queer life than the closet, than simply telling people that I’m queer.
We need to see queer kids breaking out of the established set of queer tropes. We need to see people ending unhealthy relationships and forming newer, healthy ones. We need to see all the issues that the Big Folk think they’re hiding from us because these issues are not exclusive to adults. These things are happening to us, too, and censoring in our fiction only makes us feel more alone. We need to see these things happening to people like us in the books that we’re supposed to be able to turn to. Even if the character’s problems aren’t solved, just knowing that someone with the same issues means the world to people who feel trapped in their lives.
I don’t think this is an issue with authorship. I don’t think this is an issue of editorship, either. To be honest, I’m not sure what type of issue it is. All I know is that I am very, very frustrated with the lack of complexity and diversity in the mainstream catalog of books for my age range. I think that there are plenty of authors I haven’t heard about writing just for me, but for one reason or another, I can’t access them.
Justine provided an excellent insight, which is that it isn’t that things aren’t being published, but because they’re not being promoted as heavily as the big books like Divergent. Or they’re being published by smaller publishers with a smaller reach. Or they’re not being published at all.
Is it that adult-operated publishing houses are telling adult writers what they should/shouldn’t be writing for the YA audience, without first consulting the audience itself? If so, this is blatantly disrespectful not only to authors, but to me, because a large portion of the industry that wants my support doesn’t respect my identity or my intelligence. I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve given wide berth to the young adult bookshelves while I sit back to write the series I’ve always wanted to read. If it weren’t for the fact that I eventually want to be published, I might’ve quit altogether.
But I don’t want to quit.
The books I’ve needed to read are out there. They’re just few and far in between. Orleans by Sherri L. Smith follows a young, black rape survivor navigating a hostile post-deluge New Orleans, where people are hunted for their blood. Coda by Emma Trevayne follows a diverse group of teens operating within a dystopia fuelled by music. Pointe by Brandy Colbert features a black girl protagonist with an eating disorder and deals with a multitude of heavy issues that teens in her situation might normally face. Last year’s If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan is a f/f love story set in Iran. The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina features an Aboriginal Australian protagonist in a supernatural dystopian future. These books are all immensely important, but they’re under-marketed, and even then, they’re not enough.
YA lit is too important to be given up on, and instead needs to be worked on. Many of the criticisms of YA are baseless and frivolous, such as the notion that adults should be embarrassed to read YA because, according to Slate, it’s all “written for children.” Bullshit.
If after the age of 25, I can only read the Adult Literary Canon™ for the rest of my life, I may as well just sign out now. It’s easy enough to address all these problems: cut down on the Big Folk vs. Hobbit mentality. Publishers need to start treating their young adult audiences like growing, developing human beings, or else the industry runs the risk of ending up as dystopic as half the books on the shelves. Stop telling us what we need and ask us instead.
We are more than just a market. This should be a partnership.
If you're looking to keep track of your literary adventures this summer, I've drawn a reading list that will satisfy just that purpose. You can find the PDF download below -- it's free for all personal, library and classroom usage. Happy reading!
© Abigail Halpin 2014
Cathy Gifford, like so many program directors, was on a tight budget. In 2011, the director at Jean Dean RIF (Reading is Fundamental) found herself needing to cut 14,000 books from her program. This meant that many of the children she served in her Alabama town would go without the gift of reading this year.
Cathy came to First Book with her dilemma. Because she needed many copies of a few specific titles, we were able to complete a special order for her – working with publishers to drive down the cost of each book to a price Jean Dean RIF could afford.
The result? Over the last three years Cathy has been able to purchase 45,000 books to be distributed through Jean Dean RIF for only $114,000. That’s an average of just $2.50 per book, and savings of 64% overall. And most importantly, 25,000 kids every year are getting brand new books – many for the first time – to give them a strong start in life.
Every year, Alabama RIF helps close to 25,000 at-risk young children receive three books in their homes to help them succeed when they get to school, and go on to thrive in life thanks to our partnership and your generosity.
Need more than 1,000 copies of a single title? Reach out to us about a Special Order at email@example.com. We look forward to helping you get all the books you need for your kids!
The post Success Stories: 45,000 More Books in Alabama appeared first on First Book Blog.
By: Stacy Dillon,
It's year 3 of the #summerthrowdown
, y'all! What is the summer throwdown, you ask? Well, it started as a friendly competition between teachers and librarians to see who could get the most reading done in a month. Over the years it has morphed into a read-o-rama, where we all try to read as much as we can to inform our readers advisory skills.
When I do the #summerthrowdown I tend to read across age groups so that I can recommend books to all constituents in our school - from the 4 year olds to the 15 year olds to parents and care givers. So while you will be hearing about the tween titles more fully here, I am going to give a couple brief synopses of some of the books I have read and enjoyed that fall out of the tween age group.
First off we have Noggin
, by John Corey Whaley. Travis Coates opted for a radical treatment to his cancer - having his head removed and placed in a cyrogenics lab to await a possible body donation sometime in the future. But the future comes sooner than anyone can imagine. After only 5 years, Travis is still 16 and his best friend and girlfriend seem to have moved on, his parents are off and he feels like a freak. How will he make it through this transformation?
Next, we have Alex London's follow up to Proxy called Guardian
. The Rebooters have taken over and the Reconciliation has placed Syd (Yovel) at its head, given him a bodyguard and are trying to reform the world. Power, however, is an interesting thing and perhaps the leanings of those in charge of the Reconciliation aren't where they should be. Larger than life characters and constant action will keep fans of the first installment wanting more.A Time to Dance
, by Padma Venkatraman is a stunning account of dancer Veda's journey as a dancer. She has always wanted to dance, has breathed rhythm and feels strongly enough to go against her mother's wishes for her education. Where a terrible crash leaves her an amputee, Veda has to find a way to dance again. Beautifully written, this story is a must read.
And finally Toms River
, by Dan Fagin. I am still working on this one, but this account of small towns and industrial pollution has this former resident of Niagara captivated. I keep having to read bits aloud, because I simply cannot believe what was going on unbeknownst to most residents of Toms River in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Fascinating and horrifying all at once.
So head on over to the Summer Throwdown and get reading!
By: Jen Robinson
Blog: Jen Robinson
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Here are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. This week's topics include book lists and awards, common core and nonfiction, growing bookworms, reading, publishing, schools, libraries, and summer reading.
Book Lists and Awards
International Reading Association 2014 Book Awards | @tashrow http://ow.ly/yrDr6 #kidlit @IRAToday
The 2014 New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year is The Boring Book by Vasanti Unka http://ow.ly/ymcXW via @bkshelvesofdoom
The 2014 Carnegie Medal has been awarded to Kevin Brooks for The Bunker Diary, reports @bkshelvesofdoom http://ow.ly/ymcJX
My Magnificent Seven: Fiction Books for Tech Lovers from @BookZone http://ow.ly/yudF2 #yalit #kidlit
Stacked: 2014 Printz and Morris Predictions at the Half-Way Point from @catagator http://ow.ly/yudgo #YAlit
A fun list! 14 Chapter Books about the Theater from @momandkiddo http://ow.ly/ymcbF #kidlit
13 Books with #LGBTQ Characters, #booklist from @Book_Nut http://ow.ly/ykdnF #kidlit
The @bookchook Ten Top Picture Books http://ow.ly/ykdj0 #kidlit #literacy
A new #booklist from @FuseEight | 2014 Quaker Books for Quaker Kids http://ow.ly/ymd8I #kidlit
Common Core / Nonfiction
The Uncommon Corps: Mary Ann Cappiello calls for #Nonfiction Book Festivals for Kids http://ow.ly/ypPWE #kidlit
Shanahan on #Literacy: The New Bane of Beginning Reading Instruction: Phony Rigor http://ow.ly/ypPTd #CommonCore
American Academy of Pediatrics Backs Reading Aloud from Infancy http://ow.ly/ypMVm via @PWKidsBookshelf @ReachOutAndRead @Scholastic
Pediatricians recognize importance of reading aloud to babies | @JGCanada on news from American Academy of Pediatrics http://ow.ly/ypPZu
"Reading aloud to infants is a powerful message to send to all parents" | @tashrow on new MD recs re: reading aloud http://ow.ly/ypQ2u
Reading Tips for Parents of Babies | @ReadingRockets via @librareanne http://ow.ly/yua2A#GrowingBookworms
What to Do When Reading Is Too "Sitty" | @ImaginationSoup @readingrockets via @librareanne http://ow.ly/ykdg6 #literacy
So cool! First Photos Of Universal's Diagon Alley Are A Harry Potter Nerd's Dream Come True http://ow.ly/ykdmO via @bkshelvesofdoom
Thomas the Tank Engine chugs its way to Edaville Railroad in MA. I remember visiting Edaville as a kid :-) http://ow.ly/yeKMf
I love programs like this: Google pushes girls into coding with 'Made With Code' program - @MercuryNews http://ow.ly/yh609
On Reading, Blogging, and Publishing
I read books. Does that make me a nerd? asks teen columnist in @GuardianBooks http://ow.ly/yeKAQ via @PWKidsBookshelf
A Mini-Rant on Censorship from Becky Levine, inspired by a recent post by @halseanderson http://ow.ly/yrEHt
Bill at Literate Lives shares 5 Things That Made Him a Reader (incl. Willy Wonka) http://ow.ly/yrF0o #literacy
100 First Lines from speculative #kidlit | Follow-Up: The Answers! | Views From the Tesseract http://ow.ly/ykdC9
Must-read post for book bloggers from @catagator at Stacked: On Blogging, Responsibility, and Content Ownership http://ow.ly/ymdWC
So sad to hear via @bkshelvesofdoom that the Strange Chemistry #yalit imprint is being discontinued http://ow.ly/yh3au @StrangeChem
Schools and Libraries
Way to make a difference! Bookmobile donated by Ellen DeGeneres keeps kids reading - Tulsa World http://ow.ly/yv1tV #libraries
Lemony Snicket Helps 'Little Free Library' Advocate Spencer Collins @HuffPostBooks http://ow.ly/yv1pq @PWKidsBookshelf
A detailed description of her library's 1st Digital Storytime (iPad apps projected on big screen) from @greenbeanblog http://ow.ly/yrDRB
From the Office of the Future of Reading feature @KirbyLarson says Farewell at least for the summer #libraries http://ow.ly/yuceZ
Good stuff from The Show Me Librarian: Thoughts on Reader's Advisory http://ow.ly/ymec9 #libraries
New York Schools Chief Advocates More ‘Balanced #Literacy’ @NYTimes via @PWKidsBookshelf http://ow.ly/yv1fY
Uncommon Corps: Get a Grip: We Need to Focus This Conversation about Including Parents in Education | Myra Zarnowski http://ow.ly/yuby5
New Baskets for Our 3rd Grade Classroom Library, @frankisibberson 's plans to keep her classroom library fresh http://ow.ly/ypPHf
"When I do give homework I’m pretty fanatic about the kids doing it on their own." @medinger on homework + parents http://ow.ly/ykdrG
Middle School Student-Parent Book Club – A Recipe for Success by @annhagedorn @NerdyBookClub http://ow.ly/yh5d7
Books Beat Summer Slide, nice graphic @FirstBook blog http://ow.ly/yh1Fg #SummerReading
Good advice from Alysa @Everead : How to Visit the #Library with Kids http://ow.ly/yh4IN#SummerReading
Nashville Public Library Reinvents Its #SummerReading Model, Sees Early Success | Lindsey Patrick in @sljournal http://ow.ly/yuDxw
Children's #SummerReading Guide 2014: Level 1 Readers + Beyond - how publishers + librarians try to help parents @wsj http://ow.ly/yrBhB
Raising #SummerReaders: Tip-a-Day series | Raising Great Readers with Great Books by @aliposner http://ow.ly/ykduk
Raising Summer Readers Tip-a-Day #2: Create a Summer Bucket List from @aliposner http://ow.ly/ymdfR #GrowingBookworms
#SummerReading Tip-a-Day #3: Make sure your child always has a next book in mind for after the current one @aliposner http://ow.ly/ypPJW
Raising #SummerReading Tip-a-Day #4: Help your children make “summer book bags” | @aliposner http://ow.ly/yrEgj
Continuing the series from @MaryAnnScheuer | Summer Reading Favorites: 4th grade suggestions http://ow.ly/ymcRD #kidlit
Great Kid Books: #SummerReading Favorites: 5th grade suggestions from @MaryAnnScheuer http://ow.ly/yuaNb #kidlit
Nice list of #SummerReading suggestions for kids from Mike Lewis (link goes to PDF) http://ow.ly/ymexO via @FuseEight
First Book's Summer Book List: High School includes Mare's War by Tanita Davis :-) http://ow.ly/yh1sC@FirstBook
So glad to hear that @lochwouters experience of Going Prizeless in her library #SummerReading program is going well http://ow.ly/yh2hI
© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.
After the let’s-call-it fruitful debate a few months ago on this blog on the value of reading, I was left uneasy. I felt that the question I was truly interested in hadn’t been addressed; instead, the discussion revolved around ‘trash’ and ‘quality’ literature, which wasn’t what I felt to be central to my post.
But I fully understand why. My original post was unnecessarily vociferous and talked about ‘trash’ without definition. I knew very well that it would be a controversial post, but I wrote it too fast and I should have anticipated that this particular aspect would dominate the discussion.
What I was really interested in was the following question: ‘Who benefits most from the notion that any reading is preferable to no reading (or to encounters with other media such as films and video games) in childhood?’
My original blog post failed in part because I was not assertive enough in expressing why there may be an issue with the valorisation of (‘just any’) reading in childhood. I tentatively said things like ‘There are problematic ideological and economic reasons why…’, but didn’t spell them out. I would like to go back to this point because I do think it’s important to have a discussion about it.
Of course, I see reading as essential – and not just because verbal literacy is an important skill. Like all of us on this blog, I do believe that there is something about reading that sets it apart from other types of artistic or fictional encounters, and I love nothing more than seeing children who enjoy reading.
However, I think we have to admit that that somethingis very hard to pin down, and I am unconvinced by the unspoken hierarchy which puts reading ‘above’ film-watching, video-game-playing etc. in the minds of adults who care about and look after children.
(Therefore I completely agree with all the commenters who said that there should be no hierarchy between ‘classic’ novels and comics, for instance. I said this in a comment that got buried somewhere: I am NOT a 'genre' or 'media snob': I do not classify 'low' and 'high' quality literature in terms of genres or media. On the contrary; I think such distinctions can only exist within genres and media. This is between brackets because I don’t wish to get into another conversation about ‘trash’ and ‘quality’, but go ahead if you really want to…)
I’m unconvinced by this hierarchy, but moreover I am worried about who and what it serves. Of course, it uncontroversially serves children. Having motivated and passionate mediators, teachers, librarians, parents who value reading makes children from all backgrounds more likely to encounter books and to enjoy reading.
However, the undebated claim that any reading is good is also highly profitable to the publishing industry as a whole, indiscriminately. And here I'm uncomfortable. As authors, we don’t want to criticise the publishing industry; we want to support it. Publishing is in a state of unprecedented crisis, so we don’t want to make distinctions as to which parts of the industry to support and which parts to criticise, especially on such elusive grounds as ‘quality’.
Furthermore, authors are under pressure (implicit or explicit) not to express negative opinions they may have about the publishing industry. Mid-list authors, especially, can’t afford to talk about requests they get to make books more commercial, more gendered or less political. The problem doesn’t come from individual editors of course; very often they are distraught to be making such requests. They are themselves under pressure from other departments.
Regardless; in the Anglo-Saxon market, children’s publishers profit to a very large extent from the consensus that any readingis better than no reading when it comes to children. We should talk about this fact much more than we currently do, because it is problematic. The publishing industry has a very strong financial incentive in maintaining this consensus – and currently, I think that we (authors, mediators, teachers, librarians= 'child people') are maintaining it for them, for free.
When we say that ‘it’s good’ that children are reading, whateverthey may be reading, we are not just supporting ‘reading for pleasure’ (though I accept that we are in part). The sincere desire to be on the side of children is not met by an equally sincere wish on the part of the publishing industry, too many aspects of which are utterly unburdened by such considerations as artistic worth, child development or the value and pleasures of reading. And yes, I know, #NotAllPublishers.
Like several other commenters, I think the dichotomy between ‘reading for pleasure’ and ‘serious’ or ‘quality’ reading is hugely problematic. This dichotomy happens to profit, very conveniently, contemporary children’s publishing in its most undesirable aspects.
By ‘most undesirable aspects’ I mean extreme commercialism, market imperatives superseding or driving editorial work, reliance on formulae and ‘what sells to TV or cinema’, etc. And often, this leads to the production of books which are ideologically problematic (resting on lazy sexist, racist, classist, etc., clichés).
There is always the argument, of course, that those profit-driven aspects of the publishing industry serve to fund the more niche, quality books. This argument may be valid in part, but it’s too neat a defence to convince me fully.
I’m not naïve – I know very well that ‘publishing isn’t a charity’ (that’s something we hear a lot as writers - another mantra we gradually internalise.) I don’t think there is an easy solution to these problems. Other countries do things differently, privileging quality and accepting very niche books, but writers earn much less money than we do here (yes, it’s possible…) and there’s virtually no way of scraping a living out of writing.
I do believe that a quiet way of making a small difference could be to stop condoning the indiscriminate statement that any reading is a good thing (which doesn’t mean ripping books out of children’s hands – just saying this in case someone is tempted to pull the ‘censorship alert’ cord).
A not-so-quiet way is to have this kind of debate, politely but firmly, on a public forum such as this one.
Clementine Beauvais writes children's books in both French and English. She blogs here about children's literature and academia and is on Twitter @blueclementine.
I’m always fascinated hearing about the childhood books that influenced other writers. Last month, the very awesome Will Kostakis looked at the reading that shaped him as an author, which, not surprisingly, had quite few entries that would make my list too (The Hobbit! Fight Club!) There are plenty of books that I’ve fallen in love with as an adult, and quite a few that I’ve loved so much that I’ve had to re-read them, some more than once. But I’m not sure that these books have had quite the same impact and influence as the books I read and loved as a kid. So, following Will’s list, here is the history of me, as a reader, in a very condensed nutshell:
Like Will, my earliest reading memories are all Enid Blyton. The Magic Faraway Tree was definitely a favourite, but The Naughtiest Girl and The Wishing Chair series’ were also right on top of my list. These are books where I would come to the last page, and then turn back and start reading right from the beginning again, sometimes without a break in between, because I just couldn’t stand being away from that world. Oh, and the food – I wanted to eat ALL THE THINGS! No writer has ever managed to make a picnic with ginger beer and jam sandwiches and handfuls of radishes sound quite as appealing as Enid Blyton.
I’m not sure if I was unusual, but I never really enjoyed being read to as a kid; mostly, I think, because I liked being in my own head with my books. But I did have one primary school teacher who was the master of the spellbinding reading, and the best part of the day quickly became story time before the final bell. He is directly responsible for my discovery of all things Roald Dahl. While The BFG became a go-to happy book, Danny the Champion of the World was a stand-out for me. I haven’t read it in years, but I still remember the pheasants, and the hot coco, and the warm and fuzzies in the relationship between Danny and his dad.
[For the month of June, I will be writer-in-resident at the fab Inside a Dog - you can read the rest of this post here]
|Guy Davenport, illustration from Apples & Pears|
I've just begun reading Andre Furlani's Guy Davenport: Postmodern and After
, a magnificent book (so far), and went to track down one of the items cited there, a 2002 interview by B. Renner for the website Elimae
. Alas, the site seems to have died, but god bless the Wayback Machine: here it is, cached.
The interview is not as meaty as some others, for instance Davenport's Paris Review interview
, but it's always interesting, and I was particularly struck by this:
DAVENPORT: At Duke I took Prof Blackburn's Creative Writing course (Bill Styron and Mac Hyman were in the class) and got the wrong impression that writing is an effusion of genius and talent. Also, that writing fiction is Expression of significant and deep inner emotion. It took me years to shake off all this. Writing is making a construct, and what's in the story is what's important. And style: in what words and phrases the story is told. (William Blackburn, the full name. His guiding us all toward autobiographical, confessional, "emotional" writing is -- in reaction -- why I write about concrete objectivities that are fairly remote from my own experiences. I like to imagine how other people feel in a world different from my own.)
ELIMAE: Almost none of your stories take place in the U.S. or involve American characters. Is there a particular reason for this? Are Americans and the U.S. less noteworthy than other peoples and places, especially Europeans and Europe, or is it as simple as a matter of going to subject matter that hasn't already been done to death by other American writers?
DAVENPORT: A clever critic might note that they are all set in the USA. "Tatlin!" is a fable about totalitarian governments strangling creativity, not always blatantly and openly. At the time I was lecturing on Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil, the classic study in our time of Government and The Poet. Vladimir Tatlin's genius suffocated by Stalin seemed to me to be paradigmatic and timely. I learned from Kafka's Amerika that you don't have to have a realistic knowledge of a place, and from Nabokov that "realism" is simply a fashionable mode.
We are still immigrants. Culture imports and exports. There was a great anxiety that European culture would be obliterated twice in the 20th century. I became interested in "Europe" through Whistler's etchings.
And then there's a Davenport desert island list!
ELIMAE: Here's my version of the "desert island" question: if you could select any six books (besides your own) originally written in your lifetime, and be the author of those books, which six would they be?
DAVENPORT: Your 6 books question is diabolical! I couldn't have written any of 'em.
Eudora Welty, The Golden Apples
P. Fitzgerald, The Blue Flower
Michel Tournier, Les Meteores
Isak Dinesen, Anecdotes of Destiny
Mann, Doktor Faustus
Finally, I also found an interesting mention of Davenport in this interview with John Jeremiah Sullivan
, whose whole response about the connection of writing and reading is great, but here's the Davenport part:
That said, how do you get to be a better reader? I asked Guy Davenport this question one time, because talking to him could really make a person despair; he just knew so much, he’d read so much in many languages, but not in a pedantic or scholastic way, in a really passionate way. He gave me what I thought was very solid advice, which was: first of all, start reading and don’t stop. The other thing is to follow your interest. He said there ought to be a phrase, “falling into interest,” to go with falling in love.
Follow your interest; follow the writers who energize you, not the ones who exert a sense of obligation on you. The books that do the one or the other will change, as time gone on. The landscape shifts. Don’t adhere to systems unless that feels good.
Despite a preponderance of research that shows that external motivators do not increase student engagement and motivation over the long-term, it still seems that you can’t find an elementary school where reading is not at some point tied to coupons to free food, stickers, certificates, or miscellaneous prizes.
These gimmicks and contests do reiterate that reading is fun — but only if you get something for doing it. Recently my own school had one of these contests and the experience not only proved ineffective at cultivating a passion for reading in my students, but actually reduced the excitement that some of my them had for reading.
This time around the incentive that was supposed to spur children to become lifelong readers was bikes. For each book read, that child would receive one ticket to be entered into a drawing for a bike.
Each classroom would have two winners: one girl and one boy.
Initially, what upset me most was the division between males and females. My students and I have done a lot of work around gender and stereotypes and this contest seemed sure to reinforce binaries that my students had been learning to question. Additionally, my class has a tremendous gender imbalance, so the odds of winning the bike were almost three times higher if you were a boy — a fact one of my bright young mathematicians pointed out during one of our conversations about the contest.
Though I inquired about the possibility of having a single classroom box and two of the “boy” bikes as the prizes for my classroom, I was told that the “bikes had already been ordered.” As a new teacher, I felt I had to settle for taking the boy box and the girl box, even though it went against my better judgment. While we had some great student-prompted conversations about why there were two boxes, it was difficult to settle for “that’s what the adults who set up the contest said that we had to do.”
As the date for the bike drawing approached, only about half of my students had participated in the contest and I had observed no changes in my students’ reading behaviors. I did, however, witness a number of contest participants quickly flipping through books so they could add the title to their “books read” lists. As with most contests of this type, accountability is difficult to ensure and enforce and the enjoyment of reading a book becomes reduced to a simple means to an end.
On the day of the drawing, my students were moderately excited. Two highly gender-stereotyped bikes had been sitting in the atrium of our school for over a week to drum up excitement. (The boys bike was red and black while the girls was white, purple, and pink — with streamers, of course.) When it was time for the winners in our classroom to be drawn, I halfheartedly pulled out the two names — one from the boy box and one from the girl box.
I was so relieved that the contest was finally over, but my students were certainly not done thinking about it. A few minutes later, a girl who hadn’t participated in the contest came over to me and told me “it hurt her feelings that she had to sit there and watch other kids get stuff.” Another three students in my classroom left the assembly in or close to tears. The melancholy that had swept over my students was palpable and painful to witness. The assembly certainly hadn’t felt like the “celebration of reading” that the organization sponsoring the program had promised.
After the assembly, we talked as a class and discussed ways that the contest might be improved. Their ideas included having a prize that the whole class could win for reading, having everyone win bikes, and having books as prizes. At the end of the talk, one girl said — to nodded approval from her peers — “I just wish that this contest had never happened.”
Another student, who had read the most books in our class but didn’t win, kept repeating: “I read 82 books and I got nothing.” Despite my reassurances that she had gotten to enjoy the experiences of all of those wonderful books and had definitely become smarter as she learned things from the books, she remained dejected.
Whether it is with pizza, stickers, or free movie passes, attempts to incentivize reading fail to cultivate the habits of lifelong readers and send the message that reading is something you should do only to get something in return. Yet these contests continue to proliferate and are constantly dressed up with flashier prizes and greater promises to improve reading habits.
What explains the ubiquity of these contests? I think it is in part, because they seem so harmless. An outside organization or sponsor generously offers to support reading — most likely with the best of intentions. The seemingly innocuous nature of these contests is what makes them particularly sinister. After all, who would argue that giving away bikes to kids who might not have one is a bad thing? The school and local community would most likely vilify a teacher daring to stand up in opposition to such a program. (I’ll let you know how that goes when I argue against repeating this contest next year.)
I am convinced that we must rescue our students from contests of these sorts. If we don’t, we may end up with students who refuse to read a book without the promise of getting something. Surely there must be better ways to engage community partners in joining us on our journey to create lifelong readers who are intrinsically motivated to explore the wonderful world of books without resorting to contests that leave students reflecting that they read but “got nothing.”
The post What do I get if I read this? appeared first on The Horn Book.
Ask Aria Morse anything, and she must answer with the truth. Yet she rarely understands the cryptic words she‘s compelled to utter. Blessed—or cursed—with the power of an Oracle who cannot decipher her own predictions, she does her best to avoid anyone and everyone.
But Aria can no longer hide when Jade, one of the few girls at school who ever showed her any kindness, disappears. Any time Aria overhears a question about Jade, she inadvertently reveals something new, a clue or hint as to why Jade vanished. But like stray pieces from different puzzles, her words never present a clear picture.
Then there’s Alex, damaged and dangerous, but the first person other than Jade to stand up for her. And Will, who offers a bond that seems impossible for a girl who’s always been alone. Both were involved with Jade. Aria may be the only one who can find out what happened, but the closer she gets to solving the crime, the more she becomes a target. Not everyone wants the truth to come out.
First, I love the name Aria, and considering she almost sings her answers in a very prophetic manner, the name really suited this character. Aria has a gift, but she sees it as a curse because it makes her different from everyone else. She can't ignore questions. That means she mutters to herself in class, walking down the hall, and even when watching TV. And what really bothers Aria is that she doesn't always understand her own answers.
So when a girl from her school goes missing, Aria finds herself in a really awful situation. Everyone has questions about Jade, and Aria has answers. She just can't figure out what they mean. And when the two biggest suspects, Jade's boyfriend and the guy she's been seeing on the side, both want to befriend Aria, things get even stranger.
I have to admit I figured out who the killer was, but I still enjoyed the story. Decoding Aria's riddle-like answers was a lot of fun. This is definitely an enjoyable thriller.
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If I were able to visit London right now, I would SO be checking out as many BookBenches as I could find. Books About Town on display in London from July 2 - September 15, 2014. What a wonderful celebration of London's literary heritage and reading for enjoyment!
I was especially delighted to see a bench devoted to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (see above). I clearly remember receiving this book as a Christmas gift from my Aunt Agnes when I was nine years old. I LOVED this book and immediately read all the other books in the series.
The illustrations were a big part of the story experience for me, as I’m sure it was for many other young readers.
Anyway, the Narnia BookBench had lovely art by Mandii Pope, but I do wish the BookBench description had also given credit to the illustrator of the original book edition, Pauline Baynes, since the BookBench art was clearly an homage to the original.
Above: Photo from the 2008 obituary for Ms. Baynes in The Independent.
Did you know that Pauline Baynes illustrated some of Tolkien’s early work, and that he had hoped she would illustrate The Lord Of The Rings? The project ended up being too huge to include illustrations, but she did create beautifully drawn and coloured versions of Tolkien’s maps for a later edition of LOTR.
C.S. Lewis was a friend of Tolkien’s, and Baynes became the illustrator of the Narnia books. I love her diary entry for one of only two meetings that she had with C.S. Lewis:
“Met C.S. Lewis. Came home. Made rock cakes."
You can read more about Pauline Baynes on Wikipedia and in The Independent obituary.
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