Weekend Wonderings

Remember these?

I’ve been doing more of that blog navel-gazing that we all do from time to time.  I decided to examine the archives for my first couple of months and see what I came up with.  I was looking for purpose and intent as well as content, and I ended up reminding myself that this is a blog about my reading experiences.  It is, essentially, a personal blog that sometimes contains reviews and interviews, but has my own reactions to books at its core.

This weekend’s wondering:
What is your personal history as a reader?

This was a freewrite that we had in my YA Lit class this past Monday.  The professor asked us to write about our reading history for ten minutes, including earliest memories and influences.  (I was extraordinarily prepared to write about this, as I’d spent the whole weekend thinking and chatting on Facebook with folks about the defining literature of their own adolescence.)

Here’s mine, completely unedited except to protect names of folks I don’t communicate with anymore or places that might rather not be mentioned.

My earliest memories of reading have very little to do with actual reading and it’s hard to separate my memories from anecdotes my mother told me.  My first book was Stop, Go, Word Bird! And I read it when I was three.  Around that time I also tried to exit the library through an emergency exit door, which colors all of my memories of the Melbourne public library.

I don’t remember learning to read – I was so small that almost all of my memories from that time have faded.  My mother was the biggest influence on my reading – she would read with and to me and once I became an independent reader she would recommend books for me.  I remember when I was in second grade or fourth grade (sometime in Tallahassee) and she was reading the Xanth books and I wanted to read them too and she said I was too young (which now I’m all, what?) but then when I was in middle school I was allowed to read them.

In middle school and high school, I read science fiction and fantasy almost exclusively, focusing primarily on the work of Piers Anthony.  I can trace my development as a young adult through his books: I started with Xanth (Ogre, Ogre) and then moved on to the Incarnations of Immortality.  Then I read the Mode series, which for some reason is inextricably linked in my mind with adolescence.  (Probably because I read it in 8th grade which was a hard year and because Colene was 14, much younger than the main characters in Xanth or Incarnations.)  I kept up a correspondence with Piers which was exciting and fueled my desire to read his books more.  (I remember reading and re-reading my one copy of Hi Piers over and over again.  Piers went with me on a lot of field trips, now that I think about it.)

I was in the middle of an Incarnations re-read when I met Will, and he encouraged me to pick up the Apprentice Adept series which I did – I read those during the spring of my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college.  I think after that I read the Bio of a Space Tyrant series.

Letters to Jenny (like Alina said) falls in there somewhere, as does Tarot, but I can’t place either of them.  Tarot is maybe my junior year of high school (I bought it the summer I met Will but I think I checked it out from the library before that) and Letters to Jenny much earlier.

Libraries played a big role in my reading history but a quiet one.  I never asked for help selecting books  – I would browse a lot and picked up the vampire books by Caroline B. Cooney and I volunteered at the library which was probably one of the happiest summers of my life.  I loved the library and it was a source for much more than books – we checked out the same music and videos over and over again (I’m not sure why the French La Cage was such a favorite, but it was).

I loved school librarians – Mrs. F and Mrs. L especially (although I didn’t really know the librarians at my high school).  I felt very at home and grown up at the library.  I still have and use that 20 year old library card.

So what about you?  In the comments or a post at your own blog, tell us your personal reading history.

Reading: When to Give Up on a Book

Over at Read Roger, The Horn Book editor Roger Sutton wants to know:

I’m curious to know what rules other people out there might have for Giving Up. (And Fessing Up: how much of a book do you have to have read in order to say that you read it?)

How long do you wait to stop reading a book?  Do you slog on through anyway?

I used to give a book 100 pages, but now I usually give it 50.  I figure if after 50 pages I don’t care what happens, I won’t care after 100 either.  But then there are books where I kind of don’t care but they are interesting enough that I will go on and finish them.  I recently read Queen Victoria’s Bomb, which falls into this category.

I usually don’t say that I’ve read a book unless I completely consumed the narrative.  Sometimes this does involve the kind of dual-level reading though, where while you are sort of taking in the words on the page, you’re really thinking about something else.  I’m never sure how to determine if I’ve fully read a non-fiction book.  Do I need to read all the appendices to claim I’ve read it?  What if it’s got recipes sprinkled throughout?  If I don’t read "Preheat oven to 400 degrees," does that mean I haven’t really read the book?

What do you think?

Movies and Reading Habits

Looking at my list of books read and unreviewed, I find both The Golden Compass and Twilight.

I think it’s of interest that each of these is the first of a trilogy I haven’t finished, and each has a movie adaptation. I bought Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist when the movie came out and haven’t read it yet.

When I was reading The Lord of the Rings, I was careful to read each book not too long before the movie came out, so that I would have the book fresh in my mind when I saw the movie. I’m not a big re-reader; I have re-read only a few novels in my life (The Incarnations of Immortality series and the Harry Potter books). So it’s important to read a book-to-movie source close to the movie release.

It’s been a year since I read Twilight, which I enjoyed at the time but found flawed later. (I maintain that it is a good time, though, if you are looking for sickly sweet romance.) I donated my copy to a thrift shop. I hope it made someone very happy.

So the question is, do I go on and read the others now, or do I wait until New Moon the Movie is close to release, and so on? For His Dark Materials I will clearly have to go on and read them without waiting for more movies, because they aren’t happening. (Quick review of The Golden Compass movie: It was a very good book trailer.)

What do you do with big deal or popular books that are bound to be adapted to movies? Do you read them in the height of their popularity? Do you wait? Are you such a contrarian that you don’t read them at all?

The Vampire Problem: Betraying the Remarkable Human

I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but I want to talk quickly about something I’ve run into in a couple of books that upsets me. It’s odd because I can’t quite place why, and it seems like such a silly thing to get upset over.

I’ve read more than one book where a vampire encountered a human, and they fell in love, and then the human ended up a vampire.

This upsets me.

Because usually in these books, one of the reasons the vampire loves the human so much is their humanness. At least since Anne Rice started writing about vampires, there’s been a sense that immortality makes you jaded. Life takes on a tarnish when you live it long enough, and the magic seems to go out of the world. But when vampires love humans, I think they regain that magic and vitality that, being undead, they can’t quite get themselves.

I hate it when in a book where this is an essential plotline, they then turn that human into a vampire. And most vampire books I’ve read fall into this trap. In all genres: horror, chicklit/romance, YA.

But it’s such an odd thing to feel. It’s an absolute disgust, and I recognize it in myself and think, “That’s so silly.”

All I can figure is that I identify heavily with remarkable human girls/women, because I like to think that I have a somewhat unique passion and vitality, and I fear it being taken away by becoming jaded and cynical. (It’s funny; I’m very cynical in some ways, but not at all in others.)

Do you have any thoughts on the matter? Pleasing not to spoil New Moon, Eclipse, or Breaking Dawn, as I haven’t read them yet and might ever.

Comments may contain spoilers for Christopher Golden’s Shadow Saga.

I missed something big.

So apparently on my birthday, a little over a week ago, the Kidlitosphere exploded with people having identity crises and struggling to keep up with their blogs.  Jen Robinson summed it up nicely in this post, and then added her own thoughts on the matter here

It’s heavy stuff.  I have a personal, friends only LiveJournal, a craft/design blog, this blog, and I recently added a new blog to chronicle my own personal Happiness Project.  I have tried in the past to give myself schedules, so that I will post more regularly, because I’d like to really develop an audience.  I want to keep people coming back to my blogs, and when I have a month-long hiatus like I just did, that doesn’t really happen.  At the same time, there’s almost always a lot going on in my life.  I have a very demanding job in terms of energy if not always time.  (I work rather efficiently, so I often leave school before other teachers do.  I feel guilty, leaving only half an hour after our official off-the-clock time.)  Writing is a creative task.  Other blogs are updated frequently, and I like to read them, but I get overwhelmed.  And so with each of the blogs I write, I have to keep my mission for that particular blog in mind.

Here, the mission is to record my reactions to books, and book-related things.  When I started the blog, I reviewed every book I read, and focused on YA.  Now, I’m realizing that no one is asking me to do that except myself.  So I will post reviews here only of particularly noteworthy books, or publish reviews over at The Edge of the Forest when I’ve agreed to do that.  I’ll keep any commitments I make to things like the blog tours, and I’ll post responses to interesting things I see in my reading.  And anything else book-related that comes to my attention.

And that’s it.  That will be all.  And that way, this will stay fun for me.

Here’s the thing that keeps me from worrying I’ll lose readers: aggregators.  Things like Google Reader, or the LJ friends page with a feed on it.  If people want to read me, they can subscribe.  Then, when I have a month-long gap, they won’t miss a thing.

Stigma and Censorship

Go read Lee Wind’s post about his experience attempting to donate GLBTQ books to a junior high library, and then come back.  I’ll wait. 

Lee’s post got me thinking about the stigmas I fear, and the one I fear the most is the stigma on mental illness.  It was this part of his post that really spoke to me:

The choice is whether to be honest about how you feel inside.

But how you feel inside is your Identity.

How you feel inside, of course, includes if you are happy or sad, drained or energetic, hopeless, etc.  I don’t mean to diminish Lee’s point by pointing to these emotions; but mental illness – depression, bipolar disorder, and others – this is a part of your identity, I think.  And it can be scary to talk to people about it, because what will they say?  Will they call you crazy?  Will they be scared of you?  And then, what about any changes that may come from you trying to FIX the mental illness?  What if your meds make you gain weight?  And then people are calling you crazy AND fat.  Or if you used to be creative, and then when you got on meds maybe you didn’t want to kill yourself anymore, but you also couldn’t create anything?  Then people might think you’re dull, slow, stupid.

Talking about mental illness is not, I imagine, nearly as difficult as talking about sexuality.  (I don’t know for sure because I’ve never really had to talk about sexuality.)  And I would guess that donating books with main characters who have a mental illness – books like The Phoenix Dance, for example – would not present a problem at all like Lee found when he tried to donate the GLBTQ books.

But basically, Lee’s post made me think about how important it is for readers to see themselves in books, to know they are not alone.  Because what is a better moment than when you are reading a book and you say, “YES!  Someone understands me!”  

And every reader, every child, teenager, and adult, should be able to have that experience – readily available.

Hi there!

Hello, litosphere.  Remember me?

As mentioned in my last post, I haven’t had the attention span for fiction of late.  And I picked up Vale of the Vole from the library, and promptly set it down somewhere that will require me to look for it before I can find it.  So yesterday at the library, I roamed the YA shelves and picked up Tanith Lee’s Indigara.  Then I went over to the JF section and picked up The Princess Diaries.  I looked at a lot of books, and if the first paragraph didn’t capture my attention, I knew now was not the time for that book.  So, I’ll start with these and see how I do.  I’ve no set reading goal for this year.

The other day in Target I picked up The Lightning Thief, and was enthralled by the first little bit.  But I decided to get it from the library rather than buy it.  It’s such a popular book, of course, that there’s a waiting list.  So I’m on that.  And once I read that I can get cracking on in media res, my site devoted to the classics in modern media.  The first focus will be on the Olympians, so I’ll include the Percy Jackson series, the God of War video games, and I’ll try to find a movie or two as well.  Right now I’m having trouble because all the movies I can think of that involve Olympians are better suited to a Heroes unit.  So if you have any suggestions, let me know.

I’ve realized that I need to get back to the purpose of this blog, if I’m going to maintain it.  And in my Writing Blogs post, I stated that this blog was “a place to keep track of my own musings on reading.”  So that’s what it will be, when I post.  And sometimes I might participate in multi-blog events, and sometimes I might write formal reviews.  But generally, it’s just going to be a journal.

Last year I wanted to write a review of every book I read, and I only failed to do that for 9 of them.  Pretty good, really.  There are a few that I should write reviews for because I specifically requested them from publishers and/or authors, and I’ll fit those in once I get some momentum going.   But for now, it has to be about what captures my imagination, or it won’t happen at all.

Focusing the Blog

This is going to be a stream-of-consciousness entry.  Consider yourself warned.

In the past few weeks, a few of the kidlit bloggers have been reconsidering their intentions for their blog.  I was in this same place as well, but not talking about it so much.  But I think today I am ready to talk about it.

I came into this back in March full-tilt.  Over my spring break I tore through several books and blogged about them.  Over the summer I participated in the Summer Blog Blast Tour, and since then have been a part of many events.  But in July, I started moving away from this blog for various reasons, and though I tried to renew my dedication in August, work got in my way.

I began this blog as a place to explore my own reactions to books.  And it has grown into my part of the larger conversation.  But I have become so overwhelmed by other parts of my life that I am not really participating in the conversation anymore.

So it is important that I bring this blog back to its origins:

This is my place to talk about my own feelings about what I am reading, have read, or will read.

Its purpose is for me to have reactions and reviews.  I haven’t reviewed a book in a long, long time, because I got scared.  I started to worry too much about the review content.  It is silly.  I am not going to do that anymore.

So, here is what I will be doing:
1. Participating in group activities and memes as I am comfortable.
2. Writing up my own responses to books, as I originally intended.
3. Other things as I feel moved to do so.

Anyway.  Yeah.

So that’s where I am, in case you were wondering.

Women Writers and Male Readers

Colleen at Chasing Ray pointed me to an interesting article entitled “Still not an equal partnership” at The Times Online.  The gist of the article is that despite the fact that women seem to read more than men, men seem to be read more than women.

Gender as a subject fascinates me, mostly because I don’t understand it.  The article speaks for itself.  I don’t have much to add to it.  It addresses primarily literary fiction, and I do find that aspect interesting.  What about genre fiction?  I’d be interested in seeing the numbers on that.  One of the “problems” with fiction written by women is that its subjects – motherhood, domestic life, relationships – don’t interest men.  But again – what about genre fiction?  Sprawling adventure stories with women as writers or protagonists?  How is that the same or different?  Stories about motherhood, domestic life, and relationships don’t really interest me, and when I write, I don’t write about motherhood or domestic life.  I do write about relationships, because loner characters can’t take a story very far.  Women are more willing to identify with a male protagonist in any form of media – books, television, video games – than men are to identify with a female protagonist.  What’s that about?  I think it goes back to the unfortunate devaluing of the feminine.  I feel like most of the major feminist problems – suffrage, the glass ceiling, harassment – have made great strides, and that the battlefront of current feminism is one of the mind and the arts.

I find this article’s comments especially fascinating.  They are, as far as I can tell, all from men who are defending either their disinterest in literature written by women or saying the article is outright wrong.

This quote does upset me:

“Middlebrow writing by women is full of feminist garbage. A man need only read a couple to get the flavour. Writing by men is much more varied.”

Firstly, I’m not sure what “middlebrow writing” means.  Secondly, declaring writing by men to be more varied is not saying anything particularly new or startling.  Unfortunately, men have a much longer literary tradition than women do, with rare exceptions; no one need remind me that Sappho was a woman.  When you’ve had more time to do the work, of course the work will be more varied.

In addition to being curious about this with respect to genre vs. literary works, I’m also interested in children’s and young adult literature and how gender comes into play there.  See my Weekend Wondering a couple weeks back.  How much do boys read?  When they read, who are the authors?  Who are the protagonists?  I don’t ask about girls because I feel like I know more about them, having been one.  Perhaps next year I will take some informal polls of my students to find out if they read and what they read.

Do you know boys?  Do you know what they’re reading?  Would you be willing to share that information?

Weekend Wonderings

I haven’t been able to write a good introduction to this week’s question, so I will skip straight to the question itself:

How much can we know about the author herself based on the content of the book?

People often make assumptions based on a book’s content about what the book’s author is like.  I once read a magazine article where a journalist was devastated when she went to interview an author and found out his book was not at all what she’d thought it was about when she read it.  She had thought it was an argument against child abuse; he hadn’t intended there to be any message about child abuse in it at all.  Other times, people think that if an artist or writer creates disturbing work, she must be disturbed herself.  What is it safe to assume about an author based on her work?  Does the book tell us nothing about the author?  Does an author’s personality shine through in the book?

Last Week’s Question
What is the recipe for good historical fiction?

You can read answers at Tea Cozy, Becky’s Book Reviews, Bri Meets Books, and Charlotte’s Library.  Thanks as always to those of you who linked the question.  If I’ve missed your answer, please let me know!

Special thanks this week to Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader for dedicating her lovely poem GIRAFFE to me!