Thursday, September 30, 2010

Banned Books Week: Wednesday

Okay, so the last post was all dramatic and stuff. This one's mostly just fun. John Green, the author who's the focus of our department's longest-running author crush (no offense to Sherman, Markus, Scott, Cory, etc. etc. etc.) is a video blogger as well as a young adult author. This gave him a great forum in January of 2008, when his first novel—the fantastic, beloved, and award-winning Looking for Alaska—was challenged at Depew High School in New York. He made the following video, and as he is articulate, funny, smart, and the author, I really have nothing to add. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Banned Books Week: Tuesday

So, speaking of books that we love, the book I'm talking about today is my favorite young adult novel. I don't say that lightly- I put a lot of thought into this. I'm not even a fan of the idea of "favorite" books. But after reading it a few times, it's just indisputable to me. It resonated with me just out of high school, and resonates with me as a slightly older young adult, and I don't think I'll stop loving it in five or ten or twenty years. I still qualify its' favorite status as favorite YA, not favorite book of all time, but the title stands. I think it's the best.

I'm talking about Speak. Laurie Halse Anderson's debut novel is a total masterpiece. A girl enters ninth grade completely stripped of any sense of community and recovering from a trauma, and spends the book observing high school from a distance. She almost never speaks (which made the movie adaptation, which was very good, a tricky proposition). When I first read it, my reaction was almost to look over my shoulder- was this woman sitting behind me in high school? Did we attend the same school freshman year or something?

Recently, I caught a blog post on popular feminist blog Jezebel talking about Speak. "Yay!" was my first reaction, thinking they were just chatting about or reviewing the novel. Turns out the author of the post was Anderson herself, trying to get the word out about a fellow in Missouri who had written an op-ed in his local newspaper, saying that certain books in their local school's curriculum, including Speak, were offensive and ought to be removed. She was clearly upset and hoping to get some support from folks online.

Now, the ALA has a clear definition for what it means for a book to be "challenged" or "banned," and this doesn't meet it. But because I love the book, and because the author asked for people to blog about it, I'm doing that here.

Two things about this are particularly important to me: first, I said yesterday that all you need to be convinced of the value of young adult fiction (especially when it is about difficult, controversial, or scary things) is to hear from its readers. Well, Anderson has a video at the end of her post, of her reading a poem she put together out of lines from her fan letters. It's potent stuff, and brings me to my second point: that trying to protect teens from the dangers of fiction only stops them from reading about the real-life dangers they may have already suffered. Making sure no teen ever reads about rape (which is at the center of Speak) does not mean no teen ever experiences (or encounters the concept of) rape. Just ask your local middle or high school librarian what it feels like to offer a student a book about a subject they've asked for in a whisper. It's worth whatever fight it takes to keep good books available to young people.

-Anna, Kids Books

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Banned Books Week: Monday

So it's Banned Books Week again. It's one of my favorite bookstore holidays by far (second only to Women's History Month, when we always tear it up with awesome displays and blog posts). We have a particular fondness for the fight against censorship here in the Kids Department, because books for kids and teens get banned and challenged with a particularly alarming frequency and fervor.

Not everyone is familiar with the fact that books are removed from libraries all across the country every year due to complaints and challenges. I know this because we try to put books on prominent display when we hear they've been challenged somewhere, and customers are often surprised to hear that book-banning is alive and well.

And this year, there's been a shocking number of really fantastic books getting picked on. It doesn't matter if we like a book: if it gets banned somewhere, it deserves support from people passionate about intellectual freedom. As a bookstore, we want to celebrate people's right to read. And it particularly burns when a book you love, a book that you know is spectacular, gets banned or challenged. Especially when it seems like a particularly important book, a book that you know has had an impact on teenagers all over the country. Winning an award won't save a book from being challenged or banned. Knockout writing won't either. And even when a book confronts a difficult topic with the clear intent to help kids and teens deal with that topic in reality, in their own lives, it still gets attacked for even bringing up the subject.

Rape, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, racism, homosexuality. Writing about these topics can be dangerous for young adult authors, even though teens want desperately to read books about exactly those things. Sometimes just for the thrill of it (which is just fine!), but I would say more often than not because they're touched by all of those things and they want to read about other kids like them. All it takes is listening to the authors of books for teens talk about their fan mail to get a feel for how powerful it can be for teens to read books that reflect their lives. And this week, we're going to shine a spotlight on a few really great books that have been challenged or thrown out of libraries and bookstores. Stay tuned.

-Anna, Kids Books

P.S. Can we all agree that banning Fahrenheit 451 is pretty hilarious? Banning a book about book banning always sounds like a punch line to me.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Used Books!

I gotta say, there's only thing I like better than seeing a book I've been waiting and waiting for come out brand new on a cart, and that's seeing a used cart roll up to the desk with one of my old favorites, in great condition and at a ridiculously low price. Lo and behold, we just got a sweet cart of used books up here and I thought I'd run through my favorite of the treasures to be found on just one measly little rolling shelf full of little yellow stickers. All the links are to new copies, by the way, as the used listings will disappear once they sell.

1) Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow. If you haven't read this yet, how have you managed to miss it? We practically hand this book out to people when they pass by the desk. I certainly never stop talking about Cory Doctorow and it's because of this book. Now, to be sure, I have met one person, ever, who didn't like it. But that was just one person out of the dozens I know who adored it. And here it is next to me, for only $4.99. For five bucks you can take a chance, no? Oh my word. Now I've just checked in the front and discovered that it's signed. The price? Still five bucks. I would be buying it myself if I didn't already have one.

2) Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta. Marchetta is really really famous in her native Australia, but up here I still meet people all the time who've never heard of her. She has won the most prestigious (well, pretty much only) award for young adult fiction, the Printz, for another novel, and I think everything she touches is gold. A coworker just made me re-read this one, which was one of the first young adult novels I read when I started working here. And I remember thinking, "This is going to be my job? I just read this really charming book, and now I get to tell other people to read it, as a job? There has got to be a trick." (There is. It's called shelving.) The used book I have right now is the hardcover, which has a different cover from the paperback, and is still cheaper than the new paperback at $6.99. DEAL.

3) The Bermudez Triangle, by Maureen Johnson. I just want to take this moment to direct you to Maureen Johnson's consistently hilarious and awesome blog. Now, as far as the book goes, this is one of my favorites of hers. You know how sometimes your friend falls in love, and then they get all lovey and smoochy and annoying? In Bermudez Triangle, her two best friends fall in love with each other. Double burn. This one gets banned and challenged all the time because those two friends are girls, so there's another great reason to buy it: make the book banners angry. Also, it's only five bucks, like the Doctorow. That's like twelve birds with one stone or something.

4) Last but certainly not least is a darling little thing for $1.99. Only one of the best children's poetry volumes ever (second only to its sister, When We Were Very Young), Now We Are Six, by A. A. Milne contains a bunch of lovely verse. I do love the other one best, but this one has "King John's Christmas," which holds a warm and lovely childhood memory for me that I won't share because I could go on at great length (and I have clearly already done that today). Plus this old cover is more adorable than the new one.

I'll leave you now, but just know that we get cartloads of used books in every week, and there are wacky and wonderful old titles we've never heard of, and brand new only-in-hardcover bestsellers, and everything in between. I could not possibly dig used books any more.

Anna, in Kids

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Venn Diagrams

I like Venn diagrams. I like the idea that you can take two different things, say, likes and dislikes, create circles for them to inhabit, and then find areas where they overlap and merge together cohesively. My favorite to date is a Venn diagram featuring Uncle Jesse from Full House and Jesus.

The overlapping points were "the hair" and "have mercy."

When two things that I love come together, I'm a pretty happy guy. Well, so long as the result doesn't suck, that is. In which case, I look/feel like this:

However, fortunately for me, I've had great experiences with the area between video games and literature, and that's what I'm here to tell you about.

Since first reading an uncorrected proof of Tom Bissell's Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, I've wanted to post something about it. Weighing my options, I decided that going on and on about my experience reading the book, my own experiences with the games he discusses, or which games I would love to hear him write about next wouldn't be a good idea. Fun for me, sure, but it would essentially be something just for me, which kind of defeats the purpose of making that public. No reason to expose you to any of that. But now, under this umbrella, Tom Bissell's work will lead the charge.

If you're at all interested in video games as a medium, you really ought to give Extra Lives a try. It's beautifully written, and provides analysis as well as insights into the gaming industry. While perhaps a smidge on the academic side, this doesn't detract from the writing. Instead, it seems to lend itself to a new kind of video game journalism. Part personal essay, part high-brow critique, and part exploration of where things fit in the grand scheme of things.

If you read this and like it, there isn't another book quite like it, but I would recommend checking out Kill Screen Magazine. It's stuffed with similar work. Or at least work approached in a similar fashion.

Next, we have Smartbomb: The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution. Sadly, I'm not yet finished with this book, but it's proven itself to be pretty interesting. Authored by a couple of journalists, Heather Chaplin and Aaron Ruby, this work has a different approach than that of Bissell's. While it's clear Ruby has some experience with video games, it seems more like an outsiders' guide to gaming. These are not enthusiasts who decided to share their hobby with those not in the know, these are journalists that saw an untapped field of exploration, and jumped on it. This isn't a bad thing. You just need to expect to read sentences like "The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 as gamers call it..." and accept that fact that we, the gaming population, are something akin to subjects under a microscope within these pages.

Again, there's nothing wrong with that. It's just a touch alienating at times.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, both books profile Cliff Bleszinski (CliffyB!) but the portraits they paint are in stark contrast to one another. In one, he is a dainty man wearing an ill-fitting pimp suit, while the other has him on stage wearing a blazer-hoodie combo and brandishing a somewhat functional Lancer Assault Rifle. What a difference a successful, mainstream game franchise makes!

By the time I'm done with Smartbomb, I'm hoping to be prepared to delve into Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games. It's a critical studies title, and it will likely include a lot of densely packed language that I won't understand. But that's alright. From my experience, the bits that you can glean from such titles manage to justify the effort expended.

If instead the title leaves me feeling stupid, I'll find comfort in the new Street Fighter World Warrior Encyclopedia put out by Udon Entertainment. There are always ways to find solace within beautiful, comprehensive art books.

When done well, the combination of video games and literature are even better than a corndog dipped in mashed potatoes! So I recommend you stop reading this and enjoy these bountiful offerings, post haste!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

YA Then and Now

Recently my co-workers were gawking at the illustrations in a young adult novel from the '40s, and we all decided that one in particular was the most young-adult-novel-y page in the history of young adult novels, here it is...

If you can't read that caption, it says: Each day it became more evident that he didn't mean to call.

But then I found out, after we were done giggling at the awesomeness of that poor girl's pained expression, and fondly looking back on those moments in our own lives, that this book was supposed to be really excellent. It's called Seventeenth Summer, it's by Maureen Daly, and it's one of my lovely co-worker Debbie's favorite teen books ever, and it's now being passed around the Kids Desk staff. It's in her original copy that the above illustration is to be found, and here's what the book looks like on the outside (we love old books around here):

Adorable, yes? Then someone said, "Wait, don't we carry that book now, seventy years later? Why, yes, we do:

Cover's changed a bit! I actually don't hate the new one at all, especially compared with the often much more odious photo-of-random-white-teens covers that come out all the time. But compared with the original, it makes for an interesting look at the old and the new of book designing. You wouldn't guess, from looking at the current cover, that the copyright date is 1942. And no, the new one doesn't have any illustrations. Too bad.


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

In Translation

Some of the best children's books of all time are books translated into English from another language- Pippi Longstocking comes to mind, as well as The Story of Babar and Madeline. It's true in grownup land as well. I'm thinking of that current ever-so-popular trilogy that starts with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which is directly related to the purpose of this post: at least two book events with translators are happening next month, including the translator of Dragon Tattoo and the other books in the series, and I find myself really excited. I've never thought of it before now, but I'd absolutely have questions to ask the translators of a work I loved. I know people who write translations and it takes an amazing amount of work to perfect the finished product. The kind of discussions that can ensue over a single word make a language-lover like me drool.

Our translator event is with Cornelia Funke, author of super children's books including The Thief Lord, Inkheart, and the soon-to-be-released Reckless. We're hosting her at the Showbox Theater on Sunday, September 19th, at 1:30 pm (click & scroll down to the 19th for the listing and ticketing info). This event is unique in the number of people arriving with the author: the actor Elliot Hill to help her do a dramatic reading, musical guest Adam Watts, and her translator Oliver Latsch (Funke is German). Having both the author and the translator there to speak sounds like a dream.

Sadly, we can't hear from the author of Dragon Tattoo (Steig Larsson died in 2004), but we have the opportunity to hear from his translator Steve Murray, who translated the Larsson novels under the pen name Reg Keeland. That may be my first question- why the pen name? He's speaking with fellow translator Tiina Nunnally, who I know best for her translations of Andersen folktales and a beautifully illustrated, very well-received new translation of the aforementioned and best-ever children's book Pippi Longstocking. They'll be speaking at Elliott Bay on Sunday, September 12 at 5:00 pm.

I know translators do events sometimes (I've seen it most often with poetry), but these in particular I find really exciting. I love that people who do such diligent and creative work can get some stage time, and we can ask them questions about the process. And someday I hope we can move on to the next frontier: have book and cover designers come talk about that process. I'd be completely fascinated.


tell all your friends!