By Elizabeth Wroten
On 10, Jul 2013 | In Uncategorized | By Elizabeth Wroten
Just wanted to let anyone reading my blog know that I am turning comments off for awhile. I am getting the most ridiculous amount of spam comments. We’re talking hundreds a day. The best part is, these aren’t a few sentences with a bunch of links. These are essay length comments. It’s insane. Not only is it taking me forever to delete them I am also having to delete them out of my inbox. Sigh. I think blogs without the ability to comment are generally pretty silly since the point of being online is to generate discussion and collaboration, but I am not interested in collaborating with email@example.com. Thanks for your patience while I figure the situation out.
Hope the summer is going well. I am reading like crazy around here and haven’t taken the time to post.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Jun 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
A tour-de-force by rising indy comics star Gene Yang, American Born Chinese tells the story of three apparently unrelated characters: Jin Wang, who moves to a new neighborhood with his family only to discover that he’s the only Chinese-American student at his new school; the powerful Monkey King, subject of one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables; and Chin-Kee, a personification of the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, who is ruining his cousin Danny’s life with his yearly visits. Their lives and stories come together with an unexpected twist in this action-packed modern fable. American Born Chinese is an amazing ride, all the way up to the astonishing climax.
First Impressions: All right, this one has been sitting on my TBR pile for years now and based on what the person who recommended it said and the blurb here, I was expecting a bit more of a plot twist/reveal at the end. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed to predict the ending to some extent, but my expectations set me up to be really wowed and I wasn’t especially.
That Being Said: Sometimes I think graphic novels can be a bit light on story and character development and you can breeze through them. American Born Chinese was neither, and although it was a quick read, it was still thought provoking.
On the surface the novel deals with the struggles of Jin Wang, Danny, and the Monkey King. All of them are in denial about who they are. They all also share the burden of straddling two cultures and feeling the need or desire to choose one over the other. But I think it goes beyond the conflict of Chinese and American, monkey and god. It’s a story about finding who you are and embracing that person, something that is a universal struggle for, well, everyone. You don’t need to be grappling with feeling like an outsider because of your culture or race or citizenship to appreciate the characters. To me, the power of the story was in its message that it’s okay to be different and uncomfortable with that and that it’s okay to come to terms with your differences, be they cultural or otherwise.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 10, Jun 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Love is awkward, Amelia should know.
From the moment she sets eyes on Chris, she is a goner. Lost. Sunk. Head over heels infatuated with him. It’s problematic, since Chris, 21, is a sophisticated university student, while Amelia, is 15.
Amelia isn’t stupid. She knows it’s not gonna happen. So she plays it cool around Chris—at least, as cool as she can. Working checkout together at the local supermarket, they strike up a friendship: swapping life stories, bantering about everything from classic books to B movies, and cataloging the many injustices of growing up. As time goes on, Amelia’s crush doesn’t seem so one-sided anymore. But if Chris likes her back, what then? Can two people in such different places in life really be together?
I wasn’t totally bowled over by this book, but I really enjoyed it. I guess it wasn’t as swoony as I thought it would be, but I think because it wasn’t it felt more authentic.
What I found really fascinating about this book was the fact that it felt like both a YA novel and a NA novel. Amelia is definitely young and in love and her story is very much the story of a young adult. But the book alternates between Amelia’s narration and Chris’s journals. Chris is struggling with much more “adult” problems.
Personally, I connected more with his story than with Amelia which speaks to my getting older, not the quality or appeal of the book. Chris just had his heart broken. He isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life. His friends are growing up and getting jobs, houses, moving in with their significant others. He and Amelia are clearly good for each other and, age aside, would make a great couple, but they are in such different places in their lives. I think these struggles are pretty universal for 20 somethings, at least they have been in my circle of friends, including age differences making relationships difficult (although not quite to this extent!).
Even though I am not the target audience, I can see this story connecting with my high school self. I wasn’t especially interested in boys my age, like Amelia, and would have found someone as fun and interesting as Chris very appealing. Being naive and inexperienced as Amelia is, I also would have not understood how problematic a relationship would have been. All in all, a fun and interesting read even if it wasn’t my favorite I’ve read for The Hub Challenge. This would make a fabulous summer read.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 08, Jun 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
So the 48-Hour Book Challenge weekend is here and I am ready to kick off my summer reading. It’s even over a 100 degrees in honor of summer making me want to just lie on the couch inert. My goal for the challenge is not to spend as much of the 48 hours reading as that would be frustratingly impossible, but to get through a couple books. Sometimes all I need is a bit of a deadline to get through stuff. First up is finishing the current book I’m reading, Akata Witch. I would then like to follow that up with Drowned Cities. And if there’s time I’ll move on to It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Wish me luck, we’ll see how it goes. I still have a toddler to care for, grocery shopping to do, and a tub that won’t scrub itself. Maybe next year I can really get into the challenge by having my mom babysit all weekend!
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 03, Jun 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
In honor of summer and all the (terrible) summer blockbusters that will soon be storming the local cineplex, I wanted to talk about movies. And books. Movies and books. As a librarian and reader I love books, but I frequently hear that “the book is always better” or “you thought that was a good movie, you should read the book”. I’ve seen some pretty abysmal adaptations of some amazing books, but I’ve also seen some really amazing adaptations. I hate to write off film adaptations based on a few bad movies, so all of this started me wondering, is the book always better? And just because the book is good does that preclude a good movie? And, why are we so loathe to see film versions of our favorite books?
Film is, in and of itself, a very powerful medium. It can tell beautiful, incredible stories. Case in point: Wall-E. Pixar told an incredibly poignant, touching story with almost no dialog. I walked out of that movie with my mind blown. So, I don’t think the medium of film is ill suited to telling great stories like we find in books.
Books and film are, however, very different mediums. Plot devices, narrations, and character insights that are possible in books are not always possible in movies. But the challenges of creating a good adaptation can be handled well by a good director, someone with a good eye, a good vision and a reverence for the source material. In the most recent version of Jane Eyre the screen writer began a ways into the story and then backtracked, condensing a good 125 pages of pretty boring content. I absolutely adore the novel and have read it many times, but I wouldn’t have wanted to watch the majority of those events on screen just as they were written. The two methods worked perfectly for their mediums. All of which I think points to the fact that the book doesn’t have to be better nor does a story being first written as a book preclude a really good film. And what about taking mediocre books and making them into great movies?
But, why do we hate movie adaptations? I think when you read a book your mind constructs the world and characters around you. It becomes a secret, private place to retreat in our minds. Having a filmmaker impose their vision of the world and characters can feel very intrusive and rude. That other person’s vision can also push out your own. As you read, you picture the characters and the events, but those memories can be disturbed by the bombast of a movie.
Of course what will appeal to you in a movie depends very much on your personal preferences. Like with reading, the “goodness” of a movie is pretty subjective. I personally prefer arty, cerebral movies over the more popular rom-coms that show up at the cineplex in droves. It doesn’t mean one is better than the other, just that I prefer one over the other. If a director creates a film that doesn’t fit with your preferred movie style, then it’s going to be a lot harder to accept it as a good version of the book. If Michael Bey had directed Jane Eyre I don’t think I would have even bothered to see it.
The thing is, I don’t think we should write off movie adaptations. A lot of times they bring people to the book or to read alikes and series. And that’s never a bad thing. I think it can also provide an entry point for people into literature. Just as a final thought, I think we sometimes get caught up in worrying about too much screen time and forget that movies can be incredibly powerful and worthwhile.
What about you? Any books you want to see made into a movie? Any favorite adaptations? Any adaptations you hated?
My List of Movies
In my experience movie adaptations fall into one of four categories: movie is better, movie and book are equal, book is better and book and movie are just different.
Movie and Book are Equal
- Jane Eyre (most recent version)
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- True Grit
Book is Better
- okay, none come to mind but we know they are out there lurking
Movie is Better
- The Painted Veil (I liked the movie ending better, it was a little more redeeming)
- The Whale Rider (I thought the characters were a lot more complex and more interesting in the movie)
- Lord of the Rings trilogy (I’m sorry, I just couldn’t get into the books!)
- Watchmen (there were some scenes in this one that really came alive for me in the movie in a way they didn’t in the book)
Some are just different
- The Woman in White (as much as I loved the book, I thought the choices for the movie made for a good story too)
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 31, May 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Okay, I’m like most (all?) librarians in that I have approximately a million books on my TBR pile give or take a few hundred thousand. With summer is nearly upon us I’ve decided to use my blog to hold myself accountable for tackling one of my (many) TBR lists.
I’ve pared my YA To Read list down to a reasonable and manageable length and I’m hoping to work my way through the titles over June, July and August. You can see the list here:
my 2013-summer-reading shelf:
You may or may not (probably not) have noticed I tend to post reviews on Wednesdays, but this summer I’m going to shift my blogging to focus primarily on my reviews.* It’s only a temporary thing to force me into really reading this summer and play catch up (you’ll notice a few older titles on my list).
To kick off my summer reading I’m going to participate in the 48 Hour Book Challenge. At least to the degree that I am able with a 21 month old toddler. It’s not about winning or tracking my reading so much as it’s an excuse to really get going. And I do love to binge read. I have to admit, I will probably start earlier than the 48HBC actually starts, but I can also use the date as a timeline for checking books out of the library, which is where I get 99% of the YA I read.
*I just wanted to make a little note about my reviews. I know they aren’t long and may not really constitute reviews. My purpose, for the time being, in reading YA is to both broaden my base of literature that I can draw on for readers advisory and to be steeped in the YA lit culture. I like sharing my feelings about the books I’ve read, but don’t feel like I have enough of a foundation to start recommending lots of read alike titles or major thoughts about themes. I hope to one day, but just don’t feel like I can now. I do love to turn to several other blogs in my blogroll for that kind of analysis, such as Stacked Books and Forever Young Adult.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 29, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
When soldiers arrive at his hometown in Cambodia, Arn is just a kid, dancing to rock ‘n’ roll, hustling for spare change, and selling ice cream with his brother. But after the soldiers march the entire population into the countryside, his life is changed forever. Arn is separated from his family and assigned to a labor camp: working in the rice paddies under a blazing sun, he sees the other children, weak from hunger, malaria, or sheer exhaustion, dying before his eyes. He sees prisoners marched to a nearby mango grove, never to return. And he learns to be invisible to the sadistic Khmer Rouge, who can give or take away life on a whim.
One day, the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument. Arn’s never played a note in his life, but he volunteers. In order to survive, he must quickly master the strange revolutionary songs the soldiers demand–and steal food to keep the other kids alive. This decision will save his life, but it will pull him into the very center of what we know today as the Killing Fields. And just as the country is about to be liberated from the Khmer Rouge, Arn is handed a gun and forced to become a soldier. He lives by the simple credo: Over and over I tell myself one thing: never fall down.
I almost put this one down at the beginning. Not because it was bad, but because it was so good and yet so tragic. Ever since I became a mother, and I’m sure this is true for many women, I have a really difficult time reading about atrocities that befall children. Never Fall Down is full of those atrocities. However, I feel it’s really important to know that these things do happen so that we can prevent them from happening again (although I don’t think we, as humans, do a very good job of that).
One thing I really dislike about my high school education was that the history I learned didn’t focus enough on other cultures or on modern times (post-WWII). A lot of really awful things (and interesting and important events) have happened in the past 50-60 years and yet I had no idea until I stumbled upon them on my own (Cambodia’s civil war, the Biafran War, etc.). I think having read about them earlier would have made me more humble, more sensitive, more grateful for what I had, and better rounded. I also think I would have engaged more with current events. Never Fall Down gave me a much greater appreciation for Cambodia knowing that they have emerged from such an oppressive and cruel regime.
I know this book isn’t for everyone, but it’s still an important book. Arn’s story is absolutely heart breaking and shouldn’t be lost. It’s also a very powerful story of the ability of someone so young to survive and come through things that it would seem you can’t live through. And his power to accept and forgive and find beauty and purpose after such a unimaginable horror is nothing short of amazing and inspiring.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 27, May 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
I came across an interesting editorial by way of Kelly at Stacked Books. In it The Horn Book‘s editor-in-chief suggested that maybe it was time to stop reviewing young adult novels. You can read the piece here, it’s pretty short, but I wanted to share a few of my thoughts about some of the things he said. I didn’t necessarily disagree with what he was saying, but I didn’t really agree either.
What struck me about this piece was a possible argument for labeling books as New Adult, which I talked a bit about in this post. My understanding is that he is suggesting children’s and youth review publications, like The Horn Book, stop reviewing YA novels, the stuff intended for 12 and up or maybe 14 and up. He makes the point that YA is read by a lot of adults and there is a lot of it out there. Sure, if it makes your job easier and it’s still labeled as YA so it’s easy for teen librarians to find, I think that’s reasonable.
Sutton notes that, as the years have passed, the age ranges have been shifting upward and the content is becoming more mature. He even receives requests to review books that are labeled as adult for The Horn Book, but points out that there is a distinctive and important line between adult books and children’s books. I totally agree. But I wonder if some of the books he sees as too old could and/or should be classed as new adult? This makes me wonder what age group is really reading all that YA? Because it might actually be “new adults”, like myself, who aren’t really interested in true adult literature and have some nostalgia for the late teen years. In addition classing some literature more accurately as NA could sort out some of the content that’s more for older teens and alleviate some of the pressure created by the amount of YA being published.
Along the lines of his final point, commenters wonder if teens are becoming guests in their own sections and I agree that’s what it sounds like. However one commenter went so far as to suggest filing YA with adult books and I think that would be a mistake. Teens won’t always go looking for them there and what about all that research into giving teens their own space. The teenage years are very different from the middle grade and adult years. That’s why all that literature is written for them.
I worry that by pushing YA more into the adult realm, however, it could make the work of youth services librarians seem unnecessary. It might be a leap, but if the literature they work with is somehow lumped in with adult literature, why not have adult services subsume youth services? I don’t think libraries are all about books, but I do think the two are very intimately connected, so when you erase a distinction between the adult and young adult literature the distinction between the two groups of patrons suddenly seems a little less clear.
All in all this sounds to me more like a broken or damaged publishing system. Labeling a book as “14 and up” feels a lot more like a marketing ploy to give adults (or new adults) permission to read something that really isn’t intended for them. Which isn’t to say adults can’t or shouldn’t read YA, just that it sounds a bit like publishers fishing for the next big cross over like Hunger Games or Twilight than a genuine suggested age range.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 24, May 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten
There wasn’t much this week:
Is it possible to agree more? Hint: no. ow.ly/l4ZAm
— Tibby Wroten (@AtomicBeeRanch) May 16, 2013
Thank you Rita Meade for putting it so well.
Last week I participated in readers advisory chat on Twitter lead by Sophie and Kelly. It was a lot of fun and I got a few great ideas from some of the other participants.
— Tibby Wroten (@AtomicBeeRanch) May 17, 2013
Check out the awesome Pinterest board for movies to books! A really great use of a library’s Pinterest account.
Yay! Moonbird (B95) is still alive and flying his migratory route! ow.ly/l8XNl
— Tibby Wroten (@AtomicBeeRanch) May 17, 2013
I am so relieved to hear that Moonbird is still out there. I really loved this book that I read for The Hub Challenge.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 22, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she can’t really sing. Instead she’s the set designer for the drama department stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!
Why wasn’t there a hold list on this book when I requested it?! Everyone needs to run, not walk, to get a copy of this book. It was awesome.
Drama really spoke to the awkwardness of middle school/early high school romance. Some people are more experienced or in relationships; some people are questioning their sexuality; some people are interested when you aren’t (and vice versa); some people aren’t there yet; you can’t drive so your parents have to. It’s just all so, well, dramatic. Despite the fact that it’s all mostly wondering about crushes and quick kisses, I didn’t find myself wanting to roll my eyes at its relative purity, which I attribute to the sentiments and actions being very organic.
I was totally a drama nerd in high school and I imagine, had I been in drama in middle school, this would have been the story of those years. Although I was not nearly as confident, mature, or self reflective as Callie in some regards. But despite the fact that she felt a bit older than middle school it still seemed in line with the novel. As if she was someone a middle school reader could look up to or emulate without her actions appearing overtly didactic.
Even if you are or weren’t a drama kid, this book really speaks to the middle school experience. Plus the graphic novel format makes it very accessible even for the most reluctant middle school reader. Sure the format and story aren’t really for everyone, but Drama should be!