October 2008


I’ve just discovered Booking Through Thursday, and I think it’s a wonderful idea. Every Thursday, a question is posed on this blog, and answered by loads of book lovers around the internet. I’d like to start including myself in that number!

btt button

This week’s question is as follows:

Mariel suggested this week’s question.

“Are you a spine breaker? Or a dog-earer? Do you expect to keep your books in pristine condition even after you have read them? Does watching other readers bend the cover all the way round make you flinch or squeal in pain?”

I love my books. I don’t just love the words in them; I also love the books themselves. They’re starting to take over my bedroom, because I have such difficulty getting rid of them.

This sentimental attachment to a whole class of inanimate objects means that I hate seeing books mistreated. I try to keep all of my books in good condition–no dog-earing and spine-breaking here–though I know that perfection is largely unacheviable in all areas of life, book treatment included. I try not to lend my books to people who will mistreat them (my mother forces me to make exceptions for my less-than-literary fifteen year old brother sometimes because she wants him to actually pick up a book), and everyone who borrows from my library (which literally has more young adult fiction than the YA section of the local public library) is treated to a short lecture on how to handle books.

My stacks make some book damages unavoidable; for example, my cat jumped last week on a teetering pile of books, and, in the resulting destruction, a book’s cover was bent. Age also shows on some of my books; some of these favorites have been in my personal library for more than ten years, and they are understandably battered and sometimes bent or ripped. These losses are mourned, but, as I said, unavoidable.

These rules, however, apply almost exclusively to narratives read by choice. When I have reference books or books for school, I dog ear, underline, and highlight–I find it necessary sometimes. But for the old favorites that I have such a deep attachment to, I’d never dream of doing such things!

What about you?

The results of my poll were inconclusive, so I’ve decided, as sort of a compromise, to post weekly link roundups of where I can be found on the internet on both Teen Book Review and my personal blog (and other places, when applicable). This includes only posts that could be of interest to both audiences. Feedback about this solution is welcome!

Check out this roundtable post on the Cybils blog with myself and the other YA panelists! The second part will be up Tuesday.

I posted on my personal blog about school and education–two things that do not necessarily go together. In fact, in my experience, they rarely do.

While we’re talking about school and learning, you might be interested in this post about standardized testing, or this one about the value of reading fiction. Also, see what I think about another activity that is often bashed as mindless, but can have real value: using the internet.

As is everyone else, I have been entrenched in politics lately. I’ve been watching the news, reading the papers, biting my nails and hoping for the outcome I want in the election. For a few of my thoughts, you can read my posts on YA For Obama about why voting is important and Michelle Obama’s famous statement about being proud of her country for the first time.

Check out this great Red news!

And while we’re kind of on the subject of my writing, I’d love feedback on the article I submitted to Teen Ink about visiting Morocco last summer.

Speaking of travel, I also posted some quotes and ideas about why travel is an important experience.

I think that’s it for this week. Enjoy!

I’ve seen this on several blogs, most recently Reviewer X, and I’ve decided to try to participate in “Waiting On” Wednesday, which, as far as I can tell, means posting every Wednesday about an upcoming book that I’m looking forward to. I believe it originated at Breaking the Spine. Anyway, this week’s pick:

Persistence of Memory by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

12.09.08 from Delacorte Books For Young Readers

Sixteen-year-old Erin Misrahe just wants to be like everyone else in her new school. But Erin has more to worry about than passing AP Chemistry or making friends. In times of stress, she has always been overcome by her alter ego, Shevaun, whose violent behavior wreaks havoc on those around her. Erin can never remember anything about these episodes, and she’s grateful to have been spared them for a while.

But when a protective friend comes back into Erin’s life, he insists that Shevaun is a vampire who actually exists apart from Erin. Shevaun has dangerous allies, like the handsome witch Adjila—and they’re determined to sever Shevaun’s connection to Erin once and for all.

(From Amazon)

I love Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. She writes great books, and she started writing and publishing them when she was just fourteen. It’s both inspiring and discouraging, and totally awesome. Check out my interview with the author here.

I’ve posted again on my YA For Obama blog. I hope you’ll check it out! This time, I wrote about Michelle Obama’s famous statement (“For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country”) and patriotism. Read my thoughts here.

I think that voting is very important. Too many people complain, yet far too few of them use the ballot box to do so. They’d rather just whine and then sit at home on election day. In that vein, I have written a blog post at YA For Obama. Check it out here.

There are some things that I’m never sure where to post. Pretty much anything on this blog in the category “random thoughts,” for example, and quite a few things on my personal blog. I know more people read this blog (130 Google Reader subscribers as opposed to 4–I just checked), and these are opinions that I’d love to have others’ thoughts on, but I’m still not sure what belongs here and what doesn’t. Of course, I could make this strictly business and just post book reviews & the like, but I, personally, prefer book blogs with a bit of a personal stuff, too, you know, so it’s an actual person behind the blog and not a book reviewing robot. So I guess the question is–where would you rather see things like my thoughts on standardized testing, fiction, the internet, education, and travel? Where can I share my political opinions? News or thoughts about my writing?

Please comment if you have any helpful advice.

Remember Red? The fantastic book of essays by teenage girls across the country (including myself), edited by the fabulous Amy Goldwasser?

As of today, it’s available in paperback! Get it here. Get it for yourself. Get it for a friend or relative–the holidays are coming up, and surely you need a gift for a reader in your life.

Or, get it for someone else you’ve never met, as part of the Red book drive. Details here.

Also, I just noticed–the title is different on the paperback. On the hardcover book, it’s called “Red: The Next Generation of American Writers–Teenage Girls–On What Fires Up Their Lives Today.” Which I always thought was a bit lengthy. Now, it’s “Red: Teenage Girls in America Write on What Fires Up Their Lives Today.” Not much better, is it? Though I suppose a one-word color title does need some explanation. When I first submitted to the project, it was called Bloody Red Heart. Which, I like better, but I also realize that was probably too vague. Let’s just stick with calling it Red on this blog, seeing as we know what it is, okay?

Perhaps the proper place for this is on my television review blog; however, you may have noticed that I’ve sort of given up on that. And, in any case, this isn’t a real review, just a few thoughts, and it’s about a movie based on a book. And so, my justification for putting it here.

I adored the book that this movie is based on (though it’s been a couple of years since I read it, so my memory is a bit fuzzy). I love Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. I was quite worried that I would hate this movie, that it wouldn’t do justice to the brilliant book on which it is based, and I’m happy to say that I was wrong!

Certainly, there are some changes in how the story goes, some additions and subtractions to the plot, and some things that could have been less glossed-over by the movie version. However, I felt like they captured the spirit of the novel quite nicely, and that’s what really counts, isn’t it? Michael Cera isn’t the Nick I remember, but he’s still a good one, in his own way, and I thought Kat Dennings was a marvelous Norah. All of the actors did wonderfully–fantastic performers. The soundtrack was great. I loved how well they captured the New York feel of the story.

This movie is smart and funny and unique and wonderful. Certainly, credit to the book, but it would have been so easy for the moviemakers to have turned a brilliant book into a crappy movie–happens all the time in Hollywood. I’m so thrilled that it didn’t happen here!

Relevant links: the book, the movie, interview with Rachel Cohn, interview with David Levithan.

Few people would argue that reading, in general, is bad for your mind. However, I have encountered some people who seem to think that the value of reading is lessened by the type of reading you’re doing. Fiction is apparently less worthwhile reading than non-fiction, and even in the world of reading fiction, adult fiction is often considered far more worthy of our time.

To which I say: ridiculous! I won’t go into why young adult fiction is great because there are plenty of others who have articulated that quite nicely. My point today is that we can learn a lot about the real world from fiction (no matter what the age of the intended audience is). This, of course, is not limited to the specifics that I want to point out; we can learn about anything in the real world from fiction. Fiction has often been a better teacher than all my years in school. It has given me ideas, knowledge, questions, and the means to find answers.

Fiction can teach us to think. It can teach us new ideas, and it can teach us to question what we have been taught. Not that it is wrong, but to question, which is vital. To accept something blindly keeps our minds weak; to open our eyes and question makes us strong. This is a lesson I have learned from fiction.

Fiction can teach us about how people interact, and how they think. People do all sorts of crazy things, and maybe we can’t walk up to them and ask them why, but, through reading stories about all kinds of people, we can try to figure it out ourselves. This sort of lesson is universal throughout fiction; we learn about people whether the book we are reading takes place at Hogwarts or in Sydney,  Australia. Even better, we learn about people whose backgrounds may differ from our own. We learn that we are all people, no matter where we come from.

Fiction can teach us about far-off places we don’t get the chance to experience for ourselves. I’ve never been to Miami, Florida, for example. However, I’ve read several great books with Miami as an integral part of the story, so I’d like to think I know something about it. Last year, I went to New York City for the first time. I’d never been there, but it was still, in a way, familiar; I’ve read countless books set in New York. I recognized things I’d never seen!

Fiction can teach us about history. Though I’ve taken several wonderful history courses, I’ve never had a class that went in-depth about the Holocaust and World War II (apparently, it’s never been important on the exam–don’t we love test-centered learning?). As awful as this part of history is, it is also important. It is important to understand what happened, to understand how awful it was, and to understand how it happened, so as to try to prevent history from repeating itself. Even though I never learned much about it at school, I know a lot about this period in history. Why? Because of the countless books I’ve read on it, most of them fiction (though, to be honest, some of it was non-fiction as well). Take any time period in history, and read some fiction set there; I guarantee you’ll learn loads.

Fiction can teach us to express ourselves. We learn by example, and the example here is to be able to write our thoughts, to be articulate and use language to its fullest extent. We can express our ideas, and communicate with other people. From reading, no matter what book, we learn new tricks of language, new vocabulary, or, if it’s poorly written, what not to do.

Fiction can teach us about possibilities. It teaches us to dream. Just because something has not happened to us does not mean it is out of reach. Fiction lets us touch these dreams, lets us hope they can become reality, and even lets them become like reality, if only for a few hours. I am sorry for anyone who does not read fiction because it is not “real;” I am sorry for anyone who has lost their imagination. 

I know most of my book blog readers don’t read my personal blog, but because this post was kind of sparked by something related to a wonderful book, I’d like to point you in that direction. Also because I’d like to know your thoughts on the topic! School versus education, that kind of thing.

Also, another note about the whole Alpha Inventions thing–I still think it’s a really cool idea, and I’ve found and commented on some interesting blogs from there. But I’m getting loads of hits, and no comments. I don’t need comments, necessarily, but I’d like to know tha at least a couple of people are really getting something out of it. My hope, and the reason I like Alpha Inventions, is that out of all the people who glance at my blog, a handful of them will actually think it’s interesting and read it. I wish I had some way of knowing if that is happening.

I am writing this post in Windows Live Writer. The purpose of the post? Just to test it out. I want to see how my post looks, how easy it is to use, etc. But, so far, this seems like a pretty fantastic tool. For me, at least, the page to compose a new post in WordPress is really, really slow, and I’m hoping this’ll be quicker. Let me know your experiences if you’ve used this utility, or if you have anything else similar that you love!

Edit: It worked great! I love it! And I usually am less than fond of Microsoft. For instance, I hate Vista on my computer. I wish I had a Mac. But I am going to use Windows Live Writer.

I have just discovered a super cool new way to promote your own blog & discover new ones. I am pretty impressed with what it must have taken to build this website, and I’ve already found some interesting blogs on there as well as gotten a couple dozen new visitors here! Seriously, check it out.

I have books that I immensely enjoyed, and am in continuing awe of the skill of their authors. I have books that fall into only one of those two categories (I appreciate how well done they are, or I loved reading them). I have books that I think everyone should read because everyone will love them. I have books that I appreciate because of what they have to say about society. And so on.

This is why the question of “favorite” books is so difficult for me. I tend to mix it up, with books that I appreciate for different reasons. Today, I want to talk about another category: books that are personally, emotionally important to me for some reason or another. There are numerous books here, but today I want to talk about what I would say are, hands down, the most important books to me. And that would be the Harry Potter series.

It might sound silly, but these books have been with me since I was a small child. Whenever my gaze happens to fall on the bit of my bookshelves that holds the seven volumes (plus Quidditch Through The Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them), I am enormously sad that there will be no more (The Tales of Beedle The Bard‘s upcoming release does a bit to relieve that, though), but still happy in a nostalgic sort of way. To me, each book is not just linked to the wonderful stories inside, or to the characters that became friends (or dreadful enemies or incredible annoyances, depending on the character, the point is that they all became much more real to me than fictional characters)–these books are linked to parts of my life.

The first three books remind me of the part of my life when I first stepped out of my shell a bit. I was very intensely shy as a child, and the time when I first made friends (rather than my mother making them for me) was around the same part of my life that I first discovered the Harry Potter series through my third grade teacher. And what did my friends and I do? We talked about Harry Potter and pretended we went to Hogwarts! This time in my life was my first step towards independence, towards being my own person, in lots of ways that I didn’t even begin to realize then. But now, when I look at those books, I am reminded of it, and of who I was then.

And so on for books four through seven. These books mean a lot to me, as you can tell, to the point where, though I realize they’re far from perfect, and can even point out a few criticisms (one word: camping), I find it incredibly difficult to be objectively critical of the series. Except the epilogue, which was kind of awful.

What is it for you? The author or book or series that you love so much, for some reason or another, that it is simply above and beyond feelings for any other book?

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is Mark Haddon’s rather brilliant novel from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old English boy who is incredibly clever when it comes to things like math and memorization, but clueless when it comes to things like human emotions and how to function in everyday life and society. It seems like he’s autistic, though Haddon never expressly says that in the novel. This book begins when Christopher decides to write a mystery novel based on the real-life mystery of “Who Killed Wellington?,” Wellington being his neighbor’s poodle who was horrifically murdered with a garden fork.

In the series of events that unfolds from there, Christopher is pushed unbelievably far out of his comfort zone, trying to solve Wellington’s murder, figure out a new mystery having to do with his mother, and just deal with the parts of everyday life that are so effortless for the rest of us.

Christopher’s voice rings true in this clever book. I am usually not a fan of required reading (I read this book and wrote this review for my Psych class), but I couldn’t put this book down once I started reading it. It’s smart and funny and observant. The narration is detached in just the way Christopher is supposed to be, perfect for the character—all cold and logical without any of the passion or emotion that regular people have. Christopher is overwhelmed and confused sometimes, but there are many things that would upset most people that leave Christopher completely unemotional. It’s a little bit alarming, the way he does not seem to understand other people as being human like him. The way the entire story is told just as Christopher would tell it. For example, the way he doesn’t care that his mother left his father, cheated on him. He doesn’t care about that, still sees his mother the same way she always has been, but when he finds out his father killed Wellington, a dog, he is horrified and terrified of his father, seeing him as something of a monster, something to fear. He identifies far better with animals, whose emotions are relatively uncomplicated, than with people. He actually compares the minds of other people to computers at one point. Mark Haddon has done a brilliant job with this book. He’s an amazingly gifted writer, with his perfect characterization of Christopher. I saw that he’s written another book, and I’m definitely going to read it as soon as possible.

This isn’t particularly relevant to teen books, but it is relevant to teens. We take standardized tests at least once a year, from the time we’re eight (in my state). Every senior in high school, myself included, stresses about their SAT scores. I got my scores back today, for the second and last time that I will take the SAT reasoning test. Now, I am a good test taker. I am pleased with my scores.* I don’t find the experience of taking a standardized test to be particularly torturous, though the SAT does happen too early for my taste on a Saturday morning.

Just so we’re clear: I’m not personally bitter about anything. But I hate standardized tests. I hate the whole principle of it. A good four years (at least) of my future is decided largely by one Saturday morning. Certainly, that’s not the only factor in college admissions. Just like the state test I take at the end of certain classes isn’t the only factor in my grade, but it is 1/4 of it. We decide major things based on a few hours. What if I was unwell that morning? What if there were sirens passing by the window and I was distracted by the noise? What if I have severe test anxiety but I’m super-smart? Then is it fair that my future is largely based on a few hours’ filling in bubbles?

No. It’s not fair to anyone. I understand that there must be ways to compare a student in California to a student in Iowa, really, I do. But I don’t think this is it. Test scores are so important to us, but there are a million things that can affect how well we do on standardized tests.

I don’t pretend to have the solution to this testing madness, or any power to change it, but I don’t like it.

*(My highest SAT scores are 780 on Critical Reading, 740 on Writing, and 700 on math, so you know I’m not just complaining–I’m perfectly happy with my scores).

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