Timothy Rising From the Dead

Or, rather, Doug!

For those who didn’t get the title and are wondering who the heck is Timothy: Finnegan’s Wake.

My guess for the winner of the Undead Poll was Chime; the actual winner is Okay For Now.

What this means? Jonathan Stroud has to decide between Life: An Exploded Diagram; Between Shades of Gray; and Okay For Now. In other words — three works of historical fiction.

And as I read the various commentary, I continue to wonder at the various ways people read books because I often finding  myself going, “really?” Thank goodness for the occasional comment that shows I’m not alone in a bookish reaction: Brandy from Random Musings of a Bibliophile says about Life, “I didn’t want to drive around with the characters in Life. I wanted to jump out of the car they were driving to get away from them, despite the pretty scenery they were driving me through. I have yet to be convinced that book is anything more than empty pretty words.”

Memory v Life

School Library Journal Battle of the Books, Round 3, Match 2. Drawing from Memory v Life: An Exploded Diagram. Judge: Ron Koertge

Once again, Life goes up against an illustrated work!

But first: I may have a new favorite Battle post, because Koertge’s crowd sources from the track. No, really.

In discussing Drawing From Memory, Koertge notes what wasn’t included in the book. “But , man, as far as the story goes he is really reined in. How did he eat? Did he go shopping and cook for himself?” This is actually a fairly radical observation, because is it criticism of the text as it is (the book should have more!) or is it wanting the text to be something that it was not (a more detailed autobiography).

When it comes down to it, what Koertge likes is the details of life, and, well, that is what Life gives him: “As I walk, I think how much I admire Allen Say’s talent and how glad I am that his life turned out so well. But I don’t feel close to him. I like to really know the characters in books. I like to ride around in cars with them, eat dinner with them, sleep in their spare rooms and poke around in their medicine cabinets.”

Meanwhile, under the “all about me” section of the post, really? Even all the guys at the track are in love with Life?

Aside from that, each time Life has gone up against an illustrated book for a younger audience. I wonder what will happen with the final round, when it’s more a text versus text battle?

Gray v Chime

School Library Journal Battle of the Books, Round 3, Match 1. Between Shades of Gray v Chime. Judge: Maggie Stiefvater

Stiefvater’s post may be my favorite because: cookie dough. That makes everything better. Also? She rereads books she already read. There is a world of difference between reading selfishly (that is, solely for oneself) and reading for an external reason (such as an award).

What Stiefvater likes about both books is what I like about both books! On Chime: “Briony has a long way to go as far as accepting herself, and that character arc is what Chime is all about.”

When talking about Between Shades of Gray, Stiefvater’s favorite character is mine, also: “Lina’s mother was my favorite character in the book. She remains the person we all hope we can be in a disaster: kind, resilient, ultimately decent.”

Ultimately, Stiefvater selected Between Shades of Gray: “Between Shades of Gray wrecked me and changed the way I looked at things, not just the first time I read it, but also the second. Not many novels can accomplish that.” One cannot argue against such a personal reaction to a book.

I’d like to make one tiny observation; I’m sure a lot of people assumed that since the judge writes fantasy, the fantasy title was a guaranteed win. I have a personal theory about historical fiction: that it’s a version of fantasy. No, really. Like fantasy books, historical fiction looks at societies and characters unlike our own. Unlike fantasy, it can sometimes be easier to read historical fiction because we believe we “know” these people and places because it’s history, and we know our history, and the names and dates and countries are familiar.

Diagram v Wonderstruck

School Library Journal Battle of the Books, Round 2, Match 4. Life: An Exploded Diagram v Wonderstruck. Judge: Chris Lynch

What Lynch says about the beginning of Life amused me: “OK, let’s say this: If you wanted to be picky about it, you might say that the story really hits YA stride when our boy, Clem Ackroyd, moves to the council estate and then onto the secondary school. Before that he’s not really the center, and it amounts to a sort of 75 page preamble.” As readers of this blog know, I DNF’ed Life, having read the first 100 odd pages and the last 100 or so, with a chapter or two in the middle. I agree that the start is preamble, but sadly, not enough clicked for me to appreciate it hitting a YA stride.

I think an interesting argument is to be had for whether or not Life is YA, but I don’t think it’s a reason for a judge to not select Life as their bracket winner. Life was published YA; Life was selected for this Battle. From this point on, it should be book versus book, and whether or not it’s “really” YA or not doesn’t matter because it avoids doing what one commits to doing for this Battle: judging the books.

And Lynch does just that — examine the book, not it’s category — and Lynch ends up deciding for Life: “But despite the wonder undeniably struck by Brian Selznick, I have to go with Mal Peet on the strength of yer bleddy brilliant writing.”

You know what I find bleddy interesting? That at each level, Life went up against a book with illustrations, and is about to do so again in the next round.

Drawing v Again

School Library Journal Battle of the Books, Round 2, Match 3. Drawing From Memory v Inside Out & Back Again. Judge: Jewell Parker Rhodes.

In this round — like others — the Judge points out that for apples v pineapples book judging, there are also some points of similarity between the two contenders. Here, both books are rooted in the childhood experiences of the authors.

The winner? Drawing From Memory, because “Deceptively simple in its parts, these parts create a more ambitious, richly layered, and unique tale. Say’s artistry can be experienced so successfully in so many ways!”

For some, the pictures would be a draw back, and the judge would concentrate on the text alone. Here, it’s almost as if the book has an edge by being as visual as it is textual.

It’s a rainy Saturday, so on to my response to the next match!

Critical Essays on Frankenstein, Part II

And now, some of the essays from the Norton Second Edition of Frankenstein! (As a quick reminder, the original edition is my personal copy; the 2012 Second Edition was supplied by the publisher for review).

The Introduction: “[Frankenstein‘s] central narrative of creative overreaching and bitter disillusionment in a sense outgrew the novel itself and became a kind of independent trope or ‘myth’ that invaded other forms of art.”

There is more  here about Shelley and her life. I think that part of the reason I like reading about their lives is it is so outside the “norm” of society as we are told it existed then; it reminds us that people, and their times, are complex. Some of the texts that Shelley was influenced by, including her husband’s work, are included in these editions. Essays delve more into the historical origins of the story. This edition also looks at Frankenstein in its later incarnations, in plays and film. In so looking at the editions and films and plays, the reader also learns about the publishing and copyright practices of the time. Also examined, what, at different times, people meant when they invoked Frankenstein or his monster as a metaphor.

Another difference from the first edition: this one has a better map (or, at least, one that is easier to read). There are a handful of new footnotes.

In my mini-Frankenstein obsession, I also began getting some of the various Frankenstein inspired films and I am shocked that there isn’t more out there about Mary Shelley. As Lawrence Lipling writes in Frankenstein, the True Story; or, Rousseau Judges Jean-Jacques, “if Frankenstein had never been conceived, the genealogical, psychological, intellectual, political, and sexual complexities of that summer [of 1816] would still provoke plenty of thought.”

And, I can’t resist: Charles Baldick, The Reception of Frankenstein:William Beckford, a pioneer of the Gothic novel in England, recoiled in disgust from this latest of his offspring, writing in the fly leaf of his copy: “This is, perhaps, the foulest Toadstool that has yet sprung up from the reeking dunghill of the present times.” Yes, instead of quoting some of the wonderful insights about how the novel is crafted, I go for the bit that shows that snark isn’t a recent invention by bloggers.

Review: The Book of Blood and Shadow

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman. A Borzoi Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from NetGalley.  

The Plot: It started simply enough: a senior year independent study at the local college as a research assistant for a historian. Nora’s best friend, Chris, had done it the year before when he was a senior and he assured her it would be easy and fun, with the extra bonus of spending time with Chris, now a college freshman.

Professor Hoffpauer is obsessed with unlocking the secrets to “the Book,” the Voynich Manuscript, a book hundreds of years old that is written in code. “Historians, cryptographers, mathematicians, the NSA’s best code breakers gave it all they had, but the Voynich manuscript refused to yield.”

Nora is assigned a minor task: translating the Latin letters of Elizabeth Weston, written in the late sixteenth century. Weston was the step-daughter of Edward Kelley, an alchemist rumored to have broken the code.

Who would think a dusty volume and the letters of a long-dead girl would end in blood?

The Good:  If I’d known that my high school Latin class would lead to centuries old conspiracies, secret societies, and Prague, maybe I would have taken more than two years. Then again, it also leads to betrayal and murder, so maybe I’m just as well off not having become a translator of medieval manuscripts.

If I had to give an elevator pitch for this book, it would be Dan Brown meets Indiana Jones. A bunch of bright students use their knowledge of history and language to track down and discover ancient secrets, while trying to hide from secret societies with no qualms about killing to get what they want. (Except, I have to clarify: this is so much better written than Brown’s books.)

I fell for The Book of Blood and Shadow at the first sentence: “I should probably start with the blood.” Before she shares her own name, Nora tells us that “Chris will never be anything more than a corpse, . . . Adriane nothing but a dead-eyed head case,  . . . Max would be nothing but a void.”

Nora is a liar. Well, maybe not a liar, but rather, someone who withholds information. When she started at Chapman Prep as a scholarship student, she told people she was an only child. Chris knew her secret: her older brother had died several years before in a drunk driving accident, killing himself and a girl. Nora becomes best friends with Chris and his girlfriend, Adriane, yet they never visit her in at her house. They are both very close yet at arms length. In many ways, Nora is as full of secrets and hidden messages as the Book and letters she studies.

Nora is also a girl with few friends, but those friends she has mean the world to her. When those friends are threatened, it makes sense that Nora risks everything by going to Prague to get answers.

The letters that Nora studies are those of a teenage Elizabeth: Elizabeth’s father is dead, she is living in poverty while trying to regain her family’s property and position in court, she misses her brother and she is falling in love. Whether it’s because Nora knows what it’s like to live with secrets, or because she knows about grief, or about feeling alone, or has just begun to fall in love, she begins to identify with Elizabeth Weston.

Nora sweeps the reader into the story of how she began working on translating the Weston letters, of the friendship between herself, Chris, and Adriane, of falling in love with Chris’s roommate Max and, I confess, I forgot. I forgot the blood; or, rather, I wasn’t prepared for it. I was as shocked as Nora by the blood and broken bodies.

Nora isn’t stupid, and quickly realizes that there must be something more to the Book and the letters, something important, something worth killing for. Her pursuit of the truth, of who killed Chris, takes her to Prague. Prague is where Elizabeth Weston lived, and as her letters reveal, Weston herself knew the secrets of the Voynich manuscript and hid clues around Prague for her beloved brother to find.

Prague; even though this is a Prague of blood and murder and secrets and lies, Wasserman’s descriptions were such that I want to visit that city and see the ancient buildings.

Without being too spoilery, it turns out that the Book contains instructions to create the Lumen Dei, a machine that is a “miracle and it is [a] curse. It is bridge from human to divine. It is knowledge and power of God in the hands of man.” Two groups have sprung up around the Lumen Dei: the Hledaci, or “seekers,” who want the power of the Lumen Dei, and the Fidei Defensor, those who want to protect the world from the Lumen Dei. It is between these two groups of zealots that Nora finds herself, unsure of her role, not knowing which group killed Chris.

I’m afraid there isn’t much more I can tell, because part of the wonder of The Book of Blood and Shadow is the twists and turns it takes.

Because Nora was smart and brave. Because it makes Latin and history and learning and being smart cool and fun. Because it brings history alive. Because the Voynich manuscript, Edward Kelley and Elizabeth Weston are all real. Because I believed in Elizabeth’s own story so fully I forgot I only knew it through her own letters. Because now I want to go to Prague. Because Nora and her friends are a diverse cast of characters. Because it’s a standalone book. For all these reasons, The Book of Blood and Shadow is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.

Fab Films: Committee Composition and Function

Continuing an examination of the policies and procedures for the Fabulous Films Committee:

From the YALSA Website:

Committee Composition and Function: The committee will include nine members, including the chair, appointed by the YALSA Vice President/President-Elect. Members are appointed for two-year terms, and the chair is appointed to a one-year term. The current YALSA President will fill any committee vacancy. Terms begin and end at the conclusion of the Midwinter Meeting. Members shall be appointed on a staggered basis to maintain a balance of new and continuing members. Reappointment of the chair or committee members is not automatic and is based on participation in the work of the committee and recommendation by the chair. After the end of the second consecutive term, a member must wait five years before he or she is eligible to serve again. Barring emergency, committee members are required to participate in the nomination process, to evaluate videos and digital video disks, to attend all committee meetings and to actively participate in discussions.

The editor, or editor’s designee, of the Audiovisual Media section of Booklist will serve as an ex officio member of the committee.

An administrative assistant will be appointed, in consultation with the committee chair, by the YALSA Vice President/President-Elect. The administrative assistant may serve for three successive years as a non-voting member of the committee.

As mentioned in an earlier post, this is a two year commitment. Once a person cycles off, they have to wait five years before being able to serve again. Attendance at committee meetings (that is, Midwinter Meeting and Annual) are required.

Next week: Acquiring Titles for Screening

Chime v Smoke

School Library Journal Battle of the Books Round 2, Match 2. Chime v Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Judge: E. Lockhart

Lockhart on Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone:The heroine, blue-haired and covered in tattoos, is satisfyingly violent and smart-mouthed.” “Satisfyingly violent.” Love that!

And then — and then — Lockhart totally goes against the crowd! Pretty much, judges hold their selection to the end. They talk about the two books and then share the winner.

Lockhart puts the end in the middle: “Still, I am tipping the battle in favor of Chime by Franny Billingsley, largely because of my probably idiosyncratic inability to fall in love with that foxy, murderous angel.”

Why?

Because Lockhart knows that the important thing is not what book is selected, but why.* The “why” is the reveal people are reading for. It also goes to the power of knowing the so-called ending when reading a book: one gets to appreciate why that is the ending. Here, knowing the battle is tipped for Chime, I can sit back in comfort and enjoy the why. And the why — the why — is Lockhart saying, so eloquently, what I loved about Chime:And so for me, the incredibly romantic ending of Chime had great strength, because it wasn’t a fantasy of a bad man tamed—it was the fantasy of loving a deeply good man, and how healing that can be.”

I really should have had more faith in Chime and the judges!

*Perhaps if my bracket was anything other than a shambles I’d feel differently.