Friday, November 28, 2008

On my Thanksgiving vacation, I screamed!

The reason it's been quiet around Librarilly Blonde lately is due to 1) my catching the office plague and 2) my taking a week's vacation. As someone who's usually not happy if I don't have more things on my to-do list than I can possibly do in a day, I'm a little surprised at how happy NOT doing anything for a week (we're talking reading ONE book, not blogging, not reading my feeds, only occasionally looking at Twitter) has made me. Most days, I didn't even bother getting out of my pajamas.

But what's there to do if you don't blog, read, read your feeds, etc.? Oh, my friends, let me introduce you to my latest television addiction, Scream Queens.

The concept of Scream Queens is simple: Ten young women go through a competitive reality show in order to land a role in Saw VI. There are most of the standard competitive-reality-show stereotypes here: The bitch who thinks she's got it in the bag (Michelle), the experienced actress (Lindsay), the crazy chick (Jessica), the talented newcomer (Tanedra), and more. Every week, established scream queen Shawnee Smith leads the girls through various acting challenges that showcase their talents in subgenres of horror. In one scene they have to do "camp" as a talking disembodied head. In another, they are "possessed by the devil." Each episode has an acting challenge, like the Quickfire challenge on Top Chef, followed by a director's challenge, from which they pick the week's "leading lady" and who goes home. At other times, there are acting classes, makeovers, and in-house drama. Here's a clip of them getting a director's challenge assignment.

I am not a die-hard, MUST SEE IN THEATERS horror fan, but I do enjoy the occasional scary flick so I figured I'd tune in. I expected America's Next Top Model, more or less, with more acting challenges. The two shows aren't wholly dissimilar in that they teach through challenges, but there's a purity of heart in Scream Queens that ANTM has begun to lose over the years. There's the occasional spat of catfighting and insults, but a lot of it looks overmanufactured. For me, the part that's fun to watch is the acting classes and directors' challenge. The girls might fight and make catty comments in their confessionals, but the viewer can also see that they are each dedicated to doing the best they can in horror acting. They think about character motivations, timing, working with a sometimes restraining costume, emotions beyond horror, and physical acting, expressing their emotions. When my personal favorite Lindsay was almost voted off, one of the judges asked her why she was there, and rather than give the "I deserve to be here" blah blah that so many reality competitors do, classy Lindsay said, "I love to act and I've got the experience to bring to your set." I think they're all into doing the reality show to boost their fame, but what sets the final four apart from most of the other "I'm here to, like, achieve A-list Hollywood Insider status," reality show competitors is their dedication to horror acting and their cognizance of how the outside world views many horror movies and those who make them. The contenders and judges all are usually on their best behavior on set.

This Monday is the series finale, which will pit Angela, Tanedra, Lindsay, and Michelle against each other for two final challenges. If you get the chance during the day you'll probably be able to catch earlier episodes before the finale airs. I have no idea what the director's challenge will be, but I would absolutely love to see all the finalists re-enact the "reverse bear trap" scene that Shawnee Smith made famous in the original Saw. I'm not embedding it here, but you can view it on YouTube here. Be forewarned, the scene is not for the faint of heart. Or the reference desk.

The finale will be a bloody, screaming, fight to the death...if we're lucky.

Scream Queens blog
|| the discussion at Television Without Pity || Watch episodes at Fancast

Friday, November 21, 2008

Vampires: Now on sale

I know all the buzz right now is about that OTHER teen vampire series, but because so many teen librarians are big Buffy fans I thought I'd post this.

Today's Amazon Deal of the Day is the Buffy the Vampire Slayer 40-disc collector's set, which normally retails for $199, for $69. It's a great set (thanks, Mom!) and the $69 price is lower than I've seen anywhere. The item is also available for free shipping. So click here and buy yourself an early Chrismukwanzakkah gift.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The tie-in item I'd kill for

Thanks to the miracles of design and licensing, we book fans can wear jewelry or buy other tchotchkes based on our favorite books. We can wear pendants in the shape of the Dark Mark, or the One Ring. With these items in mind, I'm begging of you, Scholastic, will you please grant the rights to someone, anyone, to make replicas of the mockingjay pin that Katniss wears in the Hunger Games? I realize it might not be as big a seller as that gold Time-Turner, but I'm sure I could find you at least ten people who would buy one.

Death and the Magic

From today's Guardian, J.K. Rowling on writing her favorite Harry Potter scene:

But when Harry takes his last, long walk into the heart of the Dark Forest, he is choosing to accept a burden that fell on him when still a tiny child, in spite of the fact that he never sought the role for which he has been cast, never wanted the scar with which he has been marked. As his mentor, Albus Dumbledore, has tried to make clear to Harry, he could have refused to follow the path marked out for him. In spite of the weight of opinion and expectation that singles him out as the "Chosen One", it is Harry's own will that takes him into the Forest to meet Voldemort, prepared to suffer the fate that he escaped sixteen years before.

J.K. Rowling, you are truly a queen among women.

(Been absent much of this week due to being miserably sick. But I'm on the mend now and entries are coming.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

The book you sell to yourself

This weekend, as Twilight opens in thousands of theaters, I have great plans to go to my local movie theater, relax with a box of popcorn, and see a movie full of adventure and romance, starring a very hot male lead.

Quantum of Solace is going to be FANTASTIC.

My preference for Daniel Craig over Robert Pattinson aside, I just had to link to this interview with Stephenie Meyer in today's Chicago Sun-Times: 'Hooked' by 'Twilight' film. For the most part, it's an average interview, but this part made me squint:

Ask her why these books are such a hit and she smiles warmly and says, "For me, it's an absolute mystery. I wrote these books for me and I don't know why people have responded. But no one was supposed to read these but me."

Either I'm misinterpreting, or that is the most mind-boggling statement I've read this month today. Who does Stephenie Meyer think she's kidding?

Look, I understand wanting to write for yourself. Faulkner said it best: If the story is in you, it has got to come out. I understand having a cool dream and wanting to write about it. And once it's out of you, you can decide that these books are for you and no one else is supposed to see them. Then you can put them in a drawer and forget about them for a while, maybe forever. These are all quite acceptable things to do with your story. It's also quite acceptable to come up with an idea, put together a manuscript, shop it around, and maybe sell a bestselling novel.

But if you're going to say the philosophy behind the former but actually do the latter, either stop saying or doing. If no one was supposed to read the book but you, then it wasn't a good idea to shop it to major publishing houses. If you always meant to shop it around, then you shouldn't say it was written for you and no one else should have seen it because publishing is anything but a solitary process.

Either one is fine, really. Just tell me which it is.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A statement as thin as paper (towns)

It's great when a young adult novel gets good press, right? It's great when a writer for a college newspaper gives a glowing review to a young adult novel, right? Sure. But it's not great when the review, specifically this review of Paper Towns from The Ithacan, begins with this:

The young-adult genre has been riddled with uninspiring novels that lack any kind of creativity or originality. Shuffling through the mundane “Gossip Girl” spin-offs and “Twilight” rip-offs has made finding a substantive novel as easy as finding a needle in a haystack.

To Monica Watson, writer of the review, I have a few questions:

1. What was the last YA book you read, other than Paper Towns?
2. Have you talked to any YA literature professionals what the state of the YA market is today?
3. Did you visit a local library or bookstore to see what's available in the YA world right now before making that statement?
4. Are you kidding?

I think this review really does a good job of capturing what makes Paper Towns special, but to say that Paper Towns stands out because the rest of the YA literature world is so lacking in quality is ridiculous, uninformed, and untrue. Paper Towns is not a needle in a haystack. It is a needle in a stack of needles. It is one of many outstanding YA books published this year alone, and one of hundreds published in the last five years. The first Printz award was given years before Green even wrote the first draft of Looking for Alaska. Trust me, no one envies the amount of work the Printz committee has to do this year, and that's a good thing. Contrary to what Ms Watson seems to believe, the number of quality, literary YA books is only going up every year. Every year, the Printz committee's job gets harder. Every year, there are outstanding books that redefine what a YA book can be and do. One cannot write off an entire genre based on the quality, or lack thereof, of two series.

Are there mundane Gossip Girl spin-offs? Yes! And they're fun to read! It's not a crime to write what's popular, and it's not a crime to write a bad YA novel. The deity of your choice knows there are just as many bad adult novels, percentage-wise, as YA novels. I'm happy that Paper Towns got this great bit of press, but please, journalists of the world, do some research and talk to some professionals before making unfounded statements about YA literature.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I can so relate! Can you?

In reading this article at on urban teens who read street lit, I was particularly intrigued by this quote:

Millner's 14-year-old niece had read the "Gossip Girl" and "A-List" series but yearned for books with characters with whom she could identify.

In addition to this article on street lit, the "Thrilling YAs" program I went to at the YALSA YA Lit Symposium addressed this same question. "Kids enjoy books because they can relate to the characters," was Patrick Jones's statement in a very small nutshell. My problem is that statements like this always make me wonder what a "relatable" character is. The only answer I have is "It's something different to everyone."

I guess if you held a gun to my head I would tell you that teens can relate the best to characters whose lives are sort of like theirs. That, however, is a flawed statement. Probably the most relatable character of the past 10 years of YA is Harry Potter, and the number of HP readers who live in a magical castle and were born to fight one of the greatest evil wizards who ever lived is, as far as I know, zero. What made Harry relatable was the relationships he had with Ron, Hermione, and his other friends, and how he always tried to do the right thing. His life had some high wizarding drama but he also worried about getting a date to the school dance. Despite his reputation as the wizarding world's savior, he had the worries about first love and identity that we all do. He fought with his friends but made up with them, just like we do.

It's this "just like we do" mantra that always made me wonder why so many readers of the Twilight series saw Bella as relatable. She has friends, just like we do! She participates in extracurricular activities, just like we do! Oh, wait, she doesn't do either of those things. She has no hobbies or interests, like any human being does, outside of her boyfriend. She's supposed to be "different" and "weird" but there's no proof of her being either of these things other than the author telling us it is so. Instead, she gets the perfect boyfriend because she smells good. Since none of us can smell blood or know what our own blood smells like, this is a gap between Bella and the reader. A huge one. The very reason for the romance around which the plot is centered is something that we cannot relate to because it's physically impossible for us to do so.

Going a little younger in children's literature, my favorite Newbery winner of all time (and my husband's, coincidentally) is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. I did not grow up anywhere even remotely near New York. I never saw the Metropolitan Museum of Art until I was 17. I don't have brothers. But I related to Claudia because I knew what it was like to want to see the world outside of suburbia while still being comfortable and wearing clean clothes. I understood what Claudia meant by wanting to go back to Connecticut "different." Claudia's adventure was about seeing the world outside of home and school and holding a secret that would set her apart from everyone else. Those are amazing things to have, and Mixed-Up Files is an amazing story of wanting. Claudia endures because we all want something special all to ourselves, and I'm not talking material possessions.

So maybe I have something more than "It's different to everyone." Maybe I also have, "It all depends on matters of the heart." Blair, Serena, and Massie don't have much in common with urban teens superficially. But let's be fair here: They don't have much in common with middle-class suburban teens, either. One could say that the Gossip Girl and Clique series are pure escapism, a fantasy set in the real world, but I think there's more to it than that. I think it's that readers of books about other teens, whether those teens are urban or suburban, rich or not, want to know that there are some experiences that are universal, or that there are experiences to look forward to. Really, how many teens see themselves in Tally Youngblood? Doesn't seem to matter; those books are crazy popular. If it's all about teens seeing themselves in books, then why are the majority of the Teens' Top Ten picks speculative fiction?

Obviously there's more to being relatable than a familiar environment or the "just like me" factor. It's about "just like me" and "just like I want to be" and "just like I could be." Perhaps even "just like I was."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

r u thr gd? its me max

Today's Publishers Weekly online had a fun little editorial by Max Leone, 13, of New Jersey: read this b4 u publish :-)

I found parts of it very clever:

Finally, here is what I consider the cardinal rule of writing for young adults: Do Not Underestimate Your Audience. They actually know a lot about what's going on in politics. They will get most of the jokes you expect them not to. They have a much higher tolerance for horror and action than most adults.

(The only problem with this statement was that Max then went on to say that most of what he reads isn't aimed at a YA audience in the first place, making me wonder why PW picked him to talk about writing and marketing books for YA boys.)

Other parts I found downright laughable:

“Methinks”? “Doth”? Really? So we are constantly ridiculed for “lol,” while these offenses go unnoticed? To all writers of books aimed at teenage boys, I beg you: please use only modern language, no matter what time period or universe your book takes place in.

(Methinks Max needs to read Octavian Nothing, or perhaps learn a little about the evolution of the English language.)

Regardless of what I felt, it's always nice to see a teen speak passionately and articulately about reading. I don't think this piece defines what really does or doesn't make a YA book sell and garner readers and fab reviews, but it does touch on some important points.

Recap: YA Lit Symposium

I've just returned from YALSA's first YA lit symposium, "How We Read Now." There were some minor glitches, of course, but overall I have to say it was enjoyable, educational, and well-organized.

I got into Nashville late Friday afternoon, just in time to get my registration materials, unpack, and get to the happy hour sponsored by Little, Brown. Many thanks to Victoria Stapleton and all at LBYR for a fabulous time. There were books and good conversation. Then, I confess, I had to go be boring and head back to my room to do a run-through of the presentation I was giving with Liz B. I think our hour-and-a-half presentation probably involved 10 hours of work, total, between putting the presentation together and practicing the timing.

Saturday I attended "Thrilling Young Adults: How to Keep the Attention of Today’s Teens," a panel with authors Margaret Peterson Haddix and Patrick Jones, editor and author Deborah Noyes, and librarian moderator Amy Alessio. The first part of the program, the panelists talked about what makes a book thrilling regardless of genre, followed by questions about publishing and marketing YA. I was most interested by the answers to the question of whether or not awards are important in the YA lit world. Noyes noted that for her house, Candlewick, awards were important because as a house they tend to focus on more standalone, literary fiction, the type that tends to win awards. Jones said that the fastest way to make reluctant readers run away from the book is to put an award sticker on the front. To this, I say, "maybe." I think it depends much more on the book. Repossessed is a great reluctant reader read, imho. To every book its reader and all. Also, reluctant readers aren't the only readers out there. The readers who want more esoteric and literary books must be reached as well.

After this program, it was back to work on our presentation. Starbucks, a few run-throughs, and timing. Then it was time to set up and present.

If you're interested in seeing our PowerPoint presentation, you can view it at the YALSA wiki here: Fandom, Fan Life, and Participatory Culture.

Saturday evening I had the pleasure of dining with Susan Kuklin, author of No Choirboy: Murder, Violence and Teenagers on Death Row. No Choirboy is an outstanding look at how these teens got to death row and how their lives are affected and restricted. I am addicted to watching shows like Lockup so perhaps I am a little biased, having a special interest in this topic. I think, though, that whether or not you're into watching law procedurals of any kind, this is a book worth reading. More than simple interviews with death row inmates, Kuklin writes about our criminal justice system and those who help young offenders. It's also nominated for Best Books for Young Adults 2009 and I hope it makes the final list. Many thanks to Tim Jones at Henry Holt BYR for organizing this event.

On Sunday I attended "Hit List or Hot List," presented by Drs Teri Lesesne and Rosemary Chance. By far, the thing I found most interesting about this session was their showing the audience the extreme dissonance between the Accelerated Reader level of a given teen book and what audience the book actually appeals to. For example, Barry Lyga's Boy Toy has a reading level of 4.5, or about mid-fourth grade. Tyrell by Coe Booth has a 4.4 reading level, and The Hunger Games has a 5.3 RL, or early fifth grade. I find all of that completely insane! Of course, those AR reading levels are determined solely by vocabulary and sentence structure. They ignore content and characterization, the things that make a book more than just the words on its pages. I would have absolutely loved for the entire session to cover AR, reading levels, lexile levels, and what it REALLY means when a fourth grader "can read on a ninth-grade level," but that's for another session entirely. Instead, Lesesne and Chance talked about censorship and content versus reading level, then invited authors Barry Lyga, Coe Booth, and Julie Anne Peters to talk about their books and readers' reactions.

I confess I skipped the rest of the sessions that day in favor of eating lunch and trying to make an earlier flight home (which didn't happen, sigh), but there's plenty of information on the YALSA conference wiki and Melissa at Librarian by Day liveblogged all the sessions she attended. If you Twitter, there's also an index of many Twitters from the symposium here (including my own that says I was too tired to Twitter, but that I would blog later, ha!).

The next YALSA YA Lit Symposium will be in Albequerque in 2010, if you'd like to plan ahead. And personally, I'm lobbying the planning committee to look at Pittsburgh for 2012. YA lit plus the Smashed Potato pizza from Fuel N' Fuddle might make for the best conference ever.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

You, keep on shouting!

One of the neverending projects here in BCCLSland is BCCLSVisor, an index of reader's advisory lists and book suggestion websites. It's maintained by Ruth Greenberg, our Collection Development and Cataloging Librarian (the print on her business cards is really small). Every month, Ruth posts a new themed list to BCCLSVisor, usually contributed by a librarian from somewhere out in BCCLS. Pasts lists have included romances, new vampires, cookbooks, and more.

A few months ago, I was sitting with my fellow BCCLS staff down in the training room and somehow the conversation got onto the subject of music. My co-workers were talking opera, musicals, and the like until I said, "So, am I the only one in this room who listens to Led Zeppelin?"

In a word, yes.

What I got for opening my big mouth was Ruth enlisting me to do a list of rock music books and albums for November. Because I love rock and I don't mind doing BCCLSVisor lists, I said I'd do one. I wasn't sure at the time how the list was going to shape up, but I think it came out okay thanks to help from Joe, one of our field techs, and Matthew, a librarian at the Paramus Public Library.

See it here (and maybe expand your listening horizons): BCCLSVisor, November, 2008: Rock and Roll All Night.

You won't want to break these Chains

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Things I want, version Keyboard

What better keyboard to write Librarilly Blonde on than the Keyboard for Blondes?

Buy me this, and I promise to write all my blog posts on it.

(The people at Shiny Shiny didn't think it was that funny, but I do.)

Comments on this post are disabled.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A night without Twilight

In life and literature, there are always what-ifs.

What if there had been no Harry Potter?

What if Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging hadn't been published until 2008?

What if Judy Blume or Robert Cormier had never written YA books?

The New York Observer posed a sort-of question for the YA literature times in their article Everything's Pietschy At Lean and Mean Little, Brown. What if Little, Brown had become part of Bertelsmann and absorbed by Random House Children's Books, and what if Megan Tingley had never been able to buy Twilight? Life's too short and there are too many books to sit around and ponder this at any great length, but I can't imagine what the YA landscape would look like if Megan Tingley Books had been assimilated by Random. I think the world of the people at Random (hi, Adrienne! hi, Tracy!) and I don't think the YA lit world would be a bad place if the merger had happened, per se, I just wonder how it would have been different. For all the sense I make.