Friday, April 24, 2009

Books for Holocaust Remembrance Week

My post at Foreword's Shelf Space blog this week is all about outstanding Holocaust nonfiction: Beyond Maus and Night. It's not my usual area of interest, but I am lucky enough to have a very good friend at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum library who gave me some wonderful advice and recommendations.

Next week is my last Shelf Space post, and I'll be...surprising you all!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Loving Hate List

For a little while, I'm back to reviewing YA books, and this is one I'm really glad to have the opportunity to write about.

I was sold on Hate List by Jennifer Brown (coming in September of 2009) the minute I heard about it at a recent preview at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. It starts four months after a school shooting. Hate List's narrator, Val, is an incoming senior. She is simultaneously a hero and a pariah, because although she saved a classmate's life during the shooting, she was dating the shooter, Nick, at the time of the incident. To further complicate Val's post-shooting life, the police found a notebook she and Nick shared, which contained the Hate List. The Hate List is, well, what it sounds like: a list of people who angered Nick and Val. What Val saw as a place to write down her rants, the police see as the list of people Nick and Val wanted to kill. Val is guilty in the eyes of the police, her family, and most of her classmates, but she knows that although a lot of her classmates pissed her off, she would never have killed them. She's been medicated and institutionalized, hit the lowest lows in her life, and now she's ready to go back to school. Though she tries to be invisible, all her classmates are deeply affected by the shooting and therefore deeply affected in the way they feel towards Val. In addition to her troubles at school, Val has trouble at home. Her parents fight a lot and neither one of them seems to see her as anything other than a threat to herself and society.

I've read a few other school-shooting books, and I have to say that this one really stands out in the crowd. Other books often try to sell the reader some kind of political or social platform, but Jennifer Brown is selling us a look at grief, closure, and how a crisis can change people. Val gives us a look at Nick that we wouldn't see in a third-person novel, and that is missed by almost everyone else. Nick is complex. Val is constantly overwhelmed and knocked down by trying to balance her feelings with everyone else's. Though Val keeps her friends at arm's length, we get a clear picture of what they think and who they are. Like all good YA first-person narrators, Val is self-centered and unable to judge others with any degree of wisdom. Her inward focus is what makes her story great. As an adult reader, I could see where the adults were coming from in regards to the way they treated Val, but I also wholly bought Val's heartbreak and path to healing. I did see a few minor flaws, but with its timely subject and writing that makes us empathize rather than react, this is a book that should have a home in most teen collections.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Two's company, three's literature

Leah of BenBella Books was kind enough to send me a copy of In the Hunt, their recent essay collection on Supernatural. Since I'm only midway through the book there won't be a review right this minute, but there was one essay that made me blink and, of course, reach for the keyboard.

This essay, called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jo the Monster Killer discusses an episode of Buffy called The Zeppo. Though it's been a while since I've seen this ep and I'm fuzzy on the details, I do know that the basic plot is "everybody forgets Xander." The author of the essay discusses the similarities between Xander and Dean Winchester in the realm of traditional masculinity. I don't disagree with that, but if I had the chance to write an essay much longer than this blog entry about the ways Xander and Dean parallel each other, I'd go with this oversimplified explanation:

Margaret Cho once said in a standup routine that in every group of three female friends, there's always the smart one, the nice one, and, um, the flirt. I feel the same way Cho does, but my saying is a little different. I say that in every group of three literary/television/movie friends, there's always the body, the mind, and the soul. Xander and Dean, like Ron Weasley and Luke Skywalker, both serve as the soul. Buffy and Harry are the bodies, the ones with special strengths, the ones chosen to fulfill great prophecies. Willow and Hermione are Research Girls. Ron and Xander are the ones who love almost unconditionally and are, all things considered, the ones with the stable emotions when all around them is chaos. Though it seems like the heroes can function just fine without these sidekicks, the truth is that the heroes would be lost without them. Do we really think that Harry would know up from down in the wizarding world without Ron? It's often the soul that brings a sense of bravery to the group, but not bravery in a let's-break-stuff sort of way. The soul always knows what the right thing to do is, even it's hard (thanks, Dumbledore!), and they do that right thing without question.

This mind-body-soul is a little hard to see at first in Supernatural, because the series only has two main characters, rather than the three we see all the time in Buffy or Harry Potter. What tricks us in SPN is that the third main character is not a person but a car. For those unfamiliar with SPN (and why??), two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, travel the country in a black 1967 Chevy Impala, lovingly referred to by fans as the Metallicar. The car was passed down to Dean by their father, and he often treats the car better than he treats his (human) brother. In the Winchester clan, Sam is the mind, the one prone to abstract thinking. The car is the body because, um, it's a muscle car. Dean is the soul, the one prone to sacrifice and doing things because he believes they're in the best interests of those he loves. Although Dean is marketed as the suave type, he's a creampuff when it comes to Sam and the car. It's all part of his charm, just like a viewer can't help but being charmed by Xander's dedication to the Scooby gang. Could Buffy and Harry accomplish slayings and fighting the Dark Lord on their own? Likewise, could Sam Winchester have gone along with his destiny and led a demon army? I suppose they could, but they'd be awfully boring.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Support Teen Literature Day 2009

Operation Teen Book Drop Thursday, April 16, 2009, is the third annual Support Teen Literature Day. To me, and to most of you I'm sure, every day is Support Teen Literature Day. This is an extra-special something, though. Read more of my thoughts on STLD at ForeWord Magazine's Shelf Space blog: Support Teen Literature Day.

Update on #amazonfail

It was a glitch! No, it was a hacker! No, it was policy! No, it was censorship! No, it was...all of these and none of these.

In any event, it looks like the 57,310 books who were stripped of their sales rankings have been restored. Here are some links for you:

-Amazon restores rankings for gay-themed books from USAToday

-Heather Corinna: Amazon's de-ranking is not just a glitch (Guardian UK)

-Amazon worker details company's error (MediaBistro)

-For those that (like me) enjoy their AmazonFail with a little bit of social-network gossip and a lot of bite, read On Amazon Failure, Meta-Trolls, and Bantown's roundup of AmazonFail links

adding: Amazonfail: How Metadata and Sex Broke the Amazon Book Search from InfoToday

Error or not, glitch or not, discrimination or not, it was a scary thing to witness, because all of this shows the power that metadata has on Amazon's book sales. The part of me that wanted to be a cataloger in library school found all of this fascinating from a search-results perspective. AmazonGate also gives librarians a really simple explanation as to why library catalog search results are often so different from Amazon search results. (Hey, we have to take the bad with the good, right?)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Something is rotten in the state of Washington

"Adult book." To me, it's any book not published for a YA (or younger) audience. Shows where my mind has been of late. To Amazon, however, it seems to be most books with GLBT content. The authorblog world is atwitter with complaints that many books with GLBT content, regardless of how sexually explicit or not they are, are being stripped of their sales rankings.

People, this is really, really uncool. In a very small nutshell, books without Amazon sales rankings don't exist on Amazon. That means when you search for a subject (and oh, how we librarians love our searching!) on Amazon, it will show books that have sales rankings first. Author Heather Corrinna shows us the current results for a search on all of Amazon for the word "homosexuality."

Those are some strange-looking results, no? It seems that not 100% of GLBT-positive books have been stripped of their rankings. Boy Meets Boy still has its ranking and appears on page 3 of the search results for "homosexuality." A search for "Rainbow Road" brings up three other Alex Sanchez books but does not bring up Rainbow Road, which has been stripped of its sales ranking. You can find it IF you do a search for "Rainbow Road Sanchez."

I don't know how Amazon is deciding which books get sales rankings and which ones don't, so I thought I'd run a few popular YA authors of GLBT literature through Amazon searches and see how they shook out. Sex and violence as subjects don't seem to be limited across the board, given that Adam Rapp's books are certainly easy enough to find in a search for "Adam Rapp." (I just picked him because I know his books have controversial content and wanted a test subject.) A search on "Ellen Wittlinger" shows all of her books from Hard Love to Parrotfish. Julie Anne Peters is a mixed bag; grl2grl has no sales ranking. Neither does Between Mom and Jo. Luna and Keeping You a Secret, however, still have sales rankings. Gay America: Struggle for Equality by Linas Alsenas has no sales ranking and doesn't show up in an Amazon search on "Gay America," and if you search for the title with the author, it won't show the in-print, reviewed, available version of the book, only a used one for about $70.

Here are some more links and news you can read:

-Is this book (or its author) too gay for an Amazon? by Heather Corinna

-Amazon de-ranks so-called adult books, including National Book Award winner, from the LA Times Jacket Copy blog

-Amazon Follies by author Mark Probst

-Meta Writers has a compiled list of books whose sales rankings have been removed

-Amazon criticized for de-ranking 'adult' books from CNet News is keeping a comprehensive list of all books losing their sales rankings

-Twitter hashtags: #amazonfail and #glitchmyass

Will this be big news beyond the end of this week? I have no idea. Maybe Amazon will see the incredible stupid and restore sales rankings to all books and materials. And maybe while they're doing that, they'll redesign their reader's advisory algorithm so it doesn't think I want a copy of Twilight every time I look at the record for a YA novel. Stay tuned.

Everywhere but here

This month, I have the honor of being the guest blogger at ForeWord Magazine's Shelf Space blog. My first post went up yesterday: Forever in debt to his priceless advice, which compiles books and CDs on Kurt Cobain and the grunge era. Other posts coming this month are...a surprise!

I'm also plotting out a post for the YALSA blog on my employment situation, and what's to come of that. I did find out on Tuesday that I was accepted to the 2009 Columbia Publishing Course, so there may be a little reflection on what, exactly, a person can do with an MLIS and...counting...eight years of service as a YA librarian.

And a random question for the masses: Am I the only one who read, loved, and wish she'd kept her copy of The Against Taffy Sinclair Club by Betsy Haynes?

Monday, April 6, 2009

I heart this interview

I know it's been quiet around Librarilly Blonde lately, but that's because I've been buried in review books, wrapping up some projects before my job ends in June, stalking my mailbox, and preparing for the New Jersey Library Association conference (more on that later).

When I'm not doing those things, however, I'm reading I Heart Daily, a very cool Stuff We Like blog run in part by Melissa Walker, who wrote the delightful Violet on the Runway. Last Wednesday (I'm slow sometimes), I Heart Daily ran an awesome interview with Christina Kelly, whose writing I first read in Sassy magazine when I was in sixth grade. Kelly talks with I Heart Daily about one of Sassy's most memorable covers, which is pictured above, and her memories of Kurt Cobain. Read it here: Flashback: Kurt, Courtney and Sassy Magazine.

Related things you might heart if you heart all things Nirvana and Sassy: Journals of Kurt Cobain || Cobain Unseen by Charles R. Cross || With the Lights Out (box set of Nirvana's recordings) || How Sassy Changed My Life by Kara Jesella and Marissa Meltzer

and Mom, if you're reading this, I'm still mad at you for throwing out all my Sassys when I was in college.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The one where I pretend to be Nancy Pearl

Yesterday I had the opportunity to be the special call-in guest on G4 Interactive, a webcast done for fans of manga, anime, and gaming...meaning, the audience of G4 TV, which is mostly males 14-35. This might not be my usual reader's advisory audience, but I am so glad I got to do this and share some YA titles with G4 fans and talk a little bit about gaming in libraries.

(If you think you're hearing double, you are! The host is my sister Courtney, a.k.a. Teggy, who was kind enough to ask me to guest on her show.)