Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

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Friday Freewrite: Childhood Favorites

09/09/2011

Last month, just for fun, I found myself wandering the stacks in Barnes & Noble’s children’s section. I was rather confused; as a childless twenty-something I don’t usually look through that section so it took me a few minutes to figure out the filing system. There are tons of books for children at every reading level (even pre-readers) — books that teach, books that play, and the ubiquitous books you read just to read a book. A lot of the titles were unfamiliar, but I was pleased to see some of my own childhood favorites on the shelves.

Around the same time, I had a conversation with my friend Julia about Lois Lowry’s book The Giver.  What I didn’t realize when I first fell in love with The Giver is that Lowry actually wrote two more books to make it a trilogy. I read the second book, Gathering Blue, but it was long enough ago that I can’t remember if I read it because of its connection to the original story, or just because I enjoyed Lowry’s writing. Either way, I want to pick up Messenger (published in 2004) to complete the journey and tie the first two books together.

All of this musing on books I once read led to this week’s Friday Freewrite – a very short list of my favorite books while growing up, stories that still resonate with me (or live on in my memory as a great read). Add your favorites in the comments!

The Velveteen Rabbit – I loved the story of the well-loved stuffed animal who finally finds real life through real love from his boy. It still makes me sniffle a little…

The Giving Tree – Along the lines of loving and sacrificing, I never fully appreciated what the tree gave to the boy until I reread this book as an adult. To be fair, I don’t know that the boy ever appreciated what he was given either.

A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle is a literary genius, and I challenge anybody to say otherwise. I still have dreams of tesseracts and worlds in other dimensions. I read a few of the sequels as well, and I have no complaints about any of them.

Holes – This story of a young boy in a detention camp was made famous by the film version starring not-yet-famous Shia LeBoeuf. I enjoyed the combination of the detention camp drama woven in with stories from the past, and how Louis Sachar brilliantly connected the pieces to lead to a thoroughly satisfying resolution. Also, I sort of want some venomous nail polish.

There are many, many more books that I can think of, but if I listed them all this would begin to resemble a novel itself!

What are your favorite books from childhood?

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Friday Freewrite: Survival of the Book

24/06/2011

I was mulling over ideas for a Friday Freewrite, and had almost given up the idea on the basis that freewriting anything while multitasking is sort of cheating when I stumbled on a HuffPo article posted yesterday. Johann Hari makes the claim that “In The Age of Distraction, We Need One Thing More Than Ever: Books” by highlighting the depth and timelessness of words committed to paper, far more substantial than the snippets of information and opinion we glean from social networking, sites like HuffPo itself, blogs like this one, and other sources of micro-publishing. Hari also admits being wooed by the thought of an eReader (his gadget of choice would be the Kindle), but contends that as the devices become multifunctional they move further away from being a suitable substitution for a hard copy book.

Quite honestly, I couldn’t agree more. I mean, let’s be clear: this blog is dedicated to writing and reading. And I absolutely love my Nook, but more recently it has spent more and more time sitting on the bedside table beneath whatever actual book I’m reading at the moment. A couple of times the device has completely powered down because I left it alone for so long. There’s just something about the ability to hold pages between my fingers as I turn them, to run my finger down the page as I search for my spot, to smell that new (or old) book smell… These are a few of my favorite things, things that I’ve taken for granted but would fight to the end to keep.

Besides, I can’t fathom a world in which there is absolutely no market for books. They are the economically frugal option; even if the digital version of a book costs half the price of a hard copy, that’s only after the initial investment of hundreds of dollars. There is still an entire generation of people alive for whom technological advances are confusing and not a little frightening (my 83-year-old grandmother still thinks of laptops as “magic boxes”), and it is unrealistic to expect them all to acclimate to a change of that enormity. And when they are gone, there will still be the bibliophiles: people like myself who feel most at peace when they are surrounded by the written word.

You see, the eternal beauty of books to me is not entirely bound in the reading of them. I find that simply walking into a room and seeing books lying on a table or neatly arranged on a shelf puts me in a better, more relaxed mood and gives any environment a more open and cultured feel. Maybe that just means I’m a book snob, but I feel how I feel.

As convenient as a digital reader can be, I worry that we’re conditioning ourselves to be constantly locked in to one screen or another — either we’re staring into a computer monitor, furiously scrolling on a smart phone or tablet, or navigating our favorite stories on a Nook. While the convenience of the latter cannot be overstated (over 5000 books at your fingertips with an 8GB microSD card installed!! No more bulky suitcases for “light” reading!), it would be a mistake to completely toss away “old” technology for the glitz and glitter of the new. After all…a book’s battery never needs recharging.

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Book Reviews: Getting Through An Unpleasant Book

28/05/2011

I was reading the comments on my review of The DMZ over at Luxury Reading, which I rated 2.5/5 stars for a variety of what I considered to be poor writing decisions. The overwhelming sentiment (exaggerating slightly — there were five comments total) seemed to include a bit of surprise that I slogged through the book rather than abandoning it as well as a personal unwillingness to do the same. That, of course, started me thinking about the process of reading books for review rather than only for pleasure and about my approach to those books I choose to review.

Obviously if you’ve read this blog you know that I am new to the world of “professional” blog reviewers — I’ve previously written reviews of interesting books and movies but only at the beginning of this year did I choose to narrow my focus to those reviews and to writing in general. This means doing more reviews, opening myself up to new authors and genres, and yes, accepting the certainty that I will not enjoy every book I review.

As a writer, I think the book review as a concept is beneficial to so many people: the author, of course, who can use a range of reviews to gauge reader reaction to her book and to address issues that readers may have with her writing (though only professionally, don’t be like those wingbat crazy authors who give us all a bad name); other readers, who may rely heavily on reviews to choose their reading; and the reviewer, who learns not only to read critically but also to write clearly and impartially about those books for the benefit of others. Not every book will be personally appealing, though like other reviewers (I’m sure) I tend to choose books that skew toward my preferred genres. Likewise, even a book firmly entrenched in my absolute favorite genre may present insurmountable obstacles to its enjoyment through writing style, formatting, or any combination of subpar plot/characterization/etc.

When I read a book for pleasure, my decision to read or ignore a book is simple, as is my decision to continue or abandon one with signs of lackluster. To begin, I give the book my “three page test”: if I am not intrigued by a character, location, or plot point within the first three pages then I put the book down. I won’t speak to whether or not this is fair; I simply believe that a good author is able to hook the reader within seconds and will not devote more than seconds to finding out. If I have already been reading and feel weighed down or bored by the narrative, I’ll continue until the end of the chapter to see if things improve. If not, the book joins my Did-Not-Finish shelf. I inevitably pick the book up again and give it another go, but not without remembering why it was there to begin with.

Some reviewers acknowledge that a book may be too unwieldy or uninteresting to finish and will note that in their review. However, when I choose to review a book my perspective changes: it is no longer my decision to continue or abandon; rather, by opening the book I have made a pact with it and with the author, tacitly of course, that I will do whatever it takes to get from start to finish. Believe me, completing a book that one finds to be unpleasant is no easier now than it was when we had to read The Red Badge of Courage or anything by Steinbeck in high school, but just like in high school I have a responsibility to make it to the bitter end.

To do so, I give myself a set of short-term goals with a strict deadline, such as “you must read at least one chapter a day, and you have to be finished with the book by next Saturday.” Then I carry the book with me everywhere in lieu of others, to eliminate the potential for avoidance and distraction. I remind myself that I am reading the book for the benefit of others, and that any issues I may have with the book must have a rational and impartial explanation. I can’t hate a main character because he has the same name as my ex-boyfriend from the eighth grade, but I can be disappointed in an author’s lack of effective descriptors.

Also, I try to tailor my thought process to what specifically I dislike about the book. While I may subjectively not be entertained by the story, my responsibility as a reviewer is to determine whether the book is readable to others who may enjoy it — a well-written story is worthy of a high rating whether or not it’s my cup of tea.

At the end of the day, when it comes to reviewing the “unpleasant book” I believe Nike said it best in the ’90s: Just Do It.

Thoughts to try on: How do you determine what is a “good” or a “bad” book? Do you continue reading a book you don’t enjoy just to finish it? How do you think your approach to books would change if you began reviewing them?

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07/04/2011

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks for the blog — as you can see, we have a new format and a new domain!! (Sorry, even after a week of having my own domain it still gives me a little thrill of excitement.) I’m overwhelmed by the support I’ve received from followers of the blog pre-revamp, close friends and family, and I’m looking forward to building this site into a true writer’s haven. Still, I haven’t taken a lot of time to come up for air here between reading the stack of books I have to review. That, clearly, changes now.

Reading is so important. We hear that throughout our entire academic lives, and even into adulthood, from bibliophiles and teachers and even colleagues who stress the necessity of reading every word. And while reading books can help us expand our horizons and consider alternate viewpoints, we shouldn’t stop there. For example, I have a blogroll that seems to grow exponentially and includes posts of all kinds — book reviews, of course, but also ramblings about life and introspective posts about setting and reaching goals.

This morning’s best bit of reading came from my friend Angela’s blog, Project 11/11. She and her friend Kelli-Anne have committed to run 1,111 miles by 11:11 pm on November 11 (11/11/11). It’s an inspiration to see how far they’ve come and how well they’re sticking to the goals they’ve set, but it was especially heartwarming to read her words of encouragement directed to her friends (including me) in her last post.

In order to be a good writer, one must be willing to put down the pen or back away from the keyboard, and read what others have put out there. Not all of it will be relevant, and sadly not all of it will be good – in fact, some of it will be downright cringeworthy – but by taking cues from others who have written we can develop our own style based on what works…and what doesn’t.

Happy reading!