deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
Four days ago, I read the Kirkus review of Lara Avery's The Memory Book after seeing it linked on the Kirkus Best YA of 2016 list. I promptly placed a library hold.

One day ago, my hold came in at the library and I read this novel from the point of view of a teenager diagnosed with Neimann-Pick type C, a rare lysosomal storage disease which causes physical and cognitive degenerative symptoms.

Two years and two days ago, my sister died of Late Onset Tay-Sachs disease, a rare, adolescent-onset lysosomal storage disease which causes physical and cognitive degenerative symptoms.

So. That happened.


Some spoilers behind cut, warned for. )

In conclusion: Fuck Tay-Sachs. And Neimann-Pick, and Gaucher, and this whole shitty family, and all the rest of the rare diseases.
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
Kirkus Reviews reviewers are anonymous, and I like it that way. For one thing, it means that we speak with an editorial voice; when the incomparable Vicky Smith changes my reviews (always for the better), it means she's doing so with the voice of the publication.

Famously, our reviews are anonymous because they give the reviewers (in the very small world where so many publishers, authors, editors, agents, reviewers, and librarians know each other, smaller now in the days of the Internet) the freedom to be frank. Some, whose opinions I do not share, think that we are infamously cruel. The Kirkus folks I know certainly don't think of ourselves this way. Rather, we know that our reviews are being read by people with limited budgets and limited time, not just readers but librarians and teachers with small selection budgets, and we are determined to give those Kirkus Reviews readers all the tools they need to make the right purchasing choices. And yes, sometimes this means we write reviews authors don't like. The children's book review world has a partially true reputation of operating under the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" rubric. This is most apparent with journals such as The Horn Book Magazine, which dedicates almost every one of its limited pages to books it thinks excels. While this serves one purpose for potential customers of reviews, Kirkus Reviews serves a different one, and I'm glad they both exist.

Anyway, when I first started reviewing for Kirkus Reviews, I would occasionally go seek out the social media presence of authors about whose books I had been ... not as kind as the authors probably would have wanted me to be. I'm not quite sure what experience I was seeking out. It wasn't schadenfreude or gloating, because I had nothing against these authors and certainly no desire to cause them pain or financial harm. I suppose it was a desire to see my mark in the world in some small way. I've long since stopped doing that; the point of our reviews is not a relationship with the author, but a qualitative description of the book in hopes that we might help find the right reader for the right book. In general I have thoroughly mixed feelings about the now-thoroughly shattered wall between readers and authors, and especially between authors and book bloggers. I apologize for thinking aloud in reader response terms, but I feel like the transaction between reader and story is fundamentally changed when the reader is constantly aware of the author.

But I do confess I still have one small social media bit of spying that I sometimes do. Occasionally, long after I have reviewed a book -- and not when I have something else by the same author in my pool -- I will go look at the blog of an author whose work I starred or otherwise kvelled about. If the author doesn't mention Kirkus Reviews, I am perfectly happy. And if they mention the review in a way that shows they are thinking about the effect on sales, that doesn't really affect me one way or the other. But sometimes I go to an author's blog and their response to a review I wrote is some variant of "They liked my baby! Those famously picky people liked my baby!" or "Wow, this one sentence in the review shows that what they loved about my book is what I love about my book!" And then I think, you know, Author, my goal was not to make you happy. In fact my goal was to take the ways in which you had given me joy (by writing the book), and convince as many people as possible to share the experience. But the fact, Author, that I gave you such joy -- it rebounds back onto me. ♥ Floating hearts and kittens for everyone. ♥
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
Last fall, when I taught with [personal profile] astern, it wasn't until after we had started the semester that we realized what the ideal opening assignment ought to be. Now that we are taking a teaching hiatus, we have to give the assignment to you. This assignment will not be graded on a curve, so do your best work! We expect you to abide by the Honor Code*, which in this case means you may work together.

Your assignment:

Pick a book. In the spirit of the class we are not currently teaching, I suggest a speculative fiction work for children or young adults, but pick any book you are interested in talking about.

Now pick three types of writing off the following list. You must pick option 9, but the other two can be any you choose.

  1. A personal blog post reacting to your reading experience.
  2. A professional blog post about the text.
  3. The political response: a reading of the text on purely ideological grounds.
  4. A Goodreads or Amazon style review of the book.
  5. A professional (e.g. Kirkus, Publishers Weekly) style review. If you pick this option, read several examples, and pay attention to such things as house style, word count, ratio of summary/analysis/judgment, etc.
  6. Librarian book talk write up.
  7. Editorial analysis, from the point of view of a publisher or agent working with the manuscript.
  8. Critical scholarly discussion of the sort you would post in an educational forum discussing the text for a class.
  9. Formal critical scholarly analysis of any element of the text, as with a formal paper.


Write at least 500 words in each of your three styles (unless you are choosing to write a professional review, in which case use the word count appropriate for the house style you are choosing). Pay attention to what is different. Besides obvious changes (such as casual versus professional language), what differs? What different choices did you have to make? Did more or fewer words make things easier?

One of our goals with this hypothetical assignment was to show how, while each of these styles of writing is valuable and important -- we certainly don't think, say, personal blog posts of squee aren't valuable -- they are all wildly different. In fact, we hope some of you will choose to write both personal and professional blog posts, or both Goodreads and professional reviews, just to focus on the more subtle (but vital) differences between these types of writing.

Current students are so incredibly proficient at writing about reading, because what with blogs etc., they do so much of it. And yet at the same time, they are proficient in some very specific kinds of writing about reading (primarily personal blogs and Goodreads-style reviews, with some amount of professional blogs), and the process of showing people the requirements of the different kinds of writing is different than it used to be. Without devaluing existing proficiencies, we hope to show that high quality reactive blog post, for example, is not the same thing as scholarly forum discussion.

Over the next couple of days, we will be producing examples of each of these kinds of writing for a single book, and we will post our own examples as well as our own analysis of the differences in the writing style. Let us know here if you have tried this exercise yourself and would like us to link here to your results (whether that happens now or sometime in the future).


* Why yes, we are both bi-co, why do you ask? [Back]
deborah: The management regrets that it was unable to find a Gnomic Utterance that was suitably irrelevant. (gnomic)
  • "So You Want to Read YA?", a guest post by Amy Stern at Stacked. Everything she says there is completely worth reading, except for how I think Rob Thomas' later statements about his work have poisoned everything he wrote earlier in his career, to the extent that I find it impossible to talk about his earlier work in any non-negative fashion.[1]
  • "Specimens: Figurines, fishers, bugs and bats – how things in the world become sacred objects in a museum": I want to understand how things come to take their place — especially in museums and collections — as embodiments of knowledge, artefacts out of time and nature, provoking curiosity and wonder. How they become objectified.
  • "Fist-clenchingly poor science": But every time such fist-clenchingly poor science as the current paper is published, the prejudice is reinforced and the cause of open access publishing undermined. Thus, while I’m sure everyone involved is dedicated and scrupulous, it is paramount that PLOS works harder to increase its editorial standards to reduce the chances of such embarrassingly weak science being published.
  • "Colleges Leaving Low-Income Students Behind": Schools have gone from helping to make college more affordable for those with the greatest financial need to strategically awarding merit aid to students who can increase their standings in rankings like U.S. News & World Report and bring in more revenue.






1. But then, I'm still capable of saying positive things about Ender's Gamer and Speaker for the Dead, and I'm sure plenty of other smart people feel the way about Orson Scott Card that I feel about Rob Thomas. Apparently I draw the line somewhere after "gay marriage is destroying my family" and before "women who make rape accusations are lying liars who lie." Or possibly I think Ender and Speaker are good enough books to get me past my anger at their creator; certainly I can no longer read lesser Card with any pleasure. And the highest quality Rob Thomas surpasses the quality of the worst OSC, but doesn't even come close to the best. [back]
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Brynt Johnson is a records manager in the clerk's office of the District of Columbia's federal court by day, and a personal trainer to Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan by night.

"Hot Mess", children's author Zetta Elliot's post about trauma (particularly African-American trauma) in children's books, estrangement, privilege,and race in the industry.

I read a lot of science blogs, and I'm always excited to see archives show up in science blogs. Here's one we probably wouldn't have expected: "Wormholes in old folks preserve the history of insects". An evolutionary biologist from Penn State has used insect holes in prints made from old wood blocks to study the spread of particular wood-boring beetles. The prints, rather than the blocks themselves, show an accurate timestamp of when the beetles emerged and where, because the texts usually contain the information about when they were printed and where they were printed. The power of old metadata, people!
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
I don't actually want a professional tumblr, but it strikes me that this brief but very wise comment by [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman is exactly the kind of thing that tumblr re-blogging is good for:

I will be fascinated for the rest of my life that some of the same things are archetypal and intertextual and deep when written well, but are stale derivatives when written poorly.


Via "No formula"

Dicey has been schooling me for years to pay attention to this when I write my reviews. Frequently the problem with the book is not that it's derivative, but that the characters are flat, the prose is uninspired, etc. And yet when all of those things are true, what you see is how derivative it is.

The same goes for certain other negative terminology. "Didactic", for example, is a term you apply to a terrible book with an overt moral lesson, whereas a good book with an overt moral lesson might get "thought-provoking". "Problem novel" versus "relevant".

Full disclosure: [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman and I have an ongoing disagreement about the usefulness of the term "problem novel" given that we both define it differently. I've been trying to reclaim some of these terms myself, to use them descriptively about books that I like. Trying to pin down why I want to define I am J (a young adult novel about a trans Jewish Puerto Rican) as a problem novel, while I don't want to apply that same term to, say, The First Part Last (a young adult novel about an upper-middle-class adolescent black single father), if I'm not going to use high/low quality as one of my available definitive points, is... complicated.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
So [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman and I have an expression, "killing the baby." For us it means that moment when an interesting thought experiment ceases to be interesting because there is a clear moral choice. (It comes from the moment in Lois Lowry's The Giver when, in my opinion, no reader can continue to think that there's a moral option in not destroying the protagonist's society. Although I have definitely learned over years of teaching the book that for many students that moral decision comes much earlier. Never seems to come later, though.)

One of the things I find frustrating about most dystopian novels is that, well, they are clearly dystopian. We don't have a word for Potential Utopia, Sort of Dystopia, Chetzi-Chetzi Dystopia/Utopia. By definition they are Bad Places™.

Yet for me, they're more interesting, not just as philosophical thought experiments, but both aesthetically and viscerally as stories, if it's more complicated than that. I don't want the dystopia to hold my hand and show me why a certain societal structure is wrong, I want the story to make both me and the story's own protagonists think about trade-offs. Is the society in The Giver one that has benefits that might offset its costs? Is the Empire really that much worse than the decadent final days of the Old Republic?

Of course usually the answer to these questions are easy. Usually there is some disastrously evil act the dystopian society participates in: infanticide, having a comically ugly evil dictator, secret slavery. But all this disastrous evil does is prevent us from having to consider the pros and cons of the two structures. All it does is make reading too easy.

I've talked about this before when I addressed my feelings about the difference between The Hunger Games the novel and The Hunger Games trilogy, how after book one I still thought the trilogy might be the dystopia I had been waiting for, the one that shows contemporary American society's dark mirror without requiring a cackling evil overlord.

Can you think of any dystopian societies where it's not that cut and dried? Ones where, ultimately, there's not a correct moral answer? And are any of them created for young audiences?

(What I think might come closest that I can think of is The True Meaning of Smekday, which isn't a dystopia at all, it's an alien invasion story. But within that alien invasion, there are constant reminders that what is the right versus wrong way to run a society is complicated. But alien invasion stories have their own genre conventions, and finding complication in your relationship to the other is, well. It was thinking about Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," that made make this post, but now I am inclined to think about her "The Word for World Is Forest" as an example of the alien-is-us trope. My first exposure to it was probably Enemy Mine. It's different, is what I am saying.)

millinery

Oct. 26th, 2012 10:17 am
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
My built-in china cabinet has long since ceased to be a cupboard to showcase hand-me-down wineglasses and become a closet for hats. Now I've outgrown that space, and my coat closet, too, has become overridden with hatboxes. Veils and feathers, fascinators and caps, boaters and fedoras.

What I'm saying is that I have a lot of hats.

I have almost as many metaphorical hats, though sadly they lack the trimmings of the physical kind. Usually I juggle my professional interests adequately, although every fall I come to terms anew with the reality that, for three months, my contributions to Dreamwidth are what I give up to make room for teaching. This year is slightly tighter than usual, because of membership on the Odyssey Award committee, but at least much of the time spent listening to audio books is time that would otherwise be dead space.

In any case, here is a description of the 48 hour period of which I'm currently in the center.

  • Yesterday morning, go to work as a digital archivist, where I've been having more opportunities to code of late as I've been contributing fixes and features to a blacklight/Hydra digital library portal we will be launching Any Day Now, and where I've been helping to manage our Open Access Week activities.
  • Leave after a short day to teach two sections of the children's and young adult SFF class I teach with Amy.
  • Get home at nearly 11 PM, go to bed, and wake up at 4:30 AM (on a gorgeous, starry autumn morning, Orion and Jupiter high in the sky) to catch the early train to New Haven for code4lib New England, where I'll be presenting on
  • On the train I'll be listening to audio books for the Odyssey Award committee;
  • when I return home I have some reading to do for Kirkus Reviews.


I do like hats. I like how they look and how they feel, how each one makes me into a slightly different person. But sometimes having so many gets a little complicated.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I just read Kate Elliott on the female gaze in FSF ("The Omniscient Breasts: the Male Gaze through Female Eyes") (h/t [personal profile] yendi), which is primarily I think talking about adult FSF. Inevitably when I read an article like this I want to send it to every feminist who trashes contemporary paranormal and dystopian romance for teens -- as, I admit, I sometimes do myself -- and say "look what the teen love triangles have that we should be down right thrilled about!"

Yes, ubiquity in any genre gets exasperating after a while. As a reviewer, trust me when I have a pretty good sense of what percentage of books for teens currently have almost identical romance plots. But when these books get trashed by feminist reviewers, we are ignoring that an entire generation of young leaders is growing up thinking the female gaze is normal.

I don't understand why Bella finds Edward Cullen's pasty skin and under-eye circles so attractive, but the fact is she does, she dwells on them, and she ogles endlessly. Clary Fray is far from flawless as a character construction, but that girl knows who she wants, and she is perfectly happy to leer and admire while she goes for it. So often we don't know that much about what these female protagonists look like, but we know everything about the physical characteristics of the objects of their affection. That's... pretty cool.

These books are usually still heteronormative and cis-normative. They are often still relying on fairly regressive gender roles, and can have bizarrely archaic notions of sexuality. But I'm really curious what we'll see from this generation of female and sometimes male readers who have learned to read with and not against the female gaze. I suspect it might be something pretty awesome.
deborah: The management regrets that it was unable to find a Gnomic Utterance that was suitably irrelevant. (gnomic)
is Disability and Posthumanism in Science Fiction and Fantasy for Children and Young Adults.

I suppose if one of you gets to it before I do I'll be grateful it exists for me to read. Because I want to read it almost as much as I want to write it.

[livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman, [personal profile] astern, though? Neither of you better write this wthout me. Because this book, first conceived of in an IM conversation after an inspirational session (Collective Scholarship in Digital Contexts) at the 2012 Society for Cinema and Media Studies meeting in Boston, would be so much fun to write.

...I wish any of us had reasonable time management skills.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
In some YA novels, the heroes have to decipher their journey through a literal guidebook they find.

Sometimes it's a manual provided by the PTB, as in So You Want To Be A Wizard by [personal profile] dduane.

Sometimes it's a guide left by the parents' generation, as in Jellicoe Road, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, or the Marauder's Map of the Harry Potter books. There's something similar in the Rebel Angels books, right?

In Walter Dean Meyers' Handbook for Boys, there's no literal book, but the title layers an implication of guidebook nature over the advice given by the prior generation.

Other examples? [personal profile] astern and I will thank you.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I was chatting with [personal profile] astern, co-instructor of greatness, and she misread something I'd typed as "Frankie Landau-Banks Goes to Hollywood".

Tell me you would not go see that band.

OF COURSE YOU WOULD.

Welcome to the Pleasuredome. It's where we've hidden all the secrets of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds.
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
Cathy Butler's post "Reccomending books for grown-ups almost made me break something I was laughing so hard.

The first thing to remember is that adults are at an age when they’re trying to establish and maintain their own place in the world. They may like to give the impression of being independent and mature, but they always have one uneasy eye on what the next adult is doing, scared of standing out (too much!) from the crowd.


Read the whole thing.
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
I wanted to make a post about The Hunger Games trilogy before I saw the movie, because I didn't want this post about the trilogy in general to be colored by how much I'm having reactions to the film right now. Instead, I will break it into two parts. And if I wait until I have all of my thoughts coherent before I make this post, the second movie will be out, so maybe I should just go ahead and post it.

Why I will not stop judging the trilogy for my own misreading of book one )

A subset of my reactions to the film, mostly but not entirely in that context )

General non-spoilery positive thought: if this movie and trilogy of movies do as well as it looks like they might, perhaps it could be the end of the of no female action heroes or superheroines in film? Television realized a decade ago that there's money to be made with high-quality female action heroes; will film finally catch up? Where the studio realizes that not only do women have plenty of money that they like to spend on movies marketed to women, but also men show up for these movies and buy tickets as well?

And for a completely non-academic note: when I was talking to my boss about how awesome Lenny Kravitz's portrayal of Cinna was, she said "everyone wants a Cinnabon".

Book Lists

Nov. 30th, 2011 11:03 am
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
The Happy Nappy Bookseller has compiled a list of middle grade and young adult books by authors of color published in 2011 to complement Zetta Elliott's list of middle grade and young adult books by black authors published in 2011. 47 black authors published 2 American Indian authors published 28 Asian authors published 17 Latino authors published 2 authors of Mixed heritage published These lists could be useful resources!
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
Last night, because I needed something to read, I grabbed a copy of Sarah Dooley's Body of Water off the shelf at school. I expected it merely to be an enjoyable time filler, but I was floored by how much I enjoyed it.

Basic plot: Pagan 12-year-old (from a Pagan family) is made homeless when her trailer burns down. Character growth ensues.

I read so much speculative fiction for work that realistic fiction has had an disproportionate ability to impress me lately. Even without that, however, I suspect I would have found beautiful: a lyrical tear-jerker that required about half a box of tissues to get through. The Pagan threads are neither exclusionary and offputting to a non-pagan, nor are they pasted on; they are vital to the story's thematic development.

Ah, I see that Kirkus gave the book a star, which surprises me not at all.
deborah: The management regrets that it was unable to find a Gnomic Utterance that was suitably irrelevant. (gnomic)
I was talking to B tonight, and we were discussing the different forms of privilege the characters in Airborn have:

Matt: Male; Nepotism; beloved of the local powers that be; white; Canadian(-ish)

Kate: Upper-class; Female; Educated; white; Canadian(-ish)

And I pointed out that both of them have the privilege of Player Character Glow. "PC Glow" is a tabletop RPG term used to refer to the forces which benefit characters that matter -- that is, characters played by actual players, instead of non-player characters run by the game master. PC Glow brings together people who have no reason to travel together. It guarantees they'll stumble upon the treasure or will overhear necessary gossip about a conspiracy. It keeps them from attacking or mistrusting the wrong people. And in the case of Matt Cruse and Kate DeVries, it guarantees the rightness of all their choices; that the cloud cats will be their friends; that they'll find a mysterious island; that they'll be given countless opportunities to excel and defeat villains.

B (who needs to go to graduate school simply so that she and I have a reason to write this paper together), started speculating about what forms of privilege are made acceptable by a character having PC Glow. (Perhaps we should call it "Protagonist Glow" when discussing fiction, but how many new literary criticism terms can one humble blogger hope to popularize?) For example, being upper-class, female, and educated often makes one a villain, but in the case of a protagonist, it can make one a spunky contrast to societal norms.

B speculated that, in F&SF, you can be an upper-class female and have that be rescued by PC Glow, but you can't really be a born and bred upper-class male. On the other hand, you can't really be a completely working class female; if you begin as a grease stained blue collar girl, you are likely to discover that you are a Lost Princess. (She then promptly pointed out Laputa: Castle in the Sky as an example of this, in which Pazu remained a grease-stained mechanic but Sheeta discovers she is a Lost Princess.)

...Now I want to speculate about a world in which Dicey Tillerman discovers she is a Lost Princess. MUCH HILARITY WOULD ENSUE.
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
Eishes Chayil, the pseudonymous author of Hush, has outed herself in response to the murder of eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky.

I refuse to continue to allow that fear to force me into hiding over a book that should have been written long ago. I no longer want to be known only as Eishes Chayil when my name is Judy Brown. I must find the courage to stand with the victims who carry the burden of our silence for the rest of their lives.

I originally wrote my book under a pseudonym to protect my family and friends from community retribution, but so far we have only hurt ourselves. Maybe now, because of Leiby's tragedy, things will change. Maybe now, we will finally teach our children what we should have taught them years ago: morality has no garb.


Her bravery humbles me.
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
I've heard a lot of people griping lately about all the mermaid books, but I can't deny that they are vastly preferable to the glut of angel/demon books. And of course, every mermaid or angel book is one less werewolf.

<shameful confession>I never have gotten sick of faerie books, as long as they are decently written.</shameful confession>

Which is not to say that I currently am not craving realism in a way I never have before. Last night I read Cecil Castellucci's Beige (teen from Montréal, daughter of a recovered groupie, has to spend the summer in LA with her punk rocker dad) and loved it, and I've got an Interlibrary Loan copy of Tanita Davis's Mare's War sitting on my desk for next, which, if it is half as good as her À la carte, will be gorgeous. I suspect it's in the same family as Beige, as well, When the protagonist has to spend the summer with an estranged family member and in doing so, learns something about his or her past and becomes a better person. It's a pretty common theme in middle grade and young adult literature, but you can go a lot of different directions with it.

My point is, we need a paranormal romance where one of the boys is a abbey lubber and the other is a mind flayer.
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
I have no objection to present tense narration in any single instance, but oh, my kingdom for a book written in past tense.

Dear authors and publishers: writing everything in the present tense will not give your book the success of Hunger Games. PLEASE STOP.
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