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Author: Joel Bruns

I am a librarian who lives and works in Indiana. I love all outdoor activities (running, cycling, skiing, kayaking...).

YA Sniglets

Humpty Dumpty
Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass

In the 1980s HBO tried out a sketch comedy show based on a British news parody show. The show, Not Necessarily the News, featured a regular segment from a comedian named Rich Hall. Hall dealt satirically with a number of topics by creating new words to describe our modern lives. He dubbed these creations “sniglets.”

Rich Hall described sniglets as “any word that doesn’t appear in the dictionary, but should.” Often these sniglets were portmanteau words which have a long and celebrated history that is usually traced to Lewis Carroll but surely has deeper roots than that. Carroll, for example, used slithy which he defined as a combination of lithe and slimy. Modern popular culture loves portmanteau words and gives us lots of new fun versions like Bennifer (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez) or mankini/manssiere/manscaping, sexting, and frankenfood. The list goes on and on.

I thought that YA was due for its own collection of sniglets/portmanteau, so here is my contribution. I hope that you will follow up with some of your own.


The Meme Dream Machine

YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

Who was the first weather person to call snow “the white stuff?” When did the phrase “I know, right?” become the nearly universal signifier of assent? Why haven’t I received my check from a Nigerian prince? Why cat videos?

What these items have in common is that they are all potentially memes. What does that mean? As defined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, a meme is “a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.” Using the vocabulary of genetics, Dawkins compared memes to genes because the meme’s function is to replicate and survive through generations. The “fittest” will survive and the weakest are weeded out the same way that adaptations that improve a species survival will be passed on to offspring.

In many ways a meme is like a virus or a parasite. They rely on a vector for transmission (a sneeze or blood if you’re thinking of a virus; a cat video or spam for a meme). They infect a host when you either breathe in the microscopic snot of the sneezer or sit in front of your computer watching the Invisible Children fundraising video. Congratulations! You are now infected. Feel free to sneeze on others or forward the video to me (don’t do that, I beg you). Thus, the cycle begins anew.

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Prisoner of Books (An Interview with Corey Michael Dalton)

Corey in his prison of books

So it goes

“If somebody claims to have all the answers, they are probably lying.” So says Corey Michael Dalton, who has locked himself in a prison made of banned books to celebrate Banned Books Week. Dalton doesn’t claim to have all the answers; he just has the humble wish that people will read more. His self-imposed exile is an attempt to raise awareness about censorship and reading.

“I didn’t realize that people still banned books,” says Dalton, who was asked to take part in this awareness campaign by the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (KVML) in Indianapolis. They have a stake in the argument, as they worked to oppose the ban of Slaughterhouse-Five from Republic High School in Republic, Missouri last year. Dalton, aside from being a board member of the library, has another connection to Vonnegut. He is a former assistant editor of the Saturday Evening Post, which published several of Vonnegut’s early short stories.

The idea came about as a result of the Republic challenge to Slaughterhouse-Five because although the school has since placed the book back in the library, it remains restricted in what some term a “literary gulag.” It was decided that Corey would put himself in lock up as a form of protest for the treatment that Vonnegut’s work has received in the Republic school.

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2012 Best of the Best Reading Challenge check-in #9

Not signed up for YALSA’s 2012 Best of the Best Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. Anything you’ve read since April 1 counts, so sign up now!

The end is near. Just one more month to finish your 25 books for the Best of the Best Reading Challenge. I hope things are going well for you. Or, at least, better than they are for me. I’ve given up hope of earning my badge, but I haven’t given up on reading more of the books. I just finished the Okay for Now audiobook. Amazing. If you haven’t listened to this one yet, make sure you do. It is really fantastic. I also really loved The Influencing Machine. I read it just after reading Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death for my book club and thought that it did a much better job of covering much of the same material.

My main issue is not been being distracted by other books like others have talked about in previous posts. My problem is time for reading period. I have a book that I’ve been working on for a month for my adult reading book club, and I’m still just over half finished. Audiobooks are easier, right now, because I can listen while I walk my dog or do other chores.

But hey, it’s summer and summer means more time for reading (I hope). I’m going to attack Anya’s Ghost and Brain Jack this week, and who knows, maybe I’ll come close to the magic 25 after all. A guy can be optimistic.

For those of you that need a bit more encouragement (like me) and for those who are well beyond the 25 books and are going strong, I offer a toast to your summer reading:

May your summer bring you long, hot days filled with cool drinks and good books.
May your stack of nightstand books shrink, and your “read” shelf on Goodreads expand.
May your books enrich your relationships, and your relationships inform your books.
May you find books to share with others who need to read them.
May your reading give you comfort that you are not alone.
Until we meet again: happy reading!

– Joel is currently reading The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht and listening to Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

If you’ve finished the challenge by reading 25 books, fill out the following form to let us know. (The information you provide is what we’ll use to send you your Challenge Finisher badge, contact you about your reader’s response, and notify you if you win our grand prize drawing, so pick an email address you actually use!) Do not fill out this form until you have completed the challenge by reading 25 titles.


Roots of Dystopia (Another Hunger Games Post)

For those of us old enough to remember the year 1984, we can recall the discussions and hand-wringing as we compared our world with the future that had been prophesied by George Orwell in his novel 1984, written in 1948. I recall earnest discussions about the topic from casual conversations in public to stories on news programs. It was a time of anxiety in an era of anxiety. The threat of mutually assured destruction loomed as the US and the USSR maneuvered to wind down the Cold War. The new threat of terrorism and hijacking from rogue states in the Middle East and elsewhere had people on edge. Industrial pollution and environmental disasters had people wondering if their communities might be next. Amidst the anxiety and rumination, Neil Postman began writing his now classic critique of television and public discourse, Amusing Ourselves to Death. In the foreword, Postman contrasts the dystopian futures presented by George Orwell in 1984 and Aldous Huxley in Brave New World. In the first, society is ruled over by the totalitarian big brother that always watches citizens and rules through a combination of propaganda and fear. In Huxley’s version the world is controlled not through brutality and coercion but through pleasure. Postman asserts that in the debate between Orwell and Huxley that Huxley got it right. In Postman’s estimation we have created a society that doesn’t need a dictator to control us or deprive us of our freedoms, because we will happily forfeit our freedoms to have them replaced by pleasure and trivial nonsense.

1984 and Brave New World stand as the most essential modern dystopian novels. Yes, there were dystopian visions before them like We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, but 1984 and Brave New World are the two models for the modern dystopian novel. There is a continuum for dystopias when using these two as models. On the one end, we have a future where we are controlled by that which we hate (as in 1984) and on the other end we have a future where we are controlled by what we love (as in Brave New World).

Where would The Hunger Games fall on this continuum?


Story Summary Contest Shortlist

To the victor go the spoils.

In December we announced our first-ever writing competition. I gave you titles to choose from, and you submitted story summaries based on those titles. The Hub bloggers voted to create a shortlist of those summaries to open to the general readership for voting on the best story summary. Below the post is a form that you can use to vote for your favorite. Voting will be open for one week and will close at 11:59pm EST on February 13. We’ll announce the winner at the conclusion of the voting. The winner will receive the monkey paperweight and an official 2012 Printz calendar.

Thank you to everyone who submitted a story. I can say that voting for me was difficult because there were so many great submissions. Good luck to all of the contestants.


And Now For Something Completely Different

Monkey Man
Spoils of Victory

January is almost here. Woo hoo! It’s resolution season! So, let’s get resolving! (Maybe I will use an exclamation point after every sentence in this post, now that I think about it.) For many of us bookish types, we have resolutions that involve doing some writing in the new year. I’m here to help with a fun little creative writing exercise. I’m going to give you a list of titles. You choose one and write a short synopsis of a YA story that would use that title (an example is included below), sort of in the spirit of NPR’s three-minute fiction contest.

A shortlist will be selected from all of the entries by the Hub bloggers, and readers will vote on the shortlist in January. To the victor go the spoils–and boy, do you really get some spoils. The winner will receive the trophy which is a 100% solid metal monkey paperweight (pictured above). But you don’t get to keep it forever: you’ll have to send it to the winner of the next contest. (If there is a next contest.) But wait, there’s more: you will also receive a genuine prize from YALSA, a 2012 Printz Calendar. Good luck!