Last November, Salon.com published an article by Laura Miller entitled GIFs, memes and liveblogs; the controversial new language of book reviewing. Miller explores the customer review phenomena as it applies to books on Amazon.com and Goodreads.com. Although both web sites have reviewer guidelines, amateur book reviewers have a considerable amount of freedom to express their opinions to an international audience. Hub bloggers Carla Land, Becky O’Neil, and I share our reactions to the brave and sometimes brutal new world of customer book reviews.
What is it that drew you to this topic?
Carla: What drew me to this topic was that I think, as a blogger, that it takes a certain creative element to be able to combine words and pictures together to convey an idea. I know as librarians and educators we all love the written word, but there’s something about Jean-Luc Picard with his head in his hands that says to me, â€œThis is an epic failâ€ better than actually saying “This is an epic fail.”It isn’t always flippant- sometimes it can be a very sweet or poignant image that says more than words can. The whole concept intrigues me!
Diane: Agreed! Images are so effective at capturing attention, and technology has made them increasingly available. In her Salon article, Miller writes, “Perhaps, though, what’s unsettling about even the most inventive use of GIFs and images is the way they evoke emotion and subjectivity rather than ideas and analysis.” One might argue that emotion and subjectivity have always been a part of reader response, and that words traditionally limit such responses.
Becky: I was drawn to the topic because I find visual culture very interesting, and have definitely noticed the use of GIFs on Goodreads especially, but would never expect that kind of review to become the way books are reviewed. Maybe I’m old-school that way! I see GIFs used to great comedic effect in a “picture is worth a thousand words” kind of way (the Capt. Picard facepalm is a perfect example).
Not signed up for YALSA’s 2014 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. If you’re finished, fill out the form at the bottom of this post to let us know!
I have to be honest: I’m not doing so hot on the challenge this year. Last year I blazed through both lists and really enjoyed the diversity, the new authors, the experience of reading outside my comfort zone. I have no doubt at all that the nominated titles this year have just as much to offer, but everything seems to be conspiring against me. I still haven’t managed to round up copies up of all the books, and interview-centric reading has kicked into high gear again. Plus, like many of you, I suspect, there’s that pile of books I received over the holidays, so new and shiny and enticing…
That said, I did finish Elizabeth Ross’ Belle Epoque and The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb, both of which were wonderful and an excellent reminder of why this challenge is so great. And I’ve got a copy of In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters and a whole weekend ahead of me so I’m certainly not giving up!
What about you? What does your weekend hold?
–Julie Bartel, who will be reading In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, as soon as I finish these last 30 pages…
Having always been a fan of Alice in Wonderland, I was stoked for the spin off TV series Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, airing on ABC. Though it has been met with some criticism as well as praise, I have loved watching this new spin on the classic tale. As the show goes into hiatus until the spring, I started thinking, what could I read in the meantime that was similar to Once Upon a Time in Wonderland? What YA novels out there are spins on the classic Alice in Wonderland tale? I also thought about how at the beginning of Lewis Carroll’s book Alice states, “…what is the use of a book…without pictures or conversations?” If Alice saw no use in books without pictures or conversations as a child, would her tastes have changed as she grew up and became a teen? What would Alice read?
Of course, I had to start digging. What I came up with is a list of books that Alice may have read as she got older, after her adventures in Wonderland. The novels I found have direct tie-ins to the Alice tale, they are set in the time that Alice lived, or they are about fantastical journeys similar to the one Alice took when she fell down the rabbit hole. Check them out and be sure to add any suggestions you think Alice would enjoy!
The bullies call her “The Beast.” Her own father said she was ugly, just before he disappeared from her life. But Beth can sing, and when her voice soars above the rest of the choir, she is indisputably beautiful. She’s better than all the others in the school choir, which means that Beth will be front and center when they compete in the Choral Olympics. Turns out that when Beth gets a few style adjustments, and an enormous attitude adjustment, the Beast disappears completely.
Morrison wrote the lyrics for the songs, a process she describes on blogginboutbooks.com. She also includes some great photos in tribute of Matt Quaife, a young singer with Amabile’s Young Men’s Choir who died of cystic fibrosis in 2007. There is a lot of pure emotion in the creation of this book, culminating in Morrison’s composition Beth’s Song.
This is the book trailer created for Sing Me to Sleep. Beth’s Song, with a beautiful solo by Shayna Follington with the Amabile Young Man’s Ensemble and Men’s Choir in accompaniment, comes in near the middle of the recording.
Diane Colson, currently reading Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson
Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.
Here’s a personal story. Almost five years ago now I was just finishing up back-to-back stints on selection committees as a member of the 2008 Michael L. Printz Award committee and then the 2009 Robert F. Sibert Information Book Medal committee. It was a heady time, made slightly more mad by the arrival of a new baby (our first–this is important) right in the middle of the process. That summer I found myself sitting in Chicago at a dinner hosted by Scholastic, trying desperately to engage in articulate adult conversation while totally consumed by the thought of my tiny daughter being so far away (ok, back at the hotel) in addition to being really, really tired and mostly incoherent. I was seated next to a very interesting author whose name sounded so familiar–I was sure I had a book or two waiting for me at home in the stacks of titles I’d had to hold off on reading while I finished committee work. She was young and cool and her editor was so excited about her forthcoming book (which sounded awesome) that even my unfounded parental worry couldn’t dampen his enthusiasm.
Obviously that author was Maggie Stiefvater, and obviously being completely freaked out about being away from my (new) baby for so long meant that I didn’t take advantage of the moment to hit her up for some awkward dinner conversation or polite small talk, which is just sad. Mostly I remember (through new mother haze) being sort of jealously appalled that someone who could draw so well (I think she was doing it at the table) was there to be honored for her writing. (I should also note that Maggie’s editor is David Levithan, who was sitting across from me. Hello missed opportunity!)
Anyway, after the conference I went home and dug Lament out of a pile of books and felt very sad indeed, because it was Excellent and I was sitting right next to her and could have said so, had I been capable of thought and/or speech. And that was before The Scorpio Races and The Raven Boys and all the rest. It was also before I fully realized the extent of Maggie Stiefvater’s ridiculous talent, so maybe it was for the best–I probably would have babbled. I mean, have you seen her book trailers?
Thank you, Maggie, for taking the time to answer my questions (especially the forty-point ones) and sorry for the terrible dinner conversation back in Chicago. I love your work.
Always Something There to Remind Me
Please describe your teenage self.
Sulky. Effervescent. Pugnacious. Push-over. Gloomy. Elated. Musical. Musical. Musical. I was a creature of opposites: black-hearted and belligerent or funny and warm — no one got both sides of me.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
The first thing I remembering wanting to be was a writer — books, especially, because books pleased me, and in my family, there was no difference between consuming a thing and making a thing. But I also wanted to be a screenwriter, because movies pleased me, and a cartoonist, because cartoons pleased me, and an animator, because animated movies pleased me, and a soundtrack composer and a pilot and a radio personality and a pastry chef and a rose breeder and — I wanted to be lots of things.
What were your high school years like?
Technically speaking, I had no high school years. I sort of had high school months, but those barely even counted. I was home-schooled from sixth grade on, and by the time I got to high school I was bored with it — school felt like practice for real life, and I’d wanted to start real life for a very long time. My high school books arrived and I just thought: no. I tested out of school (can you do that now? It sounds fishy) and went to college at age 16. That . . . was a thing.
I had a rather rough time with a lot of the men I encountered in positions of college power at the time, but I did have one history professor who was incredibly influential. I recall that in one of my classes, he gave me a B on a paper, and I marched into his office and hurled it on the desk and said “B!” He concurred. I spat, “Tell me anyone else in that class wrote a better paper than I did!” He said that he couldn’t. I said, “Then why!? Why did I get a B?” And he replied, “Because you could write a better paper.”
I’ve never forgotten that I’m only in competition with myself.
Travis sits in the old wood cabin built by his great-great-great grandfather Eli, holding the guitar built with Eli’s own hands. His heart is broken. Travis’s mother is hospitalized after a serious car accident, and his father has nearly lost his own mind with grief. Minutes before, Travis’s father had been ready to smash the old guitar against the wall. Now, cradled in Travis’s hands, the guitar vibrates with the spirit of years long past.
It was Travis’s mother who could really play. She knew all the old gospel songs, tunes that Travis knows down in his bones. Sitting in the lonely cabin, Travis begins to play and sing.
Sometimes I feel Like a motherless child.
Sometimes I feel Like a motherless child.
Sometimes I feel Like a motherless child.
A long way from home.
A long way from home.
Motherless Child is a powerful Negro spiritual that once expressed the grief of slaves separated from their homeland, sold apart from their family, and shorn of human respect. The slow, beautiful tune voices a plaintive cry that comes from our most helpless selves, granting emotional release in its simple repetition.
The song has been recorded many, many times, by artists ranging from Billie Holliday to Prince. My favorite version is sung by Odetta (Holmes,) who performed it on April 8, 1960, at Carnegie Hall.
-Diane Colson, currently listening to The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, read by Gretchen Mol
Three years earlier, Willem spent one day with a girl he called Lulu, because she had a “passing resemblance to Louise Brooks.” Now he realizes he should never have let her go. Driven by yearning, Willem takes off from his native Amsterdam to find Lulu. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know her real first name or her last name. Willem does recall that Lulu talked about spending the winter holidays in a resort that looked like a Mayan temple. Following a desperate hunch, he finds himself spending New Year’s Day in Cancun, Mexico.
Weary from the wandering and fruitless search, Willem takes a solitary swim in the sea. From the shore, he can hear someone strumming Stairway to Heaven. It’s a lovely scene: The moon on the water, the music wafting in from the shore, and the sweet warmth of the tropical air. But Willem is alone in a world that seems far too large to search out his one special person.
Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin is one of the most beautiful rock songs of the 1970s. Composed by guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant , the song begins with a slow, lovely melody and evolves into a rock symphony that soars with Page’s guitar riffs (played 0n a double-neck Gibson) and Plant’s soulful, screaming vocals. The video recording below is from Zeppelin’s concert film, The Song Remains the Same. This segment was recorded in Madison Square Garden in 1973.
Diane Colson, currently reading Sex and Violence: a novel by Carrie Mesrobian.
Continuing our author interviews of the 2014 Morris Award Finalists, we turn to Cat Winters, author of In the Shadow of the Blackbirds. Winters takes readers to deadly 1918, when the Spanish influenza spread rapidly across the globe even as World War I continued to rage. Sixteen year-old Mary Shelley Black has been send to live with her aunt in San Diego after her father is arrested for treason. The scene is inconceivable to contemporary teens; ordinary girls covering their faces gauze masks, ordinary boys returning from war with shredded minds and bodies. Winter’s use of historical photographs delivers an additional wallop to this powerful portrayal.
Congratulations! It’s quite an accomplishment to have your debut novel selected for the Morris Award. In the Shadow of the Blackbirds is an excellent book on so many levels, most particularly the detailed historical setting. Is that where your inspiration for the book started, with the time period? Or was it something else?
Thank you so much! I was incredibly honored to learn In the Shadow of Blackbirds was selected as a Morris Award finalist. The news still feels surreal to me.
Why â€œMary Shelleyâ€ Black? Is this a personal tribute to the author Mary Shelley?
Mary Shelley Black was always a strong, vivid character who first tried making her way into a couple other plot possibilities that never actually progressed beyond the idea stages. She seemed like a person whose name should start with an M, so I toyed with â€œMaryâ€ and â€œMoira.â€ Once I decided she’d make the perfect narrator for In the Shadow of Blackbirds, she insisted on being called Mary Shelley Black. I know that explanation makes me sound a little like one of my spirit medium characters, but that’s truly how her name came about. I studied and loved Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a college undergrad, so once I knew I’d be writing from the point of view of a girl named after the author, I let a few other nods to the classic horror story slip into the book.