Last week was Valentine's Day, people. How did you spend it? A starlit cruise around the lake on a private yacht? Rock climbing a monument that your Significant Other carved into a cliff a la Mount Rushmore? Romantic candlelit dinner or a night of zombie movie mayhem? Well if you're like me, you spent it curled up in an armchair under a lovely afghan with a very nice glass of sauvignon blanc and Gilbert Blythe. That's right, I spent February 14th alone with wine and a book and I loved it. I have always loved books more than people--it's one of the main reasons I became a librarian in the first place--and all of my childhood crushes lived exclusively on the page. Now, a good therapist would have a field day with that revelation but I choose to focus on the positive: I never have to break up with my great loves and I don't have to limit myself to just one. And now, without further ado, I present to you the great loves of my life--for now.1. Rhett Butler of Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I have never made secret my love of scoundrels and Rhett is the best kind of scoundrel. He's a scoundrel with a good heart and devilish charm. I blame the delicious Mr. Butler for my ongoing weakness for bad boys. Because I know they're bad but maybe they're also sweet deep down and will buy my huffy nanny red crinoline for a petticoat so stiff it could stand up on its own. But probably not.2. Gilbert Blythe of Anne of Green Gable and subsequent books by L. M. Montgomery. Oh Gilbert. Gilbert, you delightful scamp. Gilbert is the perfect example of the "He Teases Me Because He Secretly Loves Me" mentality. He calls Anne "Carrots" and it's love. Of course, he's also very good to Anne, steadily waiting for her to notice him in the wings. Gilbert is that all-American (okay, Canadian) boy-next-door that we all imagined our own neighbors to be when we were twelve. Mostly, though, they just wanted to play stickball.3. Theodore "Laurie" Lawrence from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Another one of those delightful boy-next-door types (although his love for Jo is sadly unrequited), Laurie is always down for whatever shenanigans Jo has in mind. Bonus: he's a talented musician who explores his passion. What girl doesn't have a big old weak spot for a musician?4. The little boy from Chicken Soup With Rice by Maurice Sendak. This one is a little obscure but that little illustration was maybe my first actual love. Of course, I was about four and it was also my imaginary friend (there were actually two of them) so it was all very innocent but I loved those little line drawings (Didi and Deed, to me). It was my first experience of literature coming quite literally off the page.5. Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. Bear with me here. Yes, Holden is whiny. No, he doesn't actually do anything. Yes, he's obsessed with profanity and sex and never letting anything go. But you know what? So was I when I was fourteen, which is when I fell hard for Holden. Thankfully I grew out of that phase and out of my habit of dating moody, unambitious artist-types. Still, Holden will always hold a little piece of my heart, if only for nostalgia's sake.6. Mr. Knightley from Emma by Jane Austen. I know you Austen-ites will think me insane for keeping Darcy off this list but Colin Firth adaptations aside, I don't actually care all that much for Fitzwilliam. He's moody and proud and he insults Lizzy during his first proposal. So. Not. Okay. Yes, he evolves throughout the story and Lizzy makes some mistakes, too, but today that whole "I'm Rich So I'm Allowed To Be Kind Of A Jerk" thing just wouldn't fly. (Bronte sisters, you're no better.) Enter Mr. Knightley. Emma is much more flawed than Lizzy. She's meddlesome and silly and stubborn but she's also fiercely loyal and well-intentioned and kind. Knightley recognizes Emma's faults and loves her anyway because she wouldn't be the same without them. When she does something stupid, he tells her but he doesn't insult her. He's just a guy that wants the woman he loves to be all that she can be. Swoon. (Incidentally, if you're going to watch a film adaptation, I highly recommend this one.)7. The Little Prince from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. That wistful, sad little alien had me from the first strange word out of his mouth. He may not exist at all, even within the pages of the very book written about him, but it doesn't matter. He, or the part of the narrator's mind that created him, understands something beautiful and tragic about the fleeting nature of life. Okay, so I didn't really get it entirely at the time but I don't think you need to understand something intellectually to really get it. And besides, it's just all so French.8. Adam Eddington from A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L'Engle. I had an entire shelf of L'Engle books when I was growing up and I read them over and over. Most of the philosophy went right over my head until I reread them as an adult the characters she created stuck with me, even when I didn't know what they were talking about. My absolute favorite was Adam, the young scientist working with dolphins while trying to keep from falling in love with Vicky. A smart man who's good with animals? Yes please.9. Sergeant Mike Flannigan from Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Mars Freedman. I read this one over and over and over again when I was in the ninth grade. Mike is a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (perhaps I have a secret thing for Canadians?) and a rugged outdoorsman with a strong sense of honor. He protects Katherine Mary but he doesn't coddle her. Rather than shielding her from the brutality of life in the upper forty, he helps her become strong enough to face it herself. Plus, there's the uniform.10. Dr. Neil MacNeill from Christy by Catherine Marhsall. So, I may have developed a little bit of a soft spot for the good doctor after watching the TV miniseries but I watched and read them at about the same time in my life so I can't really distinguish them in my mind anymore. MacNeill is a man with a tragic past and we've established that no lovelorn reader can resist a hero with a pathetic backstory. But MacNeill also dedicates his life to helping the backward people of Cutter Gap. He's like the original Peace Corps and the hippie in me just loves that.There are at least a dozen other literary men I could have put on this list but I'll spare you my rhapsodies on Royal Wilder and Rochester, my love for Lestat and Lancelot alike. This list is just to prove that you never forget your first dozen loves.
Monday, February 27, 2012
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
It's finally here! February 14th is a very special day to me and not for the reasons you might think. It isn't that I really love the color pink (although I do). It's not because I will be buying discounted chocolate tomorrow (although I will). It's not even due to the fact that my students both baked me a cake and serenaded me with Bruno Mars today (although they did). No, the reason that I am filled with glee today is that the winners of the 2012 Cybils have finally been announced!
That's right, people. The dozens of reviews you suffered through have all paid off. Graphic novels have been split into two age groups (Young Adult and Middle Grade) so there are two winners and I couldn't be more pleased with the results. And as your resident geek, can I say how excited I am to see both science fiction and fantasy represented among the winners?
Anya's Ghost by Vera Brogsol won the YA Graphic Novel award. I read this one way back before award season started and absolutely loved it. It's got everything--ghosts, body image issues, and a snarky but delightful protagonista that I would love to befriend.
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke won the MG Graphic novel award. Zita is a spunky tomboy
who ends up sucked into a far away universe where she must save her best friend from evil robots and find her way home. And that's just the start of her adventures.
Of course, Cybils is about more than just graphic novels. They gave awards to picture books, nonfiction, and general fiction. To see a complete list of winners, check out the Cybils website.
And another sincere thanks to the authors, bloggers, and publishers who made participating in this year's Cybils awards a joy. You're the best!
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Poetry is making a come-back in a big way. As an avid reader of poetry (and a writer of admittedly mediocre poetry), I am very excited about this. I have three books of poetry on my bedside table, one happy, one sad, and one angry so that I can read whatever I'm in the mood for without crossing my tiny bedroom to my tiny bookshelf.
The books of poetry that circulate today, though, are a little different from the battered old copy of Sylvia Plath poems I've got on my nightstand. Whereas I love a poem for its own sake ("A poem points to nothing but itself," E. M. Forester said), these newer works tell a story. Like Homer's Odyssey or Dante's Inferno, they use verse the way a novelist uses prose. The difference between prose and poetry, besides the form, is that prose is largely concerned with telling the reader a story while poetry is concerned with the beauty of the language itself. New poets like Ellen Hopkins, though, are uniting the form and grace of poetry with the storytelling of traditional prose. And the kids. Cannot. Get. Enough. I'm generalizing, here, of course, but a large portion of my students wait rabidly for the next Hopkins release and then devour them (most are well over 500 pages) in a matter of days.
So what is it about poetry that appeals to teens? Perhaps the jarring, disjointed style works well with a generation used to constantly flipping between webpages and clicking out of pop-ups. Maybe it's just the fact that there is something inherently sad in poetry, even happy poetry, that speaks to both the brevity and depth of the human experience. Or maybe less text on a page is just less intimidating to a reluctant reader. Whatever the reason behind it, verse novels are here to stay. But which ones? I'm glad you asked...
Absolutely Anything by Ellen Hopkins. I'm serious. This woman can't write a bad book. Though her subject matter is dark (ranging from drug abuse to incest to self mutilation to sex trafficking), her writing is beautiful. She even manages to capture the voice of male teen poets without sounding inauthentic.
Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham. Poetry about a shark attack? Yes. Bingham writes as fifteen-year-old Jane, who has lost her right arm in an attack. She was going to be an artist. Who will she be now that that has been taken away from her? The story is by turns funny and heart-breaking, this was one I could not put down. Who says poetry has to be boring? But I will be staying away from the beach, thank you very much.
I Don't Want To Be Crazy by Samantha Schutz. Sam freaks out sometimes. Like "I think I'm going to die what is wrong with me I can't breathe" freaks out. They're called panic attacks. She has anxiety disorder and this frank, honest book examines her struggles to talk to her parents about it, find a medication, and free herself from her own craziness. Schutz doesn't pull her punches in this intimate verse-memoir.
A Bad Boy Can Be Good For a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone. Josie, Nicolette, and Aviva all get mixed up with a senior boy who can talk them into doing almost anything he wants. In a blur of high school hormones and personal doubt, each girl struggles with how much to give up and what ultimately to keep for herself.
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff. While earning money for college, fourteen year old LaVaughn babysits for a teen mother, Jolly. At first it's just a job but LaVaughn finds herself learning a lot more than she could in a classroom as she watches seventeen-year-old Jolly make lemonade out of the lemons in her life.
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. Hesse won the Newbery for this heartbreaking and beautiful novel about Billy Jo, a girl growing up in the Dust Bowl during the Depression. It's not an easy read: poetry is an effective vehicle for Billy Jo's grief as her mother passes away and her guilt at not being the boy her Daddy wanted. The result, though, is absolutely stunning.
Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay. When her father starts dating a man, fifteen-year-old Marcie's depressed mother takes her to New Hampshire but just as Marcie starts falling for a great guy her father brings her back to Iowa, where all of her relationships have become strained. In this new novel, Tregay proves that there's no wrong way to make a family, and that your family is not limited to the people who share your DNA.
There are, of course, dozens upon dozens of other verse novels. These are just a few I've read lately but they are by no means the only titles this subgenre has to offer. If you want a look at a more extensive (but by no means exhaustive) list, check out this one put together by the Dover Public Library.