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Book Clubs—A Chance to Make a (Huge) Difference

Wednesday, 03 August 2016 06:47

little-free-library1Sometimes little things have big payoffs—which is exactly what's been happening in Detroit, Michigan, a city that's found itself in dire straits over the past several years. And those payoffs? They're something YOUR BOOK CLUB can help generate.

Here's the story. It started with one Little Free Library that Kim Kozlowski installed in her front yard. A returned native, Kim watched the mini-library become a gathering spot for her Detroit neighbors as they stopped to chat while taking a book or returning one. Her Little Library was pulling the neighborhood together. Is there a way, she wondered to take Little Free Libraries citywide?

So Kim made a call to Cindy Dyson, a close friend and a web-designer living Montana. The two did some brainstorming—and Crash! Bang! out popped an idea. Why not start a grassroots movement to turn Detroit into the "Little Free Library Capital of the World"?

kim-kozlowski1The game was afoot. Kim launched Detroit Little Libraries project in September, 2014, Cindy designed the website, and over the next two years mini-libraries sprung up all over Detroit. In mid-2016, the national Little Free Libraries group, whom Kim collaborated with, honored her by declaring Detroit the FASTEST GROWING LITTLE FREE LIBRARY CITY IN THE COUNTRY. (Btw, Kim accomplished all this while working full-time as a reporter for the Detroit News.)

Then things got serious. Alycia Meriweather, Detroit's acting superintendent of schools, could hardly miss the tiny libraries popping up on lawns and sidewalks all over the city. They gave Alycia had an idea, so she reached out to Kim Kozlowski.
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Like Kim, Alycia believed that literacy is one of the fundamentals needed to turn any city around. Yet the book shortage in Detroit's school system is abysmal. The idea: a project to install a Little Library in each of DETROIT'S 97 SCHOOLS—in 97 DAYS!

How are they doing? Well, the project was just launched, and it's already receiving tremendous community support, to say nothing of press attention, local and regional.

This is where YOU come in. Detroit's project is a terrific opportunity for any book club looking for a way TO GIVE BACK. It's the ideal project for anyone who believes in the power of reading to change lives.

detroit-little-libraries-girlsCindy Dyson, the web designer, contacted us at LitLovers to tell us the story and to say that HER book club—all the way out in MONTANA—has pitched in for a Detroit Little Library. Even her mother's book club in ALASKA has joined in...and a visitor at her mother's club that day—from NEVADA—took the concept back home to her book club.

So click on 97 Days / 97 Schools image (above left)...and learn how YOUR BOOK CLUB can help. You can make a simple donation, or you can purchase a ready-made library model to be installed and filled with books on your behalf. A small act ON YOUR PART can make a big difference—in a city that's working hard to make a difference.

detroit-little-libraries

 

Legos—and the Art of Writing

Monday, 25 July 2016 15:02

legosI've said this before, but it bears repeating—we readers are a lucky bunch to have OTHER people willing to write novels for us. I certainly can't do it.

Read what author Amos Oz has to say about just how arduous crafting a novel is.

It is like reconstructing the whole of Paris from Lego bricks. It’s about three-quarters-of-a-million small decisions. It’s not about who will live and who will die and who will go to bed with whom. Those are the easy ones.

It’s about choosing adjectives and adverbs and punctuation. These are molecular decisions that you have to take and nobody will appreciate.... That is the business of three-quarters-of-a-million decisions.


Wait...that's the hard part? PUNCTUATION? Nah, that's nowhere near the hard part. When someone says to me (and people have surely said it to you), "You should write a book," MY JAW DROPS in dumb wonderment. Just how smart do people think I am? (I'm not.) Even more to the point, just HOW EASY do they think writing novels is? (It isn't.)

A BAZILLION Legos—not a million—go into novel writing. Here's just some of the stuff authors have to think about—stuff we take for granted but then get ALL TETCHY over if authors get it wrong:
  1. WHO will tell the story, whose voice (or voices) will be used? (It better be a convincing.)

  2. WHAT information will be withheld? When will it be revealed? Who will reveal it, and how?

  3. IS the dialog believable—is it the way people really speak? (Not so easy.)

  4. HOW much research is needed to establish setting—location and era.

  5. HOW will the characters be shaped; how much depth will they be given; what will make them life-like and compelling?

  6. HOW will the plot be structured—what's the arc of the story?

  7. WHAT underlying concerns, themes, or ideas will suffuse the book? What big questions does the author want to explore?

  8. WHAT about all the literary stuff—imagery, symbolism / metaphor, irony, and allusions—which gives the story richness and resonance?


Writing is a hard-knock life
. Too hard for the likes of me. AND YET, it's remarkable, isn't it, that with the rise of web-based self-publishing, lots and lots of people are heading to the key board to try their hand(s) at writing books.

Bless them one and all. They are BRAVE SOULS, brave souls indeed!

 

Your Bookshelves and You

Saturday, 04 June 2016 11:18

bookshelves-by-color350Cool photo...could be right out of Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader—a terrific collection of essays about a lifetime spent in the pursuit of books: reading, writing, and collecting them. (The author is best known for The Spirit Catches You, You Fall Down, 1997.)

Here's what happened: Having sublet her apartment, Fadiman returns home from a lengthy trip. It turns out her subleasers are two design-oriented guys who thought they'd do her a favor and spiff the place up a bit.

So what did they do? They rearranged her bookshelves. Nothing practical mind you, like genre, subject, or author name...no-no-no. That would be prose-aye-ick. They reorganized the books by—you guessed it—COLOR. And Fadiman? Amused...and horrified.

Well, I've got some pretty spiffy bookshelves myself, built by Victorians 120 years ago. Here's what mine look like.

bookshelves-my350A beautiful mess. Books are crammed in topsy-turvy and arranged willy-nilly, with no claim to the niceties of decor or organization. It's all DVDs, old Disney videos, kids crayons, cookbooks and wine glasses (off to the left), along side Shakespeare (my grandfather's 1920s set).

Bookshelves are deeply personal things. This lovely mess has meaning: it reflects a sort of "what-you-see-is what-you-get" approach to our lives. More importantly, the mess contains a good bit of family history, giving us pleasure just to look at it.

So how personal are your bookshelves—what do they say about you? Finally (and we've talked about this before), how much longer will bookshelves grace our homes? What will we lose when everything is digitalized. And, yes, I my Kindle.


 

Trending—Girls Gone Bad

Thursday, 12 May 2016 14:20

girl gone badBoy! Girls are taking a hit these days—in the myriad books written and millions of readers propelling them to the top of the charts.

The girls I'm referring to are those fictional sociopaths, Amy (Gone Girl), Jodi (Silent Wife), Rachel (Girl on the Train), and most recently Lacey and Dex (Girls on Fire). *

Then there's Peggy Orenstein's nonfiction Girls & Sex about the troubling state of affairs as young women negotiate their way in the brave new world of hook-up sex.

Do notice, btw, the frequent use of "girl" in the titles. A "girl" is a young female lacking the stature—and substance—of a mature woman. Like what's up with that?

Marketers are surely taking a title cue from Steig Larsson's spectacularly successful "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" series. But Larsson's heroine, Lisbeth Salander, while outlandish, is a cut above the new "girls." Amy, Jodi, Rachel, and friends are downright ... frighteningly ... pathological.

Yet these books are cresting the bestseller charts...because we readers are scooping them up.

So what wave are these books riding? Something's up—some anxiety or unease within women, or about women, which these hugely popular books are playing into. What an interesting topic for book clubs to take up!

My 20-something daughter says it's about time: Males have long been cast as psychopaths, and women are just catching up—a sign of equity in her eyes. Well, maybe.

Except that these books are coming out fast and furiously—one after another—and hitting the charts in a HUGE way. It's puzzling. For some reason, we can't get enough of GIRLS GONE BAD. Why is that? (Also take a look at a previous post: Gone Girl Marriages—Creeping Us Out.)

* JUST RELEASED . . .
Add to our list the newest girls-gone-bad book, The Girls by Emma Cline, based on the Charles Manson cult murders. These bad girls got the publishing world so worked up that author Cline walked away with a cool $2 MILLION. And this is her first book!


 

Authors Banned from Brooklyn

Tuesday, 19 April 2016 08:49

brooklyn-no-authors4Brooklyn, NY — Weary of the never-ending influx of writers, Brooklyn has finally said, "Enough."

A moratorium on new authors passed the Borough Council unanimously and goes into effect at the end of the month.

"They're everywhere!" complained Edith Wharton. "You can't walk out your door without tripping over one. We should build a wall. And make them pay for it."

Ralf Halfcalf, owner of Cuppa Java agrees. "They spend the whole damn day in here—on their damn laptops—and buy one damn decaf-skinny-mocha-capp. Damn cheapskates."

Where once Brooklynites saw a rich diversity on their sidewalks and in their neighborhoods, they now see drab monotony—an endless parade of skinny jeans, plaid shirts, and vintage Keds.

Not everyone is happy about the new ban. When asked how it might affect her personally, Brooklyn author Irma Vepp sounded distresed. "So...yeah. It's like so weird"—her anxiety painfully evident in her pronounced upspeak.

Bella Ziplock, borough president, seemed almost apologetic. "Really, I've met some of them, and they seem decent enough. But there's been a lot of pressure—we just can't take in any more of them."

By Dilly Bettlethrip, for City Examiner and LitLovers.com

 

Reading to Children

Tuesday, 12 April 2016 09:57

Wread-child-mom-written by Cheryl Jones* for LitLovers.
We all know
reading to youngsters is important. But aside from the pure joy we feel, it's easy to overlook why it's so important.

Take a look at these highlights from a study conducted by the Melbourne (Australia) Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.

Reading to Young Children
------A Head Start in Life
--------—Ages 4 to 5—

Reading to this age group has a significant positive effect later in life—on reading (language & literacy) and cognitive skills (numeracy & cognition).

Children read to more frequently achieve higher scores on the [Australian] National Assessment Program for both Reading and Numeracy for ages 8 to 9.

These differences in reading and cognitive skills are not related to the child's family background or home environment.

Authored by: G. Kalb and J.C. van Ours, 2012


Print size matters. Based on work by Glenn Dorman, a child development specialist, young children’s eyes are still developing, which is why lettering in children's books is so large (small letter aren't helpful). Good rule of thumb: the younger the child, the bigger the letters.

read-child-mom-bFrequency matters, too. According to the Melbourne study (above), reading to children 3-5 days a week advances reading skills by six months. Reading 6-7 days a week can advance their skills by a full year!

One reason early reading is so beneficial is that it strengthens vocabulary and thinking skills—enabling children to ask questions when they're presented with difficult new material. The greater the vocabulary, the easier it is to ask for help.

Other studies over the years have shown that when children fall behind in the lower grades they often stay behind in the upper grades. Worse, they're at risk of dropping out later on.

read-child-grandpaA love of reading is a precious gift to give a child. And as every person who visits LitLovers knows, learning doesn't end with high school or college—which is why you happen to be here, reading this, right now.

Starting early with reading not only gives kids an extra boost when they're young—it turns into an advantage for life. It can be a key factor in keeping them engaged in school, as well as keeping them in school. And, importantly, it can inspire in them a life-long love of reading—just like you.

*Cheryl Jones is a blogger and a free-lance witer. Visit her blog here.


 

In Praise of the Short Novel

Thursday, 31 March 2016 09:08

Intall-book3 case you hadn't noticed, the novel seems to be getting longer and longer, some clocking in at 700-800+ pages.

In a gag news article we wrote a while back, we riffed on the idea of authors taking performance enhancing drugs, enabling them to pound out longer and longer sentences, leading to "stupefyingly longer" books.

Now someone's pushing back. Although publishers have pressed him "to write longer books," Welsh author Cynan Jones praises the short novel.

He points to The Old Man and the Sea, They Shoot Horses Don't They?, Animal Farm, even Gatsby (though Fitzgerald worried it was too short). Here's Cynan Jones on the subject:

I've never met a reader who doesn't like short novels.... For me, the opportunity to sit somewhere for two hours and read a book from start to finish—to submerge myself in it—is a thrilling experience. A short novel makes a straightforward demand: give me this time.
Readers don't buy books by the the pound, Jones points out. And publishers should get over their obsession with longer works. "The only thing to be taken into account should be the impact a piece of writing has," says Jones. Amen, we say.



Cynan Jones is the author of The Dig and, more recently, Everything I Found on the Beach. The full article can be read in Publisher's Weekly.

 

Authors Slug It Out for November Win

Sunday, 28 February 2016 10:23

dailynews-header4



Authors Battle for November Contest
battle-for-november7


Sharp Barbs, Nasty Insults

Feb. 28, 2016: Greenville, NC—
"I saw him back stage piling makeup on with a trowel," AUTHOR Marco Rubiat said of rival author Don d'Triumph.*

"Who cares. I KNOW WORDS. I have the BEST WORDS," d'Triumph responded. "Everybody LOVES MY WORDS." *

"Doesn't matter. You've still got one of those sweat mustaches," Rubiat retorted.*

National Book Awards
We're still months away, but authors have already begun a slugfest to see who will win come November.


* Actually spoken by the candidates.

November is when the coveted NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS are announced. This year stakes are high with tempers running even higher.

Never this bad

"I've never seen it get this nasty," said Reagan Eagan, awards jurist. "Authors typically behave with greater decorum."

True. Still, it's hard not to feel a twinge of guilty pleasure listening to these Olympiads sling their polished insults.

Charge of elitism
One debate had best- selling AUTHOR Bernie Sandbag calling rival Hillary Clinchpin a sellout.

"You don't give a hoot for the average reader," Sandbag said. All you care about is Goldman Smacks.
Emails
Tedino Cruz chimed in that people are a lot more interested in Hillary's emails than her books.

"Pipe down," Tedino. Nobody likes you," Hillary said. "Even your editors don't like you."

Their novels

"OMG!" said one book critic. "This beats any of their novels. The language is poetic ... the characters so believable.

Another critic agreed: "No one could write this stuff. No one would even try."


Ambrosia Mendelbrot, special to The Daily News and LitLovers.

 

Use our Mystery Questions When You Can't Find Any

Thursday, 18 February 2016 10:44

generic-mystery-questionsWe get lots of mail asking for Discussion Questions for mysteries, and there've been a lot of them lately—emails AND new crime novels (all claiming to be the "new" Gone Girl).

Sadly, for book clubs, authors or publishers don't often issue questions for mysteries—for a couple of reasons:

Specific questions tend to give away the plot, ruining the element of surprise. Remember, mysteries depend on withholding information.

Bestselling crime novels aren't considered "book club" material. They're all about plot and don't necessarily open themselves up to discussions about character dynamics or weighty social issues. Major serial authors like James Patterson, Michael Connelly, J.D. Robb, David Baldacci write for different reasons and audiences.

So we've got our own questions below. Feel free to use them or access them here.

Questions for Mystery - Crime - Suspense - Thrillers

1.
Talk about the characters, both good and bad. Describe their personalities and motivations. Are they fully developed and emotionally complex? Or are they flat, one-dimensional heroes and villains?


2. What do you know...and when do you know it? At what point in the book do you begin to piece together what happened?


3. Good crime writers embed hidden clues, slipping them in casually, almost in passing. Did you pick them out, or were you...clueless? Once you've finished the book, go back to locate the clues hidden in plain sight. How skillful was the author in burying them?


4. Good crime writers also tease us with red-herrings—false clues—to purposely lead us astray? Does your author try to throw you off track? If so, were you tripped up?


5. Talk about the twists & turns—those surprising plot developments that throw everything you think you've figured out into disarray.

a. Do they enhance the story, add complexity, and build suspense?

b. Are they plausible or implausible?

c. Do they feel forced and gratuitous—inserted merely to extend the story?


6. Does the author ratchet up the suspense? Did you find yourself anxious—quickly turning pages to learn what happened? A what point does the suspense start to build? Where does it climax...then perhaps start rising again?


7. A good ending is essential in any mystery or crime thriller: it should ease up on tension, answer questions, and tidy up loose ends. Does the ending accomplish those goals?

a. Is the conclusion probable or believable?

b. Is it organic, growing out of clues previously laid out by the author (see Question 3)?

c. Or does the ending come out of the blue, feeling forced or tacked-on?

d. Perhaps it's too predictable.

e. Can you envision a different or better ending?


8. Point to passages in the book—ideas, descriptions, or dialogue—that you found interesting or revealing, that somehow struck you. What, if anything, made you stop and think? Or maybe even laugh.


9. Overall, does the book satisfy? Does it live up to the standards of a good crime story or suspense thriller? Or does it somehow fall short?


10. Compare this book to other mystery, crime, or suspense thrillers that you've read. Consider other authors or other books in a the series by the same author.

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

 

LitLovers Goes to the Movies

Tuesday, 17 November 2015 10:03

movies-meet-book-header1


We love books, and we love movies. And we REALLY love movies that come from books.

Book clubs say, over and over, that a favorite club activity is attending movies based on books—especially if the book is a club selection.

That's why LitLovers has decided to partner with Screen Thoughts.

hollister-otoole1SCREEN THOUGHTS takes the book-to-movie connection a step beyond. They read the book . . . see the movie . . . then create a 20-minute podcast about their impressions.

Hollister and O'Toole, the voices behind the mic, are smart, knowledgeable, and engaging. They review the films and ask the questions we care about:

Is the film true to the book?
Are the actors right for the book's characters?
Do you prefer the book to film . . . or film to book?

Click HERE for Screen Thoughts podcasts—or go the top of the LitLovers homepage. Listen on your own . . . or listen as a group in your book club—they're sure to spark discussion.  Who's right—Hollister or O'Toole? Both? Neither?

Each month you'll find a new book-to-movie podcast. So be sure to listen in.

 

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