What's My Book Age? — Reading YA Books

Monday, 30 June 2014 12:21

ya-debate2By Kristi Spuhler for LitLovers.
OK, we admit it—we were with Harry Potter from beginning to end (all seven volumes), we cried with Hazel Grace as the cancer progressed, and we followed Katniss through her long ordeal. There's something about a well-written Young Adult (YA) novel that grabs us, no matter what age.

That's why we were so surprised when Ruth Graham (Fear Not Tomorrow, God Is Already There) popped up declaring the YA genre inappropriate for adults. Graham claims certain lines shouldn't be crossed when it comes to the books adults choose to love.
Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children.     —Ruth Graham
Should we really "feel embarrassed" for picking up a well-written book—even one directed at a younger audience? Think of The Book Thief, When You Reach Me, Persepolis, or The Diary of Anne Frank, for heaven's sake. (It's not "classified" as YA, but technically?...a case can be made). And what about To Kill a Mockingbird?

Graham has her reasons: she believes YA fiction lacks the literary complexity of theme, plot, or character that reflects the adult experience.
[YA] books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple.... These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.
As you can imagine, the article has generated a pronounced divide between literary purists and writers and readers of YA books.

In defense of her craft, YA writer Kathleen Hale (No One Else Can Have You) rebutted Graham in a hilarious parody of her own genre. She confronts Graham "outside a graveyard before nightfall."
"Why did you say that about YA?” I asked, as tears streamed down my face like rain.

“Because it’s true!” she hissed. And I saw in the moonlight that her anger made her beautiful. This was before the war, when the oceans still had water, and the moon was still visible in the sky.

“YA is formulaic, worthless dreck,” she said, transforming into a vampire.
You get the gist. It's very funny. But Hale is serious when she retorts (while turning into a werewolf, of course) that Graham's complaint is hardly new. Nathaniel Hawthorne, in 1855, disparaged the "damned mob of scribbling women" and the books they wrote as "trash." Fifty years ago, Flannery O'Conner and others complained that Harper Lee's now classic novel—written for a youthful audience—shouldn't be handled by adult readers.

This is not to say that ALL reading materials are created equal. But surely finding pleasure in books with happy endings, romance, high emotion, or one-dimensional characters shouldn't be an embarrassment. If so, we might have to toss the likes of Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters (Caaaa-theeee!), Charles Dickens and plenty others off our oh-so-adult reading lists.

What do you think?  Should an adult reader shy away from YA books? Is the genre a lesser art form? What about your book club—has it taken on any YA books? Let us know.
* Photo by L on Flicker.


 

He did what? No way! — Fanfiction to the rescue

Wednesday, 18 June 2014 09:00

frankly-my-dear4"I don't give a damn"? That's it? The end? A thousand pages (and let's be honest here: the 2nd section is nowhere as good as the 1st) ... just so Rhett can tell Scarlett to take a hike?

Sometimes we don't like an author's choices, but what's a reader do? Well, some take matters into their own hands and turn themselves into writers. Thus the birth of Fanfiction [fæn'-fik-shun].

Fanfiction is just what it sounds like—amateur stories crafted by a fan of a particular work, featuring the same characters but a different plot...or point of view...or ending. Critics may debate its merit, but fanfiction is gaining in popularity—and it looks like it’s here to stay!

Take a look at FanFiction, a site that hosts 100s-of-1,000s of stories created by readers who want something more from a book...or maybe who simply want to pit their own nascent talents against the pros. Here's a smattering of what's offered:

Original Works # of Fanfiction Spinoffs
Harry Potter 685,000
Twilight 216,000
Hunger Games   39,500
Pride and Prejudice    3,400
Gone With the Wind       838
The Fault in Our Stars       494
Kite Runner         57
One Hundred Years of Solitude          3
Room          1

Have some fun reading any of these re-works: Click HERE to see the complete list—1,000s of original works which have led to spinoffs. Then just scan down the list and click . . . wherever.

Though some in the published world support fanfiction (Meg Cabot, author of the Princess Diaries series got her start writing fanfiction), other well-known authors—George R.R. Martin and Anne Rice, to name two—resent budding writers who try to gain exposure by piggy-backing on their works.

On the other hand, where's the line in determining what stories are fanfiction and which aren't? Remember Gregory Maguire's Wicked and Jeany Ryhs' Wide Sargasso Sea? They're only two of a very long list of reimaginings of famous works. Even Gone With the Wind has its spinoffs.

For a better appreciation of just how much literary reworking is done, see our LitBlog post from 2010: Old Wine in New Bottles.

Still, while it can be flattering for authors to have their works emulated by an aspiring writer, it can be equally as frustrating to fight of iterations of a story that aren't what the author imagined.

What do you think? Is fanfiction good writing practice for buddingwriters? Or is it muddying the waters for readers?
—Kristi Spuhler for LitLovers

 

Turn It Up—audio books

Monday, 09 June 2014 09:03

audio-books-2014By Kristi Spuhler for LitLovers
“What happens next?” is the crucial question that leaves us drinking words off a page like we’ve just come out of a literary desert. But what do you do when you have brain bandwidth available and no free hands to hold your book?

You know the times we’re talking about—sitting in traffic, cleaning the house or running around the block. Any of these occasions would be perfect to bust out the earbuds and take a listen to an audiobook, but some of us pause before we hit the play button.

Homer himself (not Simpson...the other one...of The Odyssey, The Illiad) was an oral storyteller, so why is there such debate over the "literary merit" of plugging into an audiobook? At it’s deepest roots, the art of storytelling was simply telling a story to a group of people. Getting lost in a story on your iPod is simply the 21st Century version of sitting in an amphitheater.

We say get your fiction on anyway you can! To help you out, we’ve found the top five free audiobook streaming sites for the next time you’re idling on the highway. Simply click, turn it up and enjoy.

Librivox
—An entirely volunteer curated project that donates recorded books to the public for free. The coolest part? Anyone can sign up to read and upload a book!


Books Should Be Free—Dedicated to presenting available literature in a visually appealing way, you can flip through images of available covers instead of scrolling through pages of hyperlinks.


Podiobooks—If you’re looking for something a little different than the usual public domain titles, Podiobooks has you covered. Budding authors donate their works to the site for free streaming, though you do have the option of making a donation to the site as well.


Storynory- Perfect for a long car ride with little ones, Storynory offers a wide array of both classic fairy tales and original stories all performed by professional actors.


ThoughtAudio - Browse through a list of all the best literature and conversations aimed at making you think. Though you may stream the content on your computer for free, you may download some of these works on MP3 files for a small fee if you choose.

If you find a book you might "tune in to" on one of these sites, let us know which one!
 

Who Let the Dogs Out?

Tuesday, 27 May 2014 06:55

dog-therapy1By Kristi Spuhler for LitLovers
These days you never know what creature you might come face-to-face with in your local library. Many of us, it turns out, are meeting up with the furry canine variety. Woof.

Therapy Dog programs are popping up all over the place, aimed at encouraging struggling readers to find comfort—and pleasure—in reading aloud. The dogs provide a helping paw.

Snuggling up next to a canine buddy while reading is meant to help students build confidence in reading skills and generate enthusiasm rather than anxiety for library time.

One volunteer group, BARK, offers 20-minute sessions once a week for young readers to relax and practice. During a session, a child picks out a book and, after a few friendly pats for thedog-therapy2b furry pal, is all set to begin the story. It’s that simple.

A dog offers a friendly ear and no judgement. When students stumble over words in front of peers and teachers, it's intimidating. But dogs take the pressure off, letting young readers focus on the story and on improving their skills.

The results are remarkable. In a study conducted by Tufts University, second graders who read aloud to a canine companion over the summer months retained their reading skills more effectively than those paired with a human buddy.

dog-therapy3Another study by UC Davis in 2010, according to BARK, suggests that kids in reading-to-dog programs improve their reading skills by at least 12% when compared to children not involved in these programs. A fuzzy ear and an encouraging nuzzle may be just what a struggling youngster needs!

Have any of you been involved in a program like this? Leave us a comment—we'd sure love to hear about it!


 

Can You Say LitLovers in Estonian?

Wednesday, 14 May 2014 08:17

estonia-kool-logo1Imagine how it felt on a real ho-hum of a morning to open this missive from far-off Estonia, the beautiful country bordering the Baltic sea.

#1
Hello...I am an English teacher from Minnesota, living and teaching in Estonia, Europe. I am using your book-club questions to help my students discuss what they are reading for my "home-reading" assignments. Thank you so much—they have really helped my students get more out of their reading.
"So what are your students reading?" I write back. And the next morning...I get another email.
#2
My sixth graders have read some graded readers,
Around the World in 80 Days,estonia-kids2 Last of the Mohicans, some sports books about soccer players and so on.

Older kids are interested in the pop literature of the day—the Divergent Series, Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games, The Fault in our Stars. Some kids read biographies or non-fiction as well. They do a mostly good job of summarizing what they have read, but then have difficulty discussing anything further—that is where your questions have really helped us out.
Who is this guy? "Who are you," I ask "and what are you doing in Estonia?" His name is Parry...and next morning, I get a 3rd note!
#3estonia-kool-kids1
I teach at a private school in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. The school, or kool, is called Rocca al Mare ("rock by the sea") and it is right next to the Baltic Sea in a beautiful forest setting. I am from Minnesota but have been living in Estonia for almost 9 years. I have family here now and have no plans to return to the U.S. anytime soon.

estonia-map-etc3



Most of his kids, Parry writes, are quite fluent in English—speaking and writing with relative ease. It's an "A language," which means they begin learning it in first grade. They're also influenced by the Internet and TV—often inserting English words into sentences when speaking in Estonian. Or they'll take an American verb and "Estonianize" it.

Estonia is so small that language-learning is extremely important, says Parry, even in everyday life. Many people can speak 3, 4, even 5 languages, sometimes fluently. Starting in the 3rd grade, students can also choose a "B language"—French, German, Russian, or Spanish—and later can add a "C language," which at that point includes Finnish.

estonia-songfest1A favorite movie of mine, I tell him, is The Singing Revolution—how Estonia gained independence from the Soviets in 1991. They literally sung their way to freedom. It's a gripping, powerful story.

He knows the movie. "Estonians are very proud of how they won their independence that time. Summer 2014 is the next Summer Song Festival, which is held every four years; you might find videos of past song festivals under the title Laulupidu, which means song festival in Estonian."

Then he ends with..."Of course, Estonia's freedom is very fragile: it has never been free as a nation for any long period of time."


 

Publishers Feelin' the Blues

Monday, 21 April 2014 08:48

blue-where-the-moon2blue-dark-sacred2blue-under-the-wide4blue-wind-is-not2blue-steady-running3blue-all-the-light3blue-in-paradise3blue-snow-queen3
(Click on a cover to see the Reading Guide.)


Notice anything...oh, I dunno...funny? Check out some of 2014's "big" books so far. Clearly, somebody likes blue ... or is pretty sure the rest of us do.

Do you remember the scene in The Devil Wears Prada where boss Miranda chastises Andrea for mocking a popular color of blue? Miranda tells her the shade was chosen after intensive consumer research, followed by a high stakes marketing campaign—all to make women WANT-NEED-BUY that very color. In other words, consumers think we have free will...but we're simply being manipulated.

Is that what's going on with New York publishers (five different houses are represented here)? Is a conspiracy afoot in the literary world? Oh gracious. But then, again, maybe we're just paranoid. Wouldn't be the first time.

So what does blue evoke in YOU?

 

Graphic Novels—from paragraphs to panels

Monday, 14 April 2014 09:56

graphic-novels—By Kristi Spuhler for LitLovers—
The graphic novel
has been fighting a tough battle. Many of us have been too quick to pass off panel comics in favor of traditional books, but in truth we may not know what we’re missing.

Breaking away from spandex-clad superheroes, graphic novels have taken on more serious subject matter—often diving into the realms of historical fiction and autobiographies.

Rich with complicated plot lines and well-developed characters, graphic novels take the art of storytelling in a completely new direction. By incorporating poignant images with well-crafted prose, graphic novels break down slow-moving descriptions into swift actions.

Caught your attention yet? Just in case, take a look at the list we’ve compiled—some of the best stories to ease you into the world of speech bubbles!

Graphic Novels

Watchmen - Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons
The only graphic novel that has been included on the NY Times 100 Best Novels List, Watchmen follows a group of retired superheroes through 1985 America as they try to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes


Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi
This autobiographical graphic novel follows the author through her childhood and early adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution. In 2010, Newsweek ranked Persepolis #5 on its list of the top 10 books of the decade.


Maus - Art Spiegleman
This graphic novel, penned by the popular contributing illustrator of the New Yorker, depicts the author interviewing his father, a Polish Jew, about his experiences during the Holocaust.


The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes - Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg
This dark fantasy follows Dream (aka Morpheus) on his quest to find his three magical objects of power after a wrongful 70 year imprisonment at the hands of an evil magician.


Scott Pilgrim - Bryan Lee O’Malley
The title character of this spunky graphic novel is in love—but there are complications. The story follows Scott through a video game-inspired landscape as he battles to defeat his girlfriend’s seven evil exes.


The Walking Dead - Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn, Tony Moore
After being shot in the line of duty, Rick Grimes wakes from a coma to discover that his town has been overrun with walking corpses. The story follows Rick and a group of fellow survivors as they struggle against the odds in a post-apocalyptic world.


V For Vendetta - Alan Moore, David Lloyd
Simply put, the titular character, V, seeks vengeance for those in a corrupt government who have wronged him.



Here's the challenge—pick one of these graphic novels (or any other). Give it a try, and let us know what you think. Tell us which novel...and your thoughts. We'd love to hear back.

 

Share Your Love of Literature—Literally!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014 12:29

free-library1—By Kristi Spuhler for LitLovers—
Looking for an easy way to share your love of literature? Then start a Little Free Library (LFL) right in your front yard!

At its most basic, a Little Free Library is a small, enclosed bookshelf on which you display your favorite titles. Neighbors can borrow and enjoy your books and eventually add their own to the box. Pick a book...leave a book.

Take Swapna Krishna who watched her own LFL project blossom. At first, she was delighted simply to see the books she shared disappear from the shelves. But the best part came when she discovered other books were being left!

So what starts out as a collection of personal favorites can quickly become one of the best places to find a new read!

Sound like fun? Then pay a visit LittleFreeLibrary.org where you can purchase one of the boxes. Or if you want a more personalized approach, download building plans to create your own unique box!

So now the question: what titles would you share? Leave us a comment and let us know!
 

Reading? Don’t Blink!

Wednesday, 05 March 2014 10:22

eye-iris1By Kristi Spuhler for LitLovers—
In the last few years, we have all seen major changes in reading. With the advent of ebooks and ereaders, the materials that people read, where they read and how they read have been flipped upside-down. Gone are the days when people would peruse a quiet bookstore to find their next reading project - with a wifi connection and a series of clicks, readers have a virtual library at their fingertips.

Technology aside, there have even been developments in the way people read. Speed reading has grown in popularity among the college-age set for years and who can blame them? With such a massive amount of text that we’re all dying to pour over, we have to cut out time somewhere! Enter Spritz, a revolutionary new reading system developed by a team in Boston.

The Spritz claim-to-fame is its alleged ability to cut down the 80% of total reading time your eyes waste while moving from word to word. When reading, your eye searches out the ORP (optimal recognition point) in each word. Once the ORP has been located, you then begin processing the information. Repeat this process for every word on a page and you’ve spent quite a long time just moving your eyes!

With Spritz, the ORP in each word is highlighted for you. Each word in a sentence then flashes across a display screen with the ORP cast in the same area each time. This process completely removes your need to move your eyes and allows you to focus fully on the words in front of you. Where before it was necessary to focus on each word, now you can sit back, relax and let your text come to you.

Though the technology behind this new reading system is intriguing, we have to wonder how such a drastic change in reading would affect our audience of LitHounds. When the Kindle and the Nook first started making their appearance a few years back, there were rumblings that the publishing industry would be forever changed. Since that time, we’ve seen differences in the amounts of books that are published in the more traditional fashion, and a marked increase in the prevalence of self-publishing. Even though technology has taken a strong hold in literature, the popularity of the ink and paper book has endured - but can it survive another blow from a popular lit-gadget?

Though it’s easy to be skeptical, it may be best to give Spritz a try before passing judgement. To see what this new gadget is all about click here and then scroll over the blue link in the right upper corner of the page.

What do you think about text streaming - is it here to stay, or will it be gone in the blink of an eye? Leave us a comment below and tell us what you think!


 

Thugnotes—getting to know the classics?!

Thursday, 13 February 2014 12:33

thugnotes—Kristi Spuhler for LitLovers—
We know—it can be difficult to find excitement in a story whose first sentence is a paragraph. (A Tale of Two Cities, anyone?) Just looking at a sentence like that can make us go cross-eyed! For this reason (among others,) younger readers are not as quick to devour antiquated works.

Enter sites like thug-notes.com (**Warning: The videos on this site contain some strong language**)

With modern lingo and a hip edginess, Dr. Sweets, (the moniker of comedian Greg Edwards,) takes well-known titles from the high school English classroom and breaks them down into bite-sized morsels fit to grab the attention of even the most attention-lacking reader. Distilling well-known titles down to their base elements, these video reviews break through the austere shell of many "classic" works and highlight the intrigue, violence, romance and excitement that many readers are seeking - but may not be able to find- in classic literature.

Using pop culture to interest audiences in classic stories isn’t a new idea. We highlighted a few examples of fine works that have been translated into movies in our last post (scroll down), and tv series like Wishbone filled roughly the same purpose to a younger audience. With the prevalence of vlogging* and social sharing sites, it seems that it was only a matter of time before literature would become a topic of conversation on these forums, too. As we should have suspected, the internet has allowed a number of unique interpretations to take hold.

What do you think about modernized video reviews of literature? Are they good for inspiring future LitHounds to explore the classics, or do these stylized versions detract from the original beauty of the work?

*video blog or video log


 

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