Month: July 2010 (page 2 of 5)

Book News, July 24th

Greetings once again, bookworms. I managed to devour of all of the Pemberley Variations books this week (most were quick reads) and am now delighted with visions of dancing Darcy’s in my dreams. Not a bad way to get some REM! I’ll be completely shifting gears next, with books 3 and 4 in Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girl series. I’ve always wanted to be a spy. As I ponder the possibilities for my secret code name, enjoy this week’s book news:

  • I love libraries. You (probably) love libraries too. And you know who else loves libraries? The Old Spice Guy. In an online video, OSG extols the virtues of the library, informing us that “libraries are filled with books and books are often filled with many, many words.” Well, thanks for clearing that up! A clever library would find a way to use it as a marketing gimmick – an attractive man, half-naked, urging you to go to the library? I’m so there.
  • Earlier this week, Amazon announced that Kindle e-book sales now outpaced hardcover book sales. In the news release, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos declared this to be “astonishing, when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months.” Is it really astonishing? Hardcover books can retail for more than $20. Even with Amazon’s discounts, hardcovers are still in the $15 range – compare that to the $10 or less for an e-book. In my mind, it’s a no brainer and I don’t even own an e-reader.
  • Pop quiz – how many words of this post have you actually read so far? All? Half? Less than half? New evidence suggests that skimming texts, especially when reading online, is making it more difficult for us to read, understand and analyze longer works. Online reading frequently involves quite a lot of interruptions, making it harder for us to truly absorb what we’re reading. The solution? A slow-reading movement, encouraging us to deliberately slow down and take the time to really read the words in front of us. And if you’ve made it this far in the post, you can read all about it in an article from The Guardian.
  • A few fun tidbits from the world of children’s literature: first, on the Shelf Talker blog, there’s a discussion about the “game-changing” children’s and YA books, books that reset the game for children’s and YA writing. Harry Potter made the list, of course, as did Twilight and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Second, with the release of the big-screen adaptation of Beverly Cleary’s classic Ramona and Beezus, Moviefone is compiling a list of the children’s books Hollywood should tackle next. Among their suggestions is Judy Blume’s coming-of-age classic, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, which I always saw as a Lifetime movie-of-the-week.
  • And to close out, a little bit of mystery and intrigue for you Harry Potter fans. A local Scottish news outlet has reported seeing J.K. Rowling typing on her laptop at a local café recently, sparking rumors that she is – finally – writing her first post-HP book. Of course, she could have been emailing or playing Solitaire. Only she knows for sure, but this bit of news is sure to be discussed ad nauseum for the foreseeable future.

Enjoy your weekend, bookworms! Happy reading.

Common Sense or Censorship?

There’s been increased buzz in the lit-o-sphere lately about Common Sense Media and their book reviews and ratings, specifically those aimed for young readers. Common Sense Media (CSM) advertises itself as a parent-friendly website whose mission is to help parents navigate the murky world of children’s literature. From my point of view, however, it hovers dangerously close to censorship.

CSM reviews books, television shows, movies and websites. Everything is assigned an “age-appropriateness” level and a star rating for overall quality. Within each review, the book (or movie or show) is evaluated for the “good stuff” and the “bad stuff.” The idea is to give parents a glimpse of the book before letting a child or teen read it. In theory, it sounds like a good idea. But the closer you read the reviews, the more you realize that there’s something else going on.

The reviews and ratings might be helpful to some people, but in my opinion, they’re just veiled critiques of books that don’t fit into a very specific, narrow worldview – a worldview that isn’t explicitly stated anywhere on the website.

I spent some time on the website and found myself questioning the sanity of the reviewers. To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, gets zero points in the role models category, because it apparently has no good role models. (Um, Atticus anyone?) Likewise, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls has, according to CSM, no educational value whatsoever, despite its incredibly sensitive take on eating disorders and the psychological toll they inflict. In one review, parents are cautioned that “OTC drugs” are mentioned. OTC drugs? Like over-the-counter meds such as aspirin, which one would use for a headache? The horror!

The problem with CSM, as I see it, is two-fold: the reviews make broad assumptions about young readers and distill a book down to its mere parts.

In order to come up with the ratings, CSM takes the parts – the “good” stuff and the “bad” stuff – and judges the book based on that criteria. But you can’t reduce a book down to its parts. The reviews encourage people to make decisions about a book based on a few selected pieces, when in reality, a book is meant to be read as a whole. Ratings focusing on the violence or the sex or the language take things out of context and ignore the greater reality of the whole book. Yes, some books might have some iffy moments, but as a whole, they can be quite wonderful. You miss that when you reduce the book to its “good” parts and “bad” parts.

I have an even bigger problem with CSM’s insistence on making broad assumptions about the appropriate-ness of books. CSM straight-out tells parents to discourage their kids on the cusp on adolescence from reading young adult books, implying that these kids aren’t ready for YA books. Maybe some of them aren’t, but some of them probably are ready. CSM works under the assumption that all readers read at the same level and all children mature at the same rate. That’s just not true. A book that may be appropriate for one kid may not be right for another and vice versa. The CSM ratings make judgments based solely on their own biases and don’t take individual readers into account.

I can understand why the idea of CSM sounds good, especially to parents who want to keep track of what their children read. But there seems to be a hidden agenda to CSM’s reviews and ratings and it ultimately treads far too close to censorship for my comfort.

To read more about CSM and its troubling practices, read the article on School Library Journal, the Tea Cozy blog and Salon.

[Photo Credit: Getty Images]

Love, the Regency Way

It probably comes as no surprise that I have my moments of pure girly-ness and thoroughly indulge in – and enjoy – romance novels, specifically historical romance novels. There’s just something fascinating about the rituals of Georgian/Regency England and the authors who write about it.

One such author is Mary Balogh and I recently finished the fifth and final book in her Huxtable series. These books detail the lives and loves of the four Huxtable siblings and their black sheep second cousin. Balogh’s set-up, about a young man who becomes an Earl without ever realizing he was in line for a title, allows her to spend a good portion of the books explaining Regency social norms without seeming pedantic.

Each of the five books focus on one main character as she or he is thrown into a relationship (which, in the case of historical romances, often means marriage) in an untraditional way, but still manages to – conveniently – fall in love with his or her spouse, an outcome that was not always assured during that time. The books are mostly sweet, if a little predictable. There isn’t a lot of smut or sex, but they still leave you satisfied with the progression of the relationships.

Balogh’s strength comes from her surprisingly sophisticated themes. For a series of Regency romances, she writes about a lot of modern issues, including rape, abuse, alcoholism, suicide and depression. It should feel anachronistic, but Balogh weaves these themes into her story so well that they never feel forced or out of place. The end result is a group of romance heroes who are surprisingly – and endearingly – enlightened for their time. One theme running through all the books is the idea of secrets, misunderstandings and knowledge. The plots play around with who knows what information – and when. It adds an element of mystery and intrigue into the stories.

The series isn’t completely without fault; some of the stories and plot lines can get repetitive from book to book, though that’s a truth about romances (and particularly Regency romances) in general. You can more or less predict the outcome of the book – who doesn’t want a happy ending, after all – but Balogh writes vivid and vibrant characters and readers come to know and love these fictional people who feel real and who progress through the stories in an honest way.

The Huxtable series was my first introduction into Mary Balogh’s books and I wasn’t disappointed. I’d definitely read more of her books – she has written quite a few. If you’re a Regency romance fan, I’d recommend her writing and specifically the Huxtable books. There’s nothing overwhelming exceptional about these books, but they are enjoyable and entertaining.

[Photo Credit: Mary Balogh.com]

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