Holiday News and Reading Roundup


We did it! We pooled all of our Christmas gift money and bought a treadmill. This is something I’ve been promising my doctor I would do for years. It was a gym-quality machine that we bought used for about a third of the original price. Unfortunately, after borrowing a truck to pick it up and dragging it into the house, we can’t get it up the stairs. I have a perfect spot for it, backing into a dormer window in the bonus room facing the TV, but it’s too heavy for my two hefty he-men to haul up the narrow, curving stairway. We need one of those appliance dollies and at least one more guy. So for now, it’s taking up about a third of my living room, completely blocking our view of the Christmas tree. Come to think of it, how are we going to “undecorate” in the next few days?

I am diligently reading away, working to get those last few books in before the Children’s Media Awards in late January. I’ve been pushing through Printz books, and I have to say that my heart still belongs to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, which I read very early in the year. It is a beautiful story of teenagers with cancer, compassionately influenced by Green’s time as a hospital chaplain. It is snarky, funny, and sad, all at the same time. Adults will love it, too, as evidenced by Time Magazine just naming it the Book of the Year. I have read everything John Green has written, and I also agree with him heartily on the topic of turf grass. (See the YouTube video here.) The Fault in Our Stars is my favorite Green book so far. None of his books are appropriate for younger children.

I did indulge in one adult book before Christmas: City of Dark Magic, by Magnus Flyte, a pseudonym for two women writing together, rather like James Patterson, although he only claims to be one person. This is what book marketers call “a romp,” a fun novel in which a grad student in musicology is asked to assist her famous professor in Prague, working out a mystery concerning one of Beethoven’s visits to that city. Before she can arrive, though, he is killed through defenestration. This is my new favorite word. As I learned from Wake County Public Library’s Facebook page, it means being thrown from a window. Since I found that out about two weeks before reading City of Dark Magic, it seemed to be more than a coincidence that I found this book. There is no serious magic in the book, which is fortunate, since serious occult content makes me want to defenestrate a book, but there is time travel, humor, an historical mystery, and music. Also sex and bad language, FYI. Very fun if you are a fantasy fan and not too sensitive.

A YA book that I enjoyed very much was David Levithan’s Every Day, in which the protagonist, named A, has woken up each morning in a different body since the day he was born. Such a brilliant concept, and Levithan develops it beautifully. A is chugging along, dealing with learning about all kinds of people and working hard to leave each life at least as happy as he found it, until one day he falls in love with Rhiannon. How can he have a relationship if he will be someone else tomorrow? How can Rhiannon love him back when she never knows who he will be?

I call A “he” just because he fell in love with a girl. He really has no gender, and is in a girl’s body just as often as he is in a boy’s body. Levithan is a gay man and a well-respected editor at Scholastic. I’ve read several of his works, some co-written with another author, and I like him very much. However, like most YA authors, he does subscribe to the group-think, and this novel’s very structure lent itself to a didactic purpose. Levithan could fit so many issues into one book because every chapter dealt with a new life. One day, A is a religious kid. Let me tell you how to understand religion. One day, A is a gay kid. Let me tell you how to feel about homosexuality. One day, A is a suicidal kid. Let me tell you how you deal with mental illness. And so on. Never poorly done, of course, but a bit too visible to be comfortable.

Anyhow, A and Rhiannon do manage to have a relationship—I won’t tell you how—while both of them struggle with deep questions made urgent by A’s unique situation.  This is one of those books that you fall into so completely that you suddenly realize that you have no idea how the author is going to bring this to a resolution. But he does, and very neatly. Great stuff for thoughtful teens and adults.

Now we come to two books that I didn’t finish. Doesn’t that sound dreadful? Truthfully, they are both terrific books, but they are not for me. Sometimes you can recognize why a book is critically acclaimed, but you still don’t want to read it. I picked these up because they are near the top of everyone’s list for the Printz Medal, but they are both dystopians, and I am just so tired of the genre that I can’t read any more. I wanted to be familiar with them, though, in case they’re sporting shiny new medals on the cover in a couple of months. Smart teens, especially boys, would love either of the following two novels.

The Drowned Cities, by Paolo Bacigalupi, is about the United States after global warming, war, and a societal collapse. Washington, D.C., is underwater, and the area around it has grown up into a jungle. Animals that were formerly in the equatorial regions are now common in the mid-Atlantic states, and hybrid animals, such as coywolves, were created before civilization ground to a halt. The Chinese are the heroes who came to the rescue of the savage American factions, but they have now left the various tribes to themselves. I am not sure why China is not underwater, too, because of the global aspect of global warming, but perhaps I would have found out later. I read about 120 pages of this novel, a companion to his earlier Ship Breaker, which won the Printz Medal. There is no argument that Bacigalupi is an excellent writer. The world-building is tremendous, the characters are well-drawn, and the action is gripping. You do not need to read Ship Breaker to understand The Drowned Cities.

After that, I picked up Railsea, by China Miéville, an adult author of great renown. This is his first teen novel, and since I did not make it through his The City & the City, I approached with trepidation. What an astonishing writer Miéville is. Here is a man who loves an ampersand. & he doesn’t mind starting a sentence with one. His sentence structure is unique, and the world-building is amazing. Where Drowned Cities was wet, Railsea is dry. Imagine a world in which all of the places where there are now oceans are covered with dusty earth and railroad tracks. If your very survival depended on riding those trains, what would your biggest enemy be? Giant moles, of course. Not to reduce the genius of Miéville’s creation, but if you can imagine Moby Dick with the ship as a train and the whale as a mole, you’ve got the gist. Railsea is a wild adventure for a teen or adult who likes books that make you think. A librarian friend is pulling for this one for the Printz this year.

I have one more Newbery possibility to read, and then I’ll move on to some adult books. Speaking of which, I had not been working at a library for long when I asked a woman if the book she was looking for was an adult book. Shocked, she spit out, “No! It is not an adult book!” So I told her that the children’s department was to the left. She looked at me as if I were an idiot and said, “It’s not a children’s book!” As far as I could see, we were at an impasse. Then I realized by her facial expression that she thought that by “adult books,” I meant pornography. That’s when I learned the youth services librarian term “grown-up book” or “book for grown-ups.” It sounds like something Mr. Rogers would say, but everybody stays calm; they just start talking to you more slowly. Adult services librarians don’t have this problem. To them, adult books are just books, and children’s books are the ones shelved in the hopefully distant, noisy area.

Happy reading, and here’s to a bumper crop of great books in 2013!

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