Monday, April 7, 2014

2014 book challenge: month 3, book 3

(O.k., it's month 4 now, but I did read the book in month 3.)

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Beat Your Ass, by Meg Medina (2013) was the "serious issues" book I chose (it came highly recommended), the issue in this case being bullying. When the main character, Piddy, moves, she finds herself at the top of a bully's hit list at her new school, even though she's never actually met the bully, the Yaqui of the title.

Unlike some other things I've read on the topic in recent years (including some supposed nonfiction), this book faces the hard truth: the only way to survive a bully is to stay off of the bully's radar (which is never completely possible). Grownups won't help, would be powerless if they tried, and telling would probably just make the bullying worse. It used to be that you could get away by making it to the end of high school and then moving out of town, but that was before the internet.

On a more pleasant note, the author does a great job of communicating a sense of place and atmosphere, and there are some  realistically portrayed, strong, female characters.

Monday, February 17, 2014

2014 book challenge: month 2, book 2

O.k., this month wasn't much of a challenge. The topic, "near future / postapocalyptic dystopia," is one I often read, and the book, Killer of Enemies, by Joseph Bruchac (2013), is one I probably would've read, anyway. Still, I believe that self-improvement consists not only of getting our weaknesses up to standard, but also building on our strengths. To be a reader's advisory "expert" on a topic includes keeping up to date.

The disaster in this one is a "Cloud" that knocks out all electricity, with the result that scores of genetically modified monsters are set free from their cages, and society quickly re-arranges itself in a brutal form of feudalism.

In having a Native American (American Indian, NDN, whatever name you're most comfortable with) protagonist, the author deliberately makes the point that Indigenous people do not just belong to the past, but are in the present and will be a part of the future.

It's interesting to note that the plot interweaves Apache folklore and videogame structure. The teenaged protagonist and narrator, Lozen, draws on the folk stories for inspiration to kill various monsters, gaining fighting experience, acquiring useful items, and making helpful allies as she fulfills a series of quests. The main quest is to free her family from a prison-like feudal compound (literally a repurposed penitentiary), and yes, there is a powerful boss to defeat at the end.

Monday, February 3, 2014

the j. k. rowling brouhaha

J. K. Rowling has made the terrible confession that she made her marriage choices (at least the one for Hermione) for "personal reasons." And she said it as if it were some sort of awful betrayal of her readers.

The fact is, there are always several ways a story could go. What's important is that the choices made fit the rest of the story and as much of the real world as the story world intersects with, which in the case of character behavior, means human nature (if the characters are human, and sometimes if they're not). And human nature, messy, fickle thing that it is, has plenty of wiggle room.

So, does the Hogwarts kids'  choice of life mates really violate either their characters or human mating patterns in general? I don't think so. It frequently happens that young people who have been very close friends from childhood and from that beginning flirt with romance as teens, wind up marrying other people. As for the lead male and the lead female in fiction getting together at the end, that's contrived, as satisfying as it may be. (I personally prefer satisfying and contrived, and still think Anna should have married the King of Siam, because they sang a duet together, but I have the maturity of a three-year old who loves musicals.)

All of the kids, Ginny included, once she enters the series, are good friends and have bonded through life-threatening adventures. Ginny is pretty and fun, and shares Harry's love of Quidditch. Ron's biggest strong points, that he's a nice guy and comes from a loving family and thus has had a role model for being a good family man, make him a great catch for the long run. Literarily, the story of Ginny and Harry's relationship unfolds over several volumes of the series. Hermione and Ron interact throughout the entire series; the theme of romance finally blossoming with a partner one is at odds with or thinks of the other as dorky or annoying or just a pal is a common one in romance novels.

But the main point is this:
In spite of all the talk of stories "writing themselves" and "wanting to be told," characters "having a life of their own" and "surprising the author with what they do," the prosaic fact is that ordinary, human authors actively, of their own imaginations, write stories. It is an act of the will as much as an act of the Muse. All of it, from the most sophomoric Lt. Mary Jane fanfic to the best serious literature,  boils down to some person writing down a personal fantasy. It needs no apology.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2014 book challenge: month 1, book 1

[photo by pawzonthepage, Ecuador, 1989]
The first book I read to get the challenge underway was The Queen of Night, by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango (2011), from the category of "Hispanic author or topic." (BTW, the reason I'm using the word "Hispanic" here rather than "Latino" is that the library branch where I work calls its large collection of materials on the topic or in Spanish the Hispanic Resource Center. I realize that people often have strong preferences for one term or the other.) I started with this one because a colleague highly recommended it -- and rightly so.

Set in the Ecuadorian Altiplano in the 1980s, the story is based on the childhood and youth of one of the authors, Maria Virginia Farinango, who at the age of seven was sent from her Quichua village to work as a maid. It's not only about her personal struggles with abuse, disrespect, poverty, and lack of opportunity, but also about the worldwide issue of bigotry against indigenous people and its very real consequences -- a problem that, while it has improved in recent decades, still needs work.

 It's not a spoiler to say that she turns out all right in the end -- obviously, she's writing the book -- but it would be a spoiler to tell how, or to explain the title, so I'll end here.

There is an interview with Maria Virginia Farinango on Laura Resau's website.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

2014 book challenge

Some of my colleages have taken on reading challenges or set reading goals for the coming year, so I've decided to join in the fun. As I'll be working more closely with Young Adult and Tween fiction this year, I've decided to do an overview of popular topics. subgenres, whatever-you-want-to-call-em. I read quite a bit of YA lit already, but the point here is to sample some that I wouldn't necessarily grab for myself during a shelfcheck just 'cause they look cool. Some may be outside my comfort zone, but not all; if none of them were escapist, I'd probably never make it through the year. All the books should be recently published, not part of a series I'm currently following, and in our library system. They might be on a recent award list, or suggested by a colleague, or fresh off the new book display. To be read in no particular order.

Books I would probably read anyway:
  • near future / postapocalyptic dystopia 
  • superhero / special powers / special forces 
  • time travel or chronological mishmash (steampunk, alternate history, etc.) 
  • humor 
  • plot or format centered around current technology or trends, or enhanced book  
Books I don't usually read:
  • urban fiction  
  • Hispanic 
  • LGBT 
Books I would normally find too emotional or unpleasant to read:
  • vampire / werewolf / supernatural romance 
  • high school drama / gossip 
  • mental health issues 
  • various other serious issues (death, abuse, crime, etc.) 
Twelve topics, twelve months.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

when looking becomes liking

Trends in tracking are creating a privacy problem that isn't about privacy, per se, that is, not about being personally penalized or embarrassed, but about representing -- or misrepresenting -- a public statement.

Recently, I came up against a quandry. Curiosity, and curiosity alone, made me want to read a book promoting an idea with which I very strongly disagree, and which scholarly critics have said contains poor research and poor reasoning. The challenge is how, in today's world, I can see what this book says without in any way rewarding the author. (I merely want to not reward, rather than to punish, which is why I'm not going to write a scathing review, or even reveal the title or author here.)

If I buy it new online, I not only pay the author, but also leave a record that I've bought it. Not only am I then inundated with suggestions to buy more books from an odious viewpoint, but my "voice" (if only as an anonymous datapoint) is added as a recommendation of the book to others. If I check it out from the library, it adds to the total number of checkouts and therefore prolongs the life of that book on the shelf. The remaining option, pay cash to buy it used, is fast disappearing as local used bookstores disappear, and is not an option in the ebook model that sees all transactions as licensed rather than completely sold.

The problem is that purchases and library checkouts are by default interpreted as liking, but sometimes one doesn't like every book one reads; sometimes one actively dislikes a book. If records are going to be kept -- whether personally linked or anonymous -- there should be a split-second-quick, completely effortless way of saying, "My datapoint is meaningless for your purposes. Don't link me to this or count my looking at it in any way."

Suggestion: Have "like" and "dislike" (or maybe better, "approve" and "disapprove") checkboxes on the order form. If the customer checks neither, it counts for nothing. Yes, that's right; the bean-counters will have to accept the reality that sometimes there are no beans to count. Note that this is not a ranking. The act of ranking or any other high-level evaluation  is to many people a stressful nuisance. If the business or organization wants ranking information, go ahead and put a scale on the form, but make it completely optional. While we're at it, it would be useful to have "not my choice" and "not for me" options for items necessary for school or work or other compulsory reason, and for gifts. These would count an item as neutral, and, in addition, prevent the item from being connected to the person's record in any way.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

attention spybots: it's not always what it looks like

I sure hope the ubiquitous, commercial, spybots that track our every internet move to build up a personal profile are developing some subtlety. I've pretty much accepted that every move online is done in a public place full of nosy people, so my main focus now is to avoid being misunderstood and mislabeled.

Recently I got curious enough to dare to check on a link to an oddball piece on a business blog. So I hope anyone (or more accurately, any algorithm) watching is observant enough to realize that this is just a blip -- that I rarely read this type of puff piece, and more importantly, that the fact that I went to something on a business blog once does not indicate that I have any interest at all in business. All stupid, bizniz, money sh_t  bores me to howling.

And, heaven help me, I actually lingered on the site, pulled in by links. But, please note, little spybot, I did it because the articles were about technology, NOT because they were on a business blog.