Overused Review Words

Roger Sutton has an interesting post up right now about the terms that we use to review children’s books, and which ones are likely overused or perhaps used when they really shouldn’t be.  I found the words he chose to highlight particularly interesting, although the topic itself certainly deserves much discussion and thought.

He mentions the word “humorous” and how it irritated him simply because of its strangeness in speech.  People rarely say “this book was humorous, you should read it”, they say “it was funny, you might like it”.  The idea that our reviews should read like we are speaking to someone isn’t new and is actually rather appealing in many ways.  If you’re reading a review that sounds like your friend talking and recommending (or not recommending, as the case may be) a book to you, are you more likely to listen than if the review sounds like it was written by a college professor giving a lecture?  There are advantages either way, I guess.  It could depend on the book being reviewed and potentially it could make a difference in the audience that will hear or read it.  How much difference does tone make in a review?

I also found his inclusion of the word “feisty” in his post quite interesting.  I always hated the word feisty.  It always seemed like a backwards compliment, and it seems like Deborah Stevenson might feel much the same way.  In children’s book reviews, and likely adult book reviews as well (although I would guess to a lesser degree, but I may be completely wrong), there seem to be all manner of ways to describe heroes (usually female heroes) that seem more like backhanded compliments than actual positive statements.  What other code words do we use in reviews, though?  I know there are others.

Feisty always bugged me because it indicated to me that no matter how interesting and strong the girl might be, she was always A Girl and in the end, she remembered and embraced that role.  I’m sorry, but if your character’s biggest development is to embrace their gender/get married/have a baby I’m just not that interested.  I need more than that, no matter how independent and interesting she may have seemed at the beginning.  If the word “feisty” turns up in more than one review of a book, I’m not likely to want to read it.

I’m certainly going to start paying more attention to the words I use when reviewing and writing about books casually, since I’m interested now to see what patterns I have.  What patterns do you have?

8 Things About Me Meme

I got tagged by Ms Mac of Check it Out for a meme that’s been bouncing around the kidlitosphere the past few days. I’m terrible at thinking of things to say about myself, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway since it’s been a while since I’ve done a meme!

So here are the rules: Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

Ok, so things about me.

1. My favorite fairy tale when I was a kid was The Pied Piper of Hamlein. I really don’t know what this says about me, but I found the story fascinating (especially the ending with the children). I haven’t read the tale in ages, but I still remember it vividly.

2. I love the sun. My husband says that I photosynthesize. Any day where the sun is shining and everything is warm and green, I will be happiest if I’m outside doing anything. I often read on our apartment balcony, just to be in the sun!

3. I am not, however, a good gardener. I have managed to kill all but one of the plants brought into our apartment. The one plant that is still alive I have determined could live through a nuclear blast. It survives if I forget to water it for long periods of time, it survives being overwatered, it survived living in a bathroom with little actual sun for a little while, it has even managed to survive despite needing a larger pot for the past two years. I really doubt I could kill it if I tried. I don’t plan to try, though!

4. I am very interested in, and usually disappointed by, what is offered for gifted students in our school systems. I was really lucky to go to a special school for gifted and talented students until eighth grade that really offered a lot for me, but after that I struggled in high school and college to even find things that were interesting to do. The system seemed almost angry with me for existing and I hate that so many students have experience (many of my friends experienced it to greater or lesser degrees, depending on how hard they fought). I really believe that no one should have to fight to learn new things. I don’t think the school system should be expected to necessarily just have something for every gifted student (that’s asking a lot of already taxed schools), but it shouldn’t be as hard as it is to get into higher level classes or to take classes at higher level institutions if that is appropriate. The fight I had to fight shouldn’t happen to any student.

5. I love shoes, but I have the hardest time buying them because nothing fits me! I have tiny feet and no one seems to really make shoes my size, so while I love looking at pretty shoes, I can never buy any because they just don’t fit! Half the shoes I do own don’t actually really fit right.

6. I love superhero comic books. I’ve read them since I was a kid, when I read them at the library, and I’ve always found something very appealing about them. DC appeals to me far more than Marvel does, though. I adore Barbara Gordon (Oracle is just the coolest character ever) and Black Canary, even Wonder Woman is cool (not so fond of the current Supergirl, though). Marvel just never had any women I felt I could really look up too. They all stood second fiddle to a guy. Not nearly as cool.

7. My favorite book series ever is The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.  My grandmother gave me a set of them when I was seven and I’ve read them dozens of times since (roughly every six months).  I’ve loved all of Alexander’s other fantasies as well, but none nearly as well as Prydain.  I’ve also found other stories to love (favorites are Oz and Narnia), but nothing has really gotten into my heart the way Prydain did.  Maybe Winnie the Pooh, but that’s rather different, isn’t it?

8. I love plays and drama, especially Shakespeare.  Every summer between the ages of nine and fifteen I performed in a full-length Shakespeare play over the summer.  The first was The Tempest, which remains very dear to my heart, where I played Antonio.  My father remembers this play fondly as the one with his favorite line (“hang, cur, hang, you whoreson insolent noisemaker!”).  The last was Hamlet, and I played Claudius the King, which was a role I had coveted since I first saw the play when I was very young (I know, that’s weird, but I was a strange child).  My favorite part was the praying scene.  It’s the only play where I actually died on stage too, which was less fun than I had hoped (velvet gets hot outside in July, and there are bugs and you can’t do anything about them).  I loved those summers and still miss them sometimes.  I never did get to play a woman (unless a witch counts, but I’m not sure it does with Shakespeare), but I sure learned a lot and had a lot of fun doing it!

I have no idea who to tag because everyone has either already done this or already been tagged, it seems.  I’m just going to say, if you want to play, please do!  If you don’t, feel free to just read along!

Poetry Friday: Pixie Poetry

FaerieToday I wanted to share an interesting poem from Edna St. Vincent Millay about a pixie-child of two strangely paired parents. It’s images intrigued me and I just found it too interesting not to include in a Poetry Friday post!

The Singing Woman from the Woods Edge

What should I be but a prophet and a liar,
Whose mother was a leprechaun, whose father was a friar?
Teethed on a crucifix and cradled under water,
What should I be but a fiend’s god-daughter?

And who should be my playmates but the adder and the frog,
That was got beneath a furze-bush and born in a bog?
And what should be my singing, that was christened at an altar,
But Aves and Credos and Psalms out of the Psalter?

You will see such webs on the wet grass, maybe,
As a pixie-mother weaves for her baby,
You will find such flame at the wave’s weedy ebb
As flashes in the meshes of a mer-mother’s web,

But there comes to birth no common spawn
From the love of a priest for a leprechaun,
And you never have seen and you never will see
Such things as the things that swaddled me!

After all’s said and after all’s done,
What should I be but a harlot and a nun?

In through the bushes, on any foggy day,
My Da would come a-swishing of the drops away,
With a prayer for my death and a groan for my birth,
A-mumbling of his beads for all that he was worth.

And there’d sit my Ma, with her knees beneath her chin,
A-looking in his face and a-drinking of it in,
And a-marking in the moss some funny little saying
That would mean just the opposite of all that he was praying!

He taught me the holy-talk of Vesper and of Matin,
He heard me my Greek and he heard me my Latin,
He blessed me and crossed me to keep my soul from evil,
And we watched him out of sight, and we conjured up the devil!

Oh, the things I haven’t seen and the things I haven’t known,
What with hedges and ditches till after I was grown,
And yanked both way by my mother and my father,
With a “which would you better? and a “which would you rather?”

With him for a sire and her for a dam,
What should I be but just what I am?

I hope you found the poem as interesting as I did! The round-up is at a wrung sponge today, so head over there and check it out!

On the Print/Blog Review Issue

So recently there has been a big to-do over newspaper book reviews. Evidently they aren’t profitable enough to keep printing, so there is serious talk of this being the end of them. Somehow, this is all getting blamed on litblogs. The connection there is more than a little fuzzy to me, since all the litbloggers I know read all those print reviews and most of the people that come into my store asking for things they read about in the paper and hadn’t even heard about before have no idea what a “blog” even is.

I really don’t see any sort of conflict here. I read both. My local paper doesn’t provide much in the way of book coverage, but I read it anyway because it does cover books of local interest that I’m not likely to encounter elsewhere and often sound vaguely interesting. Once I read about an interesting book in the paper, I go look for more information about it elsewhere. But I get that it’s interesting and worth my time to look for from the actual ink stained newspaper that comes to my front door! I do the same thing with books I read about on blogs, in print magazines and on non-blog websites! I even do it with books I hear about on the radio. The source doesn’t really matter, since I’m already choosing my sources pretty carefully and only actually buying the book if further research suggests it’s worth the money. One review doesn’t equal a purchase. The only time I buy a book based on a single source is for a book club, and that’s slightly different, since I originally chose to join the book club carefully.

So I guess I just don’t understand the whole “it’s because of blogs that print journalism about books is being destroyed” thing. It seems just as logical to blame Oprah. Maybe people aren’t reading the NYT Book section because they now only buy what Oprah tells them too (a freakish number of people do that, you know). I know that my local paper regularly hates her book choices, but they fly off the shelves even though we post that review in the store and not Oprah’s. People buy what they want for their own reasons, not because of what some critic in the Times says is good.

I also don’t understand all the sniping at bloggers. Granted, I’m a blogger and I’m a well-educated blogger who generally thinks about books in a fairly academic way, but still… Comments like this have become all to common lately:

I believe the dangers of this indiscriminate reporting on books is that people who have no knowledge of literature can air their views as though they were of value and may influence readers. Critics may not always be right, of course, but at least they have read and studied literature, the great books, and have some outside knowledge to refer to when critiquing our work.

Ok, there are two major problems here. Let’s just ignore the basic issue where this is the internet and you have no idea who a blogger is in real life, so you have no right to pass snap judgments on them assuming you know who they are because it’s been covered a million times before and covered better than I can do it here. Moving on… The first part says that people shouldn’t have the right to simply share their opinion about a book because it might influence someone else. People share opinions all the time about everything and other people are free to ignore them. Bloggers don’t claim to be the absolute authorities on their subjects, even when they are experts. Roger Sutton regularly shares opinions about books and he is certainly someone who could claim to be an expert, but it’s clear that they are his opinions. In fact, they don’t always even match the reviews that come out in the Horn Book! Bloggers have as much right as anyone else to share opinions, even if they really are just some guy. If a computer programmer who has never studied books, has no kids and doesn’t even like kids, but enjoys children’s books decided to start a kidlit blog to share her thoughts on children’s books, she’d be perfectly free do that! We’d all keep that in mind when reading her reviews, but we keep in mind that Fuse #8 is written by a librarian and that Chicken Spaghetti is written by a mom too!

The second part of that quote basically states that no one who writes a blog is qualified to critique and share opinions about books. As evidenced by the fact that Roger Sutton writes and excellent blog and is the editor of the Horn Book at the same time, this is most definitely untrue. Besides that, there are any number of lit bloggers who are graduate students, writers, academics of various standings and generally extremely well-educated people doing all manner of things (from raising kids to running businesses). The fact that one chooses to keep a blog has nothing to do with one’s knowledge of literature or literary criticism. I have absolutely no doubt that there are any number of people out there that have multiple PhDs and are writing blogs just because they want to! Education and knowledge don’t mean you can’t write a blog!

We have no more assurance that the people writing reviews in the newspaper are educated in the ways of literary criticism than we do that the people writing the blogs we read are (less perhaps, since blogs often come with brief blurbs about the writer). I know nothing about the credentials of the reviewers in my local paper and I wouldn’t call anything I’ve read in there or in the NYT book review section a critique as opposed to a review (which is a distinction often given to print reviews over blog reviews). In fact, blog reviews are often longer and more in depth purely because they lack the space constraints of the printed newspapers. This is as often a downside as a benefit, but brevity is certainly not something I look for in a critique. It is something I look for in a review.

My point is, neither format is any better than the other and the attacks are stupid. Bloggers are some of the people most supportive of print book reviews so attacking them when you’re trying to save your medium seems really counter-productive. I’d love to help save print reviews, but I’m not sure how to do it since no concrete solutions have been proposed. All I hear is yelling!

For a much better post on this with actual quotes and such (the quote above, which originally came from Critical Mass was found here) check out Colleen’s wonderful post about this at Chasing Ray!

Poetry Friday: Headache Poem

Migraine is a diseaseI haven’t talked about it much on my blog, but I have a headache every day. With all the low pressure fronts moving in with the rain in the springtime it’s been really hard on me lately. What I have is a very unusual condition where I essentially have a migraine every minute of every day. Really. It started in high school and I’ve had that *exact same headache* ever since. And I deal, because what else am I going to do? But it makes life very, very difficult. I’m lucky in that most of the people around me are incredibly supportive, even if it’s hard for them to really understand sometimes. I appreciate that more than I can say. I do encounter people who don’t get it. They do the “it’s just a headache” thing. But it’s not just a headache. It’s a migraine and it’s every single day. Anyone who has had a migraine can tell you that it is in no way JUST a headache. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. So when I stumbled on this poem on the internet, it really hit home. I know I probably shouldn’t reproduce the whole thing here, but I’m going to because I really want people to see it. The poem is from a contest on the website Help for Headaches and Migraines and is written by Teresa Ramos. There are some other wonderful poems from the contest there as well, so if you are interested at all, please check them out!

The Usual

I hate to be a complainer,
because lord knows I could complain every day,
and that gets irritating and annoying
and who wants to talk about it really
If you ask I will just say -
the usual

Yes, I see you looking at me with concern
I look pale, tired, frightful even
If you ask I will just say -
the usual

Sometimes you can tell that I have a horrible migraine
It shows in my face, my eyes, the way I carry my head
If you ask I will just say -
the usual

I certainly appreciate the question,
but sometimes just talking is a hardship
I will just do what I need to the best I can
If you ask I will say -
the usual

There are times that I will feel worse,
and times I will feel better,
If you ask I will just say -
the usual

Thank you Teresa Ramos for writing such a great poem that reflected so clearly what it’s like! I really appreciated it!

The Poetry Friday round-up this week is at Big A little a, so go check it out!

Goodbye Lloyd Alexander!

Lloyd AlexanderThis morning, May 17, 2007, Lloyd Alexander died at the age of eighty-three. He was an amazing author and will be sorely missed. Personally, he’s my favorite author. His Prydain series are my favorite books of all time. My grandmother gave me the series when I was seven and I’ve read them every six months or so ever since (my books have literally been loved to pieces, I really need new copies but can’t bear to replace the ones I have!). His stories for Cricket magazine were always among my favorites and I often have turned to his fantasy novels when I wanted something interesting to read that I knew would be good. Recently I’ve been reading the Prydain books to my husband and he has been enjoying them as well. Watching him realize the magic of Lloyd Alexander’s writing has been wonderful for me. I have friends who share my passion for this author and I know they will be as sad as I am to hear of his death. He will be sorely missed, but most definitely not forgotten! His books are at to top of the list of books I plan to share with my children and have often featured in my academic papers. Alexander’s work is very much a part of my life and he will always be remembered, at least in my little corner of the world!

- The Horn Book’s Obituary for Lloyd Alexander
- Roger Sutton’s Post on Lloyd Alexander’s Death
- Betsy shares the child_lit listserv’s announcement
- Miss Erin says goodbye with some great quotes
- Charlotte shares her memories of the Prydain series
- Sam Riddleburger wishes and remembers
- Book memories from A Year of Reading
- Lois Lowry looks at Lloyd Alexander in some art by Trina Shart Hyman
- NPR remembers Lloyd Alexander
- Libby from Lessons from the Tortoise says goodbye and thank you

I’m a Nerd! (duh)

Thanks to Kelly at Big A little a I found this fun time wasting quiz that gives you a score for how much of a nerd, geek and dork you are.  It was entertaining.  I was, not shockingly, overwhelmingly a nerd, but also very, very geeky with a bit of dork thrown in for good measure.  I’m apparently a “cool nerd”.  Sounds good to me!  My actual stats were:

95% nerd, 69% geek, 34% dork

It’s a quick quiz (60 short questions) and I was relatively entertained by it.  If nothing else, it kept me from thinking about my most recent injury, which is definitely a good thing!  If you try it, I’d love to hear your results!

Gaming With Kids

Over the past several years I’ve grown very interested in kids’ gaming. I’m primarily interested in gaming other than video games, although those do interest me as well. It’s just that finding a way into tabletop gaming, LARPing and even serious board gaming is harder that video games. So I’m interested in how kids get involved in it, who gets involved in it and why, and how they experience it once they are playing.

I got into tabletop games when I was about 12. I started with Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (boy, do I wish 3rd Ed. had existed then!) and I played with a girl in my class and her siblings. I didn’t know anyone else who gamed at the time. But I loved gaming. It was the most amazing thing! I could actually be someone else in a whole different world and I wasn’t just a random someone else – I was a hero who actually accomplished things! How awesome is that?

I have a coworker who has a daughter who sounds like she would adore gaming, but it doesn’t sound like she has anyone to introduce her to it. I don’t really know what to do about that. The daughter is eleven, which is a great age to start, but she needs someone to show her it’s there. Her parents aren’t gamers. Her mom isn’t afraid of it or anything like that, but she has no experience with it at all. I’d love to give her a PHB or something and tell her about it, but I have only met the girl herself a couple of times. I know she’d be into it because of what the mom has said. I’ve asked the mom if she thinks the girl would like gaming and she says she would, but she doesn’t really think anything more of it because she can’t show her herself. It just makes me excited to think there might be another girl gamer out there and sad to think she might miss being one for lack of ever finding out it exists.

I thought of all this because I worked with this mother last night and she talked about her kids and then I read this great article this morning. Michael suggested I print out the article for the mom. Maybe I’ll do that.

On Why readergirlz Rocks

readergirlzFor the past few months I’ve been posting reviews of the books from readergirlz, an online book club of sorts for teenage girls. I realized that I never really posted anything about readergirlz itself and that I should!

readergirlz was started by four wonderful authors and their manifesta claims that the goal is to get readers to share their thoughts about books, talk to the authors themselves, and be enthusiastic about what they read. They also aim to encourage girls to take something away from each book, to strive to make a difference in their lives and communities, and “to make history of their own”.

Each month the website features a different book and a guide to go with it. The guide has an author interview, suggestions for a book club meeting, and information on a major social issue that relates to the book and how readers can get involved in it if they so choose. Besides this, readergirlz has its own MySpace page where anyone who wants to can join in the discussion of the book at hand (or previous books) and topics related to it on the message boards. This is a great feature and allows for a lot of interaction between readers. It’s also nice that the readergirl authors are regular contributers to the message board discussions themselves!

I have loved all three of the books so far from readergirlz. They have all been fantastic and each one is very different from the others, which is great. Two of them were books that I probably wouldn’t have picked up if it weren’t for this great group, and now I can’t imagine having missed them! What I am most impressed with is that all three books have very much presented interesting heroines who were full of individuality and personality. They weren’t all dramatic and heroic, but not all girls are, so not all heroines need or even should be.

What they did do, which I have found to be unfortunately all to rare in too much of the teen literature published today (although not as much as some people would lead you to believe), is pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Briefly, the Bechdel Test looks for a story (whatever the media it’s presented in) where there are two or more female characters having a conversation that has nothing to do with guys at some point. It’s scary how few things actually pass this test (the name is a reference to a comic by Alison Bechdel and the term is frequently used by feminist critics). I’ve loved that boys have been a relatively minor, although definitely present, part of each of these stories. The focus is on the girl herself, not her romantic entanglements or lack thereof.

I didn’t expect that tangent to go on quite so long, but anyway… what I’m getting at is that each selection so far in readergirlz has been great. I can’t wait to dig into Dragon’s Keep, which is the book for next month, and I’ve only just barely begun formulating a review of The Phoenix Dance! I encourage anyone who hasn’t checked out this great group as of yet to do so, they rock!

Random Thoughts

I finished The Phoenix Dance yesterday and I love love loved it!  I have a lot of thoughts about, but I’m still working them out, so we’ll see when I actually get around to writing them out nicely and posting them (hopefully this week sometime).  I think this has been one of my favorite books in a while, which is really something since I’ve read some great books recently!

Anyway, today is Mother’s Day!  I’m going to have lunch with my mother this afternoon.  The hardest part about having lunch with my mother on days like this is keeping her from helping!  I finally gave in a said she could make the rolls and Michael gave me a very hard time about it.  But it’s just the rolls, right?

I’m going to take her to see the new Nancy Drew movie when it comes on in June.  I don’t have terribly high hopes for it, but we have to go see it anyway.  My mother has a complete collection of the original Nancy Drew books from the 1930s and those were what I read when I grew up.  Nancy will always wear a cloche hat in my mind!  So even though this movie can’t possibly be the real Nancy, we have to check it out anyway.  It’s one of those things.  It’s like how Michael has to play the new Shadowrun video game, even though he knows it won’t really be Shadowrun.  It’s one of those things.

Anyhow, Happy Mother’s Day everyone!  Have a great day and hopefully I’ll be back tomorrow with something more coherent!

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