Inexcusable

Inexcusable by Chris Lynch is an interesting book. Normally I don’t like books where I don’t like the main character. It is hard to keep reading if I want to metaphorically slap the protaganist upside the head.  And I definitely wanted to slap Keir.  Keir is a self-proclaimed “good guy”: he must be because he gets along with his father, his sisters, and those at school.  Except his nickname is “killer” after laying a viscious hit on an opponent who is left crippled, and he does little to prevent the use of that nickname.  And he participates in hazing the soccer team, and destroying the town statue.  He drinks too much, takes no responsibility for his actions, and probably isn’t seeing what is really true about his family.  None of this really adds up.   It might explain how despite his denials he rapes Gigi, the girl he proclaims to love.

There is a lot to say about this book: the school culture that excuses his behavior, the alcoholic father that he drinks with, the unreliabilty of Keir as a narrator…. but mostly I got to thinking about how in most books there is a clear cut definition of good/bad and how life is often more murky.  It is murky in Keir’s mind.  I think books from the aggressor’s point of view come the closest to establishing a murkiness.  In Tenderness for example I found myself rooting for the serial killer, which is a little disturbing. (Fabulous book by the way.)  I go back and forth on Keir being sociopathic or just a jerk but I never rooted for him – ever.

So despite being annoyed by Keir I liked the book.  I am not usually a Chris Lynch fan but this one was great.

Gossip Girls and Naomi Wolf

First off if you plan on reading the article that prompted this post I recommend learning about Bug Me Not. Bug Me Not allows users to obtain user name and passwords for sites that require registration to access content. So if you want to read an article on, say, the New York Times web site Bug Me Not is your best friend.

All that being said this weekend Naomi Wolf wrote an article bemoaning the series Gossip Girls, The A-List, and The Clique. She is concerned with the messages the books send. Some highlights:

“The “Clique” novels are all about status. But sex saturates the “Gossip Girl” books”

“Unfortunately for girls, these novels reproduce the dilemma they experience all the time: they are expected to compete with pornography, but can still be labeled sluts.”

“The problem is a value system in which meanness rules, parents check out, conformity is everything and stressed-out adult values are presumed to be meaningful to teenagers.”

And a not quotable but suggested concern about the branding and consumerism of the characters that must have the latest in Prada and Manolo Blahniks.

Now taking things out of context always subverts a message so I suggest you read the article if you are even remotely interested, and still reading this post, rather than relying on my thoughts. Still I found the tone of the article both alarmist and patronizing. Nothing sets me off more than people who do not have experience in a wide range of YA fiction condemning YA (Young Adult, wish there was different term but that is it.) fiction based on what they find on the shelves at their local Borders. It overlooks some of the really excellent YA stuff out there. A close second in the button pushing is adults who condescend to teens by suggesting they aren’t critical thinkers with minds of their own. Here is the deal: just because someone makes a decision different than the one you would make or wish that they made does not mean that it was not a critically considered decision. And even if it wasn’t, well, welcome to the human race.

I haven’t read any of the Gossip Girls (I keep telling myself I will, but my to-be-read list is very long and they are near the bottom.) but I think if you want to read them – then go for it. Seriously. I have read the Au Pairs (loved it!), the A-list (umm, ok, too much name dropping and brand awareness for my taste although so is Au Pairs), and the first book of the Clique. Yes, I am concerned about the culture of meanness, and there are mean girls in these books but has anyone tuned into reality television lately – and those are adults I might add. But in my experience talking to the teens who read these books, they get that it is FICTION!!!!!, like a movie, a TV show, etc. I mean maybe I’m wrong.

I can understand deconstructing the message of the books but couldn’t Wolf do it in a way that isn’t disrespectful to teens, but rather considers them as thinking human beings capable of debating her deconstructed message rather than in a way that alarms parents and treats teen readers as children.

Library Survey

Rather than kill a tree and fight with the scantron machine I am hoping to get feedback this way.  This is for Arcata High students.  Please help me out by taking the survey.

Wikipedia

I’ve been thinking about Wikipedia this morning. Partly because I used it yesterday, and partly because I’ve been doing presentations on evaluating information and the use of Wikipedia has been a part of those presentations. The truth is as a teacher-librarian I understand why students shouldn’t be using it, and if they do use should not rely on it. It has proven to be fairly easy to vandalize the information and in my experience some entries are heavily biased and have yet to be edited. But as a teacher-librarian and an someone who is fascinated by the nature of information I am coming to the conclusion that Wikipedia, and sites like it are pretty much the coolest thing since sliced bread.
Information and knowledge has always been limited by how we shared it. In order to create information from knowledge it was often a two person transaction – the transmitter through books, or articles, television, movies, speeches, class lectures, and the receiver. Even in public forums it was one person presenting the information unless it was a panel, and even then numbers are limited. And while multiple people may be receiving the information therefore creating multiple understandings it really just came from one place. This is not necessarily the case with Wikipedia. With open source, Web 2.0 applications like this the information comes from multiple sources, creating a whole different knowledge. Everyone with access (and registered) has the opportunity to add their knowledge to the entry – you don’t need to be the writer, teacher, or “expert”. The concept of collaborative knowledge is actually in action on Wiki sites. And what is really cool is that with the editing history you can view the evolution of the entry. It is my thought that this adds to the depth of one’s understanding of the subject. One can see how the data has changed, or how the bias of the writers has been changed by others with a whole different bias. You can compare selected versions, seriously if that isn’t the coolest thing!! as a way to increase your understanding. Ok I am getting a little geeked out, and truthfully I hate word-smithing but just spend some time with the intelligent design entry and you see what I mean.

Deathnote

I am not normally a manga reader.  I have read some for the Quick Picks committee and I find after 30 some-odd years of reading left to right that it is extremely difficult for me to read right to left.  Plus I was never much of comics reader – except for Archie while my mother grocery shopped, but since I was, like, 8 I don’t think anyone gets to make fun of me for that.  I am not a “visualizer” when I read so the words and pictures thing is difficult for me when reading manga or other graphic novels.

All of that being said, I recently discovered Deathnote.  Which is this completely crazy, twisted manga series.  Lucky for me there is a student fan who brings me the newest volume.  A deathnote is a notebook that belongs to Shinigami death god.  In the hands of a human they can write a name in the book and the person will die, although you have to see their face as well.  You can use the Deathnote to control how and when they die.  The whole concept is more than a little sick and twisted.  And there are plenty of turns and plot twists to ramp up the “oh my god!” factor.

One of the things I’ve been interested in and struggling with is my relationship with the characters. I am one of those readers who has to like the characters I am reading about.  If I don’t, I get bored.  This is one of my problems with Memoirs of a Geisha (more on that later.)  And in this series I am a little torn.  I like the main character Light and his rival, L – but I just don’t know who to root for.  Light is in possession of a Deathnote, and he uses it.  At first when he is killing of criminals – I was a little torn but at least I got it.  Then he kills a FBI agent to protect his identity and I immediately thought he was an a**.  But it’s hard to root for L, because the books so far aren’t from his perspective.  Light is a pretty likable anti-hero, for a murderer.   :::big sigh:::

Anyways I am not sure how much longer I’ll stick with the series but when I first read it, holy moly!

Bass Ackwards and Belly Up

This weekend I read Bass Ackwards and Belly Up by Sarah Fain and Elizabeth Craft. This is basically Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants as they go off to college. Except that is the twist – 3 of the girls don’t go off to college, they follow their Dream instead.

The good of this book is that I like the idea of violating the sacred suburban rule of college after high school, of doing something different. Because their reasons for blowing off college are based on one’s insecurities and lies (she didn’t get accepted at the one school she applied to and doesn’t tell her friends) doesn’t lesson the impact of the experiences of the others, including the one who does go to college. Don’t get me wrong. I loved college. And I think for most college bound kids it is the right decision, but you know – it isn’t the only decision. Although this leads me to the bad of the idea.

The bad is that I have to question the realism. Lord knows people don’t usually have a) the connections Sophie has, b) the luck Kate has, and c) the talent (?) Harper has. The other bad is that like many multiple character books I find I am only interested in a couple of stories. Harper’s whining annoyed me, I just didn’t care what happened to her, and Sophie was remarkably shallow to the point of being two dimensional – I absolutly refuse to believe that there are people in the world who are that shallow! But I liked Kate and was genuinely interested in what happed, and I loved Becca. Still I wish there’d been more depth to the girls. I suspect that like Sisterhood books readers will like and relate to different characters so you may have a totally different reaction than me.

Finally the ugly – well I suspect that many, like me, will have a hard time seperating this book from Sisterhood which will make it ahrd to judge on its own merits. Another book that I am starting to read seems to have similiar themes – How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got A Life : A Novel which I’ll be sure to tell you all about.

First Lines

I have this thing about first lines. It’s not that I notice the first line when I start a book, at least not all the time, but often I go back and say – yeah that really set the tone for the book and it certainly made me want to read on. This is true of “Froggy Welsh the Fourth is trying to get up my shirt.” which is the first line of The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. It is such a perfect set up for Virginia’s Fat Girl Code of Conduct, her insecurities, and therefore the story that unfolds. It looks like chick lit, begins to read like it, but truly is so much more. A first line that disappointed me was “If I could tell you one thing about my life it would be this, when I was 7 years old the mailman ran over my head.” from The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall. Maybe it is that you can only go downhill from there, but I read this book because of that line and sometime in the middle it really began to drag. But it is still one of my favorite first lines. I also love “They shoot the white girl first.” found in Paradise by Toni Morrison. The story unfolds in the same way you tell a story, with bits and pieces of information coming to light, not in a linear fashion but piecemeal. It is like being in any small town, where different people know different parts of your story and they put it together. Some of my other favorite first lines can be found on Listology. What are you favorite first lines?