Friday, May 30, 2014

Reading a Novel 101 -- Tips Every Reader Should Know.

This is just a reminder to all the readers out there who will be picking up novels this summer for pleasure reading or even in some cases, to learning something knew.  There really needs to be an introductory course to reading a novel.  The natural inclination here is to say  reading a novel does not need instructions.  Open a book, read the page, turn the page  and close book when there are no more pages or until one is tired.  Easy right?  Contrary to popular belief, there is much more involved here.  If a reader wants to get more bang for their buck, take these tips from a librarian.  You'll never look at a novel the same way again.

TIP number one: Listen to the Author's Voice.  
 The author is granting to the reader an invitation to enter their world but it does not mean their point of view is ignored except for the parts the readers likes.  Rather it is an opportunity to listen to a viewpoint that may or may not agree with your own opinions.  In other words an open book is equivalent to an open mind.  So shut up and read.  Let the author have their say without putting a spin on it that does not exist.  An example would be to read The Hunger Games and declare it a nod to conservative principals.  No, that isn't quite right.   All one has to do is look at Ms. Collins biography to notice that her political beliefs are more  liberal then conservative.  Is that bad?  No, it's just her beliefs, which means that reading the book from that point of view will provide a better understanding of what the author wants to convey.

TIP number two:   The Reader Should Never Put On The Character's Shoes.
There have been  many well intentioned book discussion leader who ask the classic question "What would you do if this happened to you?"  Frankly,  human beings are unpredictable. One could guess what they would do but there's no certainty.   The questions that reader should ask themselves are, "Did the actions fit the character's words?  Did the action of the character make the reader want to say "Bravo" or "You stink"?

TIP number three:  No Novel is a Waste of Time 
Yes there have been times that a book is so disappointing that the reader really wants to write an anti-fan letter to the author. That's okay.  Don't think of it as a waste of time.  Think of it as a lesson in finding out what makes a good author versus a bad one.  Next time, the book you pick for yourself will be better based on past choices. Sort of like dating.

TIP number four: Take Your Time - Reading is Not a Marathon
It is a wonder that readers who go through books quickly ever retain half of what they read. Granted it should take a rear a year to finish a book but why rush the process?  Enjoy the visit with the characters, stop and smell the roses with them too.  Reading, especially when done for pleasure, is meant to be something to savored.  Every sentence, every word and punctuation.  Why deny the opportunity to let it all soak in?  Quite frankly,  it's okay to read the book a second time around too.  Life is too short not to indulge in simple pleasures.

These are just a few tips that bring out the best from the stories and readers.   There is  an art to be being a reader.  A talent that has to be honed just like any other skill.  Don't be afraid to hone the skill and don't close your mind.  In order to incorporate the skills a reader should have an open mind.  Why? It means they are listening, learning and loving the total experience of the novel.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

F&*# Why Do They Have To Swear!

Sure this post may seem a little too square for some readers but in the words of Huey Lewis and the News, it's hip to be square.  Or is it?  According to most YA authors and some adult authors swearing is an acceptable use of language in literature.  After all it's just a word and words don't have meaning unless a person gives it meaning and power.  Well, duh.  Writers who choose to swear in their works are giving power to those words just by the fact they have chosen it among all the other words they could have used to express a thought, feeling or situation.  Before assuming that someone is old fashioned and prudish because they do not like the usage of vulgar words, consider the following argument.

It wasn't too long ago that the usage of vulgar language was an indication of a person who was not well educated and working in occupations that did not pay well.  Yes, this is the stereotyping of a blue collar worker who barely got out of high school and found a job where co-workers share the same lifestyle, mentality and language.  The colorful metaphors become part of their conversations.   On the YA bookshelves there are plenty of examples of foul mouthed characters. What makes them endearing is not just their words but their actions as well.  Why lower the quality of the character  by cheapening the  language? There are only a few cases that vulgar language works for a character.  Rhett Butler comes to mind but remember he only used the d word once in Gone With the Wind.   Literature is meant to be rich in meaning and beauty.  These words are anything but beautiful.

It could be he case that the authors are trying to shock the reader with a contemporary topic.  In which case they will always defend the language stating that it was called for due to the  highly sensitive topic in the book.  Every YA reader can call to mind at least one book about drugs, suicide or homosexuality that swearing was not only used by the character but used often.  It's as if the author is saying,  "It's really true that  people who are oriented to the homosexual lifestyle or drugs   swear constantly."  Really? Then when did it become totally natural for vampires to swear as well?   Funny,  Stoker didn't use offensive language when writing Dracula and the characters probably  could have said a few choice words considering the situations that they faced.

Just as good comedians don't need to swear to be funny.  Good authors don't need to fill the pages with swear words to be good at their crafts.  Storytelling is much more than stringing words together.  It's actually weaving words, emotions and imagery together creating the perfect story.  The argument that  if words are carefully chosen, and no other words fits, then swearing is acceptable, is pure nonsense.  It's a lazy writer's cop way of wriggling out of hard work.  All creative work deserve nothing less than sweat, blood and tears.

Some argue that parents may object to vulgar language in books because they are afraid to admit that they are not ready for their children to grow up.  This is might be true but frankly that thought is ignoring one other explanation.  Simply stated, perhaps parents expect more from their children in the way of behavior and common courtesy.  In a polite conversation,  vulgar words are not used because the person speaking wishes to convey that they are educated and cultured.  This is also showing respect to the listener.  In the writer's case by not using to swear they are indicating that they respect the fact that the  reader may not appreciate being peppered with choice words.

Call it a longing for the good ol' days when Laura Ingles Wilder could face a harsh winter as a newlywed out on the midwestern plains and never utter a word that was distasteful and discouraging  Simply stated, this is what vulgar words are,  distasteful and discouraging.  This world is filled with people who are disrespectful of others in words and deeds.  Why hold these people up as heroes for Young Adults to admire?  Instead, put on a pedestal a character who speaks well and spins an unforgettable story.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Baker's Dozen of the Best Children's Books

In honor of Children's book week, it seems only  appropriate to call attention to the best children's books from the past forty years.  Children literature is amazingly ripe with wonderful story and artwork.  It's not easy to write a children's book. It takes imagination,  wonderment and talent to make the book flow with ease. It's also important to remember that children's authors have learned over time that talking down to their audience is a big no-no.  Children intuitively know when they are bing treated like mindless beings.  Remember a book can stay in a heart for a lifetime or ti can be fleeting like yesterday's news.  Below are the baker's dozen of  books that have touched and stayed ion children's book shelves for what seems like eternity.  Quite frankly, that is as it should be.

13.  Giraffe Can't Dance Giles Andreae  Not quite the book of all times yet.  Since it was just published a few years ago.  However,  it will stand the test of time because of it's timeless message of perseverance and success.

12. Jumanji Chris Van Allsburg   Wonderful pictures that come alive and make the story so memorable.  If readers like Polar Express, they will love Jumanji.

11.  Chicka Chicka Boom Boom   Bill Martin Jr. The classic ABC tale will have toddlers learning their alphabet with rhythmic ease.  Not only that, they want to hear it over and over land over again.  A true sign that it's a classic.

10.  I'll Love You Forever by Robert Munsch  Sweetest story of a mother and son 's bond that has ever been written.   Children will love this tale more as they grow older.  Which is why it's has lasting value.  As adults, this story still resinates.

9. Where The Wild things Are?  Maurice Sendak  Children love this story because as everyone knows, monsters are just wild things who love to follow a king.  When one is king, there is nothing to to fear ... not even monsters.

8. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs Jon Scieszka  The classic tale of the Big Bad World an dthe Three little pigs is wonderfully comical.   Scieszka teaches children that there is always another side of the story.  Who could ever believe that the Big Bad Wolf really had innocent intentions when visiting the three pigs?  Well, read the book once and it will soon become a classic standby or bedtime.

7. Ain't Gonna Paint No More! Karen Beaumont  This little mischief maker with lots of time and paint on her hands. It's a delightful book with sing song rhythm that is fun.  Make it more interesting by with imaginary paint brushes.  Children will paint along with  the charming heroine, which makes them giggle every single time.  Great Book!

6. Good Night Moon! Margaret Wise Brown  This book is still a wonderful way to end the day.  Children all snuggled in their beds and reading along with mom or dad quietly saying goodnight to everything and everyone in their room.  It doesn't get old or any better than this.  Ms. Brown will always be the "queen" of children literature.

5.Clown of God  Tomie dePaola   This is a Christmas tale but for some stubborn librarians, they will read it all year round.  Why?  The message is simple and powerful.  Both children and reminder benefit from hearing the message anytime during the year.

4. Snowy Day Ezra Keats  This book is celebrated as one of the first books to feature an African American boy as the main character.  What it really should be celebrated is that it crossed the boundaries of understanding for everyone.  The story is about the simple joy of a snowy day with so much possibilities at hand.  Everyone has experienced that joy at least once in their childhood.

3. Cat in the Hat  Dr. Suess  The book that started it all for Dr. Suess and it still is a favorite.  The Cat in the Hat can make a rainy day exciting for two homebound kids.   Is there any better story to read on a rainy day?

2. Knuffle Bunny  Mo Willhems  Another book that is rather new but will be a classic.  Especially since it is a "trilogy".    The art work with cartoon characters with New York City photos as backdrop is brilliant and fun!  Get ready for a chase through the New York neighborhood to find Knuffle Bunny.

1. Very Hungry Caterpillar  Eric Carle  One of the best children book that incorporates learning, art and fun.  It blends it all so beautifully that it's no wonder that children go back to it year after year after year.  Simply the best.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Gimmicks, Tricks and Nonsense Whatever!

What makes anything "sexy" or "desirable"?   It's all in the eyes of the beholder, or so society says.  However, not for a group in New York City that has decided that they need to make a statement on about reading and making it sexy.  According to the Huffington Post, a co-ed group  book club hs marked the spring season with reading in the parks topless.  Sorry, ladies (and from the photos that posted, they were all ladies)  that's not what makes reading sexy.   There's a lot more to "sexy" then the human body.  Here's a reading lesson in "sexy" for the book club members  who may want to discover the true meaning of sexy.

Jane Austen is one of the most brilliant writers of our times.  Witty, smart and inquisitive.  In all her novels she poked at middle class sensibilities and questioned them without losing her feminine flare.  In a time when women were not deemed to have any ideas worth reading about she proved that not only were there ideas to be heard but add a sprinkle of humor to it as well.  it made her novels are the more endearing and given a human touch.  Mr. Darcy fell in love not just because of beauty because of Elizabeth's intellect as well.  Now that's sexy.

Wait there's more examples of sexy without bearing it all.  For the younger reader (and the older ones too.  It never hurts to go back to pick up a classic tale or two) Pippi Longstonking is a wonderful example of a girl who lives by her own set of rules.  Very independent and strong.  What could be more desirable and beautiful.

One has to ask the question to those who began the book club,  Is it necessary to dumb down everything to sex?  

It can be debated all day long about what is sexy and what is not. Whether this is a clever lure to get people to read or not. In the activity of reading, a person is willing to be open to what someone has to say or hear their story.   It's a connection to humanity that asks for understanding and acceptance.  If someone is not a reader or does not find reading "sexy", will they instantly want to be a reader because they can converse with others while topless?  No there's a chance that this is all superficial and frankly, fake.     In the end, this "book club" aims only to  get public attention.  The members may protest at this remark and insist they are to be taken seriously.  Whatever.   Reading is good for everyone, including nudists.  However it doesn't make it sexy or beautiful.  It doesn't make reading anymore rewarding either.  What makes reading enjoyable and worthwhile is what the reader gets out of the book.

Really innovative book clubs can come create other ways of encouraging reading for all ages without using cheap ploys.   Remember, never  judge a book by the cover,  in the same manner never   judge the reader by their appearance.  The nerdy looking one with glasses, turtleneck sweaters and ankle length skirts are looking for attention too.  All readers are beautiful,  don't need to go topless to prove that.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Librarians As Doctor Frankensteins

There's a common thought that reading should be for pleasure first and secondly,  for knowledge.  It goes along with the idea that if something is enjoyable to read, the reader will gleefully look for me books to read.  There may be some truth to that for readers who already enjoy reading.   However, for those who don't like to read, nothing will get them to enjoy reading.  Not even incentives or prizes.  This is too sad for any librarian to sit back and digest very well.  After all, is not our profession which proudly and loudly advocates reading for everyone... anywhere?  Which brings one to ponder should librarians bribe children to  read?  Does this lead to enjoyable reading for the children ? Summer is just around the corner and many libraries are planning reading programs for  children, teens and  adults.   For many of these programs there are incentives given to participants to read all summer long.  It's true that , Library Summer Reading programs have proven to help children keep their mind actives during the summer breaks from school.  In many cases, reading skills either remain the same or improve when they return in September.   This is a good thing for many reasons.  However the question has to be raised, for the patron, not matter the age, who does not like reading even for pleasure, what does this program have to offer?  A quick answer, would be nothing.  A more thoughtful answer would be that it's a chore in order to obtain something they want.  Best case scenario would be that the child turns into an avid reader.   Worse case scenario,  this could the young patron, whose parents have forced them to join the program and will someday be the library's most vocal adversary in the community.  More than likely neither one of these scenarios will come to fruition, but finding a happy middle of the road solution would be great.

Librarians have to consider that incentive programs can have a negative effect on reading.  For the child who does not want to participate or is forced to participate will only see reading as a tedious chore.  The only good that can come out of this for them is the prizes or as referred to previously the bribe.   Do not mistake this concern as a call to end Summer Reading programs  Just the opposite.  This is a call to remind librarians and administrators that reading should be a activity that is looked upon as enjoyable.  Giving bribes to build up library's  circulations numbers and pretend this also translates into reading love is just foolish.

It would be interesting to see if there would be a library who is willing to experiment with reading programs without incentives. Reluctant readers are the hardest to reach and the hardest to turn into book lovers.  Perhaps the best thing way to go about advocating for reading is a Leave a Book/Take A Book program.  No strings attached.  All one has to do is to come to the library, leave a book they would like to donate and pick another book to take home.  No need for check out.  No worries about overdue fees.  No need to finish the book either if the reader doesn't want.   This program could work wonders in helping the patron find the right genre that is right for them.  There is no time limit here to find the right book, the right author.  No, just keep experimenting with different books until a genre or author is found that holds the key to unlocking the patron's inner reader.  One can become a book lover at any time or at any age.  

Perhaps it's time to look at Summer Reading Programs as the laboratory of reading where experiments go on everyday to find the right book for the hard to reach reader.  Which fits in well with this years CRP theme, Fizz, Boom, READ.    Just call librarians, Doctor Frankenstein.    All that we would like to do is turn out one Monster Reader at a time.   No matter what their age!