30 July 2011

What Kind of Reader Are You?

As many of you know, I read.  Often.  Entire 8 hour spans with nothing more than a pause to use the bathroom (or to let the dogs use the bathroom).  In fact, today, my guy suggested that I go shopping instead of sitting at home all day reading, and, well, I'm still in my work out clothes (at least I did that today!).  In the rock-paper-scissors world of reading vs. shopping, reading beats shopping every time.  (Shopping beats cleaning, but cleaning does NOT beat reading.  I don't think anything beats reading...)

But what do I read?  And how do I choose?  What kind of reader am I?

In order to explain what kind of reader I am and how I choose the books I read, I need to give you a little history about my life as a reader.  So grab a cup of cocoa, a snuggly, and enjoy.

When I was little my family would watch TV together in the evenings.  After about an hour of Murder, She Wrote, my dad would usually move from the front couch to the back couch and open a book.  I think he wanted to spend time with us but just wasn't all that interested in TV (to this day it's pretty difficult to get him to sit through an entire movie).  As a daddy's girl, I often went and sat with him.  And since he was reading, I had to as well.  I brought my library books out and sat next to him while he his books.  Then one day, I was probably about 13, he finished a book and handed it to me.  I wish I could remember the title - all I know is the cover was blue and it was a mystery novel.  And it had the "sh" word in it!  I felt soooo mature.  From then on, if Dad thought I could handle the book, he'd give it to me when he was done.  If not, he put it in the basket (and I always raided the basket when he wasn't around).  And any book my dad liked, I had to like.  One day he handed me The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay.  I started reading it and hated it.  But I didn't want to admit that to my dad, so I avoided reading it or talking about it.  When it became obvious that my dad loved the book and was dying to talk to me about it (he's Italian and prefers silence, so when he wants to talk, you talk), I picked it up again.  Once I'd struggled past the first 80 pages or so I couldn't put it down.  I literally fell in love for the first time.  I felt like the words had power, I wanted to be PeeKay and I really REALLY wanted to work in a coal mine with a big Russian guy (ironic that that part isn't the most important part of the book, but I have loved mines ever since).  That book changed my life, both how I viewed myself and my talents and abilities, and how I viewed reading.

I often look back at that experience and wonder who I would be if I hadn't read that book - both as Suzanne the semi-normal woman, and as Suzanne the reader.  What it did for Suzanne the person is show me what self confidence is, about the effects of our actions, and why it's important to never give up.  For Suzanne the reader, it made me unable to put a book down until I've read it cover to cover, and it expanded my "reading comfort zone".

So what type of reader am I?

I'm a slow reader.  I like to re-read passages that are particularly well worded, or go back and find the clues in a mystery.

I enjoy all genres.  Some more than others, but I have read books of every major genre and enjoyed them all.

According to my mentor, idol and friend Di Herald, I prefer literary fiction (books that don't have clean "happy for all" endings).  I think this stems from the fact that life rarely has fariytale endings.  I'm aware that books don't have to be realistic, I just like them to be a little realistic.  I think reading too many romance novels gave me the wrong idea of what love looks like, so now in my old age I'm a bit...skeptical?...of books with shiny, happy, perfect endings.

I don't get graphic novels.  If the mystery clues are written out, I can solve the mystery in 90 pages (usually).  If you draw it out, I'll miss the clues every time.

I now read every single book from the point of view of a book-recommender/librarian.  Whenever I finish a book, a list of names of people and students who would like the book pops into my head.

I am a reader that refuses to purchase books.  The only books I have actually paid for with my own money in the last two years are either absolute favorites, gifts or textbooks for grad school.  Find your local public library and use it.

I choose books based on recommendations from other librarians, friends, family or reviews I read.  The list of books I want to read is so long I stopped keeping one.  If I see it or hear about it more than once, or if it's on the bookshelf as I'm walking by in the library, I read it.  I always welcome recommendations, though I think the public library would prefer that I didn't - my request list is a mile long.

If I start a book, I have to finish it.  There are very few exceptions to this rule.  If I consider putting a book down, I remember The Power of One and keep reading it. Though you'll be happy to know I have learned that it's OK for me to not like a book my dad recommends.

I love YA Lit and am darn proud of it.  I don't care if you think it's silly.  Read this article by Gretchen Kolderup and you'll understand why.  "But even if I were to switch careers, I would continue reading YA Lit because it’s good."  I agree with her completely.  Kolderup does an amazing job of explaining what YA Lit is and isn't, but I think it is sufficient to say simply, YA Lit is good literature, reagardless of your age.  My one soap box for this post is this:  if you think YA Lit is just for teens, you're absolutely wrong.  Email me, I'll chat with you about your likes and dislikes in reading and prove to you that there are equal numbers of YA Lit and adult lit books that fit your taste.  And parents, if you have kids, get over it and start reading YA Lit.  These books are not only interesting, they contain big issues that you can discuss with your children.

So what kind of reader are you?

29 July 2011

XVI by Julia Karr

Julia Karr

I can honestly say that I don't remember where I first read about this book or who first recommended it to me.  By the time I got around to reading it, it had been recommended so many times, I just grabbed it.  Rarely do I randomly grab books (I am a dedicated patron-initiated-hold-placer, thankyouverymuch) without at least remembering what they are about.  But I remembered the cover and I knew I'd only heard good things, so I went for it.  This is one of the library books I faithfully carted to and from Germany this summer and with weight restrictions the way they are nowdays, I can honestly say this book is worth it's flight weight!  Such a fantastic read and such an interesting storyline.
Nina Oberon is fifteen.  The day she turns sixteen she, like every other girl will receive the "XVI" tatoo on her wrist.  And she'll be legal - as in it will be legal to have sex with her.  Nina lives in a world where sixteen = "sexteen" and girls can't wait to get their tatoos and become legal.  But Nina can wait - she, unlike her best friend Sandy, isn't interested in sex and boys.  She is extremely close to her mother and half sister, and cares more about getting her creative designation so she can study art and make something of her life.  When her mother is murdered, Nina discovers that there is a possibility that her father - who died when she was very young - is still alive, and she finds herself in the middle of an extremely dangerous conspiracy theory.  She doesn't know what is true and what isn't, and she is forced to rely on people she has just recently met to keep herself, her sister and her family's secrets (that she doesn't completely understand yet) safe.

While I would not recommend this book for middle grade students, I would definitely recommend it for high school aged students - male and female alike.  The idea that sex is legal at a particular age, and then sensationalized is really not that far fetched.  Sandy's obsession with turning sixteen and her constant desire to make herself attractive to men/boys is something that, I think, teenagers do without realizing.  By reading a book where those sorts of behaviors can be dangerous in a very real way might help some girls understand the risks they take - even if the dangers in our present society aren't as strikingly obvious and prevalent (at least they aren't in my happy little world).  And on the other side of the gender coin, by reading a book like this, boys might realize that just because a girl dresses a certain way does not make her "fair game" or "available".

But the beauty of Karr's debut novel is not only that it will make students think, it's action packed and well written.  I could not put the sucker down (I know, I know, which books can I put down?).  And though the ending does lend itself to a sequel, a sequel is not necessary (though according to her website, the sequel Truth will be available Jan 2012.  AND according to her website XVI has been translated into German (that makes this former-German-teacher very happy!)

Other reviews of XVI:

Review by another Colorado Librarian, who wasn't necessarily a fan: http://yalibrariantales.blogspot.com/2010/12/review-xvi-by-julia-karr.html

Student review as found on Genrefluent's Bistro Book Club:

28 July 2011

Blood on My Hands by Todd Strasser

Blood on my Hands
Todd Strasser

Once again, Karol Sacca was right on with a recommendation.  This was a darn good book, and I can totally see why teens would be all over it.  In fact, I can see this book being made into a movie it's so good.  Imagine Mean Girls meets Carrie...kinda.

The book opens with Callie standing over the body of Katherine - top school mean girl - holding the bloody knife.  *Click* people start taking pictures with their cell phones.  "You killed her!" Shouts someone.  The only problem is that Callie didn't actually kill Katherine.  But now that there are pictures and accusations, Callie knows no one will believe her, so she hides.  While she's hiding she tries to figure out who really did kill Katherine and why they would want frame her.  And the ending is totally unexpected!  And you all know how much I hate obvious endings.

What I really liked about this book is that it's actually plausable.  Most books about teens and murder are completely unrealistic (I'm thinking of Blank Confession by Pete Hautman).  That isn't to say that such books are not great reads - it's just rare that you come across one where a teenager is able to hide out for days without getting caught, the mistakes and motives are believeable, and the ending is both shocking and excellent.  Strasser did a great job of making Callie's story believeable, and kept just enough details from the reader so that the ending make sense but isn't obvious.

Not only could I not put the book down, I let out a little yelp this afternoon when, while reading the book, my boyfriend's cell phone went off unexpectedly.  That?  Is the sign of a good book and an engrossed reader.

Might want to check out these reviews as well:

From a student at Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines, IA:

A great synopsis from ReadingJunky's Reading Roost:

22 July 2011

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
Patrick Lencioni 

With only one week left until I (fingers crossed!) complete my Master's Degree, I figured it was about time for me to review one of the many books I've had to read for that degree. And this was the best book I had to read for my graduate program.  It wasn't written in the same style as the other educational theory books I've read - many of those books come across as inspriational-self-helpy.  This one didn't.  In fact, on many occasions Lencioni says that working toward fixing any of the five dysfunctions is often the most difficult task any professional will face in their career.  He also makes it clear that we all will face all five of the dysfunctions at some point.

The book starts out as a fable.  Kathryn has just been hired as CEO at DecisionTech - a company that despite it's amazing start, is faultering.  She is faced with the task of "fixing" the very dysfunctional executive team - a task that is not easy.  There is no holding hands, singing kumbaya.  Lencioni does an amazing job of weaving his theory of 5 dysfunctions into a very real story that is not self-helpy at all.  In fact, the theory is so simple and the fable is so well written, it causes the reader to understand that working together on a team can be an excellent thing - meetings don't have to be boring, politics can be left outside, and real results can be achieved.  And although some parts of the story would not work in a school setting, his theory could absolutely bring about change to any dedicated team that is looking to work more effectively together.

The other thing I liked about the book is the fact that even though it sounds like it's going to be super negative, it is actually written from a very positive viewpoint.  Lencioni basically says, here are the five biggest, intertwined issues facing businesses/groups today, and here's why and how you can fix them.

I will not say that I have completely bought into his theory.  However, I will say that unlike many of the other books I've read, this one actually seems like it can work, and Lencioni doesn't claim that his method is the ultimate fixer of all woes.  It's just on way to make working with other adults more effective.  And as a teacher, I know that working with other adults is often more difficult than working with teenagers (ask any teacher you know and they'll agree with me.  The only reason other people don't agree is because they haven't had to work with teenagers...)

21 July 2011

Books: A Love Letter by Bobbi Newman

I've realized a few things this week.
  1. Most people don't read as much as I do.
  2. Most people find the amount of reading that I do a little weird.
  3. Some of you following my blog think I'm "making up" the number of books I read (wha?)
  4. There are more people reading this blog than I thought (wahoo!).
I realized all of this because of a comment someone made about my blog.  It went something like this "You really read that much?  Wow.  That's like, a lot."  When I mentioned this to someone else, they agreed.  Then along came this wonderful little posting by Bobbi L. Newman.  It basically summed up exactly how I feel about reading.  It is beautiful, insightful and dead on.  It's called Books: A Love Letter.  Please take a minute to read the entire text, but here's one of my favorite parts.

Books have transported me to new and different worlds, or just made me reexamine the one I live in. Books have helped me take a break when time were hard or escape when times were just down right awful. I’ve learned new lessons and re-learned old ones, some good, some bad: good doesn’t always triumph over evil, the good guy doesn’t always win, the bad guy doesn’t always lose, true love conquers all, there is no right or wrong path just the path we take and its up to us to make the best of it.

The only thing I would add is that if I could bottle and sell the way reading makes me feel, I'd be a millionaire in an instant

Thanks Bobbi, for attempting to put to words what many of us feel.

18 July 2011

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Catherine Fisher
Narrated by Kim Mai Guest

Holy weird book Batman.  I’ve tried writing an intro paragraph to review this book four times and I’ve chucked them all.  There is no way to describe this book other than different, weird, and “how in the H did Catherine Fisher come up with the ideas in this book?”

Incarceron is a prison.  A prison world that does not have guards or walls.  It’s a living prison.  Sometime in the future, there’s a huge war and the government decides to create a prison where people can live, move around, marry, have children and even die eventually, and supposedly putting them in their own world – a world that thinks and guards them with some electronic super-intelligence – will create a perfect society both in and outside the prison.  Of course, things don’t work out the way we want them to do they?  Outside the prison, life has gone back to the Middle Ages.  Technology is technically banned, and protocol dictates that everyone life as if it were the 1800’s.  All electronics are banned, but it seems that everyone uses them anyway.  There is surveillance everywhere, and just about everyone knows how to dodge it.
Claudia is the daughter of the warden of Incarceron and she is engaged to the prince.  She and her best friend and tutor, Jared, are convinced that there is more to Incarceron than her father claims and they find a key to Incarceron and try to break in.  Through the key they manage to make contact with people inside Incarceron – a man named Finn who they believe is actually Prince Giles, the true heir to the throne thought to have died many years before.  The more Claudia tries to locate Incarceron and the more Finn tries to find a way out, the more confusing the story gets.  Intrigue and mystery abound in this one, let me tell you.  There is nothing I hate more than a mystery that is too easy to solve – the suspense actually has to be suspenseful for me.  However, this book had so much suspense and intrigue, I actually got kind of lost in it, though I'm not sure it was because of the book itself or because of the narration*.  The ending is not what I would expect and lends itself to a sequel, but to be honest, I’m not sure I'll read it.

*This post is connected to my post about audiobooks.  Feel free to read it!

Audiobooks - what makes them good?

Audio Books – what makes them good?

For those of you who don’t partake in audio books, you really don’t know what you’re missing.  Long road trips are made shorter and much more bearable by audio books, and instead of watching mindless TV while I knit (yep, I knit.  Add it to my list of grandma skillz), I love to listen to audio books.  As a librarian, I understand that it is physically impossible for me to read all the best-sellers and great books that are published each year, not to mention reading all the great books I missed in my past (please don’t ask me which of the classics I’ve read.  The number is really small).  So I use audio books.  The public library has them not only to check out on CD, but also to download to almost any MP3 player.

However over the last year or two, I’ve realized that not all audio books are created equal.  There are some audio books that are abridged versions, which, in some cases I can see as being a positive thing.  But audio books, just like regular books, can be, well, crappy.  And I’m at the point in my career where I’m starting to figure out which books I personally will listen to in audio form, and which I won’t.  For example – I’m not terribly fond of books written in verse, so I don’t think that audio forms of such books would be the best choice for me.  Also, I usually listen to audio books on long drives, so really descriptive books don’t keep my interest as audio books.  I’ve found that I need the plot to keep moving for me to stay interested when a book is in audio form.

But there’s more to it than that.  I’ve found that som

But should I let the audio version change how I feel about the print version?  In the spring I was listening to a different audio book and told my good friend Sarah about it, and she suggested that I quit listening to the audio book and pick up the real deal because she knew I’d love the book if I did.  Sure enough, reading the last 100 or so pages on my own redeemed the entire story, and not because all the action was in the end of the book, but because my reading wasn’t hindered by dramatic pauses and slow reading.
Unfortunately I have no solutions as to how to decide what makes an audio book great or not.  I will say that it is my firm belief that an audio book should enhance the print version – not take away from it.  So my one suggestion is that if you find an audio book that you don’t like because of the way it is read, turn it off and check out the print book.  Never let a crappy rendition ruin your experience of a great book.
e audio books are really crappily produced, and if you’re not careful, you’ll get a really great book that is a terrible audio book and it’ll ruin the book for you.  Sometimes the narrator reads entirely too slowly or too dramatically for the book – as in the case of Incarceron, narrated by Kim Mai Guest.  The book itself is about 442 pages, but the audio book is eleven hours 32 minutes, which averages out to approximately 38 pages per hour.  If I Stay is about 200 pages and the audio book is four hours, so about 50 pages per hour.  But regardless of pages read per hour, there were parts of Incarceron where the action should have been way more intense than it was.  I think the narrator thought she was making the reading more intense by READING LOUDER and making DRAMATIC…..PAUSES, but the effect was lost.  I caught myself thinking “Get on with it already!” And don’t get me started on fake horrid accents…ugh.  So not the case with If I Stay, which is narrated by Kirsten Potter.  When the action got going, she read faster.  Her emotions absolutely matched the story, and there were no silly accents.

17 July 2011

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay
Gayle Foreman
Narrated by Kirsten Potter

I’ve only read a few of Nicholas Sparks books, and to be honest, I didn’t really like the ones I read.  But I feel like if he wrote books that I actually enjoyed, he would write something like If I Stay.  Imagine that you wake up one morning to a snow day (waHOO) and your family – that you love dearly – decides to go for a drive.  However, tragedy strikes and by the end of the day, you’re the only one left alive.  Mia is a senior in high school who finds herself in this exact situation.  After a horrible car accident, she lies in a coma and her spectral self has the ability to see and hear everyone around her, she can even follow them into other rooms, but she can’t seem to find a way to either re-inhabit her body, or let go and go to Heaven.   And more importantly, she’s not sure she wants to stay behind without her family.  The entire story is her remembering her life before the accident and trying to imagine her life without her family and her struggle to decide whether or not to stay and possibly go to Julliard, or go and abandon her grandparents, her boyfriend and her extended family.

I have been blessed in this life to have a kick ass family.  They are not perfect, but they are mine and I love them all fiercely.  This past winter when my dad had heart surgery my entire family was suddenly and brutally faced with our own mortality - our individual mortality and the mortality of our family, and it scared the pee out of all of us.  Lucky for us, my dad is fine and now has a whole new set of valves to clog with cholesterol.  The way that Foreman wrote this book, the reader is forced to consider tragedy like Mia’s.  What would I do if both my parents and my siblings were killed in a horrible accident?  Would I be able to go on?  Now that I have a special someone in my life (it’s about flippin time!!!) does that change my reaction to the situation?  I don’t know and I hope I never have to find out.  In any case, Foreman has created a beautiful book that is emotional, real and an absolute page turner.  Or in my case, a CD switcher*.  I highly highly recommend it!

*This post is connected to my post about audiobooks.  Feel free to read it!

The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston

The Freak Observer
Truth be told, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this book.  When I finshed it, I thought “hmm...that was a good book”, but when I sat down to write this review, I can’t really say what it was about the book that I liked.  Most of the time I just found the main character, Loa to be sort of blah.  Blah about her life, blah about the death of her sister, blah about the death of her friend, and blah about where things were going for her.  But it’s possible that the reason I liked the book is because it wasn’t an over the top book.  It was a book that was honest about every day life without having a huge, over the top storyline to it.  No vampires, no Necromancers, just ordinary life and the good and bad that comes along with being ordinary.
Loa Lingren isn’t what you would call a stand out personality.  In fact, because she has spent the last few years helping her parents raise her handicapped sister Asta, she has had very little social life.  When Asta dies, Loa experiences an odd form of PTSD – she sees death coming for her or has vivid flashbacks of her friend dying every time she goes to sleep.  So instead of sleeping, she does everything she can to stay awake.  And her parents aren’t in any better shape than she is.  The book follows Loa as she tries to figure out who she is without Asta.
As I said, it's hard for me to define what I liked about the book.  But maybe I liked the fact that Loa was so blah, because after going through everything she did, being blah was the safest response Loa could have.  Loa is real, and while her situation might not be average/every day, her reactions to trauma are normal (I think).  I'm sure that we have all experienced traumatic events in our lives that cause us to respond to the world in a very blah manner.  And I appreciate that Woolston didn't turn Loa's disasterous life into an after-school-special-esque book.  Because let's face it, life is not an after school special, and it's nice to read books every once in a while that help us remember that and validate our feelings of loss and confusion after a trauma*.  I'm positive there are people, teenagers especially, who will read The Freak Observer and relate to Loa and her blah-ness.  And being able to relate to a character - fictional or not - will help with the healing process.

*Having said that, I'd like to add that it's also really nice to read books that are after-school-special-esque too.  Sometimes we need the hope of a picture perfect ending complete with smiles and group hugs.

Prepare yourselves...

Just a quick little note to let you all know that I am finally back from Europe and I have about 8 books to review.  So if you've subscribed to this blog (all 4 of you!) then be prepared your inboxes for a whole lot of information coming from Suzanne - hopefully most of it is welcomed!

Here are the books/topics I plan to cover in the next few days:

If I Stay by Gayle Foreman
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
What makes an audiobook worth listening to?
The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston
XVI by Julia Karr
Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill
Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
What kind of reader are you?
Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan
The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
True Vision by Joyce Lamb
Why I've never read Harry Potter, and how I live with myself.

Yes, some of the books I've recently read are older, but, as Linda Holmes pointed out in her article, it's impossible that we read everything ever written, so I'm OK with keeping books on my to-read list for longer periods of time and getting to them when I have a minute.  And since taking books to Europe is a heavy endeavor, I decided to take paperbacks I'd had for some time, read them while there and then gift them to my German friends.