The last month has been a whirlwind of book-related activity. High time I sat down to post about it!
First things first…
In reality, it all started back in February or March, when my good friend Shanella said, “Hey, you want to go to Hogwarts?” And I said, “Are you KIDDING? Of COURSE I do.”
There was only one small problem: we hadn’t received our invitation letters…yet.
We made our reservations and patiently waited. And waited. And waited.
With only 3 days to go, I realized we were going to have to take matters into our own hands. So, I found Dumbledore’s email address and sure enough, he said there had been an owl strike – something to do with Weasley’s Wildfire Whiz-bangs– and he had them faxed over straight away.
Since toting a faxed invitation around with us would have been totally lame, we had them put on t-shirts instead.
We were the coolest kids in school.
(No, seriously, 18 – or was it 16? – different people stopped us in the middle of the park to ask where we’d gotten them.
Others simply took pictures without our permission. It felt good to be popular.)
Hogwarts itself, however, was WAY cooler.
(If you don’t see the slide show below, you can click to go to my Hogwarts photo album instead.)
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Just before we left for Hogwarts, we went to see Maureen Johnson at Books of Wonder, which was downright awesome. It was the release of her new book The Name of the Star, a Jack the Ripper ghost story set in modern England. There were even 2 Jacks present. Spooky!
Maureen’s very fun in person…which one would probably gather from her not-in-person outlets, such as her Twitter @maureenjohnson. Check her out. You’ll see what I mean. If you’re familiar with the #yasaves hashtag, then you already know who I’m talking about. *wink*
(Sorry the pic is so grainy. I left my camera at home that day…and well, let’s just say my iPhone is a “circa babyboomers” gen.)
Finally, just last week there was the amazing Fantastic Fiction event at the self-same Books of Wonder (best bookstore in the city!), starring authors Scott Westerfeld, Maryrose Wood, Jeff Hirsch, Sarah Beth Durst, Jon Skovron, Gabrielle Zevin, and Alison Goodman.
I snagged copies of Westerfeld’s and Hirsch’s books, and then some photo ops with the gents while they were signing.
Lost in conversation with Scott (sorry, may I call you Scott?), I failed to noticed that Shanella was trying to get my attention and take a picture.
Thankfully, she was persistent.
Only bad thing about going to these AWESOME author events?
TBR list now has 3 new additions . . .
Up next: Halloween, YA Lit style. (Hint: think ultramarine)
[Let me preface this by saying that this will not be a 5-paragraph essay with a very structured body or a
repetitive intro and conclusion. What I started out writing has turned into anything but!]
Today while I was watching The Avengers trailer below, courtesy of @YABookNerd‘s Trailer Thursday post, something dawned on me that I, at least, find really intriguing.
I usually don’t think of superhero comics as having particularly strong ties to the PLAYA movement (Paranormal Literature Addicts Young & Adult – yes, I just coined that, and yes it is totally awesome), though I know that the audience is similar if not the same: people of all ages who revel in thinking outside the box of the everyday, thrive on a good shot of adrenaline, and aren’t concerned with what anyone else might think of their literary/film preferences.
In other words, people who know what they like and they know that it ROCKS.
But, maybe because I was utterly lost in @CaraghMOBrien‘s uhhhmmm-azing book Birthmarked this morning on the train, or because I just read a rock-on article in this month’s @VOYAMagazine (go to pp. 48-49 to find Tough Girls Don’t Accept &$%!# From Anyone by Rebecca A. Hill)…or both, I started thinking, well, what are the differences? What separates dystopia from the comic-born superhero story?
My conclusion? Not much.
The primary differences I find between, say, Katniss’ tale and that of Batman or Captain America are that 1) the latter’s “powers” are magnified and embellished, and 2) that the superhero’s actions are usually preventative, while the dystopian protagonist’s tend toward the revolutionary.
Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games)
I think that second point is the more significant: Superman, Spider Man, Wonder Woman, and the like are fighting to stave off an impending-but-not-yet-fully-realized takeover by the dictatorially-minded villain. Gaia, Deuce, Meg, Tally, and Titus, on the other hand, awaken to injustice from within an already established regime, and have to fight their way out.
Some might also cite natural disasters as a difference, since they are usually the cause for the negative setting of a dystopian universe, but isn’t that what the Green Goblin (lab accident), Poison Ivy (attempted murder), and Magneto (mutation/racial discrimination and violent) are? Of course, there are exceptions, but in general, I think that all of those things can be summed up as a similarity: human-caused disasters.
And, the more I thought about it, the more I was intrigued by such similarities.
First, if you think about it, many of the paranormal (outside of the everyday) elements in comics are close to those in the alternate realities of dystopian fiction. Really, what separates a Pretty or a Special from Captain America? Or an anti-gravity suit from a dress that catches on fire and flakes away without burning anybody? Then, in both genres, there are also genetic advancements/alterations occurring in people (Peter Parker; the Scriven) and/or animals (tracker jackers; Ninja Turtles). There are advanced forms of weaponry, transportation, and medicine/science in both genres as well. Etc.
Poison Ivy (Batman)
However, above and beyond such decorative items, there’s also the deeper plot lines and themes, which are almost identical:
A) these are all narrative stories B) set in an adjacent though somehow different (whether ahead of, behind, or alternatively developed) version of our world, C) in which said world is threatened (or overtaken) by seemingly insurmountable, evil forces of a paranormal (not of everyday experience) nature, which have some totalitarian motivation, D) to which a (somewhat) ordinary citizen takes a disliking, decides to stand against, E) and, by some unforeseen force of nature (be it simple or extraordinary, human or extraterrestrial, mutant or constant, mental or physical), manages to overcome, F) thus securing the equitable, harmonious, and enjoyable future of their (and by implication, our) civilization.
Tally Youngblood (Specials)
Once I had collected these different points in my head, the next question for me was, What does this mean? Why are we creating these very similar stories right now, and why are they so popular? Huge questions, I know, but the items that seem to answer this for me are C and D, which in turn linked back to a problem I’ve had with the academic world. We PLAYAs and our beloved literature have been accused of and marginalized in “literary” society because of many things, but probably most notably on account of our supposed unwillingness to live within the confines of reality. Just for the record, this is something that I readily admit to (a different conversation altogether), but I would argue that it’s not a complete picture.
What I saw in the trailer for The Avengers today – the element that got me started thinking about how it is, in its way, a form of dystopia – was a deeply rooted love for our reality, a fervent desire to keepit the way it is by thinking of all the ways it could be destroyed. From oil-virus crises that lead to plastic-surgery-based communism, to homicidal environmentalist redheads, we are constantly thinking about the ways in which our (very earthly, very human) thoughts and actions could (will?) affect our (very earthly, very quantifiable) world. And, just as importantly, we’re thinking about the strengths we have within us to combat that negative potential.
It seems to me that, whether it does so via a poor, scrawny huntress, or a roid-raging, genetically-empowered green dude, or a mixture of the two (dare I suggest Harry Potter?), paranormal literature is at heart very similarly focused right now. (I purposefully avoided throwing sci-fi and fantasy into the mix, but you can probably pick out for yourselves that, underneath the very superficial differences, the same parallels are present.)
We’re not escaping to enter a “better” reality somewhere “out there.” We’re doing it to bring one back home.
Much of human art can actually be boiled down to the same motivation. If so, you might ask, what’s my point in all of this?
Just that, well, perhaps we’re not all so different after all.
Release Date: August 1, 2011 Publisher: Fox Chapel
I received a copy of this book as a courtesy from the team at Fox Chapel after running into them at BEA2011 this past month in my professional capacity. I’m not sure they knew I was also a book blogger, but this one was too exciting not to talk about.
A fan of steampunk literature, I was immediately intrigued by the content. So used to building the worlds in my head, coupled together from snippets I’ve seen of Victorian technology and fashion, tidbits of old Jules Verne and the more recent Wild Wild West (1999) and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) films, I was psyched about seeing some of the world come to real, hard life. After all, imagination has its limits. What better way to flesh it out than with photographs?
And, in The Art of Steampunk, the steampunk world really does take full form. Inside are well over 100 full color photos of some of the most intricate and finely crafted oddities you’ll ever see. From Eric Freitas’ exquisite and ethereal clocks, to Kris Kuksi’s detailed warships—oh, and don’t miss Richard Nagy’s fully-functioning brass, leather, and copper laptops—the 17 artists showcased here have really populated the world of idea with extraordinary reality. Their pieces, all exhibited at Oxford University’s Museum of the History of Science 2009-10 Steampunk show (curator, Art Donovan), will make you catch your breath. The intricate delicacy, brassy trim work, and tongue-in-cheek aplomb continually snagged me between the urgent desire to linger and the giddy itch to flip to the next discovery. Truly, whether chuckling or scrutinizing, you can’t help but marvel at the all-around genius of their painstaking handiwork.
The only flaw I saw in the book was its overemphasis on preserving the details of the Oxford exhibition, which I fear may give shelf-browsers the impression that it’s more a commemorative booklet of the event than a printed showcase of the art. However, as redundant as the forward, introduction, and introductory essay become by page 33, the front matter does contain some truly enlightening information about steampunk subculture and its art that explicate in enough detail to enlighten both newcomers and die-hard fans alike.
What are YOUR top 100 children's books? How about YOUR #1?
Click here to read about 100 Greatest Books for Kids countdown by Scholastic's Parent & Child Magazine and enter your choices for a chance to win a copy of one of the titles in your preferred age group.
influential book of the month: December ’11 – January ’12
The Iliad by Homer
Written around the 8th Century BC, this epic Greek poem about the Trojan war has influenced countless classic authors with its tragic and quintessential tale of hubris, love, and war. With hunks like Achilles and Odysseus, hotties like Helen, and powers that be like Ares, Apollo, and Aphrodite, it's no wonder this book is also prime inspriation for today's YA otherworldly writers.
Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney Nobody's Princess by Esther M. Friesner Nobody's Prize by Esther M. Friesner Troy by Adele Geras Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini The Memoirs of Helen of Troy by Amanda Elyot Achilles: A Novel by Elizabeth Cook
peter and the starcatchers
a web of air*
the last werewolf
there's no such thing as dragons*
the light fantastic*
pride and prejudice and zombies
the book thief
down the mysterly river
the princess and the goblin*
the iron king/daughter/queen*
the name of the star*
the picture of dorian gray
the name of the star*
the 11th plague*
the last little blue envelope*
rip tide (dark life)
city of ember
*s denote books I own, but just haven't gotten to (yet!)
To Be Read!
Here are some titles that I highly recommend, but haven't had a chance to review (quite) yet.