So this was meant to be a round up of our favourite reads of 2016. Unfortunately, life got in the way and this post has sat in the draft pile for far too long! Anyway, if you haven’t come across any of these yet, the April holidays would be a great opportunity to grab a few and spend some quality time with some quality books.
I’ve had some reading slumps this year, that hardly ever happens to me and I found myself very frustrated and being unable to find the right book to get me out of it. I have had some brilliant highs and some pretty freakin awful lows. This year I was approved for Netgalley and that has definitely influenced my reading. Sometimes I’ve not been a fan of the book that everyone else is loving and I get all worried about my taste. Here is my Goodreads shelf, which has lots of other 5 star reads this year. Some highlights are:
The Road to Winter by Mark Smith
I loved everything about this book, it isn’t too long, it isn’t overwritten it is just small and perfectly formed. The main character is someone I totally related to and I enjoyed his trials and challenges. Set in a dystopian Australia it is the story of a boy all alone, coping as best he can with dangers aplenty. Then along comes a girl who challenges everything. Loved it.
The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
This series is one that I’ve loved all the way through, I’ve become so attached to the characters in the story that when it was all done I sat and cried like a small angry child. If you haven’t read The Passage trilogy I think you are missing out on a treat. Then I got to meet Justin Cronin and the man was just as lovely as the characters he writes about. Sigh…
Good Morning Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton
This book has stayed with me ever since I put it down. What a gem! I read this on a plane, sitting quietly (I hope) sobbing into my sleeve. So many feels. It is one of those books where you can’t say too much about the plot because it will spoil the book, but here is an attempt. There are two parallel stories. Argie is an older man, he is a scientist who has been based in the Arctic doing research into radio waves, he was once famous in his field. Suddenly everyone is evacuated from his base, he decides not to go. But he finds a young child called Iris has been left behind and now he is going to have to look after not just himself but this tiny person as well. At the same time a crew have been on a mission to space, they have been away 2 years and are headed back to earth. There have been no communications with ground control for a while now, Sully the radio specialist, along with the rest of the crew are wondering what will happen if they don’t hear anything as they get closer, and what exactly they will find if they get back.
Holding up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
I read a heap of great YA this year and this one is the most recent of the ones I’ve loved. You can read my review of it – which is a bit long – here. I went straight out and bought 2 copies for school because I loved it so much, and I know that there are heaps of boys who will love it too. A book to savour and think about. For all those who love a great big book of feels and the best feisty big girl I’ve ever read.
I feel like I’ve had a bit of a “meh” year reading-wise. But that is possibly just my end-of-year-itis kicking in because, when I look at my Goodreads shelf, I actually have quite a large number of 4-star reads.
Anyway, some my favourite reads for this year have been:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I loved the clever structure of this book. The writing was beautiful and it was also a suspenseful read. I stayed up late to finish it and find out how all of the strands would come together. Read this before it is made into a movie!
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
This read was a classic case of the right book at the right time for me. Yes, it is completely predictable, but I just didn’t care. The characters were lovely, the writing was beautiful, and it’s a book about books. It even melted this old cynic’s heart.
Illuminae by Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Every time I try to talk about this book I just become tongue-tied and speechless. It is indescribable, smart, and moves along at a cracking pace. A great holiday read because once you start nothing will get done until you get to the end, exhausted and breathless.
On reviewing my year in books I read rather a lot, unfortunately not of the actual kinds I had planned. Only 26 of the 175 were YA but they were darned good reads. Yeah I know I’m a primary school librarian, but when has that ever stopped anyone reading outside their ‘area’? Actually my school reads were only 22, which when I think about it is pretty darned naughty and not good for promoting to our students. So lots of fantasy and sci-fantasy for me in 2016. And predominantly eBooks – Doh!!! Here is my Goodreads shelf if you are interested. New plan for 2017 …. write the reading plan down!!!!
So some of my favourite reads for 2016 were …
The Summoner series by Taran Matharu
What a brilliant new fantasy series. And no romantic entanglements involved, just good old ‘good vs evil’ with some pretty awesome demons. The character development is really good, and if you get the chance it is worth reading ‘Origins‘ – the prequel to the series and giving a further insight into some of the older key characters. And get this … Taran Matharu is only 25!!!
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
I know Steph has already mentioned it, but I’ve just got to say …. blimmin fantastic read!!! I’m not a fan of ‘literature’ but this story is just so darned well written and there were segments that I just had to re-read. If you love a story about small-town life, relationships in all their intricacies, and books … then you’ve just gotta get your mitts on this beautiful book.
Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
An alternative-history story set during Hitler’s reign in Germany. Fantastic, mind altering, amazing!
Bookmarks are People Too (Young Hank Zipzer / Here’s Hank) by Henry Winkler
Henry Winkler … yah know … ‘The Fonz‘ … Happy Days … OMG don’t tell me you are too young to know this series … go and watch it!!!! And he’s a pretty darned good author to boot. A humorous and engaging read about a young boy who has learning difficulties and who is not a fan of school. Aimed at Yr 3-4 students. Written in quite short chapters with a number of B&W illustrations that help tell the story, and with widely spaced font these books are really good for our struggling readers, or even just those who want a fun read. Also makes for a really good ‘read aloud’. And the ‘Hank Zipzer‘ series is just as good, aimed at Yr 5-6, but the font is not so good for struggling readers 😦
Hope and Red (Empire of Storms) by Jon Skovron
Mother of God! This book is freaking fantastic!!!! Really strong characters and a great storyline make this is a really truly awesome fantasy read. Told from the POV of the two main characters – Hope (Bleak Hope) the sole survivor of a Biomancer attack, and Red, an orphan boy taken in and cared for by the slum criminal Sadie. Both are trying to take down the corrupt empire in their own way and their paths eventually cross. Piracy, murder, adventure, friendship and family.
I’ve been doing some reflection, stocktake is always good for that I find, lots of mindless zapping, the rapid beep beep of the scanner promotes ponderous thoughts, on what has been popular in the library this year. I’ve noticed that a lot of my collection is looking very ragged, that most of the new stuff is out, that the perennial faves need to be replaced. Urgently in some cases – Gone series are falling to bits even though there are something like 5 copies of all of them. I’ve been thinking about what I need to work on for next year and where the budget should be spent. Manga seem to be front and centre of my thoughts as some copies that I hadn’t seen in a while were returned this morning and they are such a pain in terms of barcode placement and shelf space.
I’ve noticed a few things this year:
- My top two year 9 borrowers are all about the Manga – both are in lower band classes but they read, then re-read every Manga we have.
- My most avid readers (of books) aren’t much interested in Manga. They’ve dipped in, but overall are more interested in a traditional story.
- Attack on Titan is just soooo popular that I have to have multiples of the first 5 volumes, and have replaced lots of them due to wear and tear this year and have now started purchasing of both of the sub series.
- I need some new series suggestions that aren’t too ‘mature’ I have all the usual suspects, and the boys have been great for suggesting new ones, but there are never enough.
- Where to keep the ever expanding collection? We have three big bookshelves full of Manga now. Its a monster!
- Lots of boys that many people consider to be non-readers (lower bands, reading difficulties etc.) read lots of manga. They are regular visitors to the library and this causes a great deal of surprise for staff visiting the library and finding it full of so called ‘non-readers’.
So, apart from needing to continue to spend bundles of money on manga and replacing the lame and infirm books, I need to investigate space solutions and myriad other things Manga related.
Are your libraries Mangafied? Are your students obsessed as mine are? Do you have new series I should buy? Let me know in the comments.
Have you caught the Manga bug? If you haven’t here are some links to start off with.
Manga 101, School Library Journal, This very serious thing which made me a little yawny, but probably holds good stuff for those with longer attention spans than I, This is the always awesome No Flying No Tights, such goodness here. There is a LOT in here at Manga Bookshelf, Read them online yourself at Manga Panda. And Manga Town, so very much Manga in here.
We currently stock: Bleach, Fairy Tail, Naruto, Vampire Knight, One Piece, Attack on Titan, Black Butler, Vagabond, Assassination Classroom (only the first 3), Tokyo Goul (only the first 3), Death Note, Bakuman, Full Metal Alchemist, One, One Punch Man (only a few), Sword Art Online – in it’s various iterations, there are more but I’m stocktake brained at the moment and can’t think of them. I’ll add them as I remember them.
Again this discussion makes headlines and gives grist to the mill of the traditionalists and the holier than thou, it isn’t great unless it was written before 1950 decriers of modern writing in general but YA in particular. I’ve heard of ranting at Book Festivals all over the show.
I know what you’re thinking: she’s going to write about that terrible YA article this week! And you’re right. I am.
But not in the way that you’re expecting.
Instead, let’s talk about what makes literature important, what makes literature leave and impact, and what it is, as a whole, that makes some books “more important” than others.
I’ve pondered before what a YA canon might look like. What are the books which are so important in the YA world that we’ll be reading them forever? That we’ll consider them foundational books in the YA world? What are the books which the teenagers of the next generations will not only read, but will also potentially study in their high school or college classrooms and dissect, seeking out the meaning behind an author’s choice of giving their characters red shoes and green eyes?
Let’s take this a little bit further. We know what books are considered essential, important, and “literary” works — they’re the classics, the bulk of which are written by white guys in history who had the time, the money, the luxury, and the status to write and be published well. Not all of the books we know as part of the canon now were seen that way during their publication, just as there are plenty of books that were wildly popular throughout history that have been forgotten completely.
But those books, regardless of their status as classics in the canon, still left a tremendous impact on culture during the time, as well as long after.
Have you ever heard of the book Trilby by George du Maurier? Published in 1894 in Harper’s Monthly, it was a wildly popular story that sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the US. I wouldn’t be surprised if your initial reaction is never having heard of it. Regardless of being a runaway bestseller in the US and abroad at the turn of the century, it’s a book that is difficult to track down now, as well as a book that’s not read or considered part of the literary canon. It’s not one you’ll likely find in your public library (though it is available in some).
I’ve referenced that book before, and I reference it here again because the power of the book hasn’t left our culture, despite the book itself not being part of the classics/canon. You’ve heard of Svengali, right? If you grew up in a certain era in the Midwest, especially in the Chicago area, you might be familiar with the hosted horror show Svengoolie.
The lineage of both Svengali and Svengoolie can be traced back to Trilby. (There is, of course, a lot to be said here about the antisemitism of this character, but for the purposes of this newsletter, know that that’s a thing).
It doesn’t end there, though. Surely, you’ve heard of the trilby hat? That, too, can be traced back to Du Maurier’s novel, and it was one of the popular fashion trends for men in the UK; it’s still in production and seen throughout the world even today.
Oh, and Trilby has been credited as a major inspiration for The Phantom of the Opera.
If a book has this much cultural power, even more than a century after its publication, how come it isn’t something we’re studying more closely in literary circles or in our literature courses?
Because sometimes, the power of a book isn’t in its longevity or in its power to be part of the elite “literary canon.”
Sometimes the power is in the cultural impact a book has when it’s published, as well as long afterward.
Where Nutt uses his platform to talk about how today’s teens — especially boys — are being harmed by popular YA literature, what he’s getting at is that he is worried about hisplace in the literary world as a white guy. While YA isn’t great at being inclusive, the calls for it to become more aware of these faults and fix them is a huge aspect of the YA world right now. YA is where female writers, as well as female characters, have had the chance to have a space, to be heard, to have power, to explore the limits of their worlds.
These are the things that, Nutt argues, are harmful.
And they are harmful precisely because they are not part of the White Male Literary Canon.
YA is a young category of fiction, and it’s one that’s ripe for being picked at, for having think pieces written about, and for being called harmful, shameful, and awful for teen readers. Of course, those arguments come from adult readers, many of whom still reference 10+ year old titles in their quest to sound relevant.
Whether or not YA remains robust and begins to build its own canon of literary masterpieces, what matters today, right now, and what will matter for decades upon decades, is that YA has a social and cultural currency that cannot be argued. How much of our language, how many of our references, and how many of our cultural connections come from YA? How much of our shared understanding of the world around us will emerge from our engagement with books like those found in YA?
Even if you don’t know where those references come from, chances are you know what they are or you’ve heard them in regular conversations or used them yourself. Phrases like “patronus” from Harry Potter become woven effortlessly into our vocabularies, used in place of highly appropriative phrases that might otherwise be used. You find yourself with a case of “the feels” after a great read or a great movie.
These are things that connect us with one another. These cultural references, pulled from the YA world and YA literature, have as much pull and importance as the books that we consider classics. The importance might not look the same or feel the same, it may not be studied in the same way in classrooms, but it still matters.
Perhaps there is a reason these titles are so frequently referenced in pieces that argue YA’s value/harm/etc.
Rather than decry another article about how YA is ruining readers, why not instead spend some time reading the incredible journalism, the thoughtful and heart wrenching, the blood-splattered and pain-driven, the joyous and the insightful pieces that pepper the entirety of the YA world, both in the literature, as well as in the blogs, the websites, and from the people who are passionate and driven by this category of books?
I know which matters more in the long run.
100 years from now, even if we don’t see The Hunger Games or Twilight or The Fault in Our Stars or any number of other wildly popular, bestselling YA books in the limited canon (either in the YA world or broader literary world), their impact does not change. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, the call for more inclusivity, the calling out of problems in the YA world, the pointing to these huge books as being extremely white (and the responses to seeing these books not represented that way on the big screen), those things matter and come directly as a result of being able to share in the common interests and passions for literature and good, representative reading.
Instead, it carves a path toward more and more connection, more and more commonality, between us and the world around us.
And that matters, too.
(If you don’t subscribe to Book Riot’s emails then you really should, just sayin)
Frances Hardinge winning the Costa was discussed in a group I belong to and considered ‘not amazing’ by people there, I find myself wondering if her award winning book had been marketed as an adult book and won that prize would it get the negative comments. The actual comment made to me on that book was ‘well I’m all for YA books but only when they are really awesome’. Well I thought that book was awesome, and so did the judges of the Costa obviously, it has had me thinking thinky thoughts for weeks, it had a great point of view and was tense, well written and full of wonderful gothic greatness. I can think of other books which have won the Costa which have not been a patch on it. The mere fact that a YA book won that prestigious award seems to have put the cat among the pigeons. Here she is winning.
I will admit that I’ve read some YA books which aren’t amazing, and I think there is a positive rash of books which are quickly written, aimed with a sharp pointy arrow at fans of particular series, close to fan fiction in some cases. There are the gorgeously quirky, singularly beautiful, well written amazingly engaging stories that sing to the heart of readers of YA but which would stand up in any genre. They just happen to have been marketed at YA. I would put books like Jasper Jones, Naughts and Crosses, Steelheart, Everything Everything and a bunch of others into the category of ‘these are not just for YA, these are for everyone’.
The rise in the YA market is a fantastic thing, but it is a rise in a particular kind of book, there is a kind of similarity in many of the books for young people at the moment, maybe it was ever so, but it is difficult at the moment to buy a book which does not have a male protagonist. I think young strong heroines are great, love many of them, but we need to be careful of fads. I think that is part of the whole supposition of the lack of grit in YA fiction, people see a fad, see lots of books coming out with all one kind of story and believe they must all be crap. Check out this list on Good reads for strong heroine. Now check out this lot for strong hero (There is some weird stuff on there let me tell ya!) perceptions seem to be that heroines are strong, tough, kick arse and heros are Christian Grey!
I’m delighted that people are talking about YA, but it doesn’t seem possible to talk about it in a positive way if you are an adult fiction reader, it is dismissed but it does seem that this does mostly come from the writers of the unawarded adult fiction and from those who don’t read YA as a rule.
So, quality fiction in the YA genre or just dross? I’m firmly down on the quality side but aware of dross. I believe that YA non-fiction is pretty awful at the moment. Mightily hard to buy good engaging books for ordinary teenagers about topics they are keen on which have been written specifically for them. We are stuck with biographies of sportspeople and celebrity vloggers! But those don’t get criticised. They don’t win awards so who cares right?
…the school library version.
Remind the student they have an overdue library book.
Invite them to get more library books out.
I’ve had a couple of experiences this week which I feel needed an airing.
Firstly, someone I know a little phoned me and asked to interview me around the topic of booksellers and how they relate to libraries and whether there was ground for a developing relationship, and a bunch of questions on were we able to find what we wanted in bookshops and a heap of other really interesting and good to make you ponder questions. And so I got to thinking about this, as always after he had asked the questions and recorded my answers, so far, so why do I always get intelligent after the event rather than during the event, but anyways …..
- Why don’t Booksellers court me and my not insignificant budget?
- Why don’t booksellers automatically assume that if you are buying a popular series you might want all the series, not just the latest one?
- Why is it that some big chain booksellers offer 25% and others only 20? And why in some cases with these same big chain booksellers wouldn’t they offer it automatically when they know you are buying regularly? Don’t make me remind you that you need to give me my discount!
- School libraries must be one of the biggest spenders of bookdollars in the country, maybe second after public libraries – why is there no sponsorship from booksellers for our association and events? Wouldn’t it be great to total up how much is spent across the country in bookshops by school libraries? It would certainly make me loyal.
- I feel like there are a bunch more bullet points here but this is where I’m at to date.
Secondly, today I have had two book reps visit and received an unsolicited book, complete with invoice. I’m going to deal with the unsolicited book first.
Unsolicited books: If you send me an unsolicited book (even if I know you) I do not have to return it, you have the opportunity to collect it from me, but the obligation all rests with you. Don’t send me unsolicited books. Ever! See this link for the actual rules.
Book Reps, ok, two visits from two completely different reps today. Rep 1, works for a well known library book supplier, brings in boxes of books. Lots of cream pages and books for dyslexic students – average publication date is 2010 – they cost $21.00 each. I check the prices on both Book Depository and Wheelers. There is a $10 difference in price, in one book and $4.20 (about 20%) difference in another one, obviously cheaper online. I mention this to the rep who is shocked. She phones her head office and they tell her to take 15% off the total cost of anything I buy, by that stage I am thoroughly peeved.
Offer me discount straight off – I am not so foolish that I will pay your overpriced costs for rather old books. Particularly when I have done the rather meagre order and you had packed up and left. You are lovely and it is maybe not your fault, but this is crap. You should have told me that the price on the books was not the actual price, you made me feel you were trying to get away with ripping me off.
Book Reps (again) If you phone me to arrange to come and show me books you should be nice. I’m getting a lot of:
- All the schools are buying these books and your students will miss out if you don’t buy them too. I don’t actually care what the others are buying. I’m working on MY collection, not the school up the road’s collection.
- If you are pushy, I will also be pushy. And again with the discount – see above.
- And, it is not your business how much my budget is Mr Book Rep. I will spend it where it does the most good for my students. That may or may not be your product!
- It is so not appropriate to say to me that history students all need to study British history if they are to understand any New Zealand history. That will make me wince and show you the door. Seriously, have a look at university papers, they are teaching NZ history, our students need to know NZ history, it’s been a while now since we needed to know about the Reformation to be able to understand how things went here – I kid you not, this is what he told me. I reiterate my point in case you missed it, BE NICE!
And here is a plug. I have two favourite Book Reps. One is Austin Kyle. He is based in Christchurch, he sells fantastic popular non-fiction that I never see anywhere else. I look forward to his visits, he is quirky and funny and full of good humour. And he is so nice! The other is Bob Anderson from John Douglas Publishing also based in Christchurch. He is interesting, his books are reasonably priced, he sends me sample copies to see if I am keen, but always asks first. He is great to have in the office and is genuinely interested in what I need and whether he can really help me.
Anyway, there you go. A rant for the end of a busy week. If you wanted to share your gripes and whines and the names of the book reps you love I’d be keen to hear.
Librarian Design Share is a really useful blog where library peeps from all over (including here, now!) share their ideas and designs and even files for all manner of library materials – posters, pamphlets, event flyers etc. If you don’t follow their blog, jump over there and do it now.
For those of us in school and academic libraries, the end of the semester and school year is a time for reflection and…reporting (womp womp). Rather than send out the same old charts, graphs, and narrative reports, why not turn a chore into an exercise in graphic design? It’s a great opportunity to learn a new graphic design tool like Canva, Publisher, or Illustrator, and may even give you a chance to think about what numbers and data mean the most to you and your library.
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Miranda McKearney has been in New Zealand recently, she is the founder of The Reading Agency and also Empathy Lab in the U.K. exploring the idea that readers have more empathy for those worse off than themselves, than those who don’t. She has been here as the guest of the Book Council and The National Library. A group of people including some well known SLANZA peeps, were invited to hear her speak and workshop ideas about literacy last week in Wellington.
During her visit here she was interviewed by Phillippa Tolley from Radio New Zealand for the Saturday Morning programme. Her interview makes interesting listening. She gives a great chat which includes reference to research into the skills which good readers have which may be useful to school librarians when justifying their existence, their budgets and their hours. Listening to this talk I started to wonder if maybe there was the beginning of a push back to the disestablishment of libraries, to the idea that modern learning environments don’t need to have books. I have a LOT of thoughts and opinions on this topic but am not going to vent them here yet. Maybe harnessing the power of someone like Miranda McKeraney is useful for us as school librarians. Maybe the cynics see us as usually self-justifying when we talk about the things we know about libraries and their places in schools and in society. Have a listen, see if what she says rings true for you in your life and the reasons you love books and reading and try to share that with the students you work with and your own children.