My History of Reading

Hi, all!

For this delightful Friday, nearing the end of the Olympics, I decided to do a fun post. For those DEMANDING reviews, I will probably have a review of the Cybils winner (woohoo! click to find out! SUSPENSE! JAZZ HANDS!) very soon. Also, that Harry Potter love triangle post will be coming along soon. But today, I want to look back upon the days of my youth.

A lovely friend of mine once posed the following, paraphrased, question: What book do you think made you or defined you as a reader? A fascinating line of inquiry, if you ask me. And one I’d like to answer for all the world today.

First, the background. I would never characterize anyone in my immediate family as “habitual readers.” They do read, but only occasionally. Me and my voracious reading habit, apparently, comes from my great grandmother who read a lot, and frequently late at night. But, my tiny town had a public library and my family frequented it. I could ride my bike to it. So, even though the fam went to the library a lot, I went to the library by myself a lot more. I frequently wandered the stacks. I checked out super random books.

But the one I checked out the MOST was Anne of Green Gables. I frequently went back to it – again and again and again. (While I read the entire set of 8 books, I mostly skimmed the last three.) I loved the spunkiness of Anne. I loved Rachel Lynne’s super weird but fun sounding sayings. I adored Gilbert’s cockiness. And I loved Diana’s kindness (and when she accidentally got drunk). But most of all, I loved Prince Edward Island. Lucy Maud Montgomery made that tiny island seem like the only place in the world worth living. And it transported me.

You would think, given the flowery prose that LMM uses, after loving Anne, I would’ve fall into other classics with no problem – but it’s hardly the case. I’ve yet to make it through Austen (even though I love the adaptations) – and I’ve tried and tried. The classics I read in high school I only remember with disdain and boredom. It’s just not how I roll. And I think that’s interesting, considering my fave book of choice in elementary school. (Aside: I recently found my book report on Anne. It included a drawing of Anne with green hair.)

So, I don’t think I fell in love with that particular writing style (although I do try to read as much LMM as I can) while reading Anne. I don’t think that’s what made it the marque book of my youth.

I do think my love for books with romance, books about friendships and books with strong, well-written settings can be linked directly to Anne of Green Gables. (And so can, incidentally, my demand for awesome book adaptations.)

And for that reason, Anne, PEI and Gilbert Blythe will forever hold a very special spot in my book-loving soul.

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For the record, if we were to talk about a book of my youth that most affected me in a BAD way, there’d be a tie: Johnny Tremain and War of the Worlds.

UGH.

What about you guys? What books influenced you?

Have a lovely weekend!!!

P.S. – the silver and gold to most influential in a GOOD way are def. The Fairy Rebel and The Perilous Guard.

ALA Midwinter 2014 Redux

Aaand nearly two weeks later, it is my turn to do a brief (or not-so-brief, we’ll see what happens) recap of the conference that brings all the librarians to the yard: ALA Midwinter 2014.

True story: I just deleted about three pages worth of my descriptions of ALAMW because yeah. You didn’t want to read all that. Instead, I’m going to fall back on one of my fave things: Pros/Cons Lists

CONS OF ALAMW 2014: PHILLY EDITION

  • Cold/snow cause traffic/travel problems. This is what happens when you go cold places in winter. (But save money. So I get it.)
  • Not enough time to eat all the food. Because it was so, so good.
  • Not enough time to see all the sites. Being a Midwesterner, old cities absolutely fascinate me.
  • Being unable to figure out where I was. This isn’t Philly’s fault. I am directionally challenged.
  • Spending 15+ hours in a conference room and being unable to see many of the panels/talks or spend as much time on the exhibit floor as I have in the past

PROS OF ALAMW 2014: PHILLY EDITION:

  • Spending 15+ hours with a group of librarians that were amazing, passionate and hilarious to watch work their way through over 200 nominations to create an epically awesome final Quick Picks list.
  • The food. I can’t even tell you.
  • Getting to see the Liberty Bell with absolutely no crowd due to extremely cold temps.
  • Hearing every librarian in the room gasp when the park ranger crossed the security line to point out the death crack in the bell.
  • Attending YALSA’s Midwinter Paper Presentation (my other committee!!) and seeing how great the turn out was and how interesting the topic was. (It cannot be denied that I also learned about STD eCards at this presentation.)
  • Going around the exhibit hall floor and taking picture of all the QP nominees with their QP flags
  • Attending numerous events, dinners and parties with my fellow committee members. So many happy memories.
  • Seeing one of our committee members see snow fall for the first time
  • Getting to hang out with my Partner in Travel and Crime, Brynne.
  • Going to the Franklin Institute with Jackie and Liz early Friday morning. There’s photographic evidence of me completing a circuit with a Graaff machine that I’m sure will come back to haunt me.
  • Staying up way too late laughing and looking at pictures of adorable animals with my roommate, Jennifer. Sleep: who needed it?
  • Attending my first ever Youth Media Awards. I managed to get one of the last seats in the packed room and it was worth getting up super early for. I may not have read/known every single book but hearing (and contributing) applause for all of the hard-working committee members made my heart grow three sizes.

As you can tell, I had a great time in Philly. It was certainly a Work Hard/Play Hard situation and I was so exhausted/exhilarated by the time my (very delayed) flight whisked me back to Ohio.

I’m so looking forward to Annual!

Hope all is well,

~kell

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets

by Evan Roskos

Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets coverJames is trying to stay positive. He’s letting the positive influence of Walt Whitman guide his through his day. He starts with a YAWP and, maybe, a poem or two as he does his best to avoid his parents, survive the awkwardness of school and girls, and try to keep his anxieties and worries in check.

At the top of his anxiety list is trying to get his sister, Jorie, reinstated to school and their house. But as he starts to look at why she was expelled, new mysteries arise.

I so enjoyed this book. It’s tragic and heartwarming and heartbreaking and lovely all rolled into one gorgeously-covered package.

It would be a total error on my part not to mostly spend this post gushing about how much I loved James’ voice. How it showed his strengths and weaknesses, as well as his wholehearted attempt (with both the success of, and failure) to embrace a Whitman lifestyle.

I loved his friendship with Derek. And Beth. I loved how he wanted to help Jorie, out of both selfish desires and guilt. I also loved how he knew Jorie as a younger brother knows his older sister – and that the actual discovery of a few of Jorie’s secrets shocked him, but didn’t push him away.

I loved that he had a real therapist (that he paid for. himself.) and an imaginary bird therapist (The Dr. Bird of the title). I loved that he hugged trees. And took photographs with real film.

And I loved the Whitman piece. The last chapter made me want shout – er, YAWP! – with joy. BUT my knowledge of Whitman is actually quite narrow (think your basic Dead Poet’s Society references), so I’m not the best person to judge how well Roskos did bringing Whitman into the story. But it worked for me!

Out of the Easy

by Ruta Sepetys

Out of the Easy cover imageJosie works in a bookstore and a brothel. Her mother is a whore in the French Quarter in 1950s New Orleans. Josie has no plans to follow in her mother’s footsteps. She has only one plan: to get out and go to college.

And while there are a number of people rooting for her and helping her out, Josie may not be able to escape the problems her mother has created.

 

Okay, guys. I’m just going to be blunt about this at the very beginning: I was so bored for the first 100 pages. That’s a lie. I loved the first page. But everything else: bored.

Believe me, I’m as surprised as you! First, this book has been receiving raves! Second, I LOVED Between Shades of Gray.

So, I thought about it. A lot. And I think the reason I was so bored is I found Josie to be incredibly dull. Which meant that I didn’t care about her desire to go to college. Or her desire to attend fancy parties. Or why she cared about a dude she had a five minute conversation with in the bookstore. In fact, the parts I found the most fascinating about Josie (cleaning the brothel, her relationship with brothel-matron, Willie, her care for the bookstore’s ailing owner) weren’t as focused as I wanted them to be. And if the story had focused one THAT, maybe I would’ve understood what made her so interesting?

Either way, I stuck through it and ended up loving the last 2/3rds-ish of the book. The mystery starts to kick in, and the tension ramps up as Josie continues to tempt fate. It was a slow burn, for me, apparently.

While there is romance in this book, the relationships I found most enthralling were Josie’s connections with the adults in her life. The adults vary in how they are connected to Josie, but they all are dynamic – even if they are only present on a few pages. When the romance aspect DID come up, I found myself thinking – but what’s going on with WILLIE right now?!?! Which, I can assure you, is not my normal book reaction (Team Kissing!).

There were a few plots that I didn’t care for. And while the mystery’s increased tension helped draw me into the book, I actually think the murder was a bit pointless and utterly too convenient. If things had ended just a bit differently, I probably would’ve thought differently, but they didn’t and here we are.

I did really, really, really like the secondary characters (esp. Patrick!). They had such a vivid quality, no matter if their page time was a handful or a few chapters. (I also suspect their vividness sucked the life from Josie.) I loved the varied support they provided Josie. I loved how they interacted with each other. And I loved how they all helped bring to life the mid-century French Quarter. (I could go on and on about Sepetys’ ability to writing setting. Just know that she’s a master at it.)

As I mentioned, tons of people have been loving this book. And so did I…eventually. So pick it up! See what you think!

Have a lovely one, and stay warm!!!

P.S. This was a Cybils book, although I’ve been eyeing it since it showed up at my door with that gorgeous cover and Ruta Sepetys’ name on it.

P.P.S. I promised twitter I would post this yesterday, but I got distracted writing a post about the Harry Potter love triangle that wasn’t. (DOES THIS SURPRISE ANYONE?!?!) And then I decided to wait to post THAT until the actual interview has come out. So, I guess there’s that to look forward to? But anyway, sorry, twitter, for being a day late.

The Cybils Finalists Have Arrived!

…which means it is time for me to get to work!

I’ll be serving as a judge in the YA Fiction category and checking out these titles:

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

So, yeah. Wish me and my fellow judges luck (and check out their blogs)! Or go see what else has made it through the tough first stage in the other Cybils categories! There are some pretty awesome titles to be found, I assure you.

Oh, and.

Happy 2014, everyone. Here’s to magic happening this year!

~k

The Creativity Problem

Hello, Internet world!

After a near 3-month absence, I have returned.

Now, I’ve had some pretty long stretches from the blog before. But this barren time-period was a bit different. Normally, when I disappear from The Re-Shelf it’s because life has made posting regular reviews [and by regular, I mean my version of regular] fall lower on the priorities list. And I’ve always been fine by that. One of the reasons I love blogging is because I can do it as frequently as I want/can.

This break was different. It wasn’t a time thing, per se [that's what dictionary.com told me the spelling of that word is. I'm not sure I believe it.], but a complete lack of knowing what to actually post. For awhile I contemplated dropping the thing altogether. Which immediately made me start thinking about why I was thinking about stopping the blog thing. I like doing it. What brought this on?

I’ve decided – for me – it’s a two-pronged creativity problem.

If you’ve somehow stumbled upon this tiny corner of the ‘Net, there is a pretty good chance you like books. [Or you just want homework answers. One or the other.] And if you like books, and you’re looking at a book blog, you probably are familiar with the other book blogs out there. I certainly am. I gobble up book blogs. [I used to gobble up even more when Google Reader was a beautiful thing that still existed. Le sigh.]

As a frequent reader of book blogs, I can assure you there are many, many amazing book blogs out there. Some are very specific, some are very broad; some are critical, some are generalized. I read a variety of these. And I really have struggled to figure out how this blog even matters compared to those blogs. I’ve never shied away from my incredibly informal – and mostly full of praise – reviewing style. [Otherwise, blogging would feel like a job. And then I would stop without a doubt.] But I’ve also never been convinced of the substance of the posts. Or, at the very least, their substance compared to the other blogs out there. They are SO creative. And awesome. And unique! Mostly, I do blog posts because I want to put my thoughts out there. And if someone happened upon them and liked it – great! If not – I only wasted a little bit of time and I had fun doing it. Incidentally, I’m 97% sure I use my blog more as a reference tool (for my poor memory for which book I’ve read and what I thought) for myself than anyone actually views it. But GoodReads and LIbraryThing can fill that role. And how many book reviews of the same book need to exist on the Internet? I haven’t been sure. And I’ve been struggling because I know there will be far better reviews than mine out there.

This isn’t to say I think there isn’t an audience for the random reviews I do – I think reviews are similar to books: there’s always an audience, even if it’s an audience of one – but that doesn’t make it any easier to sit down and try to turn thoughts into words when you’ve read three pretty great posts/reviews of other books and you can’t figure out how to add anything creative in your posts that will be better in any way. To make your posts/reviews stand apart.

The other front of this Creativity Problem was suffering to be over-creative.

I started taking classes in web design this semester. And I love it. It’s super fun. But each assignment took a lot out of me creativity-wise. Adjusting to my new job responsibilities and adapting them to my way of working sapped ever more. At the end of the day, when work and homework was done, I rarely wanted to create content – I just wanted to consume it [which directly adds more to the first point].

Be lazy. Yes. I don’t care who knows. I wanted to be lazy. Watch TV. Movies. Read books. See shows. Engage, but not overly.

The idea of opening WordPress and type things from my own head seemed awful. To form coherent [even half-coherent, in the case of my normal posts] thoughts about something I’d read seemed EXCRUCIATING.

I would get bursts of creativity, but my classes were introducing me to new ideas (video-making! graphic design! animation! tumblr!) that I wanted to try and I really wanted to comment on other topics (tv shows! movies! broadway! cat videos on YouTube). But then I’d feel guilty about not updating the blog with those creativity bursts, so I’d stop the project. And end up with half projects EVERYWHERE. Which can be super discouraging, to be honest.

So, yeah. I wasn’t really sure what to do. Abandoning the blog seemed like a viable option, but it broke my heart. And I just couldn’t do it. But how could I get my groove back [It is taking every inch of self-control not to add a subtitle of "How Kell Got Her Groove Back" to this post now.] and put in the effort I wanted without feeling like I was going to the dentist every time I logged in?

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

- Don’t let the fact this is mostly a book review blog stop me from reviewing, talking about or using it for other reasons. [Which, as I think about it, I'm not sure why I've been so strict about this. I always operate under the idea the content of this blog will mostly be seen by, like, four people (this makes my atrocious grammar mistakes and run-on sentences easier to swallow), so why have I cared so much about those four imaginary people's thoughts on posting a movie review? I have a strict imaginary audience apparently.]

- If I’m not feeling it, I’m not feeling it. This isn’t a bad thing. It also doesn’t mean everything is over. I don’t want to feel guilty about this blog. Ever. Nor do I want it to be a chore.

- Use this space to try new things. If I want to do a video review – make a damn video review. Again, I’m not sure why the Audience I’ve Created In My Head is such a taskmaster that I’ve never allowed myself to think more broadly. Or try things. [This is the advice I've already taken. Yay for new graphic design skillz. Stay tuned!]

- It’s okay I’m not creating the wheel every time I post something. There are amazing, awesome bloggers out there [and not just of books, clearly], and I’m very lucky to call some of them my friends and colleagues. I want to be inspired by them, not discouraged. And it’s okay if my thoughts aren’t elaborate. Or they aren’t streamlined. Or whatever. This blog is whatever I’ve created this blog to be. For better, worse or weird. [Mostly weird, I feel.]

So, in sum of this incredibly long post, there might be some changes up at The Re-Shelf. But there might not either. I’m going to see what happens. At the moment, I’m looking forward to serving as a judge on the Cybils panels. [Those reviews, I guarantee.] I’m looking forward to putting up my new banner. [!!!] I’m looking forward to writing about musicals and movies. And adding to the Flyleaf series. [Harder than you would think, sadly.] And maybe trying video. [!?!?!][Next semester's classes are more video oriented. So we'll see what happens.]

And that’s the plan. Fingers crossed it’s a good one. Or at least a decent one. Or harebrained. I’d totally go for harebrained.

~kell

p.s. As I’m about to hit the publish button, I really, really hope I don’t disappear for, like, a month. That would be typical, huh?

Fangirl

by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl coverThe Simon Snow books have brought together Cath and Wren through the ups and downs of their lives.

Cath, specifically, has found a home in the Simon Snow fandom – writing incredibly popular fanfiction to an adoring audience that includes twin Wren.

But it’s time for college. And Wren wants to test out being an individual, away from her twin and Simon Snow. Cath is at a crossroads and must determine which road she will take as the last Simon Snow novel nears.

I loved Rowell’s debut, Eleanor and Park, but I loved Fangirl more.

I started Fangirl on a red-eye from Ohio to Seattle and finished it on the flight from Seattle up to FBX. Because, at the time, I was living in Alaska, I had some frequent flyer miles to bump me up to first class on that first leg. And I can now tell you – First Class Passengers will give you pretty significant side-eye when you spontaneously giggle/burst into tears during a red-eye. So, apologies to those strangers. (FWIW, the second flight I sat next to a sleeping child [the easiest way to find me on a flight is to look for a sleeping child] who didn’t seem to mind my weeping/laughter. So that worked out.)

BUT IT WAS WORTH THE SIDE-EYE, PEOPLE.

As usual, let’s just lay this all out on the table: there was a lot about this book that was going to make me like it. Twins. Fandoms. Fanfiction. Transitioning from High School to College. Mean roommates with a heart of gold. Cute boys.

That is a very long list of Things I Like to Read About.

But what, in the end, really made me adore Fangirl? Cath’s insecurities. Well, really just Cath as a whole. There was a lot I could relate to in Cath. (Wren, no one will be surprised, drove me bonkers.) I loved how slowly she adjusted to her new way of life. And how much she tried to cling to her old way of life. I loved watching her struggle with coming out of her comfort zone and taking risks and chances. (See above re: transitioning from HS to College. I work with freshman. Part of my job is helping people grow into adults.) She gets a lot wrong on her way to figuring out how to, maybe, get it right.

And I loved the fandom spin. Again, some frankness. You don’t see a LOT of the fandom in this book (there aren’t any cons, or really in depth interactions with fellow fans, etc.). And Simon Snow is, essentially, Harry Potter’s dimensional twin. But what I loved about the fandom element in Fangirl was Cath’s use of it as a security blanket and crutch. And how she clearly defined herself as a fangirl but kept her prominent position in that social group hidden away from the new life she was supposed to be exploring. Such an interesting contradiction.

(Let’s not even talk about the whole storyline of Cath and her professor on plagiarism, borrowing creative ideas and original works vs. fanfiction. It DELIGHTED me.)(And it was way more interesting than how boring I made it sound, btw.)

Rowell showed in E&P her deft handling of relationships that were mostly familial or romantic in nature. I think Fangirl showed how well she is able to capture other types of relationships (roommates, friendships, classmates, etc.) in addition to the family and romantic ones.

And, as I look back on reading it, I’m so impressed with how complex the storyline is. Maybe one could argue that it is too complex – there are a lot of storyline threads weaving through this novel – but I thought it made it well-rounded. I thought, for sure, a certain, cliche ending scene was the end of the book and was THRILLED when I discover I still had roughly 80 pages left.

I just really, really liked this book. It left a very warm spot in my heart and I cannot stop recommending it.

So. Yeah.