Filed under: Read-a-Thon | Tags: bruce coville, dewey, elizabeth george, fortunes of war, francisco goldman, olivia manning, read-a-thon, readathon
Ever since I first heard about Dewey’s Read-a-Thon I’ve mostly expressed confusion over what the point is. Although I had a proud read-a-thon run as a child (two-time winner of my elementary school’s read-a-thon) I am not all that into aggressive or speed reading or whatever you want to call it. But today I made bombitsa (you know, little snow bombs) with my host sister, and then I ate way too many of them, and now my stomach hurts and I can’t even think about getting off my sofa, and the best way to salvage this day seems to be devoting myself to knocking some books off my reading list, top among them the first novel in Olivia Manning’s Fortunes of War.
So, without further ado, here are the books I plan to tackle today, though I’ll probably get distracted and end up turning this into a Gilmore Girls marathon or something.
Olivia Manning – The Great Fortune
Francisco Goldman – Say Her Name
Elizabeth George – Missing Joseph
Bruce Coville – Jennifer Murdley’s Toad
I’ll edit this post as I go along, like to update you that my stomach feels better and I’m outside playing jump rope with my sister, or that I fell asleep during the Manning (it’s pretty good, actually, but usually I have to read it not while laying down) or that I still can’t figure out when the mystery is going to get going in the Elizabeth George.
Pages Read: 404
Update: 7:19PM – Ahh. As a couple have suggested in the comments, reading does do wonders for the stomach struggling under the weight of too many cookies. Green tea & Olivia Manning, Yaki being the most frustrating character ever (also, Manning must be the best at writing cruel & unlikeable characters ever – I’m not sure there’s a single person in the book I really care for), my host siblings playing football outside, sun going down, call to prayer.
Update: 9:09PM Fortunes of War carries on. 25 pages in two hours. Bah! There is such a weird disconnect between the lives of the ex-pats Manning writes about, and the war that’s gathering all around them. Her characters so often seem like children wanting entertainment, without another thought in their heads. I think I’m going to finish reading Howl’s Moving Castle now.
Update: 11:58PM: Howl’s Moving Castle is so funny and weird. I’d forgotten it was made into a movie – I need to watch that after I finish reading. I just finished The Great Fortune, the first volume in Olivia Manning’s The Balkan Trilogy, which is itself just half of her Fortunes of War. Pushing myself to read through this (more than half of the book since this afternoon) seems to have done something good for me and the reading, getting me over the natural inertia of facing a long, long book with characters who I halfway hate from their first appearances. It’s nice to remember that feeling, too, of reading like I did when I was a kid, getting all hyped up to finish a book so that I would never go to sleep on time but instead would lay under the covers with a reading light, not going to sleep until I’d finished whatever Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys Super Mystery I was on at the moment. Somehow it wound up being midnight but I thought it was about 10PM. Also, my copy of The Balkan Trilogy is getting that sort of nice floppy spine thing going on that announces to the world, I’ve Been Read. Also, I really like the smell of nyrb classics. They remind me of some books I read when I was younger, but I’ll have to come back later when I remember what the series or publisher was.
7:35AM – It looks like it’s going to be the nicest day ever out. Howl’s Moving Castle is still fun but kind of grating when it’s the only thing I’m reading. Last night I felt so inspired by my great time finishing up the Olivia Manning that I felt ready to declare myself a convert to the “one book at a time” thing. Not going to happen.
8:34AM – Second cup of coffee on the way. If there is one good thing about this read-a-thon thing it’s that it pushed me to wake up early today – good preparation for work tomorrow morning. Lynley & Havers finally showed up in Elizabeth George’s Missing Joseph, after over one hundred pages without them. Huge relief but something – being tired or reading too much or things that I’ve been kind of weird about, in relation to this series, but never let myself think about too much before now – has me noticing all the ways in which George has made Havers a sort of half-person. Like, every time Havers is described there is no question that she’s got “chunky” legs or wears frumpy clothes or that, despite only being 33 years old, she is never ever going to have a romantic partner. This is so weird and kind of disturbing – is this what women have to look like when they have successful careers? The day looks even more gorgeous – I am expecting my six-year-old host sister to be pounding on my door within an hour telling me to come out and play, and odds are I’ll take her up on the offer…assuming I haven’t fallen asleep by then.
12:53PM – Okay, I have to be honest: my enthusiasm has faded. I’m glad this read-a-thon got me through the first volume of The Balkan Trilogy, but now I am just tired and, bah, read-a-thons! Still, you know: I am finally moving on that trilogy, which I’ve been “reading” for months now, and that’s worth something.
Filed under: YA Lit | Tags: alanna, aliens ate my homework, book, books, bruce coville, hannah moskowitz, lioness quartet, literature, nina tanleven, reading, roald dahl, tamora pierce, young adult literature
Months ago Tamora Pierce wrote a piece on her blog responding to those people who think that, far from there not being enough strong female characters in young adult books, there are too many. Before reading her post it had never occurred to me that people might think there aren’t enough young adult books written with male characters. Is this a sign that things have changed? When I was growing up I read Nancy Drew and The Babysitter’s Club, for sure, but my favorite books were by Bruce Coville and Roald Dahl, were from the Indian in the Cupboard series. They were, in short, books with largely male leads, and this wasn’t something that ever struck me or bothered me. That they were boys and I was a girl was a moot point, and frankly I never thought I couldn’t do anything in those books simply because I was female.
Pierce wrote her post in response to a post by Hannah Moskowitz. The two are on different sides of the issue; Pierce writes books with female leads, and Moskowitz writes with male leads and argues that we need more young adult books that appeal to male readers. What I want to say on this can’t be said in one post; working as a teacher and building a library and thinking about the types of books that will appeal to my students, male and female, has had a way of putting everything I want to say about young adult literature on steroids.
So I’ll start with some questions, that grow out of my own life and my reading habits and where I’ve ended up as a result of them. In the next couple posts I do on this topic you’ll probably notice that my thoughts are confused and contradictory enough that few of the things I write here have any real impact on what I think about young adult literature today.
Like I said, I read a lot as a kid, and I never based my books on the gender of the narrator or main characters. Some of the books I loved had strong female characters, like Tamora Pierce’s Lioness Quartet, but that I connected with those books had more to do with the plotting than with the gender of the main characters. Because the gender of Pierce’s characters is often a central part of her books’ plotting, they couldn’t be male; but if they were, it would make no difference to me. Their femaleness in an already difficult to navigate world (full of puberty, becoming a knight, wars, school, and so on) is central to the books. If Alanna, of the Lioness Quartet, hadn’t been a girl, much of the drama in the book would have fizzled out – she would not have had as much to fight against and overcome as she did.
But the gender of the characters didn’t matter to me. I devoured Bruce Coville, and with the exception of his Nina Tanleven books (The Ghost in the Third Row, The Ghost Wore Gray, The Ghost in the Big Brass Bed) most of his characters were male. I didn’t care that the lead of Aliens Ate My Homework was a boy, Rod Albright. What mattered to me was that the characters were strong and believable.
This is in part what Hannah Moskowitz is arguing for: for “real” characters of either gender. She writes:
Stop writing this boy you’ve imagined in your head and write a real boy. Make him gross or sweet or angry or well-adjusted or affectionate or uncomfortable or confused or ambitious or overwhelmed or smitten or anxious or depressed or desperate or happy. Write a boy the same way everyone has been telling everyone, forever, to write a girl; free of gender stereotypes, three-dimensional, and relatable.
I don’t agree with how she arrives at this point; earlier in the piece she writes, “We’ve stripped boys of substance and we did it to empower girls.” But the end point, that we should have real characters in young adult fiction (come on, it should be in all fiction), is true. Nina Tanleven, Rod Albright, Alanna, pretty much every character from Harry Potter; they were real to me, and they are still real to me, because the authors put time into creating real people rather than boys and girls meant to showcase a specific quality.
This seems like a good and honest point on which to close. (You know now that I will keep writing for a while.) That maybe one reason kids aren’t reading young adult literature
But then I have to come back to myself. I believe what I’m saying, that we need “real” characters, but I also look at the types of books that are being published for young adults and I shudder. I work with students who don’t, especially the girls, have the same opportunities that their counterparts in the States have, and when I get books for them into the library I want them to be books that show them what they can do with their lives. I want to have characters who act as examples of how to behave intelligently and ambitiously and with a sense of self. I want characters who show what is what, and what is right, and who will give these kids some kind of guide posts for their own futures. But when I look back on all these statements, and then back a little further to this idea that we have “real” characters, I’m not sure what I’m arguing for; are the characters that I want for my students “real” if I want these characters only for the possibilities they can show my students – not for their complexity as characters? And it is strange or wrong that what I now want out of young adult literature, characters that will act as positive examples to my students, is so different than what I want out of adult literature, which is characters that probably are not examples of anything other than themselves?
Young adult literature aimed specifically at girls is inextricably tied up with these questions, because it’s mainly the girls I’m thinking of. But that does raise other questions, as Moskowitz notes, of the impact on reading materials for boys – and maybe impacts not just what they’re reading, but if they’re reading. Those posts are coming.
- Thursday – The Need for Strong Female Characters in YA Lit (2/3)
- Friday – Male Characters in YA Lit; Or, Boys & Reading (3/3)
 Though to get right to the point, I can’t do any of the things in those books. I will never discover a Golden Ticket or find myself owner of a chocolate factory; I will never open my medicine cabinet to discover that one of my toys has come to life; an alien spaceship will never crash land into one of my science projects. Just writing this makes me want to reread all these books.
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 Keeping in mind that I am out of the country, with irregular access to US news and with no access to the young adult section of the Philadelphia Library. (Sigh.) Anything I say on this subject is necessarily done on the theory that the people I’m reading are somewhat correct at least in their statements regarding that there is some kind of problem in young adult literature.
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