Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Post about Young Adult Fiction

This is a post that has been in the works for months, I now realize.  Over these few blogging months, I've occasionally made reference to the fact that I don't exactly love young adult fiction.  I finally decied that it would be a good idea to write a whole post devoted to my thoughts on young adult writing.

So first of all, what is Young Adult writing?  The YA label gets thrown around a lot.  There's a YA section in the library, and YA writers are a huge category, "Young-adult fiction or young adult literature (often termed as "YA"),[1] is fiction written, published, or marketed to adolescents and young adults, although recent studies show that 45% of young-adult fiction is purchased by readers under 18 years of age. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen," says Wikipedia.  I found this to be very useful information.  

So there you have the basic explanation.  Here are some of my observations about Young Adult stuff.  First of all, it's a fairly recent invention.  It's been argued that books like Little Women and Tom Sawyer were seen as the YA fiction of their time.  However, I disagree.  Little Women and Tom Sawyer are books for all ages, books that can span all kinds of time and space and have the ability to charm a 7 year old or a 40 year old.  And here's the other thing: They were written about a certain age, they weren't written for a certain viewpoint and age.  In the 80s, books written specifically for an age span of about 6 years started to crop up.  Today you can't spit without hitting a young adult book.

My second problem with the whole young adult fiction category is that a lot of it is really poorly written.  There seem to be two genres:  the entirely too mature romance fiction with ridiculously improbable situations that set girls, particularly, ridiculous expectations.  Then there's the vampire, slashing, killing, also with a side of romance, equally improbable.  Expecting teens to read just these two genres for 6 whole years is quite strange, if you think about it.  Would we ever say, "Ok, the 40-47 year olds should read mysteries.  All novels for 40-47 year olds are going to be mysteries."  Of course not!  There would be a mass rebellion!  

Third, nobody likes to be talked down to.  In the few rare times that I have picked up a young adult book, there is this condescending tone of, "See?  I can write just like you silly little youngsters talk."  Okay, so that's an extreme exaggeration, but there is a definite tone that you get from reading these books that indicates that the author finds his/her audience slightly below him/her.  

And finally, I can see the value of teenagers moving up to adult fiction at some point.  When I was about 13, I remember going to my mom and asking if I could browse in the adult section in the library.  I was thoroughly bored with the children's section and that just felt like the next step.  There was awhile there where she would glance over the books before I checked out.  I discovered a lot of wonderful authors that I still enjoy today.  I think it's a shame to get stuck in this weird middle ground and miss out on some authors that can be enjoyed by younger ages.  

Now this isn't to say that I don't approve of any middle-grade writing.  There has to be something between the adult section and the very earliest of chapter books for early elementary.  That's where good books like Little Women and Tom Sawyer come in-books that are meaningful, well-written, and fun.  

There are also good Young Adult books.  The whole genre is not trash and I don't want to be too quick to throw away the whole thing.  I have picked up Young Adult things on occasion that are well written and meaningful and fun to read and are written in an interesting, non-condescending tone.  I just recently reviewed Code Name Verity, a new-ish young adult book that was very good, although dark. 

I'd love to hear what all of you think about this (and feel free to disagree with me) in the comments.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Top-Ten-Tuesday, Top Ten Authors I Own the Most Books From

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup hosted by The Broke and Bookish.

This week, The Broke and Bookish is asking everybody for their top-ten authors that we own the most books from.  This was an easy list to make, as all you have to do is count.  I was actually surprised by some of the books that I own the most of

1.  Louisa May Alcott-11

2.  L.M. Montgomery-14

3.  J.K. Rowling- 8

4.  Mary Stewart-13

5.  Georgette Heyer-14

6.  P.G. Wodehouse-7

7.  Jane Austen-7

8.  Shakespeare-All (or most) of his plays...does that count as books?  Anyway, that makes 36.

9.  Mark Twain-12

10.  Charles Dickens- 10

So that's my list!  After making this, I realize that most of the authors that I have lots of are authors of classics.  Huh!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Code Name Verity

For some reason, it's taken me forever to write this post.  It's not like I couldn't think of things to say, I just kept forgetting about it.  Anyway, here is the post.

Code Name Verity is about a young spy, "Verity", who is captured by the Gestapo in 1943.  She is given the option to reveal her mission or die a horrible, torturous death.  Verity chooses the first option and is given paper and pencils to write out her mission.  As Verity writes out her story, she weaves in the story of how she met her friend, a pilot named Maddie, who flew the plane she was in when it wrecked.  Verity writes with a desperate passion that comes through beautifully.

So here were the things I liked about the novel:

  • It is seriously the most well-written YA novel I have ever read.  I have mentioned before that I usually scoff at young adult fiction.  In my opinion, it's usually poorly written and shallow and very formulaic (sorry, young adult readers).  However, Code Name Verity defies every one of these stereotypes and manages to produce a gripping, moving, nail-biting book.  
  • The German characters are thrillingly evil.  They are bad, bad, bad, but believably bad.
  • This beautiful story of a friendship.  Maddie and Verity have a close friendship that is beautifully portrayed, simply through a confessional.
Okay, and here was the problem:
  • I didn't finish the book.  I know, I know (blush).  I read about halfway through and the extreme brutality (I won't go into details for those who haven't read the book) just was too much.  I don't usually like brutality in books and I would have stopped a lot sooner in a less well-written book.   But, see, I couldn't stop.  However, it finally got to be too much.  I just couldn't handle it and I shut the book.  I wouldn't say that I'll never finish it, but for now, I need a break and I'm going on to something lighter.  There will probably be a point where I'll be in the mood for a deep thrill and I'll wade through the gory brutality to find out the ending, but for now it's put away.  
So now I want to hear anybody's thoughts on this book.   Did you like it?  Was it too much?  I can't wait to hear about it.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Katniss Dress, Part 3-Finished!

Part One
Part Two
Yes, my readers, the Katniss Dress is finished!  After cussing and ripping out a zipper 3 (3!) times and measuring and cutting and sewing some more, I finally have it finished.  I am pleased as punch.  I can't explain how gratifying it is to be able to see something you like and produce very similar results.   Here are pictures of how the dress turned out.  Thank you to Aden for taking such nice pictures of both this dress and my draft dress.

The rough drawing I did that started this whole project.

And that's the Katniss dress, everybody!  It was a long journey from a picture to this dress and I'm so pleased with the results.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Evelina by Fanny Burney

This book was a lot of fun to read.  Surprisingly, it was a very easy book to get into and strangely light. So I'm going to give my reflections on this book in a slightly different style than I usually do:

Evelina, written in the 1700s, is about a young girl with a rather sad past that is kind of too complicated to explain.  To make a long story short, Evelina's mother was disowned by her rich husband, she was heartbroken, died, and left her baby Evelina in the care of a guardian, Mr. Villars.  When Evelina reaches 16 (I think that was the age), she goes to do some broadening travel under the care of the matronly Lady Howard.  She has all kinds of adventures along the way, most of them of the romantic sort, and eventually ends up with the guy who we knew was the hero from page 20 on.  That's a gross oversimplification and the story was really very well-written.  I had fun reading it and Fanny Burney did an excellent job.

And now for my reflections:

  • Evelina is a very interesting heroine to me.  We are so used to the spunky, can-do-anything, strong-willed heroine in our modern fiction and movies (and, really, it's not a new innovation...think of Lizzie Bennet).  In contrast, Evelina's most used descriptor is 'angelic'.  She is described as this gorgeous, faultless, innocent creature who charms and thrills everyone who she comes into contact with.  Surprisingly, this didn't drive me crazy, I think because I don't read about a lot of heroines like this.  And luckily, Evelina did have personality beyond her perfectness, which definitely helped.
  • In spite of my toleration of Evelina's perfection, I am annoyed by how overlooked Maria, her best friend, is.  Maria appears to exist simply to give Evelina somebody to talk to while she isn't dancing with countless suitors and to provide transportation for Evelina in the form of her mother's carriage.  Maria deserves her own personality and a few of her own suitors, bless her heart.
  • This book is supposed to be satirical.  I was surprised that I picked up some of it, such as the jabs made at the ridiculous head-gear of the time.  However, I am sure that there is stuff that I am missing. Of course there are the extensive footnotes, but it gets exhausting flipping back and forth.  
  • I am sometimes mortified for Evelina because of her naiveté and slips simply to lack of understanding.  Eeek!  *Cringe*  Evelina is supposed to be a simple country girl with a definite lack in refinement and this shows in many of her interactions in the first half of the book.
  • Okay, now for the hero analysis.  What is it with heroes?!  They are either stiffly, perfectly perfect, an absolute gentleman, and spinlessly bland, or the racy bad-boy portrayed in so much of fiction starting in the late 1950s.  Lord Orville, the hero, falls into the former category.   I'm calling for a hero reform.  We need heroes that are fully human, of course still attractive and mannerly, yet faulted, like all of us.  Heroes deserve rounding out, just like all characters do.  No wait, there are some human heroes.  The most famous one is Darcy, but I know there are others, just let me think...
  • The book's epistolary form is very enjoyable to read.  I felt just like I was looking over Evelina's shoulder as she wrote her letters to her beloved guardian.  Writing an epistolary book is a fine line to walk and I have to hand it to Fanny Burney, she did a very good job.
  • And finally, I loved this book.  If you are in need of a good summer classic, this is the one to choose.  I sped through it in just a couple days and was on to other things.  It's not preachy or dry and it's fun to read.  I highly recommend it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Musings, Through Photos

Sometimes I get the incredible urge to take my camera with me wherever I go.  After much rigamarole that involved charging mishaps and dying batteries, I finally have a functioning camera that can go with me wherever I want.  This afternoon, after a busy, project-filled morning, I took the camera out with me for a stroll.  I am always amazed at how I notice and appreciate everyday beauty around me when I'm taking pictures.  Here's what I saw:

The wildflowers are still growing along.

I arranged some little jello molds around a big one.  I found
the whole thing quite charming.

A perfect sky with a full wash line in the distance.  Ah...

Congregated around the waterer.

A gorgeous lily.  I wish I could have a scratch-n-sniff thing so
you all could smell it.  It's heavenly.

This might be my favorite picture of the season.  It's so pastoral,
it almost feels fake.
Off to sit on the porch and watch lightning bugs and read Evelina, which I am enjoying very much.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wretched Writing

This book was so. funny.  I laughed my head off and then read aloud large portions of it.  This was one of those infectious books that makes you want to read it aloud to everybody you walk past.   My poor family very kindly listened to long sections of this book.

Basically, Wretched Writing is a compendium of terrible writing in both old fiction (Little Women) and new (an article in the New York Times).  The point of the book is the acknowledgement that lots of people write terribly at times and the various ways they can screw up their writing. There are long paragraphs of run-on sentences and sentences where you have to wade through the knee-deep adjectives to get to the verbs and nouns and sentences so flowery and bad metaphor-filled that the reader is blushing for the author.

But among all of the various writing mishaps, my favorite is the dangling modifier.  Oh dear.  Whenever I read a string of those, I end up laughing my fool head off.  If you don't know what a dangling modifier is, here's an example, drawn from a random website:

"While driving on Greenwood Avenue yesterday afternoon, a tree began to fall toward Wendy H's car."  (Credit:
See the problem with this?  But you have to admit, it's a pretty funny picture.  This isn't the funniest I've seen.  There was one from the book that said, "Spreading a silk handkerchief on her lap to wipe the drips of the cantaloupe, she began to chew thoughtfully on it."  Hee!

My one complaint about this book would the the vulgarity of some of the examples.  I just skipped over some of them and read some of them and rolled my eyes, but the vulgarity is really not necessary.  Although maybe I've found a correlation…vulgar authors are terrible writers…?

In spite of this minor complaint, I would recommend this book.  It's funny and a perfect read for a stickily hot summer day.  I really enjoyed it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday- Top Ten Characters I Would Want With Me On a Desert Island

(Top Ten Tuesday is a Weekly Meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish)

The category for this Tuesday's Top Ten Tuesday is the ten characters I would want with me on a desert island.  Whew!  I made a list and then crossed out people and then added more and crossed out some more.  I at first went with just people I like, but then decided on being more practical and choosing people who would actually be helpful, since I like the majority of the characters I read about. I finally have my list here:

1.  Robinson Crusoe, because, duh, he already survived an island.

2.  One of the sisters from The Poisonwood Bible.  They survived incredible difficulties in Africa, along with all kinds of other things.  Besides, I want to ask them questions.

3. Either Harry or Hermione from The Harry Potter Series.  Magic would be so very useful on this island.

4.  Eliza Birdwell from A Friendly Persuasion, for her no-nonsense, get-the-job-done attitude.

5.  Pi Patel from The Life of Pi-Another extremely useful person.

6.  Laura Ingalls Wilder-A strong, pioneering woman.  Not fictional, but still...

7.  Jeeves, from Jeeves and Wooster- I would put him in charge of the domestic side of things.

8. Janice Holt Giles, in her memoir, 40 Acres and No Mule-Another resourceful, pioneering sort.  (I know, this is kind of cheating)

9. Somebody from The Swiss Family Robinson-Again, for the obvious reasons.

10.  Elnora Comstock, from A Girl of the Limberlost-The girl lived in a swamp, so I'll leave any stray alligators to her.

And that's my list!  I had a surprising amount of fun writing this.  I must say, I'm quite grateful that I don't have to round up all these people in real life.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Homemade Pantry

Whew, readers!  I've been on a cooking streak the past few days!  One of the recipes on the docket for today was a whole bunch of flour tortillas.  Here's the wonderful cookbook that holds this recipe and many more:

The main premise of Homemade Pantry is that most convenience foods that we think of as being strictly store bought (eg. cheese crackers, breakfast cereal, graham crackers) are actually worth making at home from scratch.  It's a fairly generally acknowledged thought that homemade is always better, so why not extend that idea to our everyday boxed food?

I knew about a lot of the recipes.  For instance, I've been making granola forever.  It's no surprise to me that you don't have to eat store bought cornflakes for breakfast.  However, the recipes are so delicious and, at least in all the recipes I've tried, are fail-proof.  There's everything from the perfect pie crust to potato chips to homemade poptarts (pictured above).  The recipes are explained in careful (sometimes too careful) detail.  The author, Alana Chernila, is clearly working to make this cookbook accessible to readers that are not accustomed to working in the kitchen.

The book is laid out in a new and charming way.  There are 11 chapters, each labeled with an "aisle", like in a grocery store.  So there's aisle 1 with the dairy products and aisle 2 with the cereals and snacks.  If you're trying to find a good snack food, just turn to aisle 2 for some recipes for granola bars, cheese crackers, or beef jerky.  The other interesting thing about this book is the way that the recipes are presented.  Each recipe is preface by a little reflection by Chernila that ties into the recipe in some way.  Actually, they remind me of little blog posts, which is not surprising as she is also a blogger.  It gives the reader the distinct impression that she is reading in on a journal.

Aside from the great recipes and the gorgeous photographs (I so admire food photographers), the writing is eloquent and skilled.  No awkward, unwieldy sentences that desperately try and fail to explain something.  No bad grammar (thank you, editors) or tangled-up-mumbo-jumbo wording that ends up making less than no sense.  It's a pleasure just to sit down and read this book like a novel.

If you're not a cook already, then it probably wouldn't make a lot of sense to get this book.  However, if you have ever had any interest in cooking or preserving, then this is a must-read.  I really enjoyed it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Just a Picture

...Nothing much here for you today.  Just a some pictures of my little Yorkshire Terrier.  I was reading through my blog archives just for fun (does anybody else do that?) and I realized that I have cat pictures up the wazoo, but no Andy pictures.  So here are some for you (just to clarify, these were taken in the winter, which explains sleeping on the hearth and the sweater)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Library Loot- 7/19/2014

From the Captive Reader, "Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library."

I finally have a Library Loot post together!  After missing one and then writing a post for one and forgetting about it, here is my post.  I haven't been doing a ton of library reading, just because of a busy summer, but I still manage to have a nice little pile at all times.  So here's my list:

Code Name Verity-Yes, this is on my list again.  But it's first in line, once I finish just one more book.

The Elusive Pimpernel- You know the book The Scarlet Pimpernel that everybody reads?  I read it a couple years back and really enjoyed it.  I just recently discovered that there is a whole series of books about the Scarlet Pimpernel.  I was pleased that my library has some of the books!

Evelina by Fanny Burney- This is one of those books that has floated in and out of my request list and in and out of the house, but I have a firm grip on it this time and it's not leaving until I finish it!

Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson- Shirley Jackson, the well known dark-bordering-on-horror short story writer, also wrote this very funny memoir about raising her children.  The reviews on Good Reads all said that this book was fantastic.  I am really looking forward to reading this!

Wretched Writing by Ross Petras and Kathryn Petras- Just a funny book, filled with examples of horrible writing.  Is started it last night and sat on the couch, laughing my head off.

So that's my smallish Library Loot for the week!

Friday, July 18, 2014

She Got Up Off the Couch

I loved this book just as much as I did the first.  You know those books that you try to savor by reading each and every word, gently caressing each page as you turn it and seeing how long you can possibly read it?  This was one of those rare gems.

This memoir by Haven Kimmel is told with particular attention to Zippy's mother, a formerly deeply depressed woman who spent her life on the couch with pork rinds and science fiction.  Her mother, Delonda, finally gets off the couch and gets a degree in English, before becoming an English professor herself.  There are still the occasional mentions of Zippy's father, who was a star character in the first book, but Zippy's mother is the main focus of the book.

She Got Up Off the Couch is written with the same child's voice that Kimmel used in the first book.  I think that brilliant style of writing is even more apparent as you can hear Zippy's voice change as she grows up.  The tone is still that unmistakable child interpreting events voice, but the tone is different from the first books.  There is a new awareness.  Kimmel mentions realizing that, oh yeah, she only ever got a bath when she was at her friends' houses and the dawning realization that not everybody lives in a tenement house and has a gambling father.

The book's tone has a slightly more serious, growing-up tone to it, but it is still laugh-out-loud funny in many parts.  The same uproarious games with friends, colorful characters in the small town, and strange-but-true events are present here that were in the first one.

When you pick up a sequel to an adored book, there's always this fear that the second one won't quite match up to the first, that nothing can even try to compete.  But Haven Kimmel has created a second book as memorable as her first.  Please, please, please go and buy this book and read it and then come back and tell me I was right.

(I'm adding the amazon associates link this week because this is a book that I really, really think everybody should read this.)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Katniss Dress, Pt. 2

(Here's Part 1 of this series of posts)

Well, after much deliberation and backing and forthing, I chose my rough draft fabric: a pretty 1940s reproduction print on some cheap quilting cotton.  I happily reached for the pattern that I had mentioned I was planning to use, but then I stopped.  The dress just wasn't quite right.  It wasn't supposed to blouse at the waist, the shoulders would be dropping off my shoulders, and I didn't want that collar.  I realized that the only design element that I wanted was the gathered shoulders. I realized that the reaping dress that Katniss wears is a 1940s inspired dress, not late 70s, and that was why the dress pattern looked so wrong.  So I went back to google and searched '1940s dresses, ruched shoulders" and came up with tons of dress patterns that looked just like the Katniss reaping dress.  I ran up to the sewing room and did a lot of digging through patterns and came up with two patterns that I decided to combine to make one very Katniss-ey looking dress.

And here are the results!  The fabric I did my practice run in is a floral print, so the shoulder gathers and the way the waist is fitted don't show up very well, but they will in the real fabric, which is solid blue.  It's also quilting cotton, which tends to be stiffer, so it isn't quite as swishy as it will be in the final dress.

I used this bodice and front tie, minus the scalloped edge.  I just drew
a curved line around the scallops on the pattern.

I used this skirt and sleeves.

And here are the pictures of this lovely dress.  Yippee!

*Thanks to Aden for the pictures of the dress!*