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.