Paper vs. Bytes

Part artist, part gossip, part therapist – the hairdresser.  I’m sitting in her chair talking about . . . e-books.  She’s a veracious reader and I’m a librarian – what else are we going to talk about?

I do not have an e-reader and, at the moment, am not particularly interested in getting one.  On the other hand, I don’t have a strong reason to avoid them.  And as my hairdresser notes, she’s reading a 1000 page novel at the moment and doesn’t have to carry that weight around as she walks to work.  There are other valid reasons for owning an e-book, too, but that’s another discussion.

However, we both agree there is something about holding the book and gratification to see how far you’ve gotten.  Not to mention that you know exactly how many pages the characters have to figure everything out – a natural point of suspense that the e-reader can’t provide you with.

There’s another reason, the page itself – or rather the paper.  I recently devoured two books I thoroughly enjoyed Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin and Laviathan by Scott Westerfeld.  In both cases I found myself – quiet subconsciously – stroking the page as I held it in anticipation of turning.  Crisp, nearly pure white, weighty, smooth with clean cut edges.  I simply enjoyed holding the paper.

Juniper Berry  was the very opposite.  Rough, nearly yellow paper with the most jagged edges.  Yuck.

There is a physical experience with the paper that, or better or worse, is at the core of the book.  Smooth though the e-reader’s case may be, it will never be warmed beneath my fingertips as I take a sigh of pleasure at the turning of the page.

As I catch up on the year-end lists of “Best of” books I’ve noticed something.  The title and author are always listed, often the publisher, and sometimes the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) unique to each edition, and then occasionally the page count.  Never the byte size or download time.  In other words, when we “measure” a book we still do it in paper.  It makes me believe that the death of the printed word is still quite a ways off.

And the Award goes to . . .

Award season has begun!!  And it’s a guilty pleasure to waste my time watching the red carpet and cheering for my favorite films to win.  This year I’m rooting for The Artist, although, truth be told I didn’t see many movies in the theater.

Usually I try to jot down all the movies, TV series, or min-series that I missed during the year with the promise to myself that I will retrieve them from the library.  I lose the list every year; sometimes it does make it to my work desk but then becomes a causality to more important tasks.  This year will be different.

This year our new online catalog allows me to sit here with my laptop and place the titles on hold right away.  Of course if I do that they are all likely to arrive at the same time, and I would need to take a week’s vacation simply to watch them all.  (Actually, that’s not a bad idea.)  Better yet, the catalog has a “For Later” shelf.

I love this feature.  The “For Later Shelf” lets me grab as many items as I like from the catalog and it will remember for me that I want to read, watch, and listen.  Each time I log in the system lets me know which of these items are available right away.  It assures that every time I go to the shelves I will come away with something I’ve been looking forward to seeing.

Juniper Berry

Juniper Berry: A Tale of Terror              and Temptation by M.P. Kozlowsky

Eleven-year-old Juniper has watched as her famous parents have pulled away and become absolutely absorbed in their acting roles, forgetting their daughter and family life.  Isolated in a mansion behind gates, homeschooled and far from neighbors, Juniper decides to get to the bottom of her parents strange behavior.

When Juniper discovers a strange boy in her yard, during a rainstorm, she finally makes a friend.  What she and Giles have in common is the behavior of their parents.  Giles has tracked his parents to a tree in Juniper’s yard.  Together the children discover the root of their parents’ fame and fortune and bizarre demeanor hidden inside.

In the process, Juniper and Giles must face the temptation to make their own deepest dreams and wishes come true – all which can be granted by a strange creature with an obsession with balloons.

I would, in turns, love the poetic phrases and then be brought up short by the author’s word selection.  P. 157 “Right before Juniper’s eyes, her mother vanished.”  But the paragraph goes on to explain and contradict that statement.

The flashbacks were jarring enough to bring me out of the story and cause me to reread the passage wondering what I missed.

However, the fundamental flaw lies in the concept behind the story.  The premise is that Juniper’s parents are trading their souls for the dream of success.  It takes the love of their daughter to face the demon – a creature that lives in a tree on the grounds of a mansion which they purchased from the success of their efforts.  Why would they go looking for dream fulfillment when they were already living it?

Adding salt to this review, the production value of the print edition was not stellar.  I did not care for the ragged page edges that made it difficult to find the next page to turn.  And the paper was not pleasant to hold.

Fall Is Not Easy

Story time in autumn is always fun.  The plethora of books on trees, sweaters, school, winter preparation, pumpkins, Halloween and Thanksgiving just deepen our revelry of all that is delicious about this season. In fact, there is one picture book that I have been patiently waiting all year to share with my Kindergarteners.

Fall Is Not Easy by Marty Kelley is a deceptively simple book; yet, it really stands out from the crowd.  It is the only autumn book whose narrator is the tree.  In fact, among all the hundreds of wonderful books that feature trees only one other comes to mind where a tree has been given voice, Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. 

Kelley’s tree is not self-sacrificing like our beloved Giving Tree.  Rather, this tree is very self-centered, not unlike our young audience, or, to be fair, any of us when faced with a reoccurring event we have come to dread.

At its core, Fall is about change.  We all handle change differently and each change differently from the previous.  Fall flat-out states that change is not easy and gives us permission to detest it.  Yet, the illustrations show us something else entirely.  Change can often bring about unexpected pleasures and delights we don’t see or appreciate in the moment.  Humor can be found in change.  We may even succeed in a most astonishing way at a feat we could never have planned or even imagined for ourselves.

I’m missing even deeper metaphors I’m sure.  Your favorite library is likely the only place it can still be found, as it is thirteen years old now; and yet, it feels as crisp and taut as an autumn wind.

Sizing things up

Hanging Chads

The big question was, how do I keep the kids engaged with the reading choice and not plunge into squabbling over every title?

When I first started my book discussion Novel Thoughts (oh! those many years ago), I just couldn’t imagine spending time every month debating with the kids about what book we should read next.  It would be self indulgent to suggest only books that I liked or thought were good.  Meanwhile, if I left it solely up to the kids they could only offer suggestions of titles they have already read.  (I shudder to imagine how many times we would have “discussed” Harry Potter.)

I no long remember the eureka moment, but trust me, it was a stroke of genius.

Use democracy, dear Watson!  Every four months I create a ballot and they vote.  I get to decide what’s on the ballot – they decide what we read.  Perfect!

Except now, after more than seven years, I dread this part of the process.  I spend the better part of a day (or two) configuring a new ballot.

Here’s how it works:  each ballot is divided into four genre categories.  These change from ballot to ballot.  This time the categories are Historical Fiction, Mystery, Contemporary, and Science Fiction.  For each genre I include three titles: one with a female narrator, one a male, and then a novel that includes a mixed group of protagonists.  Each contending title includes a summary straight from our online catalog.

The kids read the summaries and vote on one title from each of the genres.

Easier said then done.  While the premise is fairly simple, finding three science fiction titles, for example, with a range of narrators that would make for good discussions can be darn right difficult.  And there’s another element I haven’t mentioned yet – page count.

In order to have a decent discussion the majority of the participants need to be able to finish the book.  And let’s face it, schoolwork needs to come first, so the book cannot be overwhelmingly long.  Publishers just don’t seem to consider this.  Nearly every science fiction title that seemed to fit all the other perimeters ended up being well over 300 pages!  I’m not alone in this struggle; see blogger Jonathan Hunt”s rant Is This Absolutely Necessary  over at the School Library Journal.

After seven years the Novel Thoughts group has discussed 88 titles!  Finding new and fresh titles, fewer than 300 pages, with enough copies to borrow from area libraries; across a range of gender interests is really a remarkable challenge.  I’m relieved that say that it only took me about 4 hours to accomplish today.  I can relax for another four months.

And the real beauty of the whole thing – no discussion!  It’s a silent ballot, a drumroll revelation and then sweet acceptance of the decision.

The Dragon of Cripple Creek

The Dragon of Cripple Creek                          by Troy Howell                                                   I recommend this for 5th-8th grade readers.

Katlin, her father and brother, Dillon, are driving west in hopes of making it to San Francisco in time for Dad to start a new job.  They were living the ideal upper class, suburban life until Katlin’s mother had an accident that has left her in a coma.  Her continuing care and mounting bills have cost Dad his job and bankrupted the family.

Katlin has a serious obsession with all things gold – gold shoes, gold jewelry, golden-haired ponies.  When she sees a road sign advertising the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine in Cripple Creek, Colorado, Katlin begs her father to stop, “Can’t we do one fun thing?”

Once on a tour of the mine, Katlin follows her obsession away from the group and falls down an old shaft.  And this is when she meets Ye, the last living dragon.   Ye is wise, experienced and enjoys a bit of witty repartee.  Kat is scared, excited (not only by all the gold lying around), and smitten with Ye.

Once Ye shows her the way out of the mine, Katlin’s mission is to keep the dragon’s existence a secret.  This is, of course, nearly impossible when her disappearance – and miraculous reappearance – are the biggest thing to hit Cripple Creek since gold was discovered in 1891.

Howell spends most of the novel exploring the aspects of keeping a dragon secret from the world and he really doesn’t miss much.  This is a solidly imagined bit of magical realism.  He wraps things up neatly and satisfied my emotional need for Kat’s family to get everything they need in the end.  On the other hand, once I met Ye, I wanted a lot more time with him!  I don’t have much to criticize but I must admit that I didn’t find the book as much fun as I had hoped.