Let’s Discuss! Book Club for Non-Readers

So, the titles for February were Ready Player One and Darwin Elevator. Science Fiction. I hope you liked your choice.

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I love both of these titles soooo much and I chose them because they are so visual – they both read like movies. Either could be a movie. In fact, Ready Player One has already been optioned. Darwin Elevator is such an action adventure story I can’t help but imagine it on a big screen.

What were your impressions about the book?

Did you know the difference between fantasy and science fiction? Science fiction is based on reality – I mean, real world stuff. Natural laws apply. So while Star Trek can take place in the future, they still have to deal with gravity and propulsion in a real world way. There can be aliens, but their existence still has to follow natural laws.

Fantasy can include magic beans, talking dogs and doesn’t have to adhere to the laws of physics. People can fly, shapeshift or live in pickle jars and it’s all “normal”.

If you read Darwin Elevator, did you know anything about space elevators before you read the book? I did not and now I’m completely fascinated by the idea. I mean, how does a cable stretch all the way into space and have the strength to ferry up capsules to the top?

Ready Player One offers up such a dim view of our future – out of fossil fuels, humans completely checked out in favor of virtual lives, the real world run by evil conglomerates. It’s not too hard to conceive, is it? I’m not a gamer at all, but I was really attracted to the idea of living in the virtual world of my choice like a “living” Sim. Personally, I’d pick a world that was Kardashien free. Like, so free no one carrying their DNA could access it. Aaah! Sweet freedom!

If you found the books difficult to read, what was it that made it so? Was it the jargon? Sometimes that gets me, too. Ive given myself permission to skip over those bits if I start to get bored with it. Most times it doesn’t effect the story, but if it does I can also pop back a few pages for clarification.

Leave your impressions in the comments!

March features my favorite format: epistolary. We’ll talk more about that next week!

 

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BCN – January Reading Questions

Hello! Here it is already the last day of January. We are 1/12 into the new year! It still feels like Christmas was yesterday and that probably has nothing to do with the boxed decorations that are still sitting in the living room floor.

I want to keep the questions for the Book Club for Non-Readers short and simple. It’s not supposed to be school, it’s supposed to be fun. Let’s get to then, shall we?

  1. Did you enjoy the book? Why or why not?
  2. Both titles have been challenged* for different reasons listed in earlier posts. In your reading do you think the challenge was justified or not?
  3. The books are autobiographical. What did you learn about the author that was surprising?
  4. Do you feel any part of the story could have been left out? If so, do you think leaving out that part of the story would have changed the recommendation to ban the book?
  5. Did the book give you any new perspectives on life?

See? Simple and painless. The BCN isn’t one of those book clubs that makes you compare the literature to Proust or the Crimean War. These are questions you should get in the habit of asking yourself when you finish a book you enjoyed.

Another habit I’ve just started getting into is writing the significant quotes down. I don’t know to what end, but sometimes I enjoy reading a particular sentence so much, or it is so meaningful, that I don’t want to forget it.

Here’s what I captured from The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian:

So hunger is the not the worst thing about being poor.

He goes on to say tell the story of his sick dog, his best friend, and how the family doesn’t have any money to take him to the vet.

“Who has the most hope?” I asked.
Mom and Dad looked at each other. They studied each others eyes, you know, like they had antennas and were sending radio signals to each other. And then they both looked back at me.”Come on,” I said. “Who has the most hope?”
“White people,” my parents said at the same time.

The idea that hope is thing that can be measured is one thing. That is belongs, in the overwhelming majority to white people, is another thing. It gives perspective to this story so easily. And when you relate it to the earlier story about the dog, you can see how the pervasive lack of hope has woven its way through the generations of the Indians on this reservation.

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I’m looking forward to next month’s science fiction theme – two of my favorite titles are up: Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

BCN – Banned Books!

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 3.19.10 PMSo, the way I decided to do this is not like an assignment or anything. Reading is supposed to be fun. At the end of the month I will just post some questions that you can think about and apply to the book you just read.

I do want to say that I really enjoyed The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. There is a movie adaptation of one of his books, Smoke Signals, that I saw several years ago and quite liked. I also found myself a bit puzzled as to why the book was challenged. According to the ALA (American Library Association) the book is frequently challenged:

Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”

As the book is semi-autobiographical I find this odd on several levels. The “depiction of bullying” is harsh, yes, but it is also something a lot of kids can relate to. In school you are frequently the bullied, the bully-er, the one who ignores the bullying or the one who tries to stop it. Most kids will move through at least two of these phases throughout their school years. The hero of our book is the bullied. To discount a person’s story as “unsuited for age group” not only dismisses the author, but also dismisses the redemption of the story.

The claims of cultural insensitivity and anti-family are statements about the narrator’s adjustment to his life off reservation and how they compare to his life on res. He talks about how Indians have been treated in the past and he also talks about how Indian’s see white people. I thought it was very appropriate. To distance yourself from this story because of those reasons is a bit ludicrous. If you don’t let your children read and experience injustice, how will they learn to fight it and how will they learn what it is like to be “other”? How will they learn to be compassionate?

The anti-family bit is just straight out ridiculous. The narrator has a wonderfully supportive family. Their existence is harsh and there is definitely a lot of grave reality that he has to deal with but at the core, his family cares for him as best they can. His best friend, however, lives in an abusive home. Some kids do, you know. Just because a character lives in an “anti-family” household doesn’t mean that the book is anti-family. If I recall, the same statement was said about the Harry Potter books.

I believe one of the reasons a lot of people don’t read is because what they were assigned as children was woefully lacking in self-identification. It’s hard to get excited about reading if every book tells the story of happy, well-adjusted children who go on to do great things. If you’re a kid who is living in foster care because your mother is a drug-addict and you have changed schools 4 times in a year is reading about some girl who finds out she’s a princess going to be something you really relate to? Not to exclude the great escapism that is reading, but sometimes you just want a little proof that you exist; that you are seen. And if you’re black or Indian or Chinese or Hawaiian or Welsh or Greek – whatever – you can grow weary of reading about white Americans all the time. Books help us explore other cultures. We can see what is different and what is the same about us. Books help us grow.

Ugh. I totally didn’t want to get on my soapbox now. This is what happens when you’re passionate about something – you want to share it with others. Like, in a big way. Sorry. You’ll get used to it. 🙂

Anyway, please check back on the 30th for a list of the questions for both books. I hope you enjoyed the read!

Best Book I Read in 2015

This book wrecked me. I usually like to start the new year with the best book I read in the previous year. I’m done. Nothing I will read in the few month remaining in 2015 will rock my world as much as Pointe by Brandy Colbert. It’s one of those books that makes you feel like whatever kind of writing you do, that you should just stop because nothing you write will be that good. It’s the type of book that, when people disagree with you about the amazingness of the story, makes you wonder if you were even reading the same book. It’s the kind of book that wakes you up in the middle of the night because you’re worried about the characters. EVEN AFTER YOU FINISH THE BOOK.

It’s a total fluke how I found out about this book, too! I had gone to the LA Festival of Books at USC in the spring which was a terrible good load of fun – I highly recommend going if you have the chance. Anyway, I had gone to the Young Adult Fiction: Outside the Margins panel with authors Anthony Breznican, Jo Knowles, Sarah Tomp and Andrea Portes. It was a ridiculously hot day and we were sitting in the direct sun on those little white plastic chairs on the grass lawn. We had tried for the little bit of temporary shade. I think we had been hoping to move to the left as the sun moved so we could remain in the shade. But hopes were dashed as a woman came just after the panel had started and sat beside us. The 3 of us had the market on shade for all of about 5 minutes.

The panel was interesting. The authors were pretty candid about writing YA, but not the typical YA. These heroes and heroines were broken and daring and weird and fearless and real. Anthony Breznican was discussing this genre of YA where the characters are facing genuine peril, that the situations they’re in are real, adult and dangerous with permanent consequences. They are kids in circumstances that would make headline news. Breznican’s book seems a little too real for me – I had that moment of wanting to read/not wanting to read his book that tells me I will eventually read it. I think the question he answered was something about the violence or tragedy of his storyline and how he came to write the book from experiences in his Pennsylvania hometown. He said something to the effect of just because a story has no violence, doesn’t hinder it from being a violent story – I’m totally paraphrasing here. Then he pointed in the audience saying that Brandy Colbert had written a devastating novel without a hint of physical violence. He was pointing at the woman sitting next to me.

I’m not gonna lie, the fact that this young black woman with her shoulder length dreadlocks was getting props from a man on the panel for writing an incredible book completely sold me on Pointe more than the other novelists’ books (which I will still read!) I’m more likely to read recommended books if I know nothing about the storyline. “This is the best book ever!” will capture my interest faster than “This is the best book ever because the heroine fights this evil dragon and her sister is a sorcerer who wants to tame the dragon and then they end up on opposite sides of a war!” I guess because when you give me the details I usually tend to guess most of the story. Or at least the ending.

So first you have a black female lead character. She’s upper middle class, goes to a nice private school and has her eye on becoming a principal ballerina for a big dance company. Already the story is bucking the norm. She’s managed to overcome anorexia and is getting on with her life despite the fact her best friend and neighbor was kidnapped. It’s a complex story with a twist. I thought I knew what it was going to be about, how it was going to end and how it was going to resolve but it didn’t go where I wanted it go. It went somewhere way better.

The supporting characters are interesting and not entirely likeable 100% of the time. That only makes them more real to me. Theo’s relationship with her friends is good. Her budding romance with Hosea is rocky and tense. Her actions and her really bad decisions make sense with her backstory – I love that. Consistency of character is an important thing for me. Sometimes characters in books do things only because the plot demands it. Theo’s storyline is strong, well-crafted and beautifully consistent. I’m trying very hard not to include any spoilers, so let’s just say that the cause and the effect are very clear and thought provoking.

It’s definitely the sort of book I would have loved as a teen. The YA stories of my youth were largely about middle class white girls who had a crush or a bad teacher. If I managed to find a story with a black female she was usually struggling in the ghetto and wondering if her family would survive. It’s probably the reason I ended up reading a lot of fantasy.

Colbert has a new book in the works for 2017 that looks interesting. I’m hoping she does a continuation of Pointe. I’d really like to spend some more time with these characters. I would like to think that this book could become recommended reading for freshmen and up because it offers great discussion topics without being preachy and judgmental. However, I think the casual (but not gratuitous) drug use and sex will turn off the prudish.

If you’ve read it, please let me know what you think!