Monday, April 23, 2012

World Book Night

April 23 is World Book Night in the U.S., the UK and Ireland. Essentially, it is a celebration and a promotion of literature that encourages people to go out into their communities and give out one of thirty designated World Book Night titles.

After applying to be a giver a couple of months ago, I picked up my box at Barnes and Noble last week. The application process allows givers to rank their top three title choices, and I ended up with my first choice (woohoo!) The Book Thief. Each giver box contained twenty copies of the giver's chosen book, to pass out ideally to people who are not big readers already.

I planned to pass out my copies at the train station in my neighborhood. It's always super busy, but I am always surprised by the few people reading.

This morning, admittedly, I started to panic a little. To do this, I would have to approach people I did not know and try to convince them that I'm not crazy quickly enough for them to take a book from me. It involved a serious level of commitment and courage that I hadn't thought through completely. The morning...was rough. On my way to work, I passed out exactly seven books on the train platform.

In all honesty, I probably only tried to pass out about twelve books during the morning. After work, I got serious. With a little more confidence, I was able to pass out twelve books with relative ease. Here are my favorite moments:

1. When I finally convinced an older woman on the train to take a book from me, at which point she opened it and started reading immediately, not taking her eyes off it until sometime after I got off the train later. "It's free? Really? Thank you!"

2. When I walked off the platform armed with only a few more books, and a woman tried to hand me this coupon for a salon. One thing that I think made it so difficult to pass out books in NY is that everyone's always handing you things you don't want--why would people think this book was any different? But today, when this girl tried to hand me a coupon, I smiled right back at her and said, "I'll trade you!" And we did.

3. To give away my last few books, I stopped at the bus stop near my apartment and said, "Excuse me, would anyone like a free book to read on the bus? It's a good book!" The very first person to answer, immediately and without hesitation, was a boy who looked somewhere around eleven or twelve. Who says kids these days don't want to read?

After my very successful afternoon of playing Santa, I had just one book left, and I knew just what to do with it.  Laundry was at the top of my to-do list this evening, and I decided I wanted to leave my last copy at my Laundromat for someone to pick up and enjoy. Rather than seek out one person in particular to give it to, I hope whoever finds it picks it up and starts reading and maybe even leaves it there when they finish, or passes it on to another person.

What a wonderfully unique and strangely rewarding experience. See you next year, World Book Night!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Land of Decoration

I love love love children's books. I love picture books, and a large chunk of my heart went out long ago to young adult fiction. It's a large part of what makes my job so wonderful. But every once in a while, I need to break up the children's books with something "for people my age," (although that sounds pretty silly, since I think I usually learn just as much reading the titles meant for a younger demographic). My most recent pick for adult novel was this lovely book:

Recently, I believe on, I saw a poll wondering how important blurbs were in a person's desire to read a book. I thought a lot about that question, and I suppose I tend to take them to be of about as high importance as the opinions of my peers. That being said, some people's opinions carry more weight than others. The blurb on the front of The Land of Decoration, from Emma Donoghue, carried a lot of weight for me and definitely influenced how quickly the book made it to the top of my to-read list.*

"This extraordinary tale...grabbed me by the throat." --Emma Donoghue, author of Room

I've blogged about my love for Room, which itself was an extraordinary tale, and I believe that post mentioned that I've read some of Emma Donoghue's other writing and also loved it. I hoped The Land of Decoration would be somehow reminiscent of Room, and I got my wish.

I almost always enjoy narratives written from a child's perspective, especially those that are done well. Grace McCleen was very successful in writing this simple, unique story from ten-year-old Judith McPherson's point of view. At times, I felt that perhaps the voice was a little old for a ten-year-old, but Grace always justified the voice and tone by reminding me that Judith was old for year years. As she delved deeper and deeper into Judith's troubles at school and in the community thanks to her strict religious upbringing in preparation for Armageddon, entering Judith's world became simultaneously easier and all the more imperative. The book was an elegantly crafted story of a young girl's innocence and naivety, as well as her relationship with her father, alongside her struggle to understand all that comes along with growing up and finding oneself. It's been a long time since I read something like this, and as soon as I was completely absorbed, I could not put it down.

*The arrangement of my to-read list, in case anyone is curious, can range from very structured to incredibly haphazard. Books often jump ahead of one another with no rhyme or reason, while others finally make it to the top after a long battle and daily reminders of the fact that they're classics and demand to be read.

Like Meeting the Queen

I think I can die happy. This past Tuesday, I came face to face -- and even exchanged words with -- the Julie Andrews.

Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton were at Books of Wonder on April 17 to sign their latest Very Fairy Princess book and so of course, it was imperative that I be there. In the last two hours of my work day, I could hardly sit still knowing that Julie Andrews -- Maria von Trapp, Mary Poppins, Grandmère and the Queen of Genovia herself -- was sitting just five blocks away from me. 

My goodness she was wonderful. When I finally got off work, I raced to the bookstore, quickly bought my book and received my number, and anxiously browsed the shelves as I waited for my number to be called. 

Finally, #136 was called, and I got in line with several others, including several women near tears with sheer anticipation of meeting one of the most iconic women in the country (is it safe to say world?). I did not cry, but I did shake for at least an hour following the signing. 

Need I say more? Oh yeah, the book is really cute, too.

Dystopia, Dystopia

I took a trip to Boston last weekend with some friends and spent the entire time realizing over and over again how happy I am with how things are going in my life. In fact, one of the only things that could have made this weekend better would have been the ability to clone myself so as to attend Lauren Oliver's Pandemonium signing at Books of Wonder. The trip was so amazing that it was totally worth it, but I was sad to miss out nonetheless.

Last week, I read my first Lauren Oliver novel, Delirium. The concept intrigued me from the very first page: love is a disease.

I thought this futuristic, dystopian YA novel was well executed, despite some small world-building issues, and I am definitely invested enough to pick up Pandemonium, the second book in the series, sometime soon.

What I really can't wait for is the release of Insurgent, Veronica Roth's followup to Divergent, which I also read last week.

As my roommate set this novel down in my room, she said, "Here. it."

Tough claim. Im not so good with letting things live up to the hype. When Napoleon Dynamite came out in high school, and everyone was walking around quoting it almost daily, I believe it took me until an entire year later to even see it...and even then, I wasn't a fan. I just couldn't find it funny after everyone had made such a big deal out of all the jokes. Divergent spent many many weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and if that weren't enough it's also one of my roommate's favorites. But somehow, it still held up to the hype. The characters were very well built, and the world was very well-built (or in this case, more like well-rearranged). I specifically appreciated that the novel was set in Chicago rather than New York as so many dystopian novels are these days. Of course, the novel wasn't flawless, and I thought the ending was a little rushed, but then again, when I'm excited and intrigued by the plot, I tend to rush my reading of the ending as well. 

On May 1, Veronica Roth is signing her second book, Insurgent, at the Tribeca B&N, and I can't wait to be there. Since I am sometimes the luckiest little reader you ever did meet, I've already got my hands on Insurgent and am flying through it, but you can bet I'll be there with bells on to meet Veronica and see what she has to say about it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


This book has been getting a ton of press and has advertisements everywhere--effective ones, to be honest, since last week I finally couldn't take it anymore and stopped at B&N for it on my way home from work. Wonder by R.J. Palacio reminded me a bit of Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper in one major way (and other than in that way, really not at all). It wasn't that exactly the fact that August, the main character, had a disease that made his lifestyle different than others, like Kate's in My Sister's Keeper. It was that while both books did feature a kid with a different lifestyle due to one medical reason or another, neither book was really about that. August was born with a genetic disorder resulting in a craniofacial abnormality--something that in describing this book before reading it I called a deformity but that now I cannot bring myself to (the idea that Auggie wouldn't like it nags at me, although I'm sure he would no less prefer "abnormality"). But the book wasn't about that...or it was about his difference only so much as we the audience noticed it along with everyone else around him. Really, it was about a kid in middle school, and all the drama that always goes along with that. Oh yeah, and some great friends he made along the way.

When I read about this book, I expected it to be young adult (so you can imagine my frustration wandering around the bookstore), but it's actually middle grade. It makes perfect sense that this book about a fifth grader would be aimed at ages eight and up, but I don't think I had quite enough time to process the implications of this being a middle grade novel between finding out and actually starting to read it. That being said, one of the only things I did not love about this book was the neat little package I was left with at the end. It's not that I don't want  my beloved characters to end up happy, but I do love books that mirror reality, no matter how complicated or awful it might be. It's why I love a spot on young adult novel, and it's what I knew this novel couldn't do.

Now a few things I did love about it. The voice, or voices rather, was spot on. Each of the many first person sections was unique and appropriate for the age the author represented in the passage. In fact, one of my favorite parts was a series of emails among parents at August's school, in which the tone drastically, age-appropriately shifted from a young person's voice to an adult's. With that, I also loved that Auggie's fifth grade voice never sounded too childlike, or worse, unintelligent. Often I feel that in attempting to act as a child, adult authors tend not to give them enough credit, but that was certainly not the case here. 

All things considered, I liked this book very much, and since i could not seem to put it down, I finished it in about twenty-four hours but have been thinking about it for several days since.