You know what we need? Marxist YA Lit. I’m on it.

So this week’s topic is… “Conspicuous Consumption and Teen Markets” (dum dum DUUUM). This is like double weird timeliness, what with the Occupy movement appearing to be on its last legs and – oh, the irony – the Christmas consumergasm/shopping orgy beginning to strike us all with the temporary insanity of a European soccer riot. As I consider this thorny issue, I feel like I ought to be wearing the Guy Fawkes mask my idiot brother bought before the 99% made him their poorly-reasoned poster boy (Guy Fawkes, I mean, not my idiot brother).

Anyway. The Glenn article was an excellent examination of this trend of conspicuous consumption in YA literature. I haven’t read any of the books she analyzes, but I’m familiar with the titles and the general ‘plot.’  And, frankly, the phrase “ethically and morally bankrupt” made me want to read them just to see if they’re as terrible as they seem to be (I’m sure they’re worse). (Digression: the publishers should probably emblazon that phrase across the covers of the books: ETHICALLY AND MORALLY BANKRUPT!!! There would be a huge bump in sales, I’m sure.)

And how delightful was it to analyze YA texts using a Marxist critical framework? Very very delightful. Of course, it would be even more awesome if we were to analyze YA texts from the perspective of this Marx (my favourite Marx – oh, there’s a book title for you). Glenn discusses problematic issues of entitlement, disparity of class and race, empty relationships, and conspicuous consumption (which sounds eerily like my family reunion) in three YA series: Gossip Girl, The A-List, and The Insiders. I especially liked her thoughts on encouraging and developing audience resistance: “Literacy is empowering only if one is a critical reader—one that analyzes,  questions, and critically evaluates that which is being read […] [T]hese texts provide the ideal opportunity to engage adolescents in discussions that encourage the development of a critical stance” (p. 40). I agree wholeheartedly. These books, with their atrocious writing and, worse, insidious messages of elitism, privilege, and conformity, should not be banned. Their flaws become, in fact, valuable – as tools for not only raising discerning readers, but for developing critical thinking and for encouraging YA readers to ask questions extending beyond the craptastic novel in their hands.

HEAVY!

So Glenn suggests teachers call attention to the stereotypes and elitism in these books and create a dialogue. I loved the idea of reading books like  The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men to compare and contrast the treatment of these economic and social issues (although I’m sure comparing their works to Gossip Girl would have Fitzgerald and Steinbeck rolling over in their graves ). But what can librarians do? It’s more difficult for us to convey the need for critical reading than it is for teachers, who have teens hostage in the classroom. I have no answers (remember, I’m still a librarian chrysalis). Some ideas? Teen book groups seem like a way to potentially engage YA readers in critical reading, in addition to guerilla Marxism in the form of subversive readers’ advisory (“When you finish The A-list, check out Das Kapital in the 330s!”) and muttered rabble-rousing (“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles!”). Hey, any excuse for Marxist mutters, am I right?

And you could wear T-shirts with this on it:

The REAL Communist Party

Yes, yes, I know – Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview while communism is a political movement and form of government. But come on – what teen could resist a librarian rocking that T-shirt? And if they ask about it, so much the better. Their curiosity about this slammin party is the perfect chance for the conscientious librarian to introduce philosophies often ignored in high schools and get teens to start questioning what they’re reading. Huzzah for dissidence!

Extry, extry – BOOK CAT IS FAMOUS!

GREAT ODIN’S RAVEN!!! Book Cat is famous!

The Fluffington Post has joined the ranks of those who are powerless to resist the alarmingly potent cuteness and general fluffy awesomeness of 96eustonroad’s resident feline bibliophile, Titus, a.k.a. Book Cat.

When shown the website profiling his handsome expression of disdain (and uber-cool reading tastes) and asked to comment, Titus responded thusly: 

I believe Lord Byron said it best when he said "What is fame? The advantage of being known by people of whom you yourself know nothing, and for whom you care as little." Now go away.

 I think he resents being labelled a hipster (it was the scarf that did it). Poor, misanthropic little scamp. He needs a cuddle.

Now I’m Craving Pumpkin Pie

It’s American Thanksgiving today. I think I prefer the American date; Canadian Thanksgiving is too early in the season. It’s not even really fall yet. Today was definitely an autumn day. Plus, American Thanksgiving is like a shot fired from a starting pistol, signalling the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year, Christmas. (Oh, Christmas, how I love you!)

Aside from making me feel all Matrix-y with Thanksgiving deja vu, the internet has totally made me crave my ideal Thanksgiving dinner: tofurkey slathered in mushroom gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed sweet potatoes, candied carrots, homemade perogis stuffed with sauerkraut and mushrooms, my mom’s terrible from-the-box stuffing (I’ll take my mom’s terrible stuffing over the proper stuff any time)… and pumpkin pie. Dear god, the pumpkin pie. The funny thing is… I don’t even really like it all that much. Once I’m two bites in, I have to force myself to finish it. Like Turkish delight and candy canes, the idea of pumpkin pie is far tastier than the actual dessert. In my mind, though, I always think of pumpkin pie as the most mouth-wateringly delicious food ever baked in a flaky pastry shell. Whatever the reality may be.

I’m also feeling a trifle maudlin, with all of the sweet, sentimental, and hilarious tributes to things people are thankful for today. There no such things as too much gratitude, right? Therefore, in honour of American Thanksgiving, I thought I’d write about something I’m (American) thankful for. What has America given me that I appreciate enough to honour with a blog post when I should be sleeping, reading, or actually doing homework?

I thought. I pondered. I puzzled. I watched some YouTube videos and then read another chapter of The Hammer and the Cross. I almost gave up. And then it hit me.

Eugene Hutz, Gypsy Punk (or as I like to call him, the Music Tzar)

Eugene. Of course. I cannot have a blog and not devote at least one post to Eugene.

So today, on American Thanksgiving, I am (American) thankful for Eugene Hutz, lead singer of Gogol Bordello and King of the Gypsy Punks. Now, I hear a chorus of haters clamouring to point out that Eugene is a Ukrainian dude with Roma ancestry. Quiet, haters. America welcomed Eugene and his family into her flawed and complex embrace when they left Ukraine following the Chernobyl disaster, and Gogol Bordello might never have existed without the great city of New York to incubate and inspire its quick-witted, philosophical, brilliant and bacchant frontman.

And, wait for it – I can connect this to YA! I found Gogol when I was a young adult (there – connected!), and its impact on me was immeasurable. It’s hard being a half-Roma half-breed kid in the suburbs of White-by. Eugene was a hero, a role model (seriously), an inspiration, and damn fine to boot. His seemingly desultory catchphrase “Party!” is really a deliberate, meaningful exhortation to celebrate every moment in life, to be active rather than passive, to be the one to throw the party (and the after-party) instead of waiting for it to start.

The rest of the band is awesome. Especially Sergey (you’re brilliant and my violin idol), Yuri (you’re a doll), Tommy (sing more often, man), and Oren (you’re a man of mystery). But Eugene stands above them all. Eugene is, after all, the WonderLust King.

Thanks, Eugene. Thanks for making the greatest music being made today, quite literally the soundtrack of my life; for expecting people to be aware what’s going on in the world; for wearing the best outfits since David Bowie got classy; for having a mustache way before it was cool, because it’s a Roma cultural tradition (Eugene is the one who made it cool, believe it, bruv). Thanks for being a flippin’ awesome actor, too (is there anything you can’t do?); for giving me an excuse to shout “party!” fourteen times (followed by a bonus “after-party”); for hugging me, not once, but twice (twice!) on one of the greatest nights of my life (after-party!). Thanks for helping me become undestructable; for being a fire-brand rock-god poet rebel maniac; for inspiring me to pick up the violin at the ripe old age of 23. Oh, yeah, and thanks for introducing me to Gogol – Nikolai, that is, and his Overcoat, among others.

Thanks for nights like this:

Every GB concert is a transcendent experience, but that one was special. And man, that was a pit.

Happy American Thanksgiving. Wheel of Morality time (turn turn turn). Let’s appreciate how good we have it here in the true North strong and free, and spread the love.

Even Book Cat loves Eugene!

Titus loves Eugene too

Bonus: YA Eugene!

I am Young Adult verson of Eugene. Party!

Time to pogo to some old-school Gogol!

Why, Zach? Why?

This week, I watched the film It’s Kind of a Funny Story (stupid title).

I was not amused (so, stupid and also misleading title).

What a terribly mediocre movie. I haven’t read the book, by Ned Vizzini, but I’m sure it’s better than this adaptation was, or they wouldn’t have bothered. Even though, Craig is the kind of weak, self-absorbed, whinging little drama queen I loathe, I’m mildly surprised that Keir Gilchrist, whom I liked in The United States of Tara, couldn’t do more with the character. Every teen character in this film needs to step out of suburbia and take a look at the real world. Perspective is the solution, not recreational psychiatry.

If I had seen this movie on my own time, I would be calling for blood (or a refund), but since it was fundatory, I’ll just say that I kind of hated everything about it. The story, the characters, the point (if there was one-was there? Did I learn anything? I learned that middle-class teenagers are weak, self-absorbed, whinging little drama queens…oh wait, I already knew that). The script made me die a little inside. Seriously…the question game? And the map thing? I can’t remember anything else offensive because as soon as the credits started rolling I forgot it. Deliberately. It’s kind of my super power. One of them, anyway…

Three little bright spots, I suppose. Bowie and Queen singing “Under Pressure” – Bowie is numero uno on my Silver Fox Sex God list, and that song alone raised this movie from torture device to just a plain old crap movie. Also, Zach Galifianakis, just for being the sly, adorable, weirdly sinister, baby-faced man-bear that he is. And the other bright spot: Craig’s little speech at the end. That feeble attempt at philosophical insight and plot resolution was a snake of awfulness devouring its own awful tail – full circle (“Breathe…live.” Gee, thanks, Oprah)… So bad it was good. It kind of made me laugh. Kind of hysterically. Or maybe I was just glad the movie was over so I could start forgetting it and maybe watch Ghostbusters 2 or something.

Ugh. I can’t even find the will to keep heckling. That’s kind of alarming. I’ll have to leave it to the professionals.

I didn’t include an image of the subject of this post due to its general dreadfulness. So here’s Book Cat #2, Titus playing hipster and giving me the cut eye for interrupting his important reading.

By the hammer of Thor! Don't you have homework to do? Philistine.

There. Now I feel better.

Book review: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

McBride, Lish. Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. Henry Holt, 2010. 343p. $19.50. ISBN 978-0-8050-9098-7

Samhain Corvus LaCroix—Sam for short—is not your average hero. College didn’t work out, and now he’s flipping burgers while he tries to figure things out. Working at Plumpy’s isn’t all bad, since his co-workers also happen to be his best friends. One night, after an unfortunate incident involving a game of break-time potato hockey in the parking lot and a damaged car, Sam meets Douglas, a local necromancer with evil intentions and a deceptively unimpressive name. Douglas isn’t pleased to inform Sam that he is also a necromancer whose power has been mysteriously dormant. When Douglas gives Sam two options—become his apprentice or die—Sam must discover the reason his necromancing has been buried and quickly unleash his powers to defeat Douglas before the week is out.

 Filled with zombies, werewolves, witches, and talking severed heads, Lish McBride’s debut novel is action-packed, funny, and innovative. Unlike many other supernatural-themed YA novels, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer uses humour to great effect, and while a budding romance occurs in an unlikely place, friendship plays a more central role in the narrative. Highly likeable and sometimes bizarre characters balance an initially uneven narrative pace. Once the back-story is taken care of, however, McBride hits her stride, and its fast pace and deft mix of gore and wry humour make this novel hard to put down. Perfect for fans of comedic horror and the supernatural in the vein of the film Shaun of the Dead, the novel has a cliff-hanger ending that promises sequels. Hold Me Closer, Necromancer is suitable for teens and young adults, but Sam’s journey from aimless, skate-boarding, fast-food employee to heroic, nascent necromancer is a classic coming-of-age story that may appeal to anyone searching for his or her place in the world.

 Highly recommended. 4Q, 4P

Cinderell-y,Cinderell-y

Interesting reading this week. Best quote: “Nonfiction remains the kitchen-bound Cinderella of young adult literature, while her stepsister—fiction—remains the belle of the ball” (p. 184). Oh how I laughed. Also hilarious: Cold War paranoia spurred the Man to give money to libraries to raise little astrophysicists so Russia wouldn’t plant a hammer & sickle flag in the moon. So, thank you, Cold War Soviets and your threatening advances in science during the space race. You got the government to give money to libraries (and RIP Laika). I love that the American Congress saw education as a weapon. That means librarians are… arms dealers. Yes! I haven’t felt this dangerous on a Wednesday morning since I was a wandering mercenary and erstwhile lady assassin. But enough about that…

I don’t think I ever read any nonfiction written specifically for a young adult audience. I’m not sure I’ve even seen any YA nonfiction. Actually, there may have been a few supernatural dictionaries and histories lurking on the fringes of the teen section at Chapters, but they were shelved alongside double-agent fictions – fictions pretending to be nonfictions, like How to Coerce a Sparkly Vampire into an Eternally Boring Marriage, that sort of thing.

My nonfiction diet as a child and young adult consisted of healthy servings of…

Really old issues of National Geographic

So… many… National Geographics… National Geographic is the king of photoessays, and like any good king, they serve the people. Anyone can read a National Geographic. When you’re a kid, you’re limited to the photos and maybe the captions, but even those provide so much information! My mom would collect old issues like a magpie. I devoured them, especially the archaeological stories. I still love reading them – and I still think the pictures are the best part.

I also read tons and tons of  Eyewitness Books

Okay, I still read tons and tons of Eyewitness Books. Because they’re AWESOME. Especially the Viking one. I guess I am a sucker for the “lexigraphic approach,” as Cart calls it. He also calls the DK series revolutionary (and I do love anything revolutionary). There is something so wonderfully freeing and almost illicit about reading an Eyewitness book; it’s definitely not the traditional reading experience. Flipping through the pages as quickly or as slowly as you want to, reading whichever “bite-size, nonlinear nugget” of information you want to and ignoring the ones you don’t care about, and, like the old National Geographics, lingering over the glorious, mouth-watering pictures that, to me, eclipse anything written on the page. The images speak for themselves (or as Cart says, they convey information). Sometimes, it’s even more visceral. Once in a while, you find an image that just hits you right in the gut and makes the information incredibly meaningful – like a twisted gold arm-ring in the Viking book that, for some reason, makes the past so close when I try to imagine the person who wore it. I think Kindersley, the creator of the series, best conveyed the unique value of the books: “Through the picture I see reality and through the word I understand it.”

And the last major nonfiction works of my youth?

Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Especially this one:

Ghosts, Witches and ESP. This book taught me so much. And also terrified me. I still keep it spine facing in on my bookshelf. When I was seven, I stole it from my evil grandmother’s Labyrinth-junkyard basement (actually, my grandmother kind of looks like the Junk Lady from Labyrinth) – don’t judge, she never knew it was gone, it was crudely defaced, and she’s mean – and it was my best act of thievery ever. I learned so much… the Bell haunting, Anne Boleyn’s ghost walking the ramparts with her head in the crook of her arm, Edgar Cayce, the real Rosemary’s baby, the curse of the mummy’s hand… I’m actually freaking myself out just thinking about it. Anyway, one of my most cherished books. (Twisted, right?) I read it over and over, and the small, three-sentence blurbs and wicked cartoons have actually inspired me to do much deeper research into the stories that interested me.

(And yes, it’s nonficiton… Skeptics. You’ll see. One day, you’ll all see…)

Another Cart-ism: storytelling is not necessarily making things up. (I’m paraphrasing, and he’s quoting someone else, but it’s still gold.)

So, that’s my take on nonfiction for young adults. I checked out the YALSA website to find out more about their Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. I hadn’t heard of any of the nominees, but some of them looked quite interesting.

To the book depository!

I think I like this more than I like my e-reader

Check out this old-timey e-reader from How to Be a Retronaut (via Tor.com): 

 

An illustration student, Rachel Walsh at Cardiff School of Art & Design, made it when assigned the following project:

“Explain something modern/internet-based to someone who lived and died before 1900”This is her (brilliant) attempt to explain the Kindle to Charles Dickens. 

Well, I now know what I will be doing over my Christmas holidays.

Let the innuendos commence

Or not. Because there wasn’t a whole lot of innuendo in Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Daria Snadowsky. It was just all… out there. Should I have expected that? There’s a creepy naked Ken doll on the cover, so maybe that should have foreshadowed the creepy naked teen sex shenanigans that awaited. I will admit, I did NOT expect it. Holy graphic sexy times! And am I traumatized?

A little bit.

Honesty time. I did not like this book. I understand why some readers might like it, and I acknowledge its value as an honest, candid, realistic (?) portrayal of teen sexuality. But as a story, as a novel, I felt it was lacking. The pacing was terrible – so sloooooooow! Characters? Boring boring boring. Dom and Wes felt so flat. Why would either of them like the other? What a pair of squares. Other complaints: unrealistic, forced dialogue, TMI (after the break-up, in the washroom – I can never unread that), and a touch of the soapbox – it wasn’t explicit, and maybe it’s just me, but I felt like there was a Theo moment lurking in the denouement. Something along the lines of, as my high school religion teacher would say –

Nope, I can’t type it. I tried, people, but it just brings back too many memories. (A pagan in a Catholic school – now that’s trauma).

Where was I? Subliminal moralizing and what not: don’t just have random sexy times because he’ll inevitably dump you and leave you. I dunno. Maybe I’m completely wrong. I also did not like Dom’s breakdown at the end of the book. I’m sure that’s what happens to some people. Me? Not so much. Am I cold-hearted? Or am I repressing my break-up depression? Or is this book terrible?

Yeah, this book is terrible. Get a punching bag, Dom, break a plate or two, throw down some curses, and get the hell over it. Sheesh.

Good points? A few realistically awkward moments that made me cringe when I read them (especially at the beginning of the relationship), the clinical detachment with which Dom describes her ‘sexual escapades’ – fitting for a wannabe doctor – and the break-up by IM. And the Princess Bride references (although maybe Dom’s love for the Princes Bride had something to do with her being so shattered when what she has with Wes doesn’t turn out to be a storybook love – geddit? Ooooooo, deep insight).

That’s all, folks. I feel too ambivalent about this book to go on. It was hard to get through. It didn’t leave me satisfied and smiling. (You didn’t think I’d get through an entire post about sex without that, did you?)