Sunday, February 21, 2010

J FIC, It Isn't Just For Js

I just finished reading The Looking Glass War by Frank Beddor. I read all 358 pages in a few sittings yesterday. Now, I don’t usually read an entire book in just one day. In fact, I characterize myself as a slow reader. Not a plodder but more of a slow and steady kind of reader. A snowshoer type of reader. I move along at a steady place and enjoy the view along the way. I don’t skim. If I do find myself skimming I usually drop the read. But this book grabbed me by the collar, dragged me over to the couch and didn’t let go of me until I let go of it.

If you are unfamiliar with the series you might want to check it out. Here are the qualifiers: There is plenty of swordplay with various descriptions of blood and guts being sloshed about the room with two despicable main characters doing terrible things. And if you don’t like the mixing of the real world and historical figures with a magical alternative universe and passageways between the two, you should let this one go.

One more thing: the book is cataloged as J FIC. Yep, that’s right juvenile fiction. Since I was once a juvenile type person I find no problem with reading this type of work. Like many people who frequent libraries I remember enjoying reading as a young person. When I walked through the doors of my public library all of a sudden many worlds were opened to me. Not just the plain, old boring one of home, school and being told what to do by adults. So I am no stranger to J FIC.

And it would seem that I am not alone. Many adults like to troll through the J FIC collection every now and then. Both the Harry Potter and the Twilight series are cataloged as J FIC. And it’s not just kids requesting these works. So why would an adult want to read Juvenal Fiction? Here are the three most common answers: 1) I want to know what my children are reading, 2) I want to know why this book is so popular among younger people, 3) My child said this is a good book.

All of these are fine answers for checking out a work cataloged as J FIC. Here is one more: I think the reader brings whoever they are to whatever they read. It doesn’t matter if either you or the work is categorized as juvenile or adult. If the author has written a story that you’re able to connect with then she/he has done their part. The rest is up to you.

If you’ve read some J FIC that you’d like to share, be sure to add a post.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What’s in a Title?

One of the coolest things about working on my side of circ desk is all of the books that you come in contact with. And to break that down a bit, all of the titles that you read. Recently, I came across three titles that just jumped right out at me: Enslaved By Ducks, Mermaids in the Basement and At the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

Now, let me be clear: I have not actually read any of these books, only the titles. And this lead me to wonder about what elements make for a good title? Here are a couple of ideas I’ve come up with.

One component is a juxtaposition of two words or a series of words that appear in contradiction. A good example is the first title: Enslaved By Ducks. As a rule I don’t lay in bed worrying about the state of New York being taken over by barnyard fowl. And even if I did, I don’t think ducks would be the first group of waterfowl I would be concerned about. Geese are much bigger, far more aggressive and anyone who has tried to walk barefoot across a field afterwards knows that even when gone there passage remains. Ducks, by contrast, are cute and friendly and like to be feed bread by children. It is difficult to imagine a flock of ducks actively conspiring to enchain mankind. And there lay the danger.

The second title Mermaids in the Basement provides almost the same strange coexistence of words. In addition, we also have the coupling of the fantastic with the mundane. When I think about my basement I think about the laundry. Or plumbing tools stacked next to snowshoes and all the other stuff I’ve stored down there because I have no other place to put it. In the Spring I sometimes think about the water that seeps in from the northwest corner. I don’t think about mythical creatures. This particular title also seems to have an ominous feel to it. Why would someone keep such strange and beautiful beings trapped in a dark and secluded place except for nefarious purposes?

My third title doesn’t present the reader with any direct questions, only with a series of subtle realizations. At the Corner of Bitter and Sweet pretty much lets the reader know what is going to happen once they start reading. This is a good example of how some of the best titles single the reader before they ever even crack the covers. By just reading the title the author has telegraphed the reader as to what they can expect. And, in this particular case, the author has already jump-started the reading process by immediately connecting with the reader. Never mind that these crossroads might not have a real physical location. The author knows that every reader has already experienced what it’s like to have found ourselves standing in the middle of this intersection.

As I said, I haven’t yet read any of these books, just the titles. But the authors, editors and publishers have completed their first, and most difficult, task in reaching a perspective reader: they got me to actually pick up the book. If you’ve come across a title that jumped out at you be sure to let me know.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I’ve Seen the Movie, Why Read the Book?

I recently read War of the Rats by David L. Robbins. I had seen the 2001 movie Enemy at the Gate a while ago and seemed to remember that the movie was based on a book. I liked the movie and so I checked out the book.

Both the movie and book follow the same story, but from significantly different perspectives. The movie also has a pivotal character that is not to be found in the book. So there are those differences.

But the largest difference is to be found in that the story is told through two very different mediums. The movie is image driven, while the book is idea and imagination driven. In the movie we need to surmise why the different characters act the way they do, although in truth, the director and actors leave little that is left to doubt. In the book we are allowed inside the different characters heads so that we learn their thoughts, feelings and motivations. Not only do we read the action, we have the added bonus of knowing the individual characters perception of what is occurring.

And this is part of the reason why I think most people feel that the book is almost always better then the movie. But there is one additional crucial element that a book provides: the individual reading the book uses their own imagination to work with the ideas the author has provided. It is an interactive experience. You bring something of yourself to the book when you open the pages. But in order for this to happen there is a catch: it has to be a story that the reader can connect with. When you go to a movie you are seeing a number of different people’s interpretation of the idea(s). With a book, you are supplying your own back-story to whatever you are reading. You are supplying yourself. So, in the best of cases, the experience of reading the novel allows the reader to become part of the storyline. The novel becomes are own.

And what is even more interesting is that we don’t actually have to have done any of the things that the characters are doing or have done. We just need to believe that we understand their needs, motivations and desires. We don’t have to have murdered someone, fought with dragons, climbed mountains, sailed oceans or planted fields of grain. We just need to understand why the character is doing those things. And to do that we need to be engaged. We need to use our imagination to make the words on the paper come alive. In a movie someone else has done that for us. With a book we get to do it ourselves.