Here’s to a Shame-Free 2014!

. . . or at least, you know, low-shame. Let’s be realistic here.

Happy New Year! I’m all excited and energized about writerly things, and also about readery things. In particular, I am excited about the 2014 reading challenge I came up with. I’ve made a list of fifteen Books I’m Kind of Ashamed I Haven’t Read Already. And this year, I’m going to read them! Then I will NEVER AGAIN have to admit that I’m a Teen Services librarian who has read nothing by John Green. Or that, even though I suspect I’ll love it, I’ve never quite gotten around to Ender’s Game. Or look, my school never assigned The Giver, okay? I tried to keep it to books that I think I’ll actually enjoy. Different titles make the list for different reasons: it’s a classic, teens at my library devour it, I’ve heard a million times that it’s great, it’s something I’m obviously going to love and it’s absurd that I haven’t read it already.

It’s a pretty doable challenge, I think, and I’m psyched about it. My coworker Nori (of the book review blog Nori’s Closet) liked the idea, too, and ended up making her own list of embarrassing unreads to be finally read in 2014.

Want to see my list? (You know that’s a trick question on this blog, because you will always see the list.) Here, in alphabetical order but not necessarily reading order, are fifteen books that will soon no longer shame me with their unreadness!

  1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
  2. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
  3. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  4. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
  5. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  6. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (This was the first one to go. I just finished it! And might have sprained a tear duct. WHY, JOHN GREEN, WHY?)
  7. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  8. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
  9. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
  10. Matched by Ally Condie
  11. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
  12. The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan
  13. Sabriel by Garth Nix (I loved his Keys to the Kingdom series)
  15. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Probability of crying while reading some of these books: high.
Probability of going, “Why didn’t I read this years ago?”: high.
Probability of being glad I read these books: skywriter high.

Anyone else want in? Or just want to share a book or two that you’re kind of embarrassed not to have read yet?

And That’s Not Even Getting Into “Inception” Territory

. . . mostly because I still haven’t seen Inception. Yeah, yeah, I will. Sometime. But! I’ve been thinking about the role of dreams in fiction.

This is mostly because I’m now reading The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan. I enjoyed his Percy Jackson books, and The Red Pyramid, and I like this one so far. While I’ve found the three series pleasantly distinct in many ways, they all feature vivid dreams in which characters see events that are really happening as they take place. Gods and other beings use dreams to contact people. In The Red Pyramid, people’s souls/spirits/essences/floaty dream selves actually travel to where the events are unfolding, sometimes even being glimpsed by others on the scene. Since all the major characters of these books have supernatural backgrounds, this is taken in stride, and all dreams are taken seriously. As of yet, no one has suggested that hey, maybe this time, it was just a random sequence of subconscious brain blips. And Mr. Riordan has a field day being able to describe stuff that’s happening to other characters halfway around the world without having to switch POV characters.

This made me think of dreams in other books I’ve read. The fact that dreams are actually a pretty bizarre phenomenon when you think about it, are familiar to most people, have a rich tradition of symbolism and mythos, and are still not terribly well-understood, allows authors to use them all kinds of ways.

(Which phrase should alert you that you are about to encounter A LIST! Huzzah for lists!)

What’s that? You want a list of some ways authors use dreams, as remembered offhand by me? Well, if you insist. You guys and your wacky list obsessions!

  • Not at all. This does not necessarily mean that characters do not dream, although it could. (That guy in ALIEN who never dreams? Spoilers – HE’S A ROBOT!)
  • “That night, she dreamed of chasing her brother through a hedge maze full of wolves.” May be described in more detail, but generally just intended to show you the current state of the character’s psyche. May, alternately, skip telling you that it is a dream and launch directly into, “She stood in a dark, oddly rustling corridor. Hedges? Where was she? And what was that howling noise?” Depending on how it’s done and how critical a reader you are, you may catch onto the “dream” aspect of this little interval immediately, or may be confused until our heroine wakes up – probably in a cold sweat – at which point you will be annoyed. Probably. If you’re me.
  • Message delivery in service of specific entities with that capability (e.g. the spirit of Martin the Warrior in the Redwall books), or one with whom the dreamer is connected (e.g. Harry and Voldemort; also common with love interests and with twin siblings).
  • Message delivery in service of the character’s subconscious. These messages will be, understandably, more internal than those of the previous category.
  • Prophesy. This is an interesting one, because characters often wonder whether their dreams could be prophetic or otherwise meaningful, whether they actually are or not.
  • Spirit travel. I haven’t seen this often, but hey, it’s one to add to the list. And Harry Potter sorta kinda does this, sorta.
  • “It was all a dream!” This is like the second wolf-hedge maze example above, only it encompasses the whole story. Thankfully, this is becoming less and less common as I systematically hunt down every person who does it.

Am I missing any, guys? Do you include dreams in your stories? In what way?

Because Pictures are Worth a Thousand Dirty, Dirty Words

So, here are the ALA’s top ten most challenged graphic novels and the rationales given:

Absolute Sandman by Neil Gaiman – Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Blankets by Craig Thompson – Sexually Explicit content, Other (unspecified)

Bone series by Jeff Smith – Sexually Explicit content, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel – Sexually Explicit Content

Maus by Art Spiegelman – Anti Ethnic

Pride of Baghdad by Brian Vaughn – Sexually Explicit Content

Tank Girl by Alan Martin & Jamie Hewlitt – Nudity and Violence

The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller – Sexually Explicit Content

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill – Nudity, Sexually Explicit Content and Unsuited to Age Group

Watchmen, by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons – Unsuited to Age Group

So . . . Maus. “Anti-ethnic.” Also, Bone is on this list. Despite what the name might seem to imply, Bone is not porn, I promise. It leans far more toward “adorable,” really.

On a sillier note, a study of library use . . . by marshmallow Peeps.

Just got back from the excellent James River Writers’ Conference. More about that soon!

This is Not Okay

I’m a little late on this, but you’re probably aware of several recent bullying-related tragedies. (Link courtesy of this excellent post by Garland Grey on Tiger Beatdown.) LGBTQ teens have terrifyingly high suicide rates compared to teens who don’t identify as LGBTQ, and I think it’s fair to say that bullying is a serious factor.

This is beyond sad, and it is completely unacceptable. Ye gods, is being a teenager not hard enough? To be not only bullied by peers, but to see the nonreaction – even implicit acceptance or worse – of teachers and other adults, is a terrifying thing. If an adult in a position of responsibility is aware of abuse and does not take action to stop it, s/he is condoning that abuse. Kids and teens can see that. And what does that say? It says, “The bullies are right. There’s something wrong with you, and you deserve this. You’ve brought it on yourself.”

This is patently untrue. It is a vicious, ignorant, prejudiced attack. Children and teenagers are just discovering who they are, and LGBTQ teens are being told that who they are is bad and wrong, deserving of harassment and (in the eyes of some) of eternal condemnation. This is an attitude that is causing teens to kill themselves.

I don’t feel like getting too deeply into my feelings about homophobia, largely because they are CAPS-LOCK VIOLENT. Suffice it to say that:

  1. All research indicates that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice. So does all common sense. Why would anyone choose an orientation that, in today’s society, can get you harassed, sometimes to the point of murder – and that, statistically speaking, lowers your pool of possible orientation-compatible mates? Also, I’ve yet to meet a straight person who can tell me when s/he “chose” to be straight. But even given all that . . .
  2. Even if it was a choice, there’s nothing wrong with being LGBTQ. Maybe it’s my having been raised atheist, but I really don’t get people’s issue here. Why in the world would wanting to date/kiss/marry/sleep with someone of the opposite sex be “better” or “worse” than wanting to date/kiss/marry/sleep with someone of the same sex? And why does it bother people when someone doesn’t dress or act the way lots of men or women do? Does that HURT anyone? (Incidentally, I feel the same way about the idea that gay couples adopting kids could cause the kids to be gay: This is nonsense, and even if it weren’t, SO WHAT?) And besides all that . . . *drum roll* . . .
  3. Except for the person in question and anyone considering dating that person, all of this is none of anyone’s damn business.

SO! Why I am posting this on a writing blog? Well, partly just because I feel strongly about the issue, but partly because I know that reading can be instrumental in raising awareness and tolerance and in making people feel less alone. So, in addition to mentioning two projects intended to help LGBTQ teens – The It Gets Better Project and The We Got Your Back Project, I thought I’d make a Really Long List of YA GLBTQ books, courtesy of the Young Adult Library Services Association. Far from complete, but it’s something.