24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Month: March 2017 (page 1 of 2)

Show Off: Love at First Line

Around Valentine’s Day, I didn’t want to do the usual display for romance or anti-romance novels. Instead, I decided to play with the concept of love at first sight. You may have picked up a book and known, just by the first line, that you were going to love it. Maybe it was shocking and grabbed your attention with force. Maybe it was a sort of puzzle that urged you to keep reading for the answer. Maybe the first-named character shared your name and, well, if it was basically a book about you, it had to be good, right?

Well. For whatever reason the first line pulled you in,  you were hooked from the beginning. At Duncan one Sunday, I went to the shelves in our Young Adult collection and began selecting random titles. I read the first line from dozens of books, making note of the best ones and their titles.

After I’d typed the lines and their titles up, I put together a little game on the door. The title of the novels were taped to the door first, followed by the lines, which covered the novels like a flap. If the first line intrigued you enough, the idea was you’d lift that sheet to find out the title of the book (and its location on the shelf) which would then empower you to check it out and get started on a great read.

Here are some images of the display:

 

What are some of your favorite first lines?

Abby Reads: Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012, 320 pages
Juvenile Fiction

I want to start this review by noting that Wonder by R. J. Palacio is problematic. I acknowledge that and I’ll get into it, but before I do, you need some context. Wonder begins with Auggie, a ten-year-old born with a severe facial deformity. When he agrees to attend school with the encouragement of his family (who had, up until this point, home-schooled him), Auggie encounters the cruelties of the world in the form of bullying (harassment, really) and misunderstanding. The book turns its point of view over to various people in Auggie’s life, giving them each the opportunity not only to talk about themselves but also their relationship to Auggie and the effect Auggie and his deformity have on their lives.

I think, already, you can see some of the issues with this book. Palacio admits in supplemental material in the edition I read that she does not have a facial deformity. In fact, the inspiration for Wonder came from her own humiliation at seeing a child in a park with a deformity and how she responded. You can read about that on her website. The moral of Wonder is kindness. And, obvious spoiler: Auggie overcomes his bullies

through kindness and the like and is essentially given an award for being a decent human being while others were not so decent to him (massive understatement). In many ways, Wonder is inspiration porn (learn more about that here). Like many of the other problematic material I’ve discussed on this blog, I’m not in a position to comment a whole lot here as I am able-bodied. (Additionally, if you are a member of this community and I’ve used outdated or offensive terms or have otherwise not spoken well here, please do let me know so I can fix it!)

What I can comment on is the book as a book and its merits and shortcomings as a piece of literature. So let’s move to that with the previous paragraph in mind (and work toward better representation in all art forms — one more aside, this kind of art is out there. It’s largely a matter of publication companies being willing or unwilling to, y’know, publish it. The way to show them we want this material is to buy it. So do that. Or check it out from your library. That’s important, too.)

Although I’d heard the hype about Wonder prior to reading it, I was not aware that it was told from multiple points of view. In fact, I didn’t know until I turned to the last page of Auggie’s first section in the book to find a new narrator. I admire Palacio’s commitment to creating distinct voices for each of the narrators in the book, but ultimately found there were too many narrators and certainly not enough narrators with sufficient consequence to warrant their appearance as a narrator. Palacio’s use of different narrators does provide a unique and, at some points, powerful move toward demonstrating empathy, but this achievement is overshadowed by the simple overwhelm of points of view.

The multiple-narrator strategy is only one thing that makes this book challenging. Though marketed toward older children (Amazon recommends ages 8 through 12), the book avoids overly simplistic vocabulary and sentence structure. This is where, I think, the book gets a lot of its appeal for adults. Palacio never talks down to her readers, but instead uses dialogue and monologue in such a way that is realistic, which helps to heighten the real-life importance of the overall message of kindness. This realism has the drawback of slowing the book down. Readers must be invested in the characters (perhaps, in part, hence the many narrators) if they want to be at all invested in the book. Indeed, Wonder is much more literary fiction for children than it is your average plot-driven work due to the focus on its characters and their development.

The movie for Wonder is scheduled to come out in 2017. I have my reservations due to what I’ve discussed above (in addition to casting an actor without a facial deformity as Auggie and certainly, I’m sure, other things as we get closer to the release will reveal), but with Daveed Diggs playing English teacher Mr. Browne, I might have to give it a try when it appears on Netflix.

 

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
Riverhead Books, 2015, 244
Memoir

Before I get to the actual review, I need to tell a little story. It might be upsetting and involves my brother’s death, so if you prefer to skip this bit, I understand. I was reading Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl the day I found out my brother died. In the morning, I read on the Metro train. I arrived at work and, while delivering newspapers, kind of lamented that my life wasn’t more tragic. I didn’t mean it seriously, of course, and internally chastised myself for even having the thought in the first place, but there it was. Great artists, it seems, have tragic lives. Carrie Brownstein didn’t have it easy, yet became a phenomenal musician, writer, and performer. And so it was that I thought, “Maybe if there was more tragedy in my life, I’d be the artist I want to be.” Three hours later I got a call from my parents: my brother was dead. I’m not sure what it is that makes us romanticize the starving/struggling/mentally ill genius/artist. Is it because it’s true? Is it because the examples that are true stick out to us more-so than the “healthy, well-adjusted” artist because they are so out of the norm? I don’t blame myself for my brother’s death — in fact, by the time I had the thought, he’d been gone for a few hours. Eventually, I finished the book, but it has greatly shaped how I experienced the remainder of it and how I remember the beginning.

/End Sob Story

Brownstein begins her memoir with her earliest memories. With a sister and two parents growing up in suburbia as many of us do, Brownstein yearned for a life felt more intensely. She numbly moves through her childhood while dealing with her mother’s eating disorder, then the coming-out of her father later in life, which alters the way Brownstein understands her childhood and the relationships around her. She gets into the riot grrrl scene and starts her own band, Sleater-Kinney. They tour. She gets violent. They stop touring. She deals with her own mental illness, perhaps in a way that conquers leftover feelings from her mother’s illness. And so we have Brownstein’s story.

The book reads a bit like a therapeutic journey for Brownstein, as if it were something a therapist prescribed her to do and it was well-written enough that it became worth publishing. There’s no doubt Brownstein tackles some uncomfortable demons and she never shies away from admitting being wrong in a given action or story. Many times, she views her past self objectively rather than posing herself as some kind of embodied perfection. This has an interesting affect on a book that is decidedly feminist: with this deep level of honesty, Brownstein is unable to directly feminize herself. Instead, Brownstein is simply a human being with feelings, opinions, a past, and hurt. She rejects the idea that there is such a thing in her discussion of interviews in which she was asked what it was like to be a woman in rock music or a rock band of all women. This emphasizes Brownstein not as a woman (whereas many women authors focus on what it means to be a woman in their field/society — which is certainly an important perspective) but as a human being, by turn heightening her humanity and, in some ways, proving by example that women can do or be anything and be just as valid as men. Of course, this is all in the context of the gender binary, which we now know to be false, but fits in this particular work.

The prose style of Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is spectacular. Brownstein writes with full impact, employing unusual metaphors that are always painfully accurate and vibrant. She varies her sentence structure and length to greater effect than I’ve seen done most elsewhere. She falls short in content, however, with a division of events that feels disproportionate (focusing largely on her few years touring as opposed to parts of her life that made up greater pieces of time) and an uneven hand on explanations. This is most evident in discussing riot grrrl culture. As someone generally unfamiliar with it, I found myself lost fairly frequently. One moment, Brownstein offered excellent context and description, the next, there was nothing to cling to and build upon as she told her story. Be sure to have a phone or computer nearby to look up bands, songs, places, and more that come up: it makes all the difference in understanding.

Though Brownstein bypasses the thing that arguably made her most famous — her work on Portlandia — there’s a sense that this memoir won’t be the final one. The open-endedness, of course, comes from the fact that Brownstein is still young and has a lot of life left to live. Certainly she’ll have more stories to tell, politics to share, and feelings to parse out. I, for one, will be watching for that next memoir if it does indeed materialize. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Brownstein’s musical and/or comedic work, her memoir speaks to the woman or artist or mentally ill or lost in each of us. Give a read (or try the audiobook, which I hear is even better!).

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Thoughts On: Makerspaces

Over the last several years, makerspaces, maker lending, and maker programs have exploded in libraries. As we, libraries as a whole and agents of the library, develop the trend or determine if it is even a trend at all or something that will become integrated into the concept of a library long-term, we must do better to define and describe what it is we’re talking about when we talk about makerspaces, maker lending, and maker programs. When we focus on makerspaces (which I’ll use to refer to the whole package of making in libraries), we are primarily focusing on the space and the tools within that space. Those tools, in these discussions, are often limited to tools that deal with science, technology, and building in the traditional sense (think screwdrivers and hammers or Raspberry Pis and 3D printers). But I think we can do better.

So let’s start with, what is the purpose of a makerspace in a library? Answering this question brings a more robust understanding of not only what it is we accomplish with makerspaces (both intentionally and unintentionally), but also but what we could accomplish.

Space and Tools Create Opportunity

Customers of libraries in urban environments can appreciate the physical space found in a makerspace. Many of those customers live in small apartments without ample room to pursue projects due to space limitations or rules set by the building management. Surface area, such as large tables, may be lacking in these environments as well. But at a public library, we can create a space dedicated to making and building. Space is limited and this may require some shifting or even constructing an addition to the building, but as long as the budget is there and the town is on your side, there’s no reason a makerspace can’t be just that: space.

Similarly, many customers may find that the purchase of a soldering iron for one project isn’t practical. Perhaps the cost is prohibitive or simply not worth it for the one project. Maybe, again, space is an issue as the accumulation of tools can be a challenge of storage. Certainly the purchase of a workbench with the capability to withstand sawing would be impractical for most apartment-dwellers. But perhaps an apartment-dweller would like to build their own bookcase from scrap wood rather than make yet another trip to Ikea. None of their friends have such a setup to lend and so they are left with few to no options. Furthermore, if the individual has the funds and space for a workbench, they may still find the time spent reviewing, selecting, purchasing, and transporting the item is unreasonably high for the gain they expect.

The library can help.

While it may not be suitable for your particular library to purchase a workbench, I’ll continue with that as an example for the time being. So, say the library does have a workbench and, what’s more, an electric saw available for use. Perhaps the customer needs to reserve the bench in advance or maybe they can simply walk in. An individual who might not have had the space, or another who might not have had the money, can now accomplish a wide variety of projects.

This means one of the purposes of the makerspace is not just providing tangible things, but a sense of equity among community members.

Space, Tools, and Resources to Learn to Make

Small spaces don’t suddenly become large when an individual decides to learn how to solder. Makerspaces as spaces inherently provide a space to learn. With room to look at projects from different angles, move them around, and even pace while considering next steps, makerspaces facilitate learning in simple, passive ways. As makers interact with each other, project- and experience-sharing may happen organically, leading makers to teach and learn from each other, space is once again the crucial element.

But what we put in the space can influence learning, too. The presence and availability of tools, for one, empowers visitors to play and gain experience with these tools. Meanwhile, book displays that focus on particular types of projects or even famous makers can provide instruction or inspiration to visiting makers. Passive programming in which tools and supplies are set out either with or without instructions give makers the opportunity to create independently and learn through the process. Librarians or library staff may hold instructional sessions in which they teach a project, either through participatory demonstration or simple lecture.

Space to Share Making and What Has Been Made

With space to make individually, there is space to make collaboratively. Whether participants come in with the intent to collaborate or they come to work on projects independently and end up collaborating with or learning from each other, the open nature of the makerspaces allows for visitors to see what other visitors are working on. Surrounded by plenty of conversation material in the form of projects, it’s easy for visitors to comment on each other’s projects or ask how one accomplished some piece of a project or other.

And if makerspace visitors are interested in others’ projects, hosting a regular show-and-tell can serve several purposes. Visitors may have the opportunity to ask questions of makers. Makers can seek feedback from their audience. The community discovers what other community members are working on and may find other applications of the project for the good of the whole community. Show-and-tell need not be limited to the product itself; makers may bring examples of the fruits of their product (if, for example, the product is a machine that weaves friendship bracelets, the maker may wish to share some of the bracelets). Even moreso, the maker may wish to discuss or even demonstrate the process of making their project.

Space to Build Community

All of this serves to build community. As we provide the space and opportunity for building and sharing what has been built, we contribute to the structure of the community. Making not only contributes to the community as it potentially brings new technology to a neighborhood or the whole world, but it brings people together. Individuals may gather to collaborate on projects, creating relationships which continue to exist and grow outside the library and therefore building a stronger community as a whole.

Maker programming encourages community partnerships with the library as well. If your city is lucky enough to have a Tech Shop, for example, the library may wish to collaborate with Tech Shop to bring in expert speakers or encourage library makerspace users to visit Tech Shop or another makerspace for tools the library is unable to provide. The external makerspace gets publicity from the partnership, which may increase visitors to the external makerspace, especially if users are able to show their library card for a membership discount. Thus, not only do individuals create a network through the makerspace, but the library creates partnerships with other community organizations and individuals, both of which contribute to the strength of community.

Conclusion

At their hearts, makerspaces have two primary goals or functions: to democratize or create equity and to build community. Making space and tools available to create the opportunity to make and making space and tools available to create the opportunity to learn ultimately serve to democratize making. It’s not perfect — not everyone can get to the library. Constraints on time and transportation put up barriers still. As of now, there is little libraries can do to mitigate those obstacles. But by having a makerspace at all, we provide real, tangible access to space and materials that enable folks to learn to make and to make.

Meanwhile, these spaces which create the opportunity and occasion to come together either by design or organically serves to build community. When we host makerspaces or maker programs, we give people a reason to come and exist in the same place. As they occupy the same space, they share projects, ideas, and expertise. This creates a network that ultimately strengthens the community. Whether we’re offering the space to share the act of making or to share what has been made, we create opportunities for connecting. Then, when we invite individuals or organizations into our makerspaces, we create a link between ourselves (the library) and those organizations, who may in turn reach out to others to connect them with us. This web continues to grow, helping to build a community stronger than what already exists.

And isn’t making all about building, after all?

Abby Reads: Hello, Sunshine by Leila Howland

Hello, Sunshine by Leila Howland
Disney-Hyperion, 2017, 368 pages
Fiction

I received this eBook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Hello, Sunshine will be available for purchase July 11, 2017.

In Leila Howland’s Hello, Sunshine, Becca Harrington has been rejected from every college she’s applied to. With dreams of becoming a star, she packs her things and makes a cross-country roadtrip from Boston to LA with her boyfriend, Alex, who has plans to attend Stanford. Things come crashing down when Alex breaks up with her at the end of their trip, leaving Becca feeling like an utter failure. Despite plans to live with her cousin, Becca finds an apartment of her own where she meets a new friend, Marisol, and a cute aspiring director, Raj. With a list of goals in hand (including finding an agent and getting paid acting work all while working a bummer job as a waitress), Becca sets out into the shiny world that is Los Angeles while learning to get out of her own way.

As a first-person narrator, Becca is hyper-everything. Much like the overexposed picture that makes up the cover to Hello, Sunshine, the narration style is fast and bright, as if living inside the head of an extravert (which Becca clearly is). While Becca uses a lot of words to tell her story, particularly toward the beginning, she doesn’t say a whole lot. In addition to a selection of sentence structure and vocabulary that makes Becca seem as if she’s talking a million miles a minute, the plot structure, too, moves at a rapid pace. While so many events happen to bring Becca to the end of this chapter in her life, Howland might have done better to focus on fewer things and committed to fewer false starts in Becca’s attempts at an acting career. While this may be an accurate representation of trying to get famous, it doesn’t work well for a narrative.

The choice of present-tense adds tension to the story — will Becca “make it” in Hollywood, or will she not? — but doesn’t leave Becca much time for reflection, which she sorely needs. As a character flaw, this is slightly resolved later on, but not convincingly. Meanwhile, Howland uses f-bombs and other profanity relatively liberally. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but doesn’t suit the reading level, prose style, or the book’s personality (or, frankly, Becca’s personality). Obviously not a piece of literary fiction, Hello, Sunshine’s writing style revolves around immaturity and a lack of sophistication. This does quite a bit to characterize Becca, but doesn’t make her particularly interesting and doesn’t serve to show the author’s skill, nor does it do the book as a whole many favors.

All said, Becca’s narration, though fast (and, wow, the last quarter of the book or so is like whiplash in terms of events), is matter-of-fact and not totally unlike eighteen-year-olds I’ve known.

Howland does bring the book to life with some interesting characters. Though she’s never mentioned, real-life Kesha seems a natural model for Marisol. Marisol’s background is far more interesting than any other character’s, Becca’s included. With an unexpected twist toward the end regarding Marisol which sends Becca running back to her cousin, Marisol’s personal story may be a little trite, but her characterization is the strongest. Meanwhile, the ever-present “juice man” has a predictable role toward the end of the novel. Main players in the book, Becca, Raj, Marisol, and even Becca’s mom and cousin, all are fairly well-developed. Even more-secondary characters, like Reed, are the stars of their own lives. Perhaps the one flaw in Howland’s character description is Becca noting Raj’s “coffee-colored skin,” which is borderline, if not straight-out problematic (I’ll leave that up to PoC to decide).

A fair amount of themes and symbolism seem present in the book, although I approached this as a leisure read and didn’t over-analyze things. One point that did come to my attention was Becca’s near-constant talk about stomach problems early on. It was so frequent it seemed like this would later become a plot point, like some kind of diagnosis that would interfere with her goals. Alas, it never returned and was just a case of some heavy-handed show-don’t-tell as readers learn that Becca is upset with her new single status. Hello, Sunshine is also solidly grounded in the modern world with mentions of Instagram and Ikea floating about. Whether or not this is included to color Becca’s world or provide fodder for symbolism (Ikea comes up multiple times as part of a running bit of wisdom; personally, I find mentions of specific establishments that exist in reality to be distracting and unnecessarily dates the book, but I feel similarly about made-up institutions meant to stand in for something well-known, like an author referring to a fast food restaurant as Burger Prince, but I digress), it makes the novel a touch more relevant for the right here, right now.

I suspect fans of Morgan Matson’s Since You’ve Been Gone will enjoy Hello, Sunshine. Not only is the cover art strikingly similar, but the overall feel of the stories are about the same. Hello, Sunshine isn’t a literary masterpiece, but works as a palate cleanser or a quick weekend read. For two-and-a-half hearts, what you see is what you get.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016, 320 pages
Fantasy Play

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child picks up in play format where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows left us. Now an adult with three children, Harry Potter brings his offspring to Platform 9 ¾ to send them off to Hogwarts. For Albus Potter, Hogwarts brings a new set of pressures involving living up to his father’s legacy. Meanwhile, Scorpius Malfoy struggles with his own problems. The two find each other and develop a friendship before beginning a new adventure that changes the entire canon of Harry Potter as we previously knew it.

Look. I realize this is all Rowling-sanctioned, but this is absurd. Though the results of the series may remain, Albus and Scorpius, with the help of a time turner, completely alter the underlying events of what actually happened, particularly in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The implications of these changes cast familiar characters in a whole new light, often in ways that don’t make sense. Additionally, *MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD*, the “change” in the fact that Voldemort had a child (with Bellatrix Lestrange, no less), is a lazy trope that leads me to believe the only reason this text exists is for the money its creators knew it would make. Ew.

Moving on. Many familiar characters make appearances throughout the play: Harry, of course, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Draco, and others show their faces — but that’s about all that is familiar about them. As any good Tumblr fan theory will tell you, Harry Potter is absolutely in the wrong profession. Although Harry obviously does a wonderful job bringing people to justice, he’s far better suited as a professor than as an auror. The characters, Harry included, are caricatures of themselves at best, hardly resembling the rich and complex beings they were as adolescents. It’s a disappointing switch that, though perhaps explained by the tragedy known as becoming an adult, doesn’t feel true to the characters we’ve known — much of the point of Harry Potter was that humans are capable of breaking the cycle. Cursed Child takes an enormous step backward in that respect, proving — at least in the world of Harry Potter — that everything the original series preached is false. Furthermore, the characters’ dialog was unsettling throughout. Unnatural to begin with, it’s never more uncomfortable than when Albus throws around SAT-grade words, even as an eleven-year-old.

Not all of the characters are a total disaster, however. There is one exception: Scorpius Malfoy, though perhaps a bit overdone in his shyness (okay, a bit overdone overall, like many of the others in the play — I’ll mark that up to it being a play which requires heightened emotions and characterizations for the sake of the actors playing them), is a new angle of human we haven’t yet seen in Harry Potter. I imagine him as a combination of Harry and Luna Lovegood in many ways — sarcastic and a bit dreamy, steadfast to his friends, and really rather innocent. It’s a fun exercise of imagination — how would the son of Draco Malfoy turn out? Many of us Potterheads hoped for a redemption for Draco. Rowling didn’t deliver — though there was a bit of a lean in that direction in Cursed Child — but Scorpius is a sort-of consolation prize.

Cursed Child also features some strange pacing, dabbling between moments of rapid action and crawling inaction. I imagined at many points throughout the book what it might be like to see this as a play (verdicts, from what I’ve seen, aren’t terribly favorable aside from the special effects). I could only picture myself being bored to death and in the throes of hysterical laughter when comedy was not the intent.

We all wanted a book eight, and we got it — but at what cost? Rowling apparently had limited input (my understanding is she essentially gave a stamp of approval but did not actually contribute to this essentially glorified fanfiction [that’s not a dig at fanfic, though — I love fanfic; don’t get me started]), and it shows. If you want the complete Potter experience and don’t mind having the original series essentially ruined, go for a read of this. Otherwise, you’re better off with the folks in the Epilogue, What Epilogue? corner. I’ll see you over there.

 

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015, 480 pages
YA Fiction

I picked up Morgan Matson’s Since You’ve Been Gone as a little piece of escapism after one of the family cats had to be put to sleep following a stroke. In the young adult novel, Emily’s best friend, Sloane, has disappeared and left nothing for her but a list of things Emily ought to do. Not terribly adventurous, Emily blanches at the list which includes things like going skinny dipping, riding a horse, and sleeping outside. All Emily wants to do is to find Sloane, but Sloane isn’t answering her phone and can’t be found at her house where she and Emily first met. Befriending a Image result for since you've been gone morgan matsonfamiliar face over the love of running, Emily finds support in unexpected places as she tries to finish the list with the hope that Sloane will be waiting for her at the end.

Since You’ve Been Gone is a bit more far-fetched than I find a lot of the fiction in this genre to be. There was something off about the emotional color of the book, and much of the plot felt a bit outlandish. Although Emily is pursuing something like the extraordinary in her tasks, that a teenager would have the resources to do these things felt unrealistic. And certainly Emily has her help throughout the events, but things line up just a tad too neatly for the book to feel entirely natural. (Plus, I’ve done the equivalent of the drive Emily takes toward the end of the book. I suppose it could be done as it’s described, but it would be a stretch and you better be praying to the traffic gods.) The pacing, meanwhile, was realistic to the point of being slow, so the disconnect between the events and this other aspect of hyperrealism left me confused about how realistic the book really was.

Like so many other stories in which young women come into themselves after facing some difficult tasks, Emily was shy, mousy, anxious, and bland. Though she got points from me for at least having the distinctive characteristic of being a dedicated runner (and a good trainer), I never got the sense that Emily was fully formed and she certainly wasn’t fully formed without Sloane. I’m the first to advocate for female friendships that transform, but Emily’s lack of character felt extreme and, by the end, I wasn’t convinced that she could now be her own person without Sloane’s constant presence and pushing.

On the flipside, these stories often feature a Bad Boy™ love interest. Frank is decidedly not such a boy, but instead a student-government-do-gooder who doesn’t do so much good so as to make him totally boring, but does provide a somewhat refreshing subplot that typically features someone of an opposite personality. He’s a bit snobby about his music preferences – but, I ask, who isn’t in high school? – and the resulting playlists sprinkled throughout the book are a bit gimmicky (though not as much so as other books I’ve read).

For all of Emily’s hard work through her summer without Sloane, I found the ending to be lackluster and anticlimactic. This was the hyperrealism I was missing in the other pieces of the story, but it felt misplaced and more like a letdown here. Though the fun and modern cover for the book has provided plenty of bloggers with great material for their bookish photography, the story has a 90s/00s shade to it that makes it feel a bit slow and a bit dated.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery by Paul Collins

Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery by Paul Collins
Broadway Books, 2014, 304 pages
Non-Fiction (History)

Like plenty of other red-blooded Americans, I fell into the hole that is Hamilton: An American Musical in the early months of summer 2016. Also like plenty of the aforementioned Americans, I wanted to get my hands on Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton – you know, the biography that inspired the musical. I have a lot of library cards. I put a hold on every single eBook version that I could find in those library systems and bided my time. But it wasn’t enough, so I went in search of more Hamilton lore and came upon Paul Collins’ Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery.

Let me start with that title. If I didn’t know any better, I might guess it was the name of a Fall Out Boy song. And not only this, but it’s also incredibly misleading. While Collins does discuss Hamilton and Burr and their strategy for tackling the trial of Levi Weeks, this is but a small fraction of the contents of the book. The sensationalism here got a little out of hand and ends up leading the reader to a book that is not as advertised. Given that anyone who picks up this book is likely to be at least aware of Hamilton and Burr’s tumultuous relationship, Collins spends shockingly little word capital on their relationship outside of this trial, which would have not only been relevant, but useful in understanding the specifics of their interaction during this period.

Collins sets the stage for these events beautifully with specifics that can make the reader feel like they’re reading a novel. He certainly did his research, digging into the diaries of small players in the story or even just of local citizens who had no connection to the trial. But the legal approach and technique of Hamilton and Burr is glossed over, leaving a narrative that is deeply interesting for people looking for a vivid depiction of post-Revolutionary era New York but less so for those seeking only what the face value of the title describes.

The problem with reading nonfiction on an eReader is, you don’t necessarily know what percentage of the book is notes, so you don’t know if the end of the book will actually come at 78% or 94% — and that makes a big difference. The conclusion of the trial occurs about halfway through the book (and really doesn’t begin until at least a quarter or third into it – everything else prior sets the stage with the yellow fever, Burr’s well and his therefore potentially unethical and impartial connections to the defendant, and so on) and each of the following chapters is written like some grand conclusion. So it was with the rest of the book, I read it as if waiting for the other shoe to drop which was pretty dreadful. The content in those sections was certainly interesting and well-written otherwise, but as I kept anticipating a true end to the book, each time I came to the end of a chapter and began my happy sigh of having completed another book, I was robbed when, to be sure that the notes began on the following page, found the beginning of yet another chapter. I imagine this isn’t as much of a problem with the print book, though I maintain that the style of writing lends itself to conclusion for each of the chapters following the end of the trial.

Collins’ work could have been more focused here and certainly advertised in a more accurate fashion. But the tidbits and details throughout the book make it such an interesting read that it moves quickly and paints, at least for me, a new light onto post-Revolutionary America. While I was left wanting for something truer to what the title promised, I was ultimately happy with what I got when I separated the work from its title. Whether you’re a Hamilhead, you’re interested in history, or you’re just looking to step outside the usual novel for something compelling but different, Duel with the Devil will satisfy you.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson

Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
Vintage, 1994, 192 pages
Fiction

Written on the Body came into my life as a recommendation. I typically don’t take recommendations for books because (a) my TBR list is huge, (b) I generally find I have a good grip on the kinds of things I like to read more than other people do, and (c) I have a degree in advising people on what they should read based on their interests*, so I’m perfectly capable of doing it for myself. But sometimes I accept recommendations and even follow up on them because it can be a useful tool to getting to know the person who is doing the recommending and once in a while, it’s good to step outside yourself and, I don’t know, hear other people’s opinions on stuff and things, I guess.

So I picked up Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson after being told that it was the best book ever and totally beautiful and heartbreaking and all the things you want a good book to be.

Uh.

Yeah.

Not so much for me.

A novella, the book tells the story of an unnamed first-person narrator. We don’t know the narrator’s gender. The narrator falls in love with a married woman and waxes poetic about all her best qualities and the lowercase- and capital-R romance of it all. Life is one big beautiful tragedy for our dramatic narrator who deals in metaphor after metaphor. And it’s about to get a whole lot worse. The love interest (who I’ll remind you is married) reveals that she has cancer. With an obsession that leans toward stalking and feelings of being torn between allowing the woman to get the best possible medical treatment and spending as much time with her as possible, the narrator spirals.

I like pretentious literature as much as the next person, but this was overboard for me. Aside from trying to sell a clearly unhealthy relationship as something romantic, Winterson overdoes her prose with a poetic intensity that is exhausting. After the first dozen or so pages, I found myself asking how could she possibly sustain this over-the-top narration style for an entire novella? I still don’t know the answer as to how she managed it, but she certainly did and it was not comfortable nor useful, I think, to any sort of plot or character development aside from maybe suggesting the narrator doesn’t exactly live in reality but prefers to see the world as a stage and capital-A Art house. Or something.

Ultimately, Written on the Body felt like the kind of experimental artsy stuff I read in my college writing classes. It was aimless and inconclusive. It was pretentious and inaccessible. It was so not for me.

I can appreciate the artfulness of it, though. I can see why it might be a valuable piece of literature to read, particularly in an academic setting (and even more so if that was an academic setting of primarily women, but I’m biased). But if you’re looking for a straightforward read for brain candy, you won’t find it here.

*This is a gross simplification of my MLIS.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015, 320 pages
YA Fiction

With guilt sitting on his shoulders over the circumstances behind his sister’s near-homelessness, James Whitman of Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos copes with his mental illness by hugging trees. As he navigates life with depression and anxiety, James does what he can to mitigate the effects of his condition from talking to the ever-present Dr. Bird, to reciting the poetry of Walt Whitman, to getting a job to help pay for the therapy he goes to without the knowledge of his parents. Handling his own challenges isn’t enough and when he thinks he has an opportunity to bring his sister home, James goes all in. But there’s more to the story than he realizes and it’s going to change everything.

I am all for the psychological explorations of depressed and privileged straight white boys. I am. I even wrote a few blog posts on that very topic and why it’s one of my favorite genres. The Catcher in the RyeThe Secret HistoryPaper Covers Rock. (Any other recommendations? Please, send them my way.) So I felt a bit let down at how Dr. Bird’s didn’t enrapture me the same way as others. He exhibits a regressive speech pattern, which, combined with some actions that are nearly deplorable, makes James a less sympathetic character than some of those in my favorites. Despite acknowledging knowing the things he’s doing are wrong and even articulating why they’re wrong, James willingly mistreats others. I could never get behind James and really care for him.

Roskos tries, I think, to blend character- and plot-driven fiction. In the end, it doesn’t work out so well for him. Though such a balance can be achieved, Roskos does not quite hit the mark here. James’ character development moves along predictably as he goes from the state of a boy to a man and learns to communicate with others, manage his depression, and accept the things he cannot change. Meanwhile, the conflict of his sister’s expulsion serves as a foundation to a plot that feels underdeveloped and, by the end, somewhat abandoned in favor of scenes that better show James’ growth. Adding to the sometimes-sharp realism of the novel is the ending. Though James does not meet a fate the Grimm Brothers might have prescribed him, neither does he have a Disney-perfect end. Many of his troubles are without resolution, only to be solved a few years down the road when he moves out of his parents’ house. There’s hope in Roskos’ ending, sure, especially now that James has more tools and skills to deal with the challenges he faces, but things are otherwise more-or-less the same.

I think that’s a large part of why the plot/character-driven fiction aspect of Dr. Bird’s breaks down. The end is somewhat gimmicky: It was inside you all along, kid.

So, despite the raves this book has been getting thus far, I’m just kind of eh about it. It’s not bad, but I don’t think it really achieves what it wants to achieve, either – and it didn’t particularly strike anything special in me despite that. If you’re a fan of Catcher and similar works, this might be worth the read just for the sake of interest and comparison.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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