Monthly Archives: January 2013

A Salute to the Shut-out (Fiction)

Mom,

With the Best Fiction for Young Adults list published, I thought I’d give a final salute to some great titles published this year that ended up  shut-out of all the awards.  Here are ten books that didn’t get recognized by any of the major YALSA awards: Printz, BFYA, Graphic Novels, Quick Picks, Odyssey. 

Nominated for BFYA:

  • Liar and Spy – Rebecca Stead
  • Children and the Wolves – Adam Rapp
  • My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece – Anabel Pitcher
  • Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone – Kat Rosenfield

Non nominated:

  • All You Never Wanted – Adele Griffin
  • Chopsticks – Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral
  • Dying to Know You – Aidan Chambers
  • Opposite of Hallelujah – Anna Jarzab
  • Year of the Beasts – Cecil Castellucci
  • Sisters of Glass – Stephanie Hemphill

I don’t love all of these books, but I respect them all, and several were among my favorite 20 or 30 YA novels of the year–and I think even the ones I feel the most ambivalent about are far superior to many titles that were recognized this award season. 

Obviously, there’s not much the BFYA committee could have done about the six titles that weren’t even nominated, and I have a feeling they may have decided Liar and Spy was not a YA title.  Nevertheless, with these books failing to make any major lists, it seems likely that many of them will fall out of the collective memory pretty quickly, so I thought they deserved a last shout out. 

These are all books I personally read and thought deserving of recognition.  If I made any mistakes, or if anyone wants to chime in with books I didn’t get to this year, feel free.

– Mark

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YMAs

Mark,

Well, I’m back home from Midwinter and starting to think about all the zillions of “to-dos” on my list, but first a few thoughts and responses.

First of all, and I’ve said this before in various venues, but I really want to say it again here: trust the process. Having been on a Printz Committee myself, and having talked to dozens of others who have been on various award committees, I think the one constant is that there really is something that happens in the process. Things that seem obvious on a superficial look become less obvious with a deeper look. Something that one person might ignore, really nags at someone else. People have different backgrounds, different skill levels, different personalities. There’s always talk about “divisive” books, and of course that happens, but I think more than that, there is really something interesting that happens when a group of nine people learns how to create consensus, and the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

We’re all entitled to our opinions, of course, and we all have favorites, but sometimes our personal favorites are just that–personal favorites. We don’t actually know how things would come out if we were fully engaged in the process, looking at hundreds of books, and seriously discussing dozens of them.

So. Just my caveat.

Anyway, regarding In Darkness: I found the quotation from the Times review (in the comments) fascinating and not at all in keeping with my read of the book. Yes, there was stuff about zombies and voodoo, but not in a sensationalistic way; in a way that explained something about their role in religion and society. And sure, there was corruption and murder and violence, but also politics and families and other things that factor into the life of everyone, rich or poor. I agree with your comment that Lake gave a good account of himself in the back matter.

So I’m delighted that this award is going to bring more readers to the book.

I’m pretty exhausted, so I’m not going to look at the other books in detail today.  But, hey, big shout-out to our friend and frequent commenter, Beth Fama, whose Monstrous Beauty got an Odyssey Honor award! A couple of months ago, in the comments here she told us about all the research that narrator Katy Kellgren put into the recording of that book–obviously, it paid off!

Also, I picked up a whole bunch of ARCs in the exhibit hall, and lugged them home this morning (thank you, Southwest Airlines, for your two-free-checked-bags policy). In the next couple of days, I’ll list here what those are, and which I’m most looking forward to.

Finally, it was great to talk to people in Seattle who are actual, real-live readers of this blog, and to spread the word to others. Of course, they all wanted to meet you!

– Mom

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First Thoughts on the YMAs

Mom,

Since I just told a friend over email a couple days ago that I was refusing to make any public Printz predictions, I promise not to make too much of this, but I did say this a few week ago:

PS – I promise to tell you my thoughts on In Darkness one of these days–maybe after it unexpectedly wins the Printz.

Which I guess means I’m due.  Obviously, from the above comment, I wasn’t surprised to see it take home the gold, and I think it’s a pretty stunning piece of writing.  I also disagree with what Karyn said over on Someday about accuracy issues.  I think Lake’s afterword was more than enough to cover his bases, and after I read up a little on the historical context, I felt that the changes he made were basically just to streamline the story so that it didn’t get bogged down in historical minutiae.  I only had two problems with the book: 1) I wasn’t entirely convinced that Lake pulled off the connection between Shorty and L’Ouverture, and 2) As good as it was, I just didn’t think it stood up to the half-dozen or so best books of the year.

Speaking of those half-dozen or so books, Bomb! Yeah, I guess no one cared about the sourcing issues: YALSA Nonfiction, Sibert, and Newbery Honor.  I, obviously, think it deserved a Printz Honor or Medal too, but I guess we can’t have everything.  Congrats to Steve Sheinkin.  Couldn’t have happened to a better book. 

And also speaking of things I’ve said throughout the year, back on December 4, I said this about the YALSA Nonfiction Finalists:

I haven’t read STEVE JOBS yet (don’t much care for biographies; don’t much care for Steve Jobs), but I’m having a hard time imagining either the Newbery or the Printz committee coming up with a list of five books I’m as excited about as these – unless one or both of them includes a couple of these titles. Great, great, great year for nonfiction.

I pretty much stand by that statement.  Overall, I’m impressed by both the Newbery and Printz lists this year, especially with Bomb on the Newbery list, but I still think the trio of Bomb, Titanic, and We’ve Got a Job, beats out the top three on either of those two lists, and I was quite disappointed to see no nonfiction titles on the Printz list.

You were there–what were your thoughts (or do you have thoughts on any of the many posts I’ve been putting up while you’ve been away?)

– Mark

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Elsewhere

Mom,

You’re probably having all kinds of fun in Seattle, with no time to work on our little blog, but for our readers who are at work today, I wanted to highlight a couple of pieces from other locations:

1) I interviewed Cynthia Levinson, author of We’ve Got a Job, one of my favorite books of the year.  She was a lovely person to interview, with some very thoughtful answers.  You can find the interview over at the Hub

2) Also at the Hub, there’s a group interview with Steve Sheinkin about Bomb.  A few of the questions there were from me.  But, much more importantly, he has a fascinating answer to the question of sourcing.  Here’s the question and answer in full:

Are you aware of some of the issues that were discussed about your book on the Heavy Medal blog and elsewhere? How do you respond to these who question your narrative style choices and lack of page numbers from your sources?

I actually agree that the source notes could have been more detailed. For my next book, I’m going to make it easier for readers to follow a quote or passage from the book back to the sources I used. In terms of narrative style, you can’t please everyone.

In light of our discussion of Lincoln’s Grave Robbers, obviously that one wasn’t the “next book” he’s referring to.  But I’m now quite interested to see how he changes his sourcing style next time out.

3) I have a feeling many of our readers here drop in on me over on Adult Books 4 Teens at least occassionally.  But in case they didn’t, and since we talk about nonfiction basically all the time on this blog, I thought I’d link to my post from Monday about nonfiction reading habits.  I tried to do some research on how much nonfiction teens read for pleasure, but couldn’t come up with anything very current, so it’s more hints and questions than answers, but I think worth taking a look at before anyone tries to make a claim that teens don’t read nonfiction.

So, that’s what I’ve been working on in my other gigs.  Be sure to bring back plenty of fascinating information for me from ALA.

– Mark

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Crazy Cover Change

Mom,

When I read National Book Award winner Goblin Secrets by William Alexander, it looked like this:

GoblinSecrets

Except that some intrepid librarian had added a “National Book Award Finalist” sticker to it, which I found amusing, since 1) by the time I had it in my hands the book was already the winner, and 2) those stickers cost money, man!

In any event, the book I read was from a partner library (since my home library hadn’t ordered the book until after the NBAs were announced).  So, yesterday, when our copy finally came it and it looked like this:

goblinsecrets2

Bright shiny NBA Winner sticker and all.  What gives?  I looked around a little on google, and I found William Alexander’s website, where he refers to this as the paperback cover, but the one I’m looking at is hard-bound.  I can’t remember seeing a book change it’s cover art before it even made it to its first round of paperback.  Mom, readers–do you have other experiences or thoughts?

(Also, I’m a bit flummoxed because I think the first cover is way better. Maybe they thought the old one didn’t say “major award winner”?)

– Mark

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More on Lincoln’s Grave Robbers

Mom,

So much to say about Lincoln’s Grave Robbers.  First, on the subject matter–yes, despite the fact that it shouldn’t make any difference as far as the awards committees are concerned, I do think that the fact that this is about a relatively minor event will negatively affect this book, at least so far as buzz is concerned.  It also doesn’t help that the book has come out so early in the year, before we’re even done talking about Bomb, since awards haven’t been named yet.  It’s almost like Sheinkin (or Scholastic) is trying to sneak this one in.

All that being said, I agree with you that it contains all of the same strengths that we’ve come to expect in Sheinkin–great narrative style, excellent use of sources, a great story, etc.  If we are judging the book solely on its literary merits, I see no reason why this one shouldn’t be high on the list of 2013 titles to watch for.  Also, it should be said that despite the title, a fair portion of the book is devoted to the history of counterfeiting, which is surely not as “important” a topic as the atomic bomb, but definitely has some weight to it.  My personal interests were much more towards the counterfeiting sections than the grave-robbing stuff, so I was glad he spent so much time on it.

Sourcing. I don’t know if I’ve actually said this out loud (or in print) anywhere, but I suppose I should say for the record that I personally don’t much like Sheinkin’s sourcing habits.  In my perfect world, every single fact in a nonfiction book has a footnote or and end note explaining how it got there.  I’ve been defending Sheinkin and Bomb in spite of this because I think that there are many different ways of using sources, and it is not at all clear to me that there is any particular “standard” in his field (or in popular adult nonfiction, for that matter).  So, yes, I noticed many occassions in Lincoln’s Grave Robbers where I wondered how Sheinkin could have the level of detail he had, and I basically decided that I had to trust him.  Is this going to continue to haunt Sheinkin? I guess it depends (in part) on how Bomb does on January 28.

Finally, I’m fascinated by our commenter Alys’s discovery that many libraries, including New York Public, have shelved this in fiction.  I noticed on at least one library’s page that even the LC Subject Headings included the “juvenile fiction” tag, and another had an LCSH of “Historical Fiction.”  Something has obviously gone terribly wrong, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it had to do with some bad copy-cataloging.  Obviously, if you looked at the book at all, you would know that it was nonfiction, but if you’re just copying the catalog record someone else wrote up, it’s easy to replicate a mistake.  I wonder where that happened, though, since many libraries (including San Jose and Santa Clara, in our neck of the woods) managed to get it right.  I happen to love cataloging issues, and very rarely get to indulge in them in my daily duties, so this is a fun one to look at.

– Mark

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Lincoln’s Grave Robbers

Mark,

I just read Steve Sheinkin’s new book, Lincoln’s Grave Robbers,  out this month from Scholastic. Again, Sheinkin creates a piece of terrific narrative nonfiction that just zooms along. He tells a fascinating, little-known story, and fills it with quotations from the participants (more on this in a bit).

I think this book skews a little younger than Bomb and The Notorious Benedict Arnold. For one thing, the incident he details is just that: an incident. It’s about a Lincolnfoiled attempt to steal Abraham Lincoln’s remains and hold them for ransom. Both Bomb and Benedict had much larger stories and needed more context.  I wonder if the fact that this topic is somehow slighter or less important than his previous topics will affect whether it is considered as award material as the year goes on. What do you think?

This one I think will be popular with the upper elementary kids, especially boys (I mean, grave robbing? Awesome!) I found the whole thing great fun. I remember going to Springfield several times as a kid. I vaguely remember seeing Lincoln’s tomb. But I definitely don’t remember ever hearing this story. Of course, I don’t suppose they would have been overly eager to share it.

Sheinkin’s writing style is highly readable, as always. I particularly liked the way he incorporated slang from the time, and then included a glossary of the slang at the end of the book.

Given all the discussion on various blogs about Sheinkin’s particular style of narrative, journalistic non-fiction, and the questions about his source notes on Bomb (which were resolved to my satisfaction), I find it interesting that this book doesn’t attempt to source specific quotations at all. He tells us that much of the book comes from two primary sources: the daily reports of Secret Service Agent Patrick Tyrell, and a book by the Lincoln Monument’s custodian, John Carroll Powell. His bibliography cites “all the sources I used” and includes numerous newspaper articles of the time, which, he says, contained interviews with other eyewitnesses. I feel confident that, with a little digging, I could find the source of any direct quotation in the book. Many are quite obvious, as when he cites Tyrell’s memos to his boss in Washington.

Bomb just came out in September and this book came out in January, lincoln_tomb_03so it was written and possibly even printed before all of the source-note discussion about Bomb really got underway. Therefore, what we librarians were discussing clearly had nothing to do with the decisions Sheinkin made about attributing quotations. Still, I find it fascinating that we are having this discussion. It really shows how practices change over time. We’ve come a long way from made-up conversations and a complete lack of source notes, but we also seem to have moved past inserting footnotes and endnotes to a more open-ended way of indicating sources.

It makes sense in terms of telling the story. And, as you pointed out, Sheinkin’s style is to “give his readers a good show” and he is using a standard journalistic style, one that we adults are very familiar and comfortable with.

I bring this up mainly because I’m curious about how big an issue you think that is for this book, and because I wonder how it will affect the book in the coming year’s “best-of” discussions.  Bomb didn’t make Booklist‘s 2012 top choices list, and I wonder if it had anything to do with this issue.

So what do you think of Lincoln’s Grave Robbers?

– Mom

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Genre ghettos

Mark,

Yes, I’ve often wondered about the Edgar Awards. Although, technically, they honor books in the “mystery, crime, suspense, and intrigue fields,” (as Edgar winner Nancy Werlin mentioned in yesterday’s comments) even though they are given by the Mystery Writers of America. So clearly, they have a pretty broad interpretation of the field. And, when you think about it, Edgar himself wrote mystery, crime, and suspense stories; I can’t think of anything I would call “intrigue” in his oeuvre, right off the top of my head, but all the others are there. So I suppose Code Name Verity could be labeled suspense or intrigue (well, it is about spies, and in my mind, that’s the definition of intrigue), and Amelia Anne definitely includes crime and also suspense.

This blurring of the lines (is this a “thriller” or is it a “mystery”?) causes problems in libraries all the time. Many (most?) public libraries have a “Mystery” section, separate from regular fiction. The problem is deciding what goes there and what goes in fiction. So do you put this year’s big thriller and Edgar “Best Novel” nominee, Gone Girl, in the fiction section or the mystery section? It’s definitely not a traditional mystery in which a detective (amateur or professional) solves a crime. But there’s a crime (multiple crimes), and there’s lots of suspense. Results of a quick catalog check:

Santa Clara County Library: Mystery

San Jose Public Library: Mystery

San Francisco Public Library: Mystery

Berkeley Public Library: Fiction

Solano County Library: Fiction

Napa City/County Library: Mystery

Benicia Library: Mystery

And those last three are funny, because Solano, Napa, and Benicia share a catalog.

Of course, the real problem comes when Gillian Flynn writes another novel and it fits even less into the “mystery” genre. Then we shelve it in fiction, and our library users who want to read the next Gillian Flynn novel get upset with us because they can’t find it because it’s not next to Gone Girl on the shelf.

Can you guess that you got me on one of my pet peeves about library classification? I don’t like this dividing fiction up into genres, because there’s too much guesswork involved. I get that it is easier for our users to find similar things to something they liked if we have all the mystery books (or science fiction or fantasy or westerns or romance books) shelved together, but there’s too much of a grey area for too many books. And why privilege those particular genres? Why not have all the coming-of-age stories in one place, or the comedies of manners? Why not further subdivide “Mystery” into hardboiled, cozy, suspense, spy, etc.? And what about horror? Where does it go?

Nowadays, especially, we have a lot of ways for our library users to find the books in the genres and sub-genres they like. We have much better subject classifications for fiction in our online catalogs. We have great databases like Novelist and BookBrowse and NextReads. We create displays and bookmarks. And all you have to do is type “Gillian Flynn readalikes” into a Google search box to get dozens of suggestions.

So why not just lump all the fiction together? (At least I’m not suggesting we put it back into the Dewey 800s!) Admittedly, this was something I was never able to achieve, and the practice may now be too firmly entrenched, but it still makes sense to me.

To relate this to teens (and, I have to admit, I see much less genre separation in teen library collections than in adult), it seems to me that ghettoizing mysteries or science fiction or whatever takes away a big part of the serendipitous discovery that can happen on the library shelves. In general, I think teens are much more open to crossing boundaries. We see them reading from the adult, children’s, and teen collections. We see them reading massive adult nonfiction books and also going back to childhood favorites. I actually remember reading books when I was a teenager because they were on the library shelf near one containing books by a favorite author. So why not throw everything up there and let people discover?

Final note: I am not recommending that we do away with shelving fiction books by author. I firmly believe that it is good  library service to have a system that enables users to find the books that we own! Nevertheless, isn’t there something compelling about this?

Color [Creative Commons: chotda]

– Mom

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Completely Different Thoughts on Mysteries

Mom,

A friend alerted me to the fact that the Edgar Award nominees were recently announced.  The Edgars are presented by the Mystery Writers of America for the best mystery books of the year.  They have Golden-Globe-level numbers of categories, but the most pertinent to us is the Young Adult, where there are five nominees:

  • Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things by Kathryn Burak
  • The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George
  • Crusher by Niall Leonard
  • Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Now, I’ve only read the last two of these books, but what strikes me is that despite the murder element in Amelia Anne, I wouldn’t have thought of either of these books as a “mystery”, especially Code Name Verity, which doesn’t seem to fit any definition of mystery I’ve ever heard, except that it contains some vaguely mysterious stuff in it.

This isn’t the first time the Edgars have flummoxed me.  I thought John Green’s Paper Towns was a strange pick back in 2009, and I notice looking at their database that they nominated both Speak and Monster in 2000–which solidifies my contention that those were the two best YA books of that year, and possibly ever, but still confuses me since they aren’t really mysteries.

I’m all in favor of expanding the definition of mystery – by all means, they don’t have to all be cozies and police procedurals.  But it seems like if you stretch it enough, pretty much any book you can think of has mysterious elements to it–or else why would we keep reading it.  And I can’t find a definition or criteria for the award on the site to show how they limit it.

I’m not trying to pick on the Edgars (too much), but I wonder what you make of all this–what exactly is a mystery book?

– Mark

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Random thoughts on crime

Mark,

Fascinating thoughts about real-life crime and fictional crime. I do have some responses that have been knocking around in my head, but they’re mostly random, so we’ll see how it goes.

First, about real crime: I, too, find these examples of incorrect verdicts interesting. Among my acquaintance are a retired homicide detective, a district attorney, and a lawyer who once worked for the Innocence Project. Needless to say, these people have different takes on the topic. The homicide detective and the DA have both said to me, in effect, that by the time someone gets to trial, it is certain that they are guilty; it’s just a question of what evidence is allowed to be presented. And, of course, the defense will try to disqualify the most damaging evidence. They also believe that jurors suffer from the “CSI” effect–that they expect conclusive physical evidence, because that’s what they see on the crime shows. And, actually, I get why my friends feel that way–I mean, it’s their job, and they want to feel that they are doing the right thing.

Naturally my friend who worked on the Innocence Project sees things in a more nuanced fashion. Some of their cases are ones in which the client was convicted before modern innovations in DNA evidence, and the convictions relied heavily on eyewitnesses who, as you point out, are highly subject to error.

But turning to fiction, I believe, as you implied, that it is the certainty that makes these stories so appealing. Mysteries usually have such a sense of moral rightness about them: good guys win, bad guys get punished, and there’s little or no ambiguity in the ending.

When I was the manager at the Morgan Hill Library, there was a woman who came in every year to give us a donation for the library, with the express instruction that we were to spend it buying mysteries for the collection. It turned out that some years earlier, she had been going through a divorce, and felt that her life was completely out of control–nothing made sense. She said the only thing that kept her going was reading mystery novels. She would come to the library and check out stacks of them, and read them one after another, because they made sense to her–there was a certainty there, a pattern she couldn’t find in the rest of her life. Since she felt that mysteries essentially saved her life, she wanted to give back by making sure that others had plenty of mysteries to read.

I’ve actually read a couple of YA books lately that are mysteries, or at least have a mystery element to them, so perhaps that’s another post in a couple of days.

– Mom

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