48 Hour Book Challenge

48 Hour book challengeI am taking a break from Armchair Book Expo posting today (though I am still reading and enjoying your posts on diversity and dining with authors) to mention that I am also participating in a 48 Hour Book Challenge¬†(#48HBC) this weekend, hosted by Ms. Yingling Reads. This is a low-key, low-pressure reading event that essentially gives you an excuse to read and chat about books all weekend ūüėȬ†Below are four books I picked up from the library specifically for this challenge, plus one that I’ve owned for some time. All are middle-grade novels that have been on my TBR for at least two years.
48 Hour Book Challenge

I am not sure how much reading I’ll actually be able to accomplish this weekend, but I will provide updates on Twitter and perhaps a final recap post on Monday if all goes well. If you have even a few spare hours to devote to reading (or chatting about reading!) this weekend, I encourage you to check out this challenge. What bookish plans do you have for this weekend?
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Armchair Book Expo – Let’s Collaborate and Listen

Armchair Book Expo

I spent some time today getting caught up on posts from yesterday, during which¬†I realized I do indeed have opinions on best practices when it comes to book blogging. ¬†I have read a lot of thoughtful posts on the subject and look forward to reading more on today’s topics, one of which is…

Let’s collaborate and listen – The online book community has changed so much over the years. How do we keep up within our own book-sphere as well as within the community as a whole (i.e., libraries, bookstores, authors, publishers, etc.)?¬†

Listening

Something the best practices topic got me thinking about is how I engage with the online book community. In the past, I often felt like I was running behind when it came to keeping up with blogs, authors, and other bookish news. I checked Twitter multiple times a day, skimming through various lists to try and pick up on the significant news of the days. I glanced through hundreds of posts in my feed reader to find posts that mattered to me. How do I cut through the noise and find the bookish news that’s relevant to me? How do I choose which blogs can I find the time to read and comment on? How can I attempt to forge meaningful relationships when there are so many people trying to connect in this community?

This year, I think I have been succeeding in managing the neverending stream of voices from the book-sphere. I make rigorous use of Twitter lists and Feedly collections to prioritize my reading. For example, in Feedly, I have five categories of book blogs. I read and comment on blogs in the first category, then if I have time I move to the second, and so on. After a week, I mark all blogs as ‘read’ and move forward. This has helped me focus on the blogs I really love while also keeping an eye on blogs I don’t have the time to visit every day. I have stopped worrying so much about ‘missing something’, and just focused on enjoying the content that’s there in front of me. I don’t need to read every single blog update. The Forest app has also been an excellent help in restraining me from opening Twitter whenever I have a spare moment.

In keeping up with the greater community, I find Twitter (and Facebook to some extent) has been just as excellent a resource in keeping up with my local authors, publishers, and librarians as with my fellow book bloggers. I wonder sometimes how my life would be different without libraries, without the internet, and without Twitter! It’s truly an incredible platform – once you know how to find the voices that you should really be hearing.

Collaborating

I’ve written a lot about the listening part of this topic. I haven’t really addressed the collaboration aspect. Admittedly, this is something I’m still trying to get the hang of. I want to build more substantial relationships and have more meaningful conversations in the book community. (Armchair Book Expo has been an excellent way to do that so far!). This is¬†also something I’ve been making a concentrated effort on in 2017. It may take me a little while longer to get the hang of than the listening side of things, but I’ll keep at it.

The other topic is¬†What do readers want?¬†I have plenty of thoughts to share on that topic as well, but as it’s almost bed time I’ve decided to save it for another time.

Please leave a link in the comments if you’ve written about today’s topic. How do you stay connected to the book world? Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of information you have access to online?

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Armchair Book Expo – Introduction

Armchair Book Expo
It’s been a couple years since I participated in Armchair Book Expo. Perhaps it will be just the jolt¬†to get me back into blogging regularly ūüėČ The¬†introduction prompt this year is 10 sentence starters; here are my responses to five of them:

  1. I am . . . a 25 year old Canadian currently working as an EA with dreams of becoming a children’s librarian (I start an MLIS in the fall).
  2. My favorite . . . authors are (in no prioritized order) Haruki Murakami, Helen Oyeyemi, Neil Gaiman, J.R.R. Tolkien, Cornelia Funke, Neal Shusterman, and Catherynne M. Valente.
  3. My current read . . .¬†I have a lot on the go right now. This afternoon I was reading¬†Independent People¬†by Halldor Laxness (Icelandic fiction from the 1950s). I’m also reading The Hobbit,¬†a book of Japanese haiku, and¬†Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right¬†by Arlie Russell Hothschild. (Saving the middle grade for this weekend’s 48 hour book challenge).
  4. My summer plans . . . include enjoying my last Winnipeg Fringe Festival (second largest in North America) before I move to Vancouver in August.
  5. My blog. . .primarily features reviews of a wide variety of books (including fiction and non-fiction), as recording my thoughts on what I read has always been my primary purpose in blogging. I post sporadically but try to work it out to eight times a month.

The other topic for today is¬†best practices in the online book community. I’m not the greatest at participating in community so¬†I don’t have much to say on this topic but I am interested in what other people come up with. (Perhaps what I would have to say could be distilled down to ‘be considerate’.) Time to blog hop!

Are you participating in Armchair BEA? Leave a link to your post in the comments if so~

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Talkin’ Bout Tolkien – A Secret Vice and The Plants of Middle-Earth

The Plants of Middle-Earth

The Plants of Middle-Earth: Botany and Sub-Creation by Dina Hazell

‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ | GoodReads | IndieBound | Wordery

I purchased this book expecting a field guide of sorts to the plants found in Middle-earth*. The Plants of Middle-earth¬†instead uses said¬†greenery as a point from which to explore various themes and concepts in Tolkien’s work. Hazell argues that Tolkien’s careful selection and naming of plants both real and fantastic reflects the implications of the grander tale.

The Lord of the Rings is far too complex to be reduced to a simple tale of good versus evil, but one of the questions that must be asked is whether it is ultimately optimistic or pessimistic. Tolkien explores the issue in many places, not least in his botany, where he directs our gaze toward the ephemeral beauty of a single bloom and the enduring strength of nature. (43)

I particularly liked the chapter “Forest and Trees”, which discusses¬†significance of trees (beyond the role of Ents) via a tour of the forests of Middle-Earth. I also came to appreciate a brief aside on¬†modernization and Sarehole Mill, which I initially¬†thought was somewhat removed from the topic (84 to 87).

Of course, The Lord of the Rings cannot become commonplace, regardless of how often we read it. But hopefully awareness of its plant life will offer a new perspective for future visits to Middle-earth. (95)

The Plants of Middle-earth¬†is a pretty little book, an example of why one might prefer physical over digital. The deep green binding is soft to touch and the pages have a bit of weight to them.¬†The lovely illustrations are one of this book’s feature attractions. However, the illustrations were not captioned. I could usually figure out which plant featured in the illustrations, but some pages described multiple plants and I wasn’t quite sure what was being depicted. For those wondering about the artists, that information is tucked in the back of the book (117).

I recommend this book for a fresh take on the world of Middle-earth, through the lens of its plentiful plant life.

*For anyone interested in such a field guide, a forthcoming release from Oxford UP (Flora of Middle-Earth) might be the book we’re looking for.

A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins

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The title A Secret Vice refers to a talk that J.R.R. Tolkien originally gave in 1931. He discussed the joys of inventing language and the significant role language has to play in mythology creation.

I had previously read parts of Tolkien’s essay back¬†2013,¬†when I fulfilled a years long dream of writing about Tolkien for my undergrad degree.¬†The paper I wrote was titled “Retaining Meaning: Translating Tolkien’s Middle-Earth”, and it dealt very much with Tolkien’s passion for language creation. I was pleased to learn¬†A Secret Vice” was being released in similar to fashion to “On Fairy-Stories”, which was released in an independent volume titled Tolkien On Fairy Stories.¬†This book would have been handy to have around during my undergrad!

The talk itself spans 31 pages. A brief “Essay on Phonetic Symbolism” is also included in the book. (The editors theorize that Tolkien may have written the essay to expand on ideas not integral to “A Secret Vice” [63].) A 54 page introduction serves well in providing context for the actual essay.¬†Not just padding, the introduction explores¬†the social and cultural context in which Tolkien was writing as well characteristics of his¬†invented languages.¬†A 15 page coda after the essay and manuscripts titled “The Reception and Legacy of Tolkien’s Invented Languages”¬†continues the style of the introduction in exploring Tolkien’s impact. Finally, manuscripts are also included. Sometimes these can reveal a lot about a writer’s development of thought, but I skipped them in this volume.

Originally a talk given to a literary society (xxxi), “A Secret Vice” has a relatively casual and at times self-deprecating tone. Having read so much of Tolkien’s fiction, I find it something of a novelty to read in his own ‘voice’. Fans of Tolkien or those interested in constructed languages will appreciate the sentiments expressed and ideas explored in A Secret Vice.

Do either of these books interest you? Is there a fantasy world for which you would like to read a plants field guide?
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I Have Many Thoughts on Radio Silence

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

Radio Silence by Alice OsemanFormat/Source: Hardcover/Library
Published: 28 March 2017
Publisher: Harper Teen
Length: 474 pages
Genre: Contemporary YA
Rating: ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ¬Ĺ
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Radio Silence¬†blew me away. I imagine it’ll be one of my favourite reads of the year. It’s a rare YA novel that I can objectively appreciate and also personally connect with.¬†I have a lot of thoughts on this book. The¬†following review is broken into four sections: representing the modern high school experience,¬†atmosphere, racial and sexual diversity, and attending university.

Representing the Today’s¬†High School Experience

Upon first seeing the author photo of Alice Oseman, I thought she looked really young. She is – she was born in 1994. (That’s my baby sister’s age?!) Oseman’s age¬†goes a long way to explaining how Oseman wrote such a realistic novel. She lived her teen and uni years just as I lived them. I found the experiences described in Radio Silence¬†to be spot on as to my coming of age years. This includes small things (such as certain mannerisms) and bigger things (such as engagement in online communities). Frances narrates with blunt and dry humour. There’s no sense of “Haha, I’m so awkward” that sometimes happens when authors try to recreate teen life. I’ve never read text message conversations that felt so real, like they were lifted straight out of a friend’s phone. (That’s one thing that can be particularly different for adult writers to get right, I’ve found).

Apart from accurately representing what it’s like to grow up in the 2010s, Radio Silence¬†cut close to home for me in a couple other ways.¬†Frances’ friends at school don’t really know her. They have one impression of her (boring and studious). She doesn’t know how to show them what she’s really like. They don’t believe that person (the real Frances) could exist.¬†I felt that hard in my last years of high school/first years of uni. I changed, and my friends’ understanding of me took a lot longer to catch up. It was a frustrating time, and one I’ve not really seen depicted in YA before (admittedly, my YA scope is very small).

The other aspect of the book that I deeply related to was the lack of romance and the friendship between Frances and Aled. My best friend is a guy. It has taken many of years of us being ‘just’ friends for people to start accepting¬†that there aren’t any romantic feelings between us. I would love to see more strong friendships, like Frances and Aled’s, in YA. The lack of romance also mirrors my high school experience. My friends and I didn’t date much; we weren’t searching for our one true loves. Our friendships were definitely more important than our romantic relationships at that time.

Atmospheric

Radio Silence¬†captures a particular atmosphere that I hadn’t previously experienced in YA. The characters live in the real world, but the mystery of where Carys went and what Radio Silence (the underground YouTube podcast that the novel centers on) lends a mysterious air to the story. Oseman has said Welcome to Night Vale¬†inspired¬†Radio Silence¬†– it definitely has a similar vibe. I’m also reminded of Stranger Things, with its focus on friendships in a spooky setting. Frances’ first person narration is down to earth and realistic, but¬†it also gives¬†a particular insight¬†into one bright and creative girl’s mind.

Sexuality and Racial Diversity

I have a read few interviews with Oseman (who is White and British) where she stated she dislikes her debut novel Solitaire¬†for its lack of racial diversity. She made a concentrated effort to improve diversity in¬†Radio Silence. Frances is British-Ethiopian, with a White mother and an Ethiopian father (who does not play a role in the story). Frances’ race is not integral to the story (as it is, for example, in The Hate U Give). ¬†As I am White myself, I don’t feel confident evaluating¬†whether Frances is a good example of biracial representation. I applaud¬†Oseman’s efforts to diversify¬†her cast of characters, though. (Supporting characters include Daniel [Korean] ¬†and Raine [Indian]).

The characters are also diverse in their sexuality. Frances is bisexual and Aled is asexual. Aled’s sexuality is something that¬†he works out throughout the book. It’s not something that he immediately knows. Frances’ sexuality is similar to her racial identity, in that that’s just a part of her identity – it’s not a big deal. I appreciate the ace representation and normalization of bisexuality.

“You Don’t Have to Go to College”

 

I have mixed feelings on the “you don’t have to go to university” message. I agree that kids shouldn’t be pressured into attending¬†university just because it’s the¬†thing to do. A university degree does not guarantee employment, let alone employment in your desired¬†field. University also isn’t the only choice for higher education. High school students should be made aware that they have a variety of options and that they they have the power in choosing what they want to do, be that art college or world travel or cabinet making or university. Personally, I think if you’re going to pursue further education, you should at least have some general idea of what you might want to do afterwards. I think¬†few people¬†are privileged enough to engage in higher education purely for education’s sake. My experiences¬†with formal education have been thankully positive. I have always enjoyed being a good student, and I have always known the path I wanted to take through higher education (English degree, followed by MLIS, followed by career as a librarian). I am trying not to let my own experience colour my exploration of university in¬†Radio Silence¬†too much, as I understand my experience is the exception, not the norm.¬†Now that I’ve laid out my general thoughts on the topic, here’s what I think about some characters’ attitudes towards university in Radio Silence.

This section contains spoilers for events towards the end of the novel.

I found Frances’ experience very sad. She had always been a committed student, not because she enjoyed education nor due to any pressure from friends or family, but because she just thought it was always what she had to do.¬†Even with a mother encouraging her to take a break from studying and enjoy other aspects of life and a teacher encouraging her to pursue art, Frances committed herself to something that she didn’t really connect with. I wonder, how did she end up in that situation? How could that have been avoided? Aled, on the other hand, never actually wanted to go to university but pursued that path¬†because of his abusive mother. Aled’s disdain for university felt more grounded to me than Frances’.

Carys gets her own paragraph. I hope I’m not being too cynical when I say I found Cary’s experience exaggerated. Carys fails all her exams in her final year of high school (I interpret this as meaning she didn’t graduate), yet manages to find a well-paid job in London, with no connections or experience. At one point, a character asks Carys how she got her job running workshops for the National Theatre without any qualifications (423). Carys replies that they didn’t ask her for any. And she doesn’t have any work experience. Really?

I imagine Carys’ situation is exceptional, not something high school students should count¬†on. I don’t mean to come across as a person for whom school grades are the be all and end all. Some students will face immense¬†pressure and difficulties in their high school studies. Some students won’t have access to resources that might have helped¬†them succeed. Carys’ story, however, comes off to me as wishful thinking. I wouldn’t want students who are struggling in school to think, “Oh, I’ll just flunk my exams and get a great job with no qualifications or experience anyway”. Even though I have tried to not let my experiences influence my attitude towards Radio Silence’s university message, of course they¬†have! So I’m curious – am I too biased in my assessment of Carys? What are your thoughts on higher education and finding employment?

Despite everything I’ve said above, I do think students face more pressure to go to university than they should.¬†Radio Silence¬†could and should be an eye opener for some students, whose talents and dreams¬†can be found outside academia.

The Bottom Line:

Radio Silence exemplifies what contemporary young adult novels can be. Highly recommended for its realistic depiction of teen life, including diverse racial and sexual identities and commentary on the pressure to succeed academically.

Further Reading:

Read Diverse 2017

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