Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I may never actually finish this post...

Sword Song, by Bernard Cornwell. I'm pretty sure some of the author's little tics are becoming more frequent. It's not just that I'm noticing them more, I do believe they are happening more. Especially annoying to me is his habit of ending every chapter, and frequently, sections within chapters, with these little fragments that drag on for paragraphs, like so: "... and AEthelflaed would not return and Alfred's throne would be safe. And I was to make it all possible. In one week's time" (p. 282).

My coworker did a little happy dance when he got the last book (or next, I don't know if it's the last one of this series) before me, and he tells me that the author doesn't do so many of those little quasi-paragraphs in it. So I'm not sure what that was all about, but I'm glad someone pointed out to the author that it isn't a good composition technique.

The other thing I didn't particularly like is that, so far in the books, they all go right in a row, the second book picking up just where the first one left off. This book, however, leaves a big gap between where Lords of the North left off and this one begins. You know how I feel about the detail of daily life bringing me closer to the characters. We really lost Gisela as a character, both in that she has hardly any screen time, as it were, in this book, and that her life is different now from what it was five years ago. I miss her.

Over the weekend, we added some shelving in the YA Room, which really opened things up for us. Hurrah! I got in there with one of our pages, and, for the first time, I touched every single book in the room. There's no comparison between getting into the stacks and just making circulation lists.

One of the books I found in there was Doll Baby, by Eve Bunting; illustrated by Catherine Stock. It's a 2000 book, but it checked out 25 times, including 4 times in 2009. That's a pretty steady circulation. It makes my minimum-annual-circ cut, but I want to weed it anyway: the book addresses teen pregnancy, but it doesn't really talk about the key points; the character is sad that she can't play on the softball team anymore, and she's upset that the father isn't interested in the baby. She's tired every night after doing her homework and taking care of the baby, but that's about it.

I'm put off more by the step-father in the book; the main character calls him "Dad," but she's jealous of the time he spends with her mother and how close they are. The step-father is angry at the baby's father, but he doesn't help out with the baby at all.  He complains about how the money they have to spend on baby things means they can't go on vacation this year. There's obviously stress on the family, but that isn't the main point of the book, either.

The most ridiculous part, I thought, is that the main character seems surprised that "[a] baby is not a doll" (p.30)! The subtitle on the front cover even says "...but a real baby is not a doll." Should this really be the closest thing the book has to a thesis? Shouldn't a book aimed at 15-year-olds focus more on the emotional aspects leading up to the pregnancy? No part of this book contained a strong enough message regarding teen pregnancy to make it worth the shelf space-- and it's a pretty thin book. If the best argument the book can put forth is that having a baby makes it hard to go on dates and play on sports teams at school, it could have at least made that point stronger by including more activities and maybe talking about college.

I also don't like (1) the illustrations, and (2) how illustration-heavy the book is. The book is obviously aimed at those sad, partially-illiterate girls who are stereotypically likely to get pregnant. But it doesn't give them any tools (increased self-confidence to be able to say no, contraception tools, adoption alternatives, etc.) to deal with the situation; mostly it's a kind of "this sucks" sort of story, but girls won't be able to connect to it. Also, the illustrations are watercolors over pencil sketches, and not my style.

Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Danny Danziger. I read fully half this book, but it's just not good enough. The book is a collection of interviews with people who work in all aspects of the museum, from the plumbers to the curators. Some of the people are really interesting and have cool things to say, but the editor/author dude did a poor job of steering the interviews: the curators mostly talk about their work, and are very informative, but alot of the other people ramble on about their childhoods and unrelated stuff that doesn't tell us anything about the museum. It frustrates me how the book is organized-- the interviews are just organized alphabetically by interviewee last name. I think it would have been more powerful if services or types of jobs were grouped together, like having the curator interviews all together; and the trustees, board members, and the director together; and the service people all together.

The thing that frustrates me most, however, is that the job titles of the interviewees don't appear with their names in their interviews, so I'm constantly flipping to the front, where the table of contents does list their jobs, so that I'm able to make sense of the first couple of paragraphs.

Finally, I'm able to say that the I won't be reading any other work by this "author." His introduction is a disaster of poor comma use, and his little introductions at the beginning of each interview are as random as the people themselves-- some are insightful and informative, some are merely physical descriptions or attempts at jokes. All together, perhaps the biggest letdown in no short while.

Death by Bikini, by Linda Gerber. I was intrigued by this YA mystery novel, since I thought that genre kind of went away with Nancy Drew. It's obvious where the author got some her inspiration-- it's very like what I remember from the Nancy Drew stories-- but it would be appropriate for young mystery fans. The main character has her "I guess it's up to me to solve this problem" moment.

I read the book in fits and starts, which probably contributed to my confusion over the plot: this is another author who may mistake lack of detail for suspense. This is actually the first in a short series, and I'd guess it's good for maybe girls 12-15 (and you might try it on boys around that age who miss the Hardy Boys).

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, by Nagaru Tanigawa. ARC. I started this ages ago and totally couldn't get in to it, and now I can't even what happened in the 20-odd pages I read. There are some manga illustrations spattered throughout, so I'm sure I can pawn it off on a teen. Un-smegging-gripping, to say the least.

Bound, by Donna Jo Napoli. This was a good story, and the author is a good storyteller, but it isn't super spectacular. This Cinderella-like story could be a great introduction to some aspects of Chinese culture, but the author doesn't take the opportunity to do that. Was it regular for people to live in caves? Why doesn't she give more information on the traditions of foot-binding? Why does the character believe her mother was reincarnated but not her father? The author gave a lot of detail about a person who turned out to be only a temporary character; I got invested in him, and then he just disappeared from the story. Good, not great.

Gateway, by Sharon Shinn. This is another book that sounded good and looked really pretty, but which I just didn't finish. There's some dimension-hopping at the core of this story, so I thought it would be a good sci-fi or fantasy, but everything is too tidy. The dialogue is too perfect, very unrealistic. The main character hops worlds unexpectedly, but people on the other side knows she's coming and are prepared to meet her and help her along. I just can't buy it.

And finally... The Book of Codes: Understanding the World of Hidden Messages: An Illustrated Guide to Signs, Symbols,
Ciphers, and Secret Languages, by Paul Lunde (general editor). This book would probably good for teens and tweens into nonfiction. I didn't like this book because of problems with the 1) layout and 2) detail level.

There are problems with the physical layout of the book: the book was not designed with binding in mind; many of the illustrations are too close to the spine and are hard to look at. A few of the illustrations, which are full two-page spreads, are right over the page join, so the middle of the illustration is impossible to see. My second objection about the layout is more a matter of preference, but it makes sense that other people would have this objection: around an illustration, there are several little text boxes all related to the illustration. However, there aren't organized in a way that makes sense to me; frequently, the main introductory paragraph is in the top or bottom right corner, while other information, which the eye encounters first on the left side, doesn't make sense by itself.

My complaint about the detail is that there isn't enough. There is interesting information about each topic, yes, but it would be more interesting for me if there was information on how the languages and codes were related. Without that sort of information, I didn't find the book very engaging.

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