Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Great War Reading Challenge

The Great War Reading Challenge (June 2010 - June 2011)

This is a personal reading challenge, though you're more than welcome to join in! ;-)

Ever since high school (and an excellent teacher!), I have loved history.  As I moved on to university (guess what my major was ;-), my fascination with it grew and developed.  I took courses in a variety of subjects - medieval, women's, African, British, Canadian - until in my last year I took a World War One course.  Ever since then, I have continued to read any non-fiction war book I can get my hands on. 

Since beginning this blog in the not so distant past, I decided to formalize my interest in World War One by a personal reading challenge: The Great War Reading Challenge. 

My plan is to read books (either fiction or non-fiction, from any age level) that deal with World War One (1914-1918), its origins, events, and lingering effects, before reviewing them.  I'll have a mainly Canadian focus, but will not limit myself entirely: I have never read anything about the Australian experience, and I want to re-read (and re-watch the original film version) Erich Remarque's All quiet on the western front.

At the moment I don't have a set number of books that I'm aiming for - I just can't decide!  I read a lot of non-fiction; it probably accounts for about half of my reading material (and the other half is usually romance and fantasy!)  (Yes, I'm a geek - usually the first place I head to in the local bookstore is the non-fiction section...)

I don't have a set reading list (especially since I can't decide on an ultimate number, either...), but the following couple titles will be, at some time or another, read and reviewed:

Tim Cook: At the sharp end: Canadians fighting the Great War, 1914-1916 (vol. 1)
Tim Cook: Shock troops: Canadians fighting the Great War, 1917-1918 (vol. 2) *
A. B. Godefroy: For Freedom and honour?: the story of the 25 Canadian volunteers executed in the First World War
Erich Remarque: All quiet on the western front

* this book won the 2009 Charles Taylor prize for literary non-fiction

Project: Picture Book Reading Challenge

Project: Picture Book (June 2010 - June 2011)

This is a personal reading challenge, though you're more than welcome to join in! ;-)

I love picture books. 

Really.  Even though I have no children, they are one of my favourite types of books.  I have even succumbed to buying a particular favourite title or author (Melanie Watt, Beatrix Potter, Rob Scotton...).

I work at a library branch and used to conduct a preschool class every week (I'm with the 6 to 9 year olds now...).  This, of course, only gave me the excuse to plop my butt down in the picture book section on the pretext of looking for that week's theme-orientated books.  (But then, I also claim I'm "familiarizing myself with the collection" as well! ;-)  Even though I'm no longer with that age group (though I'm finding that the older kids will listen to a picture book as well - yay!), I still read them.  Constantly. 

Therefore I decided to make myself a personal challenge!

I will read one picture book a week starting June 2010 (next week!) and either comment on it or review it (hopefully the latter).  Some of the books will be favourites, while others will be randomly pulled from the shelf.  By next June (2011), I'll have read and reviewed 52 picture books (of course, I could do more, but at least there will be 52... ;-)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Graphic Lit (Weekly Geeks #1)

I first became aware of the term "graphic novel" a few years ago. I thought it meant novels that are, well, graphic in the sense of violence or sex. (I'm a little slow on the uptake sometimes!) My first introduction to a graphic novel/memoir was Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. (Some of you may know her as the amazing author of Dykes to Watch Out For in all its iterations.) I was enthralled with Fun Home's story, the illustrations, the form. Since then I've read several more graphic memoirs and some graphic novels. A particular favorite author is Shaun Tan, author of The Arrival, Tales from Outer Suburbia and others.

Do you read graphic novels or memoirs? Who are your favorite authors? Which books do you recommend?

If you haven't read any, why not?

Some people have the impression that graphic novels are glorified comic books, are unsophisticated or don't qualify as "serious" literature. What do you think? If you track your book numbers, do you count a graphic novel as a book read?


I think I read a fair amount of graphic novels (and manga, though they seem more like a guilty pleasure, for some reason...), though not as much as the librarian (and my boss) at work - it's probably his favourite thing!  I'm not so keen on the Marvel/DC popular characters (i.e. Batman, Superman, X-Men, etc.) and all their various incarnations, though I will read them and there are some that have been really good (the one where Superman was Russian instead of American - can't think of the title at the moment, of course! - turned everything on its head). 

Recent reads (and re-reads) include Revelations by Paul Jenkins and Humbero Ramos, Shannon Hale's Rapunzel's revenge, the "Fables" series, and the manga adaptation of Sherrilyn Kenyon's "Dark-Hunter" series. 

Revelations was good (though the artwork took a bit getting used to - the (good) characters looked slightly demonic), though it was a little unsettling and didn't really end with an end (if you know what I mean...).  If you're Catholic (which I'm not), you may be offended by it, but if you liked the Da Vinci Code, you'd probably like this one. 

Shannon Hale's version of Rapunzel's revenge was also good - it was a fun example of the fractured fairy-tale... and I can't wait to read Calamity Jack

The "Fables" series by Bill Willingham (though I have yet to read the spin-off about Jack) is really good - again, it's an example of the fractured fairy-tale, though this one is definitely for mature audiences (get your head out of the gutter - I'm talking themes, not content...though there is a bit of that, as well!). 

And the Sherrilyn Kenyon cross-over manga?  Don't bother.  (Yes, I understand manga is a completely different art style.  But really, it ruined one of my favourite characters (Tabitha).  Grrr.)

Memoirs, not so much.  For some reason, I'm not that nosy - though I'm nosy enough with other things!

I definitely count graphic novels as a book read - and some of them can be very sophisticated.  There's one that just came in to the library that I've had my eye on: Pride of Baghdad by Brian Vaughan.  It's about the American bombing of Baghdad in 2003 - and the pride of lions that escaped from the zoo at that time.  It deserves careful reading, but I have waaaay too much on my plate at the moment, unfortunately.

What's your take on graphic novels?  Do you have any favourites that you always recommend?

Visit "Weekly Geeks" for more thoughts!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Garden Diary Reading Challenge

Garden Diary Challenge (June 2010 - June 2011)

This is a personal reading challenge, though you're more than welcome to join! ;-)

My plan is to read, each week, an entry from Des Kennedy's An ecology of enchantment.  I'll also be reading one (maybe more!) book a month, which features gardens and gardening.  It could be fiction or non-fiction and of any age level (child, teen or adult).

I plan to comment on the Des Kennedy entries, as well as write reviews on the other books.

My initial reading list:

1. Des Kennedy: An ecology of enchantment: a year in the life of a garden (ongoing)
2. June 2010 - Sarah Addison Allen: Garden spells

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rating System?

The idea of a personal rating system for books appeals to me.

However, my rating may be completely different than yours.  Even with such helpful questions as:

§ Was the author able to impart the story in such a way that the reader is not distracted by the words themselves?

§ Does the book contain wonderful descriptions that carry the reader away from reality to another world?

§ Did the author’s presentation of the book’s content have an undertone of meaning, such that the reader is left feeling that they have learned something important by reading the book?
(from Inkweaver Review)
My ratings (and thus reviews) tend towards more subjective rather than stylistic and plot issues.  If I would read a book again, for example, then to me it's an excellent book.  Something about the book has caught me.  But someone looking at the plot and the characters might find them cliche and cardboard-y, thus giving a completely different (and probably poor) rating... 
On the other hand, I also read a lot of non-fiction.  Non-fiction (for some reason) I am able to look at more objectively and say yes, that was terrible research, hard for a layman to understand, excellent narrative, etc.  (Then why is that so hard for me to do with fiction books?!)
That being said (after looking through good ol'Google's results), I think I've decided on the following for a general rating system:
1 star (*) Terrible/DNF - speaks for itself!
2 stars (**) Disappointing - I finished the book, but it was a long time in coming...
3 stars (***) Average - Interesting, but I've read better.  If you want to read it, get it from the library!
4 stars (****) Good - Better than average, but not quite excellent.  Buy it only if it's on sale or at a secondhand shop.
5 stars (*****) Excellent - a definite purchase/re-read...this is the kind of book you can't stop thinking about!
(Oh so unique, isn't it? ;-)  Does that make sense?  How does everyone else rate their books? 
I know the 3 and 4 star ratings are going to give me trouble (i.e. "is it a 3 or 4?"; "this was good, but this wasn't"; etc.), and the 1 star will be rare (mainly because I'm picky!).  I'll give it a test drive and see how it works out...
Jenn ;-)

Taboo and Censorship

Censorship of the written word has a long history - and (unfortunately) continues even today.  It stems, I think, from our fears of the world, strangers and even ourselves.  Fears that range from the religious (such as Harry Potter's witchcraft connotations to Salman Rushdie) to sexuality (such as Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Outrageously Alice and Michael Willhoite's Daddy’s roommate and events, both past and present (such as Barbara Coloroso's Extraordinary evil: a brief history of genocide and David Irving's Hitler’s war).

The idea of censorship - regardless of the reason and the content of the material - is abhorrent to me.  Since I work in a library, I've been confronted by patron's requesting the removal of certain titles.  One older gentleman demanded that a mystery novel be taken out of the system because it had too much sexual content.  Another lady - a mom probably in her late twenties or early thirties (I'm a horrible judge of age!) with a preschooler and a baby - wanted the Terry Pratchett book Where's my cow? as well as a children's CD removed from the children's area because she deemed them inappropriate. 

While I promised to pass on these "suggestions" to the higher powers that be (aka the management) and politely took their information, I wanted to say to them "Don't read it!"  You have a choice about whether to read a certain book or listen to a certain CD and even if you do not like it, others might - and probably will. 

Which brings me to personal taboos.

Everyone has them.  Not liking a particular genre because it doesn't interest you is not the same thing as a taboo; that's a personal preference.  A taboo is something - a personl, place, thing, situation, etc. - that you absolutely refuse to read about.  And when it crops up in a favourite genre or story, a reader is either tempted to put the book down or gives up altogether. 

I'll admit that I've done it a time or two with my biggest personal taboo: rape.  Regardless of the age or gender of the victim, the portrayal or even hint of rape in a story turns me right off.  (Even by one of my favourite authors - I love Patricia Briggs, but the first couple pages of Cry wolf turned me off by just the hint of sexual abuse the female character had endured.)

I remember picking up a very thick book (I can't even remember the name of it anymore) while on my break one day and opening to a random page near the first.  It caught my attention because of the way the author had formatted it - as if a personal manuscript had been rediscovered and the "author" had placed notes in the sides about research, publishing details, etc.  However, I happened to flip to a page where it described the main character as a child - and the victim of a rape by two men.  I immediately replaced the book back on the shelf; my interest disappeared as quickly as it had come. 

The only time I've remained with a book was with the J. D. Robb's "Eve Dallas/In death" series.  I read the first four books before losing interest (but for a completely different reason).  Did it take me a while to get the past the fact of Eve's past?  Yup.  Did I enjoy the books despite the situation of her childhood?  Yup.  Would I read them again or return to the rest of the series?  Probably not, for a variety of reasons.

Why do I have this personal taboo?  Probably because this is one of my personal fears.  I don't pretend that rape doesn't (unfortunately) exist, but I have choosen not to read about it.  It's a personal choice and I'm not going to demand that every book that deals with it be banned just because I don't like it.

This post did start out life as an examination of my own personal taboo's.  Somehow it morphed into a censorship/taboo rant.  Do you have personal reading taboos?

Freedom to Read week (Canada) - Challenged book and magazine list