#KeepYAWeird – On being angry

12 03 2015

Today I am angry. I know the world doesn’t care about me being angry. I know the internet doesn’t give a fuck about me being angry. And even (the anti-)social media Twitter and Facebook don’t give a shit about my outrage. But today I am angry and also sad.

I am often angry, though. When my computer doesn’t do what I want it to do, I feel like throwing it out of the window (but I don’t). When people don’t meet the deadlines I set out for them, I feel like sending them angry emails about their lack of commitment (but I don’t). When I enter a dirty as hell classroom once again and I have to pick up dirty tissues from the floor, I feel like kicking the colleagues who were too lax to tell their students there are fucking bins (3 even) in my classroom. When I see a guy smoking inside the metro and slurring obscene things at people, I am angry and I want to yell at him so he gets rid of the lit cigarette because we’re under the ground and there’s no air in the metro as it is and could he just shut the fuck up (but I don’t). When I see how certain parents say awful things to their kid in a supermarket or scold him/her, out in the street when all the kid is doing is being a kid, I feel like telling the parents they should have never have become parents in the first place (but I don’t). When I read yet another article about inequality between men and women I feel like tearing up the newspaper or hitting the screen of my laptop (but I don’t).

So basically I am angry on average 5 times a day and usually I am quite good at containing – but maybe not hiding – that anger, but today is different. I don’t want to contain or hide the sadness and the outrage I feel for how I had to wake up this morning. Seeing that one of my favorite authors – Andrew Smith – is completely gone from “social media” – Twitter and Facebook – is just… #weird in all the wrong ways, and beyond comprehension.gj1

Yesterday, Andrew Smith was in the middle of a Twitter shitstorm, a shitstorm that started because of the way one or two people read a certain sentence in a certain interview in a certain way. One interview, one sentence, one reading and next you get a shitstorm about how Andrew Smith is a sexist and mob mentality ensues. WTF?

So I am angry. This is not the first time that a man’s integrity is questioned by people who don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. Not only does an attack like this (because that’s what it is, it was an attack, whatever people might be saying to the contrary) show that apparently people can’t distinguish between “characters in a book”, “the author as public persona” and “a living and breathing human being”. A writer doesn’t necessarily believe or support every little thing every character in every one of his books ever says. But what’s said in the book by certain characters is even beyond the point in this whole thing.

What is the point, is that under the pretense of so-called righteousness and the right to criticism on “social” media certain people think it is okay to pretend to understand and know what another person thinks and feels, and worse: that it doesn’t matter. What is the claim to righteousness here, you ask? It’s “feminism”, or rather a certain interpretation of feminism. But what happened yesterday, that was *not* feminism: feminism is not hating and/or attacking what (white) men say and do*. Feminism is not using a person’s family to prove a point. Feminism is about: all things considered, people are equal. And the way Andrew Smith was treated was not as an equal.

I could go one step further and state that when women only write female protagonists they are not being told off or attacked for only writing about girls or women. And actually, thinking like that gives feminism a bad and dirty name and helps no one at all. No one. So I don’t want to take that step.

If you ask me what the first word is that comes to mind when I hear the name ‘Andrew Smith’, it most definitely is not ‘sexist’. It is talented. It is unique. It is honest. That’s 3 words, I know.

Andrew Smith is also an incredibly kind man. You know what type of guy he is? He’s the type who despite a mad busy schedule, takes time to meet up with people and to sit down with them, have lunch with them and have a great conversation with them half across the world . He’s the type of person who takes on crazy projects with people at the other end of the world because it would be a great thing for the kids in his (and my) class. He doesn’t do this for himself, but for other people.

So yeah, I am angry today. And very sad. And I miss ‘seeing’ Drew. So today I’m re-reading The Alex Crow. #KeepYAWeird

Andrew Smith signing books

Andrew Smith signing books

*it is honestly not the first time that a well known popular male write got flack like this for writing (mostly) male protagonists, by the way.





Favorite books of 2014

21 12 2014

In 2014 I read a lot less than in previous years. This was mainly due to a second sort of job. In 2012 I started working on an ESL method. I wrote 2 units (well, 3 actually, but one’s for the next book in the series) last year, but this year I was also asked to coordinate another book in that same series. 2014-12-13 17.14.53This meant I had to write units, edit my own as well as other people’s units and coordinate the whole thing (which is a lot like pretending you know what you’re talking about). That’s on top of a full time teaching job, of course. Anyway, water under the bridge… I read a lot less: still 97 books, but a good 6000 pages less than in 2013, for example.

First, for this “best of 2014” list, I am not going to count books I re-read this year even though they would have scored high on this or any list (so that means, no Maus or As I Lay Dying, which I both rated 5 stars, for instance).

Second, it seems I’ve really become more selective in my reading because I didn’t give any book just 1 star this year, which is definitely a first. There were plenty of books I didn’t particularly cared for, or authors who I thought had previously published a lot better books, but I just didn’t pick up a book I knew wouldn’t be for me.

Finally, I am not discriminating here. My list has everything thrown in together because that’s just how I read: so-called YA literature (most of what I read), picture books, graphic novels, and so-called Adult literature. Big deal. I don’t want to rate from 10 to 1 or from 1 to 10, so this year, it’s in reverse alphabetical order (by author). Also, books that were published in 2014 get an *.

 

  • The Free by Willy Vlautin *.
Willy Vlautin

Willy Vlautin

I saw Willy Vlautin perform with The Delines in November. Even before the gig, I knew this book would end on my end of year list. It’s really everything I want in a book: great voice, intertwining stories and lives, ‘ordinary’ people just trying to survive in contemporary society’s desolation… you know, the fun stuff of life J , but with a remarkable attention to hope and compassion.

 

  • Anything by Shaun Tan, especially The Arrival and The Red Tree. Simple: Shaun Tan is brilliant. Seeing one of his images on NCTE’s Annual Convention catalogue was a bit unexpected and otherworldly, though, like much of Tan’s own work.

 

  • Grasshopper Jungle* and 100 Sideways Miles* by Andrew Smith. Andrew Smith has 2 books on this year’s list, and I am currently reading an ARC of The Alex Crow. I have not made it a secret that I am a great admirer of Andrew Smith’s work, because his work has what I am constantly looking for when I’m reading: the voice of the author (see more about this later). As different as all of his work may be (Ghost Medicine is nothing like Winger is nothing like Grasshopper Jungle), there’s always the distinct ‘Andrew Smith’ signature all over the pages: twisted and chaotic at first glance, honest, thoughtful and incredibly smart at second glance. Even though I don’t love all of his books in the same way or to the same degree – obviously I have favorites, of course I do – I respect this author in the way he stands his own unique ground in the midst of so much mediocrity.

 

I want my hat back

I want my hat back

  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. This book has a poetic quality to it that was so different to read from anything else I read this year. A true thing of beauty. A book about so many things (family, friends, war, sexuality) in the most natural and obvious way.

 

  • I want my hat back and This is not my hat by Jon Klassen. These books were published a few years ago, but I only bought them last summer in London. I love them. My kid loves them. I read them to her in these different voices, and she does them too, and it’s just totally hilarious every time we read them together. Subversive, hilarious, brilliant.

 

  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S.King *. I know pretty well what I want to get out of a book. Of course I want a good plot. Of course I want well-developed characters. Who doesn’t? But what I really want to get out of a book is personality. A book that says (!): “Here, this is me, read me!” For me, a book absolutely without a doubt needs to have personality. The personality of a book is not really something tangible, like a likable character or a satisfying conclusion to a plotline. For me, the personality of a book actually lies in the author’s ability to create a universe that is unique to that particular author, often book after book after book. I call it the voice. This is definitely not the same as the voice of the (main) character in the book. Rather it’s the voice of the book. By extension you could say that this is the voice of the author. It’s not that I think authors agree with everything mentioned in their own books (I really don’t, real authors are much smarter than that), but I believe that there really should be something of the author in each of their books: their voice if you will. To be really into a book I have to sense that voice.

    It’s also not something casual or flippant. Of course I recognize that every author has a particular style and what not. No , it’s more than just a unique style: there has to be a sense of urgency that goes along with that voice. There are a couple of authors who capture that sense of urgency for me (Matt de la Peña, Gregory Galloway, Adam Rapp, Andrew Smith, to name just a few). But the author who really personifies for me what it means to

We love bookmarks.

We love bookmarks.

have an urgent voice that demands to be heard is A.S. King. I know it sounds all new agey (ugh!) and I can’t really describe what it is exactly, but it’s something all over the pages. It’s why every one of her books has very firm ties to the here and now of this world (even though the book might be set in the 17th century or show snippets of the future). It’s why every one of her books betrays a concern with the state of the world as it is. Here. Now. For you to be read. Right now. A sense of urgency, as I said before.

I didn’t write a review of Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, and I’m not going to now. The best review of that book has already been written, by Rick Yancey for the New York Times. Let’s just say that Glory O’Brien has everything I just mentioned about a book having a personality and a voice that betrays a sense of urgency on the part of its author. After drinking the remains of a petrified bat, Glory and her ‘friend’ Ellie start seeing snippets of the future and the past. The way the future is visualized is prophetic to say the least. And a veritable horror story, if there ever was one!

And as I said, of course I want well-developed characters and I got them. There is obviously Glory who is such a complex character: a complicated mess, hard to love, angry, hurt, so many things at the same time. But there is also Glory’s dad (I always love the dads in A.S. King’s books), and even Glory’s mother, who’s been dead since Glory was 4. Admittedly, this book is somewhat light on ‘plot’, but what it lacks in plot, it well makes up for in Questions about Big Ideas. I love that there are so many questions explored in this book: what is friendship, what is community, what is real, what is only perception, what is belonging, what are our rights as human beings, what are our rights (mine and yours) as women, … A.S. King keeps on asking the questions ( 😉 ) we are all asking ourselves (or should be asking ourselves!): those of the history of the future and what it means to be and to be seen as a whole person.

Wolf in White Van

Wolf in White Van

 

  • We Were Here by Matt de la Peña. I “discovered” Matt de la Peña and his books this year. We Were Here is incredibly touching. Touching in the same way as how you can’t NOT love Of Mice and Men. If you don’t, I don’t want to be your friend (anymore). I’m sorry, but certain books are just relationship/friendship dealbreakers. Added bonus: I heard Matt de la Peña speak at NCTE this year at the CEL luncheon.

 

  • Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle*. This is the second book of a musician-storyteller (John Darnielle of Mountain Goats fame of course) in this list of favorite reads. Wolf in White Van was longlisted for the National Book Award and deservedly so. It’s the type of book that is so brilliantly constructed that the only appropriate response I could come up with at the end of it, was a healthy “WTF was that crazy shit right there?” This guy can write. I loved it!

 

  • The gigantic beard that was evil by Stephen Collins. That title alone should be enough to make you read this graphic novel. But if that is not enough: it’s about hair and no hair and elsewhere and here, and evil beards,
    Look at this!

    Look at this!

    and neatness and structure and fear and chaos and society and life and… fuck, this was good. 

 

  • The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson *. I don’t think there’s been a year that I didn’t list a Laurie Halse Anderson book as a favorite read of the year. With The Impossible Knife of Memory she did it again. Damn, this woman is good.

There are also 5 honorable mentions:

 

  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. It had been years (definitely more than a decade!) since I last read a Julian Barnes novel. This one was stellar!
  • Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle. I hate musicals. HATE them. But I LOVE this book.
  • The truth about Alice by Jennifer Mathieu *. Incredibly powerful story about cruelty and stereotyping. Sucked me right in.
  • Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian. Carrie Mesrobian has balls. That’s all.
  • 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma. My surprise read of the year. Because of this cleverly deceptive story I cannot wait for The Walls Around Us.




Photo Impression of NCTE/ALAN 2014 and Washington DC

9 12 2014

NCTE’s Annual Convention and the ALAN workshop was my first time in Washington DC.

But it wasn’t really *in* DC, it was in an artificial little place called National Harbor, which used to be a dump site, apparently (only about 10 years ago). Now it’s a sparkly artificial bubble with at its center a really really really big indoor Convention Center … that did a lot of Christmas music lightshow thingies. But anyway, National Harbor:

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here are a few things that happened at NCTE itself:

On Thursday, I did the NCTE on Tour to the Library of Congress. The workshop we got there with the sources and how you can use them in the classroom was awesome. And we got a guided tour of the LoC as well there and there was an exhibition about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, so that was a nice bonus:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Friday to Sunday at NCTE:

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

There was some – though not a lot of – time to visit Washington DC, which is nothing like I imagined it to be (my only East Coast refernence being New York City).   I decided to explore some of DC on my own on Friday afternoon, and the shuttle van took me to Union Station and then I just walked from there to the National Mall and then all the way to the Lincoln Memorial and then back to the White House until it was time to go to Politics and Prose (I can now also say I shopped in the same bookshop as Obama, ha!).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I loved being in Politics and Prose on Friday evening to see some authors in a more ‘natural’ environment of a bookshop. Fantastic:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And then, the absolute greatest thing *ever*: the ALAN workshopthe panel discussions (so many great talks there), obviously the box of books (which caused me trouble getting over, so I just left about 10 or so there to be donated), the authors who were all so kind and signed books and even had time for a chat (I talked to M.T. Anderson! And David Levithan! And Libba Bray! And Frank Portman!). The panel with the transgender teens and their moms totally blew me away; Libba Bray’s speech was fantastic; the parent and child panel with Neal Shusterman, so many great discussions . I would do ALAN again in a heartbeat! Look:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I went back to DC for a DC@Night tour on Tuesday evening. Boy, am I glad I did that:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Finally, some random observations about my visit:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So, NCTE/ALAN: a once in a lifetime experience for sure…but definitely one I would like to do again. I probably can’t do this every year (school), but I’m definitely checking out options for conventions that are a direct flight from Brussels. Atlanta in 2 years will probably be too soon, but 2019 is Philadelphia and that’s a direct flight too, so who knows? 🙂

 

 

 

 





London and books.

29 07 2014

The cat went to London and this is what she saw.

After 3-ish days in London and visiting some of the ‘bigger’ book stores (4 Waterstones and 2 Foyles*), it is obvious that what YA is concerned, the ‘world’ will think there are only 4 or so worthwhile books and/or authors (in the “adult” book world it was all about Robert ‘J.K. Rowling’ Gallbraith’s second book, The Silkworm):

  • John Green (The Fault in Our Stars had its own stand in most of the stores, but also his other books get a prominent spot)
  • Rainbow Rowell (Fangirl, Fangirl and Fangirl, and some Eleanor & Park which even had its own “very special edition”)
  • David Levithan (who has his own underground billboards, people! Yay! See photos below.), whose books for some reason have all gotten a ‘John Green Cover Makeover’ What is that all about? Also, Waterstones Picadilly was selling tickets for a David Levithan event in August.
David Levithan @ Camden Town Tube Station

David Levithan @ Camden Town Tube Station

David Levithan @ London Bridge Tube Station

David Levithan @ London Bridge Tube Station

  • Veronica Roth‘s Divergent series, which also has its very own special boxed edition, which included the ‘Four’ vignette-story-thingie.
  • We were liars by E. Lockhart
  • and there’ s a thing there about a series called Geek Girl by Holly Smale.

All that is great for these authors of course, but… the other authors don’t get the attention they deserve, *at all *. Books by so-called lesser known authors, like A.S. King, that I know were still sold a few months back, were just not available now.

Which is why I shamelessly plugged some of these ‘smaller names’ that *were* in the stores, like putting Andrew Smith ‘s Winger next to a stack of Michael Grant ‘s books (see picture below), or making sure a book like The truth about Alice by Jennifer Mathieu was now suddenly next to We Were Liars (which I picked up about 5 times but just put back time and again, btw, it starts with a map and a family tree. I don’t like maps in books.), getting Trish Doller‘ s Where the Stars Still Shine some ‘facetime’ (see picture below), and always, always putting Grasshopper Jungle in plain sight!

See what I did there?

See what I did there?

this book also deserves some facetime

This book also deserves some facetime

... and so does this one.

… and so does this one.

Grasshopper Jungle and Winger side by side!

Grasshopper Jungle and Winger side by side!

So there.

 

But all that doesn’t mean that London doesn’t like books. London does like books, even though ‘they’ may not be very adventurous in their preferences (which of course, is not unlike any other place). They like to keep things fairly traditional, I guess. But yes, London likes to honor its traditions and nowhere was that more clear than in the Books about Town benches, which is really a great initiative and something every major city should do once in a while. Here are a few photos capturing some of that.

 

Clarice Bean - Books about Town

Clarice Bean – Books about Town

The Librarian (Terry Pratchett)... and who might that be on that bench? Oh, it's Tim Federle!

The Librarian (Terry Pratchett)… and who might that be on that bench? Oh, it’s Tim Federle!

 

And yes, then there was also this little thingie that happened: lunch with Andrew Smith! What was that you said? LUNCH WITH ANDREW SMITH!*

Remember that Dr Seuss bench?

Remember that Dr Seuss bench?

AS at HG

 

*Who signed all of my books. So honored he took the time to talk to little old me. What a great and interesting person he is! And he got some fantastic news about Grasshopper Jungle while he was in London: Edgar Wright is to direct the movie!

Andrew Smith signing books

Andrew Smith signing books

 

In other news:

Books I bought while in London:

  • I want my hat back and This is not my hat (by Jon Klassen): both so incredibly witty! Perfect picture books!
  • Lost and found (by Oliver Jeffers): such a sweet picture book about friendship, again I can see why Jeffers’ books are favorites to so many kids and parents alike.
  • The journey home by Frann Preston-Gannon who won the Sendak Fellowship and worked on this book while with Maurice Sendak. This one is a picture book with a clear message about our planet and what we do/have done to it.
  • Brock by Anthony McGowan, the book he wrote for Barrington Stoke and which is ‘a dyslexia friendly’ book. Knowing McGowan’s wit, I really look forward to reading this one.
  • Why we broke up by Daniel Handler.
  • The boy in the smoke, which is Maureen Johnson’s book for World Book Day 2014 – and it’s a story that fits in the Shades of London series.
  • The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian (by Sherman Alexie), which I didn’t own yet.
  • She is not invisible (by Marcus Sedgwick): I am really curious about this one. Midwinterblood obviously won the Printz last year, but I felt it really wasn’t Sedgwick’s strongest book, nor did I think it was ‘the most literary YA book’ of the year or even ‘the best’ book of the year, so I don’t really know what to expect from this one.
great picture books

great picture books

Books I read while in London:

  • Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña: de la Peña is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. This is such a perfect coming-of-age, caught-between-culture story. Excellent stuff.
  • Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle: this is how to do showtime Broadway musical fun. I’m usually quite frustrated with books with that very topic, but not this time: I loved every second of this book. So funny! Can’t wait to see what’s next for Nate in Five, Six, Seven, Nate!

 

* Here is a photo of the new Foyles, by the way:

The new Foyles flagship store at Charing Cross

The new Foyles flagship store at Charing Cross





Books and … nails…

29 06 2014

So one of my teacher-colleagues gave me this nail art pencil set to thank me for stuff and because we both envy the mad nail art skillz of many of our students. Beginning of summer vacation, so I thought I would try it out. This is the result. From now on nails will match the books I read (if I have the patience and the colors to match the book…), starting with Andrew Smith‘s Grasshopper Jungle.

The greens are called Funky Lime and Pearly Apple.  The grasshopper antennae are done with just straight up Black and Silver Sparkles.





Mid-year reading update

25 06 2014

thefreeIt’s almost July 1st and I feel I am way behind on my reading. Even though it’s not about the quantity (I’m only at 46 books read) and all about the quality, this bugs me.

So how about that quality then? Here are the books that rocked my little reading world so far:

2014 publications:

  • Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith: lonely at the top, nothing even comes close to the uppercut this book was. If this doesn’t get the Printz then the Printz is worthless.
  • The Free by Willy Vlautin: So good! This is what 21st century social realism is all about. If Steinbeck and Vonnegut lived today, they’d be proud of Willy.
  • The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson: excellent as only Anderson can be!

Older stuff:

  • Anything at all by Shaun Tan, but most especially The Arrival, The Red Tree and The Rabbits. Tan’s mind is un-freaking-believably spectacular.
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, the most poetic YA book I have read in a long long time.
  • Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware, a graphic novel that is truly groundbreaking.
  • The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman. I re-read this one and it’s still amazing although I remember certain things differently.
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: yes, very British in style, topic matter and execution, yes very ahum ‘literary’, but what an excellent philosophical detective-y thought experiment this is!




When money is involved?

8 03 2014

I regularly (about once a week) visit the only bookstore in our town (tiny town, ‘mainstream’ non-indie bookstore) to see if they have any new translations in. This is today’s new selection. A comparison:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Code Name Verity and The Raven Boys get translations about a year to a year and a half after initial publication (which sounds reasonable, I guess…). What is the most striking of course is that it took Terry Pratchett’s Nation took 6 years to get translated, published and in stores (even as remote and totally unhip as Geraardsbergen), while it took Veronica Roth’s Allegiant 4 months… I don’t even want to go into the quality of the translation (of both, but Allegiant in particular) because I didn’t read them, but it’s obvious that when money is involved (movie comes out next month), it doesn’t take 6 years to get translated…








%d bloggers like this: