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Rainbow 101

February 28, 2018

I am still having problems remembering to use my new keyboard, which is silly because when I start using it, I’m so in love with it. It’s a Logitech K480, I think. I love the responsiveness and clickiness of the keyboard as much as I love the fact that it works with my iPad Mini.

Meanwhile, our new admin assistant started sending out book requests, and during this time, before the floodgates open and I’ve got multiple packages of books coming to my house on a near-daily basis, I thought I’d write a little about what it’s like to be on the Rainbow Book List Committe for the GLBT Round Table of the American Library Association.

I was approached for Rainbow at the last minute, I think because someone dropped out. Sometimes, there’s a last-minute scramble. Sometimes it’s about who you know. (I’ll explain more about that below.) I didn’t know I was even a possibility for the committee until Midwinter of 2016, and then all of a sudden, there I was. Getting emails from my chair. Geting piled with documentation. Feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing, but I sure was excited to do it.

What the committee does is create a bibliography of GLBT+ books geared from birth to teens. This includes any adult content with crossover appeal, such as New Adult (NA) or non-fiction by, say, awesome YouTubers. We read a LOT. A couple hundred books. Then we pare it down, not necessarily to the best, but to the books that we feel are reflecting of LGBT+ lives and experiences. From there, we do a top ten, which is really interesting, because that is reflective of us as a group, not as singular people. Our personal top tens might not even include most of the group top ten! Yet here we are.

So, boxes of books, envelopes of books, files of ebooks, show up to my physical or virtual door, and I read as many of them as possible. I ask myself, only half-jokingly, “Is this gay enough?” We keep a spreadsheet for thoughts, notes, and whether we received and read books. “Minimal content,” I may write. “N” I may vote on the straw poll. Or I may write something as basic as “gay lead” to something as personal as “This book broke me.” Sometimes we get error-filled advanced copies. Sometimes, beautiful hardbacks, which we then keep or donate. We are not supposed to sell them. Which I COMPLETELY understand, but since we are not paid for what we do and we are expected to go to wherever the Midwinter Conference is that next year, kinda sucks. It costs hundreds to go to Midwinter, depending on location. Flights, hotel rooms, rental cars, conference tickets. ALA/GLBT Round Table membership. Just saying.

I still have a box of books at my house to give away. Please take some.

After months of reading, reading, and more reading, we have to get our nominations for discussion to the group by the end of October, after which we need to read some more–to try to read every nominated book. Each book can only make the list if it has five readers agreeing to it, and our committee last year was 7-8 people (it was kind of a strange year). This year, we have 9 and an alternate (which I asked for and got–thank you, Round Table! thoughtful and forward-looking as always), so I feel much more confident about how the year will go. I am also chairing this year, and we have another member returning, so unlike the year before, we are not starting afresh. People with experience are there to immediately answer questions. Last year, we only had our admin assistant, who’d been co-chair the year before, and…well, like I said, it was a strange year.

Somehow, we get all the nominated books to the Midwinter Conference, which this year was in Denver. Either each committee member brings a handful or, if you’re lucky, someone is nearby and will bring them over in a car. We then spend two days choosing which books we want on the list, annotating them, and preparing the press release for the Round Table.

It was SO FUN to be in a room with these people I’d only ever “met” in emails, chat, and, occasionally, video conferencing. And to fight with them. We’d joked that a few of us were going to throw down, but honestly, it went really smoothly. Of the 50+ books we discussed, we agreed that 10 didn’t fit our criteria, and then we moved on to the more difficult part: Top Ten.

We pared down from about 20 titles to what you see here on the Rainbow blog. I think it’s a good Top Ten, but in case you were wondering, here’s my personal Top Ten from that 20 as it pertains to the Rainbow Book List. My full personal Top Ten, Alana’s Favorite of the Year, would be slightly different. In no particular order:

Bunnybear
Baby’s First Words
Star-Crossed
Felix Yz
ABC’s of LGBT+
Backstagers
Dress Codes for Small Towns
We Are Okay
They Both Die at the End
As I Descended

Oh God, As I Descended is 60% off today. Do I have to say more than “Lesbian MacBeth”? I shouldn’t have to, honestly.

Okay, off to mark down another book I read and to vote “N” on the spreadsheet.

Not Gay Enough.

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Catching up with me and Rainbow…

February 22, 2018

I got a keyboard for my iPad, which is the only device that doesn’t exacerbate my constant, now-year-long motion sickness, and it was on sale and everything. I’m feeling pretty good about that, because it means I don’t have to make myself sicker if I want to post.

So I’ll be posting again!

So far, it can even almost keep up with my Flash-like typing skills. o.O

I haven’t posted in months because I went back to work, and at the end of the day, I certainly wasn’t going to look at a screen more, especially the laptop screen which seemed to make things worse.

We’ll see if it’s the screen itself or the angle of my head or what.

(No, still no diagnosis. They kind of gave up when they decided I was well enough for work.)

Meanwhile, I ended up finishing up my year with the Rainbow Book List Committee as co-chair, due to an illness on the part of our chair. That was fun. Though worried about how flying might affect me, I lived on Dramamine for a few days and went to Denver, Colorado, to the Midwinter conference for the American Library Association, and…we picked our Rainbow books!

I’m really proud of the work we did.

I was asked to chair next year, and I accepted. I was not expecting it, so, um, there may be a few books I no longer have access to. Oops.

I have one person back on the committee this year, and new people who are excited to do this. Some new to committees, some old hands.

I’ve hit the ground running, and have already read…oh, I don’t know. A bunch of potential Rainbow titles.

I’m excited to tell you about them soon!

Reading the Rainbow: The ABCs of LGBT+

July 1, 2017

Being an old who doesn’t necessarily keep up with those new-fangled YouTubers and Tumblr people, I found Ashley Mardell’s The ABC’s of LGBT+ a quick, easy read that, despite poor editing, will absolutely be getting my vote for Rainbow.

This non-fiction book gives simple definitions of the various terminology used to describe sexuality, gender, romantic attraction, and so much more. Many terms come with first-hand accounts so readers can see how these terms are used in practice, not just theory. Though at times repetitious, these sections put faces and lives to the so-called “Tumblr genders” (ugh) and  help normalize what may be entirely new information to some.

My kid, a non-binary trans person themselves, thought it was well-done, but wasn’t introduced to many new terms, being involved in Tumblr discourse on sexuality and gender on the regular. I, on the other hand, was like, “Ooh, how does that work?” and “Hey, kid, can we talk about this point until I understand it better?” So this book absolutely works as a jumping-off point not only for those exploring ways of expressing identity–not, like some suggest, finding a cool, hip one or whatever–but for those who want to know and understand how, why, where, and by whom these terms are being used.

That said–and again, despite the typos (sigh)–this would be a good purchase for a library or for people who need a reference rather than putting the work on others to explain it all to them, such as family and friends of LGBTQIA+ or those, like me, who would prefer a book like this to trying to jump into the existing discourse. (Or, like me, who can’t watch a lot of videos.)

Mardell is the first to say that the book may age itself quickly, but another volume or update work would be welcome if it’s like this one. It’s a big thumbs-up from me and has given me a lot to think about in terms of how I walk through the world.

Reading the Rainbow: Down Among the Sticks and Bones

June 30, 2017

Guys, gals, and non-binary pals, I’m so excited to tell you about this book, you don’t even know. Seanan McGuire’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones has been one of my favorite reads so far this year, and I’m happy to say that even if you haven’t read the “first” Wayward Children book, Every Heart a Doorway (omg, on sale for 40% off today…someone get it for me? I only have a library copy), this prequel stands alone. Do I even need to say it’s getting a yes vote for Rainbow? I’m saying it anyway: it’s a big yes from me.

For those who don’t know, Every Heart a Doorway introduces us to a set of very unusual children who live at a home run by a mysterious woman. Does it sound too familiar to you? A little too Miss Peregrine? Don’t worry; it’s not the same kind of story at all. In the Wayward Children universe, Eleanor West takes in young people who have all fallen into magical worlds and are having problems adjusting back in the real world. They all want to get back, but have been rejected for one reason or another–often aging out of these lands where only children can have adventures. It’s a story of PTSD, but also murder, as one of the “wayward children” winds up dead, and it’s up to the others to figure out who did it before they’re next. The book, which won an Alex Award for young adult crossover appeal, was also honored by last year’s Rainbow committee for its GLBTQIA characters–including the main character Nancy, who’s asexual.

In Down Among the Sticks and Bones, we’re taken back a bit in time to follow the wayward twins Jack and Jill as they grow up being boxed by their parents into roles that don’t fit them at all. After discovering an impossible staircase, they find themselves in a strange, bleak world where they can be themselves, but at a terrible cost. At 192 pages, it’s a short but engrossing read that fills in the blanks for characters I never really felt I could get a read on in Doorway–mostly because it’s from Nancy’s perspective–and it’s the kind of prequel that makes you want to read the other book all over again. Exactly what a prequel should do, in my opinion.

The third book, Beneath the Sugar Sky, comes out in January, probably in hopes it can net McGuire and Tor another Alex, and the wait already feels like forever.

As always, links may be referrals.

The Joys of JRI: How Setting Reading Goals (sort of) Cleared My To-Read Shelves

June 27, 2017

Back in 2009, I had a little book group on Livejournal where we talked about books and reading-related things. It was called Bookslide. We decided in January that we were going to challenge ourselves to read the books we had lying around at home that we’d never gotten to. Some of our ideas for names for this challenge were:

Clear Your Shelf Challenge
Read Yo’ Shit
alREADy
Reduce the Pile Challenge
Just Read It!

We decided on “Just Read It.” It was 2009, okay? It was more relevant then.

Funny thing is, I haven’t stopped doing the challenge. Every year, I set a goal. I thought my goal had always been 50 books, but going back, it looks it wasn’t. My 2009 goal was ” […] to move at least a shelf’s worth of stuff to the other bookshelf, where it will take its place with my regular books.”

This was my original JRI pile:

Isn’t that cute? Here’s my JRI “pile” now:

(Rainbow to-read, minus the eBooks, obviously)

(ARCs from last year)

(Assorted purchases, discards, gifts, and ARC overflow)


(ARCs and related books, from my first BEA through 2015)

(Why was my 2009 camera so much better at taking pictures than my much younger iPad mini? Come on now.)

It looks like I finished that first year looking to do about 30 books, and hit my goal. For each book, I posted a little mini-review to the group, which kept me semi-focused. I enjoyed the challenge so much that I bumped the number to 50 in 2010 and have never changed it.

Things I did change: books I purchased during that calendar year didn’t count, then counted, then didn’t count again, then counted again. …That’s kind of all I’ve changed.

So, looking at the goals, I should be at about 400, maybe 425 books on my JRI shelf on Goodreads, right?

I’m at 527.

JRI works. Even without the group to keep me motivated, I have discovered other motivations: space in my home, the ever-increasing ARCs from conferences and publishers threatening to take over all my space, and the Goodreads shelf I created just for JRI. I no longer do a mini-review with each book (in part because I assumed I’d do reviews on here, which taped off as I got deeper into my career and volunteer work/community), but I do assess at the end of the year with the rest of my New Year’s goals, if any. Actually, for me, JRI is the one New Year’s resolution I always get done. I think. I’m having problems tracking my 2012 list, but I feel like I got that one done by the skin of my teeth.

Sometimes, it’s like that. If it’s December and I’m at 35, and I’m like, “Gotta finish!” Then I plow through. And I know I’ve finished on New Year’s Eve before–I feel like that was 2015. Not a bad way to end the year, reading.

Honestly, the best thing about JRI is that it means that I’m always looking through the books on the shelves, reassessing which ones I’m actually going to read, and moving along the ones that don’t affect me deeply. JRI has taught me to prioritize my reading within my home, and helped me learn to stop reading books I don’t like. (Do they count? Yes they do, but I’m not sure they always did, so maybe that was a thing that changed too.) This year is a little different–but aren’t they all?–in that almost every JRI I’m reading is a Rainbow book, so there won’t be that constant moving of things off the shelf (as Rainbow books get delivered to me almost every week), but I’m hoping that the habit of always grabbing from my own shelves will carry on into next year, when I won’t be on a committee. (I think?)

I highly recommend challenging yourself when it comes to your reading. The Goodreads challenge is a good start if you’re not the self-motivating kind. There are also challenges like Read Harder on Book Riot, which give you a set of types of books to read. Might be a little harder using your own shelf, but I like Read Harder because it’s general while still mostly allowing space for some good shelf picks.

And, of course, if you need more motivation, I’m here for you! Just comment below.

Reading the Rainbow: Princeless: Raven the Pirate Princess Book 3

June 21, 2017

I’m in this in-between place where books haven’t shown up in almost two weeks and I’m almost down to just sequels, companion books, and a couple of non-fiction. I know another batch is coming soon, but in the meantime I’m reluctantly picking up some sequels and series books, hoping that they give me enough information to understand what’s going on.

I HATE reading out of order.

But my interest was piqued when I saw Princessless: Raven the Pirate Princess Book 3: Two Boys, Five Girls, and Three Love Stories in one of my deliveries. For one thing, I’ve read about Raven before on Free Comic Book Day. For another: that title! Maybe there’d be a little ethical non-monogamy?

Unfortunately not, but there’s definitely some representation here, and lots of diversity. Raven’s crewmate/crush has been terribly injured, and Raven hopes to take her to a healer in time. Meanwhile, the crew tells her stories in hopes she’ll hear them in her unconscious state and hold on.

The great thing about this set-up for someone who likes to read in order is that it’s mostly the stories, so you don’t have to worry too much about continuity. This is a break from the main storyline, which is Raven battling…I want to say her brother. Honestly, it went right over my head, because so much of it is “in the moment” and there are some really great stories! And Raven has to fight the healer! Action! Adventure! Romance! Piracy! An all-women crew with a lot of diversity!

One great trend in fantasy that’s been going around is diversity. The idea behind it is that, “Hey, if we can make up our own worlds, why CAN’T they have every skin color known to man? And then, when we have our characters, why CAN’T their cultures be pretty much analogous to the real world?” The answer is: There’s no reason they can’t.

So this is a good book to pick up if you want a pretty PG-rated, diverse, queer adventure. I had a good time with it and maybe one day I’ll be able to read the others. But not this year. 🙂

In case you have my completionist’s heart, here’s where you can get Book One and Book Two. Also, the main series is just called Princeless but it follows a different self-rescuing princess.

Does it all sound good but you’d like a little something more R-rated? Have you tried Rat Queens? Note: Original artist was accused of domestic violence and taken off the book. However, there was some controversy last year when it looked like he might be coming back. Last I checked, the book was on hiatus, but that was a while ago.

 

Some links on this blog may be referrals. I’ve been out sick from work for months now, so if you appreciate the review and decide to purchase the book, please use the link.

Reading the Rainbow: Speed of Life

June 20, 2017

It’s too bad that Carol Weston’s Speed of Life does not have enough content* for me to nominate it for Rainbow, because I enjoyed every page of this book, which is about an eighth-grader whose mother died months ago and everyone seems ready to move on but her.

Sofia goes to an all-girls’ school in New York City. She doesn’t know much about boys but she knows about grief, because it’s with her all the time since the sudden death of her mother the year before. She’s just finished her first birthday, Christmas, and New Year’s without her mother and everyone seems to think the new year should have cleared away the pain and sadness. Then an advice columnist comes to speak at her school, and everything starts changing fast. Sofia exchanges emails with “Dear Kate” to help her navigate life, and there’s such a great Alice vibe–the Naylor Alice, not the Carroll one. (If you haven’t read the Alice series, you totally should.) But as the year goes on, Sofia’s grief turns into growth in a story that never gets too sweet or too sad.

One of the things I loved about this book was that it FEELS like a year. Another is that even when things are obvious to the reader, it never feels like they have to be for Sofia. She’s a very young fourteen because she’s never had to be anything else. When she starts to become more mature, it’s a very natural process. The difference between Sofia at fourteen and Sofia at fifteen is huge, but not unrealistic.

Another great thing about this book is that Sofia speaks fluent Spanish because she is actually half-Spanish.  It’s not a choice that’s made often in books–usually, if one parent is European, they are English, French, or maybe Italian. The book does not translate every phrase used, though it does with most of them, and Sofia’s being bilingual is not a big part of the book, but it comes up naturally over and over. The fact that her father’s Spanish is clunky at best, non-existent at worst, seems very real as well.

All in all, this is a great book for a middle schooler looking to start moving up to YA, especially one who is looking to read about real life. Weston, an advice columnist herself, does a good job of using Dear Kate and Sofia’s father, a gynecologist, to explore big questions in an age-appropriate way.

*Three gay/bi background characters and one question to Dear Kate about being bisexual or lesbian if members of the opposite sex don’t pay attention to you.
Some links on this blog may be referrals. I’ve been out sick from work for months now, so if you appreciate the review and decide to purchase the book, please use the link.

Reading the Rainbow: Bunnybear!

June 19, 2017

Must-buy picture book: Bunnybear, written by Andrea J. Loney and adorably illustrated by Carmen Saldaña.

Bunnybear was born a bear, but feels like a bunny. He doesn’t feel like he fits into the bear community or the bunny community. But then he makes a new friend who’s a bit like he is…

Bunnybear is a super cute, funny picture book that families and libraries should absolutely have. It teaches children that feeling different is valid and that difference is okay. For those who are looking for a good metaphor for being transgender, this is it. For those looking for a cute story about being accepted for who you are, here you go.

As a metaphor, it may go over the heads of children (test reader S didn’t make the connection and she’s transgender and, age-wise, the target audience for the book), but the lessons imparted won’t.

 

Some links on this blog may be referrals. I’ve been out sick from work for months now, so if you appreciate the review and decide to purchase the book, please use the link.

Reading the Rainbow: Radio Silence

May 31, 2017

Things not to do when you’re feeling fuzzy: read the description of one book, pick up the one next to it and spend the whole time wondering why the narrator is a young woman and there are no bombs.

So, yeah, I went into Alice Oseman’s Radio Silence thinking it was something called The Fixes, so I was very confused for a while, especially because it begins with a fire, so…bombs? No, there was just a fire. So I guess kids got moved around to different schools? And it matters for some reason?

Honestly, so much of this book kept me like

I read it almost in one sitting, and yet when I put it down, I still felt confused. Maybe it’s because of my complete and utter lack of knowledge about English school systems. Or maybe because the book didn’t have much of a plot that I could figure. Yet I enjoyed it. Yeah, I don’t know either.

Frances Janvier is a biracial teen who shows one face at school and another when she’s at home. School Frances is utterly boring to everyone: she has friends but they never get very close, she’s always studying to get into Cambridge, she’s Head Girl, which I guess really is a thing. But Frances at home is a super-nerd. She loves silly clothes and watching movies with her mum, and she especially loves a podcast called Radio Silence, which for some reason is on YouTube instead of being on something more podcast-friendly. It sounds a lot like a crappy version of Welcome to Night Vale, which is either wonderfully incoherently surreal or wonderfully perfectly surreal, depending on which episode you’re listening to. The partial transcripts of the Radio Silence shows rarely make any sense, and you almost never get a sense of plot from them, although the book insists there is one. Frances spends all her non-schoolwork time listening to, reading and responding to fan responses of, and drawing fan art of Radio Silence.

Though a strange quirk of fate, the Creator (as they call him, always capitalized) of Radio Silence wants her to work with him, and he also happens to be her across-the-street neighbor and the sister of her only friend, until said sister left and never contacted anyone again about two years previous.

Frances and Aled begin a great, nerdy friendship, but things begin to unravel as the podcast’s popularity increases.

Not unlike Tash Hearts Tolstoy, which I’ll talk about later, if that book were really dark and disjointed yet hard to put down.

All in all, not much actually happens in the book, certainly not enough plot to warrant its massive size, and yet the characters are engrossing. There are bits and pieces of a mystery–what happened to Aled’s sister?–but they’re not really a mystery so much as a secret, which is something completely different. Each thing that I could complain about on its own is not worth not reading this book.

So…

Am I voting for it in our Rainbow Book Committee straw poll? Yes

Am I nominating it? I haven’t decided. One aspect of the content is unique enough that I might, if I don’t see similar content in another book. But I think I could be easily swayed from putting it on the final list, thanks to that feeling that it doesn’t quite come together. And British books are a tougher sell to American kids, I think. If I’m baffled by the school stuff (what’s an A versus an A*? Like an A+?), will they be put off by it?

Have you read it? Will you read it? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear more perspectives on it.

Reading the Rainbow: My Year on ALA’s Rainbow Book List Committee

May 30, 2017

I know I haven’t written in an exceptionally long time, but that’s partially because I’ve been really sick. We’re still not exactly sure what’s wrong with me, but the main symptoms are nowhere near as bad as they have been, so I’m back to being out of bed for the most part. While I’m not back to work yet, I can tolerate the computer much longer than I have been in the past few months, so I’d like to do SOMETHING productive.

It did take me a while to get back to the blog, though, because I’ve lent my craptop out and the 2008 one did not want to load the new WordPress posting area. It still doesn’t, but it turns out there’s a simple workaround for that. (Go to My Sites–>WP Admin–>Posts–>Add New.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been doing short bursts of reading when I can handle it. Almost every book I’ve read so far this year has had LGBTQIA+ content because I’m now a member of ALA’s Rainbow Book List committee! I was put on at the last minute, so I didn’t think it was going to happen, but there was a space and I was recommended (thank you!), so here I am, getting dozens of books delivered to my house and trying to read just enough that I don’t make myself feel worse.

The Rainbow Book List committee reads and votes on books geared from birth to young adult, with concessions made toward books that are adult but have crossover appeal. We then create a bibliography that will aid librarians, teachers, and anyone else who wants to use them in finding quality content in LGBTQIA+ literature.

Unlike previous years, this committee is only serving a one-year tenure. I’m not exactly sure why, since I came in late. We are all new to the committee, which can make it a bit difficult at times, but we’re doing our best and giving our all.

For the rest of the year, I will be discussing some of the books I’ve been sent and why I am or will not vote for them. You’ll be hearing about some of the best, and worst, queer books out there. From board books to non-fiction to my intense love of Seanan McGuire’s upcoming Down Among the Sticks and Bones, I may not talk about them all, but I’m going to try to get to quite a few that have made impressions on me.

As always, books that link to Amazon may be referral links, which means I benefit only if you decide to purchase the book. I have been blogging about books for years now and, after conducting an informal poll a few years ago, decided that this is a good way for me to be compensated for the work I do on the blog. I will always be clear and up front about how I may make money on this blog. (If you are wondering if this is a good way to make money, so far the answer has been “HA.”)

I look forward to telling you about some really amazing books this year.

-Alana- (rhymes with banana, if you’re American)