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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)

Blog joyfully

July 25, 2016

Yeah, okay.

So that was one of my goals for the past year. As you can see, it’s not working. I mean, in my entire life, there isn’t much I’m doing 100% joyfully. My last two posts were done months before they were posted and sat in work limbo until I was like “Forget that.”

I’m in Summer Reading, so it makes sense that I’m hella busy, but also I keep getting more and more ARCs and galleys, and I’m overwhelmed. I weeded a ton of my stuff and donated it to the library/friends/sold it at the Book Barn, but I still have one full bookcase of books I received at BEA and–omg–ALA. Hey, I went to ALA!

Yes, there were bags. Yes, I’m going to talk about them. I’m just dealing with some “I’m not ready to be on camera” issues, like I cut my hair three times last week.

I’m down to three book clubs, which is still like two too many, but one is for work. I’ve tried to coordinate the work one with my Facebook one, by shifting it to a theme rather than trying to get one book in by ILL over and over, but it’s barely making a dent.

I’m also trying to donate more of my time to my community.

I’m still not doing great on this “stop spreading myself thin” thing. But, on the plus side, I’m off on Saturdays through the summer.

I took seven comics out from the library this weekend and read them all. That was joyful, at least. I’m not feeling pressured to write this, much. That’s something.

Patron Question #2: Why Was This Book Misfiled? (Or, The Comic Book Dilemma )

April 15, 2016

When I first said I would take patron questions, this was the first question I got. It’s from a friend who doesn’t live in my town. He said he went to his local library and found a copy of Alan Moore’s Watchmen in the children’s section. It’s well-known among comic book readers for its graphic content, and it’s one of the few comic book adaptations to receive an R rating. So what went wrong that it ended up in the children’s section?

This is a classic example of misfiling, and it happens all the time, especially with comic books. Here are a few reasons why misfiling occurs, and why some books aren’t where you expect:

1) Some books could be legitimately filed in multiple places.

Short story collections, plays, poems, capital-L literature–these all have numbers in the Dewey Decimal System under non-fiction even if they’re fiction. Shakespeare could be “F(iction) Shakespeare” or “822.33” in non-fiction.

Other times, a book has teen protagonists but some people don’t see it as a teen book. The Night Circus is a book I’ve seen filed as a teen or adult book. Given that the book has two adults as major characters along with the teens, I’d go for adult, but not everyone agrees with me. I’d also argue that the new Ernest Cline book, Armada, is definitely a Young Adult book, but I’ve only ever seen it filed in the adult section so far. Sometimes, it comes down to a simple judgment call: Where will this book circulate the best?

For example, Michael Chabon’s Summerland is a book I’ve seen filed at different libraries in the children’s section, the teen section, and the adult section. Crazy, right? But each library has a valid reason for doing so. Chabon primarily writes adult novels and not all novels with children as characters are for children. (See also: To Kill a Mockingbird.) But some are. However, if the language is more mature than your usual children’s book, it may end up in the teen section due to readability. I haven’t read it, so I can’t tell you what my opinion on this particular book is.

2) The people who do the ordering and the people who label the books are not always the same people. This sometimes results in misfiles for myriad reasons, all of which boil down to “human error.”

But really, I think what my friend is asking is, “Why do people assume comic books are kids’ books?”

3) Even library staff sometimes judge books by their covers.

There’s a long-standing belief that everything comic book-related must be for children, which I find strange. Comics started out for everyone. Everyone read them. There were family-friendly radio plays, television shows, and movies. But at some point, “family-friendly” became another phrase for “kids’ stuff,” and those not interested in the medium believed they’d grown up but comics hadn’t.

This is, of course, not true. Art Spiegelman’s Maus won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for its original depiction of the Holocaust. Despite this, reviews on the work were annoyingly self-conscious, including comments like “Art Spiegelman doesn’t draw comics” and “Maus is not exactly a comic book, either; comics are for kids,” to which Dr. Joseph Witek, a professor of Humanities, responded, “[I]f Maus is not a comic book and if Art Spiegelman doesn’t draw comics, nothing is and no one ever has.”

The book in my friend’s question, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, was on Time magazine’s list of “the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.” It is a violent deconstruction of the genre, for adults only. And yet this book is the one that ended up in the children’s section. Why? Because it’s a comic book.

Not every person who works at a library reads every book that comes in. I’d go so far as to say not any one person who works at any library reads every book that comes in, although I could be wrong. Like anyone with a full work week, library staff has to decide what fits in their schedules. For some, it’s a favorite genre or two. For others, books don’t make the cut at all. (It’s true–not everyone who works at a library reads all the time!) When large orders come in, quick calls are made. And things gets misfiled. It happens a lot with comics because catalogers may look at comics and say, “Okay, a comic. Put it in the kids’ pile.” They’re not familiar with the medium. They stereotype. If a book has a half-naked man holding an overdressed woman in his arms, it’s probably a romance. If it’s a comic book, it’s probably for kids.

I’m not saying this is the right decision, but it’s one that gets made all the time. One of the things I’ll be doing soon is ordering more comics for the library, and I’ll have to make some decisions myself as to where a book should be put. It’s not always going to be easy. For example, when Ultimate Spider-Man began, many libraries put it in the Juvenile section. But as the series continued, the books proved themselves to be firmly in Young Adult territory. Should the earlier books be left in J or should the series be put in YA in its entirety? You could also call this The Harry Potter Problem. By the time the last book came out, Harry was YA and so were many of his readers. But patrons wanted the collection in one place. Harry mostly stayed in the J’s despite the increasingly dark subject matter. But not everywhere. Again, it was a judgment call on the part of the staff.

So that’s the “why,” but let’s not forget what comes next. The best thing a patron can do if they see a book has been misfiled is to let the staff know. I do it all the time. Sometimes the staff agrees with me, sometimes they don’t. In a case like Watchmen, it’s thankfully cut and dried, and in the best interests of the patrons to help get that misfile remedied.