I’m Finally on GoodReads!

If you’ve followed Notes in the Margin for a while (and thank you if you have), you know that for the last 6 years I haven’t been posting here much while I worked on my doctorate. I’m happy to announce that, after defending my dissertation at the end of May, I am now the proud owner of a Ph. D. in (non-clinical) psychology.

Now that that process is over, I finally have some time to get back to my first love, reading and reviewing books, especially fiction and memoirs. To get started, I’ve recently signed up for GoodReads. You can see my page here. I’d love to have you “friend” me if you’re so inclined.

Listing books on GoodReads has reminded me of the many, many good books I’ve read. I want to mention them here, even though I haven’t had time to review most of them. So here’s a list, in no particular order except the order in which I came across them. These are the cream of the crop, books that I would give either 4 or 5 stars to:

  • Disturbances in the Field, Lynne Sharon Schwartz
  • Blue Diary, Alice Hoffman
  • We Need to Talk about Kevin, Lionel Shriver
  • The Girls from Ames, Jeffrey Zaslow
  • The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
  • Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Possession, A. S. Byatt
  • Journal of a Solitude, May Sarton

I’ll probably come across at least a few more. If so, I’ll post another list.

The Top Five Twitter Feeds for the Six Largest Publishing Houses

Since I’m new to Twitter, I found this article informative.

But the jury’s still out on whether there’s much real information to be gained by following these tweets.

Pottermore: Interesting But Not a Game Changer

Publishers Weekly offers a follow-up to J.K. Rowling’s mega-announcement of Pottermore:

many people who work in publishing think that as interesting as Pottermore is, the endeavor says less about the future of book publishing than about the singular status of a very wealthy author who has the inclination and means to build her own brand. 

The Girl Who Cast a Viking Spell

Eva Gabrielsson, the woman who lived for 32 years with Swedish author Stieg Larsson, is in the United States on a promotional tour for the English translation of her memoir, ‘There Are Things I Want You to Know’ About Stieg Larsson and Me. Larsson, a journalist, was the author of the enormously popular Millennium trilogy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

When Larsson died unexpectedly in November 2004, his estate went to his father and brother because Sweden does not recognize common-law marriage. Since then Gabrielson and the Larssons have waged war over control of his estate, which is now worth millions of dollars.

Ms. Gabrielsson says she is not interested in the money; what she wants is artistic control over Larsson’s literary rights.

Gabrielsson still possesses Stieg Larsson’s laptop, which reportedly contains the manuscript (or at least a partial manuscript) of a fourth novel:

Ms. Gabrielsson said she had not read the unfinished fourth novel, and was evasive about the whereabouts of the computer. She has estimated that the manuscript consists of roughly 200 pages, based on how much Larsson had finished by August 2004, and from their conversations she knows what it’s about. But all she would say is that it’s set in Canada, and that once again it features Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist.

“Oh yes, they’re still there,” she said, laughing.


Pottermore Web Site to Sell E-Books in October

Author J.K. Rowling unveils her latest project, Pottermore:

J.K. Rowling has created Pottermore, a free to use Web site taking readers right into Hogwarts, as a way of thanking her fans and paying them back for their contributions to the book. Rowling announced the news in a press conference at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on Thursday. To be launched on July 31, Harry Potter’s birthday, the site gives users access to roam in Harry’s world, to uncover back stories and other additional material written by Rowling from notes of hers from the time of first writing the stories as well as those written subsequently. “Find your house by answering random questions posed by the sorting hat” and “choose your own wand from Ollivander’s” are just two of the activities. Fans can join in by submitting comments, drawings and other content; “Pottermore has been designed as a place to share the stories with your friends as you journey through the site,” Rowling said. When the site goes live, one million of those who have signed up will have the opportunity to join in shaping the final details.

Are Teen Novels Dark and Depraved — or Saving Lives?

Are Teen Novels Dark and Depraved–Or Saving Lives?

OK, one more article in response to the recent brouhaha over the state of YA (young adult) literature. This one is from Publishers Weekly, and of course you’d expect a publication aimed at the publishing industry to denounce any cries for censorship and to support writers and publishers.

And yes, this is generally another rebuttal of the original Wall Street Journal article that set off this whole flap. But what is interesting in this article is the attention given to young people talking about what YA literature has meant in their lives. Another point of interest is the view by many who know current YA literature that Gurdon seems to lack much detailed knowledge about what’s available now and that her lists of recommended books for boys and girls (itself a sexist discrimination) is woefully outdated.

Finally, I’d like to promise that this piece will be the end of the whole thing. But, alas:

The brouhaha is likely to heat up again soon when, according to Meghan Cox Gurdon, author of the story, the Wall Street Journal will “probably” publish a Part Two.

YA Fiction is Too Dark: Some Responses

In an earlier post I discussed the furor in the book world caused by the publication over the weekend in The Wall Street Journal lamenting the sad state of YA (young adult) fiction. Here are a couple of responses that get at the heart of the matter.

Has Young Adult Fiction Become Too Dark?

Over at Salon Mary Elizabeth Williams identifies the essential flaw in Gurdon’s (the author of the WSJ piece):

She assumes that coarseness and misery — and profanity, and violence, and sex — are in and of themselves unsuitable subject matter, regardless of the quality of the writing. That’s where she goofs up big time. 

Williams continues:

there’s something almost comical about raising them with tales of big bad wolves and poisoned apples, and then deciding at a certain point that literature is too “dark” for them to handle. Kids are smarter than that. And a kid who is lucky enough to give a damn about the value of reading knows the transformative power of books. . . . we can’t shut them [teenagers] off from the outlet of experiencing difficult events and feelings in the relative safety and profound comfort of literature. Darkness isn’t the enemy. But ignorance always is. 

Teens are smarter than Gurdon: They know the difference between life and literature.

Seeing Teenagers As We Wish They Were: The Debate Over YA Fiction

NPR’s Linda Holmes makes a point similar to Williams’s. Holmes is

intrigued by the aspirational nature of the quaint but sad idea that teenagers, if you don’t give them The Hunger Games, can be effectively surrounded by images of joy and beauty.While the WSJ piece refers to the YA fiction view of the world as a funhouse mirror, I fear that what’s distorted is the vision of being a teenager that suggests kids don’t know pathologies like suicide or abuse unless they read about them in books.

Sure, we’d all like to protect our kids from some of the harshest forms of reality. But teenagers are going to learn about the world anyway.

But adolescence is a dark time for a lot of people. Not a fake-dark time, because they got a pimple, but a real dark time, because they have a friend who drinks too much or is abused at home or has a mental illness and wants to kill himself. It’s sad, but keeping books away from them doesn’t make it any less true.

Reading helps them sort out the dilemmas. It can also teach them understanding and compassion. Adults as well as teens learn about life and about themselves by reading.

Holmes’s article includes links to some more reactions to Gurdon’s original article.


Tea Obreht Wins Orange Prize for Fiction

Tea Obreht won the Orange Prize for Fiction on Wednesday for her debut novel, “The Tiger’s Wife,” making her at 25 the youngest person to win the award.

Britain’s Orange Prize promoting women’s fiction to be awarded Wednesday – The Washington Post

Britain’s Orange Prize was established 16 years ago to promote women’s fiction in English. The judges look around the world for “excellence, originality, and accessibility” (and no, the first criterion isn’t automatically canceled out by the third). Three of this year’s shortlisted novels deal with imprisoned women, three with the aftermath of war, and three nominees are first-time novelists. The winner, who will be announced Wednesday in London, will receive about $50,000 and a bronze statue nicknamed “Bessie.”

Darkness Too Visible

Darkness Too Visible

Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?

Authors and publishers are all atwitter about this article that appeared over the weekend in the online edition of The Wall Street Journal. Meghan Cox Gurdon, who writes regularly about children’s books for the WSJ, asks:

How dark is contemporary fiction for teens? Darker than when you were a child, my dear: So dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed, broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18.

She attributes this trend to the 1967 publication of S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.

And I don’t know quite what to think about Gurdon’s argument because I can see both sides of the issue.

On the one hand, as a writer, I’m against all forms of attempted censorship. Every year I blog here about Banned Books Week, and during that week I wear my red button that proclaims “I read banned books.” In my opinion, censorship has no place in American society.

On the other hand, I have a 12-year-old niece and 10-year-old nephew for whom I have always enjoyed buying books as birthday and holiday gifts. But just recently, for my niece’s 12th birthday, I resorted to the cop-out of a book store gift card because I don’t want to give a book I know nothing about and I haven’t had time to keep up with what’s current in children’s and young adult (YA) literature.

But is censorship at the library, school, or bookstore level the answer to the problem of graphic YA literature about incest, pedophilia, eating disorders, and other mental health issues? Gurdon seems to support those who would stop access to such books:

everyone does not share the same objectives. The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn’t be daunted by cries of censorship. No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children’s lives.

Yet the issue isn’t quite this simple. Gurdon is correct that availability of violence and depravity on the Internet and in videogames does not justify their appearance in YA literature, but she completely ignores the fact that most adult objection to the content of children’s literature involves not the subject matter itself, but concern by the religious right over what they consider to be unchristian–for example, condemnation of the Harry Potter series because it deals with witchcraft. When this type of concern enters the equation, it’s not so easy to tolerate censorship in public schools or public libraries. While parents certainly have the right to try to prevent their children from reading works that they consider sacrilegious, those parents do not have the right to decide which works are available for my children to read.

That decision is my right–and my responsibility.

And I guess that’s why I find Gurdon’s article so frustrating: She does not offer a single practical suggestion for how I can fulfill that responsibility. Sure, she seems to favor censorship, but her argument is so facile as to be meaningless. And yes, it would be nice if authors and publishers of YA literature would censor themselves and stay away from such dark themes. But does she really think that is going to happen? In the meantime, all parents can do is pay attention to what their kids are reading and talk with them about the issues those books contain.