Sunday, October 31, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010

Last year, I participated--and completed--NaNoWriMo. When I tallied my final word count on November 30, I felt like a rock star, knowing I had written all those words in one month. Now, a year later, I have realized that while I felt like a rock star then, I haven't touched my novel since I typed in the final words last year. And I feel like the purpose of writing a novel all in one month should be that you spend the rest of the year editing to make your novel a finished work. As I have failed miserably in editing what I wrote last year, I have decided to not participate in NaNoWriMo this year. (Another reason for not participating might be that I'm running low on creative juices at the moment and can't even fathom coming up with enough material to write 1500 words a day for 30 days in a row.)

Instead, I am turning my November into NaNoReaMo (National Novel Reading Month). I may not have the creative energy to write, but I'd like to challenge myself to find the time to read more. When I first thought of NaNoReaMo, I thought I was being horribly creative in changing the acronym to suit my needs; however, I started seeing other bloggers who had already used the handy NaNoReaMo acronym (e.g., Between Fact and Fiction), so I can't claim creative license on the term.

I tried to come up with a reading list for November, but I didn't want to box myself in to reading certain books if another one caught my eye during the month. So instead of challenging myself to read a list of particular books, I am going to challenge myself to read a particular number of books: 10. Furthermore, all those books are going to be books on my Kindle, so I might be able to use a more fitting acronym of NaKinReaMo. Then again, I'm fairly sure my 'Kindle Reading Month' doesn't quite fit the 'National' label.

I'll update you on my progress throughout the month... I'm crossing my fingers that I'll make it to (and maybe even beyond) 10 books.

Happy reading!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Childhood Challenge: PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY

This month I re-read the book Trouble at Alcott School, which is the fourth book of the Peanut Butter and Jelly series.

From My Memory
When I first told my sister about the Childhood Challenge, I asked her for help in remembering some of the books I read as a kid. I was mixing up a couple of books in my head, their plots coming together into one jumble, and I couldn't remember either title. Luckily, my sister remembered more than I did about this particular book, which was one half of the mixed-up plot equation. She remembered the characters had names that sounded like 'peanut' and 'jelly', which led me to my Google search of 'peanut butter and jelly'. The only things I remembered about the book was that there was a locket involved and that two friends worked together to solve a mystery about the locket.

After Re-Reading
The plot does in fact revolve around a missing locket and the mission Peanut and Jilly take to solve the mystery of its whereabouts. As cute as the book is, it was difficult for me to get into as an adult reader. The dialogue and characters and conflicts are oversimplified to the point that the characters come across as flat. For instance, the "mean girl" of the school tells another girl that she doesn't like the locket she's wearing, and the girl with the locket starts crying because of that. It's hard for me to get back in touch with my inner drama-queen child to remember what it felt like to have my day ruined by someone not liking my jewelry.

I can see why I was charmed by the story when I was in the second grade, but now it makes me a little sad to know that I've definitely lost that inner innocence that comes from looking at the world through childlike eyes. My adult-filled cynicism got in the way of my being able to reconnect with this book.

Even though I know I enjoyed this book when I was younger, I must not have been as enthralled with it as I was with others because I never did collect any of the other books in the Peanut Butter and Jelly series. That leaves me wondering why...

I hope you enjoy your Halloween weekend--I'll be spending part of mine finishing up The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, which seems like a good book to read during a spooktacular time of the year.

Happy reading!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Good" Book, "Bad" Book

What do The Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and His Dark Materials have in common?

We can start with the obvious: They are all books, and, even more, they are all series of books.

But let's dig a little deeper... They are all series of books marketed for younger readers and fit into a fantasy label. Each series features elements of fantasy and, dare I say, magic. Beyond the fantastic (and magical) elements, the series are all, at a deeper level, concerned with pitting good versus evil. While there is this dichotomy, the storylines in each of the series are complex and don't always offer clear-cut distinctions between who (or what) is good and who (or what) is evil.

In my eyes, these series share so many features that if I find out readers like one of the series, I will suggest another of these series for their reading pleasure. If I can see they share so much in common, why is it that some of these series have prominent places on lists of banned books while others are touted as national treasures?

Allow me to back up a bit and tell you some of the motivation behind this post. A few weeks ago, I was visiting a Barnes & Noble, perusing the books in the children's section. I was standing in the aisle, looking at The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and trying to decide if I wanted to buy the book and start reading the Percy Jackson series.

A young girl was in the aisle with me and started talking to me about the book. She asked if I had read it before, and when I said, "No," she said, "You really have to read the Percy Jackson books." She went on to tell me that they were her favorite books and that she was very excited that Riordan had started a new series, one based on Egyptian gods and goddesses (the Percy Jackson series is based on Greek gods and goddesses). This girl was so excited about the books that I couldn't in good conscience not buy the book and try it out for myself.

In the course of our conversation, I asked her if she had read the Harry Potter series as well. Her face became very serious, and she said, "Oh, no. I'm not allowed to read those books. I'm Christian."

I tried not to make any faces or have any other physical reactions to her remark, but I wanted to find that girl's parents and start a serious conversation with them about books and the backlash of banning them. I also wanted to hear their justification for saying that reading Harry Potter is un-Christian while reading the Percy Jackson books (books based on the idea that the Greek polytheistic system is still alive and well and that those gods and goddesses are out sleeping with mortals to create half-breeds) is entirely acceptable. I am dumbfounded by people's ability to label one fantasy book good and another bad.

I'm not going to spend my time speculating the division people draw between "good" and "bad" books because I think it's really a waste of energy. That line is completely subjective, and I am grateful to my parents that they never drew that line for me.

Instead, I want to focus on why banning books doesn't work and what parents might want to try instead. If parents ban particular books in their households, that creates one of two situations: (1) the children will find a way to smuggle in the book(s) and read it/them anyway, thus turning reading into an act of rebellion; or (2) the children will grow up under a misconception that a book--not the reactions of the readers to the book--can inherently be bad. Any book can be used in a negative light. If you don't believe me, refresh your memory on what the Inquisition was all about and what book that movement was based on. Books are not inherently "good" or "bad"--it is how we treat them or react to them that can make all the difference.

I would urge parents to consider a different route. Instead of banning a book, how about starting a dialogue about the book and why you, as the parent, feel that your child should wait until later in life to attempt reading the book? Let's face it--banning Harry Potter today won't necessarily keep your child from reading the books in five or ten years. And then your child might have some serious questions about why those books were banned while others weren't. So instead of waiting for that conversation, I think it's better to have that conversation up front and allow kids to make their own decisions about when to read the book. That way, when they do read it, they know they can openly talk with their parents about the material of the books rather than having to hide the books under their beds and read them by flashlight at night.

I am lucky to have had parents who let me read what I wanted to read and who would openly talk with me about the books I was reading if I had questions. I grew up knowing that I could be inquisitive about books and that books were not objects to fear. It makes me sad to think of all the kids who are being told what to read and what not to read based on subjective decisions. Instead of fearing books, how about we focus on what good can come out of reading them?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Update on Me

This post is an odd one for what I typically write, yet I'm compelled to post, so please bear with me.

Over the weekend, I read a post on the BookEnds, LLC blog about a school that needs book donations; you can read the same post here. It spoke to me, so I sent out a package of books to the school today. As I left the post office, I felt light and a bit giddy. I smiled more and felt more compassionate all because I sent some books to a school who wants to give out books for Halloween to their students. Isn't it amazing how doing even a small charitable act can make your day? If you feel so inclined to share a book (or two), the post has the address and information for the school.

In further news, I joined a contest to win a blog-writing position (you can see my badge in the left-hand sidebar). I need votes to advance to the next round, so please vote for me! You can see my profile for the contest here. Thank you in advance for your help.

I also feel the need to express my gratitude to my readership. My posts here may have gotten a bit more infrequent, but I'm still plugging along. Thank you to all of you who are sticking around with me on my 'joie de lire' blogging journey.