Wednesday, January 26, 2011

First Officer's Log No 28: Cold Snow, Colder Books

Do you ever start reading a book and realize, at the 3/4 mark that you really, really, really can't find any reason to truly like the main character, and thus you find yourself incapable of even caring what happens to them? I'm having that difficulty with a series I'm currently reading. I find it highly entertaining, exceptionally well written (for a dark urban fantasy with folklore and horror elements), and engaging on an emotional level, but I find myself more emotionally invested in the lives of the supporting cast, not the main character.

Perhaps it's because the writer is a talented one who knows how to write teenage boys. She writes this particular one so well, highlight all of his ignorance, foolishness, general nastiness and hormonal fluctuations, that I find myself infinitely grateful that my teenage brother has none of these qualities (or at least none that I witness). The issue is that teenage characters have a very difficult time impressing themselves upon me as characters whom I should feel anything for. I was a teenager once, and I didn't much care for the experience, so call me crazy but I don't necessarily like reading about them.

Granted, this particular character is nowhere near as unlikable as Gillian Flynn's narrator in Dark Places, but I still have a hard time getting invested in him. Perhaps it's because the character is a teenager, and most of the books I've read involving teenager as characters just don't appeal to me. Also, I find that, lately, the books I've been reading all involve characters who are just unpleasant people, to the point where if there is a redemption factor, by the time it appears, I no longer care.

I suppose that I've become used to seeing characters who have at least some redeemable qualities, as opposed to characters who just don't have any. I look at the main character in the series I'm currently reading, and the fact that from the get-go in volume one, he declares that he is a monster. At first, it was intriguing, and now, the whole 'I am a monster' gig just screams attention getting behavior... just like a teenager boy. The fact that by volume 5 I'm no longer really caring what happens to him speaks volumes. That he doesn't seem interested in changing his outlook or exploring any kind of 'good' qualities he has isolates him further from my interest.

As a reader, I like being able to feel something for a character, whether appreciation, love, hate or indifference, but plain old distaste isn't one of the emotions I want to associate with a character. Redemption isn't a must in literature of any kind for me, but having at least something to relate to, or something to like about a character is an unspoken requirement. I'm not demanding that characters be truly good or evil, nor am I requiring that writers go out of their way to make characters one way or another. All I'm asking is that writers create characters whom I can at least feel one way or another about. Regardless of whether I feel positively or negatively, if the author has given me a reason to care, then they have done what they set out to do in writing their story. That's a pretty hard thing to do, but a writer who does it well has already taken the big steps in the right direction of their craft.

* * *

The most recent experience I had with a character who achieved true redemption in any kind of media was in a video game. It involves a character who turns to a forbidden practice of magic in order to get what he wants most, but ends up causing more pain and destruction because of his action. When he is given the opportunity to atone, he genuinely takes it, and seeks to do good with his life, despite the distrust associated with him. When he is encountered for the final time, the character is truly trying to help people, to use his abilities for good, not evil, and has redeemed himself in the eyes of his former friend, even if the price he was forced to pay was initially more than he could take.

In this regard, strong writing and acting come into play. The player sees a character go from naive and foolish to mature, confident and respected, while earning those last three. Jowan, the character, evolves into a responsible adult, by accepting what he has done, choosing to own his mistakes and not hide from them, and ultimate uses his talents to protect those who need him. In this regard, a video game story actually redeems a character more than a novel could.

This game's story made me care about a character who is quite minor in the long run, but who lingers because of the power of his story. I cared; I genuinely liked his character, and the initial betrayal came as a shock. When he is redeemed, I felt happy, a sense that finally, someone in fantasy writing has truly learned from their actions and can move on, a stronger, better person for their mistakes, no longer afraid, and leaving the reader (player in this case) eager to see where their path takes them next.

* * *

Until next week, fellow bibliophiles.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


The Haunted Bookshop's book buyer is not in the shop on Sundays, so Sundays, we can't take your books.

First Officer's Log No 27: Musings

Someone asked me today if I was reading anything, and I had to admit that the answer was no. I actually haven't had any interest in reading a book for a couple of weeks now. I stare at my bookshelf every few nights and think that I could start to read one of the novels that I've picked up over the past few months, but then I realize that I'm no longer interested in this or that subject, and I'd rather spend my time with something else.

I spend all my time around books, and each time I hear about a new book I should read, or some new book is given an award, I read up on it and find myself making an uninterested face at best, or wrinkling my nose at the worst. Come to think of it, a lot of things I've heard about that are winning awards make me wrinkle my nose.

I'm not sure what it is. I love to read, I've never made a secret of that, but I've just kind of lost my interest. The only things I have read lately are The Economist magazine and maybe the newspaper when I'm waiting for a sandwich in one of our local shops. All The Economist can tell me is that it's getting harder and harder out there, and all the papers can tell me is stuff that I've already read that morning on the internet newsfeed that cycles across my browser.

I'll have to keep poking around. Maybe change up my taste in books, hope for something new and interesting to waltz my way. If I'm lucky, maybe something will click.

Until next week, fellow... well, maybe not this week since I'm not much of one this go around.

:ahem: Until next week, bibliophiles.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"I have reached the point in pie shake delirium where I am talking about buying bridges off of cats."
- Customer; he and his friend had just consumed a pie shake at Hamburg Inn and were in quite silly moods

Monday, January 10, 2011

First Awards of 2011: The American Library Association Awards

Hello, folks, and welcome to another year of the Haunted Bookshop keeping you up to date on the newest news in the world of book awards, as well as our individual blog posts to keep you informed of shop news, cat news, and Iowa City, the World's Third UNESCO City of Literature.

This time around, we're giving you the heads up on the ten books chosen for the Alex Awards for 2011, chosen by the American Library Association as the best books for young adults. Without further ado, here we go.

* The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To by DC Pierson

* Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard by Liz Murray

* Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

* The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni

* The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

* The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel by Aimee Bender

* The Radleys by Matt Haig

* The Reapers Are the Angels: A Novel by Alden Bell

* Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue

* The Vanishing of Katharina Linden: A Novel by Helen Grant

Keep an eye out for these books to come in the shop. In the meantime, we've just gotten a whole bunch of young adult fiction, everything from classic Lois Lowry to some more contemporary fantasy, like Stuart Hill (the Icemark series is really quite good, with a fantastic female lead in the first novel). So if you're gearing up for some new things to read before spring semester classes start up, come stop by the Haunted Bookshop and see what we've got in stock.

Happy reading and congratulations to the winners of this year's Alex Awards!

2011 Award Winners: American Library Association, Part 2

This one I just found and thought it was awesome, and that is the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, which is presented to an author or illustrator whose work has made an outstanding and lasting contribution to children's literature.

This year, which appears to be the debut year for this award, is awarded to Tomie dePaola, best known for his Strega Nona books, and his colorful, distinctive art style. He's also adapted a number of American Indian legends and Italian folktales into children's books.

On a personal note, Tomie dePaola was always one of my favorite illustrators and writers when I was a kid, so I'm really excited to see him winning an award from the ALA.