Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present by Hank Stuever
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1st edition, 2009
Genre: Nonfiction, memoir
Synopsis & Review: Black Friday 2006: Hank Stuever mingles with the crowd lined up outside a Texas Best Buy in the pre-dawn hours. When the doors open at five, he will be swept in alongside all the shoppers hunting the best bargains available on this most vaunted shopping day of the year. Business is booming in the US, and everyone seems to be spending, whether they have the money or not. From that arc-sodium lit parking lot, Stuever will follow several people through the 2006 Christmas season in suburban Texas, trailing them through malls and McMansion-filled neighborhoods. There’s Caroll, a single mother and devoted Christian, trying to provide her family with a lovely Christmas. There’s Tammie, energetic and optimistic, who decorates other peoples’ houses and is so involved with it that’s he sometimes neglects her own family. And there are the Trykoskis, a young and child-free couple who every year create a bigger, brighter, more elaborate light show on their house and yard, dazzling an endless stream of lookers on. While observing his subjects, Stuever also becomes an active participant, attending church programs with Carroll and hanging garland with Tammie. While immersed in their experiences for three years running (after spending the entire 2006 season in Texas, Stuever returns for visits in 2007 and 2008), Stuever also reflects on his own Christmases, and those of America.
I added Tinsel to my library request list right when it came out, but still didn’t get to read it till February. It’s okay, though; it doesn’t need to be Christmas to enjoy Tinsel. Read the rest of this entry »
Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading (A Reading Memoir) by Lizzie Skurnik
Avon, 1st printing, 2009
Genre: Memoir, YA
Synopsis & Review: Sometime in the Sixties, says Lizzie Skurnik, YA literature for girls underwent a sea change, from wholesome entertainment into something rich and strange. Out of this marvelous transformation came Judy Blume and Lois Duncan, and then others followed suit: Katherine Paterson, Richard Peck, Robert Cormier, Scott O’Dell, Paula Danziger, Norma Klein, and Willo Davis Roberts, among others. Skurnik declares that this is when writers began dealing with “the lives and dramas of adolescent girls on their own terms, in their own worlds.” Her reading memoir Shelf Discovery is an epic odyssey through YA lit of a certain time, from the late Sixties to the late Eighties, and nearly all of the books will be recognizable to readers (women?) of a certain age. Shelf Discovery sprang forth from Skurnik’s Jezebel column Fine Lines, and spurred on by the enthusiastic response of readers, Skurnik gathered, categorized, and dissected a number of the classics of the genre. From Alcott and Burnett to L’Engle and Blume, Shelf Discovery features essays not only by Skurnik, but also popular authors like Meg Cabot and Cecily von Ziegesar.
The book is divided into chapters categorizing books nominally by theme, with the exception of Chapter One, Still Checked Out/YA Heroines We’ll Never Return. After these classics come She’s at that Age/Girls on the Verge; Danger Girls/I Know What You Did Last Summer (Reading); Read ‘em and Weep/Tearing Up the Pages; You Heard it Here First/Very Afterschool Specials; Girls Gone Wild/Runaways, Left Behinds, and Ladies Living off the Fat of the Land; She Comes by It Supernaturally/Girls Who are Gifted and Talented; Him She Loves/Romanced, Rejected, Affianced, Dejected; Old-Fashioned Girls/They Wear Bonnets, Don’t They?; and Panty Lines/I Can’t Believe They Let Us Read This. Essays vary from full-length Book Reports with synopsis and analysis, to the much shorter Overdue and Extra Credit selections, which were usually all-too brief.
At a Christmas Eve party, my friend Matt asked me why exactly all the girls in intermediate school were reading Flowers in the Attic and Clan of the Cave Bear all the damn time. (I have no idea how the topic came up; I was a little tipsy.) Though Matt is about a decade older than I am, I immediately had the answers for him, being part of the tail of that YA movement that flourished in the late Sixties up through the Eighties (when I got my greasy little mitts on them). So I began expounding on V.C. Andrews and Jean M. Auel at length, declaiming the narratives of the Dollanganger and Earth’s Children sagas (with brief forays into the Casteels and Adares during the former), while Matt and Josh listened raptly, dazzled by the secret lives of girls. I can’t even remember the last time I read FitA or CotCB, but I remembered everything about the books, including how much I had loved them and why. Read the rest of this entry »