Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading

January 19, 2010 at 12:41 am (Memoir, Non-fiction, Young adult) ()

Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnik

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading (A Reading Memoir) by Lizzie Skurnik
Avon, 1st printing, 2009
424 pages
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 »


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BSC revived and revised

January 12, 2010 at 4:15 am (Current Events, Juvanalia) (, , , , )

Have you seen this article in the New York Times? Ann M. Martin’s seminal series The Baby-Sitter’s Club is being resuscitated by Scholastic with not only a reprint and a prequel, but also a revision to update the books. No more perms and no more cassettes!

Like a lot of my peers, I read a fair number of BSC books in their heyday. It was never my favorite series, but I liked it better than the wholly ridiculous Sweet Valley High (and far better than the loathsome younger reader spinoffs of that) for featuring somewhat realistic girls doing well, everyday activities. And while there are far better books out there for young readers, I do not mind them reading stuff like the BSC. But is a revision to update the books really necessary? When I was in that same age group, I inherited some of the books that had originally belonged to my two older sisters, ten and twelve years older than me. Among these were several Judy Blume books, the requisite horse books like Marguerite O’Henry’s Misty books, and also the Amy and Laura books. The latter series was about a pair of sisters, different as different can be (and I suspect that difference is why my sisters had them; they had a very difficult relationship till they were adults), living in the Bronx in the–well, to this day I’m not entirely sure when they lived. Their lives were drastically different from my own, and though I wanted a malted, I wasn’t entirely sure what one was. But there were many similarities besides the complicated relationship between Amy and Laura, which echoed the one I witnessed between my own siblings. Like Laura, I checked out the Lang Fairy Books (I remember her interest in finally acquiring the Olive volume), and like Amy, I enjoyed riding my bike around the neighborhood. I really don’t think any small difference between my technology and theirs impeded my interest in their lives in the slightest.

The same goes for many classics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; though my mother had to explain segregation and belts for pads (when I read Iggie’s House and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, respectively), that hardly lessened my enjoyment or understanding of the books. But I suppose there may be an argument that since the BSC books are of less err, literary merit, shall we say, then they do need updating to remain relevant to children. I don’t know. But I may have to take a trip thrifting soon, and try to stock up on those original volumes just in case I ever have some girls interested in Stoneybrook.

Also: I first saw this article on the second of January, when the comments were already closed (really, NYT? Really?), but I MUST respond to this comment by Adrienne of New York (who is more than welcome to rebut):

This whole generation of girls who had grown up reading ‘The Baby-Sitters Club’ were now teachers, librarians or mothers,” Mr. Levithan said.

…Does Mr. Levithan really believe that little girls can only grow up to be teachers, librarians or mothers?? These books were about strong, entrepreneurial women. Mr. Levithan just robbed all women of the childhood joy they derived from these books. Thanks.

Ummm, yeah. Pretty sure Levithan is entirely aware of the fact that the women most in the position of recommending books to young readers are, well, mothers, teachers, and librarians. Ya think?

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Chunkster Reading Challenge (6/6)

January 11, 2010 at 2:20 am (Challenge Post) ()

Definition of a Chunkster:

* A chunkster is 450 pages or more of ADULT literature (fiction or nonfiction) … A chunkster should be a challenge.
* If you read large type books your book will need to be 525 pages or more … The average large type book is 10-15% longer or more so I think that was a fair estimate.

The Rules:

* No Audio books in the chunkster. It just doesn’t seem right. Words on paper for this one folks.
* No e-Books allowed – we are reading traditional, fat books for this challenge.
* Short Stories and Essay collections will not be counted.
* Books may crossover with other challenges
* Anyone may join. If you don’t have a blog, just leave me a comment on this post with your progress (and to let me know you are playing)
* You don’t need to list your books ahead of time.
* Once you pick a level, that’s it…you’re committed to that level!

You must pick a level of participation:

1. The Chubby Chunkster – this option is for the reader who has a couple of large tomes on their TBR list, but really doesn’t want to commit to much more than that. 3 books is all you need to finish this challenge.
2. Do These Books Make my Butt Look Big? – this option is for the slightly heavier reader who wants to commit to 4 Chunksters over the next twelve months.
3. Mor-book-ly Obese – This is for the truly out of control chunkster. For this level of challenge you must commit to 6 or more chunksters OR three tomes of 750 pages or more. You know you want to…..go on and give in to your cravings.


The way I see it is, I’m going to do it anyways, so why not gratify myself with a challenge? Because of my particular reading habits, I’m going to go ahead and do the Mor-book-ly Obese level of the challenge. Perhaps Tom Jones will finally make it onto my read list!

Chunkster Reading Challenge: Mor-book-ly Obese Level

1. The Group by Mary McCarthy
2. The Morland Dynasty: The Victory by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
3. Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon
4. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
5. The Briar King by Greg Keyes
6. The Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

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18th and 19th Century Women Writers Reading Challenge

January 11, 2010 at 2:14 am (Challenge Post)

18th and 19th Women Writers Reading Challenge
Hosted by Becky of Becky’s Book Reviews
Minimum 2 books;
All of 2010

Read books written by women authors that were written and/or published between 1700 and 1900. Contemporary historical books set in this time period do not count towards this challenge! The challenge is to encourage you to read some classics.

Here is a place where you can get ideas, but be careful, the list includes some authors who won’t count. (The site lists authors based on when they were born. So on the 1801-1900 list, for example, you might find women authors who were born in this time but didn’t begin writing and publishing their books until the twentieth century.)

Celebration of Women Writers 1801-1900
Celebration of Women Writers 1701-1800

Overlaps with other challenges allowed.

Well, so much for taking it easy! It does coincide with my interests, so I’m just going to have to do this challenge, too!  There’s still an Austen or two I haven’t yet read, and I’ve been meaning to try that Elizabeth Gaskell who has been so popular of late. And I still have George Eliot to do, too. So there is plenty to choose from.

18th & 19th Century Women Writers Reading Challenge

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‘Salem’s Lot

January 9, 2010 at 2:49 am (Horror) (, )

'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
originally published 1975
Signet, 25th printing, 1982
427 pages
Genre: Horror, vampires

Synopsis & Review: With the intent of writing a book, novelist Ben Mears returns to the little town of Jerusalem’s Lot, where he once spent several years living with his Aunt Cindy. The book he has in mind involves the Marsten House, a house abandoned since the hot afternoon when Hubie Marsten, a man with possible connexions to organized crime, killed first his wife and then himself. Also new in town is Mark Petrie, a thoughtful eleven-year-old boy with a penchant for horror movies and comics, and two mysterious businessmen, Straker and Barlow. When Ben attempts to purchase the Marsten House, he discovers that the still unseen Straker and his associate Barlow have purchased it. Ben continues writing his book, meditating on the Marstens and the nature of evil, while striking up a romance with Susan Norton, a local girl.

The first to die is a cocker spaniel, nailed up over the cemetery gates. More deaths soon follow, beginning with the disappearance of little Ralphie Glick, and then the death of his older brother Danny. As people all over the Lot slowly start dying and vanishing, others falling ill and bodies disappearing form the morgue, Ben and local teacher Matt Burke slowly and reluctantly realize that Evil has come to the Lot, Evil with a capital E. Mark is more easily convinced, recognizing vampires for what they are when one comes for him at night, but it is not until Ben and Dr Jimmy Cody sit up with one of the victims that they finally, really believe that vampires have come to the Lot–and that they’ll soon outnumber the living.

You can never go home again, they say, and in ‘Salem’s Lot, Ben et alia discover the truth of that aphorism. I think it’s largely agreed that horror (good stuff, at least) tends to reflect cultural zeitgeist, in which anxieties coalesce into a recognizable—and most importantly—tangible evil. ‘Salem’s Lot is a post-Vietnam novel that confronts a changing America. When characters wish to return to their roots, to a small town that nurtured them as children, they discover that it’s dying, both literally and figuratively. If you’ve ever driven beyond the limits of cities and suburbia, you’ve seen small towns, and you’ve undoubtedly seen some dwindling. If they’re not close enough to sub/urban centers to be enveloped in sprawl or convert to bedroom communities, many small towns simply vanish. Jobs move overseas, local resources (timber, mines) are played out, and with the loss of employment, young people move on and don’t return, till all that’s left are the aging; it’s the same history we see in ghost towns all over the West. When people in ‘Salem’s Lot come home (or don’t leave when they ought), they come home to die. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rhett Butler’s People

January 8, 2010 at 5:44 pm (Historical fiction, Parallel novel, Pop lit/Fiction lite, Romance, Total crap) (, )

Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCaig

Rhett Butler’s People by Donald Craig
St. Martin’s Press, 1st edition, 2007
498 pages
Genre: historical fiction, romance, parallel novel, cashing in, total crap

Synopsis & Review: I’m not going to explain the entire plot of Gone with the Wind here (which is one of my all-time favorite books, and with good reason), but this is a prequel/sequel/parallel novel to that. It starts during Rhett Butler’s childhood, and ends slightly after Gone with the Wind does. And it’s a travesty. Here is the jacket copy:

Rhett Butler’s People is the long-awaited novel based on the great American novel Gone With the Wind. Twelve years in the making, Rhett Butler’s People marks a major and historic cultural event for millions of Gone With the Wind readers, complementing and adding new dimensions to its timeless story.

Through the storytelling mastery of award-winning writer Donald McCaig, the life and times of the enigmatic Rhett Butler unfold. Meet Rhett as a boy, a free spirit who loved the marshes and tidewaters of the Low Country, and learn of the ruthlessness of his father, whose desire for control resulted in unspeakable tragedy. Through Rhett’s eyes, you will also meet the people who shaped him in other ways: the Overseer’s daughter, Belle Watling; Rhett’s brave and determined sister, Rosemary; Tunis Bonneau, the son of freed slaves — Rhett’s childhood friend who understood him like no one else; Jack Ravanel, whose name became inextricably linked to heartbreak.
And then, of course, there is Scarlett. Katie Scarlett O’Hara, the headstrong, passionate woman whose life is entwined with Rhett’s: more like him than she cares to admit, more in love with him than she’ll ever know.
Rhett Butler’s People, brought to vivid and authentic life by the hand of a master, fulfills the dreams of those whose imaginations have been indelibly marked by Gone With the Wind.

MY ASS. One major tip-off that something will suck: The protagonist repeatedly refers to themselves in laughable terms. In the case of McCraig’s Rhett Butler, it’s the term “renegade.” As in, “I’m a renegade.” Can anyone say that with a straight face? Could anyone ever?

And that, folks, is exactly the tone of the novel. But it’s not supposed to be funny. Read the rest of this entry »

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