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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Read This Book

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

I know, I know, you really don't need yet another person telling you to read this book.  It's had such good press, and so many glowing reviews, that my opinion is pretty insignificant at this point.  But I'm going to tell you to read it anyway, and here's why.  I've seen you walk in the store, and pick it up.  And then I've seen you put it back down again.  Because it is a BIG book.  There seems to be a rather large contingent of people who are interested, but freaked out by its size.  I'm here to tell you, don't be.

Before The Goldfinch, I was going through a phase where I couldn't finish anything.  I was only reading short stories, because that's all that could keep my attention.  This was going on for about three months.  And now you're wondering why on earth I would start an 800 page novel.  In short, I happened to be flying somewhere and I thought confinement on a plane, coupled with one ginormous book, would cure me of my reading slump.  Great plan, right?  Well, I'm pretty sure my "genius" plan would only have worked with this particular book.  After I opened it for the first time, I was hooked...no, I was enchanted.  I felt physical pain whenever I had to close it.  Getting off the plane, sleeping, going to work; I hated every minute of not reading that book.  After three months of struggling to finish 15 to 20 page stories in less than two weeks, I steamrolled through The Goldfinch, all 800 glorious pages of it, in about a week.

You've already read the amazing reviews.  It's all true.  If you were hesitating at all, hear me now and hesitate no longer.  This book is suspenseful and sad, beautiful and often hilarious.  I haven't loved characters this way in a long, long time.  In fact, I say with absolute certainty that The Goldfinch contains my favorite character.  Of all time.  From any book.  Ever.  Tartt's writing is so breathtaking it's sometimes unbelievable.  I could read 800 more pages of this.  Seriously, it's in my top five favorites.  Spectacular.

And in even better news, it did cure my reading slump....well, it cured it after I was finally able to bring myself to read something other than The Goldfinch.  That's another odyssey entirely.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Mystery of Magic: Or, the Not So Common Reality

Every year it seems there are different themes in each crop of new books, and for 2013 middle grade (ages 8-12) there have been a lot of fantastical, whimsical, magical realism stories. But, what's the big deal with magical realism anyway?

Magical realism addresses everyday life in a unique way that makes the plot of a story much more unpredictable. Sometimes it takes this kind of new viewpoint to see the importance of things we take for granted or miss. Magical realism isn't simply an escape of reality, rather, as defined by bookseller Alex, "it is near enough to reality that we can accept it as truth, but far enough away that we get to experiment." Imagination feeds the mindset of overcoming the impossible!

Real life has many curveballs, but nothing like the curveballs of magical realism where you'll find time continuums, strange messages that take some out-of-the-box thinking to solve, puzzles, mysteries, and random strangers with important bonds unknowingly made.  Here are a few great titles to introduce you and your young reader to the joys and excitement of magical realism.

North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler (author of Emily Windsnap)

This is one of the most riveting tales I've read all year. Mia is up against multiple mysteries during her spring break -- her missing grandfather, a missing friend, a new friend, a strange time continuum, and events that are unreal. Though a time is lost and another found, in a away that no real person could experience, North pulses down on the realism of unanswered questions and agonizing secrets.

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

A great whimsical tale of talents, peanut butter, and cake portrays that "It's the way we deal with what Fate hands us that defines who we are." (And if you enjoyed Savvy, this book is for you!) Of course you can't physically steal talents with an icy hand and empty jar, but it is hope that keeps us moving, opposed to selfish ambition and self pity that blind you to answers.

The Last Present by Wendy Mass

The Willow Falls series is my highest recommendation for girls ages 9 to 13. The final book in this series is essential and NOT a let down. It answers a lot of questions posed in the first three books. Magical realism in this book is opportunity lost and opportunity found, but just how far can you place your burdens on others? (You can read Last Present as a standalone, but it won't be as good without 11 Birthdays, Finally, and 13 Gifts.)

Posted by Emily M.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Happy University Press Week!

Yup, that's right, it's University Press Week.  I know, you're asking yourself, "What's the big deal about university presses?"  Well, here are some super smart people telling you just what the big deal is...

"...Wayne State University Press is essential to the literature of our beautiful and socially rich state ...The press has satisfied a need not filled by any other publisher." —Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of American Salvage, and Once Upon a River

"Driven by the mission of promoting and preserving scholarship, university presses play a key role in disseminating a full range of research, intellectual endeavor, and artistic creativity that's undertaken in educational and cultural organizations around the world." —Kelly Gallagher, Vice President of Content Acquisition, Ingram Content Group

"What words to describe the university press? Patient, ambitious, demanding, sustaining, generous, utterly essential. Serious thinking is unimaginable without it." —William Germano, Dean of Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Cooper Union

"University presses are among the unacknowledged teachers of mankind, their books not simply preserving thought but awakening readers, harrowing minds, and sowing beginnings." —Sam Pickering, literary scholar and essayist
 Come to Ravenna and check out our table featuring some amazing university press titles!
And check out this website for all the cool University Press Week goings on!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Best of America

The Best American Series is out.  Every year the series highlights some of the best of the best in American writing.  You've probably seen and maybe read some of the Best American Short Stories books.  This year the collection is guest edited by
Elizabeth Strout.  It features some really great authors like, George Saunders, Jennifer Egan, and Chimamanda Adichie.

The Series also includes Best American Comics, Sports Writing, Travel Writing, and the popular Non-Required Reading collection.

I'm really excited about this year's new edition, The Best American Infographics.  You know infographics, those currently popular, graphics that give you a bunch of information...they are well-named.  Here are a few examples of what you'll find in this great compilation...

Friday, November 1, 2013

Read This Book

The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

New Hyde Hospital’s psychiatric ward has a new resident. It also has a very, very old one.

Pepper is a rambunctious big man, minor-league troublemaker, working-class hero (in his own mind), and, suddenly, the surprised inmate of a budget-strapped mental institution in Queens, New York. He’s not mentally ill, but that doesn’t seem to matter. He is accused of a crime he can’t quite square with his memory. In the darkness of his room on his first night, he’s visited by a terrifying creature with the body of an old man and the head of a bison who nearly kills him before being hustled away by the hospital staff. It’s no delusion: The other patients confirm that a hungry devil roams the hallways when the sun goes down. Pepper rallies three other inmates in a plot to fight back: Dorry, an octogenarian schizophrenic who’s been on the ward for decades and knows all its secrets; Coffee, an African immigrant with severe OCD, who tries desperately to send alarms to the outside world; and Loochie, a bipolar teenage girl who acts as the group’s enforcer. Battling the pill-pushing staff, one another, and their own minds, they try to kill the monster that’s stalking them. But can the Devil die?

The Devil in Silver brilliantly brings together the compelling themes that spark all of Victor LaValle’s radiant fiction: faith, race, class, madness, and our relationship with the unseen and the uncanny. More than that, it’s a thrillingly suspenseful work of literary horror about friendship, love, and the courage to slay our own demons.

Here is what Mark B. had to say about it:

Pepper is brought to the New Hyde mental institution, because he got into a fight with the police. He believes that the police have dropped him there, rather than do all the paperwork it would take to arrest him. He's sure that he'll be out after the weekend, but many weeks later he finds himself just another drugged out patient in the ward. They are all frightened of the wards' oldest resident, who sometimes slips into their rooms in the middle of the night, but why? Pepper chooses to stay behind and help his fellow inmates, and by the end of the novel, he has grown and benefited from what originally seemed a mistake. This novel is filled with great lines that I wanted to highlight. It is also chock-full of humor and pathos and a cast of unforgettable characters.