Jul 31, 2013

30 Day Challenge: Day 11

Day 11: A Book You Hated

I have a lot of respect for authors. To pick a book that I hated? That seems a little pointed, a little extreme, a little violent. So, maybe, rather than refer to it as a book I hated, I’ll just say it was the furthest thing from my personal taste that I can possibly imagine.

Typically, I respond to beautiful, romantic, gothic prose. The type of writing that builds a nest in your body, slowly unwinding and crawling through you until you’re completely wrapped in the moment. That is what I love to read. The antithesis would be minimalist, boring, rugged writing that just observes without interacting. That is why Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is a book that I—gulp—hate. I thought it was boring, stale, empty. I just didn’t care one little bit about the man, the marlin, or the boy. I can appreciate the book, but I’ll appreciate it from far, far away.

It' hard to say the word "hate" when it comes to a book. If I didn't think I would like it or it didn't come highly recommended, I probably would never have picked it up. It's safe to say though that there are at least a few books out there that I couldn't even force myself to finish.

The most distinctive one that comes to mind is Vineland by Thomas Pynchon. I really wanted to like Pynchon's writing style as a professor of mine described him as eclectic, electrifying, complex. I thought I was going to read some stark and satirical social commentary, but instead I was utterly dismayed. I couldn't even make it halfway through the book I was so put off by the twisted and inane plot line that was meant to be the satirical social commentary on America's politics. Maybe eventually I'll attempt to re-read with a better mindset, but for now, I'll leave that book to collect some dust.

One book that I picked up at an airport was Churchill’s Secret Agent by Max and Linda Ciampoli. It was around the time all the Jason Bourne movies were popular, and I assumed it was going to be something like that, so I had a lot of high hopes. No matter how far I’d get in the book I was always waiting for something cool to happen, and it was always the same. Nothing exciting or shocking happened. There may have been one part in the book when thought, “Okay, that was almost worth all this reading I’ve been doing…” Halfway through the book, I just couldn’t take it anymore. If you are ever considering reading that book, my advice, just don’t.

I'll never forget the first time I didn't enjoy reading. I was in fifth grade and was assigned The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane and I hated it. Up until then, reading had been my favorite pastime and it had never occurred to me that there might be books I wouldn't want to read. So it was a rude awakening, to say the least. In hindsight, the main problem may have been that I was just too young for it. My teacher that year (who was one of my favorite teachers ever) had us reading a number of books that were perhaps a little advanced for our grade, including The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, and The Call of the Wild. The only one I had a problem with was The Red Badge of Courage. Since then I have thought of picking it up to see if I would like it as an adult, but I just can't bring myself to do it. 

Jul 30, 2013

30 Day Challenge: Day 10

Day 10: Favorite Classic

Such an easy prompt today. I've always loved classics, and love to find them in bookstores with worn hardcovers if possible. There's something about the feel of a worn classic that brings you back to the golden age of writing and reading. While I've read many books of classic prose and poetry, tales, and novels, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is by far my favorite. It's the original coming of age story, a bildungsroman if you will. 

My favorite part of reading is the characters and their development. I like to feel as if I'm growing with the character, as if I'm learning what they are learning, and Jane Eyre was ahead of its time in this sense. The unfolding of Jane's life, morality, and sensibility envelopes the reader. It explores sexuality, religion, feminism, and criticizes the social norms in such a way that it revolutionized fiction. It certainly revolutionized fiction for me. It opened me up to a world of literature by Austin, Elliot, Stoker, Wilde, Chaucer, Boccaccio, Petrarch, and so many more that my bookshelves are filled with them.

But what makes a classic a "classic?" What's your favorite classic?

Growing up one of my favorite books to read, and that still to this day holds a spot in my heart is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I know it’s a pretty popular pick, especially since the movie just came out (which I thought was so so…) and so it’s fresh in everyone’s mind. For me when I think of The Great Gatsby I think of a great American novel that has stood the test of time, and proven to be held as one of the greatest works in American Literature.

I always loved the story, and really connected with the characters of the book. Even though it is a short book, it is still very good. It is something I recommend everyone to read, again if it has been a while.

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.” 

Would you look at that? We're in the double digits!

Like Desiree, I find this prompt to be a no brainer. I, too, have a had a love for classics since middle/high school. There's something very powerful associated with the notion of reading a classic novel or work of drama. Thinking of how many lives the same book has influenced fosters an intense feeling of community within me. It's exciting and, perhaps, a little overwhelming to reflect on how many people find deep connections with the same words I find so captivating.

To Kill a Mockingbird is the only classic that is always on my ever-changing list of 10 favorite books. Harper Lee's fantastic work is not only exquisitely written, but the story is crushingly timeless and (tragically) relevant. My dog, my (future) son, and favorite stuffed fox are all named after characters from this book. I think that's a rather good sign that this classic has had quite a large hold on my literary life.

Jul 29, 2013

30 Day Challenge: Day 9

DAY 9: A Book You Thought You Wouldn't Like But Ended Up Loving

Working in the publishing industry and having friends and family who obviously know I'm an avid reader, I often receive books as gifts for my birthday and for Christmas, or any other occasion, and I barely make it through a day without getting some form of book recommendation. (Yes, email recommendations from Goodreads count.)

There are probably a good number of books out there that looked iffy to me, but because they came recommended from someone I value, I chose to read them, and good thing I did. I like to think that I dabble in a variety of genres, but one genre that has always eluded my interest is true science fiction. Unless it's a movie, I never had much interest. For instance, I love the original Star Wars movies, and I'm a huge fan of the new Star Trek movies, but I could care less about reading the books. So when my fiancé, boyfriend at the time, recommended Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card as one of his favorite books, I said, "Eh, I don't think I'm going to like that. I just can't get into that genre." So what does he do? Why, exactly what any adamant boyfriend does -- buys me the book and tells me I have to read it!

Jul 26, 2013

30 Day Challenge: Day 8

DAY 8: Most Overrated Book

Today: we've got controversy.

Can I say another subjective prompt? Just like yesterday, I find myself in a rut on what I consider overrated.

Today's definition: Overrated - a book that may be widely-read by readers from all over the world and be a favorite of many, but is given almost too much credit for it's worth. In my opinion, this is a book that could have one or all of the following: great writing, a joy to read, and sells exceptionally well; but in the end it adds little value to the literary mind and improves little on the critical thinking skills or decisions that humans make as part of a society.

Today my pick revolves around mass market paperback fictions that are given all the hype but provide no value to literature. Yes, folks, I'm talking about Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. I read the series, and enjoyed the plot itself. But then I noticed the editing errors, the badly written elements that go into the plot line - narrative voice, for instance, and in particular, the extremely cheesy lines like "So what you're saying is, I'm your brand of heroin?". Of course it's the perfect line for a cheesy mass market paperback designed to have teenage girls fawning over. They had great marketing, I'll give them that, but the writing and editing is poor quality in comparison to what makes good literature and it adds extremely little to society - thus overrated.

Jul 25, 2013

30 Day Challenge: Day 7

Day 7: Most Underrated Book

Such a subjective prompt for today's challenge - underrated. What does it mean to be an underrated book? …to not have good sales, to have originally had good sales but no longer, to be only appreciated by a small region or celebrated by select groups, to be a favorite of 1 out of 10,000 people…? I'm being forced by this prompt to put my own definition on "underrated" …

Underrated - a book that while widely read is not one commonly thought of outside of specific genre or literary circles. To me these are books commonly taught in schools or similar instances where readers might never have picked up the book otherwise.

…and yet, I am stuck on two books.

Jul 24, 2013

30 Day Challenge: Day 6

Day 6: A Book That Makes You Sad

Yesterday I stated that all reading makes me happy - content. It was a different take than what Josh thought of for his pick and it goes to show that every reader, even when it's the same book, will come away with different feelings, different thoughts, and different meanings. No two readers are alike, just as no two snowflakes are alike. Books come in different shapes, sizes, genres, word counts, illustrations, text, and so on and so forth. Which is why publishers strive so hard to find books that are unique, books that bring in new perspectives, books that create dialogue, and books that add depth to critical thinking. Any book can do that as long as the various elements of the text fit together well. But even then, no publisher can fully predict how a book's content will affect individual readers.

For me, I've never experienced true sadness from reading a book. Sad is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as "affected with or expressive of grief or unhappiness." I've never closed or ended a book feeling truly sad. Sure, I've read books where the content is considered to be a sad story, but I can't recall reading any that have created the emotion fully in me after finishing the book. I define "a book that makes me feel sad" as one that is wonderfully written and one that I can empathize with the character's emotions during the book, but when finished I am not left feeling sad, but rather, content and pensive over the emotions within the book.

I'm not an outwardly emotional person generally, but there are a few things that automatically make me tear up: A Soldier's homecoming, the unity of a community when tragedy occurs (not that I want tragedy to occur, but the outright unity that comes after tragedy shows the beautiful side of human nature), and a child who experiences a terrible loss. To this end, my choice for today is Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer hit the nail on the head with this book. It's beautiful and terribly sad all at the same time. I don't know if the author personally had experienced loss during the 9/11 attacks, but he did a hell of a job putting into perspective the immeasurable loss experienced, the feeling of chaos, and the need to keep a piece of what was lost forever in our hearts. "…the renter reminded me that just because you bury something, you don't really bury it." I adore this book for capturing true human nature in its most raw form, and the pure emotion one experiences when reading it.


“Sometimes you can just say things and it’s like a bomb that blows all your clothes off and suddenly there you are naked. I don't know if it’s disgusting or beautiful.” -Victor Lodato

Now this is more like it.

Sad books are a certain forte of mine. They make the most profound emotional impact, which is definitely what I look for in a novel. Additionally, I find that a book that makes me sad is able to fill me with the distinct feeling that accompanies deep, affectionate love. That crucifying, heart-blinding sort of love that happens just every-so-often and is oh-so-terrifyingly-wonderful.

That is how a Book-That-Makes-You-Sad feels to me.

I have two choices today--cheating, I know--but choosing between the two was too difficult...so I didn't.

Yesterday, I finished Victoria Gonzales Peña's The Sad Passions. Tragic, Tragic, Tragic. Told from alternating perspectives of five women, Peña's novel recounts four daughters' experiences living with an unstable mother, wandering father, and a large, sweltering supporting cast of misfits. The fifth perspective comes from Claudia, the incoherent mother, and it's these sections that I think Peña delivers her strongest work. Her capacity for instability is nightmarish. If you're looking for light-hearted, you've opened the wrong book.

My second choice is Victor Lodato's Mathilda Savitch. This was my favorite book in 2011. I have heard people criticize this book because the main character doesn't change, there's no progression. But, last time I checked, eleven-year-old girls do not change overnight. They experience, they learn, they forget, and they repeat. 

And Mathilda is no exception. 

Lodato has an uncanny gift for voice, and that makes Mathilda's tragic, heavy-hearted one-liners even more profound. Never have I been so enthralled with a child's narration. I cannot stress enough how highly I would recommend this book.

Jul 23, 2013

30 Day Challenge: Day 5

Day 5: A Book That Makes You Happy

"And the tree was happy."

To say I'm having trouble writing about a book that makes me happy would be a gross understatement. As a generally jovial person, I've come realize, recently (as in the last ten minutes) that I don't read many things for joy, for happiness. 

I like thinkers. I like ponderers. I like emotionally-charged.

But, happy?

Jul 22, 2013

30 Day Challenge: Day 4

DAY 4: Favorite Book in Your Favorite Series

So many books these days do come with sequels or whole series -- just take a look at the bestseller lists where at least half the books selected are part of a set. The point is that series sell well, especially if you are a publisher looking for a foreign rights deal. Rest assured though that the stand-alone novel is still very much appreciated by publishers and readers alike.

Jul 19, 2013

30 Day Challenge: Day 3

DAY 3: Your Favorite Series

"Everything is a series, isn't it?"

An Anecdote.

Yesterday, Scarletta was showcasing at the Lyngblomsten Midsummer Festival in St. Paul. Art vendors, musical guests, and storytellers wandered throughout the day hoping to find great books, good food, and--more often than not--a glass of water to fight away the heat and humidity. While speaking to a brightly dressed mother-of-two, she noticed our upcoming children's picture book MONSTER NEEDS A COSTUME, the first book of our Monster & Me series. She was off-put by the idea of series, for whatever reason, and remarked that series is so popular these days, how we're losing our love of the singular, of the stand-alone.

Jul 18, 2013

30 Day Challenge: Day 2

Day 2: A Book You've Read More Than Three Times

Honestly, I am not a big re-reader. When I put a book back on my shelf, it's there for a long time before it's looked at again. It isn't that I am not interested in falling back into a familiar book--I understand the comfort that readily returns when you pick up a favorite text for another run-through. I recall quotes easily, and when a book really speaks to me, I am more inclined to read specific passages over again rather than the entire work. Still there are a few titles that have piqued my interest enough to warrant more than a few reads.

Jul 17, 2013

30 Day Challenge: Day 1

Hello, hello, dear readers!

We'd like to share some exciting news with you:

For the next 30 (work) days, the staff of Scarletta will be showcasing in a 30-Day-Book Challenge. By participating, we're hoping to see a little more community involvement with the bloggersphere, Twitter, and Facebook. We are just as excited to write about our bookish experiences as we are to read and hear about yours!