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2011 Printz and Alex Awards

by Jason on January 10th, 2011
2011 Printz and Alex Awards Cover Image

The most exciting part of the annual American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting is the literary award announcements.  Two that cover literature for Young Adults are the Michael L. Printz Award (best in Young Adult Literature) and the Alex Awards (ten adult books that appeal to teen readers).

This year’s Printz Award went to Paolo Bacigalupi (possibly the best name in YA lit) for Ship Breaker. This is a terrific adventure story set in a bleak future near New Orleans. Global ecological disasters have scarred the coast as we follow the boy scavenger Nailer’s adventures after he and a friend discover the wreckage of a pleasure yacht.  Problems arise after they find a body among the plunder. Paolo also shared top honors at the 2010 Hugo Awards for his adult Science Fiction book The Windup Girl.

The Alex Awards are a great list for High School readers that are looking to make that leap to the adult fiction and nonfiction areas but don’t know many authors beyond Stephen King, Jodi Picoult, or the Child Called It guy.  It’s also a pretty great list for adults too! These are the top ten for 2011:

The Reapers Are the Angels: A Novel by Alden Bell
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel by Aimee Bender
The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni
Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue
The Vanishing of Katharina Linden: A Novel by Helen Grant
The Radleys by Matt Haig
The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard by Liz Murray
The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To by DC Pierson

And what are you reading?

by Jason on September 2nd, 2010
And what are you reading? Cover Image

The 2010 Adult Summer Reading Program (SRP) wrapped up at the end of July and we’ve taken some time to analyze the Reading Forms to see what you all were reading this summer!  There was obviously a wide variety of books read or listened to, everything from The A.B.C. Murders to You’ve Been Warned (what, no titles that started with ‘Z’?!).

From the results it looks like the NYTimes isn’t lying, Young Adult books are hot with adults right now! Oh and I think if I start Zarathustra’s Secret : The Interior Life of Friedrich Nietzsche now I might just finish in time to put it on my form for the 2011 SRP.

Top Ten Adult Titles:

  1. Sizzlin’ 16 by Janet Evanovich
  2. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
  3. Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
  4. House Rules by Jodi Piccoult
  5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  6. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson
  7. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  8. Hannah’s List by Debbie MacComber
  9. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
  10. Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Top Ten Adult Authors:

  1. Rick Riordan
  2. Stephanie Meyer
  3. Janet Evanovich
  4. J.D. Robb
  5. James Patterson
  6. Charlaine Harris
  7. J.K. Rowling
  8. Stephen King
  9. Stieg Larsson
  10. Debbie Maccomber and Jodi Piccoult (tie)

DM Stith – Heavy Ghost

by Jason on February 23rd, 2010

DM Stith‘s full-length CD debut “Heavy Ghost” now dominates my “Top 25 Most Played” iTunes playlist and won the coveted “Jason’s Album of the Year” award in 2009. It’s a travesty that the record industry doesn’t recognize this prestigious award…also lack of funding makes a ceremony (or trophy) impossible. Still.

This is an album for the long dark winter months – lush soundscapes of fingerpicked guitar, dramatic piano, found sounds, and complex percussion. These instruments serve as backdrops that emphasize the multi-tracked arrangements of his unique voice. A more instrumental second half of the album highlights Stith’s falsetto crooning. In the album’s climax, “Braid of Voices”, Stith sings a round based on the lines, “From the back of my head/tied/to the back of my head” over a background chorus woven of his own howling and sighing. What sticks with me the most from this haunting album is its ability to channel an abundance of creativity into a cohesive audio experience.

St. Vincent – Actor

by Jason on February 9th, 2010

Annie Clark’s alter-ego, St. Vincent, had a previous album in 2007, “Marry Me”, that cracked quite a few critic’s lists. I missed that boat, but her follow up this year, “Actor“, caught my attention when I heard the straightforward rock single “Actor Out Of Work.” It starts out loud and ends louder an urgent two minutes later. Annie Clark sings with clear enunciation in a very pure tone that reminds me of someone like Doris Day or a throwback singer such as Zooey Deschanel (without the annoying affectation). Beneath that simple, pretty delivery are difficult lyrics describing a complex world. In “Marrow” she opens over a rising angelic choir, “Muscle connects to the bone/And the bone to the ire and the marrow/I wish I had a gentle mind and a spine made up of iron.” That combination of light and dark is echoed in her music – strings and the occasional handclap paired with brash baritone saxophones and guitar with some of the dirtiest distortion fuzz I’ve heard in a while.

Annie will be bringing St. Vincent to the Blue Moose Tap House (formerly The Industry) next Tuesday the 16th, so brush up on her catalog quickly!

Middle Cyclone – Neko Case

by Jason on October 26th, 2009
Middle Cyclone – Neko Case Cover Image

The last few weeks the leaves have finally turned and are starting to drop!  For me it’s the perfect time of year for a polished voice paired with slightly sinister music and lyrics for my walk to work iPod playlist.  Neko Case’s latest album Middle Cyclone has been filling that niche as I shuffle through the crunchy (sometimes wet) leaves.

Her voice can have a country twang at times but she’s more versatile than any modern pop-country artists.  Her band is super talented and the album has a big production sound without losing an emotional resonance.  What I most admire about Neko are her lyrics.  The opening track, “This Tornado Loves You”, is a dark scorned-love tale with an urgent rhythm behind it to match an intense delivery and lyrics:

My love, I am the speed of sound
I left them motherless, fatherless
Their souls hanging inside-out from their mouths
But it’s never enough
I want you

I also recommend her previous album Fox Confessor Brings The Flood for more of the same.

A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin

by Jason on August 17th, 2009
A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin Cover Image

Brian and I both work at the Fiction Desk.  If you’ve been in this summer and asked for a recommendation from one of us chances are we shoved this massive fantasy novel in your hands and apologized for the awful cover art.  For those of you who are too shy to ask directly I’ll try to ‘sell’ this electronically…but you’re missing out on my crazy hand gestures and emphatic facial expressions.

First let me say you do not necessarily have to like the fantasy genre at all to enjoy this.  The series is mostly a vast and complicated character-driven  historical fiction saga…with a dragon or three.  Wait, haters stay with me here!  OK, so there are dragons and a race of human-like beings that kill and create an army of undead ‘wights’, but most of the story (and there are over 3,000 pages – so far) is focused on an intricate plot design and many fascinating characters.  You’re thrown into a medieval world of common folk, knights, lords and their King.  And bad blood between the royal families make holding that throne oh so difficult.

Each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character and usually ends with a cliffhanger.  Characters are presented as obvious heroes and villians but as you progress through the series things become much less black and white.  800-odd pages have never gone by so quickly!  Oh and HBO is making the pilot, so there is huge potential for this series to blow up.

Wintergirls – Laurie Halse Anderson

by Jason on June 24th, 2009
Wintergirls – Laurie Halse Anderson Cover Image

Laurie Halse Anderson’s earlier Young Adult novel, Speak, described the aftermath of a rape at a summer party.  It was heartbreaking yet ultimately empowering.  Although it was her first novel it quickly established her as one of the better writers in the YA genre.  Her latest, Wintergirls, is another “problem novel” that could have been average if not for her lyrical writing style and ability to really get us into the head of an anorexic teen.

Lia’s voice mail was full.  One message spoke: I’m so sad. I can’t get out. Lia should have answered her phone, but she was too upset.  She had 33 chances that night to answer the calls from her former best friend, Cass.  Instead she turned off the phone, went to bed, and Cass died all alone in her hotel room.

Now it”s getting harder for Lia to maintain her sanity and her impossible goal of weighing 85.00 (she always weighs herself to the hundredth decimal place) pounds with the ghost of bulimic Cass popping in and out.  Lia understands what it means to weigh so little but her brain just won’t allow her to put food in her stomach.  85.00 is dangerland. 85.00 is Fourth of July fireworks in a small metal box.

Anderson is truly in command in this novel, utilizing simple stylistic tricks such as strikethroughs (example) to illustrate Lia’s internal self-censorship, while effortlessly playing with language.  Warning to the reader: set aside the whole evening and keep the tissues nearby.  It’s refreshing to read a novel geared for teens that has such high literary quality while still remaining accessible for the audience!

This Book Will Save Your Life – A.M. Homes

by Jason on March 12th, 2009
This Book Will Save Your Life – A.M. Homes Cover Image

Richard Novak is living a stereotypical ritzy L.A. life : a huge yet empty house, ex-wife and son living back in N.Y., a personal trainer, a nutritionist.  He’s financially well-off due to his knack for trading stocks online from home (I kept thinking how different Richard’s life would be today), he barely leaves the house anymore, and wears Bose noise-canceling headphones all day so he doesn’t have to interact with anyone.   A sudden crippling pain forces him to make an emergency room visit which seems to reset his life.  From here Homes introduces random obstacles and eccentric characters into Richard’s path and we see just what sort of man he really is.  He meets and befriends a guru-like donut shop owner, a housewife at the end of her rope, and a 60s counterculture folk hero.  These characters all help Richard make sense of his existence and, as a result, he attempts to reconnect with the son he left over a decade ago. 

The L.A. satire is pretty heavy-handed, but she has still loaded the novel with funny dialogue and bizarre scenarios throughout (I especially liked the scene where a neighbor’s horse is trapped in a sinkhole and the Hollywood star rescues it with his helicopter).  Overall this is a novel that would have made bigger waves 15 years ago, but I found it an engaging read and, sadly, many of the life lessons are still pertinent.  

Tell Tale Signs – Bob Dylan

by Jason on January 29th, 2009

I’m one of those people that likes just about everything Mr. Bob Dylan churns out.  Sure there are degrees of ‘like’ involved and I’d never compare a "Blood on the Tracks" with say a… "Down in the Groove", but there are always at least a few keepers on each album. 

Most Dylan fans agree that the last three albums have been heavy on the keepers and with each album’s release there were internet rumors of unreleased gems Dylan left by the wayside (he’s notoriously fickle during his recording sessions).  Sony/Columbia have finally put together a collection of some of these more “modern era” (1989-2006) rare and unreleased songs in the form of volume 8 in their must-have Bootleg Series.   I was really looking forward to this collection in order to hear the castoff tunes, but found that I was much more impressed with the alternate versions of previously released tunes. 

One of the standouts on this album is a stripped down version of “Most of the Time” originally recorded for the underrated 1989 “Oh Mercy” album.  To me the original version suffers slightly from trying to achieve a contemporary sound (for the time) and really works so much better here with less production and more emphasis on the song’s structure, delivery, and lyrics.  You can hear both versions via the link at the beginning of the paragraph.  It’s one of those “Idiot Wind” lost/screwed-up love tunes where Dylan can pair lone-wolf style boasting (“I don’t compromise and I don’t pretend, I don’t even care if I ever see her again”) with a somber refrain (“Most of the time”).   Another solid entry in the Bootleg Series.  

American Wife – Curtis Sittenfeld

by Jason on November 26th, 2008
American Wife – Curtis Sittenfeld Cover Image

This is a pretty quiet, introspective character study novel of the life of Laura Bush, although Sittenfeld here uses the character pseudonym "Alice Lindgren" and we’re put in Wisconsin rather than Texas.  For those that care to delve into the personal history of Laura there is plenty in here for you to Google after reading particularly juicy passages (of which there are many), but for me I found I cared less and less about what was biography…which I guess would be a point for Sittenfeld since this is a novel and not a biography.  Those seeking Bush family dirt will recognize most of the actions that occur (the fatal High School car accident, the Roe v. Wade comment) but could be surprised by the personalities (George Sr. gets a pass and Barbara is shown as quite the ice queen). 

There’s a lot in here, though a majority of the 600-odd pages deal with life prior to the White House.  I kept waiting for elections and losses and victories (the last two might depend on who you ask) but when it came to the build up to the 2000 election I decided those years were actually the least interesting of Alice/Laura’s life.  Thankfully Sittenfeld seemed to agree and much is glossed over in favor of how her early life’s traumas and family relationships created the possibly (again, it is fiction) complex woman we now know as the first lady.  And if she’s right in her depiction, which I feel is a fair portrayal, then I think no one will be happier to see the Bush’s leave the White House than Laura herself. 

About Jason

Where would you find me in the Library:
At the Reference Desk or wandering the Fiction and Young Adult Fiction aisles.
Recommended Books:
Anything by David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami, Dave Eggers, or Michael Chabon.
I love reading international character-based mysteries such as those by Fred Vargas, Janwillem van de Wetering, Georges Simenon, and Andrea Camilleri.
Favorite short story authors: George Saunders, Aimee Bender, and Kelly Link.
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