the return of the saturday books…

You didn’t really think I’d be able to stay away from the book stores once I returned home, did you? I can’t tell you how I’ve been looking forward to having a Books-a-Million within twenty minutes of here, and TWO Barnes & Noble’s within forty minutes. Also, several small book stores, antique stores (old books), and thrift stores (slightly used books) right here in town, or one town over. Yes, I know, they’re everywhere! Isn’t it wonderful? And that isn’t even including all of the libraries!

It took me about a week and a half in the U.S. to put the jet lag completely behind me, and then I got comfortable driving on the right side of the road again, and I was ready to head to Greenville. After a lovely lunch with a friend at a new place I’ve never eaten before (Cheddar’s), I made my way to the newer Barnes & Noble, on Woodruff Road. I brought my camera, and even considered taking pictures of it, inside and out, but in the end, I just wanted to relax and soak up the books.

My routine in any B&N is always the same. If I have to go to the back of the store to use the restroom, I still want to look at the books in order, so I go back to the store entrance, and go from there. You can call me a creature of habit, but what better way is there to see what’s new, than to get up where the bestsellers are located? Also, there are usually tables and tables with different varieties of books. If I’ve read one of them, something else on the table might catch my interest, too.

Making my way, counter-clockwise, through the store, I eventually reached the Young Adult section, and was promptly creeped out by the shelf title, Teen Paranormal Romance. Now, please understand, I like Twilight and I like fantasy, but these entire shelves devoted to romance between otherworldly creatures (angels, demons, vampires, werewolves, etc..) and teenagers was… well, a bit frightening. What are the teens of today imbibing into their heads, these days? This section was a reminder of my recent thought, that there are several genres that have reached their peak, that all the copycats are out there, and no one else has anything original to write. What does it tell you, when an admitted lover of fantasy and sci-fi (me) thinks that this particular well has run dry, and the new writers need to look for something else?

Nevertheless, I still came across a book that has interested me for some time. The Selection, by Kiera Cass has a fascinating cover picture that has caught my attention before this. The description of the book implies that the characters are living in a dystopian future, where a reality show/beauty contest takes place, and the thirty-five girls are competing for the heart of the Crown Prince. From recent descriptions I’ve read, I can’t figure out whether these girls are being selected out of District 12 style poverty, or if these women were just yanked from the street like Queen Esther. However it happened, the main character, America Singer, doesn’t really want to be there, as she’s already in love with someone else. Think about being stuck in The Bachelor, if you didn’t have a choice? Yet, the possibilities behind this story are interesting. If my Kindle hadn’t died, I might have picked it up by now. I’ll have to see what our local library has in stock.

The only reason that I didn’t walk out of the store with a copy of The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, by Trenton Lee Stewart, is that I’m trying to be good about my spending, and it’s still in hardcover. Also, a little voice is not only reminding me to go look at the library, but it’s also pointing out that I have a whole pile of books I had shipped from Australia, which I haven’t finished reading yet. Sigh.

Previous to this, I have read all of Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society books, which follow the antics of some very intelligent children that solve numerous puzzles and avoid clever traps, in order to save their country from being taken over by Mr. Benedict’s evil twin. Yes, these stories are aimed at younger children, but I enjoy the delightful differences in the talent of each of the four children, and how they learn to work together, to solve every problem that comes their way. And at the end of the book, there’s usually an addendum that explains the intricacies of each puzzle that was solved, in case you’re still unsure of how they did it.

This prequel is purported to tell you about how Nicholas Benedict went from being an orphan, suffering from narcolepsy, to the brilliant man that keeps working to save the world, one puzzle at a time. I’m curious to know how he developed his intellect, as he was moved from one orphanage to another, and how his going to sleep at awkward moments would have affected those around him.

Continuing on in fantasy, I discovered that David Clement-Davies had written another book, and I debated over whether I would enjoy it as I did the earlier ones. Fell is a sequel to Clement-Davies’ earlier book, The Sight, which follows the lives of some wolves with very unique talents. It’s been years since I read the other book, so I would probably be a bit confused about what’s happening at the start. The previous books by this author were written from the point of view of the animals, and how they deal with supernatural gifts. This story will find Fell, the outcast, befriending a young girl, and together, maybe they can keep an evil ruler from fulfilling his terrible plans.

And since both last names begin with C, the next book on the shelf was Foundling, by D. M. Cornish. Now, I’ve read Cornish’s whole trilogy, and found it to be marvelous, but much overlooked by readers. Maybe it’s the early covers that were kind of creepy, or maybe the readers just didn’t like the name of the Monster Blood Tattoo series. I think the publishers are still trying to solve the issues, because I’ve seen the second book listed as The Foundling’s Tale: Part Two – Lamplighter, which maybe means they’ve left the name Monster Blood Tattoo behind?

I really can’t be sure of what the publishers are up to, but I do know that this is a fantastic series, completely original subject matter, but written with an almost Dickensian terminology. There’s a specific vocabulary that Cornish must have spent years developing, and the book is full of illustrations to show what their garments looked like, aside from the tri-corn hats. Monsters, both big and small, abound in the tale, and Rossamünd Bookchild, the orphan who has set out to become a lamplighter, must find out what he thinks of them. He eventually meets Europe, a monster slayer and he is both fascinated and frightened by her. When he finally arrives at the lamplighters, will he stay with them, or choose to go with Europe as her general factotum?

Finally abandoning the Young Adult section, I headed into the children’s book area, and stopped short when I found myself looking at Titanic Sinks!, by Barry Denenberg. I’m interested in every book on the Titanic, but I thought this one was a bit odd to be in the kids’ section, at first. But then, it was written to look like a long newspaper article, a combination of fact and fiction, and told you snippets about different characters that had been aboard the ship. Lots of faded print, with interesting pictures, so I think that any child that has an interest in history really would get caught up in the fascination of Titanic. Because whether you’re young or old, Titanic had a unique collection of passengers, of a huge variety of backgrounds, and as much as you look into the subject, the stories continue to enthrall. And yet, it’s always mixed with a sadness, knowing that however many times you read the story, the ending doesn’t change, and many of these people lost their lives.

Starting at the beginning of the shelves of kids’ fiction, I noticed some books with beautiful covers (like Winterling or The Storm Makers), and I stopped to take a look. But my feeling of overkill on certain subjects, it hadn’t gone away, even if I’d left the Young Adult section. These books may be wonderful, and very well written, but they all fall into the same category. Young man or woman is leading an ordinary life, or perhaps a very sad, lonely one, when someone taps them on the shoulder, and they find that they actually have magical abilities that no one else has. They are now invited to either save our world or go to another world and save it, so they do.

Now, you’re going to think that I’m being excessively cynical, but I think I’ve discovered the disadvantage of a huge book store. Really, a disadvantage? No, I’m not committing sacrilege, just hear me out. These stores hold just about every book that is in print, seemingly, and when you see them all together, you can be struck by the similarity of subjects, over and over. In a small store, you can miss it, because your selection is limited, but the bigger the store, the more obvious it becomes.

In recent years, the same theme seems to be running through all the fantasy books for children and young adults. And again, I want you to understand that I love fantasy stories, I like the idea of magical worlds where you can fantastical things. But my allegiance lies with the originators of some of these stories. Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games are some of the recent ones. Yes, you can tell me until the cows come home, whether you love or hate these books, but that isn’t the point.

After Harry Potter, how many books were written about kids discovering their wizardry skills or going to fascinating other-worldly schools? I’ve already told you how big the section on paranormal romance is, so how many writers are jumping on Twilight‘s bandwagon? And now, how many stories are being set in a dystopian future, courtesy of the popularity of The Hunger Games? I think that many authors can be influence by these stories, and then do their story, and do it right. But I think most of them are just earning their money, from the crumbs that trickle down from the tables of J. K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins.

While still in the kids’ section, the only books that really caught my attention, after I was having these cynical (and probably accurate) thoughts about the current book market, were the ones by William Joyce (and sometimes Laura Geringer). The title of the book, Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King, caught my attention, and then I probably would’ve completely lost interest, after seeing the sequel, E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth’s Core!, except for one thing. These titles, especially the second one, seemed to be a bit over the top, but I had recently seen a new trailer from Dreamworks.

Rise of the Guardians was a name that originally had me thinking they were creating a sequel to that Ga’hoole owl movie.But it’s actually a story about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny being more than the tiny, pudgy, or fluffy characters that generally think of them as. The idea to this movies is that they’re heroes and guardians of our world, oh, yeah, and the Sandman is a Guardian, too. And then they have to fight with Jack Frost.

So, though I haven’t done any research, the combination of these two book titles made me think that either the movie is based on the books, or the books are being written to go with the movie. And as I enjoyed the movie trailer, and the books are full of great illustrations by William Joyce, I decided they might actually be worth a second look. I’ve always liked the idea of Father Christmas, as written into The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and then I enjoyed the warrior look they gave him in the movie version. So, I don’t mind at all, hearing a warrior version of Santa, in books or on films, as long as they do a good job of it.

To finish off, I wandered through many genres, but it wasn’t until I stepped into the comedy section, that I found a title worth mentioning. Darth Vader and Son, by Jeffrey Brown, is a comical take on what life would have been like, if Vader had been raising his four year old son. Though I think you’ll laugh more if you’re actually familiar with the Star Wars films, I still think they’re funny, even without that background. Reading about Luke trying to steal cookies using the force, Vader telling Luke that “That isn’t the toy you want”, when he’s interested in a Jar Jar toy, or telling Luke to not blow bubbles in his blue milk, while visiting the Mos Eisley Cantina…. these are scenes that all SW fans will get a kick out of.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my return to the Saturday books, and please forgive me for my huge doses of cynicism. But I still think these are good points to consider, when you’re in a book store, whether you’re shopping for yourself, or for your children. Imagination is a wonderful thing, but a reminder of what life can really be like, as a child or teen, would be good, too. Not just in our times, but in the past. Go check out the books on the Newbery Medal list, or let them read Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain), The Boxcar Children (Gertrude Chandler Warner), or the Little House series (Laura Ingalls Wilder). A magical world may be all well and good, but remember that the real world can be a joy, too. For any age group.

One thought on “the return of the saturday books…

  1. The Joyce/Geringer books look interesting. I’m thinking ahead to find something to read with and interest my nearly 6-year old daughter – who is refusing to even think about learning to read (she is going to grow up to be a Princess Mom, and will have someone else read for her, dontchaknow) – once the bug bites her. I’ll have to check those out. The “Benedict Society” books – good to get some of your take on those; I purchased the first one for my nephew (not a reader, early on) a few years ago and never heard boo about it from him (similarly, also gave him a gloriously illustrated copy of “The Hobbit;” again, nothing, so my 7-year old and I recently borrowed, and read it, much to our mutual delight). I’ll probably borrow “Benedict” from my nephew to share with my 7-year old once we get through “The Lord of the Rings.”

    I agree with you that there is a lot of sub-par young adult fiction out there, riding on the coattails of Rowling, Meyers and Collins. It doesn’t bother me, mostly because *I* can easily avoid it, but I wonder: for how long? I have 3 kids that I hope/pray will be strong readers and able to avoid the saccharine siren call of garbage fiction (within limits – I mean, I’m not going to forbid them to read something if it interests them). I’m getting ready to throw down comparative literature challenges; for instance, if you’re going to read “Twilight,” also pick up the first “Mayfair Witches” book (or any other early book of Anne Rice’s vampire series) and tell me what you see? I’ve tried this with our favorite sitter, a delightful 17-year old young woman obsessed with the “Vampire Academy” books. She couldn’t get through any of Rice’s works I lent to her – this was the stuff that I was reading when I was 17 – but I read them all (“V.A”), and the first “Twilight” book, plus all of Harry Potter, and we had a great discussion of common themes, borrowing/inventing mythologies, and plain old ripping off and re-telling of ideas already in print.

    And speaking of riding coattails of popular subjects… Anne Rice has a werewolf book out, now. I am a big fan of Rice, but am skeptical of her jumping on this meme. Definitely one to borrow from the library, first, before committing to own. 🙂

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