Wanted: Guest Posts for Tolkien Reading Event (March 2019)

Tolkien Reading Event 2019

During March 2019, Pages Unbound will be running our sixth Tolkien Reading Event.  Every year on March 25, the Tolkien Society celebrates Tolkien Reading Day, and we like to expand on the event by hosting several days’ worth of Tolkien-related content.  We have had some wonderful guest posts in the past and would like to invite you to submit a guest post this year.

Theme: Tolkien and the Mysterious

Post Options

The Tolkien Reading Event is open to a wide variety of posts.  In previous events, we have featured everything from book reviews to quizzes to serious literary criticism.   Pitch us an idea for any type of post you would like!  You can also review books and movies that have been featured before; we love new perspectives! See a full list of past posts here.

If you need ideas, we are particularly open to posts about:

  • the official theme
  • any aspect of The Silmarillion
  • the art of Middle-Earth
  • a tour of your Tolkien collection (books or merchandise)
  • Tolkien’s villains
  • reviews of books about (not by) Tolkien
  • reflections on Tolkien’s “minor” works (Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wooton Major, Roverandom)

Details

If you are interested in participating, please fill out the Google form below.  We will begin the event on Sunday, March 25, and so would like to receive guest posts by March 17.  We will contact everyone with final details around that time (such as what day your guest post will be scheduled).  Please feel free to spread the word to fellow Tolkien fans!

Title: Please tell us what you would like the title of the post to be when you send us the draft! Otherwise you will be subject to our whims. 😉

Post Length: There is no required post length; however long you feel you need to address the topic is fine.

Photos/Graphics: Feel free to include photos or graphics if you would like, but only include images you own the rights to post.  (Basically, no copyright infringement, please!)

Poems: Excerpts of poems are fine, but please do not include entire poems still under copyright.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN GUEST POSTING, PLEASE FILL OUT THE GOOGLE FORM BELOW.

*LOTR clip art by Nesca at CuteGraphicSupply.

Where Are the Comic Books at the Library?

Obviously, I cannot speak for every library.  Probably plenty of libraries exist where comic books can be found in abundance.  However, while my library has expanded its graphic novel collections in the children’s and teen sections, these collections still typically comprise mostly standalone titles like Roller Girl or El Deafo, or popular series like Dog-Man and Big Nate.  Comic books featuring superheroes remain few and random, even though I periodically  hear children ask for books on specific heroes.

This lack of comic books struck me suddenly the other day as really quite odd.  The success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and films like Wonder Woman have made superheroes incredibly popular in recent years.  So why would not a library, dedicated to providing access to materials to the community, provide access to comic books?  Surely the public would read them!  Several possibilities come to mind.

Librarians are not sure which comics to buy.

Librarians are, of course, professionals and valuable resources for finding specific materials.  However, it has to be said that not every person is familiar with every type of material.  At my library, the workers typically have “specialties” based on what they personally like to read, so it’s not uncommon to hear a patron ask a librarian who reads MG for a YA recommendation, only to have that librarian refer them to a librarian who reads contemporary YA, who then may then pass the question on to a librarian who reads YA fantasy and sci-fi.  They know they are not always the best person to find a material, but they do know how to find another resource to get said material.

Librarians in charge of buying the MG and YA books, then, may not know what to do when buying comic books, if they don’t read comic books themselves.  After all, comic books are confusing.  It’s hard to know where to start sometimes and the ways individual comics are bundled into volumes can make the situation even more perplexing.  Faced with this, librarians may simply choose not to buy them.

Librarians rely on professional journals for purchases.

This point ties into my first.  Because librarians cannot physically read every book published each year (who can?), they often rely on reviews in publications like School Library Journal or VOYA to make their purchases.  But while such publications do include graphic novel reviews, it’s pretty rare to see reviews of the latest Marvel and DC releases .  Without these recommendations, librarians do not only lack any guidance in buying comic books but also have no reminder that maybe they should buy some.

Librarians are not sure who their comic book audience is.

My library almost exclusively shelves graphic novels in their children’s and teen’s collections.  But adults read comic books, too.  So who should be buying the latest Wonder Woman comic?  The teen department?  The adult department?  Or should the adult department buy some and the teen department some?  But how does the teen department know which comic books are considered of teen interest if professional publications aren’t reviewing them?

Since my library’s adult department has chosen not to purchase comics, what problems might arise?  Will adults choose not to borrow any comics if they feel weird walking into the young adult area?  But maybe the teen department does not want to spend limited funds on comics if they believe more adults will read them than teens.  Perhaps my library departments need to sit down and discuss a comic book buying strategy!

Librarians are hesitant to welcome certain ages into Certain spaces.

I’m going to be very honest here.  Sometimes the adult area in my library does not feel like a welcoming space for children and teens.  Is it possible that the adult department does not buy comic books because they fear teen crossover appeal?  Maybe the adult department wants every comic book in the teen section so the teens do not come wandering over.

Librarians have not really considered any need for comic books in the First place.

Geek culture is becoming more acceptable, but I think the fact that publications like School Library Journal don’t talk much about the latest DC or Marvel releases says a lot.  And so does my library’s adult programming line-up, which typically includes a large number of university-style lectures and incredibly niche (I mean, um, cultured) film showings.  Anything that would suggest an interest in popular culture is mysteriously absent.  As a result, I cannot help but wonder if the adult department does not buy comic books because the workers there are maybe a tad elitist in their purchases.  And maybe the other departments also subconsciously still think of comics as things that are bought in comic book stores–not purchased by the library.

Libraries need more funding.

I can’t know how every library divides their funding, but comic book collections are not necessarily cheap and it is possible that librarians fear to buy too many in case that means less money for other purchases.  They may be doubly hesitant about this because comic book runs can go on for some time, so buying the first volume means they could be committed to buying ten more volumes down the road.  This, then, of course, raises the related problem of space: should the graphic novel section be full of a few really long series, or should it have a lot of standalone titles for more variety?

Conclusion

Even though my library has an incredibly limited number of comic books, I believe that there is public demand for more.  And, since libraries are meant to serve the community, I would love to see my library provide access to comic books for those members of the community who want them.  Of course, purchase requests can be made.  But a long-term solution, where librarians buy comics as a matter of course, is much preferable.

Look for my upcoming post on why I think adding more comic books would be beneficial to the library!

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Information

Goodreads: Long Way Down
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2017

Summary

Will just watched his older brother die.  And he’s pretty sure he knows the guy who shot him.  So it’s time to follow the Rules.  The most important Rule?  Get revenge.  But as Will takes the elevator down to find his target, he is joined by a series of spirits who tell him their stories.  It seems that the Rules solve nothing and only continue the cycle of violence.  And suddenly Will has a choice: follow the Rules and end up like Shawn, or ignore the Rules his family has passed down for generations.  A novel told in verse about the futility of gun violence.

Star Divider

Review

Jason Reynolds has previously impressed me with his vivid characterization and his sympathetic portrayals of young people trying to make their way through a broken world.  I was therefore very excited for Long Way Down, which has collected an impressive array of awards and honors.  However, though it pains me to say so, I did not connect with Long Way Down in the way I expected.  Instead, I was left with the impression that the awards were given for the message of the book and not for the actual execution of the story.

Long Way Down continues a long tradition of ghost tales in which individuals from the afterlife return to convince the protagonist to make better choices.  In this case, protagonist Will must be persuaded that following the Rules of his neighborhood–the Rules that demand he kill the person who killed his brother–will result in his death and continue the cycle of gun violence in his neighborhood.  This is an obviously didactic approach and one that must be handled deftly if readers are to immerse themselves in the story and not feel instead like they are receiving a Very Important Message.  And here the story struggles.

The bulk of the story focuses on various ghosts as they enter Will’s elevator and reveal details about their lives Will previously did not know.  As each new ghost appears, it becomes clear that the men in Will’s family have fallen one by one as they, following the Rules, were in turn shot by someone else following the Rules.  But as each ghost tells their story, Will himself fades into the background.  It is thus difficult to connect with Will or to feel his struggle, even though this is the critical point upon which the story turns.  Readers know more about Will’s confusion about how ghosts smoke than they know about his inclination to choose to follow or to reject the Rules.

Obviously, promoting an end to gun violence is a very laudable goal and it is heartening that Jason Reynolds chose to use his platform to spread a positive message.  In this respect, I commend Long Way Down.  However, I wish that the story had spent a little more time with Will so that readers could truly get to know him, before his story was subsumed by the stories of the others.  I appreciate that his story is, of course, a continuation of theirs.  But I still wanted to hear Will’s voice more.  The point of a book like this is to make a message personal, to make readers understand why Will sees a choice where someone else might see no choice at all.  But it is difficult to hear Will’s voice when the moral of the story is shouting over him.

3 Stars

The Wicked King by Holly Black

The Wicked King

Information

Goodreads: The Wicked King
Series: The Folk of the Air #2
Source: Purchased
Published: January 7, 2019

Official Summary

You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.

The first lesson is to make yourself strong.

After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.

Star Divider

Review

Like most of the blogosphere, I really enjoyed The Cruel Prince, so picking up The Wicked King and seeing how all the court intrigue and drama would play out and how all the characters would develop into their new roles was a given for me.  I actually even preordered the book, which is generally not something I do. (To be honest, I don’t even purchase that many books in general.)  My verdict: The Wicked King is just about as good as The Cruel Prince, though it suffers from basically the same flaws, which I had hoped would be more resolved this time around.

If you like wild, plot-driven stories with plotting and twists and turns and so many moving pieces that you wonder how the political players will manager them all, this series is 100% for you, and this is the primary reason I love it.  I love court intrigue, and I love when authors manage to make it genuinely complex while giving characters believable motivations and actions based on those motivations.  I read The Wicked King in a single day because I just wanted to know what happened next.

The characterization is where the book fails a little, which I also suggested in my review of The Cruel Prince.  I was hoping we’d get more of Cardan here, and we sort of did–but I guess the reality is that the book is from Jude’s point of view and she seems to barely speak to the guy, certainly not in a meaningful capacity.  Black is still playing with the idea that Fae seem are fickle and cruel and perhaps it’s impossible to say they are truly kind, even when some of them have nice streaks.  I appreciate what a balancing act this is, but I also think Cardan’s feelings and motivations need to come more to the forefront.

Jude, on the other hand, was pretty well-developed, and it was fascinating to watch her struggle with her new role.  My one issue with her is that she has this enormous blind spot where she believes that she personally must make every single decision regarding the welfare of the kingdom or everything will fall to pieces.  She hoards information, does whatever she wants, and is convinced that no one can do better than she can.  It’s infuriating (though perhaps intentionally, as it’s clear that Black wrote this as a character flaw and as a viewpoint Jude really needs to overcome).

However, Jude’s belief that she is indispensable and must do everything herself also runs the plot in ways that are occasionally unconvincing.  Particularly, this comes into play at the end of the book, but as I personally DO NOT think Jude must do everything herself, I think some of the drama of the ending was lost on me.  I certainly didn’t see the ending coming, but I don’t think  I was as shocked or emotionally affected by it as a lot of other readers were.

Finally, some of the side characters also got some more character development (for instance, Vivi and Nicasia). Taryn remains a flighty mystery to me. I have no idea what she’s gong to do next and no idea WHY she did it, once she does. Hopefully this gets resolved in the next book, along with Cardan’s motivations.

Basically, if you liked The Cruel Prince, you will be suitably pleased by this second installment. If you haven’t started the series yet but like fantasy with court intrigue and a bit of darkness, I recommend this.

4 stars Briana

10 Classics for Teen Readers

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

Fourteen-year-old Ponyboy is a greaser, a social outcast locked in an endless struggle with the Socs, wealthier kids from the other side of town. He is fairly content with his life, however, because he has his brothers and his friends, a close-knit group who would do anything for each other. Then one night the fight between the greasers and the Socs goes too far and Ponyboy’s life is changed forever.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

At Hailsham, their boarding school, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy live a nearly idyllic life, though they are denied most knowledge about the outside world.  But Hailsham is hiding a secret.  Why are the students really there?  A modern classic with a mystery sure to grip readers.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

This autobiographical account of one woman’s life in slavery and subsequent escape North is a a valuable addition to the tradition of the slave narrative as it focuses on the unique experiences of being a slave and a woman.  Jacobs’ story

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Set in a New England boarding school during WWII, A Separate Peace chronicles the friendship between two boys: Gene, an introvert, and Phineas, an outgoing athlete.  Gene’s jealousy of his best friend ultimately results in his fighting the real war inside.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

A staple in U. S. classrooms, To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of one girl’s loss of innocence as she witnesses the effects of racism in the American South.

Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paula Marshall

The daughter of Barbadian immigrants, Selina Boyce grows up in the 1930s and 1940s in Brooklyn, torn between her mother’s dream of educating her family and her father’s dream of returning to Barbados.  A powerful coming-of-age story.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

An overworked group of farm animals rebels against their human masters to create a utopian society.  However, their ideals of equality are quickly abandoned.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

When his pilot suffers a heart attack, crashing their small plane into the Canadian wilderness, Brian is left on his own.  Equipped only with a hatchet, he must find a way to survive and, eventually, make his way home.

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

Set in 1940s Brooklyn, The Chosen follows the friendship of two boys–one, an Orthodox Jew, and the other a Hasidic Jew, raised in silence by his father, who desires him to become a rebbe.  A modern classic about navigating faith, friendship, and family.

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Lord of the Rings

Many years ago, the Dark Lord Sauron created the One Ring to subjugate the peoples of Middle-Earth.  He was defeated and the Ring lost, until an unlikely Hobbit discovered it.  Now, along with eight companions, the Hobbit Frodo is on a journey to destroy the Ring once and for all.

The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

Information

Goodreads: The Light Between Worlds
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: Oct. 2018

Summary

Five years ago, Evelyn Hapwell, her brother Jamie, and her sister Phillipa found themselves transported to the magical world of the Woodlands while hiding during an air raid. Then, after fighting a war there over the course of five years, they were sent back to London at the very moment they had departed.  Evelyn would do anything to return to the tree spirits and the mighty elk Cervus.  But Philippa, concerned with nylons and boys, is convinced they must make a life where they are.  When Evelyn goes missing, however, Philippa must confront her past.

Star Divider

Review

“My story hasn’t ended yet.”

The Light Between Worlds is, depending on how one interprets it, either a highly derivative work or a thoughtful reimagining of what it might have been like to return from Narnia.  Full of obvious parallels to C. S. Lewis’s popular children’s series, the book follows two sisters: one who longs to return to the magical world they left and one determined to make the best of the life they now lead.  It is a provocative premise, but one that might have been better served by more original plot elements and less overwrought prose.

Though kind readers will likely accept The Light Between Worlds as a continuation of Narnia rather than as a pale imitator, the question remains: Is it necessary to copy Narnia in order to explore some of the questions the books leave open?  Catherynne M. Valente, after all, explores a similar theme in her highly original Fairyland series–the question of what happens when mortals returned from Faerie would do anything to return.  Instead of creating her own rich world, however, Laura E. Weymouth chooses to write one-to-one correspondences, giving readers a story in which Evelyn/Lucy, along with Jamie/Peter and Phillipa/Susan, ally themselves with Cervus/Aslan to fight a villain who combines elements of the White Witch, the Telmarines, and Carlomen.  Parallels run rampant as the trio are called by a bugle sound from WWII-era London to the Woodlands where they dwell in a castle by the sea and fight a war for five years, before returning to the exact moment they left.  Is this a homage or a rip-off?  Perhaps, sadly, it does not matter as readers will be too distracted by finding parallels (and deciding whether they should be offended or not) to truly enjoy the story.

If readers can get past the obvious parallels, however, the story has a lot to offer as it largely avoids becoming the standard YA fare full of love triangles, out-of-the-blue betrayals, and enemies-to-lovers tropes.  In particular, the story sets itself apart by trying to capture that elusive element of Faerie, that feeling of awe that occurs when boundaries between worlds blend in the woods.  It furthermore focuses on two sisters, each very different, each viewing the story through her own distorted perspective.  Evelyn captures sympathy with her desire to gain what she has lost while Philippa inspires as a kind of redeemed Susan, one who wears lipstick as a weapon to conquer the world.  If the story could have only avoided the dreaded insta-love (two times!), there would have been much to celebrate.

Unfortunately, however, many of the book’s good qualities are obscured, not only by the Narnia parallels, but also by the overwrought prose.  It desperately yearns to be “lyrical,” but stringing fancy words together does not necessarily make a sentence flow.  Nor does writing a string of vague sentences guarantee an air of mystery.  Half the time the prose makes no sense and the other half of the time it simply sounds ridiculous.  But it all becomes exceedingly hilarious when Evelyn intersperses her overly dramatic narration with interludes about needing socks.  Or when she speaks for the first time and says things like, “Thanks, Dad.  You’re a brick.”  Who is this girl who narrates her life as Evelyn, beloved of Cervus, walker between the worlds, who writes in first-person fancy prose, but who speaks to others using ordinary slang?  It is all incredibly jarring.

The Light Between the Worlds is an engaging book with richly drawn protagonists.  However, the resemblance to C. S. Lewis’s beloved children’s books, as well as the desperate prose, will likely lose the story some fans.

3 Stars

10 Ways to Promote Literacy in the New Year

  1. Use your local library by checking out materials and attending programs.  Increased stats means they can ask for more funding.  More funding means more materials and programs.
  2. Donate books to the library, a women’s shelter, a local prison, a school, or a local literacy group.
  3. Start a Little Free Library or a book swap at work or school.  Or simply donate to one.
  4. Write to your representatives asking for increased funding for libraries.
  5. Have a special skill?  Offer to lead a program such as Spanish story time or a signing story time at your local library or another organization that promotes early childhood literacy.
  6. See what types of volunteers local organizations are looking for.  You might be able to shelf read at the library, sort through books for book sales, or help bring books to hospital patients.
  7. Ask if your library would be interested in starting a “pay it forward” campaign to help patrons pay off library fines and regain access to materials and services.
  8. If you have the money, buy books from authors you love.  When publishers have more money, they can take more risks on publishing different types of books.
  9. Spread positive feelings about literacy by being encouraging about someone’s reading or writing skills, even if you don’t personally like what they’re reading or think their writing could improve.
  10. Share your love of reading with others.  Be enthusiastic about your latest finds!  You may just inspire someone to try something new.

What are some others ways can we promote literacy?