Reality Boy by A.S. King
Amy’s done it again. This was hands down the most compelling galley I brought home with me from ALA – the story of a kid who is
dogged through adolescence by his childhood “participation” in a (fake) reality TV show not unlike Supernanny. Gerald is the “Crapper,” who defecated on tables, in handbags, and various Barbie accessories when he was a preschooler/elementary schooler. The British nanny (who isn’t who she seems) is brought to help Gerald & his two sisters when his mother writes a desperate letter to the show. Gerald’s dad is just as unhappy as the rest of them, and the whole family is miserable. We see Gerald’s mother struggle with a son she considers “retarded,” a younger sister who feels completely out of place, and an older sister whose behavior grows more and more erratic and disturbing with time.
We join Gerald long after the cameras were packed away and the lighting dismantled, but the show haunts him at every turn. His therapist has recommended boxing, but this is only encouraging Gerald’s violent tendencies. He’s invented a fantasy world called Gersday, where he can spend time doing only the nicest things with characters who are kind and sweet to him, but escaping to Gersday is getting harder and harder. As if that wasn’t enough, Gerald has met a compelling young lady at his afterschool job slinging hot dogs at the local coliseum. He figures that nobody’s going to want to date The Crapper – who’d want to be associated with that?
Through flashbacks mixed with present-day scenes, Gerald invites us into his world and shows us what it’s like to drown in the misconceptions of others. And honestly, that’s really what this book is about – the hidden stories behind carefully crafted narratives, public personas vs. private ones, and what happens when your expectations are shattered by a reality you didn’t want and didn’t ask for. Like Gerald’s therapist reminds him, we all project our own experiences and expectations on other people to a certain extent – whether it’s making assumptions about a reality TV show family or the new coworker in the next cube. As Gerald peels back the curtain on his experience, the reader starts discovering more and more of the truth behind the screen – and it’s both more and less shocking than you may expect. This is a a book right in step with our times, perfect for an age in which we grow closer and simultaneously further apart using screens and social media with the ability to edit our stories down to a version of the truth that skims the surface of our lives like a fancy veneer atop particle board furniture.
I anticipate many reality TV memoirs in the next ten years, as kids like the Duggars, Gosselins, SuperNanny families, and others age up to the point where they feel compelled to share their stories in another medium. Some will do it for money, sure, but others will do it so that people can hear more about what their shows didn’t show. I won’t be surprised if their stories are as compelling as Gerald’s.
“We do not talk about another lady’s endowments in public.” (Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger)
Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you delight in a bit of steampunky girl fun, then new student Sophronia’s misadventures at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality will definitely suit. Sophronia is fourteen, and just not all that interested in keeping a clean hanky on her person – she’d rather tear apart a bit of machinery or dirty her hands, and that simply won’t do. So her mother sends her off to a most unorthodox finishing school, where the girls learn how to turn their feminine wiles into intelligence-gathering, mechanical servants contrive to prevent dashing adventures, and the students dream fondly of the day they are able to poison their first husbands! Of course Sophronia is not able to simply apply herself to her studies. An unpleasant encounter with a group of flywaymen (highwaymen who use dirigibles, of course) on the way to school leads to an alliance between Sophronia & Dimity, both new students, and a suspicion that failing student Monique is not what she seems – a missing communications prototype is linked to Monique, and the twosome persist in attempting to discover the snooty older girl’s secret.
Filled with delightful puns and funny, light details about life in an alternate Victorian England filled with fascinating devices and mysterious alliances, you can recommend this book to fans of similar books like Fever Crumb, Sorcery & Cecelia, or A College of Magics. Fans of the Parasol Protectorate series (Carriger’s books for adult readers) will like this as an expansion of that world.
UnWholly by Neal Shusterman
UnWholly by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The misfit trio from Unwind (2007) is back, and the Juvey Cops are on their tails. Shusterman does a great job of suffocating the reader with the same sort of tension that, one imagines, teens in this dystopian future feel. As an excellent source of healthy tissue and organs, rebellious teens (and volunteer Tithes) are the perfect raw material for building a brave new world. The trial and tribulations of the runaways are nothing compared to a new character, Cam, who is slowly awakening to his reality as the most perfect human ever created – a rewind, a new sort of human made completely from the best parts of the best Unwound teens. Their memories are his memories; their experiences echo throughout him. But history is catching up to Connor, Risa, and Lev in ways they never anticipated, and the suspense is ratcheted up higher with each page. It’s been a wait, but this sequel will hook in teen readers who missed Unwind the first time. Recommend with The Adoration of Jenna Fox for teens who are into the medical and ethical questions, or Divergent for those who like their teens on the run from the law.
The other side of hybridity
I don’t often blog about books and writing here. Definitely not as often as I blog about online issues, or educational stuff, or similar. But I’d like to change that, especially considering the debate that’s been going on online. I think it’s rather puerile to reduce it to a hashtag like #arcgate or “librarians vs. bloggers” because that’s not what’s really going on. Even within our profession, we’re learning more about the divide that exists between the “techy” librarians and the “reader” librarians, those that set up gaming tournaments vs. those who excel at Readers’ Advisory (RA). And even that is an inadequate and inaccurate statement, because I know there are a lot more hybrid librarians out there than just me. There are SO MANY library and information professionals who recommend good books in the morning and teach Intro to WordPress in the afternoon. There are librarians responsible for their organization’s servers who are also passionate about the stories that we store on the machinery. So today is my way of beginning a new practice: blogging equally about books and reading in the same way I do about digital issues and the education world.
Today I did one of the more common things I do to keep up with our patrons’ world: I went to the bookstore for some reconnaissance. You can look at the catalogs and websites from publishers all you want, but it’s equally helpful to hit up a retail outlet to see trends and get inspiration for displays, etc.
My visit turned out into a trip down memory lane, as I got to visit some old familiar friends. This is what I saw. First up: Perks of Being a Wallflower! As a novice teen services librarian, I knew this was an important book by the number of Perks we saw being stolen, beat up, and shared with friends. I actually asked our current selector to pick up more copies in anticipation of the movie coming out this fall, and we wondered whether or not they would do a new cover. Glad to report that the classic chartreuse understated cover was retained! Just a little aqua dot with the movie info was added. Perks is one of those absolutely essential modern classics that no teen collection can do without – despite being set in the early 90s, Charlie’s story of teen angst, love, heartbreak, abuse, and redemption continues to resonate with today’s teens.
Next up: some wonderful new covers for more classic thrillers. Caroline Cooney is the queen of mystery and intrigue to me – every new book possesses the same sense of urgency that the old ones do, and she just keeps cranking them out. Is Cooney the Joyce Carol Oates of YA lit? Possibly, possibly. What I’m LOVING about these reissues by Ember are the dreamy x-ray noir-esque covers, which to me perfectly capture the Face on the Milk Carton and Whatever Happened to Janie? It’s a great new look for the Janie books and a wonderful way to reach today’s readers.
Seeing Stolen was like being greeted by an old friend on the shelf – a wonderful reminder of the transformative experience I had on the 2011 Printz committee! I was very happy to see that the distinctive cover from the hardback made onto the paperback copies, although the alert and worldly reader will realize that it is slightly different from the original Australian cover. Also, the title was simplified. But I think that paring those elements away made it even better. I imagine that it will have a lot of shelf appeal just like this for years to come, just like Perks.
So that was what I saw on my field trip today. As a librarian, I wear many hats. I have to stay current in technology, literature, and in many more topics in order to do my job well and to serve our patrons best. And as you can see, we often do it in our spare time – we don’t get paid to sit and read novels on work time, nor can we learn everything we need to know during the typical work day. I also visited the enormous Nook kiosk, where an attendant was showing potential Nook buyers all the different models in a well-lit, Apple-esque center stage arena that dominated the floor. The lure of giant Nooks with screens as tall as me was interesting, but I think I’ll leave that for another day.
Yesterday’s urgency, tomorrow’s failure? (I hope not)
I remember the first time I heard this quote from Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock:
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
Amazing, yes? I ran out to get the book and when I read the copyright date I nearly passed out. He’d been saying this since 1970… and in 2007, it was still incredibly relevant. Also, it was still a concept largely unaddressed by people involved in formal and informal learning environments.
So today when I read the following quotes from Scott McLeod’s blog Dangerously Irrelevant, I knew what I was feeling… sadness, cognitive dissonance, and determination that things must change:
Economically disadvantaged students, who often use the computer for remediation and basic skills, learn to do what the computer tells them, while more affluent students, who use it to learn programming and tool applications, learn to tell the computer what to do. (Neuman, 1991)
Those who cannot claim computers as their own tool for exploring the world never grasp the power of technology… They are controlled by technology as adults – just as drill-and-practice routines controlled them as students. (Pillar, 1992)
These are the inequities that we must destroy as educators, librarians, and lovers of literacy. 21st century literacies are not only found in books, they are also embedded in the habits and actions of the learner.
SOPA & PIPA: Why are my favorite sites blacked out today?
The internet is a wild and woolly place – the entire world lives online in ways that defy traditional ideas of jurisdiction, which in the 20th century and earlier we defined as a physical location. With the rise of participation on the web, things get very complicated when people in any country attempt to legislate online behavior.
That’s why, today, many sites are protesting this legislation by giving you a little taste of what it will be like should laws like SOPA and PIPA pass: when U.S.-based sites are forced by other sites and companies to censor parts of the internet that provide access (however hidden, oblique, or unintentionally provided through user-generated content) to “pirated” content, there will be little of the internet left to access or use altogether.
While the concept of “pirating” content is itself is hugely problematic in today’s remix culture, this legislation could inadvertently pit site against site and company against company… miring them in court battles where they would attempt to shut competitors down. It would also prevent you from sharing pictures of your new puppy or participating on fan forums online as sites with user-generated content like Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and others would be obligated to ensure that there is absolutely NO infringing content OR information about how to access infringing content on their ENTIRE SITE. Also, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would be able to block IP addresses originating in other countries if they have “good faith” belief that THOSE sites provide access to infringing content. That seems like it would lead to a lot of preemptive censoring of wide swaths of the internet just so that ISPs wouldn’t get dragged into court for potentially running afoul of these new laws.
Libraries should care deeply about legislation like this, and follow it closely. Institutions that are about creating, examining, and consuming culture should defend people’s access to the same. It’s a complicated issue – for every creator who claims that other people are profiting off of copies of their original work, there’s another who is relieved that a new-found popularity is lifting their creative product out of obscurity and becoming part of the larger culture (see the MLP:FIM fandom as a great example of how “piracy,” fan art, and other “infringing” activities have been embraced by creators). So painting all “infringing” activities with a broad brush that can be wielded by almost anybody as a tool to shut down competitors seems a bad way to go about addressing the issue.
Find out more at the CNET roundup here, or over here at Gizmodo. And do it fast – if SOPA passes, I’ll probably have to take these links down (if WordPress still exists at that point).
If you’d rather watch a video, here’s a great one!
PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.
What Media (Hasn’t) Done for Me Lately
In the larger scope of things, it’s trivial. But it’s fast become one of my favorite shows: Downton Abbey. I’m a sucker for a good costume drama, and when I saw that one of the producers of Gosford Park (perhaps my all-time favorite movie ever?) had another lush upstairs/downstairs sort of drama in the works, it was all over.
I not only watched each episode live on PBS as they aired, I discovered that iTunes was selling the original uncut versions from ITV in the UK. It was great to be able to get rid of Laura Linney telling me what “entail” entails (as if US viewers don’t have a dictionary or Wikipedia) and to see the drama unfold in the way it was originally intended. So I joined this great community of viewers and tweeted my way happily through January 2011. When I found out that it had been broadcast in the UK the previous fall, I figured that they didn’t know how popular it might be in the US and just chalked it up to some sort of an error.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that Downton Abbey series two would be broadcast the same way, despite its large and vocal American following. Now, instead of being able to follow the gossip and fansites like I did last winter, I must IGNORE THEM COMPLETELY and go out of my way NOT to see them for four entire months. That’s four months worth of unfollowing, blocking specific people in my Facebook feed, and generally walking around with my fingers in my ears so that the next season isn’t spoiled for me. It’s going to be a sad fall.
But this all points to a persistent issue for fans and media consumers:
Why can’t we watch what we want the way we want to, when we want to?
E-books and Netflix and cable, oh my. None of these media industries has come up with a new, customer-friendly method of licensing content in ways that make sense for their fan bases. It’s a global, hyperlinked society these days… nobody wants to wait the next day to download an episode of a show off of iTunes and miss all the online chatter, nobody has time to wait six months in line at the public library for a book that is relevant to their current needs, and increasingly everyone is sick of throwing hundreds of dollars a year at the cable companies for only about 5 or 6 channels full of content they really want to see. And the idea of trying to wade through the Internet while avoiding your favorite fan sites because the next series is currently airing in another country seems onerous, if not sadly mean-spirited.
I understand that the BBC (and ITV, I think?) are run off of British people’s taxes, and that premium cable subscribers pay for the development of edgy, cool shows, and that it’s important to pad out book prices to help pay for editing and publicity. I know all those logical, service-delivery-type things exist and that they are complicated. If there is a way to reinvent the subscription model, I’d gladly pay a bit more than the going rate to get the content I want a la carte rather than in tiers, or lumps, or not at all for days or months. I don’t like paying gobs of money for channels or shows I don’t particularly care for, but I would enjoy being a premium fan of a large handful of content that I personally curated and found awesome.
As a consumer, though, I simply get more and more frustrated by these things all the time. The message that’s being delivered to me is one that says “we don’t care, we’re going to do this digital thing our way and take our own sweet time about it, and we don’t care if we lose you as a customer.” The first show or channel or network or publisher that decides to make access easier for me as a consumer is going to get all my love and attention, even for the marginal things that they produce, because I know they want me to have the media experience I want to have.
Now the question remains: who will get it right first?
The Library As Game: What NYPL is Doing Right
I’ve been fascinated ever since I heard about New York Public Library’s all-night geekfest, Find the Future: The Game. Ostensibly, this is an event to celebrate the library’s centennial. I think it’s also a grand and bold way to help rebrand the library and its historical holdings as relevant to today’s youth. Here are some of the major design elements of The Game and why I think they are pretty brilliant:
- Time and setting. The Game will be held overnight – players will be locked into the Schwarzman Building (you know, the one with the lions out front) and will be given access to normally closed stacks to play between 8 pm and 6 am. This combines two forbidden elements to tantalize prospective players… getting exclusive access to a normally public place and getting to stay there during a time when that public place is usually sealed off from access. Since they are aiming for a young demographic, offering the Game all night (as opposed to a Sunday evening, for example) will naturally weed out non-target participants. (There’s a reason younger people stay up late.)
- Technology. Players will be challenged to locate 100 historical items in the collection, but they are required to supply a smartphone (to read QR codes and similar) and will also be using laptops. Using technology to augment the interaction with (possibly) unfamiliar historical objects, participants will be able to bridge the gap between their personal experience and the object quickly and easily.
- Premise. The product of this game is a book. If you just asked patrons to come into the library, check out a few historical items, and write a page to contribute to a commemorative book then I think you’d end up with a pretty dry product. The Game only lasts eight hours – there is no time to overthink what will be written, and I predict that the sense of urgency among the players will be high. Sometimes these conditions combine to result in a much better written product than when you have oodles of time to deliberate. Constructing a game in order to elicit emotions to write a book will eliminate some of the players’ inhibitions – resulting in a more raw, real, and authentic product.
- Competition. Players don’t just show up, they have to enter to win a spot as one of the lucky 500. As of my writing, the chances of being picked are about 1 in 3, which builds healthy anticipation and creates a sense of exclusivity around the event. They must prove their worthiness by responding to this prompt: “Imagine what extraordinary thing you might achieve in the next ten years and complete this phrase: ‘By the year 2021, I will be the first person to…'”
- Scope. 500 players will (presumably) be split into teams of five to interact with 100 historical objects in eight hours… if every team must locate and use each object, that means they must maintain an average of 12 objects an hour. Players will be challenged to cover a lot of physical ground – “into the underground stacks of the Library, where more than 40 miles of books are waiting to be discovered.” This quest-type atmosphere will definitely have appeal to young gamers, who will encounter challenges in way-finding and interpreting their surroundings, especially if they are unfamiliar with the behind-the-scenes settings of a major library.
- Publicity. The teaser trailer video is amazing: watch it here. A diverse cast of young players enter the library, their live shots interspersed with Ken Burns-style panning through cutaways of a vintage piece of art featuring librarians deep underground among vacuum tubes and book stacks. Then, the music picks up and the video begins to resemble a Hollywood production starring the young players. The result? I felt that by entering the competition, I would be an intrepid explorer… like a young Indiana Jones or Rick O’Connell (from The Mummy). By tapping into previously established tropes of adventure movies, the promo video gives this Game strong appeal to the target audience.
I will be eager to see the results of The Game and what sorts of things players will be inspired to write as a result of their explorations. This event provides a lot of inspiration for those of us looking to shake things up and offer different, provocative experiences to users of our collection – what sort of Game would your community play in YOUR library?
Super Stuff on Sticks!
If you are a mobile computer user, bouncing from machine to machine all day long, then you know how difficult it is to plan for productivity. Sure, you can use the cloud to store things, but aren’t you tired of using two or three different browsers? Having to hunt your favorite sites down? Worrying about browser caches and wiping your passwords? (if you’re not worried about that last bit, then you should be!)
Try a stick. There are so many ways to customize a relatively cheap USB thumb drive (or stick) and make it your very own. Your favorite computing environment can travel with you and help you be more productive… or have more fun!
My original stick experience came with a 1G USB drive and PortableApps.com. They have a variety of popular programs that have been “shrunk” in file size to easily fit on a flash drive. This site came in handy when helping others to create their own drives in workshops and for promotional purposes.
On of my favorite edubloggers, Alec Couros, was inspired to liberate the teachers in a locked-down school with a little “freedom stick…” how inspiring! Another edublogger, Ira Socol, did a similar thing when he helped Michigan educators develop their own version of freedom sticks.
Want to have more fun with younger computer users? Use Sugar on a Stick! Sugar is a specially designed computing environment aimed at young users, with a graphical interface and the ability to learn the Python programming language to alter and build on the environment itself. With games, web surfing, activities, group interaction, and other appealing factors, Sugar is a great choice for a stick!
Worried about censorship? Put together your own Chinese Wall. You can use the Tor system on a stick to prevent others from filtering your internet access or tracking your movements. There are many reasons to surf anonymously, privacy concerns among them. Sticks can set you free in this way as well.
Do you have your own favorite stick tips? Share in the comments!
Transform Twitter into a Research Tool for Students
Today I went to a great jamboree of school librarians from all levels – university, high, middle, elementary, and a few in between (of course, I was my usual hybrid self). This was a first step towards more effective communication in order to facilitate college readiness among K-12 students, and there was a lot of sharing and venting and struggling to get on the same page. Lexiles and DIBELS and critical thinking– oh my!
I promised to share a fun tech tip on the College Readiness group wiki, and I will definitely post a link to this once my membership goes through. Ready?
How to Research a Current Event Without Breaking a Sweat
1) Make sure your cell phone plan is set to unlimited texting.
2) Sign up for TWO Twitter accounts if you do not already have one. You want a PERSONAL account and a RESEARCH account. Since you can only have one Twitter account associated with a single email address, you can open that second Twitter account using Gmail (use your Gmailusernamefirstname.lastname@example.org).
2b) FOLLOW the research account with your personal account.
3) Log onto Twitter with your personal account. Go into Settings and select Mobile. Verify your cell phone number. Make sure you follow the instructions on the right side of the screen with the phone icons – the ONLY account you want to have turned ON is your Twitter research account. (The default for phone following is OFF so this is usually not a problem if you already follow lots of accounts.)
4) Open a new browser tab. Go sign up for Twitterfeed. Give it your Twitter research account info.
5) Open another tab, and find a news site that has RSS feeds for different topics. NYT or the BBC are good starting points, or you can pick a specialized site like AllAfrica that will have just the right info you need. (Stymied? Use the criteria in Consider the Source to select a good online news site.)
6) Once you have an RSS feed selected, copy and paste it into your Twitterfeed account. It will test the feed and make sure that the new posts from the RSS feed will now tweet out THROUGH your new Twitter research account. You have effectively made a custom Twitter news channel!
7) Repeat steps 5 and 6 a few times as needed – don’t get too many, because you don’t want your phone blowing up constantly. (See @readersadvisory and @edunewsus as good/bad examples of custom Twitter news accounts I have created using many RSS feeds.)
8) By now, your phone should be texting you any new stories from the feeds you threaded through your research account. Not only will these stories be stored in your research Twitter account (and you can Favorite the ones you want to use!), but they will also come to you in real time – reminding you about the project on a regular basis and letting you have immediate access to new information.
It sounds a little complicated (especially if you are not a current Twitter user or RSS feed master). Yet this is a perfect example of how a typical social media site can be transformed into a powerful automated research tool! Twitter is not just for sharing with colleagues or chatting with friends – it has the ability to transform your cell phone into a critical support system for schoolwork.