Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Behind the Blog: Guys Lit Wire

Behind the Blog: Reviewer Speak Week
Welcome to Wednesday of our exploration into the coolest book review blogs on the internet. I knew when I was compiling this week's events that I wanted to have at least one guy reviewer. I found Guys Lit Wire, an insane collective blog written to help guys find good books. I chatted with four of the guy contributors to learn more about them, guy books and GLW itself. Thanks to all of them for hanging out!
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Guys Lit Wire
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Alex, Justin, Edward and David
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Alex is the author of The Sword-Edged Blonde and blogs at http://www.downinluckytown.blogspot.com/.
Edward reviews for several websites.
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INN: How did you get involved with Guys Lit Wire?
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Alex: Gwenda Bond mentioned it on her blog when Colleen Ward was setting itup, and I immediately volunteered. At the time I had one son and another on the way, so it seemed like a good idea, since obviously I'dbe thinking about the topic a lot anyway.
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Justin: Several blogs I regularly read mentioned GLW when Colleen and Sarah were putting it together. I wrote them and linked to the other blog I write for (http://www.littleshopofstories.blogspot.com/ is a blog for the bookstore where I work. We're a children's bookstore with everything from board books to a YA section, and even an "adult books" section), and expressed my interest in what GLW looks to do. They had an opening and invited me to join.
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Edward: My supervisor at the public library suggested I contact the GLW webmaster. She knows my interest in promoting literacy, reading, and getting more guys in the library.
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David: GLW was one of those crazy things that happens when a bunch of opinionated people start talking and someone says "Oh yeah? Well why don't we do something about it?" At the time I was working in a bookstore and I added my thoughts about what would make an ideal teen bookstore -- underground, with computers, and lounge areas with music, collectively managed...
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The next thing I know there was a group emailing to a bunch of us kidlit bloggers asking if there was interest in starting a new blog dedicated to bringing reviews and news about solid books for teen boys. I believe it was Colleen Mondor of the blog Chasing Ray who was the lead on this. She sent out the call, and a bunch of responded, and then we spent the next five months or so putting it in place. I love the idea of this blog so much, I'm only slightly embarrassed I didn't think of the idea myself.
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INN: What's the best book you've reviewed this year, and why was it so great?
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Alex: Ray Bradbury's screenplay for the 1956 version of Moby Dick, recently published by Subterranean Press. With that kind of pedigree (candidate for greatest American novel ever, adapted for the screen byone of our best contemporary writers), how could it not be? It's also a terrific gateway book for kids trying to muscle their way through Melville, since it peels away the outdated whale biology and nautical trivia to concentrate on the man-vs-monster plot. Bradbury also resists the urge to tamper much with perfection: no "love interest" is shoehorned into the story, for example.
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Justin: Of the books I've reviewed this year, Something Rotten, by Alan Gratz is definitely the best. It's a hardboiled detective novel set in Knoxville, TN about a teen whose best friend is dealing with the possible murder of his father by his uncle who has just taken over the family business and married his mother. Sound like Hamlet? Well, that's because the plot is loosely based on the play. This book, to me, is exactly the kind of thing I wish had been around when I was in high school. I'm really glad there 's a sequel, Something Wicked, coming out in a month or two.
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Edward: At GLW, my first posted review is my favorite, so far. I reviewed Janice Kim’s Learn to Play Go. It’s a five-volume set about an Asian strategy and tactics board game that will appeal to chess players who want a challenge. Ms. Kim is a professional Go player, and offers the best English-language introduction to the game I have found.
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David: For reasons that are beyond me I have read a lot of good books that I haven't had a chance to review! Actually right now I'm reading the galley of Philip Reeves Here Lies Arthur which is due out in September and I really like it. It's a retelling of the legend of King Arthur that debunks a lot of the mythology in favor of telling the story behind the story. I'm going to have to hold off saying more because (shameless plug) I'm reviewing it for Guys Lit Wire in early September!
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INN: Who's writing the best YA for guys right now?
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Alex: Cory Doctorow is getting a lot of press and blog time for his timely and intense Little Brother. Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is, like most of his work, enriched by both his writing skill and his look into Native American culture.
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Justin: My favorite consistent YA writer right now is Scott Westerfeld. He's primarily an SF writer, but he writes horror, fantasy, and books set in "the real world" whatever that means. I haven't read a single book by him that isn't awesome, that doesn't make my mind explode they're so crammed with cool ideas, and doesn't feel completely authentic to what it means to be a teen. Some books have boy protagonists, some have girls, and they all rock. Start with So Yesterday or Peeps, an interesting take on vampires.
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Edward: My favorite YA writers these days are Gary Paulsen and Walter Dean Myers. These guys write great fiction and (Hurray!) great nonfiction, too. Daniel Pinkwater writes some of the funniest stuff (including some nonfiction probably shelved in the adult collection). Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Maus II, and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Persepolis 2 are not graphic novels – they are biographies in graphic format, and very awesome. I’ll read Satrapi’s Embroideries and Chicken with Plums, also graphic nonfiction, soon. I expect they’ll be great, but they’re shelved in our adult collection so may be inappropriate?
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David: Best is such a subjective thing, but right now I don't know anyone writing YA like M.T. Anderson. His book Feed alone would be enough for me to mention him, but his Octavian Nothing books are a new gold standard for YA as far as I can tell. Okay, Anderson and Marcus Zusak are both holding up the bar. I like Neal Shusterman and Jordan Sonnenbeck and Chris Crutcher. Though he doesn't write YA specifically I don't think we should ignore Cory Doctrow's Little Brother.
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INN: Guys are usually stereotyped as non-readers. Why do you think that is, and what's your comeback?
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Alex: Like everything in contemporary kids' and YA lit, I think it can all be traced to the advent of Harry Potter a decade ago. HP has, based on my experience, a disproportionately female fan base, and whenever the media talks about books for kids, HP is always the lead and the fans they show are always girls. That's a huge and probably inaccurate description, but when the next big thing is something like Stephenie Meyers' Twilight series, it's hard to refute as a public perception. I think boys read as much as girls, they just don't get asked to gush about it.
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Justin: I think adults--and here I'm talking about publishers, parents, and teachers--forget what it was like when they were teens. Some guys respond to Catcher in the Rye, some guys respond to Batman, some guys respond to sports reporting. My parents and teachers didn't want me to read comic books when I was a kid.
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But that's crap: as long as what guys are reading is the good stuff--the well-written comics and sports articles and fantasy books and, yes, even literature--then it doesn't matter... I think that guys are voracious readers, but the culture around them says that what they read "doesn't count." Unfortunately, I think guys take this to heart and think that they themselves don't read.
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Edward: John Holt observed that if we taught children to speak the way they are taught to read in the schools that we’d have a nation of nontalkers. In “We’re Teaching Books that Don’t Stack Up” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/22/AR2008082202398.html), high school English teacher Nancy Schnog quotes one of her recent juniors (a guy), “The reason for studying fiction escapes me. Why waste time thinking about fabricated situations when there are plenty of real situations that need solutions? ... fiction has a place in the world, but it is not in the classroom. It is beside the night lamp next to your bed…”
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Guys do like nonfiction, in my experience. Some may wish to study fiction in the classroom, and if so, should have that option. But if you force me to read something, I am liable to not enjoy the process.
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David: Is it a stereotype? I was sort of a non-reader as a teen but it was because I was struggling to find things I liked. As a society we don't really do a good job teaching guys how to identify what they like in terms of their interests in reading. And we intimidate them, it's very subtle, by the cues in the environment. Go to a library, a bookstore, a school and you'll find many, many women recommending "good" books that bore the crap out of boys. Where are the men? Where are the male booksellers and librarians?
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Non-fiction, newspapers and magazines, these count as far as "guys reading" as I'm concerned but not generally when they do surveys on reading among guys. Hello! The sports section of the newspaper generally has a higher reading level than the reast of the paper, rich in simile and metaphor, fusing complex content and anecdote. Graphic novels count as well, but are generally looked down upon as "less serious" reading. But it counts!
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INN: What's your advice for other reviewers of guy lit?
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Alex: Good God, none at all. I'd never presume to give advice to another reviewer. Reviewing anything is entirely subjective, and if the reviewer communicates his or her opinion clearly, that's all you can ask.
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Justin: I'll keep it simple, because it is. You only need two things: honesty about what your reviewing, and regular, consistent posting. You may be brilliant, but if you only post once in awhile, people won't read what you have to say because you're effectively never around. And as far as the honesty thing--write about what interests you because it will show in your writing.
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Don't worry what others think. I recently wrote about a graphic novel that I hated and I was worried because most of what I was seeing out there was positive reviews about the book. After my review, though, I got several comments from folks who felt the same way.
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Edward: If you want to review books for guys, consider nonfiction. It need not be a bestseller, nor even recently published. Look at The Double Helix, The Lives of a Cell, the regrettably out-of-print Digging Dinosaurs, biographies, how-to books, humor… Fiction has its place, but certainly 50% of reviews could be nonfiction, couldn’t they?
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David: Be honest. Don't be mean but say what you think, and WHY. I reviewed a picture book that I had some problems with and the author wrote me back to let me know that, yup, I was right, he'd been asked to change his story by his editor and it wasn't the book he meant to write. Everyone has an opinion, and that's good, but keep in mind that having an opinion isn't the same thing as being right. Be respectful, and fearless, and read as much as you can of all kinds of things.
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THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!
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Let's hear some virtual applause for Alex, Justin, Edward and David. Do I hear it? Do I hear it? Excellent.
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Tomorrow we shall go on a quest and see Behind the Blog with Nicole at WORD for Teens

2 comments:

david elzey said...

Excellent, and not just because I was part of the interview! It was cool to see where we overlapped and where we didn't, especially with the authors.

Just to update what I said, my review of Here Lies Arthur is up today, and it's slated for a November release. That was my bad. But I'm still talking about it because I thought it was great.

Again, great job on this and all the interviews this week

Book Chic said...

Great interview!! :) I'm a part of GLW too and it's great to hear from other members of it with this interview.