Monday, December 31, 2007

Skating Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild

One of my all time favorite books that I was recently, and blissfully, reunited with. Thank you, Mom, if you read this.

Noel Streatfeild's books were my constant companions as a girl. That sounds so incredibly drippy and naff but it's the truth. I read them all, and loved them all hugely. Ballet Shoes, Tennis Shoes, Circus Shoes, Dancing Shoes, Theater Shoes, Traveling Shoes, Party Shoes, Margaret Thursday's adventures and Gemma's successes- I couldn't (and can't) get enough.

Skating Shoes is one of my favorites of these, though, because, I think, Skating Shoes dealt with something I knew nothing about (I had more of an idea what the characters were up to in the other books tennis, ballet, music- well, not the circus one or the Margaret Thursdays) but also, because Lalla Moore in Skating Shoes does something so bad it's shocking. Streatfeild's characters are almost all good, very good, and although there is competition in some cases (Nicky and Susan Heath, in Tennis Shoes are competitive, but never directly, and although Pauline in Ballet Shoes often experiences success at Winifred's expense, it is never, ever intentional, and Pauline and her sister Petrova even offer to give up a part in a play that Petrova has already won, so that Winifred might have it.)

Lalla Moore, however, really is willing to tank her friend Harriet's chances of having a career- and it wouldn't even benefit her directly. Interesting stuff, and that Streatfeild was able to bring in that level of complex moral dilemma and have the reader (me!) understand why Lalla did it and why Harriet did what she did- well, I honestly think that it was for me an introduction into reading on a new level.

I know that sometimes I can seem ornery and point to something that looks trivial or seem glib when I say Skating Shoes made me a deeper reader, or that Gossip Girl books are damn good, but I do mean it. I guess that's why it's nice to keep this record, so I have a place to try to make sense of it.

Skating Shoes (good luck if you can get it- the books are (criminally) out of print, and I feel so so thrilled to have a copy) Quality: 10 Popularity: 9 Overall 19 C/YA/All

Once Upon a Quinceanera, by Julia Alvarez

Good book about the tradition. Raised some interesting ideas, must read some of the referenced books, actually. Talks about a book called The Invention of Tradition, by Eric Hobsbawm that sounds good. Brought an interesting perspective to it, but (sorry- I really enjoyed the book, and don't want to harsh it at all) I think I expected a less personal book- I took it out hoping to hear Alvarez's amazing voice, but not so much about Alvarez herself. But still, damn good book. Only thing that bothered me really was that the chapter about posed quinceanera photographs being taken instead of having an actual quinceanera party as a way to save money, especially in Miami, was almost identical to Vendela Vida's section on quinceaneras in her super book : Girls on the Verge: Debutante Dips, Drive-bys, and Other Initiations. I suppose there's only so much one can say on the topic, but it was so uncanny that it bothered me enough to make sure that Vida's book was listed in the suggested reading at the back.
Quality: 9 Popularity: 8 Overall: 15

Carpe Diem by April Cornwell

YA book. Pretty good. Vassar Spore goes traveling around East Asia with her grandmother, it changes her. I like this book a lot more than I think is coming across here.

8 Quality + 8 Popularity = 16 YA

Monday, December 10, 2007

Jennifer Government by Max Barry

Fanstastic action packed dystopian novel. In the future, everything has been privatised- Government, Police, etc. The major corporations are taking their marketing campaigns to deadly extremes- and it's up to heroine Jennifer Government to stop them. Fun, funny book- great map of the world in the future.

The world of Jennifer Government. Red countries are part of the US, blue ones are the affiliated countries, green ones are "socialist" countries and purple ones are fragmented markets.

Anyway, damn good fun book. It felt so so good to read adult fiction again. Yay!
9 Quality + 9 Popularity = 18 Overall

Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids by Murray Milner Jr.

Another book about consumerism and status systems among teens in the US. Much more academic and dry than the others, but interesting for a very formal analysis of group dynamics, status, and identity.

7 Quality + 5 Popularity = 12 Overall

Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Re-read. Bath book. Fun, funny, frothy, consistent in tone, I wish the US version wasn't dumbed down. Do they think we won't recognize Finnish? Jerks.

7 Quality + 8 Popularity = 15 Overall

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House by Eric Hodgins

Re-read. One of my all time favorite books. Very different from the (equally wonderful) Cary Grant /Irene Dunn movie of the same name (based on the book). I love this book beyond words.

10 Quality + 10 Popularity = 20 Overall

Buried by Robin Merrow Macready

What on earth is there to say about this? It was all going along well and interestingly until the very last bit, when it disolved into the most ludicrous sort of soap opera melodrama implausible goofiness. Until that last chapter, it had me. With the last chapter, I was actually laughing and reading out bits aloud to my long suffering husband.
2 Quality + 8 Popularity = 10 Overall YA (popularity points for good cover)

Prom Dates From Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Buffy crossed with Veronica Mars. This one I actually enjoyed, although it felt terribly familiar, what with the wisecraking heroine slaying demons, etc, but well written and cute. Super PG though- for younger teens maybe? 8 Quality + 6 Popularity = 14 Overall YA

Happy Kid by Gail Gauthier

Happy Kid by Gail Gauthier
Fun, sweet and quick read. Definitely middle school, maybe younger. Not sure about the 'power' of the book and all that, but it was cute and harmless. Dreadful cover- I don't know who would pick it up.

7 Quality + 6 Popularity = 13 Overall YA

New Plan for The List

I am no longer going to write a full review for every book I read, it takes a lot of time! Instead, I am going to use this blog to keep track of what I read, and if I feel compelled to comment further, I will!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, by Jeanne Kilbourne


Fun, interesting, infuriating read about advertising. I think that this is one of my favorite books on the topic. This book differs from the others in that is is addressing advertising to adults, and on manufactured desires, but it is one of those books that you just can't put down.
Great use of images in this book too- ads and stills from commercials and movies add a lot to the book rather than distract from it, and that's a hard trick to pull off.
Quality: 10 Popularity: 9 Overall: 19

Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture, by Juliet Schor

Fantastic, well written, passionate and detailed book about the ways marketers research and hunt their quarry- children and teens- in order to develop brand relationships that are in many ways as intense as relationships with humans.

Shor wrote a seriously good book here, and filled it with stories that outrage. This would be a fantastic book for anyone interested in the ways the experience of childhood has changed since the 1980s and how commodified the experience has become. From immersive marketing to alpha teen representatives, Shor dredges up the ugly in an ugly ugly business as lucidly as Upton Sinclair did with The Jungle.

I guess I'll say it here, I am a big fan of hers for not only this book, but for 2 of her other books I enjoyed immensely - The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need and Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure.

Born to Buy, by Juliet Schor

Quality: 10 Popularity: 9 Overall: 19

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Kidnapped: How Irresponsible Marketers Are Stealing The Minds of Your Children, by Daniel Acuff and Robert Reiher

This was a pretty unbelievably awful book. Obviously, this is an area that I have read a lot in, and of course, much of it is somewhat repetitive, but I can honestly say that this book was so off point that I don't think it should be shelved near the other books on this seriously important topic- this book was so bad, in fact, that it was utterly original. Juliet Schor, Alissa Quart, Benjamin Barber, Thomas Hine - don't worry- these guys are not at your level of research, writing, or common sense.

With what seemed to me to be a thinly veiled "Christian" agenda, Acuff and Reihert vigoriously decry the overwhelming marketing messages targeted to children, tweens and teens, but despite the book being touted as coming from marketing insiders (and there making it unique in what is quite a crowd of books on the topic) the information in the book is dated and weakly presented.

Some parts were actually laugh-out-loud bad. Each chapter ended with side by side comparisons of the family that was raising "healthy teens" and the family whose kids were "kidnapped" by the consumer society. Let me share with you.

Ages 13 to 15 - Empowering Behavior (The Good Kids )
Sarah loves music and listens to her CDs of pop and soft rock on weekends mostly. She also plays the piano and lends her singing and playing talents both at school and at church. Dennis isn't into music much; he loves sports and spends as many waking hours as possible playing them. They both have approved music stations on in the background sometimes while studying or hanging out in their rooms.

Ages 13 to 15 - Disempowering Behavior (The Bad Kids )
Dennis listens to all sorts of music. His favorites are rap, hip-hop, and a lot of gangsta rap music with lyrical content that is quite violent and filled with sexuality- content way beyond his years. Sarah, along with most of her friends, is infatuated with female and male music stars, and they all try to emulate them in dress and attitude. Sarah's stereo is almost always blasting and the radio is almost always blaring in Dennis's room.

What the heck is this about? First off, Good Sarah, singing away at her church, maybe listening to a little 'soft rock' on the weekends, sounds like a total zombie, not a real teen, and as for the "approved stations" on the radio- well, what, exactly is the approval process? Parents censoring the music their children listen to isn't what I expect to read in any book about raising media aware teenagers. Bad Dennis likes "All sorts of music", especially black music - and this is portrayed as problematic. I believe that Bad Sarah's radio might be blasting all the time, but if Dennis is into music that has "lyrical content that is quite violent and filled with sexuality", it probably isn't making it past the FCC guidelines and therefore isn't on the radio.

Kidnapped: How Irresponsible Marketers Are Stealing The Minds of Your Children

Quality: 5 Popularity: 7 Overall: 12