Monday, April 30, 2012

Column 17

People always want to know where to find new books to read. There are a lot of resources that can help you choose books, including people that share your passion for the same genre. There are even places to get free books!
            Most of the places that I go to for book ideas are sites on the internet. My primary resource is A social network for readers, Goodreads is a great place for you to catalogue the books you have read, as well as keep a list of books you would like to read. You can have “friends” on Goodreads, kind of like Facebook, and find out what they are reading as well.
            Unlike Facebook, however, I have expanded my friends list to include people I don’t know personally. If I find a person on Goodreads who reads and likes similar books as me, I will become friends with them just to keep up with their reading lists and get ideas of what to read.
            Goodreads also has giveaways where you can get free books, and many authors who are members of Goodreads keep blogs so that you can see what their latest projects are. Shelfarie is a similar website to Goodreads, but I have not really gotten as involved on that site.
            I also receive several newsletters for readers by email. My favorite is Shelf Awareness for Readers. This newsletter comes every Tuesday and every Friday. In this newsletter there are book reviews about the latest books, as well as suggestions for books that are older.
            Shelf Awareness also has great articles by readers and writers about books and writing. Some authors pitch their latest projects, and there are book giveaways on the site as well.
            I get a lot of great ideas from these newsletters. The reviews of the books are divided by genre, which helps when I am looking for a particular book to read. When I see a review of a book that I might be interested in, I usually go back to Goodreads and put it on my “to-read” list.
            Another newsletter that I get about once a month is Reading Group Choices. This is a website geared more toward book clubs, but it has some great ideas about books to read. It is also a great resource to use if you would like to start a book group. It tells you how to get started and how to have a successful book club.             Reading Group Choices also publishes a book each year comprised of one-page summaries of great book club books to read. I gave all the members of one of my book clubs a copy of this book for Christmas, and I think it will be a great place for us to find books to read in the future.
            There are also a million blogs out there that you can follow to find some great books to read. is one of my favorites. Kathy, the inspired blog author, writes about several books a week and does interviews with authors as well as giveaways. She has a great selection of books and does not stay with only one genre, which is something that I really like. Also, if you are interested in writing your own book blog, she is a great resource on how to get started. I get most of my requests for reviews from authors that she has sent my way.
            Despite the abundance of internet resources for finding a great book to read, sometimes a personal recommendation is still the best. Talk to people who have the same interests you have and ask them what they are reading. You may be pleasantly surprised with the books you will find!             

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

column 16

With all of the attention on “The Hunger Games,” right now, I thought I might suggest a series that is similar without the horror of children killing other children. The genre of dystopian young adult fiction seems to be very popular right now. There is no shortage of books to quench your thirst if you can’t get enough of this kind of story.

            The “Matched” series by Ally Condie is one of the thousand or so series out there for young adults or anyone who likes to read about another society created in the mind of a very clever author. In this world, “the warming” has come and the “Society” is trying to prevent the end of the world by making choices for everyone.
            The Society has chosen one hundred stories, one hundred paintings, one hundred songs, etcetera for everyone to hear and see. The Society chooses everyone’s professions, everyone’s mate and how many children everyone can have. They even choose when everyone will die.
            Cassia is satisfied with her life in this world. She is happy with her ideal chosen mate, until she sees Ky’s face flash an instant on the matching screen before fading to black. It is then that Cassia begins to question everything she has ever known.
            Is she really happy with her life? Are her parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends, happy with Society making all of their decisions for them?
            The premise of this first book, “Matched,” is engaging and promising. I read it when it was first published two years ago and awaited anxiously for the sequel which was released in November. I just got my hands on a copy of the second installment of this trilogy, “Crossed.” I read it in a few hours.
            The second book is different from the first in that it takes place outside of the Society that has been created. Cassia has chosen who she wants to be with and does her best to find him. But without the kind of “love-triangle” from the first book, there was not quite as much tension.
            What I really like about this series is that it is very clean. I could easily allow my twelve-year-old daughter to read it without being concerned about content. It is not overly intense. And there is not sexual content or innuendo.
            I really liked reading “The Hunger Games.” But I have not let my daughter read it because she gets scared easily and I think it might be a little too intense for her. The situations are dire in those books. Life seems hopeless.
            These books are less about survival of the fittest and more about having free agency. They are about making choices whether those choices are good or bad. And who determines whether a choice is a good choice or a bad choice?
            So, if you liked “The Hunger Games,” take a look at the “Matched” series by Ally Condie. I know it is always nice to find a new series to read and the final book in the series comes out in November.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

column 15

I never learned about Japanese-American internment camps in the United States when I was a child, so it has been shocking for me, as an adult, to read about this dark period in the recent past of the United States. It is even more shocking to read that it took place not far from my current backyard.
            During World War II, people of Japanese descent who had been born and raised in the United States were put in camps, which were essentially prisons, because of their heritage and the color of their skin.
            Julie Otsuka writes about this embarrassing chapter of the history of our country in two gripping and eye-opening novels, “When the Emperor Was Divine” and “Buddha in the Attic.”
            In her debut novel, “When the Emperor Was Divine,” Otsuka portrays the life of a family that is taken by long train ride to a dusty, hot, uncomfortable camp in the desert of the American West.
            The horrifying reality for Japanese Americans during World War II was that no one trusted them. People whose parents had immigrated to the United States from Japan for a better life found themselves ostracized by their fellow Americans—people they had grown up with. Men, women, and children born in this country were put in these “camps” because of fear.
            “Buddha In the Attic” paints a portrait of Japanese mail-order brides brought to the United States in the early twentieth century to marry Japanese men who were supposed to make their dreams come true. These men sent for women, ages 10 and up, to come live with them to be their wives, to make families, and to sometimes be no more than legal slaves.
            Mothers sent their daughters to this country with the hope that they would find a better life—free from the hard physical labor and malnourishment from which they themselves had suffered—only to find that the girls were sent to fates not much better than their own.
            As the years went on, conditions improved. The children of these mail-order brides grew up learning English. They got an education. They were able to read and write. This was the reason these women sacrificed to come to this country. Maybe they were not able to better themselves, but they were able to make things better for their progeny.
            Then came the bombing of Pearl Harbor. People who had been the friends of these Japanese Americans became afraid.  Their neighbors, grocers, customers, and employers were all afraid. That was when the men started to disappear. They were taken in the night. Eventually, fear spread beyond just the men. After all, who knew what secrets the Japanese women and children were hiding?
            That is when all the Japanese, regardless of whether they were born in the United States, were taken to the internment camps in the Rocky Mountain West, where they could be “safe.” That is what the government told the American people. Children missed their playmates. Employers missed their employees. Grocers missed their customers. People missed their friends, their neighbors, their community members, and their church fellows.
            These two books opened my eyes to the problems that arise when people are afraid. We can be a devastating people. We can be an intolerant people. We can even be a cruel people.
            After reading these beautiful novels, which are based on true stories as told to Julie Otsuka, my hope is that we can be a good people. These books talk about an inexcusable part of our American past. I hope it is never part of our future.