Monday, December 30, 2013

Pretending to Grow Up

Across the fields of yesterday
He sometimes comes to me,
A little lad just back from play -

The lad I used to be.

And yet he smiles so wistfully
Once he has crept within,
I wonder if he hopes to see
The man I might have been.

- Sometimes by Thomas S. Jones, Jr.

Earlier this month, I posted this poem at my blog, Bildungsroman, after discovering it at  I think any adult, male or female, can relate to this - be it wistfully, happily, regretfully, or any combination of emotions that childhood memories and adult aspirations can create. When I was little, I read and enjoyed all of L.M. Montgomery's novels about the life of Anne Shirley, but I always preferred the earlier volumes - especially the first book, Anne of Green Gables - to the later volumes in the series. Earlier this year, I read Now I'll Tell You Everything, a novel in which the main character chronicles her life from her late teens all the way into her sixties. (See my post about the Alice McKinley novels by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor for more information on the entire series.)

But back to the poem Sometimes. With the piece being written by a man and specifically using male pronouns, it made me think of books with male protagonists  - modern classics like Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary and the Matthew Martin books by Paula Danziger. What happened to them after those books? What were they like at age 20, 30, 40? Did Encyclopedia Brown become a bona fide private detective? A cop? Is Maniac Magee a teacher? A father?

When I interviewed Judy Blume in 2008, I figured out how old Fudge, Peter, Sheila and Tootsie would be, based on the publication year of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and asked the author, "Do you ever consider what they would be doing in their adulthood, their middle age?" She responded, "Peter and Fudge can never grow up!"
But in my mind, other than Peter Pan - which is an entirely different post - it's interesting to consider how our favorite fictional characters might turn out when they grow up. The triumphs and the tragedies of childhood undoubtedly shape the lives of real people, and a lot of wonderfully written middle grade and young adult books capture these experiences. So...what happened next?

What do you think happened to your favorite characters? Who became the men and women they thought they'd be? And who always smiles when they think of the child they used to be?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ninety Percent of Everything by Rose George

Shipping is an industry that largely takes place out of sight. The surfaces of the world's oceans can be empty, isolated places. When a cargo ship berths in a port--now farther away from cities, since these ships need deeper harbors--tens of thousands of containers are unloaded in less than a day, then the ship is ready to depart on the next leg of its voyage. It's quite unlike the way shipping worked five or six decades ago, when teams of men worked for weeks to unload significantly smaller ships. Rose George calls shipping the "invisible industry," but until I read Ninety Percent of Everything, I didn't realize how appropriate a descriptor "invisible" is. More than not knowing how many goods are actually transported via cargo ship, shipping is invisible in other, less obvious ways. "How ironic," writes George, "that the more ships have grown in size and consequence, the less space they take up in our imagination."

There are many mind-boggling stats in George's Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate (for example, "The biggest container ship can carry fifteen thousand boxes. It can hold 746 million bananas, one for every European on one ship" and "Add shipping to the list of polluting countries and it comes in sixth. Ships create more pollution than Germany."), but George is more concerned with the personal. I read a couple of reviews by readers who were expecting something more technical and logistical, and yes, if that is your interest, you may be disappointed. But I found the book illuminating and extremely relevant, giving readers a glimpse at a world we rarely stop to think about.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Wonderful Joy of Ballou HS & Their New Books!

That's how the students at Washington DC's Ballou Sr High School and their librarian Melissa Jackson feel about the recent Guys Lit Wire Holiday Book Fair. Via the Powells Books wish list, 59 books were bought and shipped to Ballou where they have been very gratefully received.

I love seeing something like this happen - it's really what the holiday season is all about. Thanks so much to everyone who helped make these kids happy and to all of you out there who believe in the power of books to change lives.   :)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Winger by Andrew Smith

Hello all!  My name is Angie Manfredi and I am super-excited to be a contributor here at Guys LitWire.  I’ll be blogging once a month and I guess there’s one thing I need to start with: I don’t think there are books for guys and books for girls.  Nope. I believe only in books for readers. If you ask me to recommend a good book for a guy, I’d be stumped.  Why?  Because I’d need to know more about that guy. So, I won’t be writing about “books for guys”.  I don’t even know what those would be.  What I will be writing about is books about guys.  Books about guys who are assassins, books about guys from history, books about guys who fall in love, books about the guy next door, books about guys who are Kings.  I want to write about the best books about guys and featuring guy characters, to recommend them to readers, not genders and then leave it YOU to determine which readers - boys or girls or even those who don’t identify as either - are right for those titles.

And so, for me, it’s fitting that my first post here at Guys LitWire is about one of the best books about guys I’ve ever read: Andrew Smith’s Winger.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Computer Games from the Other Side

When I was ten or eleven years old, I sat down with a programming book, our family's Timex Sinclair T1000 personal computer connected to a blurry television screen and started to teach myself how to code in a language called BASIC. My first program probably looked something like this:

10: PRINT "Hi everybody! My name is Brian!"
20: GOTO 10

You can probably tell what this program did. It's not much, but from there on I was hooked. Anyone who has written computer programs knows the feeling of power and euphoria you get when a computer program you've written finally works exactly as you envisioned it. If you'd had that feeling you've also had the deep frustration and despair that comes with code that just won't work the way you want it. Coding is an emotional roller coaster. If you've never felt either of those experiences, it's time you started living and learned to code.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Many Thanks for a MOST Successful Holiday Book Fair for Ballou!

The Book Fair for the Ballou Sr High School Library has ended and on behalf of both Guys Lit Wire & Ballou, please accept our thanks for the 59 books that were bought off the wish list at Powells Books. These titles were all much desired by the students at Ballou and I am sure they will be delighted by the arrival of each and everyone.

You are all wonderful but we send out a special thanks to our reader Jodie who has been with us since the beginning and continues to contribute to Ballou on each and every book fair.

Happiest of Holidays to all of you & Best Wishes for an amazing New Year!

The wish list is closed now as any books ordered at this point would likely arrive after the school is closed for the holidays.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dogs of War

The holidays loom on the horizon, time gets tight, and I find my reading habits drift toward quick, comfort reads to hold me until I can get to the "real" things in my pile. I've started four or five books in the past month that I truly want to savor but when I need a quick narrative fix I hit the graphic novel pile. Again.

Dogs of War is exactly what it declares itself to be: three stories of dogs that have served in US Armed Services. "Boots" is the Red Cross rescue dog helping ID bodies outside the trenches during WWI; "Loki" is stationed in Greenland during WWII, a sled dog with a wild spirit waiting for the right master; "Sheba" did her tour of duty in Vietnam where the bond between her and her trainer becomes the key that helps heal the vet once he's stateside. The narrative for each dog's story is distinct, the mood and feel of each war vastly different from the one before, free of the politics of the wars themselves. The stories stand as a testament to loyalty, bravery, and faithfulness of man's best ally. Or in this case, a soldier's closest comrade.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian

In his most recent comedy special, Aziz Ansari has a bit about how low the standards for men are today, to the extent that any man who manages to dress in something more formal than cargo shorts will have women throwing themselves at him. Ansari often raises questions about masculinity in his comedy, and I thought of these questions as I read Carrie Mesrobian’s outstanding young adult novel Sex &Violence, which raises many questions of its own about what it means to be a man, and does not pretend to have easy answers to any of them.

Evan Carter thinks he has all the easy answers. Identify the girls who are a bit “left of center.” It might be a hair color thing, or a piercing, or that she dresses a bit more provocatively. Something identifies her as “The Girl Who Would Say Yes.” Inevitably, Evan obtains the answer “yes,” sometimes without even having to ask the question. And since Evan’s father moves frequently for work, Evan (whose mother died in an accident years ago) can be secure in the impermanence of all his relationships.
But Collette is different. And the way Evan’s “relationship” with her ends is different. Different bad. Different scary. Different in painful and permanent ways.

The fallout from the Collette situation (trying hard to avoid spoilers here) leads both Evan and his father back to the family’s lake home at Pearl Lake, Minnesota, for the summer. As a broken Evan tries to put himself back together, he starts to see his father change from the workaholic computer geek he had always known. And as Evan begins to fit in with his peers in this small lake community, he starts to see possible models for relationships beyond what he had known in his life as “Dirtbag Evan.” In particular, the beguiling Baker, who is literally the girl next door.

Mesrobian has created a stellar narrative voice in Evan, and I was most impressed that characters who were often presented as stereotypes by Evan were never allowed to remain stereotypes. The lunkhead football player, the criminal townie-- all are shown to have more nuance than our initial introduction to them. Even Baker, who could have been little more than a Manic Pixie Dream Girl for Evan, becomes a strong character in her own right.

With more than a soupcon of Holden Caulfield in Evan, Mesrobian successfully straddles the line between honoring influence and being derivative. But Sex & Violence is so much more than The Catcher in Pearl Lake. An old book about loons and lakes, a forbidden island sanctuary, an abandoned mansion on the island, an estranged uncle with a secret, A Clockwork Orange—all play significant roles in the sprawling plot. And they all work.

Evan says late in the book that perhaps “being a man was mostly about knowing when to shut up about something.” So I will shut up now about how great Sex & Violence is, and just urge you to read it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Don't Trust your Parents, Avoiding Murdering Anyone and Prepare for Anything

Fairy tales are all the rage of late, especially dark versions which are retold on film and TV -- Disney's Maleficent and ABC's Once Upon a Time being just the latest manifestations. Of course these tales are many times removed from their source material, primarily the European folk tales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.

There's no need to rail against modern reinterpretations of the classic fairy tales. In fact it's very much in the tradition to retell fairy tales and to change them in the retelling as Philip Pullman reminds us in the introduction to his collection Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version which he published last year on the 200th anniversary of the original. There is nothing sacred about the contents of these stories. Each teller (or TV producer) can take them and change them and make them his or her own.

Still, going back to the "original" tales is simply a lot of fun. Pullman's collection is a great book for this. First of all, his selection includes most of the classic tales that appear in modern renditions, but it also includes rarer stories and some really strange ones like "The Juniper Tree." Secondly, his translations are clear and direct and when he adjusts or embellishes, it's for good reason, usually to make the telling a bit more entertaining. Also they come with informative, amusing notes and enlightening references to similar folktales from other traditions.

So let's review: what do the original tales tell us that the new versions don't?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Buying Books for Deserving Teens is a Great Way to Celebrate the Holidays!

Just wanted to thank everyone who has bought books for Ballou High School so far. Your kindness is much appreciated!!!

There are plenty of books under $10 on the list and so many lovely hardcovers if you are willing to spend $15 or $20. All the books are sent directly to librarian Melissa Jackson at Ballou and will go right on the shelves. Please get all the details in our earlier post and if you can't donate than post or tweet and spread the word on this holiday book fair!


Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell

Billingwood, England, 1867. A family is out in town for a nice outing. They look at shops and generally enjoy the day. Then, they hear a rumble and commotion. A giant monster is ravaging the town! They seek shelter in an accommodating stranger's cellar and wait out the rampage. When they emerge, the town has been smashed up, and it's the most exciting thing ever! There are even souvenirs to be had. This is the best day out this family has ever had. You see, the monster over their town, Stoker-on-Avon, is really pathetic. He hardly leaves his hill. In fact, it's been 536 days since their monster rampaged. It's all a bit pathetic, really. It's hurting tourism and destroying the town's morale. So the town council sends a disgraced scientist (with a tagalong newsie) up the hill to see if they can't get their monster on the rampage again.

Monster on the Hill is a charming graphic novel. I picked it up because I saw it listed on the Cybils nominees this year and loved the quirky story. Rayburn, the monster, is over dramatic, sensitive, a bit of a whiner with a self confidence problem, but he is quite the amusing character. This book is perfect for upper elementary and middle grade readers, although. I think anyone would find it enjoyable. I can't wait to share it with my cousins.