“An Abundance of Katherines” by John Green

I use GoodReads to keep track of books. Sometimes, I check reviews of books I’m thinking of reading, some books go on the TBR list regardless of what others think. Others don’t make the cut. For some books, these Printz books in particular, I wait to look at reviews until I’m done reading, I want to avoid having preconceived notions of a book if I can.

I’m always interested in reading what people who didn’t like a book have to say, this helps me clarify what I think — maybe the thing that someone else hates is the thing that made a book work for me. Occasionally, other reviews make me change my mind. I’ve read reviews that point out something problematic about a book that I had enjoyed, and have ended up feeling differently, disliking the book after the fact.

All of which is to say: having read t”An Abundance of Katherines” before, and enjoying originally and on the reread, I read reviews by people who didn’t like the book with humor. I find myself wondering if we even read the same book! I saw words in these reviews like: “boring” or “predictable” or “characters were unlikeable” and my favorite “the math part was dumb.”

I thin k there’s a pretty fine line about predictability in books — in many genres, books follow a pretty specific formula. When you pick up certain books, you can expect certain things to happen by the end, and for many readers, it’s not the end of the story, it’s the journey to get there.

Do John Green books have a kind of template or a formula? I think so, yes, and that’s exactly why some people keep reading his books. But to me, that doesn’t make them boring or pointless, it’s what happens along the way that matters. It’s the conversations and insights about life, love, relationships, and why we’re even here that keep me reading.

As far as likeability of characters go — I didn’t have a problem with this book, personally, but that’s what makes the world go round. If everybody like the same people and things, I think it’d be pretty boring. I’m also quite sure I’ve said before that making a character “likeable” isn’t necessary for creating a character that people care about.

Readers expect their authors to keep up their end of a bargain or a contract. We come to certain genres and books knowing we’ll get a specific outcome. Sometimes, the author will appear to break that bargain, resulting in books getting tossed across the room, but then we go pick the book up, keep reading, and find out that the new thing the author gave us was even better than what we thought we wanted. Some authors do just plain destroy the bargain and for no good reason, and I don’t have a lot of patience for that.

To me, his promise is to make his readers feel  something, to experience and learn something new about ourselves. I think John Green keeps his end of the bargain, even if unexpectedly, and I know I’ll keep reading.

“The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol I: The Pox Party” by M.T. Anderson

This book has shown up on lists of books I might like on Oyster and Goodreads for awhile. I wasn’t really sure it was up my alley, especially after I had bounced off of a different book by Anderson.

Once again, though, this project of reading Printz books has not led me astray (honestly, of the 41 books I’ve read so far, I’ve really only hated one, and the other 4 that I’ve rated low or not rated at all were more victims of…not being my thing or disappointment rather than hatred).

This is a very unusual book, and it won’t be for very everyone. It’s set in Revolutionary America, and the language is pretty flowery. The story itself is strange and disturbing, and as a reader it was a bit….well, like watching a car crash. You don’t want to see, but you can’t help yourself, and wonder what it says about you that you are so compelled.

It has gotten easy, at a remove of many years, to romanticize the founders of our country, but this book is a reminder that those men weren’t saints. They wanted freedom, but for those who looked like them. Octavian is a slave from Africa, being examined for his intellectual capacity, and despite what he could achieve (which was pretty impressive!), the deck was stacked against him. No one really thought he was actually a human, and the so-called experiments “proved” this.

The first part of the book is a little slow, as it follows Octavian when he is young. The pace picks up towards the end, and ends in a cliffhanger. Luckily for me, the second book in the series is a 2009 Printz Honor Book. I would read it anyway, but this way, it’s sooner rather than later.

“American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang

Hey! A graphic novel — the first to show up as a Printz honoree — and it won the 2007 award. This is a very quirky quick read of a book. It might seem to be simple, but it’s actually a pretty complex tale that I thoroughly enjoyed.

As soon as I finished it, I handed it to one of my teenaged boys. He flew through it, and when he was done, I asked what he thought. He let a grin slip, shrugged, and said  “It was kind of weird.” I could be mistaken, but I think that counts as a thumbs-up kind of a review.

 

“John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth, a Photographic Biography” by Elizabeth Partridge

So, I’ll admit: I was a little dubious about reading a biography of John Lennon. I had to buy it, too, because it wasn’t available from any of my library choices, or online. Having read it, I still wonder at why, exactly, this was chosen as an honor book. It was good, but I would love to know what made it award worthy in the minds of the Printz committee.

Everyone knows about The Beatles, right? Snips and bits of their stories, their musical is inescapable. This biography was a well-written overview of Lennon’s life, filling in little details about the other band members as they came in to his life.  It came as no surprise that he and the rest of the band spent most of their time high as kites. I’m not sure, after reading this, the Lennon was a very *nice* person. Not that that matters, but I don’t think I would have wanted to know him personally. It’s also apparent that he wasn’t a very happy or content person. I got the impression that part of the reason he drank and did so many drugs was to self-medicate.

One of the reviews I read on Goodreads was from someone who wished she hadn’t read it, because it completely ruined him for her. These days of all access via social media and paparazzi have definitely changed a lot of how we view and interact with those making the art we consume. (And by art, I mean music, movies, books, and everything else). Anyone can make a fool of themselves via Twitter or Tumblr or anything else, and it’s hard to separate our opinions of the person with the things they create. There are more than a few authors I refuse to read because of their behavior, but I don’t think that my enjoyment of the music of Lennon and The Beatles is going to be affected by learning in more detail what kind of people they were.

The book itself was very well-written, I thought it was a fairly quick read, the inclusion of photos kept the pages turning. Again, though, I’d love to know why this was thought to be one of the best books written for teens in 2005/2006.

Here’s something that I should probably be embarrassed about: one of my favorite childhood memories is watching the movie Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. You know, the one that starred Peter Frampton, the BEE GEEs, Steve Martin, George Burns, and etc.

I thought I’d try to redeem myself by picking my favorite Lennon song, but I can’t pick just one, apparently. How about you, dear reader? What’s your favorite?

“Black Juice” by Margo Lanagan

This was such a strange little collection of short stories. All of them started right off in the midst of strange locations or strange cultures, and you had to just figure things out as you went along. And by the time you did, the strange, disturbing little story was over. Everything was very dark and mysterious, and I was sure if I was supposed to like or loathe the protagonists. A little of both. The theme was about tapping into those dark places that everyone has, that you don’t want to quite admit to harboring inside you.

Short stories are interesting, because it seems like authors can sometimes play more with really strange stuff — ideas that would be hard to maintain for an entire novel (in one, the protagonist is an elephant, communicating telepathically with his fellow elephants as they take off in search of their lost keeper). The imagination on display in all of these stories is what fascinates me, and makes me despair, yet again, for seeming to have so little imagination of my own to come up with something unique.

Lanagan is an Australian author, and the other-ness of the little bits of worlds she has created in these short stories is a wonderful change of pace from all of the recent books about New York City.

Her book, Tender Morsels shows up in the 2009 list of honor books, and I’m looking forward to that, as well.