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The literary world is rejoicing today at the announcement that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, will be releasing a sequel this year. The new novel, Go Set a Watchman, was actually the first novel written by Lee, but was not initially published. Her editor advised her against the publication of the book, which focused on To Kill a Mockingbird‘s heroine, Scout Finch, as an adult. Instead, flashback scenes of Scout’s childhood were reworked into the classic novel we know. According to initial press, the sequel will follow a now-grown Scout returning home to visit her father, Atticus. July 14th is the current planned release date for Go Set a Watchman, and frankly, I can’t wait to see it.

I haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird since I was in junior high, in Mrs. Crocker’s English class. It’s been far too long since I watched Gregory Peck star in the film adaptation as Atticus. I need to make another trip to Maycomb, Alabama, because it’s tragically clear that the prejudices Lee wrote about in 1960 are just as present today.

In keeping with some of the themes from last week, I decided to share this with you. This infographic comes from the amazing people over at goodreads. Here’s there “What’s Your Love Story?” flowchart. Find the original here.

Pretty damn thorough...

Pretty damn thorough…

This week’s Trifextra Challenge gave us this photo. We were told to write 33 words inspired by the image. My piece, The Café, can be read below. It’s flash fiction from photography, for those of you who love alliteration as much as I do.

Creative Commons License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Photo by Thomas Leuthard. Found here. http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomasleuthard/5678203035/

“The Café”

Evie could be found at her favorite café table with a stack of books every day at three.

Every day at three, Marcia walked past the café, gazing longingly at the reading girl.

Just thought I’d share this little beauty from Daily Infographic. The original can be found here.

Required reading. It’s a phrase that strikes fear in the hearts of lesser men and women. Despite the delays that my undergraduate career caused for my reading list, I encountered some of my favorite works of literature during those years. I had numerous lists of required material for my classes in college, and I can honestly say that my tastes have changed for the better because of it.

Some of my favorite pieces of required reading from my college courses are listed here.

Beowulf (translated by Seamus Heaney). My medieval literature professor had us read this one. I knew the story prior to taking the course, but I’d never read Heaney’s translation. Heaney maintains the verse form of the original text, but makes the legendary tale accessible to modern readers. Follow the adventures of Beowulf, mighty warrior, as he does battle with monsters and becomes a king. Side note: kennings are awesome.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Bechdel’s art recreates memories of her childhood in the family-run funeral home. Along the way, she reflects on her coming out as a lesbian and explores her recently-deceased father’s reasons for hiding his own homosexuality from his family. This graphic novel and its follow-up, Are You My Mother? are fantastic. Solid writing, honest prose, and intricate drawing make Bechdel’s works must-reads. My many thanks to my American Literature professor for introducing me to her writing.

The Giver by Lois Lowry. This was one I’d read a couple of times since first encountering it in audio book format on a family camping trip as a kid. When I learned that it was on the list for a sociology class I was taking, I wanted to thank the professor for picking something that so beautifully described a small, isolated community. Jonas’ selection as his village’s new Receiver of Memory is the first step in his realization that life in his home is not as ideal as he believes.

That’s it for now, folks, but I may make another post or two along these lines. Remember, literacy is our friend, even if it’s forced on us.

I recently finished Chuck Wendig’s first novel for young adults, Under the Empyrean Sky. As a fan of Chuck’s blog over at Terrible Minds, I felt I owed it to myself to give one of his full-length books a read, and I’m damn glad that I did.

Under the Empyrean Sky introduces us to our intrepid young hero, Cael McAvoy, captain of a teenage scavenger crew in the Heartland. Cael and his friends sail a land boat across the seemingly endless fields of corn to salvage anything they might be able to sell in their home town of Boxelder, because any extra money they can bring in helps provide for their families.

See, only one thing grows in the Heartland. The Empyrean makes sure of it. Hiram’s Golden Prolific is a modified strain of corn that spreads anywhere it pleases, choking out any other potentially competitive life (and it’s not fond of people walking near it, either). It’s the only seed that the Empyrean distributes to the farmers in the Heartland, and the returns for working for the Empyrean machine are enough to barely survive.

So Cael McAvoy scavenges, but he and his friends are not the only crew at work. The mayor’s son has a crew, number one in salvage recovery in Boxelder, and Boyland Barnes Jr. brings daddy’s money to the fight to ensure that Cael’s crew remains in second place. With tensions running high as the Harvest Home festival approaches, Cael takes his ship out for a prime target, only to be shipwrecked in the corn by Boyland Jr. It’s then that he finds something out in the middle of the field, something no one in the Heartland could have predicted. Vegetables. Fruits. Things that have no right growing in the midst of Hiram’s Golden Prolific. The discovery could make them all rich enough to buy passage to one of the flotillas, massive hovering cities of the Empyrean, where the wealthy live in splendor floating over the Heartland like Cael’s boat over the corn. Or it could get them and everyone they’ve ever loved killed.

Wendig packs one hell of a punch into the pages of this book. Deep characters and rich world building blend seamlessly with gritty violence and some of the most honest dialogue to hit the pages of a young adult novel. While some things might come across as a bit heavy-handed (like Empyrean agent Simone Agrasanto‘s name), most of the novel is quick and sharp, like the leaves of the plant that lends its name to Wendig’s self-dubbed “cornpunk” genre. Under the Empyrean Sky weaves teenage love, sex, violence, and intrigue into a wild land boat ride that will leave you counting the days until the release of volume two.

I woke up at five AM on Tuesday. This is something I would not normally do, as many of you know. As a general rule, the only time I see five AM is when I have stayed up all night. This was a happy exception, however. You see, Tuesday was Book Day.

Way back when I worked for Borders, I learned that new releases came out on Tuesdays. For whatever reason, your favorite author’s new book, that awesome band’s new CD, and that DVD you’ve been waiting for since you saw the film on opening night at the theatre all come out on Tuesdays. I would show up to my Tuesday morning shift to help with the unboxing and shelving of all of the latest titles that people had been asking for the for month prior. Despite the early hour, it was one of my most enjoyable shifts at that job. There was something wonderful about opening a box full of new books, knowing that in a few hours they would be in the hands of elated readers. Ever since then, there’s been a bit of a thrill surrounding Tuesdays for me, even though I’m not as connected to the retail world as I once was. Like I said, this was a special occasion. This Tuesday was the street date for Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. 

I’m not entirely certain about how I first encountered Neil’s writing for the first time. At some point within the last seven years, though, I was introduced to the Sandman comics. I devoured them. Neil’s scripts and the absolutely gorgeous artwork drew me in, and within a month I’d read the entirety of his Sandman run. I wanted more, and I found it. Works like Coraline, American Gods, The Graveyard Book, and Neverwhere would be completed in days, if not hours after I started reading them. I told all of my friends that they needed to read his work. Any of it. All of it. To this day, I have not been disappointed by Neil Gaiman’s writing, whether it comes in graphic novels, children’s books, brilliant pieces of literature, or Doctor Who episodes. 

All of which brings me back to why I was awake at five AM on Tuesday. New Book Tuesday. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. There are lots of bookstores in Colorado Springs, but I didn’t want to buy my copy here in town, even though under any other circumstances I will shop locally first. I decided almost two months ago that I was going to be driving to Denver on June 18th so that I could buy a copy of Neil’s latest book from the Tattered Cover. This is because his upcoming book signing is going to be held at the Tattered Cover’s LoDo location, and purchase of the book from any one of their locations included a numbered ticket for the autograph line on the 25th. I’m number 53. I’d say that certainly merits being awake at five on my day off. There’s nothing quite like meeting other people who are willing to get up at a ridiculous hour in order to wait in line for a book. Many thanks to V for going on an adventure with me.

This week is National Library Week, and so I would like to share a few of the things that have been going on at my library.

We’ve had a couple of very successful programs for our local teens. We hosted a Blind Date With a Book, where library books were wrapped in paper and labeled only with a small singles-ad-style blurb.

Happy Valentine's Day, book lovers.

Happy Valentine’s Day, book lovers.

Teens were encouraged to take home a book based solely on the paragraph attached. This sense of mystery allowed for them to be surprised by an author that they may not have encountered, or to unwittingly revisit an old favorite.

Up next was our Readbox display. I’m sure most of you are familiar with Redbox, the DVD and video game rental kiosks.

It's like a Redbox, only better.

It’s like a Redbox, only better.

And finally, some days it’s important to just have fun at the library. Nothing helps this like a subtle addition to our self-check station.

"Luke, this is where you scan your library card."

“Luke, this is where you scan your library card.”

If you’ve not visited your local library lately, you should. See what’s new. Libraries are evolving to meet your 21st century needs. Happy National Library Week.

Some time back, I’d mentioned that I was looking forward to the eventual release of J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults. Turns out I had very good reason to be excited. I wrapped up the final chapters of the book about an hour ago, and I have not felt such a powerful emotional response to a book in a long time. Bittersweet is the best word to describe it, but then, the novel is set in a far more realistic world than Rowling’s other works.

Rowling’s novel is set in the fictional town of Pagford, a seemingly ideal English village where a seat on the local parish council is the highest life achievement to which many aspire. The parish council is about to deal with several major issues, including a low-income housing development that tarnishes Pagford’s image (The Fields) and a local addiction clinic with a questionable success rate, called Bellchapel. Due to a deadlocked council, it seems that neither problem will be sufficiently resolved when the unthinkable occurs.

On his wedding anniversary, Barry Fairbrother, parish council member and longtime supporter of the Fields and Bellchapel, suffers a brain aneurysm and dies, leaving his seat on the council open in a casual vacancy. The story is primarily character driven, with reactions to Barry’s death serving as motivation for most. In the wake of Barry’s passing, Pagford splits into three main groups. We are privy to the perspectives of the pro-Fielders and their staunch opponents as well as the teenagers who are caught up in the conflict. Barry’s death means that an election will have to be held to fill his seat on the council, and each side strives to arrange for someone who shares their views to be appointed. The buildup to the election sends ripples through the community, as no one is fully prepared for the revelations that will rise to the surface. Unrequited love, racism, drug addiction, teen sex, and dirty politics are only the beginning in this unflinching look at small towns and modern life. Narrative shifts from character to character in a manner akin to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, allowing Rowling to place us inside the heads of girls who are being bullied at school, heroin addicts who are being threatened with the loss of their children, corrupt businessmen who live with the constant fear of being caught, and more. Barry’s death shatters the veneer of Pagford, and life there will never be the same.

Rowling’s book is a drastic departure from her earlier writing, and I have to say that it’s a great step for her. Whether she continues along similar lines in future books is uncertain, but she has crafted a wonderful exploration of the sides of humanity that many writers are afraid to examine. The Casual Vacancy is intense, and certainly not for the faint of heart, but I loved it. It’s a damn good novel. I would highly recommend that you give it a read, but be aware that, like life, it’s rarely pretty.

Pictured: A wonderful representation of the town of Pagford. Seemingly uninteresting but hiding one hell of a story.

Pictured: A wonderful representation of the town of Pagford. Seemingly uninteresting, but hiding one hell of a story.

 

2013 is going to be the best year yet. I say that every year, but that’s because it’s true. Yeah, I’ve had fantastic experiences in the past, but each year that I’m still here, still reading and writing and doing what I love is an even better year than the one before.

What I’m looking forward to:

Books: Halo: Silentium  comes out this year, wrapping up Greg Bear’s Forerunner Saga, a sweeping epic prequel to the Halo franchise that ties in to last November’s Halo 4 release.

Dr. Sleep should hit store shelves this year as well, in late September according to Stephen King’s web page. Shining fans rejoice as we finally get to find out what happened to little Danny Torrance when he grew up.

Movies: Holy shit, have you seen the trailer for Pacific Rim? Guillermo Del Toro is back, and he’s bringing his incredible energy to what seems to be a bit of a love letter to giant Godzilla-esque monsters and massive robots built to take them down.

Iron Man 3 drops in May. I can’t wait to see Marvel’s first follow-up to The Avengers in a few months. Let’s see how Tony Stark handles dealing with one of his oldest comic book foes, The Mandarin.

We get to see J.J. Abrams’ follow-up to Star Trek with Star Trek Into Darkness. Best part about this? Benedict Cumberbatch gets to play a villain again. I can’t wait to see the crew of the Enterprise back in action.

Television: Arrested Development returns at last! Having a Netflix account would be worth it if only for this show. We’ll be seeing an entire season released exclusively via the streaming service sometime this year.

Game of Thrones is back this year as well, with the HBO adaptation of George. R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series beginning a third season in March.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s going to be a good year, dear readers. What books, movies, etc. are you looking forward to this year?