Monday, November 2, 2009

Shelf Discovery Challenge!

You can't throw a stone in blogville without hitting a reading challenge, but I finally stumbled upon one that I think I can manage. Courtesy Booking Mama, the "Shelf Discovery Challenge" asks its readers to choose six books featured in the the book Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick, read them in the next six months, a report on each one.

About Shelf Discovery:
Launched from her regular feature column Fines Lines for, this spastically composed, frequently hilarious omnibus of meditations on favorite YA novels dwells mostly among the old-school titles from the late '60s to the early '80s much beloved by now grown-up ladies. This was the era, notes the bibliomaniacal Skurnick in her brief introduction, when books for young girls moved from being wholesome and entertaining (e.g., The Secret Garden and the Nancy Drew series) to dealing with real-life, painful issues affecting adolescence as depicted by Beverly Cleary, Lois Duncan, Judy Blume, Madeleine L'Engle and Norma Klein. Skurnick groups her eruptive essays around themes, for example, books that feature a particularly memorable, fun or challenging narrator (e.g., Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy); girls on the verge, such as Blume's Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret or danger girls such as Duncan's Daughters of Eve; novels that deal with dying protagonists and other tragedies like child abuse (Willo Davis Roberts's Don't Hurt Laurie!); and, unavoidably, heroines gifted with a paranormal penchant, among other categories. Skurnick is particularly effective at spotlighting an undervalued classic (e.g., Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase) and offers titles featuring troubled boys as well. Her suggestions will prove superhelpful (not to mention wildly entertaining) for educators, librarians and parents.

Maureen, the lovely marketing director at my bookstore, was nice enough to hand me a galley copy of this book last Spring, and I have periodically read through bits and pieces of it. It's that perfect kind of browsing book - you can pick it up, read a few entries, put it down, and repeat.

The real joy of Shelf Discovery is discovering and re-discovering books that, while ultimately intended for young readers, continue to leave lasting impressions on women who later went to create lasting works of writing themselves. Nothing quite like authors gushing about books to pique my interest.

As an excuse to read some vintage YA literature, this challenge is perfect for me, but it's also going to be fun to re-explore books that I read at the proper demographic, ones that I may remember fondly or unhappily or hardly at all.

The challenge asks you to read six of the books featured in the text in six months, but I'm thinking about attempting to double that number. We'll see how I fare. For now, here are my six books:

- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
Why: This was the book that my mom kept insisting that I try as a kid, but I never bothered to follow her advice... until I randomly picked this up the summer before college. Having read When You Reach Me this past summer, I've been wanting to re-read this classic that I only embraced late into my teens.

-Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green
Why: This past year, I've read two books that have been cited as inspired by this 1973 work by Bette Green, concerning a Jewish girl who harbors a Nazi escapee from a POW labor camp during the close of World War II. But I've never read this one, so now's the time.

-The Grounding of Group 6 Julian F. Thompson
Why: I have never heard of this book, but it's from the tail end of the first YA wave, and its premise - six teenagers are sent to an academy where there parents have paid for them to be "poisoned and thrown into deep crevasses" - sounds promising enough. Skurnick, writing about this book, calls into focus the prevalence of bad parents in this wave of young adult fiction, something that, while not completely absent from today's YA, has long since been the trend. "So, as ascends Gilmore Girls, so dies a golden YA trope - the parent who deserves to die."

-My Darling, My Hamburger by Paul Zindel
Why: Because 1)It's Paul Zindel, and I still consider The Pigman one of my all-time favorites, 2) I've known of this book for a long time but never even knew what it was about, and 3)Um... the title. Yeah, I'm that simple.

-The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Spears
Why: One of those books that seems fundamental to a YA reading history, and yet, I haven't read it. I had many, many friends who read it, so I suppose I never felt it necessary to read it too, a mindset I'm all to liable to fall into still.

-Blubber by Judy Blume
Why: Judy Blume is the Queen of YA. The first wave would never have broken quite as hard without her books. As a teenager, I didn't read most of the Blume classics. I read Summer Sisters, her comeback, for adults title while I was in high school, but I haven't read any Blume since then. This one's a short fix, so I should be able to get to it in an afternoon. Mean girl politics, especially those at a pre-teen age, are nothing like what you commonly see on television now.

Okay... fingers crossed that I stay with this one. I'll be making periodic updates to my progress. If you're interested in joining the challenge, check out Booking Mama for more information.


Julie P. said...

YAY! Thanks for joining us. I love your list, but I think I've been saying that to everyone! There are so many wonderful books to read for this challenge. I hope you have fun!

Erica B said...

ooh, what were the two books that were influenced by summer of my german soldier?

the heart is a lonely reader said...

Supposedly influenced or inspired:
What I Saw and How I Lied by Judi Blundell
A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

Having not read Summer of My German Soldier, I don't know how apt these comparisons are.