Awesome book cover Friday: Maps and Legends

Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends sounds like the perfect book for me.

From Amazon:

Michael Chabon’s sparkling first book of nonfiction is a love song in 16 parts — a series of linked essays in praise of reading and writing, with subjects running from ghost stories to comic books, Sherlock Holmes to Cormac McCarthy. Throughout, Chabon energetically argues for a return to the thrilling, chilling origins of storytelling, rejecting the false walls around “serious” literature in favor of a wide-ranging affection. His own fiction, meanwhile, is explored from the perspective of personal history: post-collegiate desperation sparks his debut, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh; procrastination and doubt reveal the way toward Wonder Boys; a love of comics and a basement golem combine to create the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay; and an enigmatic Yiddish phrasebook unfurls into The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.

Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon

Not only are the colors lush and beautiful, but look at all the detail and personality that went into the cover! The design reminds me more of a comic than a traditional book because it’s 1) illustrated and 2) finely detailed. I see way too many book covers that are just boring snapshots of people sitting or walking or looking lustily at someone.

Do you think the book world could use more imaginative covers?

Michael Chabon

J.K. Rowling trades stories about children in wizards’ hats for a more adult read

As one chapter closes, another begins.

That’s currently the reality for J.K. Rowling, only she has seven full-length novels and three supplemental books to her name—and many, many chapters.

With Harry Potter put to bed (and Pottermore open for its loyal fans)*, the forty-six-year-old British author is now concentrating on fresh material. Whatever it is, it’s not for kids. Rowling recently finalized a deal with Little, Brown to publish an adult book, confirming her departure from Bloomsbury in the UK and Scholastic in the U.S.

“Although I’ve enjoyed writing it every bit as much, my next book will be very different to the Harry Potter series … The freedom to explore new territory is a gift that Harry’s success has brought me, and with that new territory it seemed a logical progression to have a new publisher. I am delighted to have a second publishing home in Little, Brown, and a publishing team that will be a great partner in this new phase of my writing life.”

According to GalleyCat, David Shelley of Little, Brown Book Group will edit and publish for UK readers, while Little, Brown and Company executive vice president Michael Pietsch will handle publication in the United States.

With Rowling’s proven success with series books, we could be looking at another expanded story, much like the seven-part Harry Potter, which spanned ten years. By now, many of her massive following of readers have entered adulthood. She’ll be writing for them as much as she will a new audience. Rowling hinted on Twitter that the book could release as early as this year.

Do you think the change in publisher is a smart move? Would adults be interested in a multiple-book series from Rowling, or should the author focus on solo novels?

*If you’re wondering, Pottermore will start selling Harry Potter e-books through its website sometime this year, delayed from last fall.

PS: For those of you who like HP and cool bookmarks …

… check out these awesome creations by bethydesigns, PaintedByRenee, and Bogies.

The Darkening Dream and other books I’ve added recently

These are the books that have made it onto my wishlist recently—and the bloggers/websites that recommended them.

What I’ve added:

The Darkening Dream by Andy Gavin [via Novel Publicity]

This is a big deal. I’m talking the kind of magical book that turns a bad day (computer problems, ugh) into a fabulous one. Why is it so incredible? Because it was written by one of my favorite video game professionals, Andy Gavin. If you don’t know, I’m a huge video game fan (I even write about them occasionally). Andy founded Naughty Dog (my all-time favorite developer) and created the Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter series under that company—and yes, they’re two of my all-time most beloved games. So yeah, Gavin writing a book is an unmissable event for me.

I actually bought this right away, so expect a review in the near future.

Just an FYI, the Kindle edition is $3 right now. Although the hardcover is gorgeous, as you can see.

on Amazon

The Man in the Empty Boat by Mark Salzman [via eBookNewser]

Memoirs are definitely a genre I want to read more of, and I love anything psychological—probably because the mind is crazy fascinating.

on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Self-Help by Lorrie Moore [via Books and Bowel Movements]

I want to read this one because of Cassie’s glowing review: “I don’t even know really how to describe Lorrie Moore’s writing because it’s just fascinating to look at.  She uses metaphors like everything can be related to everything. ” Plus, exposure to a new author never hurts.

on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon [via The Literary Mom]

It comes highly recommended by Amy Marie, who offers great writing tips over at her blog, so I’m on board.

on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Unwind by Neal Schusterman [via The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say “Shhh”]

If a librarian gives it an A, you know it’s good. I’m interested in expanding my YA horizons. Love the genre.

on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

What I’m reading now:

Just finished reviewing a book for Kirkus Indie (sorry, can’t disclose any info per my agreement), and now I’m getting ready to start a review copy sent over from Titan Books and also The Night Circus, which I picked up from the library last Thursday. So look out for a review of both of those latter two.

Goodreads member? Friend me!

What books are on your radar?

A return to the library that was long overdue

Yesterday I did something I haven’t done in a long time: registered for a library card.

I know, I’m terrible! How could I have loved books all these years and not frequented libraries?

I confess, I’ve always liked the atmosphere of a bookstore more, a place where you can sit down with a pristine copy of a new release and order an overpriced coffee in a building that seems to be entirely constructed of books. Exaggerations aside, they look nice (check out these beautiful bookstores), smell good, and have an overwhelming selection.

Maybe it differs where you live, but libraries near me are small and kind of dinky. And at college no one hung out at libraries for fun (that’s some sort of unwritten rule). Now I’m all for the idea behind libraries (why can’t we have free and considerate borrowing services for everything else?), and I think being a librarian is one of the best professions out there, but I’ve always associated libraries with hush-hush quiet, those ugly plastic book jackets, unavailability, waiting lists, etc. And I’m facing those problems at my local library now.

But I owned a library card long ago (seriously, it’s been floating around my Mom’s wallet since I was a kid), and I think it’s about time I had one again. At least the years were kind (I didn’t amass any forgotten late fees).

I met a wonderful elderly lady who helped me sign out my card, check out a book, and reserve a couple more. She was delightful to talk with and is my favorite person there already, and seeing a friendly face goes a long way in welcoming me and other patrons.

They now offer e-books, which makes acquiring hot titles a lot easier, and the nice librarian also told me that they also host programs now and then, a feature that makes the library experience sound active and involved as opposed to quiet and snooty.

And oh—it was busy. That’s a word people hardly associate with libraries: “busy.” It was great and very expectation-breaking.

I still prefer shopping at a bookstore, mainly because of the inventory, but I’m happy to support something that’s much more engaged in literacy than bookstores are. When it comes down to it, bookstores want your business. Yes, they can have attractive atmospheres and decor, loyalty discounts and exciting events, but they don’t have the positive energy and encouragement that libraries do: Libraries just want to share the love of reading with you, your children, your friends and family. Stopping by there was a much more personable and interactive experience than visiting a bookstore normally is.

That’s more than enough to bring me back again.

Are you a library person? What’s your favorite thing about them?

Happy 200th birthday, Charles Dickens!

Google and the book world are celebrating Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday today. Why not honor the literary great by reading one of his classics? He’s written fiction, non-fiction, short stories, and even a play (No Thoroughfare, a collaboration with detective novelist Wilkie Collins). And hey, many of them are free for Kindle (and priced low for Nook)!

English Victorian author Charles John Huffman Dickens lived from 1812–1870 and was born on February 7 in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England (now the Dickens Birthplace Museum). Often considered a spokesman for the poor, Dickens is famously remembered for his characters and his contemporary depictions of social classes, mores, and values. Critic and author Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who wrote several introductions for the author, described him as “the voice in England of this humane intoxication and expansion, this encouraging of anybody to be anything.”

His first book, a collection of stories, was titled Sketches by Boz (“Boz” was his pseudonym) and published in 1836. He and his wife Catherine Hogarth welcomed ten children to the family—that’s ten little Dickens running around. Charles was busy at the desk and in the bedroom.

He later left Catherine for actress Ellen Ternan, whom he met while performing in Collins’ The Frozen Deep. “The good, the gentle, high-gifted, ever-friendly, noble Dickens—every inch of him an honest man,” the Scottish historian and author Thomas Carlyle called him upon hearing of Dickens’ passing—but not so much for the marriage bonds.

For a full bibliography of Dickens’ works and a biography of the author, visit The Literature Network.

Cassie at the blog Books and Bowel Movements shared a link to an article about how college students who grew up reading Harry Potter are more prepared for classic literature, especially works by Dickens.

Blogger Caorthine wished Dickens a happy birthday today, too. And Literary Wonderland sent him a birthday letter.

Love Dickens? Feel free to drop a link to your happy birthday post or share a memory of reading his books in the comments.

Save the Cat and other books I’ve added recently

And the bloggers that recommended them to me:

What I’m reading now:

Goodreads member? Friend me!

What books are on your radar?

Proud of Pittsburgh literacy

According to Central Connecticut State University findings, my home city of Pittsburgh ranks sixth in literacy out of seventy-five top U.S. cities—falling behind Washington (#1), Seattle, Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Boston (#5). That ranking is down from 2010 and 2009, when it placed fifth and fourth, respectively, but up by half from 2008.

Photo from the Big Idea Bookstore website.

I’m so proud of Pittsburgh, especially considering how a lot of chain bookstores are closing down in the area, a trend that might mean another drop in reading. But there are still plenty of good venues for books:

How does your nearest city measure up? Have you participated in any literary events in your area?

Updated 2/7/2012.

Tall, Dark & Dead and other books I’ve added recently

And the blogs that recommended them to me:

What I’m reading now:

Hope I didn’t miss any! You can keep track of all updates to my reading list by following me on Goodreads or monitoring the widget in my sidebar.

What cool books have caught your eye recently?

Do you consider yourself a fast reader?

I’ve always wondered about the statistics of fast and slow readers and what defines each as such. I consider myself somewhere in between: I place higher on the reading scale than most, but I also like to absorb the material, stopping to check words in the dictionary or jot down notes. Studies have shown that speed readers retain less information than those who take their time, so is it better to be a fast reader or a slow one—and what do those labels boil down to?

According to an article published by Slate, college-level readers read—not skim—at 300 wpm on average, and few people (if any) read faster than 400. The average person reads non-technical material at 200-250 wpm.

If you love to read, you love to read. But are you a slow reader if you take weeks to complete a book? Many would impulsively answer “yes,” but what if that person only read a day or two a week for a small amount of time (say a half-hour or an hour)? Would that person still be classified as a slow reader? Do busy schedules or tiredness (from work or school, for example) change how we evaluate someone’s reading speed? A weary reader might read at a crawl and even repeat passages for comprehension, and apparently 79% of Americans prefer to read in bed—inducing sleepiness, no doubt.

Yes, some people can consume books at a rapid clip, but are they cramming reading into every free second of the day or are they just obscenely good? I knew a girl in high school who scoffed at someone (a not so bright cheerleader, but still) who admitted to taking longer than a week to read a book—but the girl who was criticizing her could be spotted cracking a book in between classes, at lunch, and probably every other spare moment of the day. Some read on the job, when workflow is at a standstill. And it’s worth asking whether these people are willing to sacrifice understanding and speed for status. It’s easy to be impressed with readers who down books like water. I’m not one of those people. I can’t go through books like wildfire. Sometimes I wish I could, but then I wonder—is it worth it?

What do you think? In all frankness, would you call yourself a fast or slow reader, and does that affect how many books you read in a year? Does reading speed even matter outside of the classroom?

Does encouraging children to read require a positive environment?

From now through February 7, all UK McDonald’s locations are replacing toys with books in Happy Meals—for a limited time only.

The campaign started last week. According to the UK nonprofit National Literacy Trust, nearly a third of children in the country do not own a book. McDonald’s, in partnership with HarperCollins and the NLT, are hoping to change this statistic by packaging 9,000,000 copies of the Mudpuddle Farm book series (by author Michael Morpurgo) in the popular kids’ meals. Each book comes with a finger puppet “to help parents bring the stories to life for their children.”

This news makes me wonder about American families and how they instill a love of reading in their children. It’s not easy to admit, but I wasn’t always a reader. For me, it wasn’t access to a book that was the problem—putting a book in a Happy Meal wouldn’t have magically transformed me into a bookworm. For me it was my family environment. From what I could see as a child, reading wasn’t a big priority in my family—especially not when compared to the families of some people I know now, who have shelves and shelves lined with books in their living rooms. Sure, I read some books in my youth (my Mom always let me pick out a few books I wanted from the school book fair), and my family owned others. My parents even read to me a little. But my love of reading was stunted because no one in my household treated books like member of the family. They weren’t really a part of the conversation.

Even though I’m the only one in my family who doesn’t like football (seriously, where did I come from?), TV was still the way we bonded. And while I can read in a noisy setting, I definitely cannot read with the television on. At all. My eyes go straight to the screen as soon as I give in to that first glance of curiosity. I need absolute peace and quiet to read at my best, and that means sequestering myself away in my room.

Now that I’m grown up, I have a better idea of how much and often my family members read. It’s more than I thought when I was younger, but combined the number of books they read in a year is still relatively low.

What do you think? Is coveted access to books, like the movie Matilda suggests, all it takes to create a reader among non-readers? Which wins out: nurture (an encouraged passion for books) or nature (one’s inherent literary inclination)? I suppose for me it was a bit of both: I went to college and studied literature, but I also found ways to nourish my fondness for reading and writing throughout my childhood and adolescence. It just didn’t blossom as fully as it could have if my situation had been different.

Thanks to e-readers like the Kindle and Nook, reading is on the rise in a country that still doesn’t read very much as a whole. To give you an overview:

  • According to a 2003 survey conducted by The Jenkins Group, 80% of US families did not buy or read a book in 2002. This sounds a little outrageous, but the numbers have been repeated by newspapers and other sources.
  • A 2007 article published by The Guardian claims a quarter of adults read no books in 2006.
  • Time reported in early 2009 that almost 16.6 million more people picked up a book since the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2002 census. 47% of US adults read fiction in their spare time in 2008.
  • And an article posted in the fall of last year confirmed that 16% of Americans read between 11 and 20 books per year.
  • The Harris Poll reports that one in six Americans use an e-reader (a fast-growing statistic), with one in six likely to make a purchase in the next six months.

Readers in America are a minority, and as of yet there’s no hard data that tells how many people today read and finish the books they start—or how many “trendy” e-reader users actually use the device in earnest.