ABEA: Going Beyond

The third day of Armchair BEA is all about going beyond paper-and-words books (and also about talking about books beyond the blog). | NewberyandBeyond.com

Today, the third day of Armchair BEA, brings with it the prompts of beyond the books and beyond the blog. It’s only in recent years that I have started going “beyond the books” and looking for different kinds of books than just the paper-and-words kind. I posted here about my very first experiences with graphic novels, comic books, and audiobooks. I have to say, I was reluctant to branch out at first, but now I really enjoy graphic novels, and a good audiobook keeps me from going crazy when I’m stuck in traffic. (Comic books, however, I’m still on the edge about. Got any suggestions of what I should read to make me love them?) I love that these other book formats expand the reading experience. When I was a kid, I loved those books that had little pieces (like letters or programs or other paper trinkets) that came out of the book. I’d love to find a book like that for adults! It just adds another level to your reading when you’re experiencing more than just words on a page.

In terms of going beyond the blog, I constantly talk about books outside of my blog. My husband bears the brunt of this book chatter (he knows the basic plot and/or failings of nearly every book I read), but my sister (an occasional guest blogger on N&B) and a few bookish IRL friends are always up for a book discussion. I’ve tried book clubs, both in person and online, and nothing seems to stick. But I keep my Goodreads updated and participate with a few groups there, so I kind of think of that as my virtual book club. Maybe one day I’ll find my perfect book club!

How do you go beyond the book (or beyond the blog)?

ABEA: Aesthetics in Books and Blogs

A quick discussion of aesthetics in books and blogs (aka judging a book by its cover). | NewberyandBeyond.com

Today’s Armchair BEA prompt is about aesthetics in books and blogs. In other words, I’m getting ready to judge books by their covers! I’d like to say that never happens, but if I’m honest, a poorly designed cover (or an overly simple one) will definitely keep me from picking up a book. Fortunately, I pick most books based on reviews from other bloggers, so I’ll often request a book from the library or buy it for my Kindle before I ever see the cover.

Part of this prompt asks, “How often are you surprised by what you find?” and I have to say, for the most part, covers are a decent indicator of the quality of the book. I read and review a lot of ARCs and books by self-publishing authors, and I’ve found that if time and effort (and probably money) has been put into the cover design, the same can probably be said for the book itself. If the cover is gimmicky or just has the title and author’s name, there are likely to be some serious flaws inside. (That said, I have been surprised in the past by books with terrible graphics on the cover that were actually well written and entertaining.)

Really though, when it comes down to it, I don’t much care if the cover art matches the story inside perfectly. It’s nice when it does, but as long as the cover looks pretty and the story is well written, I’ll be happy.

In terms of my own blog branding, I have to admit I’ve been a little haphazard. (Long-time readers will remember the various styles of photos I’ve used over the past few years!) I’m not much of a photographer, so I’ve finally settled on trying to take pictures of the physical books I read and review and buying a bundle of stock photos that I love. I try for simple, clear, well-lit photos (generally nature-themed) with typewriter-esque text on top. I know my blog itself could use an update, but I’ve yet to make the leap to a specialized theme. One day! In terms of my reviews, I’ve been a little more consistent. I tend to write the same way I talk, so sometimes that means using long, college-y words and sometimes that means incoherent fangirling. (I try to keep it real.)

Do you judge books by their covers? What’s your take on blog branding? Leave your thoughts or a link to your post in the comments!

Are There Too Many World War Two Books?

There is a glut of WWII books available for every age group. But how many are too many? Let's discuss. | NewberyandBeyond.com

If you’ve been with me on this blog for any amount of time, you probably know that I love a good World War Two novel. Many of my favorite books from the past three years have been WWII historical fiction: Code Name VerityTo Say Nothing of the DogLife After Life, and Blackout and All Clear. Schindler’s List was a fascinating example of nonfiction about this era, and I very much enjoyed it as well.

I grew up reading books like The Book Thief, Number the Stars, The Upstairs Room, and The Hiding Place, but it wasn’t until I saw the 2016 Newbery books that I started to question the number of WWII books that have flooded my bookshelves. Two of the four books (Echo and The War that Saved My Life) are set, at least partly, during the time period of World War Two. As best I can figure, only seven of the previous Newbery books have been set during WWII, and with the popularity of recent books such as All the Light We Cannot See and The Nightingale (both of which are, I believe, currently on the NYT bestseller list), I’ve started wondering–do we have too many World War Two books?

I’ve often thought about the pull that we feel toward WWII and Holocaust stories. I think part of the draw is the very clear distinction between good and evil. It’s rare in real life to have a person or group of people that almost all readers will agree were in the wrong, and not just misguided but truly evil. WWII books make it easy to know who to root for, and this makes the reversal–books written from the perspective of Nazis–even more effective.

Another reason, I think, that these books are so popular is that World War Two is still very recent. It is fresh in our collective memory; there are still many people alive who witnessed the events of this time period firsthand. We are still making sense of something that was totally senseless, and our books are an important part of that. And maybe, to some extent, we are trying to discover how we can avoid another war like this. With the threat of war constantly looming around the world, maybe we’re looking for clues from the past to help us avoid repeating these events in the future.

But then again, maybe we’re just looking for a good story. The dramatic backdrop of worldwide war and horrific concentration camps offers a compelling setting for almost any type of story, whether it’s a thriller, mystery, coming of age story, time travel, or literary narrative. Even books that I found enjoyable but forgettable, such as The Sweetness or The Mine, are more memorable just because of their setting. It’s an easy way to catch our attention as readers, to signal that there is something important in this story, higher stakes than your average [fill in the blank] story.

Will I ever give up on WWII books? It’s not likely. Flygirl, A God in Ruins, and The Men with the Pink Triangle are still on my TBR list, and I am looking forward to reading the newest set of Newbery books. I sometimes wonder if writers have plumbed the depths of World War Two and Holocaust events so deeply that there is nothing new to say about them, and I have in fact read some WWII books that were derivative and boring. But then I pick up a book like Code Name Verity or Life After Life, and I realize that there are still fresh ways to look at this horrifying time period, something that will make me laugh and cry and feel more connected to humanity. And maybe that’s the best way to redeem such horrible events–to never forget them, but to use them as a catalyst for creating bonds with the rest of humanity.

Do you think authors have written too many WWII books lately? Let’s discuss!

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