Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Absolutely, Positively Not . . . by David LaRochelle (4 of 5 stars)

This is a new book about a theme that has become increasingly prevalent among YA novels. The protagonist, 16-year-old Steven, is a regular midwestern kid who hides a major secret from everyone, especially himself. He must deal with this reality and find out once and for all if it is true or just a "passing phase" as his mother says. Steven doesn't want to accept this possible truth about himself, but he can't hide his feelings much longer.

I liked the voice of the author very much. He seemed authentically 16 and confused, and he presented well the universal insecurities every young man feels (including myself, all those years ago) even when he wasn't discussing the "big secret."

I recommend Absolutely, Positively Not . . . even if you're definitely not. It is also well regarded by several popular book review journals.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Hi Folks!

Welcome back to school! Stop by the library and say hello, as long as it's a week I am in the building.

I recently read an excerpt from a conference called The Aspen Ideas Festival that gathered leaders in many disciplines and asked them to expound upon subjects across a broad range of topics and interests. The comment that caught my attention was from Bill Joy, cofounder of tech giant Sun Microsystems. Mr. Joy was asked about the educational value of the online communities and creations resulting from Internet gaming, communication, and creation/maintenance of personal pages. His response was stunning and right on target: He dismissed them as a dilution of the overall quality of the media.

Mr. Joy's point was unmistakable: "This all . . . sounds like a gigantic waste of time," he said. He added that users are "fooling themselves if they think they are being creative in these spaces." Mr. Joy explained that real, sophisticated creativity is not granted by one's "buddies," online or in person; it is the result of hard work, dedication, education, and training. Now that anyone can publish, Joy stated, the quality of all publications is diminished. When fewer people understand the nature of true quality, taught and earned through extended experience and exposure, all art suffers.

The measure of quality in layout, graphics, poetry, and musical taste found on someone's myspace.com site does not necessarily matter in the grand scheme of things, nor should a lack of training prevent someone from creating a site if one desires a hobby. However, writing one's feelings about Kurt Cobain and Diddy does not make one a music critic; a degree in English or Communications does. That does not mean young people should not write about what pleases them. Just remember that even the greatest geniuses in history needed education and/or training to become great in the eyes of their expert peers. If you have a skill, foster it in school; share your work with teachers or librarians; try to get informed opinions about your work so you can become better (any peer can say your work is great, but what does that do for your skill level?). Consider your efforts with technology a beginning, not an end in themselves. You may become a great video game designer, graphic artist, or webmaster, but you probably need more seasoning before the world is ready for you.

Bill Joy said our society is "amusing itself to death" with too many bad media choices. I do not go that far; I believe the Internet is a lot like digital cable. There are too many choices, and most of them are junk, but some are worthwhile and valuable. The trick is to not watch bad sitcoms all of the time (the equivalent of amateur writing or designing) and to make sure you catch a bit of PBS or CNN (our databases or other expert-recommended websites) whenever you watch. If all that you read is what your amateur peers have done, how will you recognize and appreciate the nuances of professional art?