Harper Lee: Watchman, the Sequel That Took 50 Years

For years, Harper Lee’s book To Kill a Mockingbird had been her only published work. Yesterday that all changed. Harper Lee announced a sequel to her no-longer one hit wonder, To Kill a Mockingbird called Go Set a Watchman.

In a previous post we explored how popular Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is. When Facebook compiled a popular status update, where people listed their top 10 favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird was number one.

This is the version I remember reading in high school.

So what does this actually mean, for you, the potential reader? Well, a few things.

Why I Thought Middle School Was a Nefarious Ploy to Abandon Children in the Wild

I read a lot as a kid. As I was entering junior high school, I had already finished all of the Goosebumps series of books and moved onto R.L. Stine’s Fear Street novels.

Beyond the watered-down horror, I had also finished all of the Choose Your Own Adventure books (reading through every adventure option, of course) at my local library, along with a handful of classics like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, James and the Giant Peach, Charlotte’s Web, Black Beauty, and a whole slew of other books.

I read, and I read a lot, and I read for fun. When I entered junior high, the horror, fantasy, adventure, and whimsy all made way for a series of books about children stranded on islands and having to survive without adults.

Sounds fun, right?

Except, why now? I would ask myself. Why would we have to read three novels in a row with survival without adults as the central theme?

Is There Such A Thing As “The Great American Novel”?

I used to joke a lot about the “great American novel,” about how I’d like to write it. This was when I was younger and still thought such a thing existed.

Growing up, I read books like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, and Catcher in the Rye without even fully understanding them, but for their greatness. The fact that we still read them at all was a testament to that. And later, in college, the reading lists in my American Lit courses grew even denser and long. I read Maya Angelou, Sandra Cisneros, Junot Diaz—a different sort of America I’d never seen up close.

How can one book represent all of those authors’ Americas? How can they represent my own?

Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, in a recent piece called “Why Are We Obsessed With the Great American Novel?”, wrote “America isn’t one story. It’s a layered and diverse array of identities, individual and collective, forged on contradictory realities that are imbued with and denied privilege and power.” In Strayed’s opinion, the “great American novel” is a collection of stories and voices, not just one shining emblem.

The Hobbit Movies: Adaptation Gone Mad or A Work of Art?

Part 3 of The Hobbit trilogy has finally come and practically gone, and I have to admit, I didn’t go and see it.

I’m a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, I’ve read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, his translation of Beowulf, and some of his criticisms, but I just didn’t have a strong desire to watch The Hobbit‘s final installment.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” One of the best opening lines to any children’s book.

While I’m not one that hates movie adaptations if they aren’t 100% true to the book, I feel that The Hobbit films suffered from overindulgence, or, that is to say, the movies really became more about Peter Jackson’s vision than the story itself.

I did see Part 1 and Part 2 of the trilogy, and I was underwhelmed. While the visual effects were fun, the story relied far too heavily on them and, at times, felt extremely long and drawn out for no other reason than to add more digital effects.


Missy Lacock, fellow writer in this blog, is more forgiving than I am of the adaptation of The Hobbit into three movies:

National Readathon Day January 24th, 2015

The National Book Foundation, Penguin Random House, Goodreads, and Mashable would like to invite you all to read. It’s as simple as that. This Saturday, January 24th, 2015, at noon, people are encouraged to pick up a book (or two) and read for four hours.

The goal is not just to read, but to raise the literacy levels of the nation. Teachers, librarians, bookshop owners, and bloggers (like us!) are encouraged to spread the word and get people reading. You can do your part by sharing this information with friends, family, and coworkers over social media, but there’s also more you can do to help literacy levels in America.

There is also a fundraising aspect of this readathon. The National Book Foundation has formed a page over at to help raise money to:

…expand the audience for literature in America. Through programs like BookUp, our afterschool reading program; 5 Under 35, our annual award celebrating young writers; the Innovations in Reading Prize, which recognizes programs and individuals doing remarkable work in ther service of literature; and the National Book Awards, we strive to ensure Americans of all ages and backgrounds can attain and engage with literature in a meaningful way.


Book Covers: Do They Matter?

While reading an article about self-publishing, I happened to stumble upon this fact about book covers:

“75% of 300 booksellers reviewed (half from independent bookstores and half from chains) recognized the look and design of the book cover as the most important part. They agreed the jacket is prime real estate for promoting a book.”

I struggle with this, because, to me, I fundamentally disagree that the cover is the “most important part” of a book, but on a marketing level, I supposed I understand. When I go into a bookstore or search shelves virtually on Amazon, I generally already have an idea of what I’m looking for. It’s either a text that my teacher assigned, a sequel to a novel I’ve been obsessing over, or perhaps something entirely new. But even when I purchase something new, the first thing I do is grab the book, turn it over, and read the description. I don’t see a pretty picture of a bird or flower on the cover, or maybe even a woman, whose back is mysteriously facing me, as is so common in chick-lit these days, and automatically decide the book is for me. But maybe there are readers who do.

In fact, I’m sure they do. As Smashwords founder, Mark Coker, points out in a recent article from The Huffington Post:

“Our brains are wired to process images faster than words. When we see an image, it makes us feel something.”

Or as Naomi Blackburn, top Goodreads reviewer, states in the same article:

“If the cover seems to be nothing more than a catalog photograph with block lettering, I bypass it. If the author didn’t care enough to dedicate time/effort to their cover, I wonder how much time they put into the book itself.”

To be fair, an author might give away the responsibility of cover design when they choose to work with a publisher. If you ever plan on writing your own book or working in publishing, here are a few things to keep in mind during the design process.

For one, it’s important that the cover doesn’t give away too much.

…like the ending.
…like the ending.

It’s also important that your cover doesn’t give readers nightmares.

90 percent of dolls in America are victims of abuse.
90 percent of dolls in America are victims of abuse.
Is the child somehow involved in this? Do we really want to know?
Is the child somehow involved in this? Do we really want to know?


2015: A Moviegoers Guide to Book-Based Movies in January and February

There are two kinds of people in the world: those that prefer to read the book before they watch the movie or those that prefer to watch the movie and then maybe, when they find time, read the book. Whichever kind of person you are, this list of book-based movies can give you the opportunity to either read ahead for the upcoming year or to put these books away and enjoy them in 2016.

Out January 16th, Still Alice

Lisa Genova writes a compelling story Alice Howland, a mother and scholar, and her early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The movie stars Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth, and Kristen Stewart.


Out January 23rd, The Mortdecai Trilogy

Kyril Bonfiglioli originally wrote this black comedy in the 1970s about Charlie Mortdecai, an art dealer with ties to the London underground. In total there are four complete books and one incomplete novel. The movie stars Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ewan McGregor.


Goodreads Challenge 2015

Last year I pledged that I would read 100 books in 2014 on Goodreads. How’d I do?

Well, okay, I guess.

Percentage wise, I failed. But, when it comes to reading books, everybody wins! Plus, reading 53 books in a year is nothing to turn one’s nose at. In other words, I didn’t reach my goal, but I’m pretty happy with where I ended up.

Missy Lacock, one of our writers, read 10 of her pledged 25 books. But, being a grad student, she has a good excuse.

How’d Melanie Figueroa, co-creator and editor of this blog do?

That’s not so bad.

All in all, 2014 was a good year for books. According to Goodreads, at least.

That's a lot of reading.
That’s a lot of reading.

So how does it look for 2015?

How Tumblr Helped One Author Get Published

Last Friday, Publisher’s Weekly published an article called “What Tumblr Taught Me About Writing.” The article was written by Tim Manley, a writer who, after being accepted into two MFA programs in New York, decided not to enroll. Manley also decided to quit his job teaching a ninth-grade humanities class. That summer, Manley started a Tumblr called “Fairy Tales for Twenty-Somethings,” and by November, “Fairy Tales for Twenty-Somethings” had gone viral. The Tumblr gained the attention of a literary agent, who helped Manley turn the blog into a book, Alice in Tumbler-land, which was sold to Penguin that January. His story and appreciation to his fans is depicted in the comic strip below.


(Credit: Fairy Tales for Twenty-Somethings)
(Credit: Fairy Tales for Twenty-Somethings)


J.K. Rowling: A Draco Tale

If you’re a fan of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, then you probably already know that her interactive site, Pottermore.Com, had a special Christmas present for all the Draco Malfoy fans out there. In Chapter 27, The Lightening-Struck Tower of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, if you click on Draco Malfoy this description pops up:

Draco Malfoy is a Hogwarts student with white-blond hair, cold grey eyes and a pale, pointed face. A Slytherin whose family has been linked to the Dark Arts, Draco often taunts Harry and his friends.

Under this simplified biography, a new story has been posted by J.K. Rowling that gives readers more insight into this pensive, pale, and often times pestilent adversary of Harry Potter’s.

While I won’t give away any spoilers about the story for those that haven’t read it and intend to, I will talk about J.K. Rowling’s comments on why she wrote the story and who the story was intended for. Rowling wanted to give more depth the boy that was the bully of the series.