Overused Book Titles

In addition to writing, I work in a public library. This gives me an opportunity to notice when certain book titles have been overused. Looking for a book called The Gift, because your friend recommended it, but you can’t remember the author? Okay, well, sure. No problem. None at all. Let’s spend the next twenty minutes reading through the descriptions of the sixteen different books we have with that title in an effort to figure out which one it is. Authors and publishers, consider yourselves put on notice. I will actively discourage readers from any new book titled The Gift.

Here are more titles on my list for recommended retirement:

Twilight – Did you know about a dozen authors thought of using this before Stephenie Meyer? Time to let it fade into darkness.

On Thin Ice – Don’t go there; too many writers already have.

Redemption – This title is beyond itself

Forever – Which is how long it will take to narrow down the search to the one you’re seeking, if you don’t remember the author’s name.

The Return – It keeps coming back into the publishing world.

Reunion – Publishers keep revisiting this title, too.

The Search – Didn’t go far enough for an original name.

The Secret – It’s enigmatic why you’d want to have your book confused with so many others of the same title.

Sanctuary – It can blend in with the crowd and never be found.

The Island – Where overused book titles go for sanctuary.

In Too Deep – But if you can find your way out, maybe you can build a new title for yourself.

Is it a Scandinavian Thing?

I finally read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. So, I’m a little late to the party. I liked the book; I plan to read the next two. I don’t feel compelled to write any kind of review. Considering the book’s lingering status as an international bestseller, I think it’s been reviewed plenty.

I did come away from the reading with a nagging question. Is it a Scandinavian thing or just a Larsson thing? I’m talking about the author’s need to inform us readers of the exact square footage of every room and building mentioned in the story, along with the engineering specs of every computer used by any character. I know specific is supposed to be better than general when it comes to writing. “Humvee” is better than “really big vehicle.”  “PowerBook” is better than “laptop”. It allows the reader to visualize the scene better. But do we need to know the date of manufacture, size of the screen, hard drive capacity, processing speed, and whether the keyboard is backlit?

I find this more amusing than annoying. My computer jock spouse (he of German ancestry) would likely consider the paragraphs describing the computers as the most important information in the story. But I can’t help wondering if this is a literary tic – all writers have them – or a cultural thing. I haven’t read much Scandinavian fiction, so I can’t compare. Maybe it’s time to broaden my horizons and perhaps find the answer to my question.

Book List: Coming of Age Books

Update:  After reading The Hunger Games, I had to add it. Scroll down for a short description.

Here’s a list that could go on and on and on, kind of like adolescence for some people. I decided it was long enough when I got tired of finding new titles for it. Most are novels, but I’ve added some nonfiction titles, as well, mostly as an excuse to be able to included one of my favorites: Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.


After Tupac and D Foster
Jaqueline Woodson, 2008
Young adult novel focusing on the lives of three girls bonding over the music of Tupac Shakur in 1990s New York.

Alice, I Think
Susan Juby, 2003
Fictional diary of Alice, a teen with  hippy parents. She is trying to find her place in the world, with the assistance of adults who seem to need a bit of help themselves.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Michael Chabon
Winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Two cousins team up to create comic book adventures, fighting their own version of WWII on paper.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
Judy Blume, 1970
Recently (April, 2010) re-released in its approximately 3,000th print run, Blume’s  book explores the age-old question: If there is a god, why doesn’t he or she give girls the breasts they want when they want them. Could it be so hard? Okay, it’s a little deeper than that.

Sharon Flake, 2005
In this YA title, an inner city boy is left in the woods to survive on his own, his father’s effort to toughen him up in hopes he’ll be able to survive the violent environment that has already claimed the life of his brother.

Beasts of No Nation
Uzodinma Iweala, 2005
The story of an African (no country is named) boy’s involvement with a group of guerilla fighters during his country’s civil war.

Bee Season
Myla Goldberg  , 2001
A girl’s unexpected spelling bee success causes equally unexpected consequences for her family.

Black Swan Green
David Mitchell, 2007
I’ve read this one and it’s quite well-written. The protagonist is a 13-year-old British boy who is struggling with a stutter, his parents’ dissolving marriage & the anguish of being 13. Mitchell captures perfectly the depth of the agony inherent in the every-minute decisions of adolescence that can make or break your standing with the peer group. The wrong choice of facial expressions, wrong choice of words, wrong poster on your wall, can lead to the worst sort of shunning and torment. But there is profound growth and insight as well.

Blind Sighted
Peter Moore, 2002
A high school misfit lands a job as a reader for a blind young woman. Insights ensue.

Blue Boy
Rakesh Satyal, 2009
12-year-old Indian-American, Kiran, is the 10th reincarnation of Krishnaji. Isn’t he? He believes he must be. Why else would his skin be turning blue?

The Bone Collector’s Son
Paul Yee, 2004
Set in early 20th-century Vancouver, Canada, the story of a boy who must deal with the facts of his father’s unpleasant profession, the ghosts who haunt his employer’s house, and the racism directed at Chinese immigrants.

Bringing the Boy Home
N.A. Nelson, 2008
Two boys from a fictional Amazonian tribe prepare for their coming 13th birthdays, and the accompanying ritual/survival test. One of the boys has been adopted and raised by an American.

The Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger, 1951
You’ve probably heard of it. 16-year-old Holden Caulfield’s three days in New York.

The Chosen One
Carol Lynch Williams, 2009
Teenaged life in a polygamous cult. The protagonist is a 13-year-old girl chosen to marry her 60-year-old uncle. Eww.

Edenville Owls
Robert B. Parker, 2007
The noted crime writer turns to YA writing here. The Owls are a high school basketball team. Basketball, courtship, and a mystery surrounding a teacher, in post WWII America.

An Egg on Three Sticks
Jackie Fischer, 2004
San Francisco in the early 70s with a mentally ill mother.

Farewell Babylon: Coming of Age in Jewish Baghdad
Naim Kattan, trans. Sheila Fischman, 2005
Mid-19th-century Baghdad, that would be.

The Foretelling
Alice Hoffman, 2005
Coming of age in an all female tribe of Amazonian warriors.

Getting in Tune: A Novel
Roger L. Trott , 2008
Written by a former music critic, the story of a young rock band in the 1970s.

A Girl Made of Dust
Nathalie Abi-Ezzi, 2008
Coming of age near Beirut during Lebanon’s civil war.

Girls in Peril: A Novella
Karen Lee Boren, 2006
1970s Lake Michigan area, a group of girls, don’t know much more. If you’ve read it, maybe you can enlighten us.

Francine Prose , 2008
If you’re 13 years old and your older sister has recently died, it’s probably a bad idea to get involved with the sister’s boyfriend. But it sounds like a good idea for a novel.

Guitar Highway Rose
Brigid Lowry, 2003
Australian teens run away together. Poetry and guitars, hitchhiking and hippies.

Bethany Griffin, 2008
If you were inferring something from the title, you were right. A bit more risque than your average YA coming of age novel.

Have Space Suit – Will Travel
Robert A. Heinlein, 1958
I loved this book when I was about 13 (considerably later than 1958.) I wonder if I would now. I remember a boy winning a space suit in a contest , but I think there was something about a basket of money on the kitchen counter that really hooked me.

Holding My Breath
Sidura Ludwig, 2007
The story of a girl pursuing dreams of being an astronomer, while living with multiple generations of her Jewish family in Manitoba in the 1950s.

The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins, 2008
In a future dystopian North America, the one thing that remains from our culture is reality television. See, I told you it was dystopian. Two youths from each of the 12 “districts” are selected each year to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised battle to the death, with only one survivor. Participation and viewership are mandatory.  But the two teens from District 12, Katniss and Peeta, turn the games in an unprecedented direction. There are two more books in this extremely well-written trilogy: Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

In Search of Mockingbird
Loretta Ellsworth, 2007
After receiving her deceased mother’s diary, which reveals a passion for the book To Kill a Mockingbird, a 16-year-old girl hops a bus to go meet Harper Lee.

Intensely Alice
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, 2009
Part of the Alice series. She’s 17 here.

Jane Eyre
Charlotte Bronte, 1847
I can include this if I want. After all, Jane is 10 when the book begins; it’s not all her relationship with the mysterious Mr. Rochester.

Mal Peet, 2005
Fictitious interview with a fictitious world-famous goalkeeper for a World Cup championship soccer team. He recounts being taught the game by a spirit being in the rain forest.

Last Child
Michael Spooner, 2005
In 1830s North Dakota, a girl who is half Scottish, half Mandan struggles with identity, smallpox and war.

Last Dance at the Frosty Queen
Richard Allen Uhlig, 2007
A high school senior is desperate to escape his small Kansas town, circa 1988.

The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine
April Lurie, 2008
A 16-year-old boy copes with being the subject of a friend’s documentary while trying to help his falling-apart family to get a grip on itself.

Life at These Speeds
Jeremy Jackson, 2002
A high school track star copes with being the only surviving team member after his teammates die in an accident.

Lili: A Novel of Tianenmen
Annie Wang, 2001
Growing up in Beijing during the time of the famous events in Tianenmen Square.

Looking for Lucy Buick
Rita Murphy, 2005
Girl who has been raised by a family who found her in the back seat of a Buick sets off to find her biological parents.

The Lucky Place
Zu Vincent, 2008
Set in the 1950s & 60s. A girl finds her loyalties divided between her father and step-father.

Me, the Missing, and the Dead
Jenny Valentine, 2008
If you were a 16-year-old Londoner who has been accidentally left in charge of an urn of ashes, what would you think? What if your father had mysteriously disappeared? Would you start to think things, such as “The person who used to be these ashes is talking to me?” Quite possibly.

No Laughter Here
Rita Williams-Garcia, 2004
Female genital mutilation comes to Queens, New York. No laughter indeed.

On Rough Seas
Nancy Hull, 2008
In 1940, a 14-year-old British boy, feeling in need of redemption, involves himself at Dunkirk.

One Lonely Degree
C.K. Kelly Martin, 2009
Sexual assault and love triangles provide more than enough struggle for a teenager.

Roland Smith, 2008
A 14-year-old sets out to climb Mount Everest.

Sag Harbor
Colson Whitehead, 2009
Autobiographical novel. A teen spends his school year at a prep school and his summers in the African-American community of Sag Harbor.

The Sand Fish: A Novel From Dubai
Maha Gargash, 2009
In 1950s Dubai, a 17-year-old girl unsuccessfully tries to flee an arranged marriage.

Sonny’s House of Spies
George Ella Lyon, 2004
Set in post-WWII Alabama. A boy tries to solve the mystery of his father’s departure.

The Speed of Light
Ron Carlson, 2003
Two 12-year-old boys spend a summer performing scientific experiments. And if a few things get blow up in the process…

The Story Sisters: A Novel
Alice Hoffman, 2009
The three Story sisters lead tragic and magical lives. I haven’t read this, but since it’s written by Alice Hoffman, I will eventually.

Tell Me Lies
Patrick Cooper, 2007
Life in the counterculture in 1969 England.

Thicker Than Water: Coming-of-Age Stories by Irish and Irish-American Writers, 2001
12 writers, 12 stories. You know you want to read it. Who can resist Irish storytelling?

To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee, 1960
Do I really need to give a synopsis? The perfect novel. That’s my summary.

Walk Away Home
Paul Many, 2002
A teen who loves to walk, walks across the state to live with his aunt, who lives in a commune.

The Wednesday Wars
Gary D. Schmidt, 2007
Set in 1967. On Wednesday afternoons, all of 11-year-old Holling’s classmates attend either Hebrew school or catechism class. As the sole Presbyterian, he’s left alone with the teacher.

The Winter People
Joseph Bruchac, 2002
The experiences of a 14-year-old Abenaki boy during the French and Indian Wars.

Wish You Well
David Baldacci, 2007
Not one of Baldacci’s usual legal thrillers. In 1940, two children move from New York City to their great-grandmother’s farm, following the deaths of their parents.

Odo Hirsch, 2004
A boy sets out on his coming of age journey only to find himself in slavery.


Angela’s Ashes
Frank McCourt, 1996
On the first page of his memoir Frank McCourt says “People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version.”  McCourt’s version contains almost unbearable heartbreak and misery, but very little martyrdom. When you get past the heartbreaking parts, keep your hanky handy for the tears of laughter. Often the two elements mingle. A brilliantly-written book. I said up-front it’s one of my favorites.

Bat Boy: My True Life Adventures Coming of Age With the New York Yankees
Matthew McGough, 2005
Talk about getting to live your dream.

The Bitter Sea: Coming of Age in a China Before Mao
Charles N. Li, 2008
May you live in interesting times. Li has.

The Cat With the Yellow Star: Coming of Age in Terezin
Susan Goldman Rubin, 2006
A book for younger readers – middle school ageish. The story of a Jewish girl who starred as the cat in the children’s opera Brundibar, performed by children in the Terezin concentration camp.

Coming of Age in Samoa
Margaret Mead, 1928
Did Margaret Mead know what she was talking about? People are still debating.

First Darling of the Morning: Selected Memories of an Indian Childhood
Thrity Umrigar, 2004
Coming of age in Bombay in the 60s and 70s, attending Catholic school amidst a largely Hindu population.

Freddie and Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody
Mike Dawson , 2008
Freddie Mercury as role model.  Hmmmm..

How I Learned to Snap: A Small-Town Coming-Out and Coming-of-Age Story
Kirk Read, 2003
The small town would be Lexington, VA.

The Last Gentleman Adventurer: Coming of Age in the Arctic
Edward Beauclerk Maurice, 2005
A 16-year-old British youth finds himself working among the Inuit in the 1930s.

Loon: A Marine Story
Jack McLean, 2009
Experiences of a teenaged Marine in Vietnam.

Miss American Pie: A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s
Margaret Sartor, 2006
Memoir based on diary entries kept during the author’s adolescence in the deep south.

Moon Mother, Moon Daughter: Rituals and Myths That Celebrate a Girl’s Coming of Age
Janet Lucy, 2002
Synopsis is in the subtitle.

My Little Red Book
Anthology, 2009
An anthology of stories about first periods.

Nylon Road: A Graphic Memoir of Coming of Age in Iran
Parsua Bashi

Once Upon a Quincanera: Coming of Age in the United States
Julia Alvarez, 2008
An examination of the Latina 15th birthday celebration.

An Open Book: Coming of Age in the Heartland
Michael Dirda, 2003
Coming of age through reading.

Point of Departure: Nineteen Stories of Youth and Discovery
Anthology, 2005

A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Survival, Learning, and Coming of Age in Prison
R. Dwayne Betts, 2009
Sentenced as an adult at age 16, Betts grew up in prison.

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, 2003
Urban non-fiction.

Sixteen: Stories About That Sweet and Bitter Birthday
Anthology, 2004
I have this in my non-fiction list, but am not sure whether any of the stories are memoirs, or if they’re all fiction.

Snow Falling in Spring: Coming of Age in China During the Cultural Revolution
Moying Li, 2008
1960s China was not an easy place to grow up.

Thin Ice: Coming of Age in Canada
Bruce McCall, 1997
Sure, it’s easy to write a memoir if you grew up in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, or had to escape a polygamist cult. But Canadians who are bad at hockey can be interesting, too.

Things the Grandchildren Should Know
Mark Everett, 2008
What do you do if you lose your entire family in short period of time at a young age? Start an indie rock band, of course.

Writes of Passage: Coming of Age Stories and Memoirs From the Hudson Review
Anthology, 2008.
I have arbitrarily put all anthologies on my non-fiction list.

Props for Excellent Customer Service

to Kodak. I figured since I wrote at length about poor customer service with a different company, I should be fair and note when I receive excellent customer service.

I bought my teenager a Kodak Easyshare camera for her birthday several weeks ago. She uses it a lot. But one day the display was full of not much but wild psychedelic colors, and not because that’s how our house is painted. Looking at it, it seemed the lcd screen had a puncture wound of some sort, but I couldn’t be sure. The camera was still well within the warranty period, but this didn’t look like a manufacturing defect to me. It looked as if the camera had perhaps been swung from the wrist strap & hit something. My kid didn’t remember anything happening, but she is pretty active.

I called Kodak, explaining the situation. I like to think it was my honesty that paid off. I told the cs rep straight out that I thought the camera had been damaged after purchase, but wasn’t 100% sure. I asked for & received a quote for repair, worked out the financing of said repair with the camera’s owner & shipped it off.

I received an email two days later notifying me they had received the camera. The day after that, I received an email notifying me the camera had been shipped back to me. In less than a week, it was back in our hands, along with a note saying the damage was not covered under warranty but they had repaired it free of charge anyway as a courtesy.

So. Yay Kodak people!

Bad Movies, Worse Descriptions…or An Evening of Cheap Entertainment

Looking for an evening of cheap entertainment? Visit Hulu and read their movie descriptions.

First, let me say that I love Hulu. I’m not intending this as a put-down of the site. I’ve watched every episode of the Dresden Files TV show there. While in bed with bad cold (that turned out to be pneumonia, actually) a while back I fortified my immune system with nostalgic doses of Barney Miller. They have some pretty good movies in their line-up, too. Recently they’ve featured one of my favorites of all time: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?.

But, just as with real television or movie theaters, you’ll find a lot of stinkers, too. Sometimes, I’m not sure if the movie itself would be so bad, or if it’s all in the wording of the synopsis. The other night I was browsing to see what I might watch, and ended up laughing myself silly for an hour over the titles and descriptions without ever watching anything.

A sampling:

Carnival of Souls, Horror/Thriller, 1962. Synopsis: An accident victim becomes a church organist after being drawn to a mysterious abandoned carnival. What? How are these events connected? Is this a movie plot or a Mad Lib?

And nearby alphabetically is
The Curve, Action and Adventure, 1998. Synopsis: Two roommates plan to kill a third to take advantage of college policy giving a 4.0 grade to a suicide’s roommates. Who wrote this policy? I’ll bet no other evil college student in the history of this school ever thought of gaming the system like this. If my kids apply to this college, I’m not paying dorm fees; they’ll live off-campus – alone.

Or how about
Surf Nazis Must Die, Horror/Thriller, 1987. That’s right – not comedy, not satire, not spoof.  Description:  Few action movies can compare to SURF NAZIS MUST DIE, a gnarly epic of killer stunts, monster waves, and post-apocalyptic mayhem. You can say that again. But wait, there’s more! A major earthquake has devastated the entire California coastline, but as the survivors attempt to put their lives back together, they must defend themselves against the ruthless gangs that have taken over the beaches and the gangs are ruled by Surf Nazis! No one dares to rise up against Adolf, Eva, Mengele, and Hook until the wretched Reich brutally murder Eleanor “Mama” Washington’s son, and now she’s out for vengeance. Ooookaaaay then. Yo, Surf Nazis! Don’t mess with Mama Washington!

Then there’s
Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. Know what? I’m not even reading the description. The title is enough.
film reels

Book Thoughts: Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

Working in a public library as I do, I’m often reminded of how much has already been written. Occasionally I look around at the shelves full of books and think “It’s all been done already. We can all stop writing now.”  But I’m happy to report I’m consistently proved wrong.

For instance: Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow. A werewolf novel written entirely in verse. Epic verse isn’t new, of course. And werewolf novels are everywhere right now. But a combination of the two? I couldn’t not read it, figuring it couldn’t be mediocre; it had to be completely terrible or really, really good.

I count the book a success on all counts. It works as a novel, with engaging characters and an intriguing plot. There’s love and life and death and power plays and vengeance, and confused characters muddling through life caught up in it all. And it works as poetry, the choice of words and meter striking the place in you where poetry strikes, and still keeping the story flowing.  Example: “At night he lies down on the benches and contemplates/ the deception of starlight, long dead suns making small lights/ almost bright enough to guide the way.”

Barlow gets the balance right, sacrificing neither the fiction nor the poetry aspect in the cause of the other.

Is it obvious how much I liked this book? It’s so nice to come across something fresh, a reminder that we humans are endlessly creative. And it’s nice to see a writer following his own vision and making it work. I’m thinking of all of those writing conferences where authors are asking what editors are looking for at the moment, and nobody ever answers “Werewolf poetry.”

I have one warning for the squeamish. Though not gratuitous because it does serve the story, some of the violence is quite graphic.

Buy Socks at JC Penney Day

Today was Buy Socks at JC Penney Day. I celebrated. Did you?

This post has nothing to do with writing. Merely an odd happenstance I felt like sharing.

JC Penney recently mailed out coupons for $10 off any purchase of $10 or more, good from today through May something. My older child has been in dire need of new socks, but we haven’t had a chance to go shopping for them until today. Coupon in hand, off we went to purchase foot coverage.

She made her selections and we lined up at the cash register behind three other people. All holding their $10 coupon and buying socks. And I mean nothing but socks. Not socks and a swimsuit, not socks and a necktie, not socks and some slacks, only socks. Exactly like us.

I can’t decide if it was a function of the weather, which has taken a turn for the wet and chilly this weekend, or perhaps a sign of the economic times. Can people only afford socks when they have a $10 coupon? Have the tight times caused people to be practical with found money? Or it could have been sheer coincidence. But somehow I find myself wanting an explanation. What if it were intended to be a sign to me that I’d found my peeps and I totally missed it, not even striking up a conversation with anyone? Okay, I’m sure it was coincidence.

Alas, we found none this colorful.

Writing Poetry

I’ve always liked poetry. For years, I’ve made a habit of reading at least one poem every day. I do skip a day now and then, but not often.

My writing has focused more on poetry than prose, as well, until about two years ago. Over the past couple of years I’ve been focused on a novel and have been struck with many ideas for short stories, and the poetry has fallen off quite a bit.

But, with the novel more or less finished, I took the arrival of April – National Poetry Month – to get back myself back into the poetic mode. I’ve been writing a poem every day. It’s been good for me. I get a lot out writing in general, but I’m rediscovering the value of writing poetry specifically.

~Edith Södergran said “I don’t create poetry, I create myself, for me my poems are a way to me. ”  For me, this rings true. Even when I compose a bad poem, I often develop new insights in the process. For instance, this month I’ve realized one reason why I still pray sometimes, even though I’m agnostic; it helps me focus on what’s important to me. I guess I could say the same for poetry. I came to this new knowledge of myself because I started writing a poem about prayer.

Writing a poem, too, makes me really look at, listen to, and experience the world in a conscious way. For me, then, poetry is a path of mindfulness, and a way to keep myself connected to the universe.

I’m glad I made the decision to reconnect with my poetic muse. It’s an enriching relationship.

Obligatory Cat Poem

I say obligatory because so many poets write about cats. My family’s cat, Dude, really was a cat in a million, and I loved him unreasonably.

So far, I’ve managed to write a poem every day this April. This is one of them.


Hang around cat
Amber eyes surrounded by
Orange on orange
All attached to a companionable
Not a lap cat
Not a fighting cat
Not a recluse cat
But a hang around cat
If you’d been human, you’d always
Have had a light for the buddy’s
Cigarette and a six pack of beer to share
But no advice
Only a thereness for everyone
To come to depend upon
As the humans in your household did
With your catness
Some part of your thereness is still here
Even if you aren’t