Chebk has been fairly adamant on converting me to this thing called organization, which so far has mainly consisted of sitting me down at the end of each month to plan out our blogging schedule ahead of time. This has been working pretty well, except for the times when I write down a topic that Chebk tries to get me to elaborate on, and I just blow her off with, “Whatever, whatever, I know what I’m gonna write for that.” And then I get to that day and have no idea what I had meant to write one month ago.
Today, dear readers, is one of those days. My initial note to myself for March 27, 2015 read: Sad Bookstore Post.
What the fuck did that mean?
Stop doing this to yourself.
P.S. Chebk told you so.
In all seriousness, I recently quit my job as a grant writer and had girded my loins to spiral into the ennui of unemployment when, a mere week later, I was hired at a local bookstore. Here in Hawaii we have basically two official bookstores left (one on Oahu and one on Maui), and the rest are either niche stores (e.g. local or Hawaiiana books) or used book stores. Obviously my sad bookstore post mostly stemmed from the frustration and despair over how hard it is to get new titles here.
For quite a while, a lot of people in the Islands have been concerned that we would lose our last remaining chain bookstore and have to rely entirely on online shopping for new books, movies, and music. That wouldn’t be a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Most people use the internet to buy one thing or another these days. But that works mainly when you know specifically what you are shopping for: that one book by Kazuo Ishiguro, a green beanie, Star Wars memorabilia, etc.
A large part of the bookstore experience is being able to come upon new titles by chance, picking up books here and there that catch your eye. Amazon and other websites try to replicate the experience by offering you an algorithm-ready slew of suggestions for every title, but mostly these consist of other titles by the same author or genre-related material. You can find much of the same, but surprises? Not so much.
I’m not gonna lie. I tried to use an e-reader for a while, tried to convert with the times or whatever. The only titles I could successfully get through on my tablet was K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series out of extreme nostalgia that was in NO WAY misguided except for my shattered soul (we can discuss Animorphs later, although, seriously, if anyone is up for it, let’s start by talking about fucking DAVID.) I am too aware of how differently I read text on paper and text on screen: one is faster and less focused than the other. I need the physical copy to absorb and enjoy the information. This worked fine for a young reader series like Animorphs (I am loathe to call it that; there were children as animals holding their slashed entrails in their furry arms on a regular basis) but longer books, even the classics, gave me trouble.
The good news is that book sales are back on the rise while e-book sales seem to have plateaued. I see the merit in both types of books, even if I do prefer one over the other (you can smell one). Now that I’ve given sufficient attention to the Sad Bookstore Post, let’s just talk about Animorphs for the rest of today:
If you were anywhere between 8 and 14 in the late 90s through the early 2000s you’ve seen the ubiquitous covers:
The series follows a group of friends (Jake, the leader; Rachel, the warrior; Marco, the comic relief; Cassie, the bleeding heart; Tobias, the outcast; and Ax, the, uhm, the alien), as they discover an intergalactic war being waged on their planet as the Yeerks invade and mind-control the population one by one. While they wait for help from the Andalites (Ax’s people), the teens are given the power to absorb animal DNA and transform into each creature for two hours at a time (any longer and they stay stuck in that morph forever, dun dun dun.)
The books are mostly out-of-print and kind of hard to find, hence my foray into e-books. Each is told from one of the six main character’s perspective as they do everything from battle serious, bloody fights to solving mysteries (space toilets?) to balancing awkward and painful teenage life while trying to save the world. A lot of it is hard to take with age, but a lot more of it was shocking as a re-read. Applegate tackles genocide, post-traumatic stress, and a myriad of other issues related to war, violence, and basically fourteen-year olds having to make incredibly ethically complex decisions.
Diversity here is kind of a relief, even if it initially seems pretty shoe-horned. Marco and Cassie are PoC and Tobias’s background of poverty, abandonment, and trauma is simultaneously handled unflinchingly and casually. The books span several years, from ages 14 to 18 (I think) and the characters grow accordingly.
The books were initially optioned to promote biology, showing different animal perspectives as each character transforms into different species (they always have to fight off the animal mind at first, which proves to be more challenging for some than others, such as termites and ants).
Mostly, I recommend these books because they are terrifyingly traumatic for me as an actual adult, which sounds bad, but I am still in awe at how Applegate handled all this material. She wasn’t trying to shield kids from the implications of actual war or grey morality. Like Marie Lu’s Young Elites (read Chebk’s review here), it is refreshing to see ethical analysis of these types of storylines, as opposed to relying on the romance factor or strict entertainment to carry a reader through unharmed.
Alright, that looks like enough rambling for one day. Got any book recs, old or new? Thoughts on bookstores or e-books? Let me know in the comments!