Here's my dilemma: Should I blog about a book that was published eight years ago or more? That is half a life ago to a teenager. Is there a time limit? Five years old, OK, ten years old, not OK? I am really conflicted about this. If the book were some classic like To Kill a Mockingbird, what could I possibly have to say about the book that would add to the discussion? Nothing, so I don't do it. But what about a lesser known book that has been around for a while but I think it still has value to my students and to other young adults? At what point does no one want to hear about an older book? If it is new to me (I just read it) then it will be new to them, too. Right?
I struggle with these questions every day on my job when I am asked to recommend books. Some books always seem to work no matter the copyright date, such as Speak (1999) by Laurie Halse Anderson, Forever (1975) by Judy Blume, and The Contender (1987) by Robert Lipsyte while others are wildly popular one year and no one wants to read the next. Since I have only been a teen librarian for a few years I haven't been reading YA lit for that long. I am still trying to catch up by reading as many of the best-of-the-best YA titles from the past as I can. But should I blog about these older books?
There is no one in the room to ask except the dog and she doesn't read and loves me no matter what I do, so I guess I will answer my own question. I will try to keep my blogs fresh and relevant. If I enjoy a book but I think that enough has been said about it in other sources and I have nothing new or enlightening to say, then I won't blog about it. But if I feel that it has value to my students who might read the blog or to the broader readership then I will. Sound fair?
On that thought, here is my review of the book, Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos, published in 2002:
Jack Gantos is an author of mostly children's and some young adult literature. Back in the 1970s when Jack was just out of high school he ended up going to prison for drug smuggling. This is memoir about the events that led up to arrest and his experiences in prison. On the surface it is just another "don't do drugs" memoir because "if you do, look where you might end up, like I did." But it really isn't about drugs or even drug smuggling, it is about a boy who wanted to be a writer with all his heart but he didn't know how to find his voice, to find a story worth telling. Actually landing in prison gave him the time to do both.
As I read the book I kept thinking that chapters of this book would be wonderful reading material for the students in a creative writing class. Gantos talks a lot about his dream of becoming a writer and different techniques that he used to try to build up his skills and his repertoire. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
On the craft of journaling:
"...I tried to be organized on my own...I arranged my journal in a series of sections. The first and most obvious was my daily entry section, which I filled with a wild stream of thoughts in a conscious effort to capture my true feelings, true motivations, and crazed activities of each day... The next section was my favorite. Each time I read a book I cataloged the parts that struck me dumb with envy and admiration for their beauty and power and truth...The third section was plain and simple vocabulary building, where I'd write words and definitions I wanted to learn and use. Words like: vicious, impunity, paroxysm, unctuous...The fourth section was devoted to the moments of inspiration when book ideas came to me in full-color flashes, like bits of film remembered, or a forgotten conversation suddenly pulsing to life." p. 21-22
On catching the girl:
"I thought having my own place would automatically attract girls to me. I was mistaken. I was the spider who could not coax any flies into his web. I wanted girls to find me interesting. But maybe it was my whiny Holden Caulfield imitation...that got me nowhere. Or perhaps my sitting in the library with an intensely cheerless, poetic look on my face only scared girls away." p. 24-25
After using drugs the first time and experiencing paranoia:
" 'I don't have to do that again,' I said to myself. But I must not have been listening." p. 34
On being a journalist (this seems very relevant to me today with journalists reporting "news" that gets the people on the fringe all whipped up):
"I remembered reading a quote from a newspaper journalist that stuck with me: 'Where there is blood, there is ink.' " p. 62
After arriving in prison:
" At sundown the naked bulb overhead came on and beneath it I'd slump into a drama of my own self-interrogation. There was nothing else to do by beat myself up. That first week there were no books. No writing paper and pencils... just me sitting on the edge of my bunk, slowly grilling myself under that yellow light." p. 156
On writing about feelings:
"There was nothing to do but to feel the despair of the that moment, until after feeling it over and over I picked up my journal and wrote it down and emptied it out of me..." p. 183
Would this book be worth your time even though it was written several years ago? I'd say yes, especially if you, like Jack Gantos was, are a budding author looking for your voice. And while you are at it, visit Gantos' website. It is fabulous.