Commenting on Comments

24 09 2012

Commenting on Comments

“Today’s Wednesday at DailyGrace and you know what that means – commenting on comments, commenting on comments, commenting on comments!” – Grace Helbig of the YouTube channel, DailyGrace

Comments. They’ve been a part of the online community since it was founded. Comments are an easy way for people to discuss and share what’s been written about online, and to foster a community.

Comments can be fascinating and wonderful. Some blogs rely heavily on comments and in others the comments are the best part.

But at the same time, comments can also be vicious and hurtful. In a space where anyone can write what they’d like, with often little moderation, it’s expected that there will be some hurtful, nasty posts. And comments on larger posts – say a post from a major news network or site – there can be a large amount of nasty, vicious comments.

Recently I’ve seen a few people discussing online about how they often avoid comments. They say that reading comments, especially in larger spaces where there are more vicious comments, are annoying and don’t provide anything extra to their reading experience. There have been many people moaning,

Why haven’t I learned not to read the comments?

This implies that the comments are horrible, vicious, and/or do not bring any new, exciting discussion. And that comments should be avoided and ignored – they’re useless. This, to me, seems inaccurate and oversimplified. There are good comments, and there are good discussions through comments.

But at the same time, I could understand this complaint. I’ve read the horrible comments – the linkbait, the trolls, the “f— you” comments many times.

The idea got me thinking, and led to me eventually writing this piece. From my thinking and comments, I came up with four questions that seemed germane to the discussion.

  • What are comments?
  • How do they work?
  • What are the good and bad sides of comments?
  • Are comments helpful and useful?


First, the most obvious of the questions – what are comments?

We can look at comments from a variety of perspectives. You could look at comments in the most basic, obvious way – words that have been written online in response to something else. This “something else” could be anything – writing, a video, a link, another comment. Just something that has been responded to.

Another perspective is taking comments from a discussion standpoint. They are pieces of writing that create a discussion, wherein people discuss and share with one another their ideas and thoughts.

If we combine these two perspectives, at their very broadest, comments are words that have been written online in response to something else and words that foster discussion.


The second question I posed was: how do [comments] work? This question is also fairly obvious, but important.

Comments work when a group of people see something – an article or a video – and decide to write something in response to what they saw. They simply type out a few words, a paragraph, link a photo, respond to others who have also commented.

How does commenting work? People write words. The end.

If we look at how commenting works from more of a digital perspective – ie how commenting is designed and run – well, that depends on the site that is hosting the comments. There are different commenting systems, all with their benefits, and most of them are free. Most are designed similarly: one types in a comment, and then others can reply to the comment or block/report the comment.


The third question: what are the good/bad sides of comments?

Because I’m optimistic, let’s start with the good side first.

To find examples of good discussion, I went through my RSS reader. From there, I was able to find two blogs that I read, follow (and occasionally comment) that have strong discussion/generally good comments.

These blogs: Making Light, a blog run by editors Patrick and Teresa Neilsen Hayden, and Boing Boing, which is run by a group of editors (most notably Cory Doctorow. Teresa Nielsen Hayden also helps with Boing Boing as well).

The first thing I did when researching these blogs was look to see if they had any kind of comment policy or remark on the comments/discussion in any way throughout the site. As both of these sites heavily depend on comments, I expected that they would mention the comments somewhere.

Making Light encourages the comments, stating (in a prime spot in the front page),

We all think that the comments are the best part of this weblog. If you aren’t reading the comments, you’re missing half of the fun.

The writers on the site – Teresa and Patrick Neilsen Hayden, Abi Sutherland, SF writer Jim Macdonald, and Avram Grummer – also constantly cite the comments in their pieces and urge people to comment.

The site also creates a monthly “Open Thread”, where people are encouraged to comment on anything that they’d like and create their own discussions. The threads are incredibly popular, most averaging three hundred comments, and these discussions can often be fodder for posts on the site.

As for a comment policy, Macdonald moderates the spam comments that are received, and Sutherland moderates the “approved” comments, but there is no official comment policy.

As for Boing Boing, they have written an extensive, in-depth comment policy that is constantly updated.

The editors state that they enjoy comments, and that the goal of comments is:

Our goal in the discussion threads is to have good conversation, with “good” meaning fun, constructive, informative, entertaining, or all of the above.

They also state what they believe are “good” comments, ie comments that help enrich the discussion, and give a list of ways to enrich the discussion. A few of the ideas that they suggest:

New developments about the subject of a post. As the old comic strip goes, “It isn’t that (we) don’t like current events. There have just been so many of them lately.”

• Opinions that move the debate forward. Disagree with what we or another commenter has to say? Let’s hear it! But please be respectful.

• Comments that connect the dots. We appreciate you linking the subject of one post to other posts, even (especially!) when the connection isn’t obvious!

• Factual corrections! We make mistakes, we fix ’em.

They also list the “bad” comments, which are encouraged to be avoided. Most of these are fairly simple – don’t use inflammatory language, don’t spam, don’t get tangiental. They also reference blocking, ie people being unable to ever post a comment again. The editors state that spamming and inflammatory language automatically get someone banned.

All of the comments are moderated by the editors.

So there are differences here – Boing Boing chose to create a much more nuanced policy while Making Light does moderate and police comments but does not have an official privacy policy. This, partly, I think is the size of the sites – the former is much larger than the latter and much more well-known.

But the key principles are the same: the sites remove and discourage inappropriate comments and champion good, constructive comments.

Now, onto the comments themselves. I chose two random articles from both sites and examined the comments from both.

The articles are:

“Gardening on the Moon,” written by Maggie Koerth-Baker on June 19, 2012, from Boing Boing


“Robert M. Fletcher of Boca Raton, Scammer, Part IV,” written by Jim Macdonald on August 28, 2012, from Making Light.

Both articles received around 25 comments. The main differences, of course, are when the articles were written, as well as the subject matter, which is of course because of the random selection. The former is science-related and the second is related to writing and scammers that attempt to con writers.

First, “Gardening on the Moon”. This piece details how astronauts had once attempted to grow vegetables on the moon, in the space shuttle days, and how another group of astronauts attempted to grow marigolds on the moon. Both attempts failed.

The comment thread is peppered with jokes and science-related questions and answers. The thread launches with a query from commenter “Chen-Jih Chen”, who asks:

Hang on, isn’t moon dust pure poison?

His response is given by “Michael Smith”, who explains that

No. Apollo astronauts were covered head to toe with the stuff when they returned from the moon. Many of them are still alive.

“Chen-Jih Chen” then responds by cracking a joke, stating that

How would you like to make $60, cash?  Are you ready to make some science?

Several others respond to his comment, cracking other space-related jokes. The next few part of the thread is others asking moon-related questions and getting responses from others. A few others make sarcastic jokes, like this ditty from “phalkon11”:

Moon material isn’t magic pixie dust that you can spray on things to make them awesome? Shocking.

The overall feeling of the thread is a well-educated sarcastic bunch. The answers are knowlegable and understanding about scientific issues, referencing studies and films. There are also plenty of self-depreciating/sarcastic jokes thrown around. Overall the comment thread is positive.

Onto the article from Making Light, “Robert M. Fletcher of Boca Raton, Scammer, Part IV”.  A bit of background on this article is needed before discussing it. Robert M. Fletcher, the man in question, is a scammer – as evidenced from the title. His brand of scamming is by working as an “agent” and scamming his clients, and forcing them to pay him money or enter confusing contract negotiations.

If you want to read all about Fletcher’s scams, the ladies of Writers Beware have you covered.

This particular installment detailing Fletcher’s crimes talks about a lawsuit that he had pushed against the ladies of Writers Beware. The ladies had detailed his crimes in detail and his reputation sunk. Fletcher did not approve of this and claimed that the women were slanderous and harming his reputation and business.

The majority of the series on Making Light details his crimes and also the lawsuit. This particular post in the series talks about when the lawsuit against Writers Beware were dropped. A happy situation.

So it’s not surprising that the comments are generally joyful and happy. A sampling (names are not used this time)


“So happy for you A[nne] and V[ictoria].”

“That scammer finally got what he deserved, and I’m so glad this was resolved peacefully and happily. Much love to you, Anne, and Victoria, and thank you for being so strong and championing for writers everywhere.”

Again, this comments section is cheery, happy, and full of insights and celebrations. There’s also a bit of ribbing against Robert Fletcher, with users throwing all sorts of insults his direction. To be fair, he probably deserves it.

So here we have two, happy, pleasant comment sections. There’s general joy, happiness, and respect. There is sarcasm and ribbing – at the expense of commenters or the people in question – but the general theme is happiness, excitement, and good discussion. Questions are raised and answered, people strike up conversations.

The next step is to address the bad side of comments. To address the bad side of comments, I decided to search on some of the larger news sites. These often are pointed to as the ‘bad” sites for discussion. I chose two articles that were current of this writing:

“Ancient Text Reveals Jesus Secret” from the Huffington Post


“The Biggest Fall Trend is Patterned Jackets” from

I picked these two articles in particular. These are from huge news sites that receive thousands of views a day and thousands of comments – their outreach is much larger than that of Making Light and Boing Boing. [Note: yes, Boing Boing is a huge and long-running website, but they aren’t the world’s biggest website.]

Let’s start with the first one from the Huffington Post. “Ancient Text Reveals Jesus Secret.” This article details how Jesus, according to an ancient text, may have been married and had a wife.

As for the comments, I’m just going to get straight to it. Facts: 6,700 comments, tons of shares on websites [Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc, what to be expected with a major news site]. Okay, here we go on the comments. I recommend that you read the comments, though they are lengthy.


70 Fans

28 seconds ago ( 7:47 PM)

Yay! The truth is finally coming out!

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Richard Ritter

0 Fans

1 minute ago ( 7:46 PM)

Jesus took on the weight of the whole world. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Jesus had to save the whole world he didn’t have time for a wife. He was the sacrificial lamb to save people from their sins. He had to be pure in every way.

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28 Fans

1 minute ago ( 7:46 PM)

Don’t you need to validate before you call something true?
“Before the year 400”, I think we would have known about it before then, as it would have been in the gospels or the apostle Paul’s letters. You couldn’t hide something like that.
The Bible does say that Jesus will be married to the Church, but even that has not happened yet.

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Battling misinformation since April 9, 1865

1773 Fans

3 minutes ago ( 7:45 PM)

“Look, I know they’re painting the last supper, but it’s my night to car pool the soccer team.”

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5 Fans

3 minutes ago ( 7:44 PM)

If jesus walked down the street right now Would you ask him if he was married or IS IT TIME. The average person really doesn’t care If he was The average believer just hopes he can bring peace to thier life and hope they live long enough for his return

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С днем рождения, мой брат!

403 Fans

1 minute ago ( 7:46 PM)

Since there’s a resurrection, what does it matter if you’re alive for the second coming or not?

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stephen morgan

We’re all bozo’s on this bus.

49 Fans

5 minutes ago ( 7:42 PM)

Maybe he was married. Would be nice if he was, considering all the suffering he had to go through from the political and religious leaders of his day. Maybe he had some good times, somebody to come home to at the end of the day. If some people are upset by the very idea of jesus Christ being married, that says a lot more about them than it does about the nature of Christ.

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Eric Silverman

49 Fans

17 seconds ago ( 7:47 PM)

What leads you to conclude that the depictions of jesus in the bible are based on truth? You seem to simply adopt as a reality that your version of jesus is accurate…but why?

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49 Fans

6 minutes ago ( 7:41 PM)

Finally those poor priest can get it on!

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1405 Fans

6 minutes ago ( 7:41 PM)

Oh my if this is true……what excuse does the Catholic Church have to keep women from being Priests? This has to rattle the old coots cossacks.

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There is no spoon. But there’s a spork.

564 Fans

1 minute ago ( 7:46 PM)

Which is why this possible revelation will be denounced, mocked and/or suppressed by the doctrinaire Church patriarchy from the get-go.

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0 Fans

6 minutes ago ( 7:41 PM)

Feh. I’m still not convinced this jesus dude even existed. Scripture and mythology? Same thing. Wake up, people.

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Cammeron Ripley

2 Fans

2 minutes ago ( 7:45 PM)

read “The Case for Christ”

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Aries Warrior

1042 Fans

7 minutes ago ( 7:41 PM)

I don`t like how HP allows open discussions of EVERY religion….except ju da ism.

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Eric Silverman

49 Fans

3 minutes ago ( 7:44 PM)

I know…those jews that own the universe and meet secretly to control threads on the Huff Post are a threat to all of us. You fool… attention and participate in threads that cover issues relating to the many stories that involve jewish people and Arab/Israeli squabbles. There have been many of which I personally have participated in.

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499 Fans

7 minutes ago ( 7:40 PM)

Priests are quaking in their Pradas.

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Dennis Fisher

0 Fans

7 minutes ago ( 7:40 PM)

What blasphemy is this Huffpost Social News firstly Lord JESUS was not born through Luciferian sin in the first instance which is based upon him Lucifer being as the sex demon Dagon with in mankind’s hearts known as the serpent god Ouroboros – Lucifer – Shaharit known as the Jewish Messiah.- Yod – G-d. Secondly He lord JESUS The Head Cornerstone of the Universe manifested to the cursed earth to destroy the Jewish Luciferian Yod – g-dhead and his New World Order conspiracy plan (1 John 3:8) that originated from the scripture prophecy of Jeremiah 11:9-10 so please tell your antichrist system Huff Post Social News the truth will set you all free from your blasphemy and propaganda.

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93 Fans

3 minutes ago ( 7:44 PM)

“Blasphemy” only applies to believers. The rest of us are kinda stuck on rational thought. You can stand there and yell in your hoo-hah echo chamber till you’re blue in the face…you believe in a Bronze Age myth, that’s all.

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139 Fans

2 minutes ago ( 7:45 PM)

This is no way to get fans.

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84 Fans

8 minutes ago ( 7:40 PM)

Jesus was married? What can any thinking person say but, Duh!

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101 Fans

8 minutes ago ( 7:39 PM)

Iirc it also fits with the gospel of philip. The apostles were jealous of jesus spending time with mary. he replied with the poetic allegory of the blind man.

“The Saviour answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.”

Anyone else find it odd (laughable?) right wing religious extremists whether preacher or believer never mention or worst completely obvious to, philip?

Hypocrisy? There’s a poetic allegory for that too? Oh yeah, baby! 😉

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beliefs are the seeds of evil

312 Fans

8 minutes ago ( 7:39 PM)

Jesus would have had to have been married in order to be taken seriously in rabbinical Israel but Christians don’t take Jesus seriously so they have invented a cartoon character to replace him.

Okay, so admittedly this is a hard topic and one that is hard to discuss – in real life and online. These types of articles usually end up being pointed to as one that is an example of a bad comment thread. Religion – like this piece – and politics are the ones mentioned most for “bad comment thread” awards.

Let’s examine this.

  • The thread is mostly mocking/ignoring the discovery. The majority of the people in this thread are atheists.
  • There are a lot of jokes about God, Jesus, and how the church community will respond to these allegations.
  • The thread is generally an annoying, mocking tone.
  • There is a lot of anger and arguing about whether or not this is true.
  • Both sides are represented – there are those that believe this is false, those that are deeply religious, and atheists (the majority)

So generally, this hits every WHY COMMENT THREADS SUCK button.

Next article, “The Biggest Fall Trend is Patterned Jackets” by is exactly what it says: a slideshow of patterned jackets that were showcased at the 2012 New York Fashion Week from a group of fashion designers. This article simply explains the trend and then shows examples of it.

Most of the comments are, as expected, fashion related – and the majority dislike the style, saying,

“I expected more”


“Ewwwww, gross, end this NOW” and the like. There weren’t many positive comments and positive ones were shot down with, for instance, “b— sit down”.  They also made a lot of comments about the models themselves, saying that these models were frumpy, ugly, and looked overweight (“huge”).

So generally a downer thread – the worst part being the idealization of the models and the comments on them.

The final question is are comments useful and helpful?

In the end, I think it really matters what’s being discussed. Look at the differences between the Jesus thread and the fashion thread. While both of these could be considered “bad” threads that use hateful language and comments, these threads use different types of hateful language/comments and attacks – religious attacks on the first and body weight attacks on the second.

And what about the community? Boing Boing is a large community with strict rules, but the Huffington Post is much larger and is generally more lenient with comments. Compare also Making Light and; the former is much larger and has a bigger community.

In the end, I think that comments can be helpful and interesting and provoke discussion, but they can also be cruel, taunting, and mean. It’s a double edged sword. Thus ends this comment on comments.


Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley

1 08 2012

I will admit: I wanted to read this book because of the cover. While there is nothing new with people wanting to read books because of how their covers look — frankly some books people want to read ONLY because of their covers — but there was a particular reason that I loved this cover so much. The cover, at first glance, seems incredibly simple. There’s a picture of an Asian-American girl with a pink streak in her hair, standing beside a cat that has been dyed pink.

But what’s so amazing about this is the very fact that there’s a person of color on the cover. In an age where so many covers simply show pretty white girls, it’s great to see a person of color proudly shown on YA cover. A bonus fun fact: the publisher of this book, Tu Books, is a small company devoted to creating and publishing stories that are diverse and feature people of color. Check out their website; it’s a treasure trove of diversity.

And it’s sad — really sad — that I need to comment on this, but I applaud Tu Books for creating a great cover (love the speech bubbles, they’re so cute, and the cover, IMO, is really well designed) End of cover conversation, onto the book.

Natalie has a Talent: she can communicate and talk to cats, and she excersizes her talent by talking to her cat. However, in her perfect family, this Talent is strange and useless. Who really needs someone to talk to cats? She feels distanced and alone in her family, since everyone else in her family has Talents that are usable and “normal”. She only feels at home with her best friends, who are accepting of her Talent. Soon, her town becomes disrupted as a new movie begins to film in town, featuring the latest hearttrob and his leading lady, Victoria. Besides the movie coming to town, Easton West, a prominent fashion blogger, has also come to town to report on the movie. Natalie and her friends are eager ans hope to be cast as extras in the film. But soon there is a problem — Easton West has been kidnapped, and the number one suspect is Victoria. Now Natalie and her best friends must fight to solve the mystery, using their brains, fashion knowledge, and some cats to save the day.

This book is….campy, frothy, and fun. That’s all it is, that’s all it acknowleges itself as. This is a fluffy book and the reader knows it. The author says that she wrote the book as a homage to 80s movies, John Hughes, and Hughes’ famous film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. There are plenty of references to the film (I didn’t catch them all and I doubt all readers — esp. teens — will, but Pauley lists some of them in the author’s note) and the story is written to be a campy, frothy, fun story in the vein of the film. The book is an easy read that you can fly through it quickly.

This review is going to be shorter than normal, mostly because i really only have a few quick notes:

  • The whole “I’m not special” theme has been explored in hundreds, probably THOUSANDS, of other books. The first time I read this theme was in the “Amazing Days of Abby Hayes” books (great books) and since then I’ve seen the theme over and over again. Generally the ending to this conflict/subplot is easy to guess and ends about the same way in every single one of these books. And yes, the ending in Cat Girl’s Day Off is extremely easy to guess but I really liked how it was handled — Natalie and her parents discussing the issue.


  • Gay best friend! Seriously. Natalie has a gay best friend and he behaves basically like any other sterotypical gay best friend. He loves fashion, “girly” things so to speak, and has his own catchprase. Authors: it’s great that you want to include gay best friends in your books, but make sure that these characters are also well rounded and aren’t just a bunch of sterotypes of gay people stacked on top of each other.


  • The mystery is pretty hard to figure out, actually, and I was surprised by the amount of twists and turns the plot took.


  • So many characters! There were so many characters, and a lot were introduced at the end, that it was hard to keep track of or understand who they were or what they were doing.

Overall, I thought that Cat Girl’s Day Off was a good book — fans of mysteries, 80s movies (especially John Hughes films) and books set in the 80s (a surprising trend) will enjoy the book.

Children’s & YA Listservs: A Primer

30 07 2012

Welcome back to the “Primer” series! You can catch up on the two most recent  installments if you’re interested in reading past entries. Today’s topic is going to be about listservs — what they are as well as some recommendations of children’s and YA listservs for those interested.

What is a listserv?

For this one, we’ll pass it off to our old friend Wikipedia, which defines a listserv as:

a special usage of email that allows for widespread distribution of information to many Internet users. It is similar to a traditional mailing list — a list of names and addresses — as might be kept by an organization for sending publications to its members or customers, but typically refers to four things — a list of email addresses, the people (“subscribers”) receiving mail at those addresses, the publications (email messages) sent to those addresses, and a reflector, which is a single email address that, when designated as the recipient of a message, will send a copy of that message to all of the subscribers.

A listserv essentially is an email list that goes out to a large number of users that have subscribed to the list, and allows users to send an email that goes out to everyone that subscribes to the list. It’s not a new idea — the idea has been around since the early 1980s — but they can be useful for connecting, sharing, and learning — and a nice thing to get in your inbox. There are many different listservs — both social and professional — that discuss and deal with different topics.

There are many different children and YA literature listservs — some run by universities, by private owners, by organizations such as ALA, YALSA, and ALSC, and all of them are easy to subscribe and connect to.

What are the “best” listservs?

I’m not going to say what the “best” are. There are plenty of listservs and not all of them are for everyone. I don’t subscribe to all of the listservs on this list. However, all of these lists have been recommended by many different people & and are well used and well-frequented.

A note on this list: all of these lists are for children’s and YA lit, but a couple of these listservs are more bent towards librarians (ie designed for librarians).

The List

child_lit: Run by Rutgers University, child_lit is arguably the most well-known listserv on this list. Running for about fifteen years, the list comprises of a large archive and thousands of members. The purpose of this list is to cultivate discussion about children’s literature in it’s many forms and members discuss all kinds of books, genres, and ideas — from children’s to YA to nonfiction and more. The members are especially notable — the list is diverse, with bloggers and writers and teachers and librarians and scholars all participating, as well as some authors. (Notable authors include Phillip Pullman, Jane Yolen & Patrice Kindl) To subscribe to child_lit you can check out the login page as well as glean more information from the info page.

YALSA-bk: YALSA, or the American Library Association’s young adult division (view their website here), hosts their own listserv, called YALSA-bk, that specializes on young adult literature, it’s many forms, discussion, and ideas. There is also an added component of librarian discussion, with librarians discussing how best to use YA lit with their patrons and how to use it in the library through the listserv. To join YALSA-bk, read the information on the info and login page.

Pub-yac: Pub-yac is another library-related listserv run by the Center for Children’s Books.  This one is designed specifically for librarians in public libraries that work with children and young adults, and focuses on public library issues, as well as touching on all kinds of books (adult, children’s, nonfiction) and discussing books and other current issues in the kidlit fields and the library community. To subscribe to pub-yac, you can view the information on the pubyac subscriber page.

CCBC-Net: A listserv run by the University of Madison, this listserv focuses on issues and ideas of children and YA literature. This list has discussion topics which are discussed by its members each month, and is not a “general” listserv (basically – you can ask whatever you want) like the others on this list. Some current list topics are the books of Mo Williems and a discussion of the Printz Award. To subscribe, you can join here, and to find lists of the topics a list is here.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of any kind, and simply googling “children’s literature listserv” will turn up plenty more listservs. If you’re interested in reading good discussion, or if you want something different and interesting in your inbox, check out these lists. If you’re not so into a flood of emails (and this can be solved using “digest” mode — double check when registering) check out the archives of the lists.

Hopefully there will be something interesting here!

Nothing Special by Geoff Herbach

27 07 2012



Last year, I read and reviewed Geoff Herbach’s debut novel, Stupid Fast, and loved it — I loved the characters, the writing, and the voice. When I heard that there would be a second novel, I was beyond excited. I’m happy to say that the 2nd book in this series (is it a series? I say yes) is just as good.

In Stupid Fast, we met Felton Reinstein, a loner turned jock, and his family — his crazy mother Jerri and  his weird brother Andrew.  In Nothing Special, Felton returns, and he’s the one that narrates the story, but Andrew is the one that really takes full front. He’s the loner now, the quiet one. He loves to play the violin and he loves his family, going as far as to write a blog about his brother’s achievements. But he feels lost and distanced in his family, and so Andrew takes off. He says he’s off to orchestra camp, and Jerri, who’s always a little confused, agrees, and Andrew takes off on a road trip and disappears. Felton’s having his own issues too — he’s worried about the pressure on him from coaches, he doesn’t know what his future is, and he feels like a douchebag all the time. When Andrew disappears, he heads off to find him, crafting a few lies. The caveat: he’s going with his ex- best friend. And the other problem: he has no idea what he’s doing.

This book focuses a lot more on Andrew, like I mentioned. We get to learn more about him, his ideas and opinions, what he thinks of their screwed up family. What’s great about this is that the reader is like Felton: we like Andrew, but we’re sort of distanced from him. We have to go along with Felton, rediscovering his brother.

There’s another pretty cool element of style in this story. Andrew’s heading towards Florida, and so half of the story is Felton finding him. The other half is Felton writing the story of the trip to find him while on another road trip, leaving readers wondering where he’s going, and adding to the suspense.

Herbach’s writing and voice are still top notch. Felton sounds just like a guy, and his voice carries off the page, showing us every inch of himself, his worries, fears, and jokes. The rest of the characters are just as well-developed and strong, and Herbach explores more themes in this story in great depth; the instances of family, how a family responds after a suicide, and how brothers behave and act around one another, and what they don’t tell each other.

If there are any issues with the story, I can see the complaint that Felton’s family members are just too quicky. But at the same time, most families are quirky and different, so there’s a bit of realism there. Otherwise, though, I found the story to be almost perfect. It’s a wonderful, charming story about realistic characters, and Herbach is definitely one of my new favorite authors of contemporary fiction. Fans of the first book, as well as fans of authors like Chris Crutcher, will enjoy these novels.

And — and this is the best part! Recently Sourcebooks (the publisher of the novels) announced that there will be a THIRD Felton book, about his senior year of high school, out in 2013. So even more Felton = awesomeness. And after this series is complete, I will surely look for whatever else Herbach publishes.

Book Event Recap: Rebecca Fjelland Davis on Prarie-Dogging Your Way Through Writing

25 07 2012

Book Event Recap: Rebecca Fjelland Davis on “Prarie-Dogging” Your Way Through Writing

Recently I had the pleasure of seeing Rebecca Fjelland Davis, author of Chasing AllieCat and several other YA novels, speak at my library. She gave two presentations: a writing workshop for teens and a presentation for all ages. I attended both presentations but this recap is only for the 2nd event. (there’s more to report on)

becky and her dog

The 2nd event was called “Prarie-Dogging Your Way to a Story”. The event was fairly busy, but not crowded, and there seemed to be many dedicated people interested in writing. Most people had brought notepads, and one man had brought his computer, so I didn’t feel out of place taking (pages) of notes.

Becky, as she asked us to call her, started her presentation by talking about the 5 rules to be an author. These rules are:

  1. Read
  2. Live
  3. Pay Attention
  4. Put the Seat of Your Pants to the Seat of Your Chair (in other words, think Nora Roberts’s famous quote “Butt in Chair”)
  5. Write

She stated that you need to read everything – from the books found at the grocery store to the classics, from Shakespeare to pulp novels, to understand different writing styles, different stories, and different kinds of books.

Another interesting comment – Fjelland Davis dislikes most books about the craft of writing (she finds them mundane) and the only writing book she has ever been able to finish is On Writing by Stephen King, which she recommends.

She also said that you need to live, and do more besides just writing – you need other activities and passions – and that you need to pay attention, observe the world around you, and describe the world around you.

Regarding the last 2 things you need to know, she says that you can’t be a writer unless you sit down, stop everything else, and just write. Of course, the last comment is that if you need to be a writer, you simply need to write.

The second part of her presentation was called the ZOO, which used animals to describe writers. (metaphors!) Each slide was accompanied by a gorgeous drawing that one of Fjelland Davis’s students created.

The first animal was HORSE. She describes these as being writers that are very organized, know exactly where everything is going, outline all of their stories, and always know what comes next. Becky stated that she is not this type of writer, personally, and the one book she attempted to outline will forever remain in the drawer. (there was an agreement from the audience on this)

The next animal was FIREFLY. These are writers that have a great idea, and then simply go off on the idea, not sure what will happen next. Fjelland Davis said that she wrote her debut novel, Jake Riley: Irreparably Damaged, this way, having only the idea of some kids chasing fireflies. She did note that this method of writing may need more revising, as you don’t know what will happen next.

After that was SNAKES, or writers that know how the story starts and how the story ends, but not the middle. Becky’s ex-husband wrote one of his novels like this, knowing only the first and last sentence.

The next animal was PANTHER, or someone who has an idea and then just keeps adding on and on to the idea. Fjelland Davis said that she wrote her short story “Mars at Night” from the anthology Girl Meets Boy, this way: wanting to write about family farms, and then making the main character a farm girl and giving her a boyfriend who couldn’t eat pork to add more conflict.

Finally, we reached PRARIE DOGS, or the animal that the title of the talk was focused around. This is when you have various, unrelated ideas that you think would make a good story, and you tie them all together. The ideas are the prairie dogs that just keep popping up and appearing and then you weave a “tunnel” to tie the ideas together.

Becky wrote her novel Chasing AllieCat in this form. She used five unrelated ideas to come up with the story, and shared them:

  • She had some friends who had a cannon from the Civil War era. They filled it with gunpowder and shot it off, and the first cannon landed about 15 feet away. They decided they wanted to add more gunpowder and shot it off again. This time, the cannon exploded and blew up the neighbor’s garage (no one was hurt)
  • Mountain biking – Fjelland Davis is a big mountain biker and bikes near her home in Mankato, Minnesota. She came up with the idea of writing a story about a mountain biker girl and wrote two paragraphs. These paragraphs are still in the book and were the only paragraphs not changed.
  • She has a friend named Scout, who she describes as looking “like Hagrid from Harry Potter” – he’s tall with a huge beard and curly black hair, and wanted to include him in her story.
  • While mountain biking, she found an area of trailers that had been abandoned and deserted, a graveyard of trailers.
  • Also while mountain biking, she rode through some very deep forests.

To try and figure out how to solve these issues, Fjelland Davis answered her questions by asking, “What If?”

What If her heroine lived by the junk graveyard & lived with Scout? What If she was mountain biker? What If someone hid a dead body in the forest?

She suggests using “What If” to try and answer your questions. Try and come up with different connections and ideas, and try something that you might normally not try. Fjelland Davis says to keep your ideas in mind, as you never know where you might come up with an idea, and ask yourself questions about the ideas.

The final animal was GROUNDHOG. This happens to every writer at some point: they get stuck and don’t know where to go next. She suggests trying a different method or idea – try outlining or ploting differently, etc – and take a break from your story if you need to.

There was a short Q & A after her talk. The questions were:

How often do you reread before submitting [to be a publisher, magazine, etc]?

She has an absolute minimum of 3 drafts for every book that she writes. 3 drafts is just the bare minimum, and she always writes more than 3 as she adds on and changes things about the story. In regards to what she changed, Fjelland Davis wrote  Jake Riley: Inreparrably Damaged in past tense first and then changed it to present tense. In Chasing AllieCat, she was unsure about whether the book should be 1st person or 3rd person (ultimately it was 3rd person).

While writing her first drafts, she rereads and reads the book out loud. For her, everything needs to sound satisfactory out loud and sound realistic.

Has she ever had anyone read to her?

No, but she would be interested! A few times, when she has presented a talk, someone has introduced her and read aloud an excerpt from one of her books, which she said was an interesting experience, hearing someone else’s interpretation. Becky also jokingly asked if anyone would be willing to be her reading buddy.

Does she have an editor or agent?

She has an agent, which she got for Jake, and she has had several editors. Fjelland Davis recommends getting an agent, as they know the business and can submit to publishers instead of you doing all the work. Agents can also help you with drafts and questions. Her agent usually reads a manuscript, asks for some edits, and then gives her a deadline for the edits.

Have you ever disliked what people have suggested to edit?

Usually no. If she strongly disagrees with the person, Fjelland Davis will give the reason and explain why. No one has ever insisted upon her changing something.

She is also a big editor and has cut a lot of her beloved scenes and ideas, and she is open to people’s suggestions.

Why do you write?

Becky laughed, and said, “I don’t know” when this question was asked. To her, writing is like breathing.

When she was younger, she would play with dolls and narrate the stories she created with the dolls. Her mother read to her and she knew language well and loved creating things.

A few more miscellaneous tidbits gleaned from the event:

  • She carries around a notebook with her everywhere that she goes to write down ideas.
  • A writing teacher of hers once told her that when you get stuck, put the characters in a new situation and then write them out of it.
  • She keeps a shelf of notebooks that she has used over the years.
  • She is a creative writing teacher at Mankato State University in Mankato, Minnesota (which is also where she lives).


Edelweiss: A Primer

23 07 2012

So a few days ago I discussed NetGalley, what it is, and how you can use it. Today I’m going to talk about another site where you can get free, safe digital e-ARCs, Edelweiss. 

Edelweiss is gaining more and more momentum, but it hasn’t really been around as long as NetGalley nor has it gained as many followers and fans. Wait, let me rephrase that. Edelweiss is just gaining momentum in digital galleys, but they’ve been popular in the publishing industry for a while now.


Because of the catalogs. When you talk about Edelweiss, you have to mention the catalogs.

Edelweiss is very well known for its publisher catalogs. They have catalogs from hundreds of publishers that showcase their titles, and they’re probably the largest online resource for publisher catalogs. You simply select a publisher:

and then you are able to view their catalogs. Most publishers upload multiple catalogs to the site (one for adult books, one for kids and teens, etc) and you can select the one you are interested in reading. These are Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s catalogs at the time of this post (July 2012):

You can see that there are plenty of catalogs and there are plenty of ranges, from Hobbit movie tie-ins to adult & children’s fronlist and backlist catalogs.

Anyway, once one selects these catalogs, you can find a list of all of the titles in that catalog. This is designed very similarly to NetGalley.

Here’s an example, from Ollie’s Easter Eggs by Oliver Dunrea (fall 2013). Here you can find out the publisher information, cover, etc. If you click “see content” towards the bottom you can also find out more information like the marketing and publicity, author bio, and such. This is basically the same thing as NetGalley, except with a few more features (like the status and the rating on Goodreads), and it’s very easy to use and navigate.

Edelweiss is a great place if you’re interested in publisher catalogs — it’s got plenty of catalogs that are very, very comprehensive — and I highly recommend it if you need a good database of catalogs. These catalogs are a great way to learn about upcoming books and what’s coming up.

Let’s get to the e-galleys already. Okay, okay, sorry. 

[So first, a random aside on Edelweiss: DO NOT GOOGLE “EDELWEISS”. Seriously. If you Google “Edelweiss” you don’t even find the direct link and it’s complicated — you have to go through other websites. So just go do it the long way around, and type in the address: Then bookmark the link.]

When you go directly to Edelweiss, you can view the catalogs and the titles in the catalog without logging in.  This is if you’re not logged in. But, if you log in and get an account, you are able to view review copies/e-galleys and more information. It’s easy to make an account: look in the top corner at “login or register.”

I’m not going to go into the register process this time — because there isn’t really anything key you need to know from it  (it’s fairly straightforward)– but my big tip is make sure that you’re logged in when you go to look and find e-galleys.

So now that you’re logged in, how do you find and get to the galleys?

Look at the top tab on the home page first — it’s the one underneath the cute little Edelweiss flower logo. (seriously I love that logo)

All you need to do is hit “review copies” and you’re done, bada bing bada boom. A new screen will open up and from this screen, you’e able to see the publishers who have galleys AND the number of books that they have as galleys (for example, 3 or 4 books) This does not mean that they only have 3 or 4 COPIES of a book, but those are the books that are available as galleys.

For instance, you can see that Avon Impulse has 2 books available as galleys while Balzer + Bray has 3 and Atria Books has 24(!). To see what books a publisher has available, you simply click their name. A new screen will pop up. So far, this has been mainly like NetGalley. However — and we’re getting there — there are some big changes.

Alright, so I clicked Balzer + Bray’s galleys t0 see what they had available as of this post. The galley page is almost identical to what the catalogs look like: we get the cover, the title, the ISBN, and publishing info, and then we click “show content” to see the rest, like the blurb and marketing.

You can see this in the example of Defiance by CJ Redwine (August 2012).


So you can see the big difference here: there’s a spot to download the review copy. The other difference is that it actually tells you what date the galley was uploaded! Defiance, for instance, was uploaded May 17, as was another book, The Other Normals. But Through To You, the 3rd and final galley available, was added June 20. So that’s kind of a cool feature.

Once you click the button saying you want to download the copy, another box appears:


Edelweiss, rather than having you fill out one biography, makes you put in your  description every time (for instance, you’re a librarian, a blogger, etc). However, this does auto-fill, making it easier and so that you don’t have to type in the same thing over and over.

So if I put in as my role as being a librarian at the Seattle Public Library in Seattle, Washington, the next time I request a galley this happens:


Edelweiss auto-fills for me and keeps my role as a librarian in Seattle intact. This is handy & saves you typing the same thing countless times.

The next step is the part of the form where you fill out your interest in the title. This is different from NetGalley and forces you to think more, I’d say, and think more about why you are interested in reading the title, instead of just crazily downloading tons and tons of galleys. You are required on Edelweiss to fill out an explanation for why you are interested in reading each title for each title that you request.


Once you fill out this form, an email request is sent to the publisher. If the publisher approves you, you will be given access to the galley.


A few more miscellaneous things

There is a type of auto-approve here. Some galleys simply say “Download galley” and then you are immediatly able to download the galley.


Also a handy trick: at the top of the page there is a small header that shows the titles, your downloads, and your requests, and allows you to track your stats & titles.


If you have any more questions on Edelwiess, feel free to ask!


Send Me a Sign by Tiffany Schmidt

16 07 2012


I really dislike cancer books. To me, many of them are too dramatic and incredibly predictable – for instance, in some of the books, it seems incredibly obvious that one of the characters will die due to cancer. While I have liked a few books that deal with topics of cancer, such as Before I Die and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, most books in this genre I tend to avoid.

However, I very much enjoyed reading Send Me a Sign. Why is this? At a glance, it seems like a typical story about a girl diagnosed with leukemia. But really the story is less about cancer than that it involves cancer. Cancer is never really the main point, and while the treatments and such are discussed, the story is more about how cancer affects people.

Mia is a golden girl. She’s got a great group of friends – dubbed the “Calendar Girls” – and a boy who’s interested in dating her. She gets great grades, has a great family who’s proud of her, and is happy in her life. She has a great friend, Gyver, who she’s known for years. All she cares about is having a perfect     senior year. Until she starts getting bumps on her leg. Until her mother, worried, sends her to the doctor to have her checked. Until the doctor tells her that she has leukemia. Until Mia realizes that her perfect, golden life is slipping away from her.

See, Mia’s less concerned about the cancer than she is concerned about her friends finding out about the cancer. She doesn’t want the Calendar Girls to know. If they find out, surely they’ll end their friendship with her. And then her perfect life will come apart. Mia’s mother, wanting her daughter to have a perfect life, comes up with a plan: Mia will hide her secret from her friends and keep up her perfect façade and they’ll never know. Except, as Mia starts treatment and starts feeling sicker, it gets harder and harder to hide her secret from her friends.

What I really loved about this book, like I mentioned before, was how it wasn’t about cancer and more about how people are affected by cancer. The book shows how people are affected by the cancer, by the issues going on – for instance, Mia’s mother becomes overprotective and Mia’s father becomes engrossed in all of the facts about cancer. The book also shows how Mia herself deals with the issue, as she wrestles with the fact that she might die, and the fact that her life has truly changed. It also shows how she deals with the fact that she’s lying and hiding from her friends.

While, at the same time, showing how people are affected, the author also shows the actual treatment, as Mia goes through chemotherapy.

I really loved how superstitions and charms were woven in through the story. Mia is always searching for signs. A necklace on the ground, a piece of paper she finds – everything means something to her. She frequently reads the horoscopes with her friends and wears a good-luck-charm necklace. And when her world gets turned upside down, she is looking for a sign that everything will be alright, be okay. I really loved the aspect of the story.

And as regarding the plot, I liked how it ended up being more about friends and family than cancer. It was a will-she-or-won’t-she scenario as Mia decided whether or not she would tell her friends. The book twisted and turned a few times and I didn’t find the story to be predictable, and the ending was perfect, leaving open a few loose ends while wrapping the whole of the story together.

If there was anything I disliked about the book, it was mainly based around the characters and the romance. The Calendar Girls were hard to tell apart from one another, but that might have been done purposefully, since they were so close that they had almost all become cutouts of one another in their friendship. The romance – it was easy to figure out the one that Mia would end up with. However, it was a fun journey and the contrast between Ryan, the jock that Mia has wanted (and has been “dating”) and Gyver, her old friend, was interesting.

Tiffany Schmidt has really beautiful writing. Her writing is beautiful, easy to read, and sounds like a teenage girl. She manages to keep in her lovely prose while interjecting a strong voice for Mia. I’m very interested to see where she will go next and I’m very excited to read her next book, Bright Before Sunrise.

This book will have lots of appeal to teen girls, and people who liked stories like Jenny Han’s Summer series and books like Before I Die and other books with fun stories and some serious elements. People who dislike cancer books will probably really enjoy this one as well, as it twists the tropes of the cancer genre.