Thursday, 30 January 2014

Twitter's power - Finding Cinderella

This morning Atria Books announced via twitter that they are going to publish in print form Colleen Hoover's Finding Cinderella. This short novella, which is part of Hoover's Hopeless series (but also stands alone as a short story) was originally published for free as an e-book in October 2013. However, the praise and admiration by Hoover's fans for the novella has prompted Atria's decision to print the book. The readers made their voice heard specifically through the social medium of Twitter with the hashtag #findingcinderella

Clearly, the publishing industry, like so many other industries, is being touched by digital and social media advances in more ways than one. Twitter, obviously, has many advantages for businesses wishing to achieve mass-scale advertising and publicity. Hashtags can go global in a matter of hours and the exposure Twitter creates is immense.

However, it is not just a one-way street where users are bombarded with advertisements and product launches - though some days it might seem the case. Instead, where Twitter's brilliance lies is in the exchange of dialogue and information. From pop stars to sports stars, heads of state to heads of companies, Twitter allows the 'ordinary' person to contact people otherwise considered to live in some other-worldly-more-powerful-than-me place. Celebrities interact with their fans and - crucial to this discussion - businesses interact with their customers. After all, what are readers if they aren't customers of the author? They equally have the right to praise or condemn the quality of the product they receive, and apparently, they also work in the line of supply vs. demand. For Finding Cinderella, Atria Books saw the demand, hence the supply.

With this kind of publisher-author-editor-reader interaction unfolding publicly before everyones eyes, its no wonder that new books are increasingly being printed with a book title hashtag on the front of their jackets. Suddenly, book clubs have become viral - no longer are we restricted to a weekly meeting to discuss how we responded to a book. Instead, Twitter gives the platform for global discussion and reviews.

This event not only teaches us about the way in which Twitter has reconfigured the client-provider relationship, but also teaches us a little something about the e-book revolution. 

What lesson is that exactly? Well, it seems that for many readers, for all its positives (practical, simple, cheap - or free in this case!), an e-book is not quite enough. Among readers, there is still the demand for having something that can be put on a book shelf, or piled up on the bedside table. Evidently, tangibility is still something that readers value - certainly when they love the book! For publishers, this event seems to showcase that while e-books may allow for pre-print publication marketing campaigns, printed books still have a viable, and seemingly vocal, market demand.
So I guess all that's left to do now, is see what all the fuss is about!
*download of Finding Cinderella complete*

Friday, 17 January 2014

January Wish List

University life is one long reading list at the moment and so, unfortunately, I don't anticipate having much time to cosy up to a book over the next five months that isn't about global disasters/contemporary France or written by Zadie Smith.

I'm not complaining - studying Literature at Warwick is the best decision I've made yet. However, I really am eager to graduate to get back to reading some crime/thriller/chick-lit wonders (especially if I could do it for a career)! So, I've decided as a little New Years Resolution that each month I'll compile a short list of a few books which have been published and which I plan on reading - one day!


1. The Amber Fury - Nathalie Haynes (Corvus)
2. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn (Crown)
3. The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty (Penguin Books)
4. The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion (Penguin Books)
5. Barracuda - Christos Tsiolkas  (Atlantic Books) - a must considering I proof read the jacket during my internship!

And I just have to get on to And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini which has been waiting patiently on my kindle for far too long!!

I think that's a good start to my 2014 reading list - I can't wait 'til I find the time to dabble in it.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Mine's Jodi Picoult

Who's your go-to author?

That one author that you keep going back to, time and time again?
If you don't have one, why don't you give mine a try?

Jodi Picoult.

I was first introduced to Picoult's work by a friend over five years ago, and I've never looked back. Keeping Faith, My Sister's Keeper, Handle With Care, The Pact, The Story Teller - just a few of Picoult's novels that I call to mind as having deeply moved me upon reading.

The success of Picoult's novels comes from her ability to create a beautiful, emotive work of fiction from a provocative, contentious topic. Brittle-bones disease, euthanasia, suicide and - most recently - war crimes - Picoult's characters are faced with extraordinary trials, yet at the same time, are just ordinary people. Each story, in one way or another, tackles these issues from a legal, and also an ethical ,perspective. Always meticulously informed, Picoult asks a question of the reader while, it must be said, still managing to entertain them (even if said entertainment leaves you in tears).

If you are to read any of Picoult's work - I urge you to read The Pact. From my brother to my Dad, my Mum to my Grandma - no one to whom I recommended this book could dispute the greatness of this novel:

The Pact, published in 1998, is a haunting love story. When Emily is found dead with a gunshot wound to the head, in the arms of Chris her best friend and boyfriend, no one knows what to think. What follows is a tormenting tale of family tribulation as Chris and Emily's parents try to come to turns with the notion that their children had made a suicide pact. The families, once so close, are torn apart as Chris finds himself on trial for Emily's murder.

What's so engaging about Picoult's work, and what resonates from The Pact, as it does from the others, is the feeling within the novel.

Picoult's worlds are not far-fetched, fantastical, imaginary worlds. They are real, they are current, they are relatable, or at least, possible. Picoult asks you to think about that.

Children's Literacy in the Digital Age

I can sometimes be quite critical of the internet, I suppose in some ways I am an old soul, wanting to preserve human aspects of life that seem to be being replaced with technology. Like children painting on iPads/tablets instead of on paper with paint...sure, it diminishes mess, and probably the cost in the long run, but what about the experience of painting? The same goes for communicating of course, although we cannot deny the benefits it brings to our way of living - we don't yet know the costs social networks etc. will have on our future notion of self - when this generation of selfie-takers and snap-chatters grow into adults, parents and leaders.

But what about reading? I used to think reading had to be a book, printed pages - just look at my "the kindle temptation" post to see how I felt conflicted over the notion of e-books. But then I came across some children's reading material in which books are now available online - stories are like flip charts - and children are encouraged to read aloud with the voice over.

This is clearly a sign of the times and crucially meets the needs and desires of these generations. Zadie Smith recently discussed how she considers books to now have to compete with an abundance of images in our lives, and this is so true, not least with children's literature. Characters who talk to you, who engage you, who allow you to be a part of the story, interactively, whilst all the time making you read - this is the future of children's literature. This is where it has to go. For a book to compete with video games and TV to capture a child's attention, it has to now be more than pop up pictures or sound-buttons. It has to enter into a child's world, which is now one of the internet and apps. Life is now lived on-screen and reading needs to respond to this.

The primary goal has to be literacy. We have a generation of people who will surpass the adult generation in digital literacy - there are schools across the globe already teaching it as a language. However, we must not forget the importance of English literacy. It doesn't matter how we get children reading, as long as that's what we do; we need to encourage literacy in the UK whereby text language and abbreviations do not become part of children's formal reading and therefore day-to-day vocabulary.

As for the second goal of reading - inspiring a child's imagination - if we can use technology to help children develop their creativity by combining the usual words, colour and images of a child's story with sounds, voices and movement, then we should.

In my opinion, bed-time reading for a child should always be a tangible book which necessitates the turning of a page - not least because screens have been proven to stimulate the mind before bed. Nevertheless, in this ever-evolving technological climate, it is imperative that children's literature engages with their world today - even if that means clicking a button instead of turning the page.

Educating who?

The subject of Michael Gove's education reforms is rightly a hot topic of debate at the moment. I remember proof-reading my friend's dissertation on such reforms last summer (she did theatre studies), and it seems to me that despite the obvious opposition posed to the government's plans, it seems nothing will affect them.

Yes, something does have to change. You only have to glance at the latest report from Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment), to see that our education system is severely lacking in comparison to those of other countries (South Korea and Finland raking 1st + 2nd for reading, maths and science - we rank 17th, 24th, and 14th respectively).

However, as many have already voiced - much more effectively and insightfully as I ever could - there are serious contentious issues with Gove's reforms.

What concerns me most, is the way in which the Department for Education seems so intent on forming the English educative system on those of Eastern Asian countries, and, in doing so, eliminating all subjects deemed non-academic. The new English Baccalaureate will see students studying one Shakespeare play, alongside other literary texts. Yet this 'drama' section within the English qualification is supposed to replace (and therefore account for) drama within the education framework as a whole. Drama, it seems, no longer holds importance.  While to some degree I can relate to the suggestion that Drama in school is not taken seriously, in my opinion, to withdraw it from the curriculum as an entity in itself, is to destroy our culture.

As an humanities student, I am of course biased. But, as many authors, artists and performers would agree, the arts contribute such a great deal to our sense of culture. Not to mention the ways in which drama, as a subject, enables students to develop - to address fears of public-speaking, to develop social skills, as well as analytic and interpretative capabilities.

It's all well and good to base our educational system on other countries, but in my opinion, that shouldn't be the point. Yes, our education system is flawed. Yet the government's plans seem to be withdrawing the only good thing about it - its endeavour to give students a rounded, varied, and thought-provoking education. What the government seems to forget, is that children need to be engaged by school, as much as they are taught. School, in my opinion, is about preparing a child for their future - whatever that may be. By focusing solely on the 'academic' aspect of schooling, the new regime fails students.

Having spent time working within the French education system as a language assistant for the British Council, I wholeheartedly believe that a turning away from creativity within the educational sphere, is a regression of the greatest kind. I frequently speak with French students who are amazed to learn that the English school system offers classes in cookery, textiles and technologies through which the learning experience is more well-rounded one. It is these features of the UK school system which need to be bettered and encouraged, not eliminated.