Friday, June 4, 2010

Descartes Philosophy Not Enough for A Medal

I know I shouldn't be surprised..but the concept bothers me anew at the end of the school year. Yesterday I sat in an audience of adults cheering as though their children had just discovered a cure for AIDS. All I could think of is, "What in the world are we clapping about?" I'm talking about the Million-Word Reader awards.
For those of you fortunate enough not to know what this is, it's a reading campaign started in the US many years back in which children set a goal to read so many words and then try to reach or surpass that goal. There is a complex formula for figuring out how many words are in a book--or there's even a website which will give you the word count.
I protested when the idea was introduced at our school, but was told, 'We're just are trying to find a way to encourage children to read." A noble goal. Still I had my doubts which were confirmed when--more than a few times--I saw my daughter looking through her bookshelf, picking out books and dismissing them NOT because of theme or content or even an ugly jacket cover, but because "they don't have enough words."
Trying to keep an open mind about this campaign, I went looking for research which proves the Million Word Reader encourages reading. I mean after all these years there should be some kind of study. I couldn't find anything other than enthusiastic sites which suggested how your school might advertise the campaign through posters, competitions, award nights. I kept thinking, "What are we doing to this younger generation?"
This ridiculous campaign which has swept the nation strikes me as the Cultural Revolution of Literature. In fact, I can see down the line books with few words being burned as “useless," poetry being banned altogether, Descartes philosophy "I think therefore I am." reduced to a mere five words--or by then it might be considered 18 letters--still not enough for a medal. And all the while we sit there clapping.
Am I just being a fuddy-duddy unable to grasp a new teaching method? Does anyone know of research showing that advertising word count is a better way to get kids to read? If not, does anyone have thoughts on how to combat this disaster?
Book of the Week: After the Workshop by John McNally is a novel about a man who joined the highly revered Iowa Writer's Workshop and then stagnated, in the meantime becoming a media escort. It's fun and funny.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Mystery to Be Unraveled

This past weekend, I was invited to listen to the Hindu religious teacher, Swami Chidananda, who was visiting the Bay Area for the first time in three years. One portion of his talk focused on the quote "Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived."
I smiled. Not only life. One could say the same of a manuscript.
While there might be a few basic rules to follow, each novel is unique....a mystery to be unraveled.
I'll be doing a workshop on some of those rules of scene-building for the upcoming East of Eden Writers Conference in Salinas, CA from September 24-26. If you're interested in unraveling a bit of the mystery of your manuscript, come join us.

Book of the Week: I always like to give my brain a reward for doing research. So after a week of reading (portions of) The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam which is a fascinating moment by moment account of the Korean War (and started during the coldest winter in recorded history making it deadly for many of the soldiers), I gave myself a break.
Katie Fforde writes just such relaxing novels--fun, witty stories which make me feel like I'm watching an English television drama. So I plunged into her latest book--ugh. It was hysterically horrible. Her dialogue which drives her stories and is normally so fun was beyond terrible....
"I've got such good news! I wish you'd sit down."
"If it's that good why haven't you told me already? Why have breakfast first?"
"Because I need to have you calm and sitting down."
"I am calm and sitting down. Unlike you."
And on and on...
I was so ready to return to the Coldest Winter--in fact, I would have read anything.

What People Are Saying About My Half of the Sky

My Half of the Sky was the BookSense Pick for August 2006 as well as a Forbes Book Club Pick.

"McBurney-Lin tells a wonderfully entertaining story with the traditional coming-of-age theme (which is experienced universally)...weaving in the cultural challenges of growing up in China's rapidly changing social system."
Mary Warpeha, co-President of the Minnesota Chapter of US-China Friendship Association
March 2010

"The novel ...includes many of the tales and the folk ways of the people living in the rural areas of South China, still followed provincially. The story takes place in current China, but could relate the dilemma of any young woman in rural China through the ages."
Kitty Trescott, National Board of the Midwest Region of US-China Friendship Association. March 2010

"A lot is expected of a young Chinese girl. My Half of the Sky by Jana McBurney-Lin is the story of Li Hui, a young girl who has just achieved marriageable age. She seeks to make the most of herself, but the expectations all around her make it difficult, as her parents seek to use her as pawn to their advantage, she is faced with what she believes to be true love. She must balance career, romance, and family, all to somehow make everyone happy, a tough endeavor indeed. An engaging and entertaining read from beginning to end, "My Half of the Sky" is a poignant tale of the modern Chinese woman, and recommended for community library collections.
--Midwest Book Review November, 2008

“It is a rare women’s novel that sensitively describes the life of a young educated woman in modern-day China in its full complexity, without resorting to unnecessary sentimentalism. Jana’s deep knowledge of the realities of life in China and Singapore makes the reading extra rewarding. In fact, with every new page the novel gets harder to put down and you find yourself gobbling it up before you know it. Finally, the author has given a voice to the Li Hui in all of us, as we struggle for the golden middle between tradition and the modern momentum of our world.”
Isabella Sluzek
Friends of the Museum Book Review 2008

You'll be rooting all the way for Li Hui as she struggles, ahead of the curve, to be her own woman in an emerging, modern China. Jana McBurney-Lin's My half of the Sky is a beautiful, witty, touching debut novel.
Thomas B. Sawyer
Head Writer TV Series "Murder, She Wrote,"
Author - The Sixteenth Man

A complex and mesmerizingly original tale of a young Chinese woman caught between the modern world and the pull of her ancient culture. McBurney-Lin’s intimate portrait of China sparks with insights and is peopled with characters so rich and alive, they seem to breathe on the page. Dazzling and unforgettable.
Caroline Leavitt,
Author - Girls in Trouble

McBurney-Lin's debut novel is a gift. Li Hui is a memorable heroine, a young woman torn between her heart and her culture.Her daunting journey is a trip into China's complicated soul, and a deeply moving exploration of love, honor, duty, and loss." Frank Baldwin, Author - Balling the Jack

My Half of the Sky is a wonderfully-crafted story that was obviously written with a piece of McBurney-Lin's heart. A masterpiece."
Lee Lofland, Author - Howdunit: Police Procedure and Investigation

My Half of the Sky heralds the arrival of a fantastic new storyteller. With artistry and precision, Jana McBurney-Lin's clear-eyed prose takes the reader on a new journey into a past world that speaks to a modern sensibility, a modern world, a modern woman. This is a book to be treasured.
Emily Rapp, Author - The Poster Child

Through vivid descriptions of sights and smells, Jana McBurney-Lin's My Half of the Sky is a haunting, emotional journey of what it means to be an honorable female in modern China. Jill Ferguson, Author - Sometimes Art Can't Save You