They informed, analyzed and challenged GR's decision to move towards censorship, and echoed my thoughts and feelings on the situation exactly.
Now for the criticisms.
OFF-TOPIC possesses a very narrow and biased focus, concentrating exclusively on Goodreads and its reviewers, and for the most part excludes dissenting points of view and the wider context of author opinions on the new policy, Amazon's censorship of self-published authors, and various retailers removing all ebooks by self-published authors while they weed out the excessively offensive and illegal works. These events were taking place concurrently during a 3-week period and one wonders if they're all interrelated.
Some contributors have authored several pieces within the book. They also happen to be the most popular reviewers on Goodreads, the most visible, so many will have previously read what's included here. It would've been nice if OFF-TOPIC contained a few more pieces submitted from less high profile Goodreads members to showcase variety and prove that this policy has an impact on everyone rather than the most prolific or active minority.
And while the majority of the pieces are thoughtful, well-written and entertaining, there is repetition and overlap in particular areas where my attention wandered. Considering the limited scope of subject area, this is to be expected.
I've tried to review this work fairly, in light of my obviously biased standpoint, evaluating OFF-TOPIC as I would any other non-fiction read.
One of the better anthologies I've read. My absolute favourite story in this collection is Life in a Shoe by Heidi R. Kling, one of the more faithfulOne of the better anthologies I've read. My absolute favourite story in this collection is Life in a Shoe by Heidi R. Kling, one of the more faithful stories to it's original nursery rhyme -"There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe".
As Blue as the Sky and Just as Old by Nina Berry ★☆☆☆☆ Based on "Taffy was a Welshman". I couldn't get past Aderyn's horror movie Too Stupid To Live nature, following a stranger into his car and motel room.
Sing a Song of Six-Pence by Sarwat Chadda ★★★☆☆ Based on "Sing a Song of Sixpence" (Four and Twenty Blackbirds). A sad story revolving around the misery a king has caused and a deal made between the maid and the last free Blackbird.
Clockwork by Leah Cypress ★★★★☆ Based on "Hickory Dickory Dock". The most well-rounded story so far, about a princess-turned-mouse, a magic-infused clock and knife, a witch, and a political coup.
Blue by Sayantani DaGupta ★★★☆☆ Based on "Little Boy Blue". The Children of Ink reminded me of Safe-Keepers and Truth-Tellers but they appear to be wraith-like Fates. Although the story is a little amorphous, I still liked it.
Pieces of Eight by Shannon Delany with Max Scialdone ★☆☆☆☆ Based on "Sleep, Baby, Sleep" (The Papa Guards the Sheep). This one didn't interest me at all despite the mention of a prophecy, a human sacrifice and a journey. The writing style and structure of story didn't help. I'm unsurprised by my lack of enjoyment since I gave up on Delany's Twilight-esque 13 to Life series.
Wee Willie Winkie by Leigh Fallon [unrated] Based on "Wee Willie Winkie". I doubt I could give an unbiased opinion of this one so I skipped it due to Fallon's actions earlier this year.
Boys and Girls Come Out to Play by Angie Frazier ★★★★☆ Based on "Girls and Boys Come Out To Play". Witches in the woods kidnap or call children to their den in the woods, where most are never heard from again. The protagonist finds the summoning in her catatonic sister's hands, knowing the consequences for not attending she goes in her sister's place. There's a dash of forbidden love and an ending that didn't quite satisfy. Reminded me of Sarah Jessica Parker's song calling children from their beds to their deaths in the movie Hocus Pocus.
I Come Bearing Souls by Jessie Harrell ★★★☆☆ Based on "Hey Diddle Diddle". Egyptian mythology, yes! The protagonist is a reincarnation of Hathor with the duty to welcome the dead to the afterlife, her brother is Anubis and sister, Bast. The teens live and work in a funeral home doing their mythological duty.
The Lion and the Unicorn: Part of the First by Nancy Holder ★★★★☆ Based on "The Lion and the Unicorn". Part one of the story. Reminiscent of Joan of Arc, our protagonist dresses as a boy and hears what she perceives as the word of God via an angel, telling her to serve King James I who has just been crowned King of England (the Lion) and is all ready King of Scotland (the Unicorn). While she serves him food, she witnesses his war on evil witches plotting to bring him down. He throws them in filthy cells and tortures them into confessing. But all is not as it seems...(view spoiler)[Although part two isn't included the ending is implicit: the king is a warlock sucking the life/souls out of the witches he kills. The girls vision might mean she one day poisons the king. At least that's my interpretation. (hide spoiler)]
Life in a Shoe by Heidi R. Kling ★★★★★ Based on "There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe". Brilliant. I practically highlighted the whole story. After the Rule was implemented, the two children one couple has turns into ten with an eleventh on the way. More children than they're able to feed, as the the eldest son says, "We're like crops to them, raised to fight in their never-ending wars." The eldest daughter replies, "You'd think if they wanted decent crops, they'd figure out a way to feed them better." She's the protagonist who reaches the end of her tether. This story has the feel of The Handmaid's Tale about it.
Interlude: Humpty Dumpty, a poem by Georgia McBride ~*not included in the ARC*
Candlelight by Suzanne Lazear ★★★☆☆ Based on "How Many Miles to Babylon?". Take Stardust's Babylon Candle and two typical naive teens fed up of the usual parental discipline, and you get this story. Travelling to Babylon, a paradise too good to be true, two teen sisters escape their mother. But when they come to miss her and return home, they find that (view spoiler)[thirty years have passed, and they've been declared dead. (hide spoiler)]
One for Sorrow by Karen Mahoney ★☆☆☆☆ [DNF] Based on "One for Sorrow". DNF. Reads like it's from someone new to writing. Very simple, slow and dull. Seemed to be inspired by Poe's The Raven but with a crow instead.
Those Who Whisper by Lisa Mantchev ★★★☆☆ Based on 'When I was a little girl, about seven years old, I hadn't got a petticoat, to cover me from the cold.' When her mother dies, a girl is forced out of the village and ekes out her living in the woods with the birds. I'm unsure exactly how this one ended: whether the boy and girl went their separate ways or stayed together.
Little Miss Muffet by Georgia McBride ★★★★☆ Based on "Little Miss Muffet". Were-spiders! That's a new one on me. A satisfying short story.
Sea of Dew (short version) by C. Lee McKenzie ★★★☆☆ Based on "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod". Damn, that was depressing. I'm reminded of: Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink. Surrounded by the salty sea, three boys and one girl are adrift in a small boat after their vessel capsized. Water becomes increasingly scarce (view spoiler)[ and they all either kill themselves or die of thirst. (hide spoiler)]
Tick Tock by Gretchen McNeil ★★★☆☆ Based on "There's a neat little clock, in the schoolroom it stands, and it points to the time with its two little hands." One word: creepy. Good creepy, not bad creepy. But then children always are, especially identical ones with synchronised identical movements and words from their mouths.
A Pocket Full of Posy by Pamela van Hylckama Vlieg ★★☆☆☆ Based on "Ring a Ring o' Roses". A teenage boy comes to with blood on his hands and jeans with no memory of what happened, until he finds his girlfriend dead and fears he might be a murderer. (view spoiler)[Turns out a vampire did it. (hide spoiler)] Meh.
The Well by K.M. Walton ★★☆☆☆ Based on "Jack and Jill. The Shiver Rash Virus is responsible for killing thousands and finally hits Alaska where Jack and Jill believe their the last living inhabitants of their town and are probably immune. Jack loses his marbles and tries to kill Jill. There is no happy ending.
The Wish by Suzanne Young ★★☆☆☆ Based on Star Light, Star Bright. Can be summed up as the following: Be careful what you wish for.
A Ribbon of Blue by Michelle Zink ★★★★☆ Based on "Oh Dear! What Can the Matter Be?". I'm surprised I liked Zink's story since I disliked her writing in Prophecy of the Sisters. The female protagonist, Ruby, has cerebral palsy causing her difficulty in walking. Her grandmother whom she lives with is suffering severe emphysema and could die at any moment causing Ruby to worry about what her life will be like after she dies, until she sees a fortune-teller at a carnival who gives her hope, telling her she'll meet a boy working at the carnival who'll bring light, freedom and love. So she visits the carnival every year to the day she finally meets him. A bittersweet ending.
Sea of Dew (extended version) by C. Lee McKenzie ~*not included in the ARC*
The Lion and The Unicorn: Part the Second by Nancy Holder ~*not included in the ARC*
*My thanks to Month9Books and Netgalley for the ebook in return for an honest review.*["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
People should read this for Stephen Fry, Karin Slaughter and Julian Barnes's contributions, as these alone should convince EVERYONE, even cynical politicians, to preserve every single library, no matter how small. If you value books and are worried about their future, then this is a must read.
The Library Book is filled with essays, stories and autobiographical pieces by a range of authors and journalists from different backgrounds about the importance of libraries in the past, present (2012) and future. The proceeds of this book go to The Reading Agency, a UK charity which runs reading programmes in libraries, so even though it advocates using and preserving libraries, buying this will also have a beneficial effect.
Foreword by Rebecca Gray & Afterword: The Reading Agency by Miranda McKearney
This Place Will Lend You Books For Free by James Brown 4★ As this dude says "it's cheaper than Amazon." In my case, I spent £0.99 buying the Kindle edition and my library would've charged £0.70 to reserve the dead tree edition so for me this was true.
Character Building by Anita Anand 2★ Anand recalls herself as a voracious reader as a child, leaning to one side as she struggled to carry home piles of books.
The Defence of the Book by Julian Barnes 5★ A previously unseen extract from England, England. *adds to shelf* A dystopian view of future England and the role of the library. Having dead tree books makes it harder to control the truth whereas with a few clicks digital information can be distorted. Could've done without this cliffhangering mid-sentence though. I wanna know the rest!
The Punk and the Langside Library by Hardeep Singh Koli 2★ This personal experience shows the diverseness of the people that use and intermingle inside the walls of libraries and how it strengthens communities.
The Rules by Lucy Mangan 4★ A charmingly funny list of rules in Mangan's library.
Baffled at a Bookcase by Alan Bennett 1★ [unfinished] Tedious and over-long, I lost interest.
The Future of the Library by Seth Godin 5★ I'd love to see Godin's ideas come to fruition on libraries teaching how to find and use information efficiently rather than just being repositories, encouraging a far more active role in communities.
Going to the Dogs by Val McDermid 3★ Ah, the ingenuity of children. In order gain access to the world of adult books the young McDermid tells the librarians her mother is bedridden and must supply her with books. They fall for it -hook, line and sinker.
I ❤ Libraries by Lionel Shriver 4★ Shriver argues libraries support publishers and writers when unless something is a bestseller a book may only remain on shelves for 6 weeks after release, and publishers refuse to keep backlists in print. She concludes with: 'I am bequeathing whatever modest estate I accumulate by my death to the Belfast Library Board.' I respect her reasons for doing this. Kudos.
Have You Heard of Oscar Wilde? by Stephen Fry 5★ Amazing. People should get this book just for this. The autobiographical piece explains so much about this man and his obsession with Oscar Wilde, his idol. (He even plays him in the movie, Wilde.) This is incredibly moving and inspiring, and exactly why access to books is so important.
The Secret Life of Libraries by Bella Bathurst 4★ Interested in the miscellaneous oddities of libraries? What people choose to do in them other than the obvious? This is for you. They can be more licentious places than the stuffy, church-like atmosphere suggests. Very interesting.
The Booksteps by China Miéville 2★ An extract from Un Lun Dun. A strange children's story of a crossover from real London to the mirror world of UnLondon.
Alma Mater by Caitlin Moran 3★ Moran argues that once you close libraries they will be too costly to reopen when things get better. So once they're gone, they're gone forever: 'Libraries that stayed open during the Blitz will be closed by budgets.'
The Library of Babylon by Tom Holland 3★ I skimmed this one a bit but it details the historical significance of libraries in the ancient world and how they were symbols of great power for many rulers: 'Knowledge was power - and power was barely worth having without knowledge.'
It Takes a Library... by Michael Brooks 1★ [unfinished] Lost interest.
The Magic Threshold by Bali Rai 1★ Not that interesting. Best quote: 'Technology has its place, but it would not even exist without books and libraries.'
Libraries Rock! by Ann Cleeves 2★ The end of this piece is excellent: 'And if libraries don't support these writers, publishers won't commission them. Without money, libraries are tempted to buy what is certain to issue - and that's the material that you can find in every supermarket, the bestsellers, the easily promoted. Libraries aren't supermarkets; they're places of cultural importance, where magic happens and where dreams begin.'
The Five-Minute Rule by Julie Myerson 3★ About the role the library played as a child when Myerson was an exuberant young writer, plus some tips on how to get started.
If You Tolerate This... by Nicky Wire 2★ Nicky Wire as interviewed by Robin Turner for The Guardian Wire's answer to the plight of libraries: 'higher taxation of wealthiest 10% of the country.'
Library Life by Zadie Smith 2★ Smith believes this shameful government is trying to hand off the burden of building and maintaining of infrastructure (like libraries and schools) to the people with the invention of the 'Big Society' so they're free to nationalise and save the private sector.
The Lending Library by Kate Mosse 1★ [unfinished] I gave up on this one. I think it was a supernatural murder mystery set in the 1950s involving a library but my attention wandered. It was also longer than most of the other pieces.
Fight for Libraries as You Do Freedom by Karin Slaughter 5★ A powerful, passionate and well-researched essay by an internationally bestselling author all ready proactive in the fight to save libraries by founding the 'Save the Libraries' project which has so far raised $100k. I wholeheartedly agreed with her hard-hitting and direct arguments. I must read this author.
I have no idea what my average rating of these pieces is but I do believe this is an important, timely book. It depicts the current crisis, gives us the historical importance of libraries, divulges a broad range of positive life-changing personal experiences with libraries and the negative effects should libraries go into decline, and presents the need for libraries to evolve and stay up-to-date. ...more