ArmchairBEA, Day 1: Introduction

ArmchairBEA is the Internet/social media version of BEA: Book Expo America. BEA is a chance for readers, authors, and publishers to mingle and share their love of the written word, not unlike Stockholm’s own (much smaller) Litteraturmässan.

I missed ArmchairBEA this year, which is a shame because it’s my favorite way to hear about new books and to find new book bloggers (and, increasingly, BookTubers — people who vlog about books on YouTube). It’s a potpourri of Twitter chats, giveaways, and blog prompts, and I’m so bummed about missing it that I’m going to participate anyway.

The first prompt is, as usual, a simple introduction prompt. In case you wanted to know more than what’s on my About Me page!

I am . . .

Most basically, I’m an American expat in Stockholm who cobbles together a living from freelance editing and EFL tutoring. I don’t see the fields as discrete; rather, they interact with and reinforce each other.

Currently . . .

I’ve just wrapped up lessons with three different students, just in time for me to pick up work on two (rather large) editing projects.

I love . . .

I love giving people the tools they need to articulate themselves. This is where editing and tutoring overlap, and it’s the best part of both jobs for me.

I also used to work in a jewelry-making supplies store, and incidentally that was my favorite part of that job as well. Only I was helping people articulate themselves through a very different medium!

On a less career/aspirational level, I love being outside in the sunshine (and being at home in the rain), reading, a good cup of tea, and Korean food.

My favorite . . .

My favorite Korean dish is budae jjigae (a spicy stew that includes assorted American-style meats), my favorite tea is Söderte, and choosing my favorite book would be like choosing a favorite child. You can read about my favorite books according to GoodReads, if you’re curious about my tastes.

My least favorite . . .

My least favorite precious gem is the diamond. Controversial opinion time, I guess! But even if they weren’t an ethical nightmare, I would still be unimpressed. I’ve seen properly cut, high-quality quartz that has the same sparkle and flash as a diamond. And that’s not even including Herkimer diamonds.

My least favorite book is equally hard to choose, but out of a field of mediocre reads, one that stands out is Rabbit, Run. I’m not a big Updike fan.

My current read . . .

Oh, so many! I have two that I’m reading for group obligations:  Madonna in a Fur Coat for my Internet book club and The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide for my in-person critique group. I’ve also borrowed The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage from a critique group friend, a book that is relevant to my interests as well as my ongoing writing project. Finally, my Swedish book of the moment is Karin Boye’s Kris.

My summer plans . . .

I’ll be traveling to the US in August for a wedding.

My buddy . . .

My buddy Aaron is the one getting married! Here we are in Beijing during Lunar New Year 2010:

Myself (center left) and a friend (center) at a company dinner party in Beijing for Lunar New Year 2009
Myself (center left) and a friend (center) at a company dinner party in Beijing for Lunar New Year 2010

He’s conversant, if not fluent, in (Mandarin) Chinese, and when I touched down in Beijing on the evening before Lunar New Year, he put that Chinese to good use finding us a place to eat. All of the restaurants anywhere near our hostel had been closed all day, or closed early. When we got here, they initially turned us away, too, but he finally switched to Chinese and explained that it was my first night in Beijing, and that I had just flown in from Seoul without any dinner. Either his Chinese, my sad story, or both convinced them to let us in, and we shared a huge company meal, complete with alcohol and dancing.

And now he’s getting married!

My blog/channel/social media . . .

The other place on social media where you can find me is on Twitter (@KobaEnglish). I would rather eat rusty nails than start a video channel.

The best . . .

The best part of this trip will definitely be seeing so many of my friends in the US who can’t take the time (or spend the money) to come see me in Stockholm.

Book Review: This One Summer

I’ve been a fan of graphic novels for a while, now. Fortunately they seem to be undergoing a renaissance of sorts, making it easy to find something to suit your tastes. It’s not just tights and capes!

Moreover, graphic novels are a really great resource for EFL students. Especially ones that aren’t already bookworms to begin with. This One Summer is one that I’ve been meaning to read for a while, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it in the teenage section of my local branch of the Stockholm Public Library.

This One Summer cover
Image courtesy First Second and Jillian Tamaki

Author: Mariko Tamaki

Artist: Jillian Tamaki

My GoodReads Rating: 3 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.65 stars

Language level: A2/B1+

Plot summary: Rose and her family are on vacation in the lake town of Awago, something they’ve done since Rose was 5. Rose and her friend Windy watch slasher movies, go swimming in the lake, and watch teenage and adult drama unfold around them.

Recommended audience: This One Summer is marketed as a Young Adult novel, but I think there’s a lot in here for adults to relate to. We were all teenagers once! The language is relatively simple but there is a lot of slang, which might throw some readers off. There’s also some profanity. The story focuses more on characters than on plot, so it’s not for people who prefer a lot of action and story.

In-depth thoughts: I suppose I had certain expectations, and they weren’t really met. There isn’t a whole lot of plot or character development: Windy and Rose are just teenage girls watching the world around them: the stories happen for other people, not for them. I spent most of the time waiting for something to happen, and then nothing really did.

But the art is gorgeous. My favorite part—the freeze frames of all the slash-y horror movies Rose and Windy watch are drawn almost hyperrealistically, while all of the “real” world is fairly cartoony. I like little touches like that.

My family often stayed in a hunting cabin up in the mountains near Rutland, Vermont during the summers, so all of the “lake vacation” elements touched on some of my own favorite lake memories. That said, we didn’t really get to know the other residents and vacationers, so I never had a “lake friend” like Rose did.

No, not a lot happens, and I guess at the end of the day how you feel about character-driven stories will affect how you feel about this book. The good news is that you can pick it up from Stockholm Public Library and see for yourself if you want to buy it or not!

Book Review: Light

Author: Rob Cham

Genre: Fantasy (graphic novel)

My GoodReads rating: 4 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 4.15

Language scaling: All levels / Not applicable

Plot summary: An adventurer looks for treasure in a fantasy world.

Recommended audience: Appropriate for all ages, Rob Cham’s art has something for everyone.

In-depth thoughts: I’ve talked before about the great potential graphic novels have to build confidence and bridge gaps in ELLs. By connecting words with pictures, students can more readily understand a story and increase their vocabulary. Books without words are another situation entirely. Purely visual stories like Rob Cham’s Light have a place in every library, particularly for teachers who work with young ELLs.

Image courtesy Rob Cham and Anino Comics/Adarna House.
Image courtesy Rob Cham and Anino Comics/Adarna House.

Many times, an activity calls for using or describing an image (this is why keeping a variety of magazines on hand can be a life saver); here’s an entire book with fantastic, child-friendly imagery you can pull out again and again. Each page is its own scene that invites imagination and wonder.

Of course, Light isn’t just a collection of pictures; it’s also a story. And in the tradition of classics like The Snowman, it’s very effective at telling its story without any words. But at the same time, the reader is free to create any story they wish. What happened in between each page? What are characters thinking? How are they feeling? All of that is up for interpretation and personalization, far more than in a conventional novel or graphic novel.

You can preview the first few pages of Light on Cham’s homepage. I quite like all of his work, though not all of it might be appropriate for children (a bit of nudity and salty language appear elsewhere). Light also has a sequel, Lost, which you can read for free online.

Finally, it might be worth pointing out that Cham is a Filipino artist. Do with that what you will: share Light with your Filipino diaspora or southeast Asian students (particularly those interested in video games or visual arts), include it in your #ownvoices or #diversebooks reading lists, or have a short geography/social studies lesson before or after reading.

I was provided with a free digital copy for review from NetGalley, but this in no way affected my opinion of the book. I will definitely be purchasing the hardcover version (which was just released a few days ago on October 4th) to use in my English lessons (and to enjoy myself!).

Graphic Novel Suggestions for ELLs

I’m a huge proponent of reading. I think it’s one of the best ways to acquire new vocabulary and to familiarize yourself with new language patterns. But sometimes making the leap from short sentences or paragraphs to full-length novels or even short stories is intimidating. Some students may have have a learning disability that makes it hard to focus on huge walls of text. In these cases, graphic novels can be a good stepping stone towards traditional novels—and they’re also just fun reading in their own right.

GetGraphic.org has an exhaustive list of graphic novels that might appeal to EFL students. They’re sorted alphabetically by title, and grade levels are given along with a brief summary. (Note: Grade 1 in the United States is typically 6–7 years old, and Grade 2 is 7–8, and so on.) Based on that list, and my own reading, I have a few recommendations.

For people who were or are cynical teenagers: Ghost World

The stress of college and an uncertain future lingers over outsider best friends Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer.

For people who love mythology and folklore: Fables

Beloved fairy tale characters have fled their homeland and try to make a new life in modern-day New York City.

For science nerds: Optical Allusions

From Jay Hosler’s own site: “Wrinkles the Wonder Brain has lost his bosses’ eye and now he has to search all of human imagination for it.” Eyes not your thing? Hosler also has graphic novels available on evolution and insects.

For history buffs: Boxers & Saints

This account of the Boxer Rebellion is told from two different fictional perspectives: a young Boxer and a Chinese convert to Catholicism.

For fans of the classics: The Last Knight

Comics giant Will Eisner takes on Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

For people who feel like they don’t belong: Persepolis

The autobiographical story of Marjane Satrapi and her youth in 1980s Iran. Volume 2 covers her years in Europe and return to Iran.

Do you have any favorite graphic novels? Share them in the comments or tweet me @KobaEnglish!