Monday, February 28, 2005

Professional Trauma

This past weekend I received a potential blow to my self-esteem. Since I'm talking about my professional self-esteem, it's okay for me to discuss it here.

Okay, here's the background. I have been asked to speak at an American Association of University Women luncheon. The AAUW is an association of female college graduates that works to promote education for women. (I mention this because until I went to its website I had only the vaguest idea what this organization was about.) Anyway, many local AAUWs have Book and Author Luncheons. They invite a few authors to speak, sell tickets, and the money raised supports their activities-- mainly, I believe, scholarship funds.

Well, on Saturday, I received a flyer for this event, which included pictures of the three authors and descriptions of a book for each of us. So far, so good. I noticed that one of the authors was a young, good-looking fellow, but I didn't think a whole lot about it because I had things to do that day.

Well, Saturday night I'm channel surfing and I stumble onto CSPAN where I see a guy on some kind of panel. Imagine my surprise when I notice that he has a name very similar to that of the young, good-looking fellow who is speaking with me at this luncheon in April. He looks a lot like him, too. So I run and get the flyer and sure enough, I was right. The name is the same.

I look him up on the Internet. His name is Ian Smith. He's written a novel called The Blackbird Papers, which is why he's going to be at the luncheon. But here's the kicker:

He was a medical correspondent for NBC News!!!!

Why is this a threat to my professional self-esteem? The guy is accustomed to speaking on camera. (My one experience on camera was with a local access program. I looked like garbage--though thin--and had this intense, creepy way of speaking.) I repeat, the guy is accustomed to speaking on camera. I'm guessing we will not be hearing any "Ah...ah...ah..." from him nor any "Now where was I going with this?" Will Mr. Smith...wait, excuse me! He's a doctor! And the M.D. kind, too. Will Dr. Smith have to pause to look for his place in his notes?

Will he even need notes?

Oh, gasp.

Well, fortunately, last Wednesday night I attended my second black belt class at the dojang where I train. (This is personal but relates to my professional life because everything is connected, see?) Anyway, there was a ten to fifteen minute kicking exercise that was so brutal I nearly broke down in tears. Fortunately, self-contral is one of the basic tenants of taekwondo, and I am much better at self-control than I am at holding body targets while other black belts are kicking me black and blue. That was the part of the exercise that was bothering me.

This whole miserable black belt class experience was like something out of a sports movie. The kind of sports movie where someone has been training for years and is feeling humiliated because she is still so bad at what she does. In those movies the humiliated person has some kind of maturing experience and gets all spunky and tough. I've had the maturing experience part. It remains to be seen how spunky and tough I'll become.

Anyway, it just seems to me that my concerns about speaking at the same luncheon with Dr. Ian Smith are similar to my concerns about going to the black belt class. I don't want to be humiliated by someone who can perform better than I can. The solution, to both the black belt thing and the speaking engagement, is to train harder.

Otherwise Dr. Ian Smith is going to kick my butt and hand it back to me just like the other black belts did at the dojang last week.

The other speaker at this luncheon will be Kathleen O'Connor, author of No Accident. Wouldn't it be a hoot if I'm all worried about Ian Smith but Kathleen ends up grinding both of us into the ground?

Yeah, that would be really funny.

Friday, February 25, 2005

I Want to Finish This

I want to finish what I brought up a few days ago regarding The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss or Theodor Geisel. This whole thing started when some people at Child_Lit started talking about how weird that book is.

Okay. Someone at Child_Lit linked to this article at The New Yorker, which related to the subject at hand. The first part of the article is all about The Cat in the Hat's connection to the Cold War. Wish I could explain that to you, but it shot right over my head.

No, the interesting part of the article comes after a brief discussion of how Geisel started to make a name for himself with his children's books from the late '30s through the mid-50s. At that point the way Americans learned to read in schools was coming under attack in a book called Why Johnny Can't Read, which I may have actually read back in my teacher ed days. (But, really, who knows?) The New Yorker article includes the following quote from Johnny relating to the quality of Dick and Jane readers: "horrible, stupid, emasculated, pointless, tasteless little readers, the stuff and guff about Dick and Jane or Alice and Jerry visiting the farm and having birthday parties and seeing animals in the zoo and going through dozens and dozens of totally unexciting middle-class, middle-income, middle-I.Q. children's activities that offer opportunities for reading 'Look, look' or 'Yes, yes' or 'Come, come' or 'See the funny, funny animal.'"

I really wanted to mention this because I loved, loved, Dick and Jane. And Alice and Jerry, too. I loved those primers about dads who wore suits to mysterious jobs and moms who did housework in dresses, high heels and pearls. I remember one story about the kids having a birthday party at which ice cream shaped like animals was served to the guests. I could not get enough of this stuff.

So then The New Yorker article goes on to say that Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was engaged to write new school readers--with the assistance of vocabulary lists. His publisher gave him lists of words to use, words that were either recognizable by first graders or words that they could sound out given the phonics they had learned. The first book Geisel wrote in this way was...The Cat in the Hat.

Now, that was quite an impressive accomplishment. I'm not knocking it. Still, the whole idea of tens of thousands of kids learning to read from an array of books that exist primarily because of the words they contain rather than their stories or ideas me. Very brave new worldish. I wonder if this is still being done. Or, has Geisel, who was once cutting edge and the great new thing in education, now been been displaced, himself, by other methods/philosophies?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Jane, Jane, What Have They Done To You?

Jane Eyre commemorative stamps have been issued in Great Britain. If these things don't put a generation off reading the book, I can't imagine what will. Jane is described as plain in the book, but, whoa, these images go way past that. Thanks to Blog of a BS for the link. I guess.

If only we lived in The Eyre Affair. There would be a law against doing this kind of thing to our Jane. Speaking of The Eyre Affair, I'm somewhat behind in my reading of the Thursday Next books. But Jaspar Fforde's website is so cluttered and overstuffed I can't take the time to wade through it to see what I've missed.

I haven't forgotten I've promised you more about The Cat in the Hat. However, I'm committed to shortish posts so next time. Maybe. Just to give you a hint, though, Dick and Jane will be involved.

Monday, February 21, 2005

The Cat in the Hat What?

Some time ago the folks at Child_Lit got into a lengthy discussion on The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. I have vague recollections of reading Bartholomew and the Oobleck or something similar when I was a kid, but I don't remember being a big fan. The Cat in the Hat was probably my favorite book as an adult.

Not any longer.

As some Child_Lit people pointed out, this is a book about a stranger invading a home while the mom is away and forcing kids to do things they don't want to do and shouldn't do. How creepy is that? If the cat had been a human--a human male, since the cat does appear to be a tom--this could have been an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.

Of course, everyone was blaming the mom for abandoning her young. The mom always is to blame. Where was the stinking dad? Huh?

More to come on this subject.

I'm Almost Ready to Give Up

Kids Lit, a blog I read regularly, reports on three new kidlit blogs I was unaware of. cynsations, Muller in the Middle, and The YA Novel and Me. As I've said before, when I started blogging I couldn't find much in the way of kidlit blogs. Now they're multiplying like rabbits. I can't possibly keep up with all the reading.

I think I'm just going to add Muller in the Middle to my favorites list. It's a blog by a middle school librarian and all he does is short book reviews. That might actually help me keep up on what's going on in the world. For instance, he has a short review of The Supernaturalists by Eoin Colfer. I've seen that title floating about a bit but hadn't actually connected with it. Yes, yes. Muller in the Middle could be good for me.

I'm passing on The YA Novel and Me because Kids Lit describes it as "a brilliant look into the mind of an author." I already know as much about the minds of authors as I can stand.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Not My Best Week

Just as I expected, I forgot all about the Point-of-View talk at the YA Authors Cafe Tuesday night. They don't have a log of the event posted yet. So I still know only a fraction of what I need to know about point-of-view.

I wish someone would do a discussion on verb tenses, too. I've been obsessing about them this past week. I've been obsessing about many things this past week.

I received the copyedited manuscript for Happy Kid! over a week ago. Now, I think that all I'm supposed to do with a copyedited manuscript is go over what the copyeditor has changed and approve or not. The copyeditor does true line editing, by the way, versus editing for content, which is what my other editor does. Anyway, when I get a copyedited manuscript I go nuts reading the whole thing and finding masses of little tiny things I've written that may be truly wrong or may be just me going over the edge. For instance, finding that I had spelled some Korean words wrong--truly wrong. Worrying that in one scene the boys are sitting in chairs in the art room and in all the others they're sitting on stools? I'm not so sure. I also get all hyped up over parallel construction. If you don't know what it is, don't ask. You don't want to end up like me.

The end result of all this nitpicking about copy is that this past Tuesday morning I was at my taekwondo school before class. I'm the first one there and I'm walking toward the women's locker room when I notice a very clear handprint on one of the mirrors. I think "I can't stand knowing that's there for a whole hour" so as soon as I change into my dobok I run to get the Windex and paper towels (I don't mean to brag, but I do know where that stuff is stored) and clean the mirror before anyone, including the instructor, can catch me and tell me to get a grip. Then I'm warming up, still before class starts, and start picking lint off the mat that covers the floor. That's when I start getting scared.

Oh, yes. I am so glad that copyedited manuscript is making its way back to New York. Of course, I do worry about what kind of reputation I have in the Putnam editorial offices. But, hey, what I don't know won't hurt me, right?

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

I am on a Roll!!

I've read another book I liked! That's three in probably less than a month. This is unheard of.

The volume I'm talking about today is Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins. Our library had it shelved as a children's book and the main character is only 11 years old so that's probably right. That being the case, this nonchild should probably be embarrassed about how much she liked this book.

Gregor's father disappeared a couple of years before our story begins. Gregor, himself, falls through a hole in his building's laundry room along with his 2-year- old sister landing in the "Underland." The folks there believe him to be a warrior foretold in a prophecy, there's a quest for dad (guess where he's been all this time), and Gregor's got to take care of his little sister (an interesting problem to add to an adventure/journey story.) PLUS there are giant talking bats, cockroaches, and rats.

As a result of reading Gregor and The Thief I've decided that I can take fantasy so long as it's not sword and scorcery mystical stuff. I can't bring myself to even watch the Lord of the Rings movies, but I loved that talking rat in Gregor. He was very much a tortured antihero. A cliche, yes, but somehow new again in a giant rat.

Now I will admit that the morning after I finished the book I had a few grown-up second thoughts. For instance, could an eleven year old keep himself together as well as poor Gregor did? But that's sort of nitpicking because this book is for kids. If in real life an eleven-year-old would be totally freaked by the things that happen to Gregor, so what? Kids reading this book are going to want to identify with Gregor and feel they can survive an adventure like the one he has in the Underland.

Heck, I want to feel I could survive an adventure like the one he has in the Underland.

Monday, February 14, 2005

More on Chicklet Lit

My constant readers are probably aware that I am not a fan of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. In fact, I've never even been able to bring myself to read the book's spawn. However, I found this nice graphic for the movie and found it notable because Amber Tamblyn of Joan of Arcadia and Alexis Bledel of The Gilmore Girls will both be appearing in it. Personally, I can't help wondering who gets to play the girl know...with the camp counselor? And will the movie show it? Supposedly a lot of girls who read the book don't think that happened. Though it so did.

In related news--if you can call an article in a three month old magazine "news"--The Horn Book carried an article entitled "Chick Lit and Chick Flicks: Secret Power or Flat Formula" by Lauren Adams. Ms. Adams, bless her, has read a wide-array of chicklet lit, compares it to adult chick lit (primarily Bridge Jones), and the many movies coming out these days aimed at teen girls. She's a great deal fonder of Bridget Jones than I am and doesn't have much good to say about Georgia Nicolson, though I think we both pretty much agree that she got the chicklet lit ball rolling.

I want to pause and say here that just because I can't bring myself to read chicklet lit beyond the fabby fab fab Georgia does not mean that young women shouldn't read it. All these pastel covered books aren't meant for women of a certain age like myself. They are written for teen women who do, indeed, appear to enjoy them. I believe that reading is a form of communication, in case I haven't mentioned it before. Readers and writers and maybe the characters the writers create for their readers all form a sort of relationship. Of course, readers want to form relationships with people like themselves. Lauren Adams suggests that some of these books involve sexual empowerment, something teenage women may be into today. They certainly weren't into it when I was that age. I'm barely into it now.

Many of the books I've tried reading seem very formulaic to me. I don't care for formulas. Or maybe I just don't care for this one. But young people, again, do seem to enjoy a good formula.

So, while I'm going to be avoiding these things much as I avoid...uh...I can't think of a good analogy right now. But my point is, I can respect others' taste.

Really. I can.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The 9th, 10th, and 11th Books of the Year

I finished reading my 9th book of 2005 before the end of January. Okay, I will admit that 3 of those 9 books were early readers. Nonetheless, I'm on track to equal last year's total of 60-something.

Book Number 9 was The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. This book is a sequel to Turner's Newbery Honor book, The Thief, which was just plain excellent. Attolia was a decent read, mainly because I was won over by the main character, Eugenides, when he appeared in Thief. I respect that Turner was trying to do something different from her earlier book by writing in the third person, moving around in point of view, and having her characters mature. I enjoyed the book, I just didn't think it was as well done as The Thief . I certainly look forward to reading anything new from the same author, though.

The Queen of Attolia is so overdue at the library. I know where I'm going tomorrow.

Book Number 10 was Tripping Over the Lunch Lady, an anthology edited by Nancy E. Mercado. This is a book of short stories relating to school. If memory serves me, they are all written in the first person. Many of them sound very similar even though they're written by different authors. Rachel Vail, an author I hadn't heard of before, has a sweet story in this collection. But the real standout is "How I Got My English A" by Avi It has a marvelous voice and is truly funny. I've never been a giant Avi fan. I very much liked his book Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway?, read something else that I thought was only so-so, and never tried anything else. This short story is definitely good enough to get me to pick up some more of his books.

I finished Book Number 11 last night. I truly disliked it. Truly. Not to mince words. The style was pretentious, the bad guys were of the Snidely Whiplash variety, the victims were poor, simple folk, characters changed for no logical reason...need I go on? I'm not going to name names because I disliked this book so much that I can't give an evenhanded assessment. On top of everything else, today I opened one of last year's The Horn Books (because, as usual, I'm a couple issues behind)and what do I see but a page length advertisement for this book. Complete with a quote from a starred review.

Oh, if only I were in charge of the kidlit world! Things would be so different!

Monday, February 07, 2005

Here and There on the Internet

Confessions of an Idiosynchratic Mind has listed the Edgar Award Nominations. Since there are nominations for YA and Children's books, I'm linking. I haven't heard of most of these books, but I guess that's why genre awards are a positive thing. They give titles some publicity.

Though, quite honestly, I've heard about so many award nominees, winners, honor books, etc. this past month that I don't think I could ever read them all. Thanks to Blog of a BS for the link.

That story about high school students just not being that into the first amendment sure has been getting around. It even made its way into our dinner table conversation last night. Mainly because I brought it up. Our guests were two college students, one of whom just graduated from high school last June. When I started talking about a study that indicated high school students weren't terribly concerned about freedom of speech, her response was that high school students have no freedom of speech, themselves. How much should they value something they don't experience in their own lives?

I think she made a very interesting point. Perhaps another million dollar study is in order?

YA Authors Cafe, which I believe I've mentioned in the past, will be running a discussion with some YA authors on point-of-view on Tuesday, Feb. 15 at 8:30 PM EST. I've had a lot of trouble with point-of-view in the past so I'm interested in reading what these people have to say. Will I remember to go to the YA Authors Cafe on the evening of Feb. 15? Will I be able to figure out how to use whatever they have for a discussion board? I will let you know.

If I don't forget about the whole thing.

Thanks to Kidlit for that last link.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Can't Get Enough Nancy

Sometime after the beginning of November I found a New Yorker article entitled Nancy Drew's Father by Meghan O'Rourke. Yeah, you guessed it. It sat around for a couple of months before I read it. I enjoyed it a lot, though, because it was all about Edward Stratemeyer who created the Stratemeyer Syndicate which produced a number of famous kid classics from the early Twentieth Century. Stratemeyer may not have been a literary giant--he was an idea guy who shipped out the actual writing of most of the books to other writers--but I love those "can do" businessmen from the early part of the last century.

And, of course, Stratemeyer was responsible for bringing Nancy Drew into the lives of generations of young girls, including yours truly.

Now, I wasn't going to bother writing about the article figuring I do enough old news here. But the whole thing became topical again because today's Salon has an article on dear Nancy entitled The Mystery of a Feminist Icon. In it, the author, Priya Jain, talks about how the most recent revision of the book makes Nancy too natural and not someone to emulate the way she was in the Nancy Drew books Jain was reading twenty years ago.

Priya, dear, I wish I was reading Nancy Drew only twenty years ago.

And--get this--Jain refers back and links to the New Yorker article by O'Rourke!

Like Jain, I loved Nancy back when I was in grade school and maybe my early teens. I, too, remember spending some of my hard earned money on the books. However, by the time I was in college I was referring to her as Nancy Drew Defective.

Of course, we all know what a witch I am.