Sunday, September 30, 2007

Kind Of Beige

I was a fan of Cecil Castellucci's first book Boy Proof, even though I found it a bit predictable. I wasn't as fond of one of her 2007 books (she has two this year), Beige, even though I respect what I think Castellucci was trying to do with it.

Beige is a strangely formulaic book with a lesson to teach us readers. The main character, Katy, is your traditional late twentieth century child of divorce who is forced to move in for a while with her noncustodial parent whom she barely knows. She is distraught and determined to get out of there as soon as she can. We've seen this before.

What makes this scenario strangely formulaic is that Katy is quite a straight, even bland "beige" girl who has been uprooted and deposited with her punk rocker dad. Dad is a member of a cult band that never quite made it to the big time but is about to try to make a comeback. He's also a recovering drug addict. Katy, who is nicknamed Beige by the far more colorful Lake, the daughter of one of her dad's bandmates, doesn't get rock music. But over the course of the book she comes to appreciate it, which is the classic way of teaching a reader to appreciate something, too.

What I think Castellucci was trying to do here was write a book about an edgy, out-there scene from the point of view of the least colorful, run-of-the-mill person in it. I like that. I love the average guy. I just had the feeling that Castellucci knew all her other, more exotic characters better. Dad (known as the Rat because of his last name), his mature retro girlfriend, the passionate Lake, and the over eager skateboarder Garth all fired up the page whenever they appeared. These are the characters who would appear as outsiders in many YA novels. It is interesting that in their world, the average girl is the outsider.

But she was just so...beige.

Does This Count?

I am always surprised when I hear figures tossed around for the numbers of books published each year. I can remember twenty years ago when I was surprised to hear the number 40,000 used, so you can imagine what I thought when the figure went up to 150,000. Recently I've heard even bigger claims.

Now, I understand that the number of books being published each year has gone up for two reasons. One, traditional publishers don't keep books in print as long as they used to, but once they've let all those books go out-of-print, they have to replace them with more books in order to have a list to sell. Thus they're publishing more but stocking them for a shorter period of time. (The tax laws changed in the seventies, and publishers now have to pay tax on the stock in their warehouses. They can't pay tax year after year on books that aren't selling a certain number of copies.) Two, technological advances make self-publishing much easier, and it has also become more acceptable so more writers are going that route.

Over the last couple of years, my very local paper has carried a number of stories about people who self-publish books, publishing just a couple of hundred copies that they sell in town and to friends and family. Today I met a woman who said she'd written a children's book and that the illustrator had had it published. I wasn't sure what that meant, but I didn't know how to ask politely. What came out in the conversation, though, was that the illustrator had had the book published so they could take copies to a tiny local bookstore that does a lot of events with self-published writers. My impression was that the illustrator had had books published for one signing.

So, my question is, when we see articles about the huge glut of books being published every year, are books like the ones I described above included in the figures? I'm not saying that they should or shouldn't be included, but, if they are, what does that mean? If anything at all?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Getting A Booky Thing Going

Debra Hamel, the mind behind Buy a Friend a Book Week (which is next week, by the way), also created TwitterLit, which serves up "literary teasers." The teasers are the first lines of books, without the book's title or author. You can then follow a link to Amazon to find out where the line came from and read about the book. You can subscribe to TwitterLit and have new teasers delivered to you in a variety of ways twice a day.

It's sort of like a literary scavenger hunt.

Now Debra has created a new site called KidderLit that does the same thing for kids' books. The lines from 9/27's and 9/28's books come from cyberspace favorites.

KidderLit is probably going to attract a lot of adult kidlit book geeks. (I just subscribed.) But I think it's also an opportunity to make the literary world a little more attractive to kids. You're combining books with e-mail. If children are subscribed to the service, lines from books are going to appear on their computers without them having to make any effort. And, as I said, there's a game aspect to KidderLit. Today's first line is "The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit." Who's going to be able to resist finding out where that came from?

Worried that these links will be taking kids to Amazon, a shopping site? Teach them how to create Amazon wishlists with the titles they're interested in. Your children could actually end up asking for books for holidays and birthdays. And maybe it's time to encourage them to use the local library's website for searching for titles. They can move from Amazon to the library site to see if what they're interested in is available for free.

Those of you who frequent the School Library Journal website should watch for an interview there with Debra regarding KidderLit.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

MotherReader Goes International

The Canadian blog BookLust is seriously into MotherReader's BACA campaign.

Yes, There Is Something You Can Do With Those Old Books

Art by way of BookLust.

One Of Those Good News And Bad News Things

A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat made MotherReader's Best Books of 2007 (So Far) MEGALIST. That's the good news.

The bad news is that even though I've read nearly 80 books so far this year, I've read only three from the 2007 MEGALIST. (I got a fourth one from the library this morning.) This business about 150,000+ books being published every year is just too much for me. I can't keep up.

Yeah, I Got This All Wrong

I enjoyed Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz because I thought it was a parody of the first book in The Gossip Girl series. Once I found out de la Cruz had written her own teen chicklit books, I began to suspect she was playing it straight with Blue Bloods and I was fantasizing while I was reading it.

According to this interview with de la Cruz at cynsations, I did, indeed, get it all wrong.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"I Am Your Father, Luke"

A Reading Fool said she'd be looking for my further comments on Rowan Hood An Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest by Nancy Springer (whom I've met a couple of times over the years). That was all the encouragement I needed.

Now I didn't read Rowan Hood. I listened to it on CD. I believe that listening to a book is a legitimate way of "reading" because you are taking in content, the author is still communicating with you. But I also think it's different from reading. I've wondered if I've liked listening to some books (say The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane) more than I would have liked reading them. And I had to give up listening to Count Karlstein because it was read by a full cast and I couldn't follow what was going on without dialogue tags. That wouldn't have happened if I'd been reading.

But what often happens when I'm listening to books on CD in the car is that I get the reaction of my traveling companion, when I have one. In this case, I did, and he had some very interesting things to say.

Right off the bat, Rowan comes home to find her house burned and mom toast. "Just like Star Wars!" the other occupant of the car observed. That was a very big plus as far as he was concerned. In fact, he found any number of Star Wars connections while listening to Rowan Hood, though, personally, I think equating the wolf/dog Rowan takes up with to Chewbacca was a bit of a stretch. But, yeah, there's a daddy quest and a sort of rebel group opposing the bad guys who have all the power.

I think the reason he saw these connections (other than that he really likes Star Wars) is that both stories do follow a traditional journey/quest format, complete with the call that Colleen at Chasing Ray was talking about a while back. There's nothing like finding your family dead and your home gone to send you out on the road.

I noted more mundane things about the story. For instance, you know how in romantic movies the male and female leads often have these misunderstandings before they finally get together? Well, you got that kind of thing here, except that the misunderstandings were between a daughter and father. There's nothing wrong with that. I'm just saying.

Springer did a good job of making the action of the story around the child characters instead of just drifting into letting Robin Hood take over. That could easily have happened with such a powerful and legendary figure. And I liked Rowan's scooby gang quite a bit. I definitely would consider listening to the sequel on another long car trip.

For The First Time, I Want To Read This

We have a family member who loved S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders when he was in sixth grade. He read it over and over again and memorized the Frost poem Hinton quotes. I watched the movie with him and, unfortunately, found it one of the most mind-numbing experiences of my life.

I've avoided the book like plague.

But last week's New York Times Book Review carried an essay called 'The Outsiders': Forty Years Later that actually makes it sound at least intriguing.

So, maybe.

The Prototypical Geek?

On Monday I finished reading Mr. Emerson's Wife, a historical novel about the rumor (or more) that Henry David Thoreau had a little something going on with Lydia Jackson Emerson, Ralph Waldo's wife. (It offends me to define a woman in terms of her relationship with a man, but there you go.)

Monday night was also geek night on TV. Around nine o'clock, I suddenly realized that Thoreau may very well have been the prototype for today's geeks.

He lived with his mom most of the time.
When he did move out, it was to that cabin on Walden Pond, which sounds like a totally guy-geek place.
He was underemployed.
He had limited experience with members of the opposite sex.
He was handy at fixing things. If they'd had computers back then, you just know he would have been keeping all the other Transcendentalists' laptops up and running.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

This Sounds Discouraging

Just as I occasionally wonder if I should go to graduate school, I occasionally wonder if I should get an agent. In fact, I use graduate school and agent fantasies as fallbacks--if work dries up, I will go to graduate school and/or get an agent. At least I'll have something to do with my time.

I should have gone to graduate school and found an agent years ago, but no one would have had me then. I'm not sure anyone would have me now, but at least I don't think anyone will actually laugh if I apply.

However, Agent Provocateur suggests that my agent fantasy, at least, truly is a fantasy.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Our Lives On The D-List

While I was on vacation last week, I caught an episode of My Life On The D-List. (That link didn't go to a site with Kathy Griffin doing standup when I plugged it in here. If it does now, I deny all responsibility.)

Watching The D-List made me think of my trip to the Twilight Zone Convention last year. The TZ Convention was similar to a literary festival, and the life Kathy Griffin projects on The D-List is similar to life for a lot of us kidlit writers.

Maybe I'm just self-centered, and everything reminds me of my own life.

But, think about it. In last week's episode, Kathy was going to London where she was going to do a stand-up routine, and she was trying to promote it. Sort of the way we writers try to promote an appearance at a bookstore, see? Or even a new book. Or an old book. Or even just our names. Evidently Kathy has a following in the U.S., and she was trying to promote herself to the same group in London. That's similar to how we kidlit writers try to promote ourselves to librarians. Wait. No. We should be trying to attract reading teachers. No, no, no. Booksellers! We've got to make sure the booksellers know who we are!

Kathy and her posse were always looking for ways to get her some publicity. Writers do the same thing. Should I contact bloggers? Make a trailer? Submit workshop ideas to conferences? Mail postcards to schools? Throw myself a book launch party? What should I do, what will I do, to get a little higher up on the literary hierarchy?

Man, I so related to that show.

This is good place to mention that the September issue of School Library Journal has an article called Rules of the Game: Focus on Middle School that includes Happy Kid!. And the print issue uses the cover!

Imagine Kathy Griffin and me jumping up and down.

I Go To Yaddo--In A Manner Of Speaking

So Saturday we're in a little museum in Saratoga Springs, and I see that Yaddo, the artists' and writers' retreat is in the area. I think, "Hmmm" and forget all about it, probably because on my way to the car I stopped at a public fountain to try some of the truly vile medicinal waters the area is famous for.

However, we're driving out of town and I see a sign saying that the Yaddo Gardens were open to the public. "Turn in here! Turn! Turn!" I shout to the family member driving. I figured, Hey, I can drive onto the grounds and maybe see some of those famous little cottages where writers go to concentrate on their work and go out of their minds because they have no Internet access. Well, that wasn't the case. We caught a glimpse of the original mansion and a small parking lot but no little writer huts.

The Yaddo website says, "Some believe that the land itself at Yaddo is the source of mystical creative power." What really struck me was how close that land is to the highway. It was probably all woodsy and isolated back in 1900 but now you pull out of the driveway onto a main road and just to your right is I-87.

I was a little disappointed. I'm more away from it all in my own home, and look how little I get done here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Vacations And Books

Several times over the years I've had these bizarre experiences in which my reading intersected with my traveling.

For instance, not long before I took off for Ottawa last weekend, I finished reading A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies by Ellen Cooney, which I heartily recommend if you are a long-married lady, gentle or otherwise. In this book, a character mentions the Rideau River. Wouldn't you know it, last Monday I went biking on the Rideau Canal.

Then, I finished reading Beige by Cecil Castellucci before I even got out of the country. The main character lives in Montreal and twice mentioned poutine. Yup, I ate poutine three times last week. My goal was to eat it once each day, so I failed miserably.

I didn't knock off as many books this vacation as I have on others. For one reason, I was reading Mr. Emerson's Wife by Amy Belding Brown. Though I do love them Transcendentalists, it's not a book for whipping through in the car. Get this, though--yesterday we were in Saratoga Springs and who did I read was there before me? Say, a hundred fifty or sixty years before me? Mr. Emerson himself.

I also didn't do as much book reading because while I was still in Canada I was spending time reading The National Post's series on Mordecai Richler. I was talking about his children's book series here just last...okay, it was back in March. But I am very fond of Richler. The National Post did the series on him because Canadian TV was running a new production of St. Urbain's Horseman, which I read a hundred years ago.

Okay, then I went to The Canadian Museum of Civilization. It had this new exhibit, Face to Face: The Canadian Personalities Hall, and who do you suppose was there? Yes, Samuel de Champlain, but also, Mordecai Richler!

Come on!

You know, but in all the reading I did about him last week, I'm still not sure how to pronounce his name.

Anyway, I just love when my reading and traveling come together like that.

Though I've just told you that I didn't do as much reading as usual, above you will see me rudely ignoring everyone around me so I can read while waiting for a train.

Friday, September 21, 2007

You Can Tell Vacation's Almost Over

I'm back in the country after four days in Ottawa but not yet home. You can tell I'm getting close, though, because I had a little time this evening and access to a hotel computer so I tried to catch up on my blog reading. I'm worried about being way behind once I'm back in the Land of Steady Habits and Regular Income.

I also made the mistake of checking my webstats, which had grown steadily to incredible proportions but in just two months have crashed down into the toilet. (Was it something I said?)

Before I left Connecticut, I printed out the last two chapters of the old draft of The Durand Cousins, thinking I might work on the revision in odd moments. I must not have had any odd moments, because I never touched them.

Yup, I've got lots of reasons to be all excited about getting home and back to work.

But first I'm biking in a Revolutionary War battlefield tomorrow morning. This particular Gauthier vacation was missing a trip to a war-related site, and we can't go home until we take care of that.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Surprise! I'm Back!

I've got a few minutes of Internet access at a motel in Ithaca, New York. Only a few minutes because I just lost the entire post I'd written using the rest of my time.

We listened to an entire book on CD on the way here, plus I finished a book I was reading and read a bit of Metropolitan Life by Fran Leibowitz.

The audio book was Rowan Hood by Nancy Springer. Not bad. More to follow.

I finished Beige by Cecil Castellucci. (Sorry if her name is spelled wrong. I can't figure out how to reduce this screen and search.) I respect what I think the author was trying to do, but I found the book a little, well, beige. More to follow.

And, finally, Metropolitan Life--appears to be just a lot of humorous bits strung together.

Until I can get to another computer and do some more reading, a la prochaine. (Can you guess where I'm going?)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Of Course

Things have been going pretty well the last couple of weeks with the most recent startover on the first draft of The Durand Cousins. Things started to improve when I gave up on the assassin thing. That just wasn't working for me.

I've frequently hit my word goal and sometimes gone over by quite a bit. Yesterday I was scribbling away on it while waiting to have my oil changed. I was still deep into the story while driving home and forgot to stop for gas.

That's good for me.

So, of course, it's time to take off for a week's vacation!

I may be able to post from a family member's home sometime next week, but otherwise Original Content will be going dark until September 22.

My book bag is packed and already in the car.

This Is Killing Me, Killing Me

The Cybillers are getting started pulling together panelists and judges for this year's Cybils Award. I had a great time serving on the Fantasy and SciFi Panel last year. For a hardcore reader to have a serious excuse to read intensely at all times of the day and night and to receive books--sometimes by the armful--delivered to her door is just incredible. On top of that, I had my Cybil friends to e-mail with about books. Really, I was living the life God meant me to live. I'm sure of it.

I think the Cybils are going to become an important award because 1. the nominations come from the public, and 2. bloggers can write about any of the books, not just the finalists, while they're under consideration, thus giving needed publicity to books and authors. It is truly a unique award.

Though I loved being part of the Cybils and I think they're important, I'm going to force myself to pass on getting involved with them this year because I need to pay more attention to work this fall and winter than I did last year. Not only did I blow off everything while Cybilizing, it took me a month and a half to get myself back into anything remotely like a work mode.

But if you're a blogger who would love to read for a greater good, this is a wonderful opportunity. Look into it.

Actually, my Cybils experience did help me get The Durand Cousins off the ground, even though I wasn't working on it that much during December. What happened was that I was reading all that scifi and fantasy so I'm sort of in scifi/fantasy mode. I'm simmering in it. The Durand Cousins has a science fiction element, and I needed an initial starting point for one thread to make everything work. I'm thinking and thinking about this, I don't know what I'm going to do. But, remember, scifi and fantasy was my life just then.

So one day I'm riding in the car, in a scifi/fantasy fog, when all of a sudden an idea springs fully formed into my mind. I realize that I can use the basic premise of a book I tried to write right after I got out of college. And I did use it. Only time will tell if it worked, but it made it possible for me to procede with this project.

Another great moment in Gail's Cybils experience

More Literary Happenings This Weekend

Burlington isn't the only spot with a lit festival this weekend. Boston will be the setting for the Boston Globe Children's Book Festival.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

This Could Be Interesting

I just noticed that Camille Paglia will be announcing the finalists for the National Book Award. I am rather fond of Paglia's Salon columns, even though a portion of many of them are just a bit over my head. But, otherwise, I find her to be a bit of a loose canon. I like loose canons.

I keep wondering if Paglia will read all the finalists. Will she read the finalists for young people's literature? Will she comment on them somewhere? What does she think of YA literature? I can just imagine her expounding on the evolving sexuality of the adolescent and how this is reflected in today's YA literature. Though when I imagine her expounding on it, she sounds a lot better than I just did in the preceding sentence.

Holy jump up and sit down! I just read at that National Book Award site that Fran Lebowitz has written a children's book! Had I heard this and repressed it for some reason? Or didn't believe it?

I own a copy of Lebowitz's Metropolitan Life that I bought when it--and she--were new and quite cutting edge, and I was first interested in reading essays. My recollection is that they were kind of slight and very urban for my taste. But maybe I'll give them another shot. Maybe now I'm slighter and suburban enough to not be so put off by accounts of city life. I think I remember her talking about sleeping a lot. But perhaps I'll find I was thinking of someone else.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Big Weekend Coming Up In Vermont

The Burlington Book Festival will be held this weekend in Burlington, Vermont. It's only the festival's third year, but look at the authors it's attracting.

Book festivals seem like a relatively new concept to me. I'm always reading of them now. Any yet book sales are going down and we're told no one is reading.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mom Was Cool With It

My offspring have made it clear that as far as my work is concerned, they're not interested in anything less than a book. I find it very awkward telling my nonwriter friends (who outnumber my writer friends by quite a bit) that I've had something new published because they seem to feel the line between wanting to spread the joy and just plain bragging is very fine. The spouse, of course, doesn't count.

So I made a copy of my essay for the new issue of The Horn Book and gave it to my mother because who else is left? I was a little worried about how she would take it. I was afraid she'd think that I'd portrayed us as hillbillies or that she'd be offended by the news that I desperately wanted to leave town when I was a teenager.

As it turned out, she thought the piece was true to life. Perhaps the part about my wanting to leave home came as no surprise; I may not have been very subtle about it. At any rate, her question was "Who gets this magazine?" She was hoping a woman she'd known back in the hilltown would get a chance to see it.

I found this a little odd because I was under the impression they'd had a falling out thirty to thirty-five years ago and don't speak.

I'm Not The Only One Who Really, Really Likes Them

Just yesterday I posted about my stint as guest reviewer at the Buy a Friend a Book Week site. Today I found two bloggers writing about two of the three books I recommended.

Leila at bookshelves of doom liked A Certain Slant of Light so much that she's probably going to go out and buy her own copy. And Colleen at Chasing Ray has very good things to say about Corbenic in a post on accepting the call in quest stories.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Plea For Brevity

Remember Goodby to All That? The essay on book reviewing that I told you about last week? Sure, you do.

One of the author's points was that there is a movement toward shorter reviews, which does not give a good critic much space to really analyze a book. He argued for longer reviews. At Critical Mass, I just found a response to that. Michael O'Donnell says, "...rigorous writing—rigorous thinking—is concise, not stretched out, corpulent, flabby. I'll take a lean review, spare as a runner headed round a quarter-mile track. I know I can't be alone in disagreeing with the notion that it takes 2500 words to express an idea, or in feeling a little impatient with those writers who are too grand to pick the important things, say them, and then stop."

No, Mr. O'Donnell, you are not.

While I was reading Wasserman's essay I wondered about the desirability of a lot of long book reviews, too. I wasn't thinking so much of the quality of the writing as I was of my lack of time. (O'Donnell also points out that he's a busy guy.) Even if we all had all the time in the world, there's supposed to be 150,000 books published every year. The reality is that in order to be exposed to as many titles as possible so that I can make decisions about reading as many books as possible, I can't sit down and read too many term-paper length reviews. In fact, since I prefer not to read detailed reviews until after I've read a book, I like something short to make me aware titles are out there, what they're about, and a little bit of the reviewer's impression of the quality.

Now, I realize that reviewing is actually an artform, a type of writing. I should be reading them for something other than my own selfish purposes. I shouldn't be using them to seek out some other type of writing (books) that I want to read. But, well, life is short. The reality is that I have to seek out shorter reviews.

Reviewers really do have it rough. I actually read books, and look what a poor attitude I have.

Authors As Bloggers

Bookseller Chick has a couple more posts on authors and blogging.

Gene Yang Interview

Through Blog of a Bookslut I found this interview excerpt with Gene Yang at The Comics Journal's website. You have to know a lot more about comics and graphic novels than I do to get the full benefit of what these guys are saying, but Gene Yang does talk about his faith and his experience with racism as a teenager.

I Really, Really Like Them
October's Buy a Friend a Book Week is nearly upon us. Guess who the BAFAB Week guest reviewer is for October, 2007. No! No! Me! It's me! I'm the guest reviewer!

I recommended three YA favorites of mine that I thought had good adult cross-over potential, since the BAFAB Week is directed toward a general audience. My choices: A Certain Slant of Light, Corbenic, and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation.

A couple of years ago, I actually bought A Certain Slant of Light for a friend during Buy a Friend a Book.

So get ready to go forth and shop, people.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

An Appropriate Post For A Sunday

I began my career as a Sunday school teacher in the preschool. You didn't have to know anything to teach the littlies. You prepared a craft and a snack, sang some songs, and spent three years memorizing The Lord's Prayer with them. Some years the curriculum wasn't even particularly Biblical. Entire lessons might be developed around thanking God for your various body parts.

Nonetheless, we covered the story of Noah's Ark plenty of times. It's a story that's associated with little kids. There's kiddie Noah music, books, puzzles, puppets, jewelry, book marks, and probably lots of stuff I can't recall. I know that on at least two occasions I provided snacks in the form of a Noah's Ark made out of graham crackers stuck together with icing. Animal cracker critters were stuck into icing, too.

I feel uncomfortable about having done that now that I've read Geraldine McCaughrean's Not the End of the World. Whatever made me (or anyone else) think the story of the destruction of mankind was a fun tale for the kiddies?

In McCaughrean's take on Noah, Timna, his daughter, who knows she doesn't matter and won't be remembered (explaining why she isn't mentioned in the Old Testament), tells the first-person story of the days preceding and following The Wave. Their neighbors thought Noah and his sons were mad for building that giant boat until the water came. Then they begged to be saved--and were rebuffed. Those two older boys, Shem and Ham, were the muscle enforcing what they believed to be God's will. God was intent on destroying all mankind, and the boys believed their function was to help him.

This is a grim, apocalyptic tale that kept reminding me of Life As We Knew It. In addition to the horrific events surrounding The Wave--bodies floating in the water, people being murdered by Shem and Ham--life on the ark with limited food and dampness spoiling what they have is ugly. Not the End of the World definitely works as a disaster story.

In addition, poor Timna is both a doubter and someone desperately trying to believe. The book is being marketed to twelve year olds and up. Though McCaughrean is able to reconcile the brutality of Noah and his sons with a more loving God by the end of the story, it's going to take a mature, sophisticated reader to handle this material.

As an added benefit, you can do a feminist reading of this book. For instance, Timna is fourteen, her younger brother, Japheth (one of the three sons of Noah named in the Bible--I read the appropriate verses today) is twelve. The night before The Wave comes, Japheth's older brothers go out and kidnap a girl for him to marry down the road, since those three boys are going to have to do some serious repopulating when this thing is over. Does anyone think about a future mate for Timna?

This is definitely a good book. I did have some problems with the structure, though. Occasionally the first-person narrator switches from Timna to other family members. I didn't think that worked particularly well, especially with Timna's sisters-in-law. They both came off sounding like the lesser members of a teen bitch posse. One of them even kept saying "you know." Their voices didn't sound all that different, either. By the end of the book, these young women are well-defined, but because of what Timna says about them, not because of anything they say about themselves.

What I did like was when some of the animals did first-person narration.

I'd been wanting to read more by McCaughrean ever since I read Peter Pan in Scarlet. As it turns out, I read her A Pack of Lies a number of years ago. Even when I've been dissatisfied with certain aspects of her books--the narrator switches in Not the End of the World, the ending of A Pack of Lies--I've been very impressed with her work.

Another One For My Collection

A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat was recently reviewed at Big A, little a. I was very pleased with how that one turned out.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle

I didn't have the kind of experience with Madeleine L'Engle's books that many of her fans recalled today when news of her death broke. I didn't read any of her work until I was an adult, and it didn't do for me what it clearly did for many others.

However, somewhere around nine to twelve years ago, I drove about an hour to hear her speak. I only went because the rest of the family was away for the weekend, and I wanted to do something different and writer-like with my found time. So I saw my chance to go hear a famous writer speak, and I grabbed it. I went by myself, and while sitting alone in a group of strangers, I felt my enthusiasm draining away. I wished I'd done something else with my free Saturday.

Then L'Engle was introduced and began to speak. I can't recall now what she said, just how I felt when I left there. Inspired and excited. I don't know how long that lasted, but it's good to come upon someone who can make you feel that way even if it's only for a while.

Magic Along The River

If you can believe there are trolls living in the Mississippi (never having been near the place, I can), you'll enjoy the charming Horns & Wrinkles by Joseph Helgerson.

Everyone in young Claire's family takes the magic associated with their part of the Mississippi for granted. So when her cousin the bully grows a horn in place of his nose, no one's happy about it, but no one is all that surprised, either. Even when his parents are turned to stone by trolls, the relatives know there's precedent for it.

Cousin Duke falls in with a bad crowd, as bullies often do, and Claire takes after him, hoping to find the key to turning the stone family members back to flesh. One thing leads to another, and she just keeps getting in deeper and deeper and deeper.

Horns & Wrinkles is a clever, well-written book with a spunky (but not cloyingly so) protagonist and amusing antagonists. Its author does interesting things with bullies and those traditional fairies who normally annoy me so. It's an attractive looking book, too, with a couple of surprises.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Short Bits

I've droned on and on here recently, so today I'll give everyone a break and just do some short bits.

I'm sure others have already posted about this, but it's only recently stuck in my mind that the SciFi Channel is doing a mini-series in December called Tin Man. Guess what that's about. I think I've read that the Tin Man is a former cop in this version. I will watch.

I'd never heard of the Mythopoeic Society before yesterday. It's a "non-profit international literary and educational organization for the study, discussion, and enjoyment of fantastic and mythic literature." It recently gave its award for children's literature to Catherine Fisher for Corbenic, one of my favorites from last year.

Heather Smith did a very interesting article for her Judging a Book by its Cover series at Bookslut on the new covers created by David Wiesner for The Chronicles of Narnia. (You've heard of Wiesner. He won the Caldecott Medal for Flotsam.) I enjoyed the article, and I don't even like The Chronicles of Narnia. Couldn't get past the first book.

Bookseller Chick has a discussion going on whether or not writers build readership with blogs.

Mitali Perkins is back from vacation. Two months in an RV. Woman, are you mad?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Little Good News If You Have The Endurance To Look For It

If you decide to read Goodbye to All That by Steve Wasserman in the Columbia Journalism Review you can just skim a big portion of the first part because it's just a rundown on all the newspapers that have been cutting back on or doing away with their book review sections, which you probably already know about. In the rest of the piece you will learn that: 1. book review sections have been losing money for a long time; 2. Margaret Fuller was the first full-time book reviewer in the U.S.*; 3. literary critics think rather a lot of themselves and of serious readers; 4. traditional newspaper people don't think much of book reviewers; 5. the contemporary reading situation may not be all that bad.

I suspect I'm one of those hairy-chested populists (metaphorically speaking, please) Wasserman quotes Richard Schickel as referring to. After offering up that warning, I will say that I thought there was a lot of interesting material in this article, but I also thought it rambled a bit; it was difficult to determine if there was one overall point the author was trying to make or a number of them. A lot of us who are not New York Review of Books types will probably drift off before we get to the end. But that may be okay with the author. He may not have been writing for us, anyway. provided the link.

*Important if you studied her in your feminist history college course.

Next Day Update: Critical Mass has a post describing this article, too. Check it out for a more detailed account of what's covered in Wasserman's essay.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I Come To Praise Book Awards, Not Bury Them. I Promise.

I don't do a lot of announcing of traditional book award winners here because I have my doubts about whether there is any such thing as a best book. Each year there's a pool of really superior books in any particular field, and I wonder if one should be elevated above the rest. What do the awards mean? The criteria remain the same from year to year, but the judges change so those criteria aren't necessarily applied exactly the same way each year. On top of all that, some contests require an entry fee. The National Book Award, for instance, has a $125 entry fee. How many books will a publisher submit at $125 a pop? I learned this past year of a publisher that has a policy of not submitting books for awards with entry fees. (I wanted to ask if that included the National Book Award, but given the particular circumstances it might have been considered argumentative.) What if the best book of the year for a particular award was never even considered because it wasn't entered?

So, you see, I take the whole winning-book thing with a grain of salt.

However, I do like book awards that include a list of announced finalists because that means some of those books from that pool of superior books I was talking about earlier are brought to the public's attention. This is why I was so enthusiastic about the Cybils, by the way. While committee members creating the shortlist read nominated books, they could blog about them, promoting many titles.

This is all the lead in for how I came to finally read a book by Susan Cooper. You know, The Dark Is Rising Susan Cooper? Never read a word she'd written until her most recent book Victory was named a finalist for this year's Connecticut Book Award for Children's Author. I was writing a short overview of the finalists for a Connecticut publication, so I finally had to read a Cooper book.

I'm so glad I did.

The basic story behind Victory will be familiar to many adult readers. A contemporary person feels a strong personal connection to someone who lived long in the past. Cooper just does a great job with her version.

In this case, young Molly is an English girl who has moved to Connecticut with her mother who has married an American. This is no tale of a disfunctional family. Molly's stepfather is great. Her stepbrother is great. Her mother has a new baby who is great. Everyone loves Molly and wants the best for her. Nonetheless, she is suffering from the relocation. She just wants to go home.

She buys an old book on Lord Horatio Nelson who, evidently, to this day is a major hero/symbol in Billy Shakespeare country. And that is how she forms a connection with a boy who served on HMS Victory, Admiral Lord Nelson's flagship, the very one upon which he died during the Battle of Trafalgar.

These two children's stories are told in alternating chapters. Molly's is told in the present tense, which is nifty since it's taking place in the present. Sam's is told in the past, which is nifty for a similar reason. Molly's story is elegant. Sam's is richly detailed. I'm not much of an ocean-going sort, myself. When I visit Mystic Seaport (which plays a part in this book), those old boats seem like nothing so much as floating coffins to me. So little wonder I at first preferred Molly's story to Sam's as I read Victory. But about halfway through the book that changed. Cooper won me over, and I couldn't wait to get back to Sam.

As I was reading Victory, I wondered if it was a book for history geeks like myself who have either had our own experiences connecting with figures from the past or desperately want one. I don't think so.

If reading Victory makes you a bit of a Nelson groupy and you'd like to read a fine adult novel in which he plays a part, try Losing Nelson by Barry Unsworth.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Under The Radar

Oh, golly. My mind is just like my desk. Littered with things I can't find or have forgotten about.

I meant to comment on the Recommendations From Under the Radar program at the end of the week, but forgot about it until after this next one got started. I'll comment anyway, even though it's now old news, because I think that bloggers, going our own way and following our own schedules, are in the perfect position to keep reminding people about older titles. It's a bit of a mission as far as I'm concerned.

So here are a few things I noticed while trying to keep up with the Under the Radar schedule:

Leila at bookshelves of doom did a post on the Olivia Kidney series by Ellen Potter. I read the first book during the first 48 Hour Book Challenge. I liked it, though I didn't have much to say at the time. Leila described the book as hard to classify. It was recommended to me as an example of magical realism, whether that explains anything or muddies the waters still further.

Kelly at Big A, little a wrote about The Ingo series by Ellen Dunmore. I happen to own the second book, The Tide Knot. I don't like to read a lot about a book before I actually read it myself, so I've only read Kelly's description of the first book in the series.

Betsy at A Fuse #8 Production recommended The Noisy Counting Book. I know nothing about this book. However, the author and illustrator, Susan Schade and Jon Buller, wrote and illustrated Travels of Thelonious, a favorite of mine from last year.

And finally TadMack at Finding Wonderland did a post on something called The Avion My Uncle Flew that sounds just marvelous.

So you're hearing about these four titles one more time. Remember them when they turn up some day on your own personal radar.

What Happened With Butch And Spike?

Remember last week's drawing for A Year With Butch And Spike? A copy has been inscribed for three brothers from Indiana and is going into the mail tomorrow.

If I don't forget, I'll do another giveaway at Halloween because Butch and Spike has a Halloween chapter. Club Earth has a Thanksgiving chapter, so I'll give away copy of that at the end of November. Then in December I'll be giving away a copy of My Life Among the Aliens because--you guessed it--that has a Christmas chapter.

So you can get freebies here for the next quarter year.

Tomorrow I'm also going to be sending out an arc for A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat. I have two more left. Contact me through my web page if you'd like one.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

I Was Put Off My Dinner

My responses to the things that happen to me often seem to relate to my work or the way I work. For instance, last night we went out to a friend's house for dinner. I caught sight of her office. It's half the size of mine and immaculate. It looks like something from HGTV.

Mine, on the other hand, looks as if it's the home of a very unhealthy mind. Last summer I cleaned it and managed to keep it clean for months. It's just been falling apart all year. If I could find my digital camera and figure out how to upload pictures from it, I'd show you.

If you were to see my office on TV, it would probably be on an episode of SVU. It would belong to a perpetrator, and, remember, the perps on SVU are guilty of especially heinous crimes. Benson would take one look at it and make a disparaging comment about the kind of person who could live like this. Stabler would start putting on his gloves. They'd be turning the case over to the assistant district attorney right after the commercial because it went without saying that the evidence they needed was somewhere right in front of them.

Well, I could worry about this. Come down to the office in the night and try to clean. Seek help. But I think this is another one of those situations where you have to take a Zen-like approach and remember that envying others their tidy offices and healthy minds will lead to nothing but unhappiness.