Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Whole Section of the Blogosphere Ignored

This morning I started reading Decoding the Blogosphere by Joel Lang in last week'sNortheast Magazine, a section of The Hartford Courant.
The article was about Connecticut's blogosphere. However, it seemed that Lang doesn't quite get blogging. He focusedprimarily on personal blogs. "The common blog takes the form of an on-line diary or journal, mixing details of the keeper's life with commentary." He also kept coming back to the anonymous nature of many of those types of blogs.

What he didn't address at all are blogs that are created around a specific interest or field of study or professional field. Like kidlit blogs, or literary blogs, or the many blogs that are maintained by librarians. Those are just the fields I'm familiar with. I assume there are bloggers active in many other fields as well.

The kidlit and general literary blogs I frequent direct me to news in my field that I a. might never find out about in the mainstream media; b. might not find out about because the mainstream media covering it is in another country; or c. might find out about when the mainstream media gets around to covering it.

For instance, yesterday I wrote about the Curious George movie. I was aware the movie is in the works because I read blogs, and I found the actual link I used through Book Kitten. In the kidlit world, a movie made from a children's book that's been around for generations is a big deal. My local mainstream media, however, probably won't cover the Curious George movie until sometime in February, 2006 when it will be in theaters.

I, myself, have mentioned the Connecticut Children's Book Fair a couple of times this fall. The local mainstream press will cover it the week before the event. Some years, the Fair gets nothing but a mention in a weekly arts calendar. For the librarians, teachers, collectors, and families who are interested in book fairs, relying on their local big city paper for all their news is pretty iffie.

Interest or professional blogs, whatever you want to call them, share news that wouldn't get around to people active in that field in any other way. A great deal of what I know about what's going on in children's literature I only know because I read blogs. And, no, I don't think professional people should just stick to their cubicles and not know what's going on around them, not be influenced by the real world. I should know what authors are popular with the kids I write for. I should know what's being written and how it's being critiqued.

Lang interviewed Thomas Fausel and Patrick Thibodeau who maintain Connecticut Weblogs, which monitors blogs that originate in Connecticut and directs readers to the more active ones by listing recent updates. (I'm included in their site.) Fausel says that he is trying to "build a sense of community" with Connecticut Weblogs. I think that specific interest blogs do become a community. A lot of us do check each other out to see what's going on in our field. But it's not the blogs, themselves, that makes the community so much as the content.

Good content makes a good blog. People interesed in blogs need to seek some out that cover a field of interest to them. We aren't all writing about bad dates and crazed coworkers.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Movie Version of a Deep and Meaningful Classic

I've been seeing references to a trailer for a Curious George movie, and now I've finally seen it. The colors are nice. I'm not being sarcastic, I just didn't think the trailer showed enough to give much of an idea of what the movie will be like. Though after having spent many hours watching old Curious George videos that appeared to have been made from stills of the original illustrations while someone read the book on the soundtrack, I have to say almost any kind of movie will be an improvement on what I'm used to.

The Curious George stories have one of the strongest and most consistent themes I can recall in a picture book--no matter how much trouble a monkey gets himself into, there's always hope for redemption. They aren't lessons in the perils of doing bad. Instead, I think they provide comfort for good kids (and all kids are good, right?)who sometimes find themselves in situations they regret. Hey, we've all been there.

I sincerely hope that movie turns out well.

(Thanks to Book Kitten for the trailer link.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Stuck on Sherlock

So I finished watching the new Sherlock Holmes television movie I was talking about yesterday. I was watching the final few frames in which Holmes is looking all moody and thoughtful after having attended the wedding of his middle-aged buddy, Watson, to his middle-aged fiance(She appeared to be widowed or divorced as well as a professional woman.), and I thought, How did the Sherlock Holmes stories end up on student reading lists? Who decided these were books for kids?

By no means do I want to suggest that Holmes is inappropriate for kids. My question is, what's the attraction? Everything I know and believe about kids and reading says to me that there's nothing for them at 221 Baker Street. Is the main character a child or teen? Is there a child or teen's voice? Do the themes deal with child or teen issues of separation or identity? Are there child/teen problems that the child/teen reader can resolve while reading the book.

No, no, and no. And no.

So how did Sherlock Holmes become associated with kid reading? I will make a couple of guesses.

First, in the late 19th Century when Arthur Conan Doyle began writing the Holmes books, there wasn't a great deal of children's literature. Children's literature became more popular in the 20th Century when it became possible to mass produce color illustrations and when "specialization" became popular. (You no longer just had doctors, you had specialists; you no longer just had literature, you had specialized literatures). At the time Holmes was created, the various generations tended to read the same things. (By the way, I heard all this at a lecture a few years ago. Unfortunately, I can't remember who gave it.) So late 19th Century young people were exposed to Holmes and probably found him far more readable than, say, the works of Henry James. In that way, Holmes could have become canonized as literature for young people.

Second, young people have traditionally enjoyed reading mysteries. There's a logical reason for this. Up until the late 20th Century, mysteries followed a pattern--social order was disrupted by a crime, the detective solved the crime, social order was restored. (Not so much now, when fictional crimes may be of a particularly horrendous nature and the criminal may avoid justice in some way.) But that restoration of social order was comforting for readers. Young people may particularly appreciate that comfort as more and more of life's problems are being revealed to them.

This would explain why, as a teenager, I read not only Sherlock Holmes but Miss Marple.

I read him as a teenager, but are teenagers reading him now? The British are constantly doing new television versions of Holmes' stories (they also like to keep redoing Rebecca and Pride and Prejudice), so he seems to be part of the public consciousness. But who reads him now?


Monday, October 24, 2005

What's on TV?

In my younger days, I loved mysteries, and I certainly recall reading my share of Sherlock Holmes in my early teen years. And regretting that I wasn't more like him, if memory serves me. I don't think I could always follow his reasoning. (To this day, I can't tell the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning.)

Anyway, last night I taped Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking, and I'm halfway through watching it. Rupert Everett makes a wonderful Holmes. And not just because he's good looking. His Holmes is a little kinder and more sensitive than I recall him being but also plenty intense. For those of us who like intensity.

This is a newly written Holmes story, which might upset some purists but doesn't bother me a bit. It's not for the kiddies, what with Holmes toking up in an early scene and a lot of talk of twisted sex crimes. Teenage Holmes fans should be fine with it, though.

Did you like Holes by Louis Sachar? Did you enjoy the movie? Then what about a sitcom!? One is supposed to be in the works. What can they be thinking? Maybe Hogan's Heroes for kids? (Thanks to Kids Lit for the link.)


Friday, October 21, 2005

A Little Roundup

Voice of Youth Advocates has a list of lists. I was tipped off to the Nonfiction Honor List (scroll down to August) by Kids Lit. I couldn't help but notice that there are titles about Jackie Robinson and Ellis Island. I hate to sound glib, but aren't there already an enormous number of books on those subjects? Which is not to say that these books aren't good.

Rosemary Graham, author of My Not So Terrible Time at the Hippie Hotel, has a new book out, Thou Shalt Not Dump the Skater Dude. Rosemary is an acquaintance from Readerville, so I thought I'd give her a mention. myjellybean is running a contest with 10 copies of Rosemary's new book as prizes.

Whenever I see contests for YA book giveaways I always have to tell myself, no, Gail, no. They don't mean you when they say things like "open to ages 13 and up." If I entered and won, I'd feel as if I belonged in an episode of Strangers With Candy. Which is going to be a movie, by the way.

After visiting myjellybean, I'm at a loss to figure out what it is. When I run my cursor over the logo, I get a little pop-up that says " for teen girls." It seems to be all the most superficial stuff from teen magazines brought together at one spot on the web. I guess I have seen sites like this before, always directed toward girls. I wonder what a guy site looks like? I mean a general guy site, not something directed toward a specific topic. Are there such things?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Here's a Book I Was Prepared Not to Like

Love & Sex Ten Stories of Truth was a book I was prepared to dislike. Not because it was called "Love and Sex," but because it's what I call an "on demand" book of short stories. An editor, in this case, Michael Cart, comes up with an idea. In this case the idea seems to be something about Cart's questions regarding "the equation between sex and love in adolescent life." It seems Cart saw a movie about a group of sexually active New York teenagers and got a little freaked out because the teens' "sex was filled with impersonality,leaving no room for intimacy." And so Cart, who felt there were "too few works of fiction for young adults that deal artfully yet honestly with the complexities of human sexuality and how they affect 'life as it is lived'" set about finding ten writers to write stories about love and sex. (Were there books that delt with the topic artfully but not honestly? Or honestly but not artfully? Sorry. I couldn't pass that up.)

I usually find these "on demand" short story anthologies strained, contrived, and generally lame, anyway, and after reading Cart's introduction I was expecting this one to be preachy to boot. Or maybe some kind of sociological study. However, I really enjoyed some of the stories in this collection.

I don't know if these stories spoke specifically to young adults. I think some of these stories were just good stories, period, that happened to have young adult characters. Some of the situations could have happened to a person at other points in their lives.

"Fine and Dandy" by Louise Hawes. Great story, with a great ending.
"Snake" by Laurie Halse Anderson. Liked the story, but didn't find it all that sexual.
"The Cure for Curtis" by Chris Lynch. A really clever spin on an old joke about guys. But then Lynch wrote Slot Machine, an old favorite of mine.
"The Welcome" by Emma Donoghue. Hey, I sure didn't see what was coming in this story of a lesbian virgin in a women's commune.

I found this intriguing review of Love and Sex. In it, the reviewer talks about how to determine whether or not this book will "enhance" your child's "knowledge." She goes on to say "If you decide to take the plunge and wish to prepare your child well for these complicated issues, then this book will certainly assist you."

Personally, I don't think this book should be instructive. It should be enjoyed. Keep mom out of it and let kids in their mid-teens or so find it by themselves.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Book Sixty

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. Clearly if I'm going to read fanatasy, I prefer darkness and violence to sunshine and princesses. I liked Hale's earlier book, The Goose Girl, but this one was just a little too girly for me.

Hale is into people with abilities to communicate in unique ways--in The Goose Girl the main character could communicate with animals, and in Princess Academy Miri can communicate with others by means of a certain kind of rock in the mountain on which she lives. The princess part comes in because someone has determined that the prince's bride will come from the territory in which Miri lives, so all the girls between 12 and 17 spend the winter learning princessing skills.

Hale did have a couple of surprises in store for us, and she does have a nice feminist sensibility. Her girl main characters aren't mindlessly waiting for their princes to come. I'm just not that into fantasy.

In Case Anyone Was Worried About Me
Yesterday I reported that earlier this week I realized that the chapter I'd been working on for nearly a month just didn't belong in the book I'm working on. Some of you might have felt, oh, how awful for poor Gail. Well, not to worry. In two days I polished off a chapter that does fit into this book, and I have a good plan and start on the last chapter. If I can get this done by the end of the month, I can happily get started on National Novel Writing Month.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Some Timely News

I Almost Forgot About This
We've already started Teen Read Week. Yikes!

Teens can vote for their favorite books at the Young Adult Library Services Association website. The top vote getters will be named YALSA's Teens' Top Ten. Personally, I believe I've read only four of the books on the list. I'd really like to vote for one of them, but I feel honor bound to abstain, not being a teenager and all.

Tonight at 8:30 pm (EST)YA Authors Cafe will hold a chat on YA books with three YA librarians and a teen literacy advocate. I have yet to attend a YA Chat. Maybe tonight will be the night.

More Awards?
Didn't I do a whole bunch of posts about awards a couple of weeks ago? Well, it appears that it's award season again. I am overwhelmed by the number of awards I've been reading about recently. Fortunately, they're mostly for adult books, so I can ignore them. (The only important awards--Newbery and Caldecott--are announced in January.)

However, the National Book Foundation does give out a little something called The National Book Award and young people's literature is an included category. Sooooo, the finalists are:

Jeanne Birdsall, The Penderwicks (Alfred A. Knopf)

Adele Griffin, Where I Want to Be (Putnam)

Chris Lynch, Inexcusable (Atheneum)

Walter Dean Myers, Autobiography of My Dead Brother (HarperTempest)

Deborah Wiles, Each Little Bird That Sings (Harcourt)

I'm so humiliated. I haven't read a single one of these titles. And I read a lot of YA and kids' books. What's wrong with me? Am I not attracted to awardie-type fiction?

An Interesting Tidbit From a Writer's Life
I had a lovely experience yesterday. I was finally making some progress on a chapter I've been working on--sort of--for the better part of a month, when I realized that I just couldn't use it in that book. This is why when I'm visiting schools and teachers say to me, "Would you speak a little bit about your writing process?" I always think, "You don't really want me to do that."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Flying High With Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods

If you're thinking, Oh, no. Now she's going to drone on and on about how much she loves The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins, give yourself a gold star. Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods does not disappoint.

Okay, maybe, there was a little awkwardness at the beginning as the author brought readers up to speed because this is the third book in a series. And there was a spot toward the end where Gregor might have been thinking a little too much about the events he'd just lived through. If someone wanted to argue that Gregor seems a little too capable for an eleven- and, now, twelve-year-old, I'd have to admit that the thought has crossed my mind.

But so what?

These books have so much to offer. A fully realized and unique alternative world. A main character who loves--and is loved by--his family. Marvelous characters.

The Underland Chronicles are all stories about quests. They are believable quests--believable within the context of the world that Collins has created, at least. There are very real risks involved in the journeys Gregor and his companions must make. Lives are lost. No games are played with the reader. No announcements are made to the press before publication of a new book in order to use killing off characters as a means of firing up the public. No characters are placed in danger over and over again while we cringe wondering if this is the spot where someone's going to buy the farm.

Death comes so fast in the Underland books that it can take your breath away. Hey, that's a great plug for a kid's book, huh?

Ripred is by far my favorite character. He's a classic anti-hero, extremely witty, and a real take charge kind of guy when under attack. He's not perfect, of course, what with being a giant rat and all. But who is?

And the Underland grandparents? Wow. Are they ever stereotype busters.

Have I mentioned that Suzanne Collins will be at the Connecticut Children's Book Fair this year? The website isn't giving any info about dates yet even though the fair is only a few weeks away.

By the way, Robert Sabuda, who I mentioned in my last post, will also be there this year.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The End of My Sickbed Reading...I Hope

I'm going to talk about a couple of articles I read in some back issues of magazines lying around the house because they both touch on subjects that interest me.

The Real-Life Boy Wizard in the August 29th issue of Time is all about Christopher Paolini the homeschooled boy whose family self-published the book he wrote as a teenager, it eventually was published by a traditional publisher, and it became a big hit. He's written a new book, by the way, but everyone must know that by now.

I haven't read either of Paolini's books and probably won't because they sound a little hard-core fantasy for my taste. But what really interested me about this article, was what he went through selling his first book while it was still in the realm of the self-published. According to Lev Grossman, who wrote the article, Paolini's parents 'quit their jobs, published Eragon themselves and put Paolini on a grueling tour schedule, from junior high to junior high, library to library. He became the family breadwinner. "As the saying goes, we really bet the farm," Paolini says. "It was down to the point where if we didn't sell enough books, we didn't have food on the table...And I did do most of those events in medieval costume. It will take some extraordinary event to ever get me back in that thing."'

I've written before about the extra work self-published authors do. Writers who publish through traditional routes often talk about how much we have to do to support our books, that no one loves our books the way we do. Okay, that's true. But I'm way too lazy or lethargic or introverted or whatever to put in the kind of effort a lot of these self-published people do.

The other article I want to lecture you on is Pop Culture Phenomenon in the September 26th issue of Newsweek. "Pop-up books," the article says, "long a staple of the kiddie shelf, are increasingly migrating onto Mom and Dad's coffee table." Robert Sabuda estimates that half his fans are adults. (I heard Sabuda speak at the University of Connecticut a number of years ago.) Adults are really into pop-ups, even forming a society of enthusiasts.

Am I a big pop-up fan? I can take them or leave them. No, my interest here is the part about adults being into what has traditionally been considered children's books. Adults like pop-ups. They also like picture books. Why not admit it and actually create pop-ups and picture books specifically for adults? Personally, I think it's already happening. To Everything There is a Season by Leo and Diane Dillon is one beautiful book. But, come on, how many preschoolers are really going to be grabbed by a verse straight from Ecclesiastes? I know the Bible is supposed to speak to everybody, but let's be honest. And when was the last time you heard a seven- or eight-year-old kid talk about how much he enjoyed crying over Love You Forever?

Why would it be so wrong to create an adult category of picture books? Yeah, I know the Brits worry that adults reading children's books will dumb down their culture (see my October 12th post), but these books I'm talking about would have pictures. So we could call them art. Wouldn't that make everyone feel good about grown-ups reading them?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

More Juicie Stuff From The Horn Book

Anita Burkam has an article on the difference between the book and movie versions of Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne-Jones. I've read the book but haven't seen the movie. Nonetheless, I found the article interesting, particularly the following. "...the director of Howl's Moving Castle is taking a story from the British-English folktale universe and placing it in the realm of Japanese anima...most (Americans) won't understand the set of expectations that help Japanese viewers navigate Miyazaki's visual mode of storytelling, and the folktale context of Jones's story that would have guided them is gone." Here Burkam is talking about what I think of as the "shared language" that "artists" use to communicate with their audience. Jones has a language (the folktale context) that her audience understands, and Miyazaki has a language (the themes and character-types of anime) that his audience understands. When the language and audience are mixed will any communication take place?

The only book review that really grabbed me was one of Code Orange by Caroline Cooney, mainly because I'm interested in smallpox. (Hey, it's a purely historical interest. No need to report me to Homeland Security.)

Then there was this article called Twig's Vision by Alice Cary, which was about a children's illustrator I'd never heard of named Elizabeth Orton Jones. Why, you may ask, was I reading an article I've never heard of when I have probably two feet of magazines and newspapers to make my way through? It is a mystery.

I was, however, struck by the following: "Many things infuriated Twig, such as injustice and narrow vision. Nevere mind that she was in her nineties--she was still riled by the censoring of her Golden Book Little Red Riding Hood. Her 1948 original featured a carafe and glass of wine on Grandma's table, just as the original Grimm version, but later editions were changed to show grape juice instead." I was struck by it because I had that Golden Book. Did I say "had it"? I still have it! I jumped up off the couch where I'd been reclining, climbed up on a chair in the living room, and there it was on a top shelf.

Why did the carafe and glass of wine stick out in my mind? Hmmm.

Finally, I would like to comment on the back cover of this issue of The Horn Book. It was an advertisement for Jane Yolen and Mark Teague's How Do Dinosaur's Eat Their Food . Though I haven't mentioned it in a while, I am still obsessed with Jane Yolen's on-line journal . Jane is always going on and on about how seldom she seems to have a chance to write and all the distracting things in her life that keep her from working. Well, all I can say, Jane, is you're not doing too badly if you're getting advertisements like that. You want to hear about the last time my publisher took out an advertisement on the back of The Horn Book ? Never! They've never advertised one of my books on the back of anything.

Not that I'm complaining G. P. Putnam's Sons. Love you all.

I have just discovered a whole new toolbar for my blog, so I'm experimenting. God only knows what this thing is going to look like once it's been posted.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Aren't You the Lucky Ones

I am doing battle with a cold, which must be vanquished because I have plans for the immediate future. So my battle plan for today involved lying on the couch reading magazines, believing that activity, somehow, would make me get better faster than, say, sitting in front of a word processor would. As a result, I finished reading the most recent issue of The Horn Book. And now you're going to hear all about it.

First off, in The Curious Incident of the BBC Radio Show Madeline Travis discusses a BBC Radio 3 program that was aired back in February in which a panel discussed why adults read children's books. I just want to point out that you heard about it here first! I heard the program over the Internet (Roger Sutton mentioned it at Child_Lit) and wrote about it on March 8.

Travis's spin on the panel discussion is that what these people really had their knickers in a twist about was Harry Potter. She made the point that Potter may be the only children's book a lot of adults know of and if they have complaints about that book they project them on the whole field. Travis refers to the panel members as "high-brow cultural commentators" (no argument from me there) and felt that for the most part they "seemed to believe that children's books are intrinsically inferior to those written for adults." She also says "it was a short step to dismissing the entire corpus of children's literature as unworthy of consumption--not just by adults but, bizarrely, by children as well." She quotes one of the panelists, Howard Jacobson as saying, "If you're reading something not worth reading, don't read."

Well, here's my question for Mr. Jacobson: Who gets to decide what's worth reading? Or, to put it the way my mother used to: Who died and left you boss?

The "high-brow cultural" world, from what I can tell, is very adult-centric. The vibe I get from those folks is "Like what I like. Read what I read." And anything they don't like is without value. Which is exactly the kind of argument we in America try to teach our children to avoid.

Evidently the Brits have some big concern that their culture is being dumbed-down and these commentators were worried that reading children's books would hurry the job along. Not to worry. On our side of the pond we've been dumbed-down for years, and it hasn't hurt us.

Madline Travis is features editor and a reviewer for, which looks like another site I'm going to want to check regularly.

Horn Book had other juicie stuff this issue. I'll probably be talking about it for days to come.

Monday, October 10, 2005

And My Fifty-eighth Book of the Year Is...

...The Song Reader by Lisa Tucker. Sad to say, this was not my favorite of the books I have read so far this year. I felt The Song Reader was almost all "tell" and no "show." The first-person narrator, a girl in her mid-teens, just keeps telling us that this happened and this happened and this happened. Many important events take place offstage, so to speak, and the narrator then tells us about them after she learns of them. She doesn't even witness them, herself. Towards the end of the book, she starts to suddenly recall events from the past and starts telling us about those, too.

I prefer a book that shows us characters' attitudes, motivation, reasoning, etc. by way of scenes in which we can learn these things through action and dialogue. We see the scenes. For many years the "show don't tell" rule has been promoted in books on writing and by reviewers. I thought it was up there with Write what you know as a basic rule of writing.

Though I didn't care for The Song Reader, it was very well reviewed and foreign editions were published in four countries. And it's not the first "tell, tell, tell" book I've disliked in the last couple of years that received a much better response from reviewers and readers.

So this raises a question in my mind: Has a shift occurred among critics and readers? Is the public feeling a lot more warmly toward books that "tell" them what's going on than it used to?

Such things happen. For example, back in the nineteenth century, you saw a lot of novels written in the third person with the author moving around inside the heads of various characters. Now there are a lot more books written either in the first person or in the third person with a point-of-view character. Meaning that though the book is written in the third person, everything is from one character's point-of-view with no jumping around. (According to Rust Hill's book Henry James seems to be responsible for this.)

Is the publishing/literary world going through another change now? Is "telling" becoming more acceptable, even desirable, in books?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Last Thing I Have To Say About Vacation...I Think

While we were on vacation we visited a young relative away at college. This semester he is taking a class on writing personal essays. I was all excited about this because I've been interested in personal essays for a while now, have a great many questions about writing them, and could really see this young man becoming an essayist. However, in the course of the visit he announced that he really doesn't like personal essays.

After thinking about this, I have to admit that I really didn't like essays when I was a college student, either. I didn't start reading essays--Nora Ephron before she started writing sappy scripts for romantic comedies and Joan Didion, before she also started writing screenplays--until I was in my mid- to late-twenties. And I didn't become interested in writing them until I was in my thirties. Maybe, I thought after thinking some more, essays are not a young person's form.

The personal essay, if I understand it at all, is an attempt to take some event in the writer's life and try to relate it to the human condition. It's an attempt to communicate experience. Fiction is also an attempt to communicate experience, but you're trying to communicate the illusion of experience. With essays the experience is rawer, edgier, because the experience being communicated is true. (Though exactly how true it has to be is one of the questions I was talking about in my first paragraph.)

So maybe young people haven't lived enough, haven't experienced enough, to appreciate essays. They haven't experienced enough, themselves, to recognize the experience the essayist is trying to communicate.

An example, but not a very good one: I am a David Sedaris fan. While we were on vacation, we were listening to David Sedaris Live At Carnegie Hall. On this CD Sedaris reads his essay "Repeat After Me," which I had already read in one of his collections. It's a stunning and moving essay and after I finished listening to Sedaris read it aloud, I started crying in the car. ("That must have been awkward," my young relative said when he heard about it.)

Fortunately, this was one of those moments when my traveling companion was driving.

While he is a Sedaris fan, too, he didn't see what there was to cry about. I'm guessing that this is because, being a civil engineer, he has never cannabalized his children's lives, ripped off stories from his sibling's childhood, or helped himself to what was going on with the boy next door the way I have. The experience Sedaris was writing about--feeling discomfort because his family is his writing material--definitely relates to my human condition. But as a college student I wouldn't have known what he was talking about.

There's a lot of things about life I didn't understand until I lived them. Since I hope I'm not a total freak of nature, I have to wonder if others are like me--they can't understand what they haven't lived. And, thus, the experience essayists are trying to communicate will be lost on them.

Essayer, by the way, means "to try" in French. I love it.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Some People Really Don't Have Much To Do With Their Time, Do They?

I've been hearing mutterings about some complaints about the Junie B. Jones books and finally tracked down an article about them. It seems that Barbara Park gets some nasty letters about her young creation. The complaints? That poor little Junie B. has grammatical problems and isn't any adult's idea of a fantasy child. Personally, I'm not a major fan of the series because to me the humor doesn't seem child-like enough. I find it a little on the adult side. But to complain because a child sounds like a child? In a children's book? What's the kid supposed to sound like?

Don't get me started on my theory that people read because they want to connect with others like themselves--real people (authors) through their literary creations or fictional people who readers can identify with. This goes for child readers, too. What should children be reading if not books with childish characters?

Oh, wait. Too late. I'm started.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

What's Been Happening While I Was Away

People Are Buying Used Books: A study by the Book Industry Study Group indicates that there has been a big increase in sales of used books, particularly over the Internet. My question is, what does this mean in relation to that NEA study that indicated that literary reading is in decline? Does the surge in used book sales only involve non-literary books? Whatever they are? Are people buying lots of used books but not reading them?

Since we're talking about selling used books, I thought I'd mention The Friends of the Tompkins County Public Library Sale in Ithaca, New York. This thing is supposed to be huge. Their website says nearly 250,000 volumes. You have to take a number to get into the thing. Sorry if I've mentioned this before, but I was just in Ithaca this past weekend and they're getting reved up for this thing.

Roger Sutton Launches a Blog: Roger Sutton, editor of The Horn Book, has started a weblog. I like Sutton's Horn Book editorials, and I found him to be a very good speaker when I heard him at The University of Connecticut a number of years ago. But, oh, my gosh, I just don't know how many more blogs I can keep up with. I think I'm going to have to weed some out of my Favorites List. Maybe I'll have to make a rule that I can only add a new one if I dump an old one.

A Big Screen Beatrix Potter: Renee Zellweger is supposed to be playing Beatrix Potter in a movie. Don't they have any actresses in England? Has Emma Thompson retired? Gone to live on an island in the Pacific? When I think Beatrix Potter, I just don't think Renee Zellweger.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

My Vacation Reading, Part II

My second complete read over vacation was Godless by Pete Hautman. I've also read Hautman's book Sweetblood. My kneejerk response to Hautman's books is that they are about intriguing things, but the writing doesn't have a lot of snap, crackle, and pop like the writing of, say, a Louise Rennison or a M. T. Anderson. Those writers win me over even when I find problems with their plots or voice. Hautman, not so much.

Godless seemed a little predictable to me. I saw the near disasters coming a mile away. Hautman's thoughts about the book, which he posts at his website, seem pretty on the nail to me. The book does seem to be about religious questions. Questions, no answers, no resolutions. Hautman says, "If you strip away the whole religion thing, Godless is about a big fat nerdy kid named Jason Bock who has an excess of smarts and imagination, and his relationship with his even nerdier snail-collecting best friend Shin."

Yeah, that's pretty much it.

And, by the way, what is this thing so many people have with watertowers? I grew up in a rural area with private wells. I just don't get the mystique.

Monday, October 03, 2005

My Vacation Reading, Part I

I didn't do anywhere near the amount of reading I expected to on vacation last week. I had a bag full of books and magazines but only managed to finish two and a half of the books. And many two-thirds of another.

I fell short of my goal because this vacation was only half as long as last year's, and we didn't have many long stretches of driving. Plus, I had to take over the car half the time. I was cool with that because I'm a Twenty-first Century Woman and want to fulfill my responsibilities. Also, the maniac I travel with can't be trusted behind the wheel for long periods of time, especially in the morning when he's careening madly off the highway looking for a Dunkin' Donuts or a Tim Horton's so he can feed his tragic caffeine addiction. Traveling with the wretchedly mad requires a great deal of attention.

Can you tell I spent part of last week reading Away Laughing on a Fast Camel by Louise Rennison? I'm a little afraid I'm outgrowing dear Georgia's journals. The books are so similar that I can't tell one from the other, and for a while I worried that I'd read this one before. In fact, I only picked this book up at the library because I'd read there was a new volume out about Georgia's adventures in Hamburger-a-gogo land. I read a third of the book before I accepted that this was not it.

However, Georgia is funny and, as far as I'm concerned, the template for many, many teen characters who have followed her into print. There are many imitators but only one Georgia Nicolson.

I'm still determined to read that book about her trip to Hamburger-a-gogo land.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

I'm Back...and I'm Nagging Already

I just got back from vacation, and the very first thing I want to do is remind everyone that it's the first week of October. That means it's Buy a Friend a Book Week. I've already bought my friend a book, though I haven't given it to him yet. You still have a whole week to buy yours.

Heroic Boy Writer Wins Over Jaded Girl Reader

On the first day of vacation I finished reading Whales on Stilts by M. T. Anderson. Anderson wrote Feed, a rather sophisticated piece of YA sci-fi. Whales on Stilts is for younger readers.

Whales on Stilts uses an omniscient, third-person narrator who keeps speaking directly to the reader, commenting on what's going on. I hate that kind of thing. To me, it destroys the illusion that the book is a world that I'm observing or even absorbing. It's as if the author is always telling me that it's all fake. I really had to force myself to read the first quarter to a third of this book.

The main character has two adventurous friends who, it suddenly becomes clear, are takeoffs on Tom Swift and, maybe, Nancy Drew. In fact, it turns out that these two characters are actually characters in their own series of 1930's-type adventure stories. I thought it was too bad I didn't like the book any more than I did because that was really kind of clever. Then all kinds of 1930's-era things started happening in funny and oddball ways. And I thought how sad it was that I didn't like the book because there were so many clever and interesting things going on. For instance, the footnote, which I won't go into here. But it was terrific.

You've probably guessed by now that Anderson overcame what I would have thought were insurmountable odds and won me over with his clever and nostalgic parody of old-time kid adventure stories. My reservation now is that I wonder if the children the book was written for will get it. This may be a kids' book only adults can enjoy.

I bought a copy of Whales on Stiltsfor a college-aged relative who was a big fan of Feed. He's going to receive it for Buy a Friend a Book Week.