Book Sense Summer 2007 Children's Picks List.
Friday, April 27, 2007
Book Sense Summer 2007 Children's Picks List.
I've known for a long time that Laurie Stolarz has some of the most enthusiastic and dedicated fans (and you'll all know it if you check out the special fan section in the new edition of Blue is for Nightmares this fall). But this . . . Well, this is really above and beyond.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Thursday, April 19, 2007
A descendant of Jane Austen is auctioning off a portrait he believes to be of Jane herself. Naturally, it's going to fetch a very large price, and thus it's a bit of a news item. NPR's Morning Edition had this report and they are hosting a photo of the portrait here. Part of the story focuses on the controversy over whther the portrait is actually of Austen.
For me, the notable part of the piece is neatly summed up with this quote: "The author of Jane Austen's novels couldn't possibly look like this, or they would be very different novels," says author, poet and critic Clive James. There's a lot more, but this is the gist.
I'm well aware that there are whole schools of literary criticism that place enormous stock in attributing large measures of a given author's artistic accomplishments to factors aside from individual creative genius. Though generally I both disagree with and dislike this line of reasoning--I prefer to give pride of place to an author's genius for "the interaction of inspiration and combination," for creating anew from all the world as he knows it-- I can generally respect that this reasoning is at least interesting and worth consideration.
But this is just too much. It goes too far in minimizing authorial ability. To my 5:30 AM, pre-coffee ear, Mr James was saying, if Jane had been this pretty, she would have been married, happier, and less inclined to write what she wrote. Essentially, if she had been pretty and thus a beneficiary of the contemporary marriage-and-money culture, she would have been less keen observer and a less talented synthesizer of that culture.
Obviously, I think this is silly--so silly that all I want to do is stick out my tongue and say "you're so wrong, Mr. James. It wouldn't have changed a thing" rather than actually martial a coherent rebuttal. But beyond my disagreement with this particular application, I think this general line of critical reasoning would cast a pretty doubtful eye on a fair number of important YA writers (I guess it's not a digression). For instance, what of Aidan Chambers' massive This Is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn? Chambers, a 73-year old man who looks like this, opens the book with the epigraph "All writing is memory," which is a provocative way to open book concerned largely with the sexuality of a teenage girl (I'm pretty sure Chambers' Postcards from No Man's Land has an identical epigraph--maybe all his books do). Flux author Brian Madabach has been reading a musing about Chambers' novel and musing about it on his blog and he addresses Chambers' fearless approach .
Mandabach's own novel, Or Not, which I of course think is excellent, might raise some fairly interesting questions about an author and his characters. There are plenty of pictures of Mandabach on his MySpace page (and there is no controversy in this case; it's definitely him). Can he credibly write about a thirteen-year-old girl? Should we take his novel less seriously than an author who personally remembers being a thirteen-year-old girl?
Vladimir Nabokov was a novelist who could fairly be called obsessed with memory (his autobiography is called Speak, Memory). I'll go out on a limb and say that he would agree with Chambers' epigraph, and would even apply it to his own masterpiece, Lolita, even though he certainly had no personal memory of being an American teenage girl or even of being a middle-aged Swiss man who repeatedly sexually abuses one.
For my money, all writing begins with memory and experience and ends with imagination.
Friday, April 13, 2007
Carrie Jones is interviewed and reviewed in the month's The Edge of the Forest online magazine. It's a great interview, wherein, among other things, Carrie continues her long-standing advocacy for Skinny Cow Fudgecicles, which I've never had (and Carrie would call this a very wrong thing). Do you get a kickback, Carrie?
Oh yeah, and Edge of the Forest reviewer Kelly Harold says: "This is one smart book with one smart heroine."
By the way, the book just hit the warehouse, so even though it's a May release, it'll probably hit bookstores earlier and this is the fastest way to get a copy. It'll also be on sale here.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
My parents had dog-eared paperback copies of Slaughterhouse Five and Cat's Cradle that I stumbled on sometime in junior high. I read them both at my parents' encouragement, but I don't think I really got much in those initial passes (though, thanks to Vonnegut's cameo in Rodney Dangerfield's Back to School, we all know that I was in good company). Whatever of Vonnegut's message went over my twelve-year-old head, what stuck was that here was a novel that was funny and absurd, but also very, very angry and serious. It was a bit of a revelation.
Vonnegut was one of those popular adult authors who had such a deeply ingrained sensitivity to the absurdity and injustice of the world that so-called adults have made that he was bound to appeal to young readers. And given the state of things, I suspect that appeal will survive his passing for a long time to come.
UPDATE: Be sure to check out John Green's tribute at Brotherhood 2.0. (I think John's zit is getting smaller, too.)
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Metro State University and the Saint Paul Public Library hosted award winning authors M. T. Anderson, Pete Hautman, and Alison McGhee in a panel discussion moderated by author and Hamline MFA-program dean Mary Rockcastle.
Discussion ranged from genres and their audiences, to writing craft, to rodents with aberrant pigmentation. It was illuminating, inspiring, and often very funny. Among the many impressions I took away was one of renewed enthusiasm for YA literature, generated in large part by Alison McGhee's response to some discussion about YA versus adult and relating to a teenage audience She said "I am all the ages I have ever been" (or something to that effect).
This struck me not only as a statement of principal from an author whose work appeals to a variety of ages and who refuses to think of her work as written for an age, but also as an admonition to readers of all ages to read about a variety of ages and to refuse confine their points of view to a narrow span of years. Good writers do not cease to visit a teenage world just because they have ceased to inhabit the teenage decade, and, I think, good readers must strive for the same flexibility, lest we atrophy amongst comfortable, familiar stories.
Aside form all the feel-good stuff, I wish they had made book price part of their discussion of YA versus adult and how readers and book industry value one ahead of another. I almost asked, but didn't, "Why, for example, is Octavian Nothing $17.95 while Cormac McCarthy's The Road (a shorter book, incidentally) is $24.00? The book didn't cost any less to produce. Did you work less hard?" I know the complicated industry answers and they're boring, but I'd really be interested to hear an author's thoughts on how the marketplace (and it is the marketplace that creates and maintains these distinctions, I would argue) places a literal value on their work.
Friday, April 6, 2007
Part of what intrigues me about this is out-right copyright geekery on my part, so you might not be interested (but if you're in the book biz, you probably ought to be). It appears (and correct me if I'm wrong) that this service is taking advantage of the same part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that allows YouTube to host copyrighted material with relative (for the moment) impunity. Nobody is buying any e-book rights here, certainly not WattPad, but this is not a site that will work on fan fiction, public domain content, and Cory Doctorow novels alone. So, enter the "Safe Harbor" section of the DMCA. Essentially, a Web site can host the content, as long as it didn't upload that content, and as long it removes the content promptly at the copyright holder's written request. So, hypothetically, if I saw a Flux book on this service, I could request that the author write to the service to say cease and desist. Not so hypothetically, the copyright holders for Animal Farm, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and several other in-copyright novels might want to shoot an email to WattPad. (Actually, the most ironic apparent copyright violation is Ayn Rand.) If they don't, WattPad is free and clear. They can even market the existence of these works on their site (I think).
All right, so, copyright geekery aside, does anyone think they'd actually use this to read a book? I've been trying to imagine a scenario wherein I would be stuck somewhere for a long time where I didn't have and couldn't procure a real book or a viable alternative. I didn't come up with anything other than an unexpected massive traffic jam in some place bereft of public radio. Not likely.
But then again, I don't have a phone with a big screen; I don't do text messaging; and I'm really not interested in using my phone for much more than phoning. So I'm probably not being sufficiently imaginative. There are, obviously, those who think otherwise about their phones. Witness all those Blackberries, Helio phones, and the soon-to-be-released iPhone. And all those large screened Helios and Sidekicks are marketed heavily toward YAs. And then you could throw this in the mix: the Motofone F3. This is the one cell phone I'd actually buy happily (if I could; it's not in the US yet), because it's small, cheap, durable, has long battery life, and, most importantly, it has an e-paper screen that's easy to view outside (apparently) and those last two would make it ideal for actually reading text. I wonder...
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Monday, April 2, 2007
It's an interesting article, by and large, though it has some semi-odd generalizations about who reads what and when. "Older teen boys, for instance, read books by mainstream writers such as Carl Hiaasen . . ." Yeah, too bad there are no Carl Hiaasen novels aimed directly at younger b-- Oh wait. Shoot.
I think this most quotable bit is toward the end though, from Larry Doyle the author of I Love You, Beth Cooper, a novel that apparently bounced between YA and adult imprints before landing with Prep editor Lee Boudreaux at an adult imprint. Now, I haven't read this author and this is the only time I've seen him interviewed, but I hope he didn't mean this like it sounds (italics are mine):
"Mr. Doyle is happy with his choice. He thinks there's a stigma attached to young-adult books, as there is with 'chick lit' aimed at women readers. 'If 'To Kill a Mockingbird' or 'The Catcher in the Rye' were published today, they'd almost certainly be young-adult titles,' he says. 'But then they wouldn't become classics, except in the sense that Judy Blume books are classics.'"
Um, huh? So, where the book gets shelved is the final arbiter of literary merit? And in what-- apparently lesser--"sense" exactly are Blume's books classics, then? Are they class-b classics? Is this something like being an AM-radio superstar? And is there a little merit-by-association implied in this quote? (Essentially, "Class me not with Blume, for I belong with Salinger and Lee," says the former sitcom writer).
I also find it interesting that the Wall Street Journal manages to overlook the dollars-and-cents angle at play in this issue. Doyle's book would have cost $16.95 at most at a YA imprint. With an adult house, it's $19.95 for the same paper, ink, and cardboard. Oh, maybe that's the what he meant by "the sense that Judy Blume books are classics."
The author had this to say on GalleyCat:
"Larry Doyle writes in to clarify some of the things in this post, as well as the original article. 'I have no disdain for children's literature, or literature read by young adults. I was wary of the prepackaged marketing of same, as a genre with specific conventions, then sold into a narrow channel of readership. That's why I brought up MOCKING BIRD and THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. They are both clearly children's and young adult books, but both were published as general fiction. As was A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. It was an adult best-seller and shipped routinely to servicemen.'" He also says he went out of his way to say that he wasn't suggesting that his book was a classic.
Fair enough, but I don't think he's quite got a handle on YA. He says he mentioned Frank Portman's King Dork "as an example of a book that I thought deserved wider recognition but didn't get it because of the marketing label." I think this is not only wrong but possibly backward. I think YA might have saved King Dork. King Dork is a wonderful novel, but it is also a novel by a first-time novelist and it features a young teenager as its protagonist. It doesn't feel like Mark Haddon-type crossover to me. So I'm not seeing what makes him think a book that has sold over 20,000 copies and has been featured in Time Magazine (among others, no doubt) is underappreciated and underperforming because it's in YA not adult. (I'll provide my own counterexample, though. Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess is brisk-selling, highly promoted, adult-section-dwelling debute novel that is pretty clearly YA to my eye.) Interesting question.