Sunday, January 31, 2010

I'm quoted on Kid Lit Quotes!

Kid Lit Quotes actually used my quote from Ramona Quimby! Yay!

Thoughts on Jane Austen II

I was first introduced to Jane Austen by my mother. The summer after my freshman year in college I tried reading Pride & Prejudice, but I didn’t get very far at all. I had trouble keeping all the characters straight, and didn’t understand all the “&tc.”s in my book. I gave up probably only 20 pages in. That school year in my British Lit class, Persuasion was assigned. My professor really intrigued me in his description of this book. In all Austen novels, there is a second woman vying for the attention of the gentleman in question. Normally, maneuvering around that situation takes up a lot of the plot. But in Persuasion, you can tell that Ms. Austen was ill (this was her last novel completed before her death) and that she was sick and tired. Because she just flung the romantic rival off a small cliff. This description of the novel startled me (I hadn’t read it just yet). It reminded me of that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where in a marketplace there is a man brandishing a sword to fight Indiana Jones. Indiana just takes out his gun and shoots him. Similarly to the Austen story, Harrison Ford was sick which is why the script was changed to the more straightforward, funny, and realistic conclusion.

The following year I took a Jane Austen seminar, which was fantastic. My final paper was on a topic that should have occurred to me based on my own first attempt at reading P&P, but which was suggested by a comment made by the sole male in the class: why are there so many Bennet sisters? They’re hard to keep track of initially. In retrospect, writing a 15 page paper on the structure of a novel as opposed to symbolism, theme or allusion should have been a sign to be about my future as a book editor. But I remained oblivious for several years. My conclusion was that in order to keep the readers on the side of Elizabeth, she had to be portrayed as outnumbered. Since Elizabeth also needed a confidant (Jane), that meant there needed to be 3 silly sisters. The parents also cancel each other out, with Mr. Bennet being on the side of Elizabeth and Jane, and Mrs. Bennet on the side of Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. Regardless of your feelings about how sensible/silly Mr. Bennet really was, Elizabeth felt an affinity to and felt understood by her father in a way that was important to her.

Pride & Prejudice really is a masterpiece. Emma is a close second. Persuasion will always be my favorite, probably because it was the first I read and I was set up to have much sympathy for Ms. Austen immediately prior to my reading of it. I have a soft spot for Northanger Abbey which I think is often misunderstood by readers who don’t understand it is a farce of the popular gothic novels of the day and instead take it completely seriously at face value. Sense & Sensibility is sweet but always struck me as a tad bit silly. Mansfield Park I found preachy and overly long, but still masterfully written.

Jane Austen may have led a fairly reserved, quiet, and unremarkable life, but she is one of the most beloved, influential, and long-lasting authors in the English language. It’s true that popularity wanes and waxes, and she might not always be as popular as she is now, but she has stood the test of time for 200 years now, and likely will be here in another 200 years.
I am not watching the latest BBC/PBS version of "Emma" just yet. I have them recording on my TiVo and I will watch all 3 installments at once in a mini marathon, so stay tuned.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Crocodile Books

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I have not one, but two girlfriends with small daughters who want lots and lots of picture books of crocodiles or alligators. One friend’s daughter will be going to an elementary school where the mascot is an alligator. The other friend is from coastal southern South Carolina where alligators aren’t that uncommon and she thinks they’re cute. So whenever I run across a croc/gator book, I pass it along to them! Being on the lookout for croc/alligator books makes me realize how popular some animals are (bears, dogs, penguins) in the picture book world, and some aren’t.

I'd Really Like to Eat a Child by Sylviane Donnio, illustrations by Dorothee de Monfreid
I love this book. The premise tickles me, and the writing is as cute as you hope from the title. A young crocodile thinks he’s big enough that he doesn’t have to eat the baby food his parents feed him anymore. He’s big enough to eat a person. But he’s realistic: he thinks a small person would be enough for him. Sadly for his aspirations, he is still much, much smaller than a child who, when he finally encounters her, thinks he is adorable and picks him up.

Clarabella’s Teeth by An Vrombaut
This is the favorite book of one of my little friends. The story is cute, about how Clarabella with her many, many, many teeth has to spend so much time brushing her teeth that she doesn’t have any time left to play with her friends. But it bothered me that she was brushing her teeth with a toothbrush as I had such fond memories of…

Bill and Pete by Tomie DePaola
Bill is a crocodile. Pete is a plover bird. Plovers clean the teeth of crocodiles. It would be nice if my toothbrush could talk to me and hang out and give me advice and help me not get turned into a suitcase. Sadly, mine just sits there, pink, dripping, mute.

Lyle, Lyle Crocodile by Bernard Waber
Another childhood favorite is Lyle. He lives in a lovely apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with the Primms, and when he unfortunately ends up in the zoo, not only is he very unhappy, but he eventually is able to move back to the apartment (obviously not a PETA-approved storyline.) I like having a sweet, conscientious, friendly crocodile as the protagonist, going against stereotypes.

These books I personally have not read but are more picture books featuring crocodiles/alligators:
Camping Day by Patricia Lakin
Doodle Bites by Polly Dunbar

Friday, January 29, 2010

Book Review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I made an attempt to read this when I was 12 (actually it was foisted upon me). I failed. I did not get through the Lowood section. I was bored to tears. I then somehow managed to get through high school and college without ever having it assigned. So a few years after college, I thought it was sad as an English major that I had never read it. It was so beloved, millions of readers can’t all be wrong, especially over 150 years, so I read it. I loved it. It was captivating, romantic, and I was swept away. Fast forward to 2010. It is assigned in book club and even though I had read it before it was over 10 years ago so I reread.

This time, not love. I think that was due to a variety of factors: when I did not end up flying to California, instead of 2 5-hour flights in which to get immersed, instead I had a series of nights of an hour apiece. I also was paying attention to the words I didn’t know for my Wednesday Words meme, which took me out of the story and put me in my head. I am older, a little less romantic, a little more critical of literature.

The time I read it in my twenties was this edition (Signet Classic) with the foreword by Erica Jong. Thanks simply to the popularity of Jane Eyre, I did already know some of the crucial plot points. Unfortunately, Erica Jong gave the rest away. I really hate when publishers aren’t careful about that kind of thing (not to mention authors.) This isn’t an Afterword. It’s a Foreword. It shouldn’t be filled with spoilers. On my rereading this week, I read the Bantam Classic edition with Foreword by Joyce Carol Oates. I did not read the Foreword until I was more than 200 pages into the 400+ page edition, and I’d like to thank Ms. Oates for not giving away the story at all.

Jane Eyre is still a masterful work. Sweeping, but structured. Romantic but Jane is mostly practical. Mr. Rochester is inexplicably ugly but sexy. We love Jane. She has such a strong inner core, an innate sense of herself and an innate personal moral structure. She is a great character as she’s so easy to identify with and root for. But I think I’ve grown out of her. Alas, this is always what I worry about when rereading.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Booking Through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday hosts a weekly meme with a question about books. Here is this week's:

Jackie says, “I love books with complicated plots and unexpected endings. What is your favourite book with a fantastic twist at the end?”
So, today’s question is in two parts.
1. Do YOU like books with complicated plots and unexpected endings?
2. What book with a surprise ending is your favorite? Or your least favorite?
My favorite recently was The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald. It took a long while to get into this book which I wouldn't normally have done except that it was for my book club. But once the mystery really gets going, it held me enraptured. And since there's a mystery you know there's going to be a surprise of some sort at the end.

Also Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. The horrible thing is that the surprising ending is actually true - this novel is based on real-life events. A novelist making this up out of whole cloth might have been accused of being melodramatic or using a heavy-handed plot device, but it is a fact that this happened. I don't want to give it away of course, but I was very glad I didn't know more about Frank Lloyd Wright's life before I read it.

For my least favorite, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I hadn't been liking the book, but when I got to the end I just wanted to fling it across the room (unfortunately I was on an airplane so that was impossible). The ending felt very amateur, rang false, and seemed to be tacked on purely for shock value. I don't appreciate being manipulated solely for the author's amusement, not for the furtherance of character or storytelling. A more sophisticated author should have been able to achieve the same level of shock without stooping to something so sophomoric that it would have been laughed out of my college creative writing class.

My Favorite Reads: The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik

My Favorite Reads
Each week I am featuring one of my favorite reads from the past.

The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik

Since it’s still January, the time of resolutions, I thought I’d feature this book which starts on January 1, 1998 as three men all compete, with themselves, with the record, and as they later discover with each other, to spot the largest number of unique birds in North America in one year. Two of the men are very wealthy with a lot of options at their disposal for travel and expenses, whereas the third is just a regular guy with a job, maxed out credit cards, and an old car who still manages to keep up.

Here’s my original review:
Last night as I lay in bed after finishing this book, I heard an owl hooting outside my window and I wondered, but what kind of owl is that? Grey? Barn? Snowy? And yet I had no way to answer that question. I think it'll be quite some time before I go back to my usual practice of not really noticing birds. (Although I will continue with my hating of the geese that honk incessantly at all hours and crap all over the place.) This book was hugely entertaining. Obsessives usually are. And the bird enthusiasm related in this book was really almost infectious, so well was it portrayed. The three men who made The Big Year in 1998 were so interesting, diverse, and unusual that they were amusing company. It was a fun, fast read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy aka Bermuda Onion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading.

This week I’ve been rereading Jane Eyre for my book club. I thought surely I would run across a couple of words for this meme. But wow, I have been quite shocked at the number of unfamiliar words I’m encountering. In fact, I think I’ll need to edit the list or it’ll be crazy. I’m not sure if it’s because some of these books have become obsolete in the last 200 years, people these days just aren’t as well-read or well-educated, Ms. Brontë is trying to seem smart (see irids, used twice), or (my favorite) I always run across this many words I don’t know, but when I’m not looking for them I mostly just gloss them over. Most I can discern from context (which is of course the primary way people expand vocabularies) but it’s nice to actually have a reason to keep track and look up the words. I don’t know that it will improve my understanding of the book, but it certainly can’t hurt! Given the length of this list, I only went with words I truly was unfamiliar with, not just words I can’t specifically define. Luckily, the second half of the book I read on treadmill and at the optometrist’s, so you are spared a much, much longer list.

Lambent (2nd page of preface)
His wit is bright, his humour attractive, but both bear the same relation to his serious genius that the mere lambent sheet-lightning playing under the edge of the summer-cloud does the electric death-spark hid in its womb.
1. running or moving lightly over a surface: lambent tongues of flame.
2. softly bright or radiant: a lambent light.
Cavillers (1)
“Jane, I don’t like cavillers or questioners.”
–verb (used without object) 1. to raise irritating and trivial objections; find fault with unnecessarily (usually fol. by at or about): He finds something to cavil at in everything I say.
Moreen (1)
I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtains nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement.
A heavy fabric of wool, or wool and cotton, with a ribbed face and a moiré finish, used for curtains, petticoats, etc.
Fagging (14)
Accustomed as I was to a life of ceaseless reprimand and thankless fagging.
British. to require (a younger public-school pupil) to do menial chores.
Parterre (23)
That functionary having orders from Mrs. Reed to buy of his young lady all the products of her parterre she wished to sell.
An ornamental arrangement of flower beds of different shapes and sizes.
Poltroon (24)
What a miserable little poltroon had fear, engendered of unjust punishment, made of me in those days!
A wretched coward; craven.
Inanition (38)
I was now nearly sick from inanition, having taken so little the day before.
Benignant (40)
Exhaustion from lack of nourishment; starvation.
Irids (40)
Brown eyes with a benignant light in their irids, and a fine penciling of long lashes round
Any plant belonging to the Iridaceae, the iris family.
Animadversions (46)
Together with the manner in which each girl acquitted herself, and the animadversions or commendations of Miss Scatcherd on the performance.
An unfavorable or censorious comment: to make animadversions on someone's conduct.
Meed (49, 113)
If I do anything worthy of praise, she gives me my meed liberally.
A reward or recompense.
Hebdomadal (53)
It was the hebdomadal treat to which we all looked forward from Sabbath to Sabbath
Taking place, coming together, or published once every seven days; weekly: hebdomadal meetings; hebdomadal groups; hebdomadal journals.
Surtout (54)
It was Mr. Brocklehurst, buttoned up in a surtout, and looking longer, narrower, and more rigid than ever.
A man's close-fitting overcoat, esp. a frock coat.
Excrescence (56)
And I see others who have far too much of the excrescence – that tall girl, tell her to turn round.
An abnormal outgrowth, usually harmless, on an animal or vegetable body.
Phylactery (66)
Next morning Miss Scatcherd wrote in conspicuous characters on a piece of pasteboard the word “Slattern,” and bound it like a phylactery round Helen’s large, mild, intelligent, and bening-looking forehead.
Judaism. either of two small, black, leather cubes containing a piece of parchment inscribed with verses 4–9 of Deut. 6, 13–21 of Deut. 11, and 1–16 of Ex. 13: one is attached with straps to the left arm and the other to the forehead during weekday morning prayers by Orthodox and Conservative Jewish men.
Barmecide (67)
I forgot to prepare in imagination the Barmecide supper, of hot roast potatoes, or white bread and new milk, with which I was wont to amuse my inward cravings
A member of a noble Persian family of Baghdad who, according to a tale in The Arabian Nights' Entertainments, gave a beggar a pretended feast with empty dishes.
Holm (68)
When mists as chill as death wandered to the impulse of east winds along those purple peaks, and rolled down “ing” and holm till they blended with the frozen fog of the beck!
A low, flat tract of land beside a river or stream.
Debarrassed (78)
I was debarrassed of interruption; my half-effaced though instantly revived.
[See Embarrass.] To disembarrass; to relieve.
Negus (88)
Leah, make a little hot negus and cut a sandwich or two.”
A beverage made of wine and hot water, with sugar, nutmeg, and lemon.
Cuirass (91)
(One, I remember, represented a grim man in a cuirass, and one a lady with powdered hair and a pearl necklace.)
1. Also called corselet. defensive armor for the torso comprising a breastplate and backplate, originally made of leather.
2. either of the plates forming such armor.
Canzonette (94)
Adèle sang the canzonette tunefully enough, and with the naïveté of her age.
n. A short lighthearted air or song.
Cachinnation (99)
But that it was high noon, and that no circumstance of ghostliness accompanied the curious cachinnation; but that neither scene nor season favored fear.
To laugh loudly or immoderately.
Pollard (107)
I saw only the hedge and a pollard willow before me.
A tree cut back nearly to the trunk, so as to produce a dense mass of branches.
Rill (109)
A rill from the outer world was flowing through it.
A small rivulet or brook.
Eulogiums (114)
“Eulogiums will not bias me.”
An eulogy.
Festal (121)
The luster which had been lit for dinner filled the room with a festal breath of light.
pertaining to or befitting a feast, festival, holiday, or gala occasion.
Adventitious (123)
So haughty a reliance, on the power of other qualities, intrinsic or adventitious, to atone for the lack of mere personal attractiveness.
Associated with something by chance rather than as an integral part; extrinsic.
Arrogate (129)
“The human and fallible should not arrogate a power with which the divine and perfect alone can be safely entrusted.”
To claim unwarrantably or presumptuously; assume or appropriate to oneself without right: to arrogate the right to make decisions.
Dentelles (131)
I installed her in a hotel, gave her a complete establishment of servants, a carriage, cashmeres, diamonds, dentelles, &c.
Spoony (131)
In short, I began the process of ruining myself in the received style, like any other spoony.
Foolishly or sentimentally amorous.
Welkin (132)
Lines of dark windows reflecting that metal welkin.
The sky; the vault of heaven.
Etiolated (135)
Next morning I had the pleasure of encountering him; left a bullet in one of his poor etiolated arms.
Weakened or sickly; drained of color or vigor.
Ignis-fatuus (150)
If discovered and responded to, must leave ignis-fatuus-like into miry wilds whence there is no extrication.
1. Also called friar's lantern, will-o'-the-wisp. a flitting phosphorescent light seen at night, chiefly over marshy ground, and believed to be due to spontaneous combustion of gas from decomposed organic matter.
2. something deluding or misleading.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Loaning Books, Yay or Nay (Are You a Library?)

After yesterday's Musings about borrowing, I thought I'd do a post about lending books.
To the left you will see the personal library kit. This item from Knock Knock is perfect for the generous bibliophile! Loan out your favorite books in style and never lose another title. Kit includes 20 self adhesive pockets, 20 insert cards, one date stamp, pad, and pencil. 6.5"x7.5"
A few years ago I got this as a birthday gift from a literary agent friend. It’s hilarious. Although to be honest I haven’t broken it out. Another friend got me an embosser kit that I can use to imprint my name into the end paper or frontispiece. That I’ve used a handful of times. Mostly I don’t loan out books. I don’t need to. My friends are so full-up on the books I give them, it’s not like they’re going to run out of reading material anytime soon. The usual process is, I make a new friend, I find out what they like. I give them a stack of ten books, they’re overjoyed. I give them ten more books, still excited. Ten more books, less excited. Ten more books, they protest they’ve barely made a dent in the previous gifts. Ten more books, they start to glare.

Obviously, this is a bit of an exaggeration, but not too much. I run across a ton of books in my life. Mostly at work but not exclusively. And I want them to go to good homes. Plus, 99% of what I read needs to leave my house. Like most people in this industry, I live in constant fear of being killed in an avalanche of my own creation. So when I read a book, it needs to go to a new home. Yes, of course there are exceptions. I have a whole shelf of books I personally edited/acquired in New York. I have another shelf with my very favorite authors (Jill McCorkle, David Sedaris, Tom Franklin. Speaking of, I noticed last night that someone borrowed my copy of Naked and I have no idea who it was. If it was you, please read it and get it back to me. What are you waiting for? It’s hilarious.) I have my favorite children’s books. And to my annoyance, I still have most of the literature I read for high school and college. Some of it I didn’t like (The Unvanquished, Grapes of Wrath, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). More of it was okay but nothing I’d ever in a million years read again (The Odyssey, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Oroonoko), and even the ones I really liked (Wide Sargasso Sea, The Loved One, Three Men in a Boat) I’m highly unlikely to read again. (Aside from a recent run of rereading children’s books from my childhood, and a couple of book club assignments, I haven’t reread an adult book in years and years.) So why do I keep them? I’m not going to become an English professor or teacher. They’re mostly not nice editions, but just are the mass market Penguin Classic or Everyman Edition. In fact, they’re so not nice that they’re hiding up in my bedroom instead of being down in the living room with the hardcovers. But I just can’t seem to get rid of them. I tried last weekend in fact to convince myself a few could go to the book swap, but I failed.

Anyway, back to my topic. I do sometimes loan books. Unfortunately, I completely forget who I loaned them no pretty instantly, 90% of the time. Which is a good reason to not loan them. Also, I give so many books, most people seem to not notice that this particular book is a loaner. I will often stop them and say, “no really, I want this one back. I haven’t read it yet.” And they’ll say “yeah sure, no problem,” but I rarely see the book again.

So while I don’t have a strict no-loaning policy, I do discourage it. When someone wants to borrow something, I often will go through my bookcase for an adequate substitute that I’m never going to get around to and don’t mind if it doesn’t return. But mostly I try to keep my friend and family satiated on books so they never ask.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Musing Mondays

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about borrowed books.
Where do you keep any books borrowed from friends or the library? Do they live with your own collection, or do you keep them separate? Do you monitor them in anyway.
Personally, I try not to borrow books. I have such a scattershot approach to deciding what to read next that it’s likely I will never get around to the borrowed book. Plus, thanks to my job, I can usually get my grubby hands on any book that’s been recommended to me. Also since I am stubborn and don’t like to be told what to do, there’s a better than good chance that I really won’t get around to those borrowed book precisely because I ought to, to return them.

Exception: if I am at someone’s house and start reading a book there, I might then ask to borrow it, and since I’ve already begun it I should finish it quickly. (Example: Mountains Beyond Mountains, borrowed from Mom when I started reading it at her house over Christmas 2008.)

I borrowed a book from a friend 4 years ago: Rising Tide by John M. Barry. I was struggling with The Great Influenza, and my friend said this book was much better. It was still dense and a bit difficult although yes, better than Influenza, but then Hurricane Katrina hit. And the book was a little too close for comfort. I’ve never picked it back up and ought to return it. The other book I know I have that is a borrow is Angela’s Ashes. This book was foisted on me, despite my protestations. I read the first 20 pages when it first came out and got so depressed I wanted to kill myself (figuratively but still.) I told the borrowee that I was very unlikely to ever read it but she insisted. I think I’ve had this book for about 10 years now. She knows I have it, I know it’s hers, and who knows – maybe one day I’ll be in the mood.

Because I have so few borrowed books, I don’t really need to keep them separated. And really, why do I ever need to borrow books? I have over 250 books in my house that I haven't read. Most offers to loan me books I turn down.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by J. Kaye at J. Kaye's Book Blog.

Books completed last week: none, sigh

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (this is a reread for my book club)

Books I Still Need to Write Reviews On: N/A

Up Next:
Eventide by Kent Haruf
Anonyponymous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words by John Marciano
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Last week wasn't the best reading-wise. I had thought I'd get a lot read due to a cross-country flight, but at the last minute we didn't go all the way. Took the 1 hour flight to Atlanta. Got on the plane to CA. Taxied to the runway. Waited in a long line of planes to take off. Then the pilot announces since the air conditioning isn't working, we have to go back. Takes a little while as we have to get a gate reassigned to us. Then workmen come on board for 45 minutes to try to fix it. They fail. We then get off the plane. They find us another plane to fly to CA on. But by now, it's been a few hours. We are now due to land just as our meeting in California is scheduled to end. Hmm. So instead my boss and I rebook ourselves back home. That was quite possibly the most expensive lunch at the ATL Popeye's ever. And I missed out on 10 hours (round trip) of flying time, which in my opinion is the very best reading time.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Emma" on PBS tonight, Jan 24

Starting tonight is Part 1 of 3 of a new BBC version of Jane Austen's novel Emma on Masterpiece Theater Classic on PBS.

Long ago, when I got my first “real” job in the book industry at the “other” book wholesaler, my entire job interview consisted of me and my future boss discussing which Jane Austen movie adaptation we liked the best (me: "Clueless". This was just pre-Colin Firth P&P.) Which made sense as I heard about the job when future boss met my Mom at a JASNA meeting. I too am a Janite. Currently, there’s no JASNA chapter in my city though I am a remote member of one a few hours away.

When I lived in New York I once had a mini JASNA at my house – a tea party complete with cucumber sandwiches, and we screened 3 versions of Emma - the Gwyneth Paltrow, the Kate Beckinsale, and "Clueless". Most people don’t know the Kate Beckinsale "Jane Austen's Emma" was done by the same Brits who did the Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth P&P (it was the year prior). While the Gwyneth version was hugely popular, shot the name Emma into the top ten and drove Jane Austen back into the forefront of pop culture, we all hated it in my mini group. She seemed to have a split personality – really nice one minute and a super bitch the next. While I really liked some of the secondary characters, in the end it was a pale comparison to the Kate Beckinsale version. I loved her Mrs. Bates (Prunella Scales! You may remember her as Mrs. Fawlty from Fawtly Towers) and her Harriet (Samantha Morton) was much better. It’s hard to imagine the robust Toni Colette ever being so malleable. Kate’s Emma was always a tad bit bitchy, so her super-bitchy moments seemed authentic and honest, not disjointed and welded on. Kate trumped Gwyneth. But Alicia Silverstone’s Cher beat them both. Every time I watch it, I find more tiny details that are right from Austen. Sharp and hilarious and spot-on, I am skeptical any Jane movie will ever trump "Clueless" for me. Of course there is no Mrs. Bates in this version, but everything else is completely perfect. Being a HUGE pop culture fanatic as well as a literary snob, it is very rare that I find anything that hits the target from both angles.
So, I come to watching the new version of Emma with no small amount of trepidation. Expectations are high, but so is skepticism.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Book Review: Jeremy Draws a Monster by Peter McCarty

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

Jeremy Draws a Monster by Peter McCarty

Jeremy stays in his room, alone. He won’t go outside and play with the other kids. He draws a monster (for companionship?) and much to his (and our) surprise, the monster is very demanding and rude. He wants a sandwich. A hat. A chair. He then goes out and leaves Jeremy alone. He comes in in the middle of the night, and takes Jeremy’s bed (this scene is much funnier for adults than kids). Jeremy comes up with an ingenious solution: he draws a bus (the destination placard simply read: AWAY.) And a ticket. And after the monster is gone, he goes outside to play with the other children.

I love Peter McCarty’s illustrations. This style is different than his earlier books (Hondo and Fabian, and my personal favorite Little Bunny on the Move), but similar to his latest, (Henry in Love) and so endearing. Jeremy is a bit passive at first, but you do grow to like him when he decides to stop letting monsters (and presumably people) walk all over him, and go out and get some experiences.

This was another gift for my college roommate’s son when I visited, and this one I also read over 20 times that weekend. We adults laughed quite a bit when he kept insisting that we read “Germy”. This little boy didn’t need encouragement to go outside and play with friends, but a story about a monster always goes over well. And a story about how what we think will happen often doesn’t is always good. A small side lesson about manners never hurts. An easy to understand story with fairly simple illustrations is great for the younger picture book set (3-5).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Guilty Pleasures

A co-worker just stopped by my desk to ask me if I really had read Valley of the Dolls, and if I really did recommend it (she didn't believe my 5-star review on goodreads). This was our second conversation about the book as I apparently hadn’t persuaded her the first go-round, although I had interested her. Personally I only had heard of it as an eye-roller, but when the book was rereleased in 1997, a (different) co-worker read it, loved it, highly recommended it. I found this very strange because this same co-worker has read Moby Dick for fun, and he participates in Bloomsday most years. Now I may have been an English major and I’ve read my share of forced literary canon unpleasantness (Portrait of the Artist, Grapes of Wrath, Light in August), and when I managed to get out of my top-rated liberal arts college without the torture of those two bricks, I counted myself lucky. Someone who would choose to read them, I found a bit odd. But certainly very, very literary. To have this same person read and recommend Valley of the Dolls kind of blew my mind. While I was intrigued, I was also a bit scared. So it stayed in my mind, but I didn’t go anywhere near it.

Years later, my sister who doesn’t read (she is slightly dyslexic) except for fashion magazines was raving about how phenomenal this book is. (And since then she has been reading a lot, so this book is awesome even if just for that.) And that made me even more baffled, as my sister, and my co-worker couldn’t possibly have more diverse literary tastes, yet they crossed with Valley of the Dolls. That did it, I agreed to read it (admittedly, after a little harassment from sister.) And it was fantastic. Yes it’s a beach read, lightweight, fast, like candy. But such a great story! To me it was quite shocking. I had seen the movie, sure, and I knew all about the pills (you just have to look at the front cover to know about that!) but I was even more surprised about the one woman who lived with a man before marriage in the 1940s and one who had an abortion (which wasn’t even legal by the time the book was published in 1966, but the book covers more than 20 years so this was decades prior) and the nonchalant way these things were dealt with! I enjoyed every minute of that book and couldn’t put it down. (My sister has gone on to read all of Ms. Susann’s novels and her biography.)

Guilty pleasures are a wonderful thing! Like literary chocolate, sometimes we need a palate-cleanser. In high school while studying my butt off and getting straight A’s, I was reading The Flowers in the Attic series. In college in the summers, I downshifted with Jaws, The Shining, Coma, and Congo. During the last week of school, when I was done with your exams but before graduation, I read the whole North and South Trilogy. While at the bookstore, I read the Mitford books. Those are the most embarrassing for me to admit, seeing as how they aren’t action-packed thrillers but instead are quiet, sweet stories about an elderly priest in a small town. The Mitford books all reminded me of the time when I was 12 and I swiped a canister of icing from the pantry. I ate the whole thing. I couldn’t stop, even though it made me feel slightly ill. And it was a year or more before I could stomach any icing again (to this day, I try to get interior pieces of a cake.) But I couldn’t resist. Mitford is the same way. They were too sweet, I felt slightly sick, afterwards I didn’t want to see one of them for a long, long time, but when a new one came out I had to devour it immediately.

In New York I finally read Clan of the Cave Bear which my step-mother had been pushing on me for years. And an ex-boyfriend said the main female character of Youngblood Hawke reminded him of me so I had to read that of course (she’s an editor.) The Two Mrs. Grenvilles was one of the best in this category, up there with Valley of the Dolls. Even better since it's based on a real story.

Lately I haven’t been reading as many of these. Perhaps because my life has gotten more pleasant, I need less of an escape? Or simply the normal ebbs and waves of preferences and availability. Last year I read three: No Angel, The Forgotten Garden, and Exodus, all in the winter. I don’t read my “beach reads” at the beach! I am not fond of winter in the least, and so it’s when I need a mental break. We shouldn’t feel guilty about our “guilty pleasures.” All reading is good.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Favorite Reads: Mountains Beyond Mountains

My Favorite Reads

The meme is hosted by At Home With Books. Each week I am featuring one of my favorite reads from the past.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder

Summary (from the publisher):
Tracy Kidder is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the author of the bestsellers The Soul of a New Machine, House, Among Schoolchildren, and Home Town. He has been described by the Baltimore Sun as the “master of the non-fiction narrative.” This powerful and inspiring new book shows how one person can make a difference, as Kidder tells the true story of a gifted man who is in love with the world and has set out to do all he can to cure it.

At the center of Mountains Beyond Mountains stands Paul Farmer. Doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, world-class Robin Hood, Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat, and in medical school found his life’s calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. This magnificent book shows how radical change can be fostered in situations that seem insurmountable, and it also shows how a meaningful life can be created, as Farmer—brilliant, charismatic, charming, both a leader in international health and a doctor who finds time to make house calls in Boston and the mountains of Haiti—blasts through convention to get results.

Mountains Beyond Mountains takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that "the only real nation is humanity" - a philosophy that is embodied in the small public charity he founded, Partners In Health. He enlists the help of the Gates Foundation, George Soros, the U.N.’s World Health Organization, and others in his quest to cure the world. At the heart of this book is the example of a life based on hope, and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains there are mountains”: as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.

Why I chose this book:
I recommended this book to my Aunt earlier this week as she was saying she wished she knew more about Haiti. I read it in December 2008, and here’s the review I wrote at that time:

Dr. Farmer is an impressive man who I think can actually single-handedly change the world. The book is well-written, on a fascinating topic. That said, I can't give it four stars because Dr. Farmer makes me feel like a lazy slob if I'm not giving away all my money and working towards the greater good 20 hours of every day with no thought to myself. Instead of inspiring me, it made me feel badly and like I should just give up because what I can I do in comparison. Additionally, I find him to be a bit of the martyr type, which is usually pretty annoying. The author seems to have occasionally had these feelings as well although he did well to mostly hide them, but the fact that they occasionally seep through, made me like Mr. Kidder much more. I know Dr. Farmer is very flawed, particularly when it comes to his family, but at the same time he just seems so saintly that I want to gag. But it's a truly fascinating story about a horrible medical tragedy that is continuing today, and would be a catastrophe if it weren't for Dr. Farmer. Although he's not someone I'd want to hang out with, I think the world needs more people like him.

Since I've originally written this review, I'd say anyone who liked Three Cups of Tea would love Mountains Beyond Mountains, which is better written, and has a more compelling protagonist.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Book Review: Firmin by Sam Savage

This book was recommended to me 3 years ago by a used bookstore owner on Nantucket. It's about a rat who lives in a Bookstore, therefore everyone who loves bookstores should love it, or so the theory goes.

It's set in 1970s (I think) Boston, in a seedy neighborhood called Scolley Square on the eve of its demise. Fermin is the runt of the litter, and unlike his siblings he doesn't leave the bookstore when he grows up. He loves to read (and eat paper). He has an inventive imaginative life where he looks like Fred Astaire and is a writer. Eventually he does venture out, is injured, and is adopted by a bookstore regular/author who lives upstairs from the bookstore.

The book has a very distinctive voice. The author is very consistent with his character, in that Firmin can't talk or even have the strength to type (although when he was thinking of that notion happy memories of Anatole floated through my head.) He's not anthropomorphized aside from his reading. He's definitely still very much a real rat. But as one would expect from a rat's life, there's not much to it. Even the sights he witnesses aren't very fascinating. When the bookstore's block is finally condemned by the city and it's forced to close, I was expecting it to go out with more of a bang, but there's just an interesting last-day sale, and that's it. The author is hurt in a fall and possibly dies and Firmin has to venture out again. But he returns and stays in the building until it is demolished.

I enjoyed a lot of the book. I loved how different books have such different tastes. He has preferences for different publishers, but also individual authors and titles have their own flavors. It was sweet how much he cared about the bookstore and how he watched the daily goings on. I also enjoyed his sojourns out to the movie theater and his talk of "the Lovelies" was amusing. But in the end, I'm not sure what the plot or the point was. It's a very different perspective of a place and an era gone by without much recognition, and that I really appreciated. It's sweet and slight, but it's just the short story of a rat's life in a bookstore. Honestly, the bookstore I worked in was more interesting. So while I liked it okay, nothing really bothered or annoyed me, there was also not much to hang on to. If it hadn't been so short, I don't know that I would have even liked it as much as I did.

A fellow reader also wanted me to point out that this edition, the paperback from Random House, has a funny bite taken out of the side that goes all the way through the book. It did make me laugh when I first picked it up and I thought it was clever, but she found it really annoying to hold. Again, if it had been longer it probably would have bugged me, but I managed it just fine as it is.
Thanks to Random House for my copy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Next Read?

I was asked recently how I choose what book to read next. Hmmm. You wouldn’t think this would be such a difficult question to answer but once I thought about it, it was. I will often spend a great deal of time in front of my bookcases, pulling off books and read their flap copy, just as if I were in a bookstore. I will just have brought home several books from work, but suddenly I’m not as interested in them anymore. I think of the oodles I own, and I know, I just know there’s one that’s absolutely perfect for my current mood.

I don’t always know what I’m in the mood for, but I do know what I’m not in the mood for. It’s easy usually to decide for nonfiction or fiction (but not always). Long or short. Funny or not. I’m always worried that the perfect book will be languishing somewhere, but I’ve had it for so long it’s hard for me to even see it on the bookshelf anymore as it’s become a part of the furniture. So I try to look at all the shelves, pulling off and glancing at all the possibilities. Then in the end I seem to pick something at random. A book I’ve picked up and put back 20 times before will suddenly strike my fancy for no particular reason.

Length often has a lot to do with it, sadly. For instance this week I knew I had a long flight coming up. I know I want to bring a very long book there, and since The Help is my book club’s selection for next month, that seems to make sense. And since I don’t want to leave a book half-done, for this past weekend I picked up a very short book, Firmin (just 165 pages). I’m also bringing Jane Eyre which is my book club selection for this month. I’ve read it before and remember getting through it fairly quickly (and rereads are always faster). I know that The Help really ought to be enough for 2 cross-country flights, but being stuck without something to read is my worst nightmare and Jane Eyre is a mass market so they’re both coming with me. (Along with probably 3 magazines.) I have owned The Help for nearly a year. It’s been highly recommended to me by at least 10 people. But I’ve just not been in the mood. (Plus, being a thick hardcover there were some situations where it just wasn’t practical.)

We’ve always made fun of my father because whenever we’ve given him a gift of clothing, he won’t wear whatever it is for usually five years. (He’s gotten better more recently. Possibly because of all the teasing.) But I do the exact same thing, although with books, not clothes. Eleven of the 53 books I read last year I’d owned for at least 3 years previously (a couple, much longer). This is a big reason why I don’t like to use the library as an adult. What I would pick out, I just know I wouldn’t feel like reading at all during my 3-week window. In fact, being forced to read something often makes me even more reluctant to do so (although I almost always get around to it in the end, being a Type A.) But all this is why for Christmas I asked for a set of Dickens (the gift is being spread out over a few holidays as I’m getting antique editions). Because I would like to read more Dickens novels besides the four I read in school, but if I don’t own them, I never will read them. But now I have a shot at them.

The other funny part about my moodiness with picking books is how I know that it doesn’t much matter. I could just pick a shelf and start reading from one side to the other, and I’d have just as much luck and like just as many of them as when I go to trouble to pick books out. When I am stuck somewhere I can pick up and read just about anything. Last year at Christmas (1998), I ended up staying at my Mom’s for longer than I expected, and so I had to pilfer her bookshelves. I found Mountains Beyond Mountains which was fantastic, and which I’ve been suggesting to a lot of people this week who want to know more about Haiti. The Forgotten Garden was just something I had lying around my office when I realized I had put an already-read magazine in my workout bag by mistake, and I couldn’t possibly be on the treadmill for 45 minutes with nothing to read. I also am very limited with audio books since I only want to listen to unabridged narrative nonfiction, and that’s how I ended up with The Guinea Pig Diaries. The Bible Salesman I read because Clyde Edgerton was coming to town for an event (with his band!) and I needed to have read the book first. I do have a pretty firm rule about not reading a bunch of the same kind of book back-to-back, particularly by the same author. I did this back 10 years ago when I discovered Bill Bryson. And now I can’t tell any of his travel books from each other, aside from A Walk in the Woods and In a Sunburned Country. (The fact that I read the British or Australian editions of many of them doesn’t help as I am really screwed up about what the titles are.) I think my favorite was I’m A Stranger Here Myself, but they all kind of melded into one massive narrative in my mind. So when I read a book I really love by an author with backlist, I have to wait at least 3 months between each (and preferably at least 10 books between them) so I can keep them straight in my mind. Of course now that I’m writing reviews of them all that also will help, but I have a brain like Swiss cheese so I shouldn’t take any chances.

And this is why it’s so hard to say how I choose my next book. Because I don’t know myself.

Monday, January 18, 2010

One More Reading Challenge: Shelf Discovery

Shelf Discovery Challenge, hosted by Booking Mama

If you read my review of Shelf Discovery, this should be no suprrise. Now, I am signing up for this Challenge late, and it's only a 6-month challenge, but it's all all YA/MR books so they should zip by. In fact, I've already read some. No, I'm not cheating. These will be books I read in December, which is after I heard about Shelf Discovery and even went to the website and was reminded of some of my favorites, just before I actually read Shelf Discovery and found out about the challenge.
So you need to select 6 books and read them between November 1, 2009 and April 30, 2010.
Already read (in December):
A Wrinkle in Time
A Little Princess
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Will read (or reread):
In Summer Light
Love is One of the Choices
Farmer Boy
I actually hope to read more than just these. Thanks to Lizzie Skurnick's reviews, I hope to read (for the first time) Harriet the Spy, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and 1-2 others TBD, depending on what I run across this year. My mother has come across a few more of our childhood books since I asked her to hunt through her garage, but I think they're my sister's (Mr Popper's Penguins, And Now Miguel, and Sarah Plain and Tall. Right era, but I don't think I ever read these books myself.) I have my fingers crossed that she'll locate the gems that I know were still in my bedroom when I went away to college (especially the OP ones!)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by J. Kaye at J. Kaye's Book Blog.

Books completed last week: Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick

Books I gave up on: The Ask by Sam Lipsyte

Books I am currently reading/listening to: Firmin by Sam Savage

Books I Still Need to Write Reviews On: N/A

Up Next: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (reread) and The Help by Kathryn Stockett (both for my book club. I have a couple of long flights this week.)

Newbery and Caldecott Medalists announced!

The announcement, according to Publishers Weekly, is this: "Rebecca Stead has won the 2010 Newbery Medal for When You Reach Me (Random/Wendy Lamb). Jerry Pinkney has won the 2010 Randolph Caldecott Medal for The Lion & the Mouse (Little, Brown). And Libba Bray has won the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award for Going Bovine (Delacorte)."

As a huge fan of children's books, I have always been impressed with both Caldecott and Newbery winners (am less familiar with Printz). When shopping for a picture book, as soon as I see that Caldecott medal, I know I'm safe. When pressing a copy of Prayer for a Child (1945 Caldecott winner) on a friend, that was a big selling point that I used (she's since bought nearly 10 copies for other people and her daughter has 2. That was successful hand-selling!) It was always helpful in the bookstore when describing the plot of a book such as Bridge to Terebithia (1978 Newbery winner), which adults think sounds too scary and sad for children (nope. Maybe too scary and sad for adults, but kids love those kinds of books.) Sometimes I go through the list of winners and honorees, and am deeply saddened at the number of books that have gone OP over the years. But books fall out of favor from time to time, particularly ones that are very of-the-moment and don't age well. (Which is not the same thing as just getting old - children love old-fashioned books and there are many 200+ year old books still widely read while many less than 50 years old are OP. Some writing styles and choices just don't age well.)

During my rereading binge in December, I found it very shocking to note that these prizes didn't seem like such a big deal in the '70s and '80s. My copy of Island of the Blue Dolphins had a single sentence at the top, in small print, noting that it won the Newbery. No medal on the book. No starburst. The same with Abel’s Island (1977 honor) and A Wrinkle in Time (1963 winner)and Jacob Have I Loved (1981 winner). I wonder why? It’s not like the awards were so new at that time that people didn’t know if they’d stand the test of time (first Newbery winner: 1922 The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon). It wasn’t like parents had more time then to peruse bookstore and library shelves with their children to pick out good books. Most likely it was simply that children’s book marketing was still in its infancy. I’m very glad though that the high standard of these awards have been recognized. When my non-bookish friends tell me they don’t like all the books they’ve gotten for their children, how they hate to read certain ones aloud, how they don’t know what to pick out so they just get the licensed stuff, I gently steer them to those pretty medals, point out that every bookstore worth shopping it has a display of Caldecott winners and honorees (Newberys are often shelved within the appropriate section), and all they have to do to be confident of an excellent book is look for that gold or silver circle. I have given as gifts Knuffle Bunny (2005 honor), Click, Clack, Moo (2001 honor), No David! (1999 honor), Owen (1994 honor), Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1970 winner), and The Little House (1943 winner). The current edition of Sylvester even has the text of William Steig's Caldecott acceptance speech, which is very sweet and amusing.

And much to my amusement as I look through the list, I see most of the books in my house that my sisters and I loved were actually Caldecotts from the ‘50s (Anatole, Madeline’s Rescue, Journey Cake Ho, One Morning in Maine), which means my mother bought us her favorites from her childhood.

So congratulations to these new favorites, destined to long, happy lives in the bookcases of thousands of children.

To find the complete list (not yet updated with 2010 awards as of this posting):

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Book Review: Chocolate: The Consuming Passion by Sandra Boynton

This book combined my three most favorite things: books, chocolate, and sarcasm.

I like chocolate. In the way, as Sandra Boynton so elegantly says, that I like breathing. I probably have more than 10 kinds of chocolate in my house currently. I once went on a chocolate tasting walking tour when I lived in New York. The leader was impressed with the sophisticated pallets of our group, as we were inclined towards very dark. As a child I was occasionally so desperate for chocolate, I even occasionally reverted to baking chocolate (no sugar.) I once dated a man who didn’t like chocolate. After I overcame my horror, I quickly realized to my joy that this meant I didn’t have to share. And karma got him anyway – after we broke up he developed a crush on a girl who worked at Godiva.

I believe this was Ms. Boynton’s first book. It is not necessarily geared towards kids at all, although I was about 10 when it was given to me. But I was very familiar with her from her greeting cards. Even though I hadn’t even opened the book in 15-25 years, I could still quote one line from the book. Regarding carob, it is considered to be a good substitute for chocolate because it is roughly the same color and texture. “However, the same arguments can as persuasively be made in favor of dirt.” Which was precisely my experience in my one unpleasant encounter with carob.

The writing is hilarious (even the footnotes and dedication), the illustrations are even better, and she does actually have legitimate research (I particularly liked the chapter on Your Body and Chocolate. The biorhythm chart was particularly amusing.) As for salvaging failed desserts, I really have used failed brownies as an ice cream topping. I do disagree with her about how inferior chocolate ice cream is (she apparently is a fan of vanilla, whereas I do not see the point of vanilla.) This book is a great funny gift book for all ages, for everyone except those of jellybean sensibilities. Sadly, it is out of print. Workman should bring this back to life.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Book Review: Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick

I LOVED this book. I unreasonably, unabashedly loved this book! I found it completely necessary to listen to music from 1987 while writing this review.

Although I knew this book was all about books I loved, I was a bit reluctant to read what’s essentially a compilation of reviews. Seriously, reviews usually aren’t very compelling, even when they’re about wonderful books. Ms. Skurnick completely won me over not only by her enthusiasm (and her honesty about only reviewing books she loved, none she disliked, mildly hated, or hadn’t read previously) but also by her understanding of deeper meaning in these books and her healthy irreverence. When she called out young Mary Ingalls for being a bitch, I laughed for a good 5 minutes, repeated it to 2 friends the next day, and really am abashed that I didn’t have the gall to say it first. (Yes, Mary is a very nice girl later after she goes blind, but before that she’s a prissy pill.)

I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy the reviews of the book I haven’t ever read (Harriet the Spy, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Down a Dark Hall) as much as the ones I have (Domestic Arrangements, A Little Princess, Are You There God It’s Me Margaret) but instead what I should have been worried about was the almost irresistible impulse to run out to the nearest library and check out all the books I’ve not read (sadly, I suspect most are no longer available in my local bookstore, if not out of print.) I have read 32 of the reviewed books (33 if you count Clan of the Cave Bear twice, because there are two reviews – one by a guest reviewer) which is a lot! But it still leaves me with quite a reading list. Which is great since I’m doing a YA reading challenge this year.

This book inspired such warm and fuzzy feelings of my own years reading middle readers and YA that I have been wracking my mind to make my own read list more complete in those areas on goodreads. I have managed to remember The Trouble With Thirteen, This Place Has no Atmosphere, and The Animal, the Vegetable and John D. Jones. But I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the book about the mother dying with the pink trim (Apple Paperbacks perhaps?) where the girl sits on her roof and eats a Reuben sandwich (which was completely foreign to me growing up in corned-beef-less Tennessee). Also the book about the girl who was terrified of public speaking. I have now tasked my mother to ransack her garage and attic to look for a box of books from my childhood bedroom. I think this year I will end up frequenting a lot more library sales and the like to see if I can track down Karen Kepplewhite is the World’s Best Kisser or Your Old Pal, Al.

The Pre-Teen and Teen years are pretty much hell for everyone. Books helped get me through. When I was being picked on by everyone at my elementary school, books reminded me that I was not alone in that problem (in fact, I’ll bet a disproportionately high number of authors were picked on themselves in school.) When my parents divorced, I was given a copy of It’s Not The End of the World (and the main character’s name is Karen!) When I wished I was an orphan, Mary Call of Where the Lilies Bloom reminded me that wouldn’t actually be nice. When I sucked in ballet class, I had the example of Petra in Ballet Shoes to show that everyone doesn’t have to be a prima ballerina; some people have to become famous aviators. That’s what I mean when I say they had deeper meaning. Not that there is rich symbolism and allegory (although sometimes there certainly is, see C. S. Lewis.) But that these books had great meaning in teens’ lives. They made us feel less alone, resourceful, and made us see stories of kids who’d been though much worse and survived (Tiger Eyes). They were examples of independent young women getting by on their own terms (Anastasia Krupnik, Sarah Bishop, Sally J. Freedman), sometimes there is sadness (A Summer to Die, With You and Without You), sometimes there is love (Love is One of the Choices, any Sweet Valley High book), and sometimes you just really hate your siblings and it’s okay (Who Put That Hair in my Toothbrush?) (Not all the books in this paragraph are in Shelf Discovery.) From the ages of about 8-13, books were my best friend. I love Shelf Discovery for reintroducing me to them (and for introducing me to so many new ones!)

PS, this book could have used one more proofread as there were several typos.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Book Review: A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis

My sister reports that my niece loves this book I sent her for Christmas. I also gave it to my college roommate’s son this summer, and my 20 readings of it that weekend showed it was a hit there too.

The author of Not a Box and Not a Stick has another winner here. Edna the penguin wants to find something that is not black, not white, and not blue. That’s it. She’s a penguin that thinks there’s more out there. That’s an admirable lesson for kids to learn. All the penguins eventually join her when she finally discovers orange, courtesy of a team of scientists. My favorite penguin is Large Penguin who is always hungry. The last page gives a hope of another color-finding adventure as we catch a glimpse of green. Sometimes the simple stories are really the best. This is great for younger kids, but not so tedious that older siblings (or parents or babysitters) will be bored. It’s peppy and upbeat, encouraging creativity without rebelliousness. A winner!

Incidentally, one of the reasons my niece loves the book is because it stars penguins. So here are some more children’s books I like starring penguins:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book Jackets With People’s Heads Cut Off

When I was a bookstore rep a common worry I heard was about how so many YA books feature young women’s bodies… with their heads cropped out of the image. Many bookstore owners and managers found this sexist and demeaning. Personally, I don’t mind this because I hate when the cover image doesn’t match the way the characters are described. I prefer to picture them my own way, without the jacket designer’s influence (and art designers know that which is why this is such a common practice.)

Yesterday when I posted all those memoir covers, I noticed that six of them had images of people on them. Only one showed her face, which is an image of the actual author. The rest all cropped out or obscured the face (under a box, behind binoculars) and of those five, three were images of men. So I think perhaps all the alarmists who are so upset about young women’s self-esteem being affected by their heads being cut off perhaps need to realize this is an equal-opportunity art technique. (More books are written both by and for women, so I’m sure there are more covers with women’s heads cut off, but perhaps not so disproportionately as assumed.)

So I thought I’d go on a scavenger hunt for more jacket images with men’s heads cut off. After all, it’s only fair. Funny that with these I have two more covers with people wearing a box on their head.