December 9, 2013 @ 9:03 am | Filed under: Author stuff, Books, Fox and Crow Are Not Friends
Look for a cameo from two (not) best friends!
Look for a cameo from two (not) best friends!
• The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
• Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (my college friend Beth Malone is starring as grown-up Alison in the Off-Broadway musical and I decided it was high time I read the book)
• Everyone’s Reading Bastard by Nick Hornby (Kindle single)
• Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion (selected essays)
• and many, many picture books for the Cybils (178 so far, but some of those were read earlier in the year)
“Mommy,” asked Rilla, “how do illustrators make books?”
She knows how the writing part happens, or at least the part of it that involves someone stalking down the hall into the kitchen, muttering, staring abstractedly into the open fridge, oblivious to questions, and then disappearing back behind a closed door in a room with books piled all over the place. She wants to know about the important part, the pictures.
I start to answer with words, as is my way, but I think better of it and, on a hunch, Google “Eric Carle interview video.” As I hoped, treasure awaited us at the other end of the search button.
ThingsI didn’t know: that Bill Martin Jr (author of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?) couldn’t read until he was twenty! And he wrote the rhythm of his stories first, then put in the words? Astonishing.
Eric Carle speaks of his own struggles in school under a strict disciplinarian teacher. “Back then, they didn’t recognize whether you were learning disabled or whatever. But I’m sure I was.”
And all the while we’re watching him make a bear in collage. I love how he cuts out circles for the bear’s eyes and turns them into ears.
There are many more videos of Mr. Carle at work. Rilla liked this one about her favorite book, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse.
Afterward, we found this nice video for an easy Eric Carle-style collage butterfly project.
If you’re feeling more ambitious, this collage preying mantis is pretty splendid!
Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang.
Sometimes you just want a book that makes a kid belly laugh. From the moment Baby Billy makes his appearance, mustachioed from the get-go, Huck and Rilla were in stitches. As Billy grows, his mustache makes it easy for him to assume a variety of roles: cowboy, cop, painter, circus ringleader. But beware the toddler with a long, twirly, Snidely Whiplash mustache: you might have a wee villain on your hands. The surprise ending generated the biggest guffaw of all from my small fry. When Huck discovered the book had gone back to the library, he very nearly grew a bad-guy mustache on the spot. Don’t worry—just like Billy, he recovered his good-guy wits before any dastardly deeds were done. Mustache Baby will be making a repeat visit very soon.
The historical fiction course I’m taking at Coursera continues to delight me, and this week’s Geraldine Brooks seminar on her plague novel, Year of Wonders, pretty much knocked my socks off. The professor, Dr. Bruce Holsinger of UVA, posted a long excerpt from what was also my favorite part of the seminar–Brooks on how she writes characters from other eras, how she forms their consciousness.
“And as a foreign correspondent in the contemporary world, I would hear people all the time saying, ‘They’re not like us.’ One side saying about the other—white South Africans about black, Palestinians about Israelis—‘Their values are different, they don’t love their kids, they’re willing to sacrifice them, they don’t have the same material needs that we have,’ and it’s all BS in my view. You know, the sound of somebody keening for a dead child, is exactly the same, no matter if they’re in a…New York apartment, or an Eritrean refugee camp. There’s a fundamental belief that the human heart hasn’t changed that much. … At a time when you couldn’t expect to raise your kids, when death was ever present, there would’ve been a different approach to loss. But I don’t think it felt any different, I don’t think the emotion of loss felt any different, and I don’t think hatred felt any different, and I don’t think love did. And so, that for me is, where you start, with believing that human beings have these strong emotions in common. And that, that is more crucial to shaping consciousness than the furniture in the room. So, that’s my conviction about historical fiction, and it … drives everything for me.”
There’s more, well worth the click-through. And if you sign up for the course (free), you can watch the videos. Such a treat to hear smart people talk about their work. Author Jane Alison’s seminar on her Ovid novel, The Love Artist, was also fascinating and thought-provoking. I haven’t yet watched the Katherine Howe videos (The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane)—greatly looking forward to it. Dr. Holsinger’s lectures have captivated me, to a one. Lots of peeks at rare first editions from UVA’s special collections library (swoon) and really excellent, meaty discussion of various historical fiction novels in their own historical context: Tale of Two Cities, Clotel, Anna Katharine Green‘s detective novel The Forsaken Inn (new to me, and the genesis of a subgenre, historical mystery). Dr. Holsinger even has me wanting to give James Fenimore Cooper another shot, which is saying something.
I recently learned that an Indonesian publisher has purchased the reprint rights for my Martha and Charlotte books. The first two books in each series came out in 2011, and the rest of them are coming out this year, is my understanding. So much fun to see one’s work in a new language!
Other books I would throw into the ring:
1) The Diamond Age, Or: A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson. I read it a year or two before the advent of the iPad, and when that magical device appeared, all I could think of was the Primer. I enjoyed the book’s exploration of a ‘best’ education—what that might look like, what its aims might be, and the unpredictability of outcomes. And the mind-stretching nanotechnology permeating and altering society: this is a richly layered and sometimes difficult book, with much that made me uncomfortable (something I appreciate in a book), but also a compelling page-turner of a narrative. It’s one of those books I think about in the context of daily life quite often (and not just in connection to the iPad). It would be fun to dig into with a really lively, argumentative group of readers.
2) The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt. I’ll be drummed out of my own imaginary book club if I keep suggesting these mammoth tomes, but there it is. I’ve read The Children’s Book twice (three times? I’m losing track) in four or five years (also losing track; can’t be bothered to check my log now) and like The Diamond Age (and, I suspect, The Signature of All Things), it’s a book I find myself pondering in many a stray moment. A curling fern frond, a strand of seaweed, a beautifully glazed pot, the Nesbit books on my shelf, a reference to William Morris, a pre-Raphaelite painting, a sinister undercurrent in a fairy tale—any number of things send me straight back into the pulsing green world of this Fabian family and their troubled, talented, struggling circle of artist-friends. Downton Abbey was full of reminders (Lavinia’s clothes, Sybil’s causes, Branson’s political activism, the devastation and radical shifting of relationships and ways of life during and after WWI). No work of fiction in recent years has sent me on more rabbit trails, nor hounded my thoughts so relentlessly.
3) Feed by M. T. Anderson. It’s been several years; I’m due for a reread. Every year this book feels more prescient. We may not have the Feed implanted in our brains quite yet, but we’re closer than we were the first time I read it. Won’t it be fun to fumble for words about how alarming we found the notion of a society so dependent on an advertising-driven stream of information piped directly into their minds that people can barely form a coherent thought anymore, much less an original one? And then we can all post photos of our desserts to Instagram.
4) Hmm, we’ll need something by Muriel Spark. A Far Cry from Kensington, I think, but perhaps I’m leaning too much on my own favorites. Certainly The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie would provide fodder for hours of discussion. Actually, Miss Brodie would make a tremendous follow-up to Feed and The Diamond Age: all of them exploring ways of educating (even shaping) young minds. Oh, what am I talking about—Signature and The Children’s Book fall right into that category as well. Education isn’t by any means the only theme of these books, but it’s a dominant thread in each, one way or another. You’d almost think this was a pet topic of mine, or something.
5) Well then, let me throw something entirely different into the mix: how about American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields by Rowan Jacobsen. I can brag about how he’s a friend and former classmate of mine, and of course we’ll have to have a tasting party to accompany our discussion of this book, a fascinating exploration of how terrain affects flavor (in many subtle ways), and why certain regions are famous for specific foods. I’ll bring the chocolate, you bring the maple syrup.
6) Now here I go reverting back to favorite books about unconventional upbringings, but when’s the last time you read Midnight Hour Encores? It’s one of my favorite YA novels, right up there with Emily of Deep Valley (though utterly unlike) and…hmm, that’s a different list, my favorite YA. Anyway: Encores features one of my favorite dads in all of literature, and an ending that takes my breath away every time.
7) But it isn’t quite fair of me to stack the deck with books I’ve already read, most of them more than twice. How about something new? I’ve got Donna Tartt’s latest, The Goldfinch, on hold at the library. I’m #70 in the queue, but since this is an imaginary book club, I’ll just imagine myself next in line.
How about you? What’s up next in your book club—real or imagined?
A.S. Byatt, American Terroir, Bruce Brooks, Elizabeth Gilbert, Emily of Deep Valley, Feed, M.T. Anderson, Midnight Hour Encores, Muriel Spark, Neal Stephenson, Rowan Jacobsen, Signature of All Things, The Children's Book, The Diamond Age, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, what I'm reading, what to read in book club, YA
During my visit to Portland last week, my friend Ron took me to several Beverly Clearly sites he knew I’d want to see. Didn’t have to travel far to Klickitat Street, and found a geocache there, which delighted me (and, when I got home and told them, my children). We drove by Beverly Cleary’s childhood home, and the nearby elementary school which now bears her name. Between them was a busy intersection where I imagined Henry Huggins performing his stalwart crossing-guard duties.
Then we wandered over to Grant Park, where the statues are.
Poor Beezus! No statue!
There’s a geocache nearby named after the statues, but we couldn’t find it, despite a diligent hunt. I guess I’ll have to leave it to my kids when I take them to this site someday.
Karen E., naturally I thought of you and your Ramona the whole time. Perhaps our next family meetup should be in Portland?
The next volume of Scott’s alternate history/thriller series, Uncivil War, is now available for Kindle. A collection of five short stories, on sale for 99 cents. If you’ve read Vol. 1, The Island, and are eager to hear more about Harry and Buttercup, you’ll have to wait… This volume, After the Fall, features new characters, new story arcs (and is decidedly not YA, I should add, in case the first installment gave that impression).
More books I wanted to mention: Sarah Elwell’s The Memory of Light and Otherwise. Sarah’s writing has been some of my favorite on the internet since I discovered her old blog, Homespun—way back in 2005, was it? She blogs now at Knitting the Wind and Gnossienne, and writes poetry and fiction as well. I have a special hand-bound edition of Otherwise that I cherish. Both books are available as ebooks, and Sarah is offering them on her website, asking a small donation toward her daughter’s athletic training. (She is a serious—and seriously talented—windsurfer, working toward Nationals.) You can find out more at Gnossienne.
Thanks to my pal Karen Edmisten, I recently read Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, and loved it, couldn’t put it down. Made Scott read it immediately afterward so we could discuss. (He’s very obliging that way.) Have you read it? Want to gab?
I’m still reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, which, since it’s about a nineteeth-century lady botanist, is the very definition of had-me-at-hello. I’m not very far in yet; got waylaid by the aforementioned Bernadette and then a sudden inexplicable need to reread Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time. These things happen. But Alma’s a mighty captivating character and I’m looking forward to following her farther into the century.
What are you reading right now?