Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Thoughts on YA

September 17, 2014 @ 8:26 pm | Filed under: Books

So I wrote this really long post about YA fiction on tumblr, and then I was like ARGH, maybe it should go at Bonny Glen instead, what am I even doing? So now you know exactly how decisive I am.

Well, it’s there, and I’m leaving it there, but here’s a piece of it, and if you have trouble commenting on that site you’re welcome to bring the discussion here.

Something I’ll be thinking about as I gorge is what stories these writers are telling and why. (Not just how, which is a primary measure of a book’s merit—how is this story being told? How well? How vividly? How compellingly? How convincingly? How searingly? Does it leave something behind? A scar on the mind, a rune engraved on the heart? A face you can’t ever forget? How? How?)

In an endeavor like this, selecting a Cybils shortlist, the what and why questions are equally pressing. What makes this book stand out from the crowd—and a crowd it will be. Why this plot, this narrator, this voice. Why verse, or why prose? When you read a lot of books at once you can’t help but spot patterns and trends. Small details, perhaps, like the naming of cars—in 2010 we had a gaggle of them, including not one but two cars named “Holden,” (totally by coincidence I have no doubt). But larger trends as well, clusters of books exploring similar subject matter. In realistic YA fiction this very often means suicide, addiction, medical or mental disorders, sexual or physical abuse. And that, I think, tells us a great deal about what the world is like for teens. And is why the best YA is both gripping and probing—that’s what teens do: they grip tightly to each other, to ideas, to hopes, to identity, to music, to fears; and they probe and dig and ponder and search. In this light the naming of cars makes perfect sense—the quest for identity, the assignment of personality to objects of significance, the search for the real, true meaning of things. Naming a thing helps define the thing. Naming it Holden—oh there’s so much to unpack there. Holden Caulfield, the original teen gripper and prober.

You can’t read a book that is gripping without being gripped, and that’s what I’m preparing myself for. To have my mind shaken, my heart squeezed.

Cybils 2014

September 17, 2014 @ 4:01 pm | Filed under: Bloggity, Books, Cybils

cybils logo

It’s that time of year again: Cybils Award season. The judge announcements went out this morning. I’m delighted to be serving on the First-Round panel for YA Fiction. My last stint on this panel was in 2010, aka The Year I Read a Million Books. (I’m sure it’s a TOTAL COINCIDENCE that that was also the year I began to need reading glasses.)

My appointment to this panel spurred me to make a move I’ve been considering for some time, which is to dust off my tumblr (again) and try using it for my YA-related content. I’ve got a new YA of my own coming out next year, and tumblr seems a better fit for connecting with teen readers. I’ll add a link to the sidebar, or if that topic interests you enough to want to follow it in a feed reader, here’s the RSS. (I also use tumblr for reposting interesting articles and art I’ve come across, so fair warning.)

Disclaimer: I consider all platform changes to be experimental until they’ve proven themselves convenient, so this may or may not be a long-term shift. I just really like keeping things in different boxes. But if you’ve seen my garage, you know there usually comes a point where I get annoyed by the clutter and dump everything into one big container. (Believe me, you don’t want to see my garage.)

I believe this post may have set a new record for ending paragraphs with parentheticals. (Yeehah!)

Sarah and Katie by Dori White

September 15, 2014 @ 8:08 pm | Filed under: Books

The other day I mentioned I’ve been meaning to write a post about the 1972 middle-grade novel Sarah and Katie by Dori White. THIS IS NOT THAT POST. This is purely a curiosity itch I can’t wait to scratch. I took my query to Twitter, too, and…crickets. Now, ordinarily the merest mention of any book on Twitter, let alone a childhood favorite, garners zillions of immediate and enthusiastic responses. People love to talk about their childhood books.

Which leads me to believe that no one I know either on Twitter or here has heard of this book!

Can this be? Am I alone in my Sarah and Katie mini-obsession?

Sarah and Katie by Dori White

Illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman, you guys. It was a Scholastic Book Clubs book; I’m sure that’s where I came across it.

Anybody? Bueller?

This book haunted me. I don’t remember what age I was, maybe eleven? Story of two best friends, sixth graders, in Depression-era Oregon. Thick as thieves, a regular Betsy-Tacy pair, but the arrival of a new girl in their midst doesn’t work out quite as well as when Tib shows up. (Then again, B-T and Tib were around six in that book. Big difference between six and twelve. Trios are much trickier, at twelve.) The new girl is dazzlingly beautiful, a cloud of red curls, glamorous, dazzling, a wee bit manic; and everyone including Sarah is smitten—except Katie, who sees through Melanie’s stories. Ring a bell? No? There’s a play, and of course Melanie gets THE PART, and she’s amazing in it, she’s this incredible actress, but that too sticks in Katie’s craw…

And the whole scene when they go to Melanie’s crummy apartment, and she’s playing it up, lady of the manor, lavish, starletty…until her mother comes home and suddenly she’s TOTALLY CHANGED—clothes, hair, voice, manner. All meek and humble. And Katie’s like I KNEW IT!

What haunted me about it was the disturbed and disturbing tone, the undercurrents caused by Melanie’s deception. And the idea, which must have been new to me then, that a girl could so thoroughly fool people, could fool even her own mother. And the gradual realization, handled so deftly by Dori White (as I noticed when rereading it last year for the first time in maybe two decades), that there was a deep longing and desperation behind Melanie’s actions, that she wasn’t just someone you could slap a Bad Guy label on. Katie awakens to this slowly, painfully, and she brought me right along with her. The only other children’s book I remember experiencing that same awful poignancy in—almost a sense of guilt—was The Hundred Dresses.

Okay, so now I sort of have written the post I was thinking about, I guess. But really what I want to know is, have none of you heard of it?

Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Only With Books (and No Pinning)

September 11, 2014 @ 8:26 pm | Filed under: Books

Here’s a new game I’ve just thought of: close your eyes and grab a book from your shelves, any book, and then write a brief commentary about it. Or a long one, if you like. I’ve got so many books in my review stack, and so many others (the backlist and midlist titles I love to champion) waiting in my mental queue for some loving attention from me—books I mean to discuss or celebrate or simply wax nostalgic over. (Sarah and Katie, you guys. FOR FOUR YEARS I’ve been planning a Sarah and Katie post. The cover’s been sitting there in drafts staring mournfully at me all this time.)

All those plans create pressure, and pressure, I have found, is the enemy of blogging. So I’m thinking about making a game of it, a game with a challenge built in. I do like a dare. :) Will I find a few words to say about any book I pluck off the shelf? I suppose I’ll have to allow the caveat that if it’s one of Scott’s books and I know nothing at all about it, I can choose another. And I might need to impose some mild rules upon myself about mixing up the shelves, since our books are sorted into a rough order and I could easily stack the deck by reaching for the favorites on the bookcase next to my desk.

Want to play along? Feel free to chime in below, or on your own blog (and share the link, if the latter). If there’s enough interest I could make a Mr. Linky for it, but I wouldn’t promise to host a linkup on any kind of regular schedule, because promises are pressure and see above. Unless maybe a Mary Poppins kind of promise…when the wind changes

All right, here I go, getting up and squeezing shut my eyes. A bedroom bookcase, since that’s where I am now, but not the one by my desk.

***

Okay, that was harder than I expected. It’s tricky to get close enough to make a grab without either walking into the bookcase or peeking at the lineup on the shelf you’re reaching for. I might have to enlist a child to help with future random selections. But I did nab a title, and here it is:

frugal-housewife

The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Marie Child. Now, this little book may have had an unfair advantage over all the others because I happen to own two copies of it. They live side by side on a shelf, alongside my Blue-Back Speller. Both books were indispensable to me during the writing of the Charlotte books. A lot of the meals Martha cooks come right out of Frugal Housewife (“Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy”). Originally published in 1833, this was THE go-to book for housewives, covering everything from recipes to housecleaning to general life advice such as the essay on “How to Endure Poverty.” Mrs. Child was the home management guru of her day, sort of a Tightwad Gazette meets Flylady meets Ina Garten. She’s perhaps best-remembered today for her poem, “Over the River and Through the Woods.” But I think her real genius shines in her foodie writing. For example:

RENNET PUDDING

If your husband brings home company when you are unprepared, rennet pudding may be made at five minutes’ notice; provided you keep a piece of calf’s rennet ready prepared soaking in a bottle of wine. [Blogger's interjection: I MEAN, OBVIOUSLY.] One glass of this wine to a quart of milk will make a sort of cold custard. Sweetened with white sugar, and spiced with nutmeg, it is very good. It should be eaten immediately; in a few hours, it begins to curdle.

That is but THE TINIEST SAMPLE of Mrs. Child’s wisdom, and I could write for hours about this book and its sweeping influence—oh what a doozy of a selection I wound up with for this first go! Actually, I have written a lot about it already, ages ago, when for a time I was doing a recurring “Mrs. Child’s Wise Advice” series here, entirely for my own amusement. Those quotes are a hoot. (“EGGS.—To prove whether they are good or bad, hold the large end of the egg to your tongue; if it feels warm, it is new; but if cold, it is bad.”)

Scott’s waiting for me to finish, so I’ll leave it at that!

Interview at Bartography: Video Games & Me

August 13, 2014 @ 2:57 pm | Filed under: Author stuff, Books, Games

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Chris Barton, author of many excellent children’s books including that Peterson family favorite, Shark vs. Train, is celebrating the impending launch of his newest book, Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!, by interviewing other authors about their relationship with video games. Today it’s my turn. I had a blast (Asteroids reference, get it?) answering his questions. You know how I love me my games. :)

Excerpt:

CB: What games did you play the most when you were a kid? What did you love about them?

MW: We got an Atari 2600 when I was around 8th or 9th grade. I. LOVED. THAT. THING. Fave game: Adventure. The way the dragons curled up when you stabbed them! I went through a whole blissful nostalgia-binge not long ago, revisiting Adventure on a desktop version. It’s amazing the wave of feelings it conjures up. That exhilaration of discovery; the happy state of tension I love in a game.

Naturally I had to give a big shoutout to Glitch, the best game of all time (sniff).

silhouettetrill

Podcast Interview: Read-Aloud Revival

July 16, 2014 @ 7:05 am | Filed under: Author stuff, Books

Sarah Mackenzie of Amongst Lovely Things interviewed me about my family’s book-crazy lifestyle for her wonderful Read-Aloud Revival podcast.

Read-Aloud Revival podcast

 

The post includes links to the many books I gushed about (I swear, once you get me started on book recs there’s no stopping me) and a Prairie Thief giveaway. I had a great time chatting with Sarah about how read-alouds work in my family with our many ages of kids, how I do dialects, how we squeeze book time into the various parts of our day, etc. Basically: my favorite topic in the entire world.

While you’re checking out the podcast, you’ll want to bookmark the two Jim Weiss episodes! What a treasure.

 

Um, yes, I think I can manage that

July 16, 2014 @ 6:45 am | Filed under: Books, These People Crack Me Up

Huck: “You know those Inch and Roly books? Can you get them for me? ALL of them?”

I SEEM TO BE DOING A LOT OF SHOUTING IN THIS POST

July 9, 2014 @ 6:55 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, Books

HUCK’S FINGER IS SO MUCH BETTER. Yes, I’m shouting, because HURRAY.

Whew.

Our attempt to bust the world record for Most Appointments in a Single Summer continues on track: so far this week: dentist (me), audiologist (WB), orthodontist (WB), haircut (me). Two more eye doctor appts next week but at least they’re at the same time. After that things should slow down a little, if by “slow down” you mean “continue at breakneck speed only in a different lane.” Because HOLY CATS IT’S ONLY TWO WEEKS TO COMIC-CON.

HOW CAN THIS BE POSSIBLE??

My list of things to get done before Comic-Con is ten miles long. Oh, July, you rapscallion, you. Every year you attempt to break me. Last year I went to Colorado and back TWICE in the three weeks before SDCC and I STILL found time to paint my toenails before the con. You think 4,000 medical/dental appointments are going to best me?

(July chortles, rubs hands together gleefully, whispers Just wait until you see what I’ve got in store for you next week, Wiley.)

dear-committee-membersANYHOO. (She says, whistling past the graveyard.) How’s your week been? Read any good books? I gulped down Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members, an epistolary novel about an overworked writing professor in a deteriorating English Department at a second-tier college. Nothing cures a beleaguered feeling like reading about someone who’s even more so. This was excellent waiting-room entertainment. The story unfolds entirely through the prof’s letters, most of which are letters of recommendation for students and colleagues, and all of which reveal a great deal more about the letter-writer than the typical LOR. Having a number of friends in English departments similarly strapped and stripped of funds, I enjoyed the book’s pointed, funny, occasionally poignant skewering of the current state of academia and was engaged by Prof. Fitger’s crusty, dogged, oversharing, impertinent personality.

Leaving the Garden

June 30, 2014 @ 9:49 am | Filed under: Books

 

entroots

I read The Secret Garden to Rilla recently. She loved it beyond reckoning, same as I did at her age—same as I do now. During fraught passages, she couldn’t keep still: had to roll around on the bed, wave her legs in the air, hug herself, squeal, stand up and jump. All that emotion had to manifest in movement. It was fascinating to witness the way the book literally moved her. It brought a whole new dimension to my understanding of that expression.

***

Often, after I’ve read a book aloud to my kids, they take it away and immediately reread it. I thought Rilla might want to do that with Secret Garden but she looked almost shocked by the suggestion.

“No!” she exclaimed. “After you read me a book, I kinda treat it as an artifact too fragile to be touched.”

Well. I’m going to have to think about that. She probably won’t feel that way forever, and I imagine there will come a day when she does curl up with this tome for a delicious, private reread. Maybe around age ten or eleven—she’s only eight, after all. It’s interesting to contemplate, though. Was the experience of this book so fully engaging, such a complete kinesthetic, aural, visual, imaginative absorption that it feels enough? Have you ever experienced a book that way—a first encounter so complete that you never wanted to go back again?