Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Shipping Books at #alamw17

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

“It’s a sickness.”  
“At least we all have it.”

That was my conversation with a stranger-I-just-met on the Exhibit Hall floor, talking about the free books we aren’t capable of resisting.

If you consider yourself a Book Addict — No ALA conference will ever cure you.  And you’ll be surrounded by other Book Addicts confronted with piles of their drug of choice.

I DO want to proudly declare that yesterday, I did not step into the Exhibit Hall even once!  
I know!  Am I amazing or what?

However — today I went to a Scholastic Preview where they gave me a bag of six Advance Reader Copies.  Combined with the four signed books I got yesterday and the books I’m going to get by going to the Morris Award ceremony — I know it’s already more than I can comfortably carry in my suitcase and carry on.  (I could fit them, but I’m not supposed to carry heavy things.)

So — since I decided I needed to do another shipment — might as well make the shipment count!  I went into the Exhibit Hall and began taking ARCs.  In about two minutes, I’d filled my rolling bag.  After about five minutes, both the bag and a tote bag were full.

The good news — There is a post office in the Exhibit Hall.  The bad news is that it closes before the exhibits do, so you have to plan things carefully.  But this is where my lightning-quick bag-filling came in handy.  I had plenty of time.

And this is where the Book Addicts hang out.  I had a nice conversation while waiting in line about our mutual problem.  I even saw someone I’d encouraged yesterday about grabbing ARCs and told her you can ship them home.  Always happy to Enable a new friend!

I should say that the employees at the Atlanta post office today were extra helpful!  A man was putting boxes together for us and bringing around tape.  I shipped two flat-rate boxes.  I didn’t count how many books it was, but I will when I get back.

I like to use middle-grade ARCs as prizes for a games program.  When the books are prizes, they are all the more valued, and may get read.

As my friend told me when I was shipping my first box, “It’s for the children!”  I don’t have a problem at all….

Publisher Previews at #alamw17

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

My main activity at ALA Midwinter Meeting today was two publisher previews – Scholastic and Boyds Mills Press.  The second one fed me lunch, which was much nicer than waiting in line for high-priced fast food.

Even more than the books previewed, the sessions were a nice chance to talk with more children’s book people whom I haven’t seen since the last conference or to make new connections.

It’s gotten where I love the world of ALSC – These are my people!

A lot of the faces I’ve seen many times before.  Perhaps after awhile we’ll remember exactly when and where we met — but I know they’re children’s book folks, and thus my people!

As for books — It sounds like it’s going to be another good year!  I liked that Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg wrote a book about a boy who is half Jewish and half Chinese (This Is Not a Test).  I wonder if they know about the book I heard about yesterday by Susan Tan about a girl with the same ethnicity.  (The books sound completely different, but both very interesting.)

It was fun to hear Gordon Korman talk about his new book.  I didn’t realize that he got his first book published when he was 12, in 1976.  That means he’s the same age as me, which doesn’t surprise me, because my 28-year-old heard Gordon Korman speak at her school when she was in middle school.

His new book, Restart, is about a bully who hits his head and gets amnesia.  It seems like an opportunity to become someone different — but that turns out to be harder than it might seem.

We also heard from Natasha Tarpley, author of The Harlem Charade, a story about three 7th graders and some interlocking mysteries.  It celebrates the history of Harlem.  She reminded us that you can create change through stories.  Libraries are important to help kids discover their own stories.

At the Boyds Mills Press lunch, we saw some fantastic picture books.  I especially liked Puppy! Puppy! Puppy!  There was a nonfiction picture book called The Secret Life of a Red Fox with simply glorious art. And there were books for older readers, including an oh-so-timely biography of Alice Paul.

Also, I was given a bag of 6 more Advance Reader Copies.  Guess I might as well go into the exhibits and make another shipment….

Author Panel and Book Signing at #alamw17

Saturday, January 21st, 2017


This morning I had the privilege of listening to an author interview in the big auditorium at ALA Midwinter 17 moderated by Dan Kraus, featuring Scott Westerfeld, LeUyen Pham, and Susan Tan, who all have new books coming out soon.  He began by asking them about their new books.

LP:  Real Friends is a graphic novel memoir written by Shannon Hale. It’s her story about her first group of friends.  After you read it, you realize the same thing happened to you.  She captures the pain of what happens whe you get ousted from your group.  It’s about very young friendships, but complete with all the emotion of that, and feels universal.

ST – Her debut novel is Cilla Lee Jenkins, Future Author Extraordinaire.  Her protagonist is growing up in a mixed race family, just like the author.  She’s 8 1/2 years old and getting a new sister.  She’s asked “what are you?” Because of being mixed race, and decides that what she is is a best-selling novelist.  She decides to write her novel before the baby is born so her parents can’t forget about her.

SW – His new book is a graphic novel named Spill Zone.  It’s about a 19-year-old raising her 10-year-old sister.  Their town was destroyed in a disaster no one understands.  He was into climbing buildings and urban exploration in college.  Those spaces are natural places to think about loss and about life.  He started it in 2006, after the tsunami when he realized the drama in having your home town disappear.

LP:  All three books are about sisters.

ST:  Working with the illustrator shaped the novel.  The illustrator found the heart of the scenes, sometimes in a way the author hadn’t realized.

LP:  Writing a graphic novel, especially a memoir, is trickier than writing a picture book and needs a lot more interaction with the author.  She usually strips out the art notes first, but does send the writer editing notes.  It’s like choreography.  A graphic novel gives you the perspectives of more characters.  And the faces of the characters make a big difference in the emotions conveyed.

SW:  The graphic novel gives you the ability to easily jump in and out of different points of view.  But you can still be inside someone’s head. Teenagers have lots of investment in reading to become another person.

ST:  Her book is in first person, but there’s lots of misunderstanding that the reader can see, and the illustrations helped with that.  It’s a child’s confrontation with a larger world.

SW:. Kids are still learning how Point of View works.  For them, books are a machine for becoming another person.

LP:  Writing a graphic novel with her husband when she was pregnant was good practice for parenting.  They had to learn to tell a story together.

They talked about working with an illustrator.

SW:  It’s not good in a movie when character’s say, “He’s getting away!” There’s a balance on when the pictures can and should do the work of telling the story.

Moderator:. All three of these books are earnest, without irony and sarcasm.

ST:  It was important to her to write a confident and exuberant character.  She wanted to capture her indomitable spirit without diminishing it.  Some day, this girl’s deep self-confidence will get shaken…
SW:  Good books for children don’t minimize the pain of being a kid and the pain of making choices.
On Diversity:
SW:  The explosion of the popularity of manga did a great thing for graphic novels.  They even have a different way of telling stories.  Kids are good at reading through difference and reading diversely.
Audience question:  All 3 books are about sisters.  Did you have relationships you pulled from?

LP & ST: Yes

SW:  He has an older sister who’s bad-ass and does real spelunking.  The artist did a great job making his character look like a knight.  She’s more overwhelmed by having to be a parent than by the monsters in the spill zone.  She’s bad-ass like his sister.

After that, we stood in line to get advance copies of all three books signed.  LeUyen Pham drew a picture of the person getting it signed! (Or she substituted a picture of Shannon.)  As usual, I met some great librarians for youth in the line.

Another inspiring session that gave me insight on the process of creating a children’s book and got me excited about three upcoming titles.

The Running of the Librarians at #ALAMW17

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

Here are librarians milling around, waiting for the Exhibits to open at 5:30 pm.  When they do open, the crush is not insignificant.

This year, I had a mission:  I wanted an Advance Reader Copy of Megan Whalen Turner’s fifth book in the Queen’s Thief series, Thick as Thieves.  I even reread the rest of the series this week.

I checked the publisher (HarperCollins), learned the booth number (2016), and headed straight for it.

I got a copy!

Mind you, they were in the back — you had to ask.  I got a tip from a friend years ago that if there are books you know you want, to be ready to ask for them.

But then — Book Frenzy began.  Publishers placed out Advance Reader Copies (and even some finished books) free for the taking.

You roam the crowded aisles walking past them.

I don’t have it in me to resist.  I’m afraid that I’m in good company.

What’s more, I have a medical reason why I should not carry bags of heavy books on my right shoulder, so I get to bring a wheeled bag onto the floor (with a doctor’s note).

Alas!  That tends to make me show even less restraint.

I came away with 35 books tonight.  (Well, 5 of those were from the Mini-Institute.)  I will use the ones for middle grade readers as prizes for a games program I do at the library.  Some, like Thick as Thieves and Frog Kisser!, a new Garth Nix book, I will probably read before I get home.

The only solution to Book Frenzy seems to be to stay OUT of the Exhibit Hall.  Unfortunately, some programs I want to attend are happening at the Pop Top stage or Book Buzz Theater in the back of the Exhibit Hall.  And I got a ticket to the YALSA Morris and Nonfiction Awards event, where they give you books if you attend.

I’m afraid once I pick up one book, I’ll figure I might as well fill my bag.

So the question of the conference for me becomes, can I learn restraint?

And also, where shall I ship today’s load of books?  FedEx in the hotel or the Post Office on the Exhibit floor?  (But if I go to the Post Office, I’m sure to pick up more books on the way….)

I’m not going to cart these books back to the conference, so it will be FedEx, but which morning should I bring them down?  If I don’t do it tomorrow, I’ll be tempted to keep adding to the load….

The trouble is, these are lovely problems to have.  I’m also afraid I’m quite unrepentant.  Which doesn’t bode well for my future self-restraint.

ALA Annual Conference: Libraries and Book Collections as Essential Cultural Institutions

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Libraries and Book Collections as Essential Cultural Institutions:
A Historical and Forward-Looking Perspective

These are notes from a Saturday afternoon session at ALA Annual Conference.

How do we preserve what we have, and how do we move forward into the digital era?

Authors:
Sasha Abremsky: The House of 20,000 Books
Truly interesting and informative account about his grandparents — an expert on Jewish and socialist history. A vision of stewardship

Scott German: Patience & Fortitude: Fight to save a public library
Efforts to gut the NYPL Like a nail-biting corporate thriller

Matthew Battles: Library: An Unquiet History
Polipsest: A History of the Written Word
Writing is constantly evolving.
Our brains have changed all the time, anyway.

Preserving and going forward:
Sasha: Approaching it from his grandparents’ library. His granddad amassed one of the best private libraries on modern Jewish history.
The importance of the library as the fabric of civilized life.
His grandfather got fascinated with the web of ideas behind socialism.
He started collecting anything printed, anything illuminated, and on it went.
Contacted more and more collectors. Included handwritten notes by Marx, Lenin, etc
Yiddish texts, books written in the 1500s.
Wasn’t just utilitarian. Was concerned about the texture of the page. Was interested in mistakes in the printing techniques. Fascinated by the minutaie of printing. They told him stories.
Where it was printed told him where there were centers of intellectual life.
The grade of paper told him about the intended audience.
Granddad collected books and grandma collected people. Conversations developed around the great ideas collected in those rooms.
The rooms had different intellectual trajectories with how they were laid out.
You gained an understanding of a world vision.
He took it for granted that his granddad would grab a book to prove a point.
All of that was the physical texture of the library.
A library is a place that nurtures conversations and a world view.
How do you preserve libraries as cultural institutions?
A library is inherently a public thing. In a house, it tells you about who that person is. Provides an opening point for an interesting conversation.
Online, there would have been no way to spark those conversations.
In the house the books were the social lubricant.
Online preserves things that would otherwise die, which is good.
Don’t forget the majesty of paper or vellum or parchment or cuneiform. They provide a public entry point to a conversation. And all those nonverbal clues to history.
Paper is still an important, vital, and wonderful part of knowledge.

Scott German heard that stacks were going to be destroyed at NYPL. Heard they’d be “removed” not “demolished.” He was there when they got $100,000 for renovation. of the 42nd Street building. 88 branch libraries. For centuries NYPL has been cash starved. They planned to sell branches to raise money.
In early 2012, the plan became controversial.
His book outlines the battle. The stacks are still there, but they are empty — books had been removed to make way for demolition.
What is the best way to preserve?
For government officials to regulate it before the trustees destroy it.
Librarians need to learn to manage trustees.
Trustees see librarians as serfs. Librarians weren’t consulted. The plan came from the mind of a real estate developer on the board.

Matthew Battles: Widener Library at Harvard. His job involved spending lots of time in the stacks. Part of the structural support of the building itself.

Layers of social history are written into the shelving of the books. LC system and also the Widener system. It was topical in nature. A proverbs class, Moliere class, war, Descartes, etc… They told the story of the institution and how the people from the past were in dialog with our own time.
Started working the same time the card catalog was being converted.
Forensic traces of history of the use of the collection on the cards.
He was seeing marks of previous disruption to the schemes.
They’d used printed bound catalogs before the card catalog.
Interested in the archaeology of the library.
Libraries have been many things materially, socially, culturally…
The library has never been one thing. Yet it’s also an archetype.
When we wonder about the future of the library, we do well to look to the past.
There were libraries before there were books, if we mean things that look like these.
Remember out history and it’s a road to a rich and diverse future.
Librarians preserve, but we also shape collections. Should we be selling that more?
Remember libraries don’t have the same meaning for everyone.
Ethics of librarians developed and evolve.

Sasha: When you catalog something, to an extent you depersonalize it.
One of the greatest joys of a library is the unpredictability.
The more you digitize, the less it becomes unpredictable.
Matthew: That depends on the way it’s done. Gave a story about a finding aid that was digitized that allowed you to discover more.

Guy asked a question who wrote a forthcoming book about public library. He talked with library users. Look at why people love public libraries.
Public discourse around the library is so vital.
We should cultivate a sense of ownership in the public.

Canada: Asking auditor general to declare libraries and holdings as cultural resources.
Relationships between writer, publisher, libraries, shift with every technological change.

Review of Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac, by Anita Silvey

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac

365 days of history, holidays, and events

365 great children’s books — one for every day of the year

by Anita Silvey

Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2012. 388 pages.
Starred Review
2013 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 Nonfiction

Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac is the print form of Anita Silvey’s wonderful blog, also called Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac. I’d been following the blog, so when I learned there was a print book, I made sure to get a copy, and have delved into it daily for all of 2013.

Anita Silvey’s knowledge of children’s books is vast. For each day of the year, she recommends a children’s book with some connection to that date, and gives you a taste of the book and why it is worth reading. As well, each day has a sidebar with facts about that day — children’s authors born that day, as well as other famous people, historic events, and holidays you might not have known about (like “I Love Horses Day” or “Smile Power Day”) — all with related book recommendations.

I was extra happy when I saw she’d listed one of my all-time favorite books, Anne of Green Gables, on my birthday, June 14.

The only catch? It would be hard to read all these books in a year. Now, I’ve read enough already, that I really should take it on as a project one year to read all the ones listed that I haven’t read before. And then the next year, I could try to read at least one of the additionally recommended books for each day, and on and on it could go.

One thing I’m sure of: I read many of the books listed here on Anita Silvey’s recommendation, and I was never disappointed. What you have here is a full year of great reading.

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Review of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, by Nina Sankovitch

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

My Year of Magical Reading

by Nina Sankovitch

Harper, 2011. 240 pages.
Starred Review

Three years after Nina Sankovitch’s beloved older sister died, Nina decided to embark on a year of reading. One book each day.

Here’s where she explains setting out on her project:

I needed comfort now. I needed hope. Hope that when life turns on you for the worst, it will turn back again, for the good. We girls had been protected for so long from misfortune. But then everything changed. My sister, the one with the reaching hand, was dead. Life had unleashed its unfairness, its random dispersal of pain, its uncaring lynching of certainty. I had tried running, but now I would try reading. I would trust in Connolly’s promise that “words are alive, and literature becomes an escape, not from, but into living.”

My book reading would be a discipline. I knew there would be pleasure in my reading, but I needed to hold myself to a schedule as well. Without a commitment, the rest of life could creep in and steal time away, and I wouldn’t read as much as I wanted or needed to. I couldn’t have my escape if I didn’t make books my priority. There is always dust to sweep and laundry to fold; there is always milk to buy and dinner to cook and dishes to wash. But none of that could get in my way for one year. I was allowing myself one year to not run, not plan, not provide. A year of nots: not worry, not control, not make money. Sure, our family could use another income, but we’d gotten by for so long on just one salary, we could do it for one more year. We would lay off the extras and find enough in what we had already.

I planned to begin my book-a-day project on my forty-sixth birthday. I would read my first book that day, and the next day I would write my first review. The rules for my year were simple: no author could be read more than once; I couldn’t reread any books I’d already read; and I had to write about every book I read. I would read new books and new authors, and read old books from favorite writers. I wouldn’t read War and Peace, but I could read Tolstoy’s last novel, The Forged Coupon. All the books would be ones I would have shared with Anne-Marie if I could have, ones we would have talked about, argued over, and some we would have agreed upon….

I was ready — ready to sit down in my purple chair and read. For years, books had offered to me a window into how other people deal with life, its sorrows and joys and monotonies and frustrations. I would look there again for empathy, guidance, fellowship, and experience. Books would give me all that, and more. After three years of carrying the truth of my sister’s death around with me, I knew I would never be relieved of my sorrow. I was not hoping for relief. I was hoping for answers. I was trusting in books to answer the relentless question of why I deserved to live. And of how I should live. My year of reading would be my escape back into life.

She doesn’t write in this book about all 365 books — though she does provide a list at the back. Instead, she looks at certain books and the insights from those books or memories they provoked that touched her life and advanced her healing. I’ll provide a few examples:

Man in the Dark is a novel that imagines another world mirroring our own. Two worlds coexisting: Auster uses the device to dig deeply into what keeps us going, what keeps us participating in the motions and the emotions of life. A man, his daughter, and his granddaughter are all facing their own private heartbreaks. They are unsure of how to go on and wavering as to the necessity of even trying to go on. Why bother? And then, in the prose of a lesser-known poet, they find a single sentence that makes perfect sense: “The weird world rolls on.”

The world shifts, and lives change. Without warning or reason, someone who was healthy becomes sick and dies. An onslaught of sorrow, regret, anger, and fear buries those of us left behind. Hopelessness and helplessness follow. But then the world shifts again — rolling on as it does — and with it, lives change again. A new day comes, offering all kinds of possibilities. Even with the experience of pain and sorrow set deep within me and never to be forgotten, I recognize the potent offerings of my unknown future. I live in a “weird world,” shifting and unpredictable, but also bountiful and surprising. There is joy in acknowledging that both the weirdness and the world roll on, but even more, there is resilience.

In talking about The Emigrants, by W. G. Sebald, she says:

But now, in reading my books of escape, I had found another way to respond. It was not a way to rid myself of sorrow but a way to absorb it. Through memory. While memory cannot take sorrow away or bring back the dead, remembering ensures that we always have the past with us, the bad moments but also the very, very good moments of laughter shared and meals eaten together and books discussed….

Only now am I grasping the importance of looking backward. Of remembrance. My father finally wrote out his memories for a reason. I took on a year of reading books for a reason. Because words are witness to life: they record what has happened, and they make it all real. Words create the stories that become history and become unforgettable. Even fiction portrays truth: good fiction is truth. Stories about lives remembered bring us backward while allowing us to move forward.

The only balm to sorrow is memory; the only salve for the pain of losing someone to death is acknowledging the life that existed before. Remembering someone won’t literally bring them back, and for one who died too young, memories are not enough to make up for all the possibilities of life that they lost out on. But remembrance is the bones around which a body of resilience is built. I think my father found an answer to how his mother continued on, and he found a way to go on himself. He wrote a history for me to read. Stories helped him, and stories were helping me, both the stories of my father and the stories in all the books I was reading.

Discussing the book By Chance, by Martin Corrick, with its main character James Watson Bolsover, she says:

Bolsover tries to find an explanation for the two deaths, to uncover some reason they had to happen or if they could have been avoided. He searches for answers in books. At the beginning of By Chance, he asks the question, “If fiction is not concerned to understand, what is its subject? Is its purpose merely to pass the time?” but he already knows the answer. The purpose of great literature is to reveal what is hidden and to illuminate what is in darkness.

I especially enjoyed the part where she talked about the reviewing part of her year of reading:

People share books they love. They want to spread to friends and family the goodness that they felt when reading the book or the ideas they found in the pages. In sharing a loved book, a reader is trying to share the same excitement, pleasure, chills, and thrills of reading that they themselves experienced. Why else share? Sharing a love of books and of one particular book is a good thing. But it is also a tricky maneuver, for both sides. The giver of the book is not exactly ripping open her soul for a free look, but when she hands over the book with the comment that it is one of her favorites, such an admission is very close to the baring of the soul. We are what we love to read, and when we admit to loving a book, we admit that the book represents some aspect of ourselves truly, whether it is that we are suckers for romance or pining for adventure or secretly fascinated by crime.

And often, she’d turn to how much this experience was doing for her:

The Assault is about more than war. Hannah Coulter is about more than war. Those two books — and all the great books I was reading — were about the complexity and entirety of the human experience. About the things we wish to forget and those we want more and more of. About how we react and how we wish we could react. Books are experience, the words of authors proving the solace of love, the fulfillment of family, the torment of war, and the wisdom of memory. Joy and tears, pleasure and pain: everything came to me while I read in my purple chair. I had never sat so still, and yet experienced so much.

I haven’t read a lot of the books she chose. So I especially took notice when she let her thoughts flow from a book I’d read and loved, Little Bee:

But books were showing me that everyone suffers, at different times in our lives. And that yes, in fact, there were many people who knew exactly what I was going through. Now, through reading, I found that suffering and finding joy are universal experiences, and that those experiences are the connection between me and the rest of the world. My friends could have told me the same, I know, but with friends there are always barriers, hidden corners, and covered emotions. In books, the characters are made known to me, inside and out, and in knowing them, I know myself, and the real people who populate my world.

Yes, this is a memoir for book lovers. Again, I especially loved her reflections on what she’d gotten out of writing about the books. This one was from her discussion of finishing up the year of reading:

I do need to talk about books. Because talking about books allows me to talk about anything with anyone. With family, friends, and even with strangers who contacted me through my Web site (and became friends), when we discuss what we are reading, what we are really discussing is our own lives, our take on everything from sorrow to fidelity to responsibility, from money to religion, from worrying to inebriation, from sex to laundry, and back again. No topic is taboo, as long as we can tie it in to a book we’ve read, and all responses are allowed, couched in terms of characters and their situations.

Now, one of my reactions to Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is envy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to make your “work” each day be to read a book! However, as I write this, I’m on the ballot for next year’s Newbery committee. And serving on the Newbery committee would be a way of dedicating my life to reading for a solid year, every bit as much as Nina Sankovitch did, though perhaps in a different way. I like her approach of treating books as therapy, as escape, as growth. Now my divorce is complete; I’m moving into my first purchased home on my own. What a good time it would be to celebrate the new phase in my life with books!

But even if you don’t have an opportunity to devote a year of your life to books, for anyone to whom that idea sounds delightful, I highly recommend the vicarious experience of spending some time with Nina Sankovitch as she explores her own healing through books.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, by Jasper Fforde

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing

by Jasper Fforde

Viking, 2011. 362 pages.
Starred Review

I never thought I liked metafiction, where characters enter books. The concept always broke down at some point and just seemed silly. That was before I read Jasper Fforde. While his work is, indubitably, silly, the concepts are inscrutable and flawlessly carried out.

In this volume, we are following a written Thursday Next, a character in a book about Thursday. Thursday Next herself is missing. So is the written Thursday we are following possibly Thursday herself, hidden in the newly rebooted Book World? Whatever is the case, our Thursday has a mystery to solve, and we’re right there with her.

There is so much cleverness in this book! This series is for those who love words and literature and thinking about words and literature. I started marking passages I wanted to share with people, and now the whole book is full of post-it notes. I think I can recite these sections without giving away the plot. The plot is a good one, don’t get me wrong; but you will most enjoy these books if you love the playing the author does with the language and the concepts. For example, here’s a brief scene with some Lost Positives:

I moved quietly to the French windows and stepped out into the garden to release the Lost Positives that the Lady of Shalott had given me. She had a soft spot for the orphaned prefixless words and thought they had more chance to thrive in Fiction than in Poetry. I let the defatigable scamps out of their box. They were kempt and sheveled but their behavior was peccable if not mildly gruntled. They started acting petuously and ran around in circles in a very toward manner.

Our Thursday gets a chance to look for the real Thursday in the Real World, and Professor Plum explains the rigors of being briefly Real:

“It’s highly disorderly,” he explained, “not like here. There is no easily definable plot, and you can run yourself ragged wondering what the significance can be of a chance encounter. You’ll also find that for the most part there is no shorthand to the narrative, so everything happens in a long and painfully drawn-out sequence. Apparently the talk can be confusing — for the most part, people just say the first thing that comes into their heads.”

“Is it as bad as they say it is?”

“I’ve heard it’s worse. Here in the BookWorld, we say what needs to be said for the story to proceed. Out there? Well, you can discount at least eighty percent of chat as just meaningless drivel.”

“I never thought the percentage was that high.”

“In some individuals it can be as high as ninety-two percent. The people to listen to are the ones who don’t say very much.”

“Oh.”

“There are fun things, too,” said Plum, sensing my disappointment. “You’ll get used to it in the end, but if you go out there accepting that seventy-five percent of talk is utter twaddle and eighty-five percent of people’s lives are spent dithering around, you won’t go far wrong. But above all don’t be annoyed or distracted when random things happen for absolutely no purpose.”

“There’s always a purpose,” I said, amused by the notion of utter pointlessness, “even if you don’t understand what it is until much later.”

“That’s the big difference between here and there,” said Plum. “When things happen after a randomly pointless event, all that follows is simply unintended consequences, not a coherent narrative thrust that propels the story forward.”

Much later, I loved the character Thursday discovered involved in the mystery:

“And the name of the driver?”

“Gatsby.”

“The Great Gatsby drives taxis in his spare time?”

“No, his younger and less handsome and intelligent brother — the Mediocre Gatsby. He lives in Parody Valley over in Vanity. Here’s his address.”

When they go to see Mediocre, they meet his brother, Loser Gatsby, at a meeting:

“This is our Siblings of More Famous BookWorld Personalities self-help group,” explained Loser. “That’s Sharon Eyre, the younger and wholly disreputable sister of Jane; Roger Yossarian, the draft dodger and coward; Brian Heep, who despite admonishments from his family continues to wash daily; Rupert Bond, still a virgin and can’t keep a secret; Tracy Capulet, who has slept her way round Verona twice; and Nancy Potter, who is . . . well, let’s just say she’s a term that is subject to several international trademark agreements.”

Along the way, there are choice bits at the start of each chapter quoting from Bradshaw’s BookWorld Companion. Here are two I particularly enjoyed:

Although Outlander authors kill, maim, disfigure and eviscerate bookpeople on a regular basis, no author has ever been held to account, although lawyers are working on a test case to deal with serial offenders. The mechanism for transfictional jurisdiction has yet to be finalized, but when it is, some authors may have cause to regret their worst excesses.

Off the coast lies Vanity Island, and off Vanity likes Fan Fiction. Beyond Fan Fiction is School Essays and beyond that Excuses for Not Doing School Essays. The latter is often the most eloquent, constructed as it is in the white-hot heat of panic, necessity and the desire not to get a detention.

Though in most books written with so many jokes and so much cleverness, you wouldn’t expect to find a coherent plot, this book truly does have one, and contributed to making this a thoroughly satisfying read.

But, bottom line, reading the quotations above should give you the idea of what’s going on here. If you find those bits at all humorous, you need to read the Thursday Next books. I normally say to read them in order, but I’m starting to lose track of what has gone before, and I’m not completely sure it matters. In this book, I’m sure you could start fresh and still enjoy it.

jasperfforde.com
penguin.com

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Review of A Jane Austen Education, by William Deresiewicz

Friday, January 18th, 2013

A Jane Austen Education

How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter

by William Deresiewicz

The Penguin Press, New York, 2011. 255 pages.
Starred Review
2012 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Nonfiction: Personal Stories

I’m a huge Jane Austen fan. I wrote a paper on her my Sophomore year of college. I had lots of time in which to write the paper — so I read ALL her novels, and then wrote the paper staying up all night the night before it was due.

A Jane Austen Education is perhaps my favorite so far of nonfiction Jane Austen take-offs. William Deresiewicz was a graduate student of literature, and he writes about how things he learned from Jane Austen mirrored and informed his life as he became an adult. He’s not afraid to pull out lessons that he needed to learn, and there’s a lovely combination of personal observations and stories with ideas and examples from the novels.

Here’s how he begins:

I was twenty-six, and about as dumb, in all human things, as any twenty-six-year-old has a right to be, when I met the woman who would change my life. That she’d been dead for a couple of hundred years made not the slightest difference whatsoever. Her name was Jane Austen, and she would teach me everything I know about everything that matters.

He goes through all the novels, matching them up to different periods of his life. There’s lots and lots of good stuff here. He has studied all the novels and studied Jane Austen’s life, so he has plenty of information to convey, and along the way, he comes up with some profound insights and self-deprecating humor. I’ll include at least one paragraph from the chapter on each novel, but there’s a lot more where this comes from.

From Emma:

There was one more thing about my life that had to change, now that I’d read Emma: my relationships with the people around me. Once I started to see myself for the first time, I started seeing them for the first time, too. I began to notice and care about what they might be experiencing, and they began to develop the depth and richness of literary characters. I could almost feel along with their feelings now, as we talked, feel the contours of them as they tried to express them to me. Instead of a boring blur, the life around me now was sharp and important. Everything was interesting, everything was meaningful, every conversation held potential revelations. It was like having my ears turned on for the first time. Suddenly the world seemed fuller and more spacious than I had ever imagined it could be, a house with a thousand rooms that now lay open to explore.

From Pride and Prejudice:

But Austen, it turned out, did not see things that way. For her, growing up has nothing to do with knowledge or skills, because it has everything to do with character and conduct. And you don’t strengthen your character or improve your conduct by memorizing the names of Roman emperors (or American presidents) or learning how to do needlework (or calculus). You don’t do so, she believed, by developing self-confidence and self-esteem, either. If anything, self-confidence and self-esteem are the great enemies, because they make you forget that you’re still just a bundle of impulse and ignorance. For Austen, growing up means making mistakes.

From Northanger Abbey:

Catherine thought she saw things at Northanger Abbey that weren’t really there, but the novel, my professor explained, was not against imagination. Quite the opposite. It was against delusion, against projection, against thinking the same old thing again and again, whether it’s the idea that all balls are “very agreeable indeed” or that all old houses conceal dark secrets. True imagination, he went on, means the ability to envision new possibilites, for life as well as art. Mrs. Allen and the rest of Austen’s dull adults were not ignorant or stupid so much as they were unimaginative. Nothing was ever going to change for them, because they couldn’t imagine that anything ever would.

From Mansfield Park:

How different this was, I realized, from the kinds of stories I had trained myself to tell my friend and his wife, those polished little anecdotes that had to have a laugh at every turn. “You shall tell me all about your brothers and sisters.” All about: no impatience, no competitiveness, no interruptions, no need to worry about being entertaining, no having to watch your listeners’ eyes glaze over while they thought about what they were going to say when you finally stopped talking already. Did Edmund really care about her brothers and sisters? Probably not. But he cared about her, and she cared about them, and that was enough for him. To listen to a person’s stories, he understood, is to learn their feelings and experiences and values and habits of mind, and to learn them all at once and all together. Austen was not a novelist for nothing: she knew that our stories are what make us human, and that listening to someone else’s stories — entering into their feelings, validating their experiences — is the highest way of acknowledging their humanity, the sweetest form of usefulness.

From Persuasion:

Putting your friend’s welfare before your own: that was Austen’s idea of true friendship. That means admitting when you’re wrong, but even more importantly, it means being willing to tell your friend when they are. It took me a long time to wrap my head around that notion, because it flew so strongly in the face of what we believe about friendship today. True friendship, we think, means unconditional acceptance and support. The true friend validates your feelings, takes your side in every argument, helps you feel good about yourself at all times, and never, ever judges you. But Austen didn’t believe that. For her, being happy means becoming a better person, and becoming a better person means having your mistakes pointed out to you in a way that you can’t ignore. Yes, the true friend wants you to be happy, but being happy and feeling good about yourself are not the same things. In fact, they can sometimes be diametrically opposed. True friends do not shield you from your mistakes, they tell you about them: even at the risk of losing your friendship — which means, even at the risk of being unhappy themselves.

From Sense and Sensibility:

If love begins in friendship, I was now able to see, it has to adhere to the principles of friendship as Austen understood them. The lover’s highest role, like the friend’s, is to help you to become a better person: push you, if necessary, even at the risk of wounded feelings. Austen’s lovers challenged each other: to be less selfish, more aware, kinder, more considerate — not only toward each other but to everyone around them. Love, I saw, for Austen — and what a change this was from the days of my rebellious youth — is an agent not of subversion, but of socialization. Lovers aren’t supposed to goad each other toward extremes of transgression, the way that Marianne and Willoughby did; they’re supposed to teach each other the value of behaving with propriety and decorum, show each other that society’s expectations are worthy, after all, of respect. Love, for Austen, is not about remaining forever young. It’s about becoming an adult.

Now, undoubtedly, my knowledge of all the Austen novels contributed to my enjoyment of this book, but I have little doubt that it would also encourage people to read the novels who haven’t before. All in all, it’s a wonderful contribution to Austenalia, a delightful, thoughtful, even scholarly contribution, and from a male perspective, as a nice contrast to so many others. I highly recommend that Jane Austen fans read this book.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of The Reading Promise, by Alice Ozma

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

The Reading Promise

My Father and the Books We Shared

by Alice Ozma
Narrated by the author

Hachette Audio, 2011. 7 hours on 6 CDs.
Starred Review

It should come as no surprise that I’m crazy about a book about a father reading to his daughter. Alice Ozma and her father Jim Brozina had “The Streak” going — he read to her for 3,218 days in a row, from a day when she was in third grade to the time she went off to college.

My initial reaction? I’m mad at myself for never counting the nights their Dad and I read to our sons. And what a brilliant idea! With a “streak,” the kids don’t decide they’ve outgrown being read to nearly as soon. Indeed, Alice’s father had exactly that in mind, because he didn’t want Alice to decide she was too old for this, as her sister had done. Obviously, the strategy worked beautifully.

Alice Ozma reads the audiobook herself. At first, I thought her voice sounded way too young for it, but as the book got going, since she’s talking a lot about when she was a child, that is perfect, and I got used to her voice by the time she was talking about being older. In a lovely touch, her father narrates the foreword he wrote, and reads all the sentence excerpts from classic children’s books placed at the beginning of each chapter.

This isn’t an outline of every book they read. They don’t talk about every day of reading. Instead, there are lovely vignettes about different times in Alice’s reading life and her relationship with her father.

And my goodness, they have some entertaining vignettes! I laughed and laughed over the way Alice’s father convinced her she could go out on a highwire act — except they didn’t have a costume the right size. Or the way the family accommodated her at the funeral of Franklin the fish. Or how her father convinced her that getting in the dreaded kiss-lock with a boy was life-threatening. But the funniest one of all (and I’m just a little ashamed of saying this) was when she talked about her terrible fear of the corpse of John F. Kennedy.

To be completely fair, it was not the person himself whom I was afraid of, initially. I was afraid of his dead body, and I had somehow become convinced that it would appear one night on my bottom bunk, all laid out and ready for a funeral. I don’t know where I got this idea, and I’m happy to report that today it makes me laugh. Then, though, it was a very grave and serious matter.

Every night, I would go through a huge ordeal to avoid the body. At first I tried going to bed while it was still light out, but because it was winter that only gave me an hour or so from the time I got home from school. And if I went to bed early, it meant waking up early, while it was still dark out. So the darkness was unavoidable. Instead, I tried turning on all the lights in my room and sleeping with them on. My parents didn’t even yell at me, but finally the overhead light in my room burned out and I wasn’t tall enough to replace it. My father was, but I think he made a conscientious decision not to do so. As I got older, contrary to my parents’ expectations, the fear actually got stronger. By middle school, avoiding JFK’s dead body, which was obviously lying in state on my bottom bunk, was the focus of my evening….

The fear soon shifted from JFK’s dead body to JFK in general and included even photos of or quotes about him. So it was with great terror that I learned my father was planning a family trip for my sister and me shortly after my mother moved out, and one of the stops was the JFK Memorial Library. My father tried to convince me that I liked libraries more than I feared JFK. I had to point out to him that he did not know his own daughter.

I like the way she finishes off that sad but hilarious chapter:

I couldn’t appreciate it then, but it takes creativity to lie shivering and shaking in your bed, wondering if your cats will know how to defend you, not against ghosts or the boogeyman, but against the immobile body of one of the most famous and beloved ex-presidents of the United States. Thanks to The Streak and my father, imagination was not something I lacked.

The book does progress beyond these vignettes to a sad story of its own. Alice Ozma’s father was a school librarian, and an outstanding one, who emphasized reading to children. In the name of “progress” he was ordered to stop reading to them, to emphasize computers, and his entire collection was put in storage. Here’s where he tells Alice, now in college, about it:

“Neither of them understand what I’m trying to do. [The principal] ordered hundreds of new books this summer without listening to my suggestions. He said we needed all new, current books because students like new things. He put everything but the picture books, fiction or nonfiction, in storage.”

I put up my hand to fight in defense of the collection my father had spent years building, but he raised his eyebrows and gestured his hands in agreement and continued.

“I know! It’s absurd! Here’s the worst, Lovie — the library already owned some of the books he ordered! We had them in hardcover, and he ordered them in paperback. I never order paperbacks because they fall apart in less than a year. He ordered flimsy, paperback versions of books we already had. After all the budget cuts, that is how he uses our precious library money. When there are things we really needed, books that the children would have cherished. And where is the collection I spent so many years putting together? In boxes, in the school basement.”

Mr. Brozina did fight back, but eventually, he retired. However, Alice got a front row seat on this battle and how much it hurt the kids in the school. By the end of the book, her dad’s reading to seniors and preschoolers and to children in hospitals.

But inevitably, his mind wandered back to the children he had left behind. After working in a school made up mostly of minorities and almost entirely of children who qualified for free lunches from the state, he always worried about the students who slip through the cracks. A library without books seemed like a nightmarish punishment for students who desperately needed literacy to move on in the world and rise out of poverty. I knew that he couldn’t settle with the injustice for too long. His announcement did not come as a surprise.

“I’m running for the school board,” he said one day, as though waking up from a long nap.

Alice Ozma ends her book with something of a manifesto.

We called it The Reading Streak, but it was really more of a promise. A promise to each other, a promise to ourselves. A promise to always be there and to never give up. It was a promise of hope in hopeless times. It was a promise of comfort when things got uncomfortable. And we kept our promise to each other.

But more than that, it was a promise to the world: a promise to remember the power of the printed word, to take time to cherish it, to protect it at all costs. He promised to explain, to anyone and everyone he meets, the life-changing ability literature can have. He promised to fight for it. So that’s what he’s doing.

She ends with a sample Reading Promise in which you can fill in your own name, with this explanation:

My father was not the only person to make this promise. I made it, too, just as millions of people have made it around the world. Since books were first created, copied by hand beside glowing firelight, many have recognized them for the treasures they really are. Men and women everywhere have valued and protected these treasures. They may not start a reading streak, but the commitment is still there. There is always time to make the commitment to read and defend reading, and it is a commitment that is always worthwhile. This is more important now than it has ever been before. Unfortunately, my father’s situation is not unique: day by day, literature is being phased out of our lives and the lives of our children. This is the time to act. This is the time to make a promise.

There you have it. This book includes heartwarming stories about a girl and her father, and it progresses to a call to action about the power of literature. This wonderful story will remind you of the power of reading together and stir you to action.

makeareadingpromise.com
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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from the Fairfax County Public Library.