Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Friday, December 23, 2005
Suppose someone took it into her head to rank the dying and give awards for best last days or near to last days based on certain well thought out criteria, culminating in lots of sugarplums and press and endless discussion. How would that remove us from the experience? How would it remove us from the immediacy and all it might offer us. How would it remove the dying from it, distracted as they are by the possibility of this last big award? It is a toxic practice. There was a writer in East Germany who wrote there before and after the wall came down. Afterward everyone told her how wonderful that she had the opportunity now for artistic freedom, success, money. She said she had more freedom before the wall came down when she simply wrote, knowing her readership would be there, working in peace, nothing to aspire to. Now she had the great seduction of success, competition, it removed her from the freedom of the work. Suppose you could read books without having the distraction and removal to the level of judging them against each other. Then we would see what was there. Each its own experience because of what it is not because of where it is in the line up. Moving freely from book to book. I will not participate in these Newbery talks again. They are only a chance to say look how smart I am. I can tell you what is good better best. They have nothing to do with the truth. They have nothing to do with the artists' intent. Merry Christmas to all and to all a still night.
I don't know if I can read without judging, or at least comparing to what I've read before. (This got me kicked out of one those human-potential workshops once. The group leader said I was too judgmental. I asked her if she knew what I did for a living. Saved by literature once again!) And while I appreciate that the stakes being set up by prizes, or even reviews, can kill good writing, I also worry about a wafty world where all is "experience," there is no worse or better, each work of art is a distinct expression, la, la, la. Don't we write (or paint, etc.) in the first place to throw into relief those flashes of experience that, for us, are the important ones? Isn't living a process of making distinctions among choices? These are genuine questions, not rhetorical ploys, and I thank She... for bringing them up. Her example of the East German writer reminded me of a friend who was moving from the States to Mexico at a time (late 70s) when the Mexican government was cracking down on press freedoms and political dissent. My friend said "here I can wave my arms and say anything I want but nobody listens. There, at least, political speech matters."
I was one of those sixties kids who adored the movie and went on to love the book, too, even recognizing their distinctions. I'm dying to see the stage musical--any reports?
Thursday, December 22, 2005
You will also need to have read the eligible books Nina has chosen for discussion. They are:
Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
John Lennon: All I Want is the Truth by Elizabeth Partridge
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
Harry Sue by Sue Stauffacher
Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue by Julius Lester
Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson
The Game of Silence by Louise Erdrich
The Old Country by Mordicai Gerstein
This is a savvy and excellent list (I guess by that I mean that my choice for the Newbery Medal is on it, and, no, I'm not telling).
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Do you think Bill O'Reilly would approve? We're having Middle Eastern, which I'm sure would bring out his not-so-latent schizophrenia. (Thanks to Richard for the early morning photograph.)
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Buying for the known has its own challenges. My guy Richard is not a big reader, but for the fifteen or so years we've been together I've been charged with presenting him with a book to read over the Christmas-New Year's break. Last year, I knew he wanted the new Philip Roth, The Plot Against America, which he loved but then proceeded to hound me to read for myself. And me, Roth, eh, not so much. The point is that when you buy a book for a loved one you live with the consequences, for good or ill. I have a couple of candidates for this year's choice and will let you know how it all works out. I'm still in the delightful agony of assembling my own reading list for our week on the Cape--any recommendations?
Monday, December 19, 2005
Some will be offended by the campaign's smart-alecky digs at reading (from the site's mock FAQ: "Should I burn my books? No, a stack of burning books pollutes the air, and worse - it kinda thumbs its nose at the First Amendment") but I think you have to take yourself awfully seriously to get ticked off at what is a harmless if sophomoric joke. What bothers me more is the campaign's nose-thumbing at audiobooks. By playing up how much easier and hipper listening is than reading, emphasizing the difference between the two experiences, Audible is inadvertently buying into a line that we audiobook fans hear often and hate heartily: listening to an audiobook is not really reading. As Pam rather more elegantly and eloquently argues in her article, them's fightin' words.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
As Liz points out, the fact that Mr. Ecker acknowledges that he has only "skimmed" the book is true too often of those who censor. My contempt for Mr. Ecker is so ingrained by my education and experience that it is probably too reflexive to even be called outrage; what really kills me is that the man is clueless enough to not only admit to the media that he hasn't read the book, but that even in face of the subsequent controversy, and even while saying that he is reconsidering his decision, he still, according to the Sun, has "no plans to read the book in its entirety." Clueless and lazy. (Add nervy: on the occasion of his recent 77th birthday Ecker told a reporter, "'I went to the doctor for my physical. Doctor said, 'You're in such good shape, I bet you feel like a 30-year-old.' I told him, 'Where is she?'")
Mr. Gibson takes up the cause of Sherrie Versher, the mother of a 10 1/2-year-old public school student in Plano, Texas. For her daughter Stephanie's birthday, Ms. Versher brought 24 brownies to school, to which she wanted to attach pencils that contained the message: "Jesus Loves Me This I Know Because the Bible Tells Me So." When the principal asked her not to distribute the pencils, she walked through the school building saying, "Satan is in the building."
Boy, do I feel for Stephanie, but this incident is just waiting for Richard Peck or Chris Crutcher to get busy.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
I haven't seen the movie yet but the recent snowstorm turned a small stretch of my jogging route into a reasonable facsimile.
And Horn Book marketing mavens JD and Anne, along with design empress Lolly have been putting together a C.S. Lewis page on our website with reviews of the series from our archive. Take a look.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Christopher Franceschelli, publisher of Handprint Books and former publisher of Dutton Children's Books, the U. S. publisher of Milne, once told me that relations between the Milne Pooh and the Mouse Pooh (oops) were exceedingly complex. He made it sound as if nations might have fallen the day the baker proudly delivered, for a Winnie-the-Pooh birthday party Dutton was hosting, a cake gorgeously designed to look like The Other One.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
We see this call to authority all the time in children's books, and in Tookie Williams' case, it's wedded to celebrity, a different but related situation in which who the author is is at least as important as what the author has to say. (I'm reminded of that famous old Kirkus line: "As a writer, Barbara Bel Geddes is a marvelous actress.")
Today is Tookie Williams' latest day in court, as California's Governor Schwarzenegger, himself married to another children's book expert, hears his plea for clemency. So now the authority and celebrity that obtained in Williams getting to publish his children's books in the first place is meant to work in reverse: because Williams has published children's books against gang violence, he should be allowed to avoid the death sentence.
What do we all think? I am against Williams being put to death because I am against the death penalty, but I'm not sure how I feel about the p.r. strategy employed on his behalf. It is shrewd, though. Incidentally, Williams later wrote a much better book, Life in Prison, a simply written chapter book about what it's like behind bars.