Wednesday, April 30, 2008

May/June 08 Horn Book Magazine

should be winging its way to you; in the meantime, we have posted some appetizers on our site.

Tugging on the leash

Unless there's an abandoned chicken bone at stake, Buster has never been one for much straining at the leash. But where he used to not mind being thus tethered, I'm finding that he, at sixteen or so (we'll never know for sure), seems to welcome the security. He now blinks and stumbles in the morning sun, for example, and walks with more confidence when he's leashed. He trusts me and he likes being with me.

Why the dog story? Because I'm experimenting with my new Kindle, where is very much at the other end of the leash. The stuff I thought I wouldn't like--the design, the digital ink and lack of a backlight--is in fact fine, although all the plastic-button-pushing is noisy and feels very last century. What's bugging me instead is the feeling of an ever-present tether to, a master I neither like nor completely trust. I don't like browsing the Amazon site, and I don't trust the company's effect on the American character. Amazon is all over the Kindle. The Kindle is designed to get you to visit and spend more money at Amazon, pushing you to the same high-volume bestsellers that the main website does. (Kindle Store selections seem split among popular titles, copyright-free classics and scary e-book originals, the same mix which has long been available from such sites as And with the Kindle so pricey in the first place ($399), I guess I might resent throwing yet more money at Amazon for the privilege of using it.

But I'll take it with me to Chicago (don't forget, Sutherland Lecture Friday night) and see if it has the potential to become habit-forming. If not--well, I've kept the packaging.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


"You're too pretty but you've got the nose for it."--P. L. Travers on the phone to Julie Andrews still abed after the birth of daughter Emma, prior to the commencement of filming Mary Poppins.

I must say I came away from Home with a lot of respect for Andrews, the Julie Andrews Collection (now moved from Harper to Little, Brown, I see) notwithstanding. The writing is ordinary but the sincerity is winning, and Andrews is scrupulous about sticking to the facts of what she remembers and equally determined to be fair with troublesome family members (her mother, stepfather) and colleagues (Richard Burton). Of particular interest to children's book people might be her anecdotes revealing a close friendship with T. H. White, who seems to have been a handful.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

And we don't care about the young folks

Angel-Juan Diego Florez (wow, is he good-looking) did not repeat his repeat of "Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fĂȘte!" in the Met's "HD Live" transmission yesterday afternoon. Good for him, although he perhaps needn't have implied, in an intermission interview, that he decided against the encore because the audience didn't clap hard enough.

It was fun, opera with popcorn (Richard) and ice cream (me). But talk about blue-hair city, I swear I was the youngest person in the (sold-out) theater, and I ain't no spring chicken. But my fears for the future of the art form are comforted by the fact that almost everybody up on the stage/screen was younger than I, and that my fellow audience members probably listened to Elvis and the Beatles in earlier days. At least Joan Baez. The Met does transmit these performances to a few NYC public schools for free viewing (and has other educational outreach to youth as well) so they're demonstrably concerned with the graying of their audience, but maybe some art appreciation takes time. There was an old (even then) storybook of opera plots I took out over and over again from the public library when I was nine or so, but I didn't get into opera itself until college, and I was spending a semester abroad in London, where students could see the English National Opera for a couple of pounds. My first was Salome, with Josephine Barstow as the crazy (and, ultimately, naked) lady. I was hooked.

Friday, April 25, 2008

I can totally see Angelina Jolie in that part, actually.

The news about the imminent resurrection of Dagny Taggart now completes my journey in my own personal wayback machine; thank goodness that Front Street's Stephen Roxburgh today talked me into buying a Kindle* so I can move into the future.

I'm taking another venture into the brave new world tomorrow, with my first experience of a live Met satellite-cast at the movie theater, with Natalie Dessay (for whom we once went to Paris only to have her cancel) and the latest king of the high c's, Juan Diego Florez.

*N.B. Frequent commenter Sheila of Wands and Worlds has written a piece for an upcoming issue of the HB about e-reading; stay tuned.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Betcha can't read just one

Claire has a new list of short story collections up for your reading pleasure.

Also, there's a great short story by Ha Jin up at the New Yorker. Read it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Yes, and you're not helping

Woman to man this evening, overheard as I'm jogging by: "Your English skills are deplorable."

Is long the new short?

I just picked up Katherine Applegate's Beach Blondes: A Summer Novel (Simon Pulse) and boy are my arms tired. This sucker is 721 paperback pages long, and first in a series to boot. I'm guessing it's so fat for some strategic marketing reason, or perhaps I just haven't yet gotten to the chapter "This Is Summer Speaking," in which the heroine stops the motor of the world in order to expound for fifty-seven pages on the virtues of Vera Bradley bags.

Lost in the 60s

and the 70s I've been, listening to Julie Andrews marvelously read her new autobiography Home: A Memoir of My Early Years (Hyperion) and reading Sheila Weller's Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--and the Journey of a Generation. Forget the "You're So Vain" gossip--did you know "Car on a Hill" was about Jackson Browne? And J. T.'s "You Can Close Your Eyes"? Joni.

But, really, it's been like eating a whole plateful of madeleines. My baby-boomer cohort ( a word Weller uses way, way too often in an otherwise delicious book) will understand.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

It's not a word to throw around lightly

Poets are supposed to choose their words very carefully. This one doesn't.

But a poet standing up to a bookstore does demonstrate chutzpah, I'll give her that. Thanks to Shelf Awareness for the link.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Something stinks

Bloggers criticizing perfume--what will those pesky scamps get up to next!

I can't believe the reporter left unchallenged and unexplored the claim that a "prominent blogger" was "threatened with a lawsuit by a perfume company because she had deemed its product 'only O.K.' and 'a little disappointing.'" The juiciest and most provocative statement in the whole article and there's no followup?

I'll be in New York for the next couple of days, hoping to come back to you with a podcast of some of my conversations. Here's hoping I remember which button does what.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

New Podcast

In our latest podcast, Martha Parravano talks to Catherine Gilbert Murdock about Princess Ben (Houghton), a slyly subversive--and satisfyingly romantic--fantasy that is receiving a starred review in the upcoming May/June issue of the Horn Book.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

You're not the boss of me,

I say. Defining poetry
Is a task best left to those who Do,
Not some Society.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Take that.

As the suit over publication of "The Harry Potter Lexicon" begins in New York, Laurie Frost's The Elements of His Dark Materials: A Guide to Philip Pullman's Trilogy (The Fell Press) has just come across my desk. Like the as-yet-unpublished "Lexicon," Elements contains all manner of facts collated from the object work; unlike that project, it has been published with full consent from the author, if Pullman's preface is anything to go by: "It's flattering, of course, to find one's work the object of such care and attention; but how much more satisfying when the work of reference that results is so accurate, and so interesting, and so good."

Galleycat worries that if Rowling wins, book reviewers will lose. I doubt it--the issue here is not that the "Lexicon" quotes from the Harry Potter books, it's that it raids them wholesale, and not with the purpose of buttressing a viewpoint, negative or otherwise. I'm sure that publishers would love to vet reviews but I don't see how Rowling's victory in this lawsuit would give them that power.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"The Harry Potter Look"

The post about judging people--I mean, getting to know people--by the books they read on the subway and keep upon their shelves sent me back to the books-by-the-foot mavens, who this month are offering a special for would-be wizards.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Star of the Day

I sang this song forty years ago on Community Auditions, a low-rent Boston precursor of American Idol. But Debbie makes me realize why I didn't win.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Librarian superpowers

This morning, at an unbearable point in Middlemarch--Dorothea is, I think, about to make a Very Big Mistake--I switched off my iPod and turned my attention to what my fellow Orange Line commuters were reading. It can be very tricky to not be caught staring while waiting for someone to give you a flash of cover. I was idly wondering why I habitually indulge in this particular brand of nosiness and then it came to me: when you know what book someone is more or less absorbed in, it's like you can read their mind. Bwah-ha-HAH!

Monday, April 07, 2008

It's a Mystery

Colleen Mondor wonders why there aren't more YA mysteries. And now, so do I. After reading her post, I did a quick search of, querying for mystery and detective stories for YA (grades 7 and up)published in 2007. I got twenty hits, but most were, as Colleen suggested, for either general realistic or fantasy fiction with a mystery element rather than some kind of straight-up detective procedural. Years ago I looked at teen reading-interest surveys which consistently showed that kids named "mysteries" as their favorite genre, but their definition of such was broad--Flowers in the Attic, for example. But it seems to me there have been better eras for teen mysteries as traditionally defined: writers such as Jay Bennett, Lois Duncan and Joan Lowery Nixon used to turn them out regularly. (That was, however, back when YA was mostly thought of as junior high.) I dunno--maybe teen mystery fans are so used to crossing over to adult (the way adult fantasy fans cross over to juvenile) that they fail to constitute an imperative market? Or are the exigencies of the murder mystery, particularly, and those of teen life too incompatible to seem credible? Great, now I'm picturing Encyclopedia Brown chasing Hannibal Lecter . . . .

Are you out there, Nancy Werlin? What do you think?

The E.B. White Readaloud Award

has been announced today by the Association of Booksellers for Children: for picture books, the winner is When Dinosaurs Came with Everything by Elise Broach and David Small (Simon & Schuster) and for older readers, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (Little, Brown). Congrats to all.

I would personally like to give a reading-aloud award to Kate Reading for her superbly inflected performance of Middlemarch for Tantor Media. I'm a bit more than halfway through and have finally come across the first definitive evidence of someone making whoopie: Rosamond is expecting!

Felt So Nice I Did It Twice

Galleycat has a piece on a Las Vegas writer doing two different--very different--reviews of a book about his city, one for USA Today and the other for Las Vegas Weekly. I did that a couple of times, reviewing the same book for The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and the New York Times (the Times didn't care so long as its review was published first) on the grounds that the audiences were so different, but it's really not fair. It's not fair to the book if you hated it, it's not fair to competing books if you liked it, and it's not fair to the reader if you contradict yourself. Plus, reviewing the same book twice is hell.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Web watch April

A tour through some children's-book stuff on the web (Web? internet? Internet? we've been struggling with this all week), with guest curator Mr. Potato Head.

Irrelevant point 1: all kind of unlikely characters have been showing up in my office since I got the fancy-pants computer with the camera.

Irrelevant point 2: I'm old enough to remember when the Mr. Potato Head toy assumed you would bring your own potato.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

April Notes

The second issue of Notes from the Horn Book has been published. Martha celebrates Opening Day, Jennifer tries out some new books on her kids; I talk to Françoise Mouly of comix and New Yorker fame. See and sign up right here.

Someone asked yesterday about the letter in Notes from J. Wakefield in Sweet Valley. Of course she's real, although the absence of spelling or grammatical errors makes me a mite suspicious that her sister E. actually wrote the letter. Oh, those mischievous twins.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

May/June Stars

The following books will receive starred reviews in the May/June issue of the Horn Book Magazine:

The London Eye Mystery (Fickling/Random) by Siobhan Dowd

Forever Rose (McElderry) by Hilary McKay

Princess Ben (Houghton) by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Sunrise over Fallujah (Scholastic) by Walter Dean Myers

The Last of the High Kings (Greenwillow) by Kate Thomspon

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball (Jump at the Sun/Hyperion) written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

My new Mac is making me do it.

All kinds of ways to avoid work right here, but I suppose you could tell yourself that it's continuing education. I'm really enjoying Charles Cumming's "The 21 Steps." Maps! Thanks to Leila for the link.

Who knew Beezus had it in her?

Peter Sieruta shares a valuable report about a new Ramona book!