Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Claire Takes a Bite

out of New Moon.

What to Watch?

We had only been watching half an hour or so of the new Prisoner mini-series when Richard said, "I'm tired of these shows." Pressed for elucidation, he said "you know, shows where the whole thing is WHAT'S GOING ON?"

There certainly a lot of these cued on our DVR--Heroes, FlashForward, Fringe, with Lost coming back soon, yes? We were also fans of that canceled one about the people in the bank robbery and that other canceled one about the aliens in the swamp. We gave up on Dollhouse (Eliza Dushku as a robot, quelle surprise) and after Richard announced last night that he had Had It with Fringe, we deleted that, too. (I was done with that one weeks ago, but would contentedly play iPod Scrabble while R attempted to parse the increasingly careless storytelling.)

These shows are quite a risk, especially in the aggregate, as people get more conservative about just how many they can handle, and as even regular shows like Ugly Betty and Law & Order (Anita gets cancer and a boyfriend) up their serial quotient. The only show we follow where you won't get confused watching out of order is Modern Family. Stand-alone TV episodes are about as rare as stand-alone fantasy novels!

But the real problem is with those shows that ask us to trust them to eventually solve the mysteries that provide their premises. Lost in only watchable if you have faith that it is going someplace worthwhile. Let's hope it doesn't end like Alias, but the issue isn't so much that the conclusion needs to satisfy us as it is that we feel encouraged along the way. Wait, now I think I'm talking about religion.

Monday, November 23, 2009

To "see like a child": all it's cracked up to be?

Back on the discussion of long book reviews, Maluose commented that "those of you who think kids are naturally great reviewers have never had to endure any of their blow-by-blow plot summaries. They make most bloggers sound positively terse." Too true. The "book reviews" kids would deliver when I ran a summer reading club a hundred years ago were painful. And those "a kid's review" posts on Amazon might be shorter but they are not very illuminating. (Does anyone know how that tag gets there? I can't imagine a child using it of his or her own volition.)

I was thinking about children's taste on Saturday when I met a friend and his little kids at a local tot lot. The place is incredibly popular because there are lots of toys--scooters, trikes, a play stove, a little house--all made out of that child-safe but phenomenally ugly molded plastic that, my friend tells me, is very expensive. The colors on this stuff manage to be both flat and garish, and the plastic picks up dirt like a magnet. Whoever thought kids had a natural instinct for beauty probably didn't get out much.

Of course, kids with style are a nightmare all their own.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

One question or two?

So, what does it mean--if anything--that Phillip Hoose's National Book Award winning Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice is ineligible for the Coretta Scott King Award (because Hoose is white) and Jerry Pinkney's Lion & the Mouse is in the same position because it isn't about black people? Does it not matter, or have the CSK awards painted themselves into a corner?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Too damned long

I see that PW has followed up on Betsy Bird's thoughts on the Amazon Vine program; their speculation that membership in Vine might be a perk for good customers is intriguing if not substantiated. What seems oddest to me is that this program--for which publishers and other producers pay for the privilege of having their products evaluated--is being criticized for eliciting cluelessly negative reviews, which does not seem to serve the purposes of either publishers or Amazon. It's not like the books don't otherwise get customer reviews, but perhaps the Vine reviews post early enough so that any early buzz they provide outweighs what they actually say?

Vine reviews, customer reviews, and, sorry, blog reviews--they are all too damned long. That's the problem I have with 'em. Just because the technology allows one to prattle on forever should by no means encourage one to do so. The one Amazon review I remember appreciating was a negative review of a recording I adore, Adam Guettel's musical Floyd Collins. It read, in its entirety, "Too much yodeling."

Monday, November 16, 2009

We skipped the maple candy, too

Back from Vermont--we did get to visit the Patersons (that Katherine bakes a mean scone and gave us plenty to take back to our Killington chalet, no snow but there was a hot tub) but not JRL as poor Buster was by then too exhausted and disoriented to either move or leave behind. (He is better now but still, twenty.) Our chief entertainments were books in the daytime (me, a Joy Fielding--never again--and the second Stieg Larsson mystery; Richard, Possession (and finally skipping the poetry like I told him to) and The Godfather movies in the evenings. (How had I missed all three of those?) Like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire only really comes to life when The Girl is onstage, but then it is irresistible. Christopher Hitchens suggests that Winona Ryder should play her in the movie but I kept seeing Bjork or that little fey thing who was on Absolutely Fabulous.

We only went shopping for ice cream once, and the only locavore alternative to Ben & Jerry's was some coconut sorbet. No thank you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I hope it isn't ALL Ben & Jerry's

Going to Vermont for a few days; hoping to see Katherine Paterson and HB reviewer Joanna Rudge Long (who lives not near but ON the Appalachian Trail) but otherwise just r&r, Roger and Richard, and Buster, who at twenty is too old for any trailwalking but we hope will enjoy the fireplace. Lots of reading planned--Richard gave me the latest Arthur Phillips for my birthday and I've got the second book about the tattooed lady (as well as the new Vanity Fair which promises a hatchet job on same by Christopher Hitchens) and the new Isabel Dalhousie "mystery" on audio. All that and a hot tub!

And look for the new Notes from the Horn Book later today, where I interview Jim Murphy about his new book about the Christmas Truce--appropriate for Veterans' Day, yes?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Lions are . . .

The New York Times Best Illustrated Books list is out, along with my review of The Lion & the Mouse. What a great book--I wish they had given me twice the space. When I sat down with it and my two young neighbors, the two year old boy announced, looking uncertainly at the cover, "lions are scary." His more intrepid four-year-old sister took over the narration from there ("Look out for the bird!") until the end, whereupon the two-year-old said, "lions are NOT scary." Now it's his favorite book, so we gave him a copy for his birthday, along with a little plastic lion he can carry around in his hand. What's your talisman?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Can I buy an umlaut?

I love it when my second-favorite magazine meets the interests of my first:
"The young miller is naive, vulnerable and over-enthusiastic, with a poetic imagination, but not psychotic! As to the cycle's ending, his death in the brook makes me think of the Philip Pullman trilogy His Dark Materials. Pullman imagines death as a dispersal into the universe, an absorption into the cosmos, and that's very much the sense we have here."

--Tenor Mark Padmore talking about Schubert's Die schone Mullerin in the November issue of Gramophone.

Friday, November 06, 2009

If Jim Carrey says it's Christmas now, who are we to argue?

While we've already given you our choice of the best holiday-themed books of the season, Deborah Stevenson and her elves at BCCB offer a handy handout of more than three hundred recent titles suitable for gift-giving. Deborah and I both learned our trade from Zena Sutherland and Betsy Hearne, so you know she has excellent taste. Too.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

More Meta

In Betsy Bird's SLJ article "This Blog's for You" (and I thank her for including Read Roger in the list of "Ten Blogs You Can't Live Without"), she asks a bunch of swell questions:

Do kids' lit bloggers influence publishing decisions? Are library systems basing their purchasing decisions on our recommendations? Should they? And to what extent is a blog about literature for youth a reliable source of information?

My short answers to the first three are not a lot, ditto, and no. As to reliability: while I don't see a lot of misinformation on children's lit blogs and am in fact impressed by the care which with bloggers source their facts, we first need to ask what we mean by information--and it's the answer to this question that tells us why blogs are not, generally, as useful to librarians as Betsy's first three questions would have them be. The glory and the bane of book blogging is its variety. Glory because lots of talented people are saying lots of different things about different topics in different ways to different audiences. Bane because this same riotous abandon confounds any but the most limited usefulness. While an individual can pick up the odd book-buying tip from reading the blogs, a library can't--it needs more systematic information than the blogosphere provides. A library collection based upon blog recommendations would be a mess.

If somebody needs a master's thesis, I wish he or she would take a look at whether or not there is such a thing as a blog-friendly book. We've had lots of discussions about bloggers all pushing the same books at the same time (a phenomenon exacerbated by blog tours) but I wonder if this is less a result of publishers pushing certain titles than it is that some books more than others will appeal to people who like to blog about children's books. Many bloggers are emphatic about their desire to write about books they personally love (and again, if a youth services librarian built a collection on the basis of what he or she loved, the library would be useless to the actual kids allegedly being served). There's a whole sub-genre of children's literature that has found its best audience among the adults who serve children (The Wednesday Wars, for example); does the same thing go on among bloggers?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Not quite the Myracle it seems

While Scholastic has gotten a lot of press these last couple of weeks about censoring its book club selections, this is not new; the company has been cleaning up its club editions ever since dirty words started appearing in children's books. Six Boxes of Books has the best analysis of the controversy I've seen yet.

Props to SLJ for getting this story out in the first place, but I have to note one thing that skeeved me out about the lede in the original article: "Don't expect to see Lauren Myracle's new book Luv Ya Bunches (Abrams/Amulet, 2009) at Scholastic school book fairs this year. It’s been censored—at least for now—due to its language and homosexual content." Calling the presence in a children's book of a couple of lesbian mothers "homosexual content" is gross unless the two of them are totally going at it.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Why Such a Lonely Beach?

The new issue of the Magazine is out (with a cover by Lane Smith that makes me want to watch Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol immediately). You can see the table of contents with links to selected reviews (holiday books!) and articles (fan fiction!) right over here.