Friday, April 27, 2012

The Cardturner

Louis Sachar is one of the few people who could write a YA novel about bridge and get it published. But if you are the author of Holes, not to mention Sideways Stories from Wayside School, you can pretty much write about anything you want, apparently.

I just sought out interviews with Sachar about The Cardturner, and this one is good; apparently writing a novel about bridge was his editor's idea?! If you want to read more interviews, this one is good too. Anyway.

Theresa Molter and I went and heard him read from this when it came out in 2010--it was great to see him read, since he's been so important to me since I was a kid. He's definitely on the Top 100 Most Influential Writers list. Towards the beginning--#15--Holes wasn't published until 1998, and I graduated high school in 1994, so that one is a book I read as an adult, but the Sideways Schools books started--I think?--in 1978. The wikipedia entry on Sideways Schools is fascinating and worth checking out, but I couldn't really find a pub date, and the books have been reissued so many times....

Anyway. I've checked this book out of the library numerous times, and never got around to reading it until now, when I just saw it on the shelf and thought, it might be time... and it was. Was supposed to be reading my book about fonts for bookclub, but got sucked into this one and couldn't stop. And now I want to learn bridge. I love complicated card games anyway, so yeah.

But this is a strange novel, and I wonder if anyone else could've gotten it published.

But if you like Louis Sachar, and you like cards, this might be the book for you!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray

I recently read A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray, which I'd put on hold after reading about it at Booking Through 365 (which I wrote about here). It was fun, and I've put the other two in the trilogy on hold at the library. I don't think I liked it as much of Emma of Booking Through 365, but I didn't expect to. Now I should be reading Just My Type for book club on Friday, and I started it and like it, but I was wanting fiction this morning so I finally started The Cardturner by Louis Sachar, & yay, it's about bridge. Among other things. More about both of those when I finish them...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

More books.

Another book very much about death: A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness--our main character, Conor's mom is dying of cancer. But a monster comes to help him out--not to save his mom, but to help him, as the monster puts it, heal. And the monster does help him heal. Which doesn't mean he doesn't hurt--but he starts to heal.


And I read Chopsticks, by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral. I found this at my school library--I'd never heard anything about it, and it's a fascinating variation on the graphic novel--some drawings, lots of photos--both of the main characters, and of objects. It has blurbs on the back from Junot Díaz and Daniel Handler. And when I finished reading it, I was reading the Acknowledgements, and both of the authors thank Ben Schrank--Corral calls him "his favorite publisher" and Anthony says, in part, "A great deal of thanks also goes to Ben Schrank, a true visionary at Razorbill, for the idea in the first place..." Well, Ben Schrank was the editor who bought my first published story, at Seventeen magazine--it was published in 1996, sixteen years ago. Wow that's a long time.

Anyway. Chopsticks is an interesting book--told through IMs and images and notes and postcards and newspaper clippings and brief excerpts of conversations.

Razorbill is the publisher, an imprint of Penguin. Schrank is apparently the "President and Publisher."

I'm embarking on another independent reading project with my students, but I'm hesitant to recommend Chopsticks--it's so limited in text! But I have so many students who might actually read it, who otherwise will fake it or not turn in a project at all... So I might hand-sell it to someone, but not let someone else use it for their project... if you should be reading Jane Eyre) or at any rate something at that level of challenging), then by all means, read Chopsticks, but not for Ms. Nelson's class. Differentiation is so hard! I hope I'm getting better at it--I think I am--but man is it hard.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Harry Crews and John Green

Harry Crews died recently, and many people posted stuff about how amazing he was. I'd never read anything by him--that I remember--so I put two of the three novels the library has of his on hold. He's written eighteen novels, a lot of short stories, and many essays, including the essays reworked into his memoir, A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, which was repeatedly cited as the must-read Crews book, but isn't available from my library. Powell's has it on back order, $31.25 new from the University of Georgia Press.

Anyway. I read Celebration. I already thought I probably wouldn't need to read all of Crews's books; Celebration proved the point. Well-written, bizarre, and completely entertaining beginning to end--Entertainment Weekly is quoted on the back as saying, "Crews is at his giddy, twisted best." Let's keep the quotes coming: Karen Karbo at the NYT Book Review says, "Shards of brilliance and of the gonzo wit that has made Crews's reputation as a dead-on satirist." Finally, the Charlotte Observer is quoted: "...a tribute to individuality and yes, to celebrating life."

He's a Southern Writer, so they have to quote the Charlotte Observer, perhaps.

Anyhow. I have another novel and a book of interviews on hold--thinking I won't read the novel, probably, but I'm interested to look through the interviews, and eventually I want to read the memoir.


Then I read The Fault in our Stars, by John Green. I put it on hold a while ago, not knowing anything about it except that if John Green wrote it, it'll be worth reading. Which it was--it is--but maybe I wish I'd known what it was about. Or maybe I don't. The main characters are all teens with cancer. It's beautifully done--of course, and oddly perfectly funny and strange--of course, but it's hugely about death, and that was rough at times. It's about death in a marvelous way--not religious at all, but hopeful and full of life.

I don't know what else I can say about it right now. Highly recommended, like all of his books.

And of course it's about a lot more than death. It's more about life, really.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly

This was on my "to read" list for a long time, then I got it from the library and it sat on my shelf, still on the "to read" list, for a while. Then I came across Emma's blog, Booking through 365, on which she lists her favorite books ever: 1. The Gemma Doyle Trilogy! 2. A Northern Light 3. Wintergirls 4. Paper Towns. 5. The Hunger Games. Then I saw that Emma was included in the stupid NY Times YA Lit thing. I was really needing some excellent YA around then, so I read A Northern Light right then. In fact, I quit reading The House of Mirth, and read it. (Not enough was happening in The House of Mirth, and the little that did happen, I didn't particularly care about. And I have a lot of other books on my shelf that I'm eager to read, so... read some 250 pages of The House of Mirth, that's enough. Moved on.)

This is all I want to say about the stupid NY Times "debate" about YA lit--I think Roger's post at Horn Book was a great commentary on the whole debacle. He points out that the respondents were asked, “Why have young adult books become so popular so quickly — even with not-so-young adults?” but only two of the respondents actually address the question:
Only Lev Grossman, rationally, and Joel Stein, sophomorically, addressed the topic. Grossman, a book reviewer and member of an adult book club that reads YA, understands the difference between adult books and YA but can’t seem to resist queering his pitch: “The writing is different: young adult novels tend to emphasize strong voices and clear, clean descriptive prose, whereas a lot of literary fiction is very focused on style: dense, lyrical, descriptive prose, larded with tons of carefully observed detail, which calls attention to its own virtuosity rather than ushering the reader to the next paragraph with a minimum of fuss.” Aside from the fact that he’s comparing good examples of the former with bad examples of the latter, Grossman ignores the fact that most of YA (including The Hunger Games, which is what I assume prompted this debate) is not literary fiction, it’s what we perhaps too-loosely call commercial fiction, reading as diversion, where the page-turner is king. A comparison between The Hunger Games and, oh, Mrs. Dalloway (Grossman’s example, not mine) is meaningless. If you want to compare The Hunger Games to, say, Snow Crash, or Sarah Dessen to Jodi Picoult, you might come up with points more interesting and useful.

Anyway. But I loved A Northern Light. It's historical fiction, set in 1906, and loosely based on a true story. I'd say, really, that the part of it that's about the true story is a relatively small part of the book--it's much more about our heroine coming into her own, deciding what kind of adult she's going to be, and what she's willing to do to get herself there.

I'm often so impatient with historical fiction, but this was really fun.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A letter from a black mother to her son

I really liked this.

Maybe I don't have more to say about it right now. Comments?