Monthly Archives: December 2009

Inspiring Writers

Intrigued by this list over at Poets & Writers, Alison Morris asks “What Living Authors and Illustrators Inspire You?

From the Poets & Writers list, I too admire Elizabeth Alexander (who wowed me with her Amistad poems before she did the inaugural one), Alison Bechdel (Fun Home is one of the most amazing memoirs, in any form, I’ve ever read), Susanna Clarke (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell — need I say more?), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (I read One Hundred Years of Solitude decades ago and remember it vividly), and Salman Rushdie (whose early work I adored and who, I just saw somewhere, has a sequel to Haroun and the Sea of Stories in the works).

As for Alison’s list, I agree with her that  M. T. Andersen, Marilyn Nelson, Elizabeth Partridge, and Shaun Tan are all remarkable and can think of a number of other children’s authors in their league that I admire enormously as well.

But the living writer who inspires me most of all is the ever brilliant Philip Pullman.



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Oh, Those Annoying Snollygosters

The latest in old and new English vocab here.

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Hey, Hobbits!

There was a flurry of excitement (here, here, and many other places) about a casting call for hobbit extras on that movie, I mean, those movies (they are doing two out of the one book, evidently) a guy over in New Zealand is making.  The latest from is to hold your horses (or ponies or whatever hobbits prefer) as casting calls won’t be until February.

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The Dreaded Cull

Books You Can Live Without.

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Rereading Holmes

As an adult rereading Holmes with a more critical, demanding eye, however, I find the stories thin, unexciting, sometimes confusing, and almost always quickly forgotten. The characters are still deathless, the atmosphere nicely judged and subtly stoked, and Conan Doyle’s writing isn’t half so clumsy or overwrought as many of his peers’. But, as with Faulks’s Bond pastiche, not much seems to happen in Sherlock Holmes tales.

I’ve been thinking about taking a stab at rereading Holmes, but Darragh McManus has me nervous.

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Illness at Night

This cockroach-like existence is cumulatively intolerable even though on any given night it is perfectly manageable. “Cockroach” is of course an allusion to Kafka’s Metamorphosis, in which the protagonist wakes up one morning to discover that he has been transformed into an insect. The point of the story is as much the responses and incomprehension of his family as it is the account of his own sensations, and it is hard to resist the thought that even the best-meaning and most generously thoughtful friend or relative cannot hope to understand the sense of isolation and imprisonment that this disease imposes upon its victims. Helplessness is humiliating even in a passing crisis—imagine or recall some occasion when you have fallen down or otherwise required physical assistance from strangers. Imagine the mind’s response to the knowledge that the peculiarly humiliating helplessness of ALS is a life sentence (we speak blithely of death sentences in this connection, but actually the latter would be a relief).

From Tony Judt’s  profoundly moving essay, “Night.”

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Gleeful Tidings of Joy

Happy Christmas!


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No Rabbits Were Hurt in the Writing of this Post

In the new series, Peter Rabbit will remain the central character in a cast that will return to what Alli calls the “bolder palette” of Potter’s early drawings. The likes of Tom Kitten will retain their mischievous personalities but the storylines will be new and “appropriate” for the next generation.

“Peter Rabbit’s father being caught by the farmer and being baked into a pie is not going to be our first episode. We’ll be skipping over some chapters,” said Alli.

You can read all about the next big classical children’s series appropriation-I-mean-adaptation here.  Then come back and enjoy this little palate cleanser.

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Reflecting on the Noughties

Wanting to comment on Betsy Bird’s post about the last ten years I went looking for a moniker and found the Noughties.  Nope, not the Naughties, but the Noughties as in noughts, the 2000s.  While not as familiar perhaps to zero-using Americans, it feels less cumbersome than other indicators (even if it got me thinking of Enid Blyton’s Noddy).

So  anyway, Betsy does a stellar job looking back over these past ten years.  I just want to consider a few of her points and add a couple of my own.

The Rise of the Children’s Book Phenomenon

I’m not sure I totally agree with Betsy on this one.  Setting aside Harry Potter and Twilight for a moment (as I think they stand out in a significant, but different way), the enthusiasm for a series like Wimpy Kid seems not so terribly different to me than the enthusiasm in earlier times for Goosebumps and the Babysitters Club.  What has changed is that we now have a critical mass able to read, write, promote, rant, and otherwise communicate on the Internet, a more populist, if you will, way for authors and readers to connect. And so you’ve got Jeff Kinney moving back and forth between virtual and actual comic, to give one example. My guess is that if the same environment had been available in the heyday of Stine and Martin that things would have been very similar (especially with Stine). As for Philip Pullman’s trilogy, while I love it (he’s up there with Carroll in my personal pantheon of favorite authors), it doesn’t fit for me either in this category.  Rather, it seems very much a part of a traditional of grand children’s books in the tradition of Lewis.  A wonder, but not a phenomenon, at least not as I see it.

That said, I do agree with Betsy about Harry Potter and Twilight.  Most of all about Harry Potter.  That series did indeed change the landscape of our tiny world of children’s publishing in signficant ways.  It caused the New York Times to start a separate best seller list for children’s books and then series books (which caused quite a stir at the time). A remarkable fandom grew and thrived in the ever-developing Internet — the Leaky Cauldron being only the most prominent of a number of fan sites — and, of added significance, Rowling interacted with those fans in smart and careful ways.  The savvy release of the books (starting with the fourth one) was absolutely groundbreaking.  Twilight and its sequels definitely thrived in this new environment and I would guess there will be others down the line.

The Rise of YA Fiction

I agree with Betsy on the signficance of this.  And like her I would note the synergy as the authors and books moved fluidly from print book to website to youtube to television to film.  It is a form or term that seems to be in the process of being redefined — no longer for ages 12 -18, but for true young adults — those out in the world, but still maturing and enjoying these books.  I am very curious about what will happen as the young fans of these books grow up and come into the world of publishing.  I’m guessing they will help shape the world of YA literature in interesting new directions.   I’d love to see YA get its own division in publishing houses, one not part of children’s or adults.  A place where crossover books like Octavian Nothing, The Book Thief, and others would be properly promoted as being for true young adults — teens and twenty-somethings alike.

The Rise of Blogging and Other Online Media

To me this is the most significant aspect of the past ten years.  Not just blogs, but fan sites, author sites, and so much more.  Readers of all ages feel comfortable emailing and communicating with favorite authors in a way that was rare in the previous century.  (In 1995 Scholastic gave me a modem and an AOL account to help launch what was probably the first publisher Internet site — Scholastic Network.  They soon moved from AOL to the Web and never looked back, but I remember running their author and book bulletin boards and it was a new world indeed.)  Facebook, twitter, and more — all very exciting stuff.  Who knows what is next?

The Life and Death of the Children’s Periodical

Betsy notes the passing of The Riverbank Review and Kirkus. Having been published in both I see them as distinctly different situations.  The Riverbank Review was a beautiful journal, filled with lovely articles, columns, and reviews.  It was, to my mind, in the tradition of the small and elegant literary magazine. Over the decades and centuries these come and go.  Some get the financing to keep going and some don’t, sadly.  Now I don’t know how many similar journals focused on adult books similarly bit the dust in the last decade, but I have to wonder if it is any more or less than in previous years.

Kirkus, to my mind, is different. For one thing it was purely a review journal and secondly it was for all books, not just children’s books.  To me the end of Kirkus is part of a bigger trend involving traditional print book review publication. That is, newspapers have been getting rid of their stand-alone book review sections too.  And what with the rise of the online unmediated reader reviews (say those of amazon and bloggers) it will be most interesting to see where reviewing in general will go.

The ebook or Lack Thereof

I think this is another area that is rising and we have to wait to see what happens.  Just last week one of my 6th grade Book Bloggers showed me the Kindle she got for Hanukkah.  College textbooks are starting to become available digitally (which is great because they’ve become outrageously expensive, I think).  As technology makes comics, animation, book trailers, and multi-media (think of Scholastic’s Carman series combining book and video) easier and easier to do I see more and more movement into the digital place.  This doesn’t mean print books won’t be there too, just that the playing field is shifting.

And now in brief, a couple from me:


This seems another very signficant development. I mean, what about Eragon?  I remember Christopher Paolini on adbooks promoting his self-published book and reading the first chapter on his website (now long, long, long replaced by one by his publisher).  More recently, reporting about a HarperCollins preview this fall, Betsy noted several originally self-published books they were featuring.  It sure seems easier than ever to publish your own book and it seems evident that the major publishers are paying more attention to those that sell.

The Continuing Evolution of Literary Nonfiction

I’m very impressed with the stellar nonfiction coming out these days and am hopeful that more is on the way.  This year, in particular, has been a great one for this genre.

Interesting times. Interesting times.

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Terry Pratchett on Rising Apes and Falling Angels

The Guardian Book Club’s most recent title was Terry Pratchett’s Unseen AcademicalsJokes and rules (mostly of the magical sort) were considered by Professor John Mullan. Pratchett weighed in and the readers did too.  And then there is this:

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