Friday, November 28, 2008

Poetry Friday

I know, I know. Poetry by guys and gals in rock bands. . . . Possibly not such a good idea. (Sorry, Jewel.) But David Berman, best known as the singer and creative force behind The Silver Jews, is different. He published one book of poetry, called Actual Air, to lots of acclaim ten years ago. Seriously, real critical acclaim: even The New Yorker liked him: "David Berman is a young Virginian poet with a sly, intense regard for the past. He comes on like a prankster, restocking the imperial orations of Wallace Stevens and the byzantine monologues of John Ashbery with the pop-cultural bric-a-brac of a new generation: 'I am not a cub scout seduced by Iron Maiden's mirror worlds.' But his words have an easy, eloquent gait; each line needs to be a line. The landscapes are crisply American, and history, especially Southern history, casts a shadow. A poem about Lincoln ends, 'The assassin was in mid-air / when the stagehands wheeled out clouds.'"
I would add to that that Berman is also especially astute when he's looking back on adolescence and childhood. A few stanzas from the stunning long-ish poem "Self-Portrait at 28" should be enough to convince you to hunt this one down.
Self-Portrait at 28
I know it's a bad title
but I'm giving it to myself as a gift
on a day nearly canceled by sunlight
when the entire hill is approaching
the ideal of Virginia
brochured with goldenrod and loblolly
and I think "at least I have not woken up
with a bloody knife in my hand"
by then having absently wandered
one hundred yards from the house
while still seated in this chair
with my eyes closed.

It is a certain hill
the one I imagine when I hear the word "hill"
and if the apocalypse turns out
to be a world-wide nervous breakdown
if our five billion minds collapse at once
well I'd call that a surprise ending
and this hill would still be beautiful
a place I wouldn't mind dying
alone or with you.

I am trying to get at something
and I want to talk very plainly to you
so that we are both comforted by the honesty.
You see there is a window by my desk
I stare out when I am stuck
though the outdoors has rarely inspired me to write
and I don't know why I keep staring at it.

My childhood hasn't made good material either
mostly being a mulch of white minutes
with a few stand out moments,
popping tar bubbles on the driveway in the summer
a certain amount of pride at school
everytime they called it "our sun"
and playing football when the only play
was "go out long" are what stand out now.

If squeezed for more information
I can remember old clock radios
with flipping metal numbers
and an entree called Surf and Turf.

As a way of getting in touch with my origins
every night I set the alarm clock
for the time I was born so that waking up
becomes a historical reenactment and the first thing I do
is take a reading of the day and try to flow with it like
when you're riding a mechanical bull and you strain to learn
the pattern quickly so you don't inadvertently resist it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Old School Publishing

You have to listen to this interview with Barnie Rosset on Fresh Air. I already blogged about him but this is much fuller picture. Listen just for his closing line, in answer to Terry's question "why do you feel strongly about the books you've published?" I want this on my gravestone.

(And if you listen to the whole show, you can hear an interesting review of Twilight with a nice bit of pop psychology on poor Stephanie.)

A moment of silence

Saturday morning cartoons are dead. (At least on Fox.) 
Some of my earliest memories of independent reading are of the credits on Saturday cartoons. "Hanna-Barbera" was "Hannah Barbarian," which I think I conjured as a female animator with a club.

Naturally, there is a Wikipedia entry on Saturday cartoons.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Where I jump on the Poetry Friday Bandwagon

I have been studiously avoiding Poetry Friday posts since I've been blogging, which is perverse because I love poetry--but until now it had little relevance in my day-to-day work. No more!

So, here, to begin, is one of my favorites, from my favorite poets:

Bantam in Pine-Woods

Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan
Of tan with henna hackles, halt!

Damned universal cock, as if the sun
Was blackamoor to bear your blazing tail.

Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat! I am the personal.
Your world is you. I am my world.

You ten-foot poet among inchlings. Fat!
Begone! An inchling bristles in these pines,

Bristles, and points their Appalachian tangs,
And fears not portly Azcan nor his hoos.

-Wallace Stevens (1922)

I love the sound of this poem, and I love its thumb-biting at the canon (even though Stevens is now a canonical poet). The traditional reading has the inchling and the ten-foot poet as confident new American poetry "bristling" at perhaps condescending Old World poetry (hence, chieftain "if you can" ). I think the note of rebellion and outward self-confidence makes it nice poem for YA-inclined writers. The line "Your world is you. I am my world" has provided me with literally years of fodder for contemplation. What exactly are the differences?

Here's a LibraVox reading.

ADDED: I meant to dedicate this post to Professor Wojciech Kotas, once upon a time of Lawrence University, who taught modern and contemporary poetry (and also taught me Ulysses) and nearly made my head explode.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"An example of the perspicacity of our youth!"

From the classic parenting book Children: The Challenge by Rudolf Dreikurs (1964):

Two high-school juniors were talking during intermission of a concert. "Hey, Mavis is pretty good at Debussy," one remarked. "Aw, she doesn't have much 'go' about her," replied the other. "You know what?" he continued. "Her mother pays her a dollar an hour for practicing." "You're kidding!" "No, I'm not. Mavis practiced eight hours a day all summer just so she could get all that money." "That's a heck of a reason to practice! No wonder she doesn't have any 'go.' She doesn't play for the fun of it. Heck. When I practice, I get so lost in it my folks holler for me to stop so they can rest." "Yeah! I know what you mean, I fool around a lot, too."

Oh lord, where to begin? My kingdom for a comic artist who can render all the subtle subtexts of this "exchange." Why am I imaging them smoking clove cigarettes and clutching copies of "Howl"?

Most forwarded story on today is . . .

Teenagers’ Internet Socializing Not a Bad Thing

And it's interesting, too.

Gene Luen Yang in the New York Times

I was unaware of this. I dug American Born Chinese, so this is getting bookmarked.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thank you, John and Hank

The last stop on the Tour de Nerdfighter with John and Hank Green was last night in St. Paul at Metro State Universty. It was, of course, absolutely made of awesome, with a big, excited crowd of teens. I thought I took pictures, but they don't seem to be on my memory card.

They closed the whole thing with Accio Deathly Hallows and everybody was singing along. I actually got goosebumps. They videotaped it, so hopefully John will post it, but meanwhile here's the original:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

YA Goes Hollywood seems to me like Hollywood is glutting itself on contemporary teen fiction. Twilight is obvious, but there was also Paranoid Park and supposedly Looking for Alaska is in serious development, ditto The Book Thief and King Dork. I'm sure I'm overlooking others. My first thought was, "gee, this must be unprecedented!" but of course, that's wrong.

Image:Outsidersposter.jpegA little Googling unearthed some interesting articles, particularly this one from ALAN Review in 1994.  Apparently, between 1982 and 1989, two Robert Cormier novels (I Am the Cheese and The Chocolate War) and three S.E. Hinton novels (Tex, Rumble Fish, and The Outsiders) were made into movies by major studios. I'm sure there were others then, too. So much for unprecedented.

In the context of comparing teen movies and teen books, the article offers up this pre-J.K. Rowling gem of an observation [italics mine]:

The teenage film market is different from the teenage book market. The book market is relatively splintered; so a single book will probably never connect with the entire market. And the market is smaller than the potential film market because publishers need readers, that is, youngsters who are literate. Filmmakers do not have that restriction since almost all people have been trained since birth to comprehend many, if not most, films.

Another market difference is that teenage books are cheaper to produce but are potentially less profitable than films. But books can make money, particularly if a book is accepted by English teachers. Whereas film marketing goes directly to the teenager via television, radio, and word-of-mouth, book marketing targets teachers as agents. The success of Hinton, Blume, and Zindel can at least partially be attributed to the free marketing provided by English and language arts teachers. The book market benefits from free reading assignments,book reports, sustained silent reading, whole language theory, and so on.

I find it particularly fascinating to read this a few hours before I go see John Green and co. on their Tour de Nerd Fighting (which feels like it's been creeping up on me for months since things tagged John Green have been dominating my Facebook feed). Things have changed, eh? Have teen-novels-to-teen-movies changed, too?

Seriously, though, it's a fascinating, if scholarly, article. It also leads to an article called "WHAT IS HOLLYWOOD SAYING ABOUT THE TEEN-AGE WORLD TODAY?" by famed critic Michiko Kakutani. The article is behind the pay wall (thought they'd done away with that), but I may spend the four bucks anyway.

I think there's a fair amount to be learned in examining what happens between book and movie (aside from the author quitting his day job and moving to Switzerland to hunt butterflies).  More study will be required.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I still agree with Leila . . .

that "real vampires don't sparkle," but this piece about adapting Twilight  for the screen in the New York Times is interesting for its musing on storytelling for teens. This is a useful observation:

The movie also appears to capture the oddly timeless atmosphere of the book, in which e-mail notes are sometimes sent but no text messages are, no video games are played, and no one seems to have an iPod crammed with gangsta rap, emo or heavy metal. “You try to keep current with teenagers’ culture and idioms,” Ms. Rosenberg said, “but in ‘Twilight’ some of that feels incongruous. One of the producers actually said to me, ‘I’m uncomfortable when Edward uses a cellphone.’ ”

I agree that this is one of the novel's strengths. It's not oddly timeless so much as it's intelligently timeless. No teen novel needs to go out of its way to signal that it's "current" with border-line product placement of the latest gadgets or entertainment trends.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Thoughts on Naughty Bits

Now that I have the opportunity to acquire books for children of all ages, I spend a lot of time thinking about what children and young adults use books for. My son, for example, is less than a year and we read to him many times a day. He is beginning to grasp the mechanics of reading and being read to. But mainly he enjoys chewing on the book's corners. In this way, a book is useful. This is amusing but I look forward in the coming months and years to the other roles books will play in entertaining and educating him. This weekend, I particularly look forward to the role books will play when he is a teenager.

I am fairly sure, after several years of working on books for teens, that it is absolutely vital that older children and teenagers especially see books as potentially dangerous, often provocative things. I think that the book's utility and ubiquity is also its curse. A book will never be novel. Even if you don't come from a family of readers, if you go to school, you will have books, and thus by the time kids start making choices about their entertainment and leisure time, books are at a disadvantage. But they can recover if, at some point, a child realizes that she's only been given the partial story about books, and that the whole story is that books have caused controversies that the most profane music and movies can't begin to touch. Knowing this, I am convinced, has made more than a few kids reconsider reading.  I believe at some point, every kid needs to feel like reading is a subversive, rebellious act. I was confirmed in this belief a couple times this weekend.

First, one of my favorite radio shows, On the Media (you really should listen), did a piece on former Grove Press publisher Barney Rosset. You can listen to the story here. The National Book Foundation honored Rosset recently for his contributions to literature, among which are publishing books like Tropic of Cancer, Lady Chatterly's Lover, and The Naked Lunch for the first time in the United Image:Lady Chatterleys Lover.jpgStates. Not only did he publish them, but he fought to the Supreme Court for the right to do so. There's one anecdote Rosset reveals in the OTM interview I found particularly fascinating. Rosset himself had to tip off the postmaster that he was shipping copies of Lady Chatterly's Lover so that they would confiscate one so he could then sue. And all of this with D.H. Lawrence's book was deliberate groundwork for the book he really wanted to publish--a book he'd read as a freshman in college--Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. Here is a man with a sense of how important a book can be.

Me, PenelopeShortly after I heard the OTM segment, I ran into a couple bits of news on accomplished author/illustrator Lisa Jahn-Clough's Facebook page: from a Florida newspaper and from local Orlando TV news. The TV news piece is particularly interesting as counterpoint to the OTM piece. The gist is that her young adult novel Me, Penelope has caused some considerable controversy after a 12-year-old checked it out. I know Lisa so even though I haven't yet read this novel (something I probably share with everyone involved in the news stories), I suspect it is not nearly as shocking or lurid as the article suggests. I don't at all object to the parent's right to speak to a librarian and ask that her daughter not be allowed to check out certain books or to ask that she be informed first--I can imagine doing that myself. Such steps would not, however, require news conferences or bizarre close-up shots of the text of the book as though it were a crime scene (seriously, watch the clip) or school board members grandstanding about standards and systemic reviews and "all their years . . . "--all things I find nauseating. 

But here's how I come out of all of this an optimist, though (and how I get back to my point). It's not because Rosset is getting an award. The people who are giving him an award always agreed with him. What makes me an optimist is this preposterous, post-literate remark from a school board member in Florida and the result I believe it will have: "No wonder our kids our so messed up. Look at the garbage we put in front of them."


Thank you, sir, for doing your part to insure books retain their rightful place as dangerous, provocative objects. Thank you, as I am sure you have helped more than a few kids reconsider reading.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fridays Are for Good Reviews

Chris Monroe's Monkey with a Tool Belt has been selected for the New York Public Library’s annual list, Children’s Books, 2008 – 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing.

Monkey was the very first Carolrhoda book I read when I was interviewing for this job. I loved it, and I'm so glad I'm not alone.

I think Chico Bon Bon should go to the ceremony--you know, just in case something goes wrong with the PA. He's probably got the right tool to fix it.

And, if I may be allowed, congratulations are in order to Maggie Stiefvater, whose first book, Lament, I published in my previous life. She just snagged her third starred review--this time in Kliatt. Go Maggie. Her publication story is great, and if I weren't about to rush out the door, I'd tell it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pre-Friday Amusement

I spent way too much time thinking about this.

From the department of books I wish I'd published

We Are Experienced photographs by Danielle Levitt. Follow the link for a slide show and see also this in the Gray Lady. 

The Mpls library doesn't have it. I may have to buy it just for a larger scale version of the spinal shiver I get from the cover.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Yearbook from Japanese Internment Camp

Via BoingBoing.

I didn't spend a lot of time digging deeper into this, but it seems like any old high school yearbook . . . except all the students are Japanese and the school was in an internment camp. It's strange.

The illustrations between the sections are oddly chilling. For the Sports  illustration, am I imagining things or is that a fence with barbed wire? What's the implication there? I don't see anything sporting in the picture.

Here are all the scans.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Modest Proposal for Boy Readers

Got it. Lots of zombies, no "methinks," no emo angst.  Thanks, Max.

More please

I've been thinking a lot lately about food and children. Bear with me. Of course,  I've always had a relationship with food, but people who know me reasonably well, know I have a fairly intense relationship with 100_2162 by I love to cooking and eating. Mostly eating. Also, my wife and I have an eight-month-old son which adds a whole other dimension (that's him on the left, contemplating steamed broccoli).

Anyway, last winter, my wife and I decided that having a baby wasn't enough change. Shortly before Henry was born, we joined our local food coop and completely changed the way we shop for food. We weren't living on TV dinners by any means before, but we did shop at conventional grocery stores and shopped mainly for what we liked based on price. Now, we're much more sensitive to fair trade practices, organic farming practices, origin, etc. I'm not trying to making an argument for what we did; I'm just saying that it was quite a shift and it wasn't easy to change our thinking--and we're still relatively young and unfettered. I am amazed by how my brain can despise the very idea of the individually wrapped Reese's Peanut Butter Cups that daily and magically appear in the break room while my mouth and my gut lust for them. The struggle would be amusing if it weren't my own. On the other hand, I watch how Henry eats and what he eats, and I'm grateful that he'll at least start off thinking about food.

To some extent our concerns are reflected in the broader culture.* Look at how Chinese-made food, the obesity epidemic, and corn for food or fuel debates have become a permanent fixture in the news cycle. Look at the Oxford Dictionary's word of the year for 2007. Look at Michael Pollan's bestselling books, most recently In Defense of Food. Look at one of the books on PW's Best Children's Nonfiction of 2008: What the World Eats, an adaptation for children of photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D'Aluisio's book, Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (which was featured in Time, if you want to get the gist).

It's this last one that excites me the most, because I think it's the interesting and exciting direction. Now comes the unabashed opinion mongering. We are going to become more aware of food in much the same way we've become more aware of security of all kinds, and I think "we" includes--and should include--children. If changing food consumption habits is hard for a food-centered thirty-year-old with a decent income, then we're going to struggle as a culture if this isn't an all-ages issue.

For writers, this can mean a lot of different kinds of books. Nonfiction is obvious, but there's so much more potential. Take a look at Cory Doctorow's Little Brother for one approach. Have you noticed how much of that book is about how important cryptography is, to say nothing of the personal privacy issues it's obsessed with? Has the word "Linux" appeared as much in all previous children's books combined as it does in that book? The book is a near-future thriller full of unapologetically wonkish current-events details. Love it or hate it, it found an audience--a sizeable one--to embrace its geekishness and passion for issues. I love niche computer operating systems as much as the next guy, but I'm willing to bet there's more material for stories in food. Think about it. Ronald Reagan didn't try to make ketchup a  vegetable for adults. He tried to make it a veggie for kids.

So, there's my rant for the day. Now bring me books.




*It's not all good news and mounting awareness. Want to know one of the only bright spots in October financial reporting? McDonald's showed 8 percent sales growth.

Monday, November 10, 2008

There are lots of different ways to do storytelling . . .

But I think this is one I will never understand. Apparently there's a great deal of turmoil surrounding the current season of Heroes. I know nothing of current television, but this article in the New York Times caught my eye. There are definitely a few cooks in the kitchen when it comes to making books, but this is something else entirely.

I can imagine this would be something like novelist hell: A third of the way through the book, the executives were concerned about the direction of the ratings thus far--"too many characters," they say or "people are saying they can't follow the episodes' plots"--so the novelist tries to correct things, but he's already set things in motion, headed inexorably toward certain conflicts. Thus, halfway through the season, the author pads down to his office/kitchen in his pajamas, souvenir Author's Guild mug full of coffee, for another afternoon at the keyboard (yes, this is what editors think). Only his laptop is locked. Someone from HR appears from the bathroom and informs him that he's got fifteen minutes to pack up his things ("But this is my house!"). Meanwhile, a fashionably dressed 23-year-old is casually seated at the author's kitchen counter, sipping green tea from a stylish mug. "We've decided to take the book in a new directi0n." The 23 year old glances up from his iPhone and waves. . . .

An Interview with Pat Schmatz

Blogger and librarian Lisa Chellman posted an interview with Carolrhoda novelist Pat Schmatz about her book Mousetraps. Please have a look.

Friday, November 7, 2008

"Suddenly it’s Sodom and Gomorrah"

The New Yorker is one of those lovely grownup magazines that still spells "teenager" as two words, but that doesn't mean it isn't regularly a source of great insights into youth culture. Witness this interesting piece on the perception of sex in red and blue states--particularly youthful sex. My favorite part is this:

Bearman and Brückner have also identified a peculiar dilemma: in some schools, if too many teens [make a chastity] pledge, the effort basically collapses. Pledgers apparently gather strength from the sense that they are an embattled minority; once their numbers exceed thirty per cent, and proclaimed chastity becomes the norm, that special identity is lost. With such a fragile formula, it’s hard to imagine how educators can ever get it right: once the self-proclaimed virgin clique hits the thirty-one-per-cent mark, suddenly it’s Sodom and Gomorrah.

So true. And, more importantly, so perfect for a novel.