28 January 2010


The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To, DC Pierson: Best funny teenage-boy novel since I Love You, Beth Cooper. And like Beth Cooper, it's strangely pitched to adults rather than its actual audience; why? Cause adult paperbacks cost about as much as YA hardcovers? Because there's sex in it (horror of horrors, that teenagers should read books about themselves as they are)? Who knows. Anyway, it's funny and true to the fierceness of best-friendship and the building of worlds, and oh yeah, mild sci-fi.

26 January 2010

So close, and yet so far.

Sometimes I'll like a book right up until it ends--or, in the maddening case of Infinite Jest, it doesn't end--and then, like a bad breakup that sours the whole remembered relationship, the story lets me down, coloring all the pages of enjoyment before it. So it was with page 280 of Ali Shaw's The Girl with Glass Feet; as soon as the title character *HERE BE SPOILERS* succumbs to her not-at-all-metaphorical ailment, I came to the horrifying realization that she's not the heroine at all. She has little backstory of her own and a convenient terminal disease, so once she's taught the neurotic young man who's the true protagonist how to live and love again, she slips away quietly.

Yes. She's a Manic Pixie Dream Girl with glass feet.

23 January 2010


The Egypt Game, Zilpha Keatley Snyder (1966): Rich in detail, a paean to imagination. While I was never that into Egypt, I recognize the obsessive play-as-construction; my sister and I used to spend hours building our Barbies houses, decorating them, dreaming up backstory, and then suddenly it was time to clean up, and we'd protest: "But we haven't even started playing yet!"

The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin (1978): I remember reading this one out loud to my parents and sister, every night after dinner for several weeks. Strangely, I had never owned a copy; my fourth- and fifth-grade teacher, Libby Eaton, had a classroom library, and I'm guessing I checked this one out nearly as much as I did D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths from Earhart Elementary's main library.

What struck me this time around, in between the puzzle, is how adult the book is--not the hijacked meaning of "pornographic," but "mature," "wise," even. It deals with suicide, losing a child, guilt, homesickness, disease, race, the pain of not living up to your parents' expectations; frustrated dreams and disappointments galore. But it's not didactic at all. It's fun, and full of unlikely friendships and wordplay. Among all of these childhood favorites, it's the one I've reread the most, and the one I'll keep rereading; the one that least deserves dismissal as a "children's book." As if children aren't real people.

Seven-Day Magic, redux.

I mustn't give short shrift to this one: it's an utter delight, and "meta" or "postmodern" or something like that, in that it's a book about books, and a book that becomes the kind of book the characters want. What they want is magic, the kind of magic that takes ordinary people by surprise, and magic that requires them to learn its rules, tame it, thwart it, and pass it along when it's time to do so. And there are dragons, and a prologue to Oz, and an epilogue to an earlier Edward Eager book (Half Magic, also marvelous), and a song called "Chickadee Tidbits."

The problem I discovered in my nostalgia marathon? I read too fast. All of these books need to be about four times as long, so I don't lose them so quickly.

16 January 2010

Seven-day magic.

"The best kind of book," said Barnaby, "is a magic book."
"Naturally,' said John."

Gosh, yes.

13 January 2010

In-between reads, then back to business.

Whilst waiting for a package from my mom containing some childhood faves, I passed the time with Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners (about which I can say nothing I haven't said about Link before: SHE IS BRILLIANT. READ HER NOW) and Donna Tartt's The Secret History, which charmed me from the first appearance of the central characters, a bunch of dissolute classics majors, as they discussed Greek cases. Yay for aorists!

The package arrived, laden with goodies: I decided to read them in chronological order of publication. First up, The Borrowers, by Mary Norton (1952). I guess it's not surprising that children love worlds in miniature, as a way of imagining adult roles through play, but MAN, did I ever love miniatures when I was little! The Borrowers' repurposing of blotting paper and safety pins and cigar boxes. Colleen Moore's fairy castle at the Museum of Science and Industry. The dollhouse my grandfather built, white with blue trim.

And I am so excited to learn that Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli has adapted the book, for a summer 2010 release! Although I still have fond memories of the mid-90s miniseries with Ian Holm as Pod.

Now, speaking of miniatures, I'm reading 1960's The Cricket in Times Square, by Gary Selden, with illustrations by Garth Williams. I need to take a picture of the bookplate in this one: the handwriting on it's positively embryonic. I must have been four or five when I decided this was a book worthy of being belonged.

05 January 2010

"For Anna, Tesser well."

Madeline L'Engle was the first author I ever met. I don't remember the exact year (though I know it was during elementary school), or the place--I remember waiting in line, and clutching my book to be signed (a Farrar, Straus and Giroux hardcover in its 46th printing, 1987, which puts me tentatively at eight), and the nervous excitement of seeing someone in person who'd created a world that was so important to me. Though bookselling now puts me in the path of all kinds of writers, I'm not sure any subsequent signing has produced the same awe--I try to think of who might do it--Kelly Link? Yoko Ogawa? Oh, Connie Willis, for sure. But of course, you never forget your first.

I've reread L'Engle's Time Trilogy (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet) many, many times, and it never fails to be mind-blowing. The great children's authors, I think, expand the possibilities of thought, create new pathways for the imagination; and trying to put my finger on exactly these three books in particular did for the younger me, I'm struck by how elemental the battle between good and evil is in them, and at the same time, how specific and unique.

Uniqueness and individuality are paramount in L'Engle's worldview. The horror of Camazotz is that everyone is the same, that all decisions are decided for you. The abnegation of responsibility, while it seems comforting, is the negation of the self, however flawed. Meg's stubbornness is what saves her father and Charles Wallace (yes, it's also heartening to have a girl rewarded for tenacity and spunk, even 45 years on). Similarly, in A Wind in the Door, the power of Naming, which sets each farandola and human and cherubim and star apart from the others, is what preserves the individual from "Xing," the ultimate, irreversible negation that the Echthroi (Greek for "enemy"; L'Engle is full of classical nods like this) seek. And time and time again, the efforts of one or a few change everything.

But in what might seem a paradox, the interdependence of all creatures is as vital to the universe as each creature's singularity. In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Charles Wallace occupies several lives, but it's the connections between them that spin the thread that changes history. A Wind in the Door's mythical (well, for all we know thus far) farandolae that sing inside each mitochondrion (and yeah, I though these were imaginary until I got to high school biology; thanks for sneaking in all that science!) commune with the galaxies. Size, and distance, and time are all immaterial. Community and communion--both from the same root. And what makes such disparate entities one is love--the Christian agape, but also the Sanskrit ananda, the name of a dog in A Swiftly Tilting Planet, defined by Charles Wallace as "that joy in existence without which the universe will fall apart and collapse."

Weighty, yeah. The books aren't pedantic in the slightest, though--through the macrocosm, the microcosm, and time itself, they're three grand adventures; and headstrong Meg and otherworldly Charles Wallace are marvelous characters, hyperintelligent but relatable misfits who, yeah, remind me of myself and my family. Rereading, I can always recapture that joyous trepidation I felt, with book in hand, waiting to meet a creator.
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