Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Friday, March 23, 2007

something to watch

I'm a little bit addicted to Brotherhood 2.0, John & Hank Green's v-blog. In this episode (which I've been trying to post for half an hour) they have a special guest star.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I know, I'm supposed to be posting my thoughts on Knitting (the novel, not the craft) and I will, but not today.

For some years now I've had a mild preference for a particular restroom stall in my building. It began when some graffiti appeared: "
Few of us are not in some way infirm, or even diseased; and our very infirmities help us unexpectedly. --William James"

OK, that's just some awesome graffiti. (And, yes, it's quite obvious to those of us in the building whose class she was taking at the time. Not mine.)

Then there was more. I tried to write them all down once, but I know I didn't get them all. There was "it's a wonder I can think @ all," which I quite liked, and "education is what remains when what was learned has be
en forgotten," which I believe was attributed to Twain on the stall wall, though google suggests maybe Einstein. There was also, "'College is an organized waste of time'--my dad," which amused me. There was a Leonard Cohen quotation on the door: "there is a crack, a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in" (attributed properly). There was, I think, something attributed to Will Durant. And, most recently, there was a line that seemed Dirty Harry-esque to me, but turns out to be from A Clockwork Orange: "what's it going to be then, eh?"

Well, you know where this is going. Over spring break the restroom was repainted, and the graffiti wiped out. I was sad about this, having neglected to write them all down.

But today, in sharpie, all caps:


Friday, March 16, 2007

So you think you know Jane Austen?

Is apparently the title of a new book by John Sutherland and Deirdre LeFaye. Here are some questions from it. I had a little trouble with question #3, the answer to which proves Mrs. Gould (11th grade English) wrong in her claim that the French Revolution & Napoleonic Wars had nothing to do with Jane Austen. (Bitter, me? Still? Perish the thought.)

I'm not sure yet if I want to read The Annotated Pride and Prejudice. I usually insist on scholarly editions of texts when I teach Victorian literature, and I find the notes in Penguin, Broadview, or Oxford Classics editions useful. Norton Criticals usually get a little too interpretive for me, and I fear--based on the article--that this new Pride and Prejudice would as well.

By the way, the Times writer who thinks Dickens doesn't attract the same cultish devotion as Austen has never been to a Dickens Universe. As a grad student there I was amazed by the folks we called "the postilion people" whose every question was about various modes of transportation, distances between coaching inns, etc. Just as obsessive as the Jane-ites, believe me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

read this

An interview with M.T. Anderson.

Who, I am delighted to note, has written some middle-grade books. Something for Nick! I'm so happy.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Good News

I saw this somewhere else (maybe on the child-lit listserv?) and I am only just now getting around to reading it (busy week). It's nice to have independent confirmation that something is going on in YA literature; it's not just that I've discovered it now that I have a teenager (wait, now? She's 17...). It's that, really, there are a lot more good books out there. I don't remember reading YA as a teenager myself, other than the required boarding-school novels in high school, but the stuff I've been reading lately (much of it listed here, though there's obviously more I haven't read yet) is so interesting, so thought-provoking, so worthwhile; it makes me a little sad for my younger self that I didn't have these books to read then, but mostly grateful for my kids that they are available now.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Up too late

I stayed up late reading last night. I finished one novel, John Green's An Abundance of Katherines, at about 11:30, and instead of turning the light out (it was already way past my bedtime) I picked up Knitting, by Anne Bartlett. Two very different novels, and I didn't turn the light out until I'd finished Knitting. (I'd started it earlier, don't worry; I'm not that fast).

I can't even begin to say how pleased I am that Green will be the featured speaker next fall in our children's literature speaker series. I had not even heard of him (but again, I do live under a rock) until about a month ago, when a couple of folks here who work in children's lit and related fields recommended his work. (One of those folks was Tricia of Miss Rumphius--thanks, Tricia!) I may like Katherines even more than Alaska, though both are original, funny, poignant, and terrific. As Mariah said after reading Alaska, "he's doing a lot of things you find in other books, but so interestingly that you don't notice they're the same kinds of things." Or something like that (quoting directly from speech is not my forte). What she means, I think, is that Alaska is a boarding-school novel, it has much in common with A Separate Peace, Good Times/Bad Times, Prep, and even Catcher in the Rye, the grandddaddy of all American boarding-school novels, and yet it is very different from them as well, and reminds us not of why we are glad we did or didn't go to boarding school, but of why we read, and why we tell stories. Katherines, too, is about story-telling in profound and fascinating ways, though it's also a buddy story and a road-trip story (both genres I think of more in relation to films rather than books--hmm, interesting!) Green also keeps a really funny blog, one I've been enjoying over these last few weeks. It includes a video-blog he's keeping with his brother, and it's a hoot.

(I'll have to talk about Knitting another time...)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Life in Books

From The Miss Rumphius Effect:

1. What are your 5 most important books?
I'm not sure what the difference is between "important" and "books I couldn't live without." Hmm. Still thinking about this. Right at the moment, though, here's what comes to mind:
  • The Dark Interval: Towards a Theology of Story, John Dominic Crossan
  • His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
  • Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  • Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (cheesy, racist, and still the first book that made me cry. Sigh.)
  • Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
2. What is an important book you admit you haven't read?

Well, there's always The Canterbury Tales. Still. I did finally read Beowulf, though!

3. What classic (or childhood favorite) was a little disappointing on rereading?
Oh, so many! The Chronicles of Narnia, for example--I can barely reread them anymore (especially The Last Battle); I find the triumphalist Christianity so distasteful. The Lord of the Rings (series) and Swallows and Amazons (series) were also deeply disappointing on rereading. The Tolkien for the faux-medievalism, which I ate up with a spoon in sixth grade, and the Ransome for being, well, boring! The endless descriptions of knot-tying and sailing techniques...! The food descriptions are pretty good, though. The Mary Poppins books were also disappointing on rereading, for the racism, though I still think they're better than the movie.

4. What book do you (or did you) care most about sharing with your kids?
I really enjoyed reading Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain with Nick. In earlier years, the "Little Bear" books by Elsie Holmelund Minarik, Where the Wild Things Are, and (though I don't remember them from my own childhood), the Arnold Lobel "Frog and Toad" books and his Fables were among our family favorites.

5. Name an acclaimed book, either classic or contemporary, that you just don't like.
Hmm, well, I've already named several above. I had to read Crime and Punishment three times in college, and it only made sense to me when I was delirious with fever. Recently I've stopped thinking of that as my problem.

Anyone else want to play?