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July 2010

End-o'-the-Week Kid-Lit Roundup

Quick links from around the kid-lit blogosphere:

Kid-lit illustrators pitch in on the BP oil spill. Illustrator Kelly Light responded to the BP oil spill with a simple but ingenious fund-raiser: "I had the idea that this should be about 'small acts' that anyone could do--an artist can do a quick sketch--and most people could afford to donate $10." She posted a sketch to her blog, it sold quickly. Within a short amount of time, all sorts of illustrators--including big kid-lit names like Jarrett Krosoczka and Mo Willems--joined in. Willems, who is from New Orleans, donated nine sketches to the cause.

Riordan New kid-lit graphic novels. Publishers Weekly has the latest on three popular kids' stories getting the graphic novel treatment: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, The Amulet of Samarkand (from the Bartimaeus trilogy), and The Little Prince (by Joann Sfar, of the Little Vampire comics).

"Boys trail girls in reading; can fart jokes help?" Best kid-lit headline of the week goes to this story from the AP. (Jon Scieszka:"Boys will read a wide variety of stuff, not just gross-out humor, but stuff they enjoy in large part is stuff that's not seen as legitimate reading in some schools, so they're already feeling they're not part of the system.")

Le Cozy est mort. Vive le Cozy! Liz B's kid-lit super-blog Tea Cozy (properly, "A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy") has found a new home, as part of the esteemed School Library Journal blog family.

Ramona and Beezus review revue. The movie based on Beverly Cleary's classic characters is out and the reviews are in. Roger Ebert is at least charitable ("this is a featherweight G-rated comedy of no consequence, except undoubtedly to kids about Ramona's age"), and the NYT's Mike Hale is ambivalent. (But Hale does note that "Parents may also be happy to see a movie for children that doesn’t involve wizards, vampires or action figures that can be bought in the food court.")

51aUC0wOo2L._SL500_AA300_ Freckleface Strawberry: The Musical. As noted in Omni Daily News earlier this week, Julianne Moore's kid-lit book, Freckleface Strawberry, is going to become a family-friendly musical, opening off Broadway this October.

Thursday 30! Pam at PBS Booklights has an amped-up edition of her usual "Thursday Three"--with "thirty books about summer from tot to tween." (Including "Thirteen Summer Picture Books," "Thirteen Summer Chapter Books," and "Four Special Summer Books.")

Michael Ian Black Reads The Purple Kangaroo. In a kangaroo suit:

(via Fuse #8's Video Sunday)

Bookcraft vs. Books?

I always look forward to my daily dose of aesthetic inspiration from Design*Sponge, and I'm still ruminating on yesterday's typically gorgeous post on tables and cameras made of cool old hardcover books. Since the news that Amazon's digital sales now outpace hardcovers, I've been obsessing more than usual about the fate of physical books, wondering how long it'll be before my own dense shelves start to look like curio cabinets.

But like many who responded to the Design*Sponge post (Ashley Lorelle's "Beautiful and inspiring, but I’m not sure if I could actually destroy books to make them into furniture!" sums it up), I'm deeply ambivalent about using books as craft and building materials, despite the undeniable coolness of this pinhole camera:

This probably isn't a widespread enough trend to warrant serious angsting, but every time I imagine another way to make beautiful things from books, I run up against an internal argument.

The pro side goes something like this:

  • I love salvaging and repurposing interesting old stuff in my home and garden, and objects made of books have a totally magical, storybook feeling.
  • Those pinhole cameras are amazing objects in themselves, and the idea of taking such a low-tech photo with a book is really intriguing.
  • Some older books have charming covers with deadly boring text, and just because they're old doesn't necessarily mean they're rare.
  • Maybe all future generations need is the raw information, digitized, available to anyone, freed from the carbon consumption of production and shipping, and incorruptible.
But then another voice pipes up:
  • As much as we try to ignore it, we live in an age of extinction (of species, ecosystems, indigenous cultures, many of the ways of living we've always taken for granted), so this may be the perfect time to think about preserving bibliological diversity in physical form. Books (some more than others) are links in the evolution of human knowledge. What looks dull but delightfully cut-upable to the modern craftista may be very valuable information down the line, or even a precious artifact of a lost civilization. Do we as creative individuals have a responsibility to consider a book's potential value before we destroy it?
  • We've been very fortunate to live in an age of booky ubiquity, when cheap energy makes it cost-effective (if only in the short run) to print and ship mass quantities of hardcovers. Physical books are a marvelous part of the industrial age's legacy. And if the worst happens and oil dries up before we can come up with another large-scale, sustainable solution--a not-unlikely scenario--those used hardcovers (now so cheap at garage sales) might feel like precious relics.
  • In all its clean, convenient, connected, ink-digitizing, font-expanding glory, an e-reader will never have the magic of paper and cloth and real ink.

What say you, fellow bibliophiles? Am I over-thinking this, or would it be worthwhile for someone to draw up some tenets for those of us who also like to use book guts in mixed-media images or turn them into building blocks for bookcases (or tables, or cameras, or picture frames/shadowboxes, or bedframes, or doors, or....)? What can we create with stacks of old mass-market paperbacks--or are they just as precious?

The answer must be "It depends," but I'd appreciate your thoughts about what it depends on. --Mari Malcolm

Omni Daily News: Celebrity Edition

Freckleface Strawberry on Stage: Julianne Moore's popular picture book, Freckleface Strawberry, is set to be turned into a family-friendly musical. The show will officially open in October.

In the Jailhouse Now: Former prison librarian Avi Steinberg offers his humble (and eclectic) recommended reading list for Big House-bound celebrity Lindsay Lohan. [The Daily Beast]

A Cleary Classic: Ramona and Beezus, the big screen adaptation of Beverly Cleary's bestselling series for young readers, opens in theaters today.

Moving and Shaking: News from Comic-Con that Brad Pitt has signed on to star in the film adaptation of Max Brooks's World War Z sends his oral history of the zombie apocalypse climbing up our Movers & Shakers list this morning.

Graphic Novel Friday: Summer Reading

Northern Ontario may not be the first place Omni readers think of when it comes to planning summer vacations, but it’s the only destination for me. This summer, my family will celebrate the 50th anniversary of our cabin in the woods, and part of what makes this place so special is its bookshelves. There are covers and spines throughout the cabin that I have vacationed with for years: Nabokov and Stephen King share a shelf; Sophie’s Choice sits next to Cat’s Cradle; some years, Zippy the Pinhead and Sideways Stories from Wayside School function more as coasters than nostalgic reading, but it’s the familiarity (and smell) of all these books that helps make the summer experience--especially when the weather turns inevitably dreary. But there’s always the chance of discovering a title tucked behind the stacks, hidden by a family member for someone to eventually read over a beverage and a snack.

Several years ago, I started to bring my own selections to the cabin with the hope that they would sustain for the next generation. Barring a luggage weight test, here is what I have stuffed in my backpack and duffel:

B.P.R.D.: 1947 by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart, Gabriel Bá, and Fábio Moon (Dark Horse): It’s been so tough to save this one, but I know the lyrical horror collection will make for excellent late-night reading. I admit that I peeked at the interiors, and it looks like brothers Bá and Moon handle artistic duties on separate plots within the story--sometimes even on the same page. This one goes in the duffel so I won’t be tempted to read it on the plane.

Weathercraft by Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics): I am woefully ignorant when it comes to Woodring’s Frank comics, and this looks like the weirdest place to start. Will pair with an after-dinner drink.

Dungeon Quest: Book One by Joe Daly (Fantagraphics): After The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book, I will read anything Joe Daly produces.

Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 by Greg Rucka, et al (Oni): Another series I’ve been meaning to start, and the complex plot will carry me through the five-hour flight. I contemplated bringing Vol. 2 as well, but that second pair of jeans won out instead.

Troublemaker by Janet and Alex Evanovich and Joëlle Jones (Dark Horse): Beach read! Yes, there are beaches in the Great White North, and I am very curious to see how the Evanoviches’ popular series translates to four-color. In terms of early reviews, I haven’t heard a peep, but her fans have kept this one atop the Bestsellers in Comics and Graphic Novels.

Revolver by Matt Kindt (Vertigo): I loved Kindt’s 3 Story, and Revolver’s plot sounds like the perfect vacation thriller: Journalist Sam goes to sleep at the end of his normal day and wakes up in a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Then, he falls asleep again and wakes up in his humdrum life. Is it all a dream, and if so, which is the reality? Inception fans hoping to chase that dreamy buzz need look no further.

Criminal, Vol. 5: The Sinners by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Marvel): This series has yet to disappoint, and I cannot recommend it enough. Crime and comics; I plan to gobble this one up in a single evening.

Undeleted Scenes by Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf): This collection of miscellany and rarities will make for perfect evening reading when I’m too tired for a full narrative and only want to sample quick moments in the life of one of my favorite authors.

Werewolves on the Moon: Versus Vampires by David Land and Matt and Shawn Fillbach (Dark Horse): For the title alone.

I’m also taking the 2010 Music Issue of The Believer (another annual tradition), which comes with a CD filled with music that will make me feel completely out of touch, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (I think I’m the only person in the office who has yet to read this). Hopefully, this will all pass customs. Last year, the pleasant but stern border guards demanded I open up my cooler after I assured them that I wasn’t smuggling fish into their country, only comics. Wait until they get a load of Werewolves on the Moon.

Anything else I should pick up on my way to the airport?


Omni Daily News

Authors at Comi-Con: Besides the usual Hollywood studio events, authors are generating big buzz at Comi-Con 2010--the massive annual comics industry convention held in San Diego. Guardian blogger Ryan Gilbey's account of preview night underscores the draw of authors like China Miéville and Daryl Gregory-- who will go 1:1 to discuss breaking genres, and Tony DiTerlizzi (The Spiderwick Chronicles and the upcoming The Search for Wondla) who will share insights about the creative process and building imaginary worlds.  

Meltzer mixes it up:  Bestselling author Brad Meltzer reveals his musical side on his blog this morning. A store-bought gift just wouldn't cut it for his wife's 40th b'day bash, so he decided to go deep, deep into his creative psyche to "reassemble" a former sonic masterpiece: "Please Meltz Don't Hurt Em--Greatest Dance Mix to Humankind."   With tunes like "IT Takes Two,"  "Shoop," and "Going Back to Cali," you know folks were hitting the dance floor. Check out the full playlist, but clear some space on your iPod first.

Moving and shaking:  The nostalgic kids' novel, The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth cracks our Movers & Shakers list after it gets a shout out in NPR's "All Things Considered" feature on Summer Comfort Reads

Omni Daily News

"Or a Fresca?": Everyone says that recording their audiobooks is a horrible marathon of self-exposure, so you'd expect no less of Woody Allen, especially when faced with the prospect of finally recording the decades-old gags from his classic collections Getting Even, Without Feathers, and others. The NYT finds this to have been so: "I hated every second of it, regretted that I had agreed to it." The collection is available for download at Audible, and clips can be heard at the new The main effect of the article for me? A strong desire to take the day off and watch Sleeper five times in a row.

B is for Brooklyn: Novelist Carolyn Parkhurst (The Nobodies Album) made excellent use of Twitter this week, posting her updated alphabet inspired by Edward Gorey's apparently quite imitable but still delicious Gashlycrumb Tinies. Tough act to follow, but Parkhurst ("Q is for Questa, who tried pit-bull baiting. R is for Reardon, who texted while skating") pulls it off.

A message from the emperor: In an update to Monday's news, the Guardian has learned that an Israeli judge has decreed that the papers of Franz Kafka and Max Brod long held in secrecy by Brod's heirs must be released to the public. Hooray!

Moving and shaking: An AP article on gross-out books for boys propels the self-published Sweet Farts (copyeditor: is that one word or two?) onto this morning's Movers & Shakers. Also moving, the sequel, Sweet Farts: Rippin' It Old School, just released from our own AmazonEncore imprint.


Video Games Do Matter: Questions for Tom Bissell

Aside from a short trip down the rabbit hole with Sid Meier's world-building sim Civilization III back in the late '90s (see below), I've largely let the last two decades of video game culture pass me by. Not really out of distaste or even disinterest--I think in part I was (and still am) afraid of what would happen if I let myself get swallowed by the machine. Would I still be a functioning member of society? Would I ever read a book again? Nevertheless, I could tell from a distance that things were developing there in a way that went beyond the arcade games and fat-pixel consoles of my youth. I remember meeting Austin Grossman after his first novel, Soon I Will Be Invincible, came out to great acclaim and being surprised to hear that he considered video-game writing his real art form.

So I immediately perked up when I noticed Tom Bissell's new book, Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter on the horizon. Bissell's is one of my favorite bylines to see: he's a superb reader and critic, but equally driven to get out and engage directly with the world, which has made his books Chasing the Sea and The Father of All Things compelling amalgams of reporting, history, and memoir. No matter what he's writing about (even Tommy Wiseau's The Room in the current Harper's), you always get the feeling that something is at stake for him in the outcome: he's putting himself on the line. And though you might not expect it from a book on the narrative aesthetics of video games, that's the sense you get from Extra Lives too: he's found himself drawn hungrily into the worlds the games create, and it matters to him deeply to understand why (and to imagine how those worlds could be made even more compelling).

Bissell_Stewart He came by our offices a few weeks ago to talk about the book, and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable discussions I've had in some time. The book had me convinced of the potential value of this form of storytelling, but talking to him made me even more so. If it was even conceivable to bring an Xbox into my house, I'd probably be playing GTA IV right now instead of typing this... (I also got to take his picture in front of one our office ornaments: a blown-up copy of his NYTBR cover review of Rory Stewart's The Places in Between, a book that's one of my favorite discoveries of my time here. In my memory I had always given myself credit for sussing it out alone, but it may well have been Bissell's excellent review that first turned me on to it, as it did for so many other readers.)

You can listen to our interview in three parts below, or read the full transcript after the jump: When we say "value," we're not talking about the sort of increases-your-eye-hand-coordination argument that's often made in favor of video games. This is really an aesthetic claim that you're making.

Bissell: Yeah, I think there's a number of games, maybe not many, certainly not as many as I would like, but there are a number of games that have really given me a first-class aesthetic experience. Sometimes that experience is very kinetic and intense, sometimes that experience has been flummoxing and troubling, and sometimes the experience has been mainlined joy. Games can enchant, they can disturb. There's just some really first-rate storytelling experiences out there for people.

The problem that games have is that you have this rather large stumbling block of the interface. It's a tough thing for people that are conceptually inclined to think that maybe there's something interesting going on here, but to give them a controller and ask them to figure out what is essentially a foreign language is tough. It's a hard thing for people to overcome.

Continue reading "Video Games Do Matter: Questions for Tom Bissell" »

Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers

New York Times:

  • Sunday Book Review cover: Daniel "Lemony Snicket" Handler on Citrus County by John Brandon: "John Brandon joins the ranks of writers like Denis Johnson, Joy Williams, Mary Robison and Tom Drury, writers whose wild flights feel more likely than a heap of what we’ve come to expect from literature, by calmly reminding us that the world is far more startling than most fiction is. He subverts the expectations of an adolescent novel by staying true to the wild incongruities of adolescence, and subverts the expectations of a crime novel by giving us people who are more than criminals and victims. The result is a great story in great prose, a story that keeps you turning pages even as you want to slow to savor them, full of characters who are real because they are so unlikely."
  • Dennis Lehane on Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto: "Once they hit that road — and they do, quickly — he settles into the book he wants to write, an often incandescent fever dream of low-rent, unbearable beauty. This could be because 'Galveston' empathizes with its characters to a degree I’m hard pressed to recall in another recent novel.... By the end, the emotional honesty and power of the novel recall nothing of the scores of approximated noirs we’ve been subjected to over the past couple of decades, both on the page and on the screen. Instead, 'Galveston,' in its authenticity and fearless humanism, recalls only the finest examples of the form.... It’s an elegy to the broken and the never-weres, to those who got themselves lost so that someone — anyone — might come looking."
  • Maslin on Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters: "These letters can be as long-winded, rambling, visionary and impenetrable as each man’s writing style would suggest. But they can also be sharp, lucid, funny, tender, intimate, gossipy, jubilant and absolutely honest about the two aspiring authors’ gigantic ambitions. And if their correspondence sounds one loud cautionary note, it’s a warning to be careful of what you wish for. The free-spirited energy of their early communications can be seen slowly ossifying into the discourse of eminences too busy being famous to be friends."
  • Colin Thubron on Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India by William Dalrymple: "His gifts converge to evoke both the texture of his subjects’ homelands — from the Rajasthani desert to the wetlands of Kerala — and the complex past from which their faiths emerge. His method is resolutely nonanalytic. He elicits from his subjects long, often intimate histories, recorded in their own words.... The narratives Dalrymple unearths are fascinating and sometimes painfully moving, and he surrounds them with generous knowledge. This is the India we seldom see, populated by obscure people whose lives are made vivid by their eloquent troubles and reckless piety."

Washington Post:

  • Leslie T. Chang on Pearl Buck in China by Hilary Spurling: "This elegant, richly researched work is at once a portrait of a remarkable woman ahead of her time, an evocation of China between the wars, and a meditation on how the secrets and griefs of childhood can shape a writer. At a time of heightened interest in China, Spurling's biography is a compelling tribute to the woman who first focused American attention on the country."
  • Carolyn See on Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir: "Who's at fault here? (Because this isn't a very wonderful book.) I think we have to pin the blame on Eleanor. She's a historic figure, so she can't be jolted too far out of that position. We don't know all that much about what she actually did. And who knows what the woman thought? She seems to have preferred her sons to her husband, but it's hard to make a book about that. She spent a lot of her life within prison walls. It's a good thing she had an extensive wardrobe! It's not that the author doesn't know everything about her subject, but that what she knows isn't enough."

Los Angeles Times:

  • Richard Eder on Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg: "The signal quality of Greenberg's book is its genial and sometimes despairing struggle with contradiction. Not many who argue for our planet's endangered species also write the thrill of hunting them. Like the fish he once hooked, he plunges away and is reeled back. 'Four Fish' is a serious and searching study. Written with wit and beauty, it is also play."
  • Valerie Miner on What Is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman: "Reminiscent of a classic Robert Frank black-and-white photograph, this candid, everyday portrait discloses intricate webs of wistfulness and resignation.... The epistolary form of this novel is a cri de coeur from an author faithful to the printed word in a time of promiscuous texting, friending and tweeting. Students today who can't write in cursive are able to e-mail across the world. The reflective, personal storytelling in 'What Is Left the Daughter' reminds us of the potential beauty, intimacy and wisdom offered by two endangered genres — the letter and the novel."
  • Ella Taylor on The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer: "When an author quotes with equal gusto from Jorge Luis Borges, Pippi Longstocking and Milli Vanilli, one nervously anticipates yet another exercise in promiscuously relativist hipsterism. Yet 'The Thieves of Manhattan' is as soulful and morally committed as it is funny and clever.... If 'The Thieves of Manhattan' were nothing more than a boisterous skewering of the crisis-ridden publishing industry — a soft target already heavily lampooned in countless romans à clef — it would still be a gas. But Langer has grander existential plans for his hero, if that's the word for this credulously unreliable narrator."

Continue reading "Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers" »

Omni Daily News

It's ours, it's ours: To my thinking, Max Brod did a mighty favor for humanity by disregarding his friend's request and not burning Franz Kafka's unpublished work after his death. On the other hand, there is the bitter comedy being played out in Switzerland by the Hoffe family, to whom Brod bequeathed extensive papers of his and Kafka's, and the Israeli government. The Hoffes, Brod's late secretary Esther and now her daughter Eva, resisted sharing the archives for decades, but now Haaretz reports that the boxes are being opened in their Swiss bank vault, though only to assess, without publication, the content and value of the papers as part of the legal dispute:

Witnesses who had been inside the bank at Kikar Hamedina when the team of lawyers arrived said Eva Hoffe burst into the building in an attempt to prevent the safe from being opened, shouting "It's mine, it's mine!"

The whisperer: Orlando Figes, the acclaimed (not least by himself, but also by others) historian of the Soviet era in books like The Whisperers, has agreed to pay damages for the farcical episode in which he posted scathing reviews of his competitors' books (and gushing ones of his own) on and then first threatened lawsuits and then blamed his wife when accused.

A+: I'm late to the wake but Robert Christgau, the dean of American pop music critics, has shuttered his monthly "Consumer Guide" (long appearing in the Village Voice and lately at MSN) to new releases after 41 years. Mark Athitakis ("Christgau’s 80s guide is the most dog-eared and battered book in my library") and Douglas Wolk ("Christgau owns the capsule review the way Alexander Pope owns the heroic couplet") celebrate. You can find his capsules collected in Rock Albums of the '70s, Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s, and Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s.

Behind I Write Like: Like everyone else, we've been having fun with the I Write Like site, and the AP found that some of its model authors don't apparently write like themselves and got to the bottom of the Russian programmer's keyword-based algorithm. (If I mention bears does that make me John Irving?)

Moving and shaking: Dwight Garner's NYT rave--"the literary equivalent of a hot light bulb dangling from a low ceiling," which I think is praise--for Bruce Watson's Freedom Summer puts it on today's Movers & Shakers countdown.

Omni Daily News

Duran Duran reading Duran Duran: Noted reader Simon LeBon reads a passage from one of our Best of July picks--what else--Talking to Girls about Duran Duran.

Maybe this time he gets the girl: Help Nick Carraway dance the Charleston through the cruel and murky waters of Jazz Age society with The Great Gatsby video game.

Don’t know you from Addams: The LA Times gives snaps to H. Kevin Miserocchi’s illustrated history of the creepiest, kookiest--and happiest?--family on the block, The Addams Family: An Evilution.

“Active non-accomplishment”: Susanna Daniel details the 10-year process of writing her forthcoming book, Stiltsville, coming August 3.

"Earthlings will play no part in this war": EW posts an interview with the "extraterrestrial Elder from Lorien named Pittacus Lore" who is credited with the upcoming young-readers blockbuster, I Am Number Four. The best clue to Lore's open-secret identity may be found in these lines from the interview: "A story is a story, it doesn’t matter what it’s called or what it’s sold as. A story is a story, and there is no way to tell what is real and what is not."

Moving and shaking: James M. McPherson’s 1988 Civil War history Battle Cry of Freedom is the current pick for Ta-Nehisi Coates's “Effete Liberal Book Club" at The Atlantic: is that's what has pushed the book from #90,654 to #261?