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YA Wednesday: Carl Hiaasen on His First Young Adult Novel

SkinkBigCarl Hiaasen has joined the ranks of best-selling authors writing for younger readers.  He's already written a handful of books for readers age 10 and up, including his most recent, Chomp. Hiaasen's first young adult novel, Skink: No Surrender (one of our Best YA Books of September) marks the return of a popular character from his adult novels who first appeared twenty-five years ago. 

In the video below, we talked to Hiaasen about his blend of humor, environmentalism and timely subjects in Skink, as well as the books that inspired him as a young reader and led the way to his career as a journalist and author.

 

 

Books mentioned in the video above:

This Is No Bush-League Tapioca Pudding...

ThugKitchenThug Kitchen is a gust of profanity-soaked fresh air in the cookbook universe of late.  The subtitle, "Eat Like You Give a F*ck" is your warning light--if swearing bothers you, don't even open the cover.  For those who couldn't care less, welcome to the irreverent and delicious pages of this fantastic vegan cookbook.

I'm not even remotely vegan, and to be totally honest the first vegan meal I cooked (Wedding Soup with White Bean Balls and Kale) is from Thug Kitchen. The food was so tasty that I immediately flagged a fast half-a-dozen more recipes to try.  At first the vernacular is a little shocking (did they really just say that?!), but rather than becoming gimicky, I found it to be like listening to a good friend who has a cheeky and infectious sense of humor. I had fun cooking and ate well from this Best Cookbooks of October pick.

From page 189 in the Sweet Talk section of Thug Kitchen, this recipe for Peachy Almond Tapioca Pudding convinced even me (a staunch avoider of all things bubble tea or tapioca) that I might like this old-school orb-a-licious dessert.

 

 

Peachy Almond Tapioca Pudding

Thug_Kitchen_PeachyAlmTapioca

1⁄2 cup small tapioca pearls*
2 cups water
3 cups peach juice**
1 cup plain almond milk
Pinch of salt
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon agave syrup
(optional)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Blueberries, for serving

Tapioca pudding might sound like an old lady dessert but trust them; they aren’t wasting their golden years on some bush-league bullshit. This pudding is creamy and perfectly sweet. Now go call Gladys and tell her that shit Ethel said earlier.
makes enough for 4 normal people

  1. Put the tapioca pearls in a bowl with the water and let them soak overnight. You can do this in the morning too; they just need to sit for at least 6 hours. Don’t let them go more than 16 hours, though. Shit gets weird after that.
  2. When you are ready to cook, drain the tapioca pearls. Put them in a medium saucepan with the juice, almond milk, salt, and vanilla. If your juice isn’t super sweet, then go ahead and add the agave. Just fucking taste it and you will figure it out. Warm the pot over low heat and stir constantly. You don’t want it bubbling or anything, so pay attention and don’t fucking stop stirring. At around 8 to 10 minutes it should start thickening up and the pearls should start looking clear. Keep stirring until it is about the same consistency as a thick soup or gravy, about a minute more. Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Pour the pudding into a medium bowl and put in the fridge to cool.
  3. Let it sit for 3 to 4 hours, otherwise you’ll be eating hot pudding and that shit is gross. If it thickens up too much in the fridge, just stir it up real good and add an extra tablespoon of peach juice. Top the tapioca with blueberries and serve.

* These little white balls are usually sold in bags in the baking aisle of the store or

just look on the Internet. They are the starch that helps this thicken up so don’t even

fucking think about leaving them out.

** You can use whatever the fuck kind of juice you want, just not something real acidic

like orange. Peach-apple juice is a good one, too.

Go Forward, Move Ahead: Mark Mothersbaugh's Guide to Modern Living

Myopia by Mark MothersbaughIf you're familiar with Mark Mothersbaugh, it's probably through his day job. In the early 70s, Mothersbaugh--along with fellow Kent State art students Gerald Casale and Bob Lewis--founded DEVO, and began their four-plus-decade broadcast of uncategorizable, avant-garde sound and vision, of hazmat-besuited robot Jaggers singing songs of dark futures and opt-in de-evolution. "Freedom of choice/Is what you got/Freedom from choice/Is what you want."

As it turns out, DEVO was only one facet of a complex project. Before music, Mothersbaugh occupied his time and indulged his obsessions as a visual artist, creating a huge collection of paintings, photographs, and prints--including over 30,000 postcards--that represent an often surreal, sometimes disturbing, and always fascinating take on modern existence. 

Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art has amassed many of these pieces--curated by Adam Lerner--for Mothersbaugh's first comprehensive exhibition. If you can't make it to Colorado or any of the five other cities currently scheduled to host the collection, Princeton Architectural Press has published Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia as a companion volume, with a set of postcards (Collected Facts and Lies) coming December 2. With the show's opening set for October 30, we asked Mothersbaugh a few questions about his influences as a visual artist, his work, and its relationship to DEVO's music. The publisher has also offered several images from the book, presented below.

 


Most people know you for your music than for your visual art, but which came first, and when? Is one the natural extension of the other? Has your art influenced your music or vice versa? Is it all part of the same project?

I first dreamt I would be an artist when I was seven years old. I took keyboard lessons when I was seven, but didn't want to write and perform music until I was twelve. Early on I was impressed with sound and vision artists and mixed media artists. Then in college cross-platform artists like Andy Warhol, Dadaists and the Futurists inspired me. All the different artists who believed that the idea came first, and then the technique followed. With DEVO, Jerry Casale, Bob #1 and Bob #2 and I thought we were sound and vision artists. We designed costumes, stage shows and choreography, films, all related artwork besides the music. We created interstitial music for our films and live shows.

Three artists or works—in any medium-- that influence your current work the most. Or a lot.

I could list a lot of people, but Chester Gould, Beto Gomez and Alan Vega are the first three I thought of. I also am especially interested in artists who channel other dimensions, gods, spirits, ghosts, energy, or whatever is out there to interact with. Maybe I'm mostly inspired by the "other 90%" of our brains... not just the 10% that has to babysit the rest of our meat computer, but the part we know very little about.

You’ve created over 30,000 postcards, which implies a kind of compulsion or commitment. What urges you to create art? What’s your routine?

The content and goal of my drawing has changed and goes in and out of specific thoughts, stream of consciousness and anger venting, positing questions and just illuminating a thought or feeling. The content has changed since I acquired two children and started showing the newer drawings to others. Thirty years ago, I was the only viewer, and I made them exclusively for me, occasionally picking select images for use with DEVO or to just print them larger for art shows. I draw every day between sun up and sun up. It is kind of compulsive at this point, there is a relief in just finishing at least one drawing, poem, whatever in every 24 hour cycle. I am an insomniac, and drawing gives me something to do during those hours.

Myopia by Mark MothersbaughYou’ve never exhibited your visual work before the Denver exhibit, at least in a large scale. Did you ever intend to? How does this feel?

I have had smaller shows in museums and colleges before, but the bulk of my public viewing over the last 15 years has been in smaller indie galleries. In that arena, I have done upwards of 125 gallery shows around the world in a 13 year period. The Denver show is by far and away the largest museum-size show I have ever put together. Jeffrey Deitch got me interested in bigger, more center-stage art exhibits, but Adam Lerner is my intellectual saint. Not one to shy away from controversy, he both suggested and has co-created this project. I feel pretty darn good about the whole thing.

Has the acceleration of technology and its pervasiveness—especially communications technology—influenced your work and themes? Is it insidious or liberating?

This is the best time in the history of man to be an artist of any stripe. Technology has made so many disciplines transparent and available to young artists these days. It has democratized previously out-priced art mediums including music and video, to name just a few. I think technology gives us so many more options and is very inclusive. I only wish I had the energy of an eighteen year old.

There are so many conflicts inherent in your work: man/ machine, thinker/consumer, high-brow/low-brow (maybe what Adam Lerner has called the “DEVO aesthetic”). Do you start with these ideas, or do they naturally emerge as a project develops? Are you delivering messages or observations?

I think in some ways I'm doing the same thing I did when Jerry and Bob and I started DEVO. Delivering observations regarding the condition of man in the world these days.

 

Images from Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia:

 
Untitled postcard
 
 
DEVO changed their look for each of their major albums. The plastic wigs they wear in this photograph were part of the image they created for their 1981 album New Traditionalists.
 
 
Mark Mothersbaugh, Untitled, February 7, 1984
 
 
Mark Mothersbaugh, Untitled (Bury Me…), February 21, 2013
 
 
Roli polis
 
 
Mark Mothersbaugh, Wipe!, 2004-7
 
 
Anita’s First Boyfriend, 2004
 
 
This Enigma Records promotional image features the best of DEVO’s many outrageous costumes and showcases the elements of their performance influenced by the 1913 “futurist opera” Victory Over the Sun.
 
 
Mechanical Aviary, 2014
 

The Only Way Out of the Apocalypse Is Through

Station ElevenPublished earlier this year, Claire Cameron's novel, The Bear, opens on a very dark night: On a family camping trip, a savage attack from a 300-pound black bear orphans five-year-old Anna and her younger brother, sending them on a terrifying flight for survival through the Canadian wilderness, ending their world as they know it. It's a thoughtful take on change and fear, and the strength we find within ourselves to propel us through.

Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven--recently announced as a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award in fiction--deals with the end of the world on a much larger scale: A doomsday virus that wipes out 99% of humanity. We thought it would be interesting if the two authors spoke about the new book and the inspiration behind it.


Claire Cameron Interviews Emily St. John Mandel, Author of Station Eleven

Station Eleven, the latest novel by Emily St. John Mandel, has been called, "an ambitious and addictive novel" by The Guardian and "equal parts page-turner and poem" by Entertainment Weekly. Author Ann Patchett said, "I wouldn’t have put it down for anything." 

The novel jumps back and forth between a post-apocalyptic world and the start of a flu epidemic that had wiped out 99% of the world's population twenty years earlier. This sounds like a dark story, and it is. But, as with the best tragedies, St. John Mandel manages to show beauty and hope in the gloom. It is also expertly crafted. She weaves time and develops characters in a non-linear and convincing way. It's a riveting read.

As a writer, the moment I finished the novel I wanted to know more about how it was written. I interviewed St. John Mandel by email. --Claire Cameron

Claire Cameron: What was the first spark of inspiration for Station Eleven?

Emily St. John Mandel: I wanted to write something quite different from my previous three novels, all of which were generally categorized as literary noir. I'm happy with the way they turned out, but I didn't want to be pigeon-holed as a crime writer. To be clear, I have a great deal of respect for crime writers and crime fiction. It's just that I don't want to be pigeon-holed as anything, and I love film and theatre, so I thought it would be interesting to write about the life of an actor.

At the same time, I wanted to write a love letter to this extraordinary world in which we find ourselves, this place where rooms fill with electric light at the flick of a switch, water comes out of faucets, and it's possible to cross the Atlantic in an afternoon. One way to write about the modern world is to contemplate its absence, which is why I decided to set parts of the new novel in a post-apocalyptic era. I think of the book as a love letter in the form of a requiem.

CC: How did you imagine the disaster specifically, the flu epidemic, in your novel?

ESJM: I imagined an extremely aggressive strain of swine flu—with some variant in the viral RNA resulting in a freakishly quick incubation period—making the jump from pigs to humans on a farm in the Republic of Georgia. In early drafts, the initial outbreak was quite specific and detailed: a teenaged girl who lives on the farm kisses her boyfriend, who's traveling to Moscow that afternoon. The following day, passengers on a plane from Moscow to Toronto begin to feel ill a few hours into the flight. This is also true of passengers in other airplanes bound for other continents, and in trains and buses bound for other countries. I imagined a mortality rate of 99%.

The Bear

The Bear

by Claire Cameron

CC: I was struck by a character who watched an airplane take off, “Why, in his life of frequent travel, had he never recognized the beauty of flight?” Do we live in an era of beauty?

ESJM: We do, although it's also of course an era of ugliness and horror. We live in a world filled with spectacular things that we too often take for granted, and flight is an easy example of that. I don't always enjoy flying. It's often a horribly uncomfortable experience. But the fact that it's possible is incredible, isn't it? I've been fielding accusations of being easily impressed since childhood, but in my defense, a lot of things are impressive.

CC: Your novel shows that even in the face of disaster humans can be good to each other, which is a different world than is depicted in many post-apocalyptic stories. Are you hopeful about human kind?

ESJM: Generally, yes. My suspicion is that the overwhelming majority of people on the world really just want to go about their business, raise their families, and live peacefully. But with regard to this book, the key here is the timing. Post-apocalyptic stories are often set in a period of chaos and mayhem immediately following a societal collapse. I assume that such a period would occur, but I was more interested in writing about what might come after that, fifteen or twenty years after the collapse. I assume that the entire world wouldn't be consumed by mayhem forever, because mayhem isn't a sustainable way of life over the long term.

CC: Though you now live in New York, you grew up in Canada. Did this influence your novel?

ESJM: Yes. Delano Island in the book is an ever-so-thinly fictionalized version of the island where I grew up on the west coast of British Columbia, and the book is partly set in Toronto, where I went to school.

CC: Station Eleven is a literary novel, but it also uses some of conventions of genre – suspense, science fiction and elements of horror. How does genre influence your writing? Do you think about genre or conventions when you write?

ESJM: I've always just set out to write literary fiction, with the strongest possible narrative drive. My ideal of the perfect book is Donna Tartt's The Secret History; it's beautifully written, but it's also a page-turner.

I try not to think about genre while I'm writing, because the whole question of genre seems completely arbitrary and amorphous to me. If a literary novel is set partly in the future, does that somehow make it less "literary" than a novel set in present-day suburbia? If a literary novel has a crime in it, is it automatically crime fiction? Ultimately, these labels have more to do with marketing than with the content of the work itself. Case in point: my first three novels were generally marketed as literary fiction in North America, but I'm a thriller writer in France. Same books, different marketing strategies.

CC: The traveling symphony has a line from Star Trek on the side of their caravan: "Because survival is insufficient." How important is art to our lives? Does it change how or why we live?

ESJM: I think it's very important, and it does change the way we live. Survival is never enough for us, and we find examples of this in the most desperate places on earth: people play musical instruments in refugee camps and put on plays in war zones.

 

See more books by Claire Cameron and read more--including the proper way to split firewood--at www.claire-cameron.com.

Zeppelin Porn — "Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page"

020914-0811 copyright Ross HalfinAbout ten years ago, my wife stumbled across the Led Zeppelin film, The Song Remains the Same, which awakened the 14-year-old fanboy inside her. My own 14-year-old musical tastes were mellower (Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Allman Brothers, and the like). I now listen widely, voraciously, all genres and styles.

But my wife? She was, and remains, an old-school one-band woman. Most of the CDs in her car are Zeppelin, and whenever all-female cover band Zepparella comes to town, we're there. Over the years, I’ve nurtured this fixation, and her crush on Jimmy Page. I bought her the Jimmy Page action figure that poses above our stereo, and have gifted her just about every Zeppelin book and bio.

But none of that compares to the 500-page “photographic autobiography,” Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page, an advance copy of which has taken up the prime spot in the middle of our coffee table. Weighing more than our dog, the book covers the entire "journey of my musical career," as Page writes in the introduction--hundreds of photos, from his teen choir boy years to his appearance in It Might Get Loud. In short, it’s hard-core Zeppelin porn.

Our thanks to Page and his publisher, Genesis Publications, for the exclusive photo above (Page holding his own book), and for sharing these samples below. And, honey? You're welcome.

P14 © Dennis Coffin - 014-015 scan ok

P317 Jimmy 1977 by Janet Macoska

P331 JP000017 copyright Hipgnosis

P484 SP_DSC7274 copyright Scarlet Page

Continue reading "Zeppelin Porn — "Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page"" »

Hauntingly Good Halloween Books for Kids

I love Halloween for many reasons (the candy, the costumes, the candy...) but particularly for how much fun it is for little ones.  Besides putting up spider webs and skeletons, or carving this year's pumpkins, Halloween is a great time for reading spooky, silly, and fun-filled children's books. 

Here are a few of my old and new favorites:

ShiveryShadesHalloween

Little Boo by Stephen Wunderli:
A little pumpkin seed tries to be scary but is laughed at instead.  Even when he grows into a seedling he’s still not scary.  The wind reassures him that his time will come he just needs to be patient and grow.  At last, the little seed has become a pumpkin and then a frightening—and very happy--jack-o-lantern.  Ages 3-7

Bunnicula in a Box
by James Howe:
A perennial favorite any time of year, the story of the Monroe family's latest pet, a rabbit named Bunnicula who may or may not be a vampire, has been entertaining kids through the course of seven books, all of which are collected for the first time in a paperback boxed set.  Ages 8-12

Frankenstein: A BabyLit® Anatomy Primer by Jennifer Adams:
The latest board book in the popular BabyLit series uses good old Frankenstein to introduce simple anatomy like hands, feet, mouth, eyes, and of course a body.  Adorable illustrations and the usual fun play on a classic story we’ve come to expect from this series make this a perfect Halloween read.  Ages 2-6

A Very Witchy Spelling Bee by George Shannon:
A spelling bee (that's spell in the sense of letters forming words vs. the casting of) pits young witch Cordelia against the 203-year-old longtime champion Beulah Devine. Wands and words fly around the stage of the Witches Double Spelling Bee as contestants change words by adding or subtracting a letter and the results are crazy, fun, and stealthily educational. Ages 4-8

Ladybug Girl and the Dress-Up Dilmena by Jacky Davis:
It’s Halloween and Ladybug Girl’s brother doesn’t think she should wear the same costume.  So now what should she be?  A bat? A vampire panda? Nothing seems quite right until a visit to the corn maze makes it clear exactly what she is meant to be.  Ages 3-5

The Monsterator by Keith Graves:
Young Edgar Dreadbury thought Halloween costumes were boring until he discovered  a spooky little shop that contained only one thing—a Monsterator machine.  From that day on, Edgar was never the same but loved his new monster look after all.  A surprise in the last few pages gives kids the chance to monsterate Edgar themselves with the split flaps. Ages 7-10

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson:
Perfect for reading aloud, Room on the Broom is likely to end up looking well-worn and well-loved by the time October 31st rolls around.  A witch and her cat encounter a few mishaps leading to helpful new friends hitching a ride on their broom.  When it looks as if the broom has had it, the smiling witch finds a way to repay their passengers' kindness and keep everyone together.  Ages 3 and up

Shivery Shades of Halloween by Mary McKenna Siddals:
If you thought Halloween was just orange and black, you are in for a surprise.   Green can be an eerie glow and then there’s purple potion and cobweb white. Toddlers and preschoolers will have fun learning their colors in this fun rhyming story that takes them from a moonlit forest, to a fun Halloween party. Ages 2-5

Cook This: Chicken Parm in 30 Minutes, from Mark Bittman

BittmanI've never been good at being told what to do. In the kitchen, that resistance is to blame for the testy relationship I have with cookbooks. I love them, but I'm not a paint-by-numbers cook, preferring to snag bits and pieces of four different recipes.

That's why I've always appreciated Mark Bittman's cookbooks and his New York Times columns. His recipes aren't prescriptive, they're fluid, adaptable. Don't have turmeric? Try paprika. Don't have broccoli? Try brussell sprouts or fennel.

In his new book, How to Cook Everything Fast, Bittman offers strategies and shortcuts designed to help people make healthy meals quickly. Many of the recipes have variations, like the one below.

Don't have chicken? Try eggplant.

[*Look for our interview with Bittman later this week.]

~

Fastest Chicken Parm*

Time: 30 Minutes

Makes: 4 servings

(*Note: The "naturally fast" techniques in the book call for doing some of the prep work while some of the ingredients are cooking. In the recipe below, the "prep" steps are italics.) 

This take on the classic couldn’t be easier: Instead of dredging and panfrying, just stack the ingredients in two stages on a baking sheet and broil. Done this way, the tomatoes get lightly roasted and the bread crumbs stay nice and crunchy. (For eggplant like this, see the Variations.)

Ingredients

4 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium ripe tomatoes

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds)

Salt and pepper

8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese

2 ounces Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup grated)

1 bunch fresh basil

1 cup bread crumbs

 

1. Turn the broiler to high; put the rack 6 inches from the heat. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet and spread it around; put the baking sheet in the broiler. Core and slice the tomatoes. Cut the chicken breasts in half horizontally to make 2 thin cutlets for each breast. Press down on each with the heel of your hand to flatten.

2. Carefully remove the baking sheet from the broiler. Put the chicken cutlets on the sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with the tomatoes, and broil on one side only until the chicken is no longer pink in the center, rotating the pan if necessary for even cooking, 5 to 10 minutes. Grate the mozzarella and Parmesan. Strip 16 to 20 basil leaves from the stems. Combine the bread crumbs, mozzarella, and Parmesan in a small bowl.

3. When the chicken is cooked through, remove the baking sheet from the broiler. Lay the basil leaves on top of the tomatoes, sprinkle with the bread crumb and cheese mixture, and drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil.

4. Return to the broiler, and cook until the bread crumbs and cheese are browned and bubbly, 2 to 4 minutes. Serve immediately.

 

Variations

Cubano Chicken

Use sliced dill pickles instead of the tomatoes and Swiss cheese instead of the mozzarella. Omit the basil. Before putting the pickles on top of the chicken in Step 2, spread a little Dijon mustard on the cutlets. Instead of the Parmesan, mix 1/2 cup chopped ham into the bread crumb and Swiss topping.

Chicken Melt

Use Gruyère cheese instead of the mozzarella and 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves instead of the basil. Omit the Parmesan. Before putting the tomatoes on top of the chicken in Step 2, spread a little Dijon mustard over the cutlets.

Fastest Eggplant Parm

Instead of the chicken, slice about 2 pounds large eggplant crosswise 1 inch thick. After the pan heats in Step 2, spread out the eggplant slices—but not the tomatoes—and turn to coat them in some oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil until softened and browned in places, about 3 to 5 minutes. Flip the eggplant, then top with the tomatoes and proceed with the recipe from the end of Step 2.

YA Wednesday: Meg Wolitzer on "Belzhar"

BelzharBack in June I read a book called Belzhar that I'd been hearing about.  Author Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings was one of our Best Books of 2013 and prior to that I'd loved her novel for middle graders, The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman, so I was eager to read her first book for young adults.  It's amazing. And it just released so not only did it *finally* get to claim it's rightful spot at the top of our Best YA of October list, but now when I rave about it I don't have to follow-up with, "...but it won't be out until September 30th..."

Belzhar speaks to the experiences of love, loss, and reading something life-changing. And sharing those experiences with people you may never have picked out of a crowd but when life throws you together, deep friendships are forged.  I laughed, I cried, and in the video below I talked about Belzhar with Meg Wolitzer at Book Expo in New York. I enjoyed talking with her as much as I do reading her books.  Now I anxiously await the next...

Who Needs Pictures? B.J. Novak Tells the Story

BkWithNoPicturesFrom his work on The Office we already know B.J. Novak is funny, and we had a great time reading his book, One More Thing earlier this year.  It was when he came to our office for that book that I met Novak and he told me about the children's book he had coming out at the end of September.  A picture book format but with no pictures. Huh. 

When The Book With No Pictures came in I took it home right away, read it to my seven-year-old and we both cracked up.  This is one of those rare children's books that, as a parent, I'm willing to read over-and-ove--and believe me, I've been asked to do exactly that.  Loads of fun for kids and adults, Novak proves that even in children's books, words can do all the heavy lifting.

In his guest essay below, B.J. Novak talks about the origin and creation of The Book with No Pictures (one of our Best Children's Books of October and our top pick for ages 6-8).


When I was a very little kid, I was lucky enough to experience the joy and connection of having my parents read books to me. I found myself drawn above all else to humor, and especially the sense of controlled rebellion that humor always represented in books by my most beloved authors—Dr. Seuss,  Shel Silverstein, and Roald Dahl, to name a few favorites. The world they presented had clear rules and expectations; and when those rules and expectations were bent and broken, the results were exciting, interesting, funny.

Last year, as I waited for my first book, One More Thing, to be published, I would often spend time with my friends and cousins who were starting to have kids. My role in connecting to these kids was always to ask which books he or she would like me to read.

My best friend has a very young and rambunctious son named Bruce. One day when I was visiting, Bruce picked up a book and held it out to me with an insistent expression that I read him whatever was inside, and something occurred to me. This is funny, I thought. Even though I’m the one who can read, and I’m the adult—he’s in control of me, because he’s choosing the book, and the book is in charge. This was basically a little two-year-old producer handing me a script. And it occurred to me that any kid who hands you a book is essentially the producer of that evening’s entertainment, a tiny Harvey Weinstein telling you, “Here’s what you’ll be performing tonight. These are your lines, stick to the script; and I may ask you to do it a second time.” The kid was in charge because the book had the power, and the kid had the book. That was funny to me. And I thought, you know who would really find this funny? The kid.

The idea started as simply as that: If a book is a script that a grownup is being asked to recite, what script would be the funniest one for a kid to hear? As I thought more about this idea, and looked back at my favorite books from childhood from the point of view of someone who had written comedy for adults but not yet for kids, I realized a second necessary function in comedic children’s books that is not present in comedy for adults. Comedy for adults takes the rules of the world for granted - and then twists them. The world has already provided the set-up; all that the humor really needs to provide is a punchline. But comedy for the youngest children needs to accomplish a second purpose, too: It needs to somehow introduce kids to both the setup and the punchline. In an Amelia Bedelia book, a child may need to be introduced to the idea that words can have double meanings; in Dr. Seuss books, there is an established sense of order that it would be particularly funny to disrupt.

This inspired me to play with the ways that a book might introduce the rules of the written word itself, leading to a comic payoff of these rules a few pages later. The fun would come from the child and book “teaming up” to make the adult say words that were purely for the enjoyment of the child. And the lesson would be that written words aren’t simply captions to pictures: They are powerful on their own—and they can always be a child’s ally. To try to make this lesson even more clear, I came up with a title that I knew would inspire a child’s curiosity with its sheer audacity: The Book With No Pictures.

I wrote and printed up a copy and took it around to the houses of other friends with young children and asked if I could watch them read it to their kids—rather than read it myself —because I wanted to be sure I had a book that worked as a reading experience for every type of parent. With each reading I made small changes to phrasings and pacings based on the grownup’s reading and the child’s reactions, until I could tell it inspired the same amount of laughter for everyone, but for different people in different ways. As the book got closer to publication, I focused on the design, keeping an eye out for two purposes: that the page looked beautiful and colorful to a child’s eye; and that the size, spacing, and rhythmic layout of the words were so clear and simple that even the most performance-shy adult could read it easily and intuitively.

That’s the story of The Book With No Pictures. I hope people enjoy it! There’s no sound in the world like a child’s laughter, and while there are so many things I can’t do—for instance, draw—it would be quite an honor to know I’ve contributed a little more of that sound to the world.--B.J. Novak

Weekend Reading: Spies, Diggers, Some Murderers, and a Prig

As Chris mentioned last week, spring has been beautiful in Seattle, but the weather is starting to get dark out here. Apparently, so are we. Here's what each of us will be taking a look at over the weekend. 

Happy Friday!

 

Lives in Ruins Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson

Sara Nelson: No, not an analysis of my carton-filled, not-unpacked-but-newly-renovated apartment – author Marilyn Johnson is talking REAL ruins, like the kinds archaeologists study. Johnson wrote the absolutely delightful The Dead Beat, about obituary writers, and then she showed the world how interesting and forward thinking (it’s true!) librarians can be, in This Book is Overdue! Johnson, a longtime magazine writer and editor, has a buoyant voice and slightly loopy sensibility, and I can just see her schmoozing up some archeological prospectors and getting to the bottom of what drives them to dig. (November 14)

 
Astoria

Astoria by Peter Stark

Jon Foro: I'm taking the opportunity to catch up with something that came out ALL THE WAY BACK IN MARCH. I'm not sure why I passed over this then, but Peter Stark's account of the mad rush to open the international fur trade--just a few years after Lewis & Clark--is spellbinding for the audacity of John Jacob Astor's ambition and his mission's predictable disasters. It even has a villainous prig named Captain Thorn. Count me in.

Also reading:

 
Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Seira Wilson: This weekend I’m going to do something that’s as rare as hens teeth--I’m reading a book that came out years ago. I’m in the “I loved it” camp for Gone Girl and have heard that Sharp Objects is also fantastic. So I’m taking Sharp Objects, out in paperback in 2007, to a Florida beach for some welcome vacation. A reporter of questionable mental stability who returns to her hometown and estranged family to cover two murders. Psychological twists ensue. I can’t wait.

Other books I’m taking with me to finish or start::

 
A Map of Betrayal

A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin

Erin Kodicek: A Map of Betrayal by National Book Award-winning Ha Jin is an unconventional spy novel (our international man of mystery’s name is…Gary). In it, a daughter discovers her deceased father’s double life and does a bit of investigating of her own. What comes to light is heartbreaking, and dangerous. (Available November 4)

 

 
My Heart Is a Drunken Compass

My Heart Is a Drunken Compass by Domingo Martinez

Neal Thompson: What I like about Domingo Martinez’s voice is how it cuts right through that line between telling a story that's both awful and awfully funny. His previous book, The Boy Kings of Texas, was a National Book Award finalist in 2012. His new one continues the story of Martinez’s messy Texas family and his own messy attempts to distance himself and create a new life for himself in Seattle. Of course, trouble is always just a late-night phone call away. (Available November 18)

Also reading:

 
The Forgers

The Forgers by Bradford Morrow

Chris Schluep: I’ve got a long flight this weekend, so I’m looking forward to getting lost in a dark murder mystery set against the backdrop of rare books. (Available November 4)

Also reading:

Still reading:

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

October 2014

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