Saturday, September 20, 2008

first, some cute art, then a shameful secret, followed by some book reviews

Jim is always finding awesome art website links. These come from a French artist Veronique Joffre. Aside from being an awesome artist, she's part of this amazing thing called the Totoro Forest Project, which Japanese animation great Hayao Miyazaki started to raise funds for a forest conservation project in Japan. (He's trying to save Tokyo's urban Sayama Forest, the inspiration for his film My Neighbor Totoro, from encroaching development.) Go and look at all the completely amazing art that artists donated to auction. (But then come back.) (Actually, if you want to buy the Totoro project book, it's going on sale tomorrow and will probably sell out really fast.)

Here are a couple of pieces by Veronique Joffre that have nothing to do with Totoro (the lion/tiger one above I have as my new "wallpaper" on my laptop. It makes me smile.):

So, that was the art portion of this post. Now for the shameful secret. It's this: Jim and I have only just recently “discovered” the library! I know. But let me clarify: we have always used the library, but really just for research, including image research for illustrations and Laini’s Ladies. But when we wanted a novel, we -- ulp -- bought it. But now that we’ve discovered the Multnomah County Library website has this easy, magical “hold” button that gets the books we want sent right to our little local branch, wellll. . . I guess we’ll be saving some money.

The thing is, I believe in buying books too. Even hardcovers. The system of authors getting paid to write books only works if people buy books. And when I love a book, I need to own it. It happens that when we read something we love from the library, we are likely to order it.

So, there's my secret. Not so bad, really.

Yesterday I put some books on hold: two by a writer I had never heard of until I saw her mentioned in the comments on Haven Kimmel’s blog: Jincy Willet. On her website she describes herself as “an aging, bitter, unpleasant woman living in Escondido, California, who spends her days parsing the sentences of total strangers and her nights teaching and writing. Sometimes, late at night, in the dark, she laughs inappropriately.” (There is also a blurb on her homepage by a certain “Professor Twitmore F. Twatface"). The two books are The Writing Class -- a dark comedy-murder mystery set in an adult extension writing program -- and the cleverly titled Winner of the National Book Award: A Novel of Fame, Honor, and Really Bad Weather- seemingly about a love triangle involving twin sisters. I'll report back after I've read them. The third hold is a Haven Kimmel book: The Solace of Leaving Early.

It would seem that after my recent sci-fi binge, I am on a “mainstream” binge, which isn’t my usual fare. You know how I like my beasties and magic. But it just happened this way, with this recent string of books:

An Abundance of Katherines -- by John Green. My first John Green, and won't be my last. It's a Printz honor book about a "washed-up child prodigy" named Colin who has been dumped 19 times by girls named Katherine. That was all I knew about the book, so I didn't expect the narrative direction it took: Colin undertakes a road trip with his best friend, Hassan, who's overweight, very funny, and highly conscious of being an Arab and a Muslim when they wind up in rural Gutshot, Tennessee. They get there by following signs from the freeway announcing the highly unexpected presence of the tomb of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and stay due to the equally unexpected offer of an interesting summer job. Also unexpected and interesting: the not-named-Katherine Lindsey Lee Wells, who has brown eyes "the size of some lesser planets". (When they first meet her, she is reading Celebrity Living magazine in the Kingdom of Gutshot beer & bait store, and Colin treats us to a Venn diagram showing how "interesting people" and "Celebrity Living people" do not overlap. But he's wrong.)

There are a lot of annagrams and theorems and footnotes, an ill-fated hog hunt, some kissing, creative swearing, cheating, heartbreak, and a lot of humor. Highly recommended. Not just for teens, but for smart grownups too, if they have any interest in teenagers. (Is that maybe the difference between adult readers of YA and adult non-readers of YA? Interest in the lives of young people?)

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr -- a slender, simple, elegant book, and deeply affecting. It's the story of Deanna Lambert, whose father caught her in the backseat of a car with her older brother's friend when she was only 13. From then on, her dad couldn't even look at her, and she's been branded school slut and her life is just. . . well, as a reader, you just want to jump in and rescue her. You want to holler at her stupid dad, Don't you realize your little girl was raped??? It feels so real. Deanna is one of the countless young people in America who are trapped in small town lives with so little vision of the possibility of escape; her dream is to save enough money from her summer job that she can help her brother and his girlfriend move to an apartment with their baby, so she can go with them and get out of her miserable house. It's a small, swift story, bleak, with glimmers of hope, and was a finalist for the National Book Award last year.

By the way, Sara Zarr is attending the Kidlit Blogger's Conference next weekend and will be presenting a workshop on "the personal and the professional in author blogs." Looking forward to it!

Something Rising (Light & Swift) -- Haven Kimmel's third book, but the first to me. I've been reading and loving her blog, and this was the book the library had on hand. I loved it. It's the story of young pool hustler Cassie Claiborne, born and raised in rural Indiana to a remote, regretful mother and a terrible, charming scoundrel of a father who lives between his family and another woman who "had a prior claim." So much of Cassie's life -- and we meet her young and follow her up to the age of 30 -- is shaped by striving for her father's affection. As he's a pool hustler, so too does she become one, and she has the genius for it, genius enough to surpass him. By they way, I didn't know this, but a pool "shark" is someone who pretends to be a bad player to get an opponent in deep and then scour them; a pool "hustler" is just a good pool player who plays for money. Anyway, Kimmel is such a sharp and funny writer. Her dialogue is brilliant, and her descriptions, like this one:

". . . Cassie thought of them as the Pig Dogs. They weren't much bigger than young pigs, either. All day long they killed. They killed chickens, ducks, cats, who knew. Once they had run up to Cassie as she walked down the road, and the head of the brown one was completely covered in blood, all the way back to his shoulder blades, still red and wet. No one could touch them. Now they ran toward Cassie with great joy, nearly bouncing, except for the black and white, who was carrying a dead groundhog in his mouth, an animal more than half his size. They were going to leave it in her yard, she could just feel it. Her opinion was they'd started killing more than they could eat, so they were spreading the carcasses around for fun. The King's Crossing was their game board, and they'd left something on every corner. They had smart eyes, the Pig Dogs. It was one of their worst features. . ."

Cassie's a fascinating character: a natural caretaker, resourceful and deeply empathetic, but with a temper that can tip her into a murderous rage in an instant. I loved the character of Puck, one of her best friends, and I loved the turn the book took about 3/4 through, when Cassie goes to New Orleans, the city of her mother's birth. This was the quote I read in some review that really made me want to read the book: Cassie has just told an elderly woman in the South what she does for a living (playing pool for money), and the woman, Miss Sophie, responds, "My interest in this is so sudden it feels lewd." I love that line. Love it. And lines like that happen all the time when Haven Kimmel is around, not just in her books, but on her blog.

By the way, I think mature teen readers would really like this book. Through much of the story, Cassie is a child or teen.

So that's that. And one last thing, not advertised in my post title. A last last last reminder about the Kidlit Conference (absolute deadline to sign up is Tuesday), and reminder that even if you can't attend, you can lend support by purchasing shwag, proceeds of which go to the conference. Here are just a few of the choices:


Lisa Schroeder said...

We are huge fans of My Neighbor Totoro. That is so sad about the forest, but great he and others are trying to save it.

Michele Thornton said...

I too rediscovered the library last year when I began writing for young adults. And what a great system it is...I use the Clackamas County library system to order books, and can usually find what I want.

It's like shopping online, without the hit to my credit cards! (And yes, I'm an incurable book buyer, so my library habits have not reduced my contributions to the coffers of wonderful writers a whit. Much to my husband's chagrin.)

Vivian Mahoney said...

I love the library! I do the same thing--I borrow the books from the library and end up buying the books I enjoyed reading. Like yours!

BTW, I love your new header. One of these days, I need to figure out how to change mine.

Anonymous said...

Great secret to reveeal. I rediscovered libraries last year when I needed to listen to a mass quantity of audio books. Wrote about it here:
Great last minute plug for the conference schwag.

Stephanie Perkins said...

Yes, yes! Totoro, Jincy, John Green, Sara Zarr!!

Jarrod and I were lucky to attend a Haven Kimmel reading last year. She has SUCH a quick, killer wit. I haven't read her fiction yet, but I loooove Zippy & the sequel.

YAY for libraries! That's what I do -- when I read one I like, I buy it to support the author (I still buy several every month). It's the only way I can afford my reading habit, and it keeps my home library awesome.

Carrie Harris said...

Funny, I just discovered the library too. Ours has a spiffy new teen room! Still, there's nothing like buying a new book. Or seven. More likely seven. :)

S R Wood said...

Great day in the morning, how are we supposed to comment on all these individual topics? What are we supposed to be, writers or something?

I heartily second your and everyone's thoughts on libraries. I don't know how many times I had to bike home slowly on a summer day, teetering a stack of books on my handlebars. It seemed so obvious then, but now as a "grown up" I've rediscovered this amazing place. You can get any book you want ... for free! Incredible.

Also a belated comment on the remote writing cabin. Mine's by the sea; it's raining at night and I can smell seaweed. There are honey-brown floors and bronze hooks polished through use....

Anonymous said...

I think the library is absolutely my favorite place to be. So many books.

Are you are nerdfighter? I am! Everyone should be a nerdfighter, and join John and Hank Green.

Diandra Mae said...

I wish I had it in my budget to buy that book! The art is so gorgeous.

I, too have recently "discovered" the library. I'm a compulsive book buyer. I feel like I have to own the book I read (especially series). I decided when we moved that my habit would have to change, because the amount of book boxes I had was RIDICULOUS.

Now, I check out all kinds of books, and then I'll go to a 1/2 price bookstore and buy it if I really love it. Certainly forces me to reevaluate how much I really love a book. :) Plus, budget-minding hubby is really excited buy this new turn. haha!

lkmadigan said...

Wait till you read John Green's PAPER TOWNS. It's my favorite of his.


Heather said...

I confess that I never borrow books from the library because I want to keep them. And usually I end up buying the book anyway.

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