Three Thoughts at a Time

What is it with threes? Is this a trend? If so, it must be an old trend by now, because these books came out several years ago. Still, when I arrived at a certain passage in When You Reach Me, it dawned on me that I’d encountered three books in which the protagonists made three discoveries. Wow. Me, I’m lucky if I can come up with one good idea every week or so.

The books in question are Twilight, Graceling, and When You Reach Me. For the sake of protecting anyone who hasn’t yet read When You Reach Me (see my previous post), I will share quotes after the jump. Note that there is also a minor spoiler for Graceling.
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When You Reach Me, 2010

I pictured the world. I pictured the world millions of years ago, with crazy clouds of gas everywhere, and volcanoes, and the continents bumping into each other and then drifting apart. Okay. Now life begins. … There are animals, then humans, looking almost all alike. There are tiny differences in color, the shape of the face, the tone of the skin. But basically they are the same. They create shelters, grow food, experiment. They talk; they write things down.

Now fast-forward. The earth is still making loops around the sun. There are humans all over the place, driving in cars and flying in airplanes. And then one day one human tells another human that he doesn’t want to walk to school with her anymore.

“Does it really matter?” I asked myself.

It did. (pp 132-133)

Miranda’s life changes dramatically when, on a walk home from school, a stranger punches her friend Sal in the stomach. Hard. From that day on, Sal wants nothing more to do with Miranda. And if that weren’t enough for a twelve-year-old New Yorker to deal with, Miranda has been receiving messages, short notes from an author who knows too much about her and who asks her to write a letter.

I won’t say more about the plot of When You Reach Me. The advice I received prior to reading the book (and to which I hold) is this: Go straight to the book. Don’t look it up on the Internet. Don’t ask friends about it. Don’t seek to know anything from anywhere but the source. The best way to know When You Reach Me is one on one, you and the book.

That said, here are some general comments, my reactions to it. When You Reach Me instantly became one of my favorite Newbery medal-winning books. It ranks up there with The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Dear Mr. Henshaw (which themselves are close behind my ever favorite, A Wrinkle in Time). I cannot pick up the book without having a strong emotional response. It’s a good book!

I admire the protagonist, Miranda, her perspective on and insights into the world. I like that she gets some things right and some things wrong. I appreciate the supporting characters, who feel real. The setting, 1970s New York City, is well drawn; it’s quite a different location from others I’ve encountered in Newberys, yet it is no less rich and memorable.

In short, please read this valuable book. It does really matter.

. . .

Stead, Rebecca. (2009) When You Reach Me, text set in 12-point Village. Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, New York. ISBN 978-0-385-73742-5

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Louis Sachar and Small Steps

I found out from a library bulletin that Louis Sachar, winner of the Newbery medal for his book Holes, will be at the Multnomah County Central Library in a few weeks. He will talk about Small Steps, the sequel to Holes. The date is Saturday, April 17; the time is 1:00 pm. The library announcement is here. You might also be interested in the world premiere of the play Small Steps, which the Oregon Children’s Theater will perform in April and May. Rejoice!

Not When But Will You Reach Me?

I began my blog, in part, to chronicle my adventures reading all the Newbery medal–winning books. You may be wondering where that lofty goal went. It is still here, in my heart! I have simply gone through several ups and downs. For one thing, my friends keep suggesting and lending very good books to me: right now, I’m reading A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. Also, lately I’ve been feeling uninspired when it comes to writing book reviews; this is why it is taking me forever to write about Graceling, which I finished a month ago. But I still have Newbery winners in my sights. Indeed, I am halfway through Caddie Woodlawn, a book I read once before in my girlhood. And I started Tales from Silver Lands but had to return it to the library.

Yes, I know that this is all just talk and that I need to deliver. But I wanted to type out a note to let you know where I’m at.

ps. Bonus points if you know what the title of this blog post alludes to.

Congratulations to Rebecca Stead

I have a new book to add to my list!

As those of you who cover the Newbery beat will know by now, the 2010 medal winner has been announced. Congratulations to Rebecca Stead, author of When You Reach Me. The American Library Association has posted the winner and honor books here.

I am crazy eager to read When You Reach Me. I found the reviews from Book Shop Girl and IndieBound were just enough to whet my appetite: I do not want to read anything more about the book until I finish the genuine item.

On a side note, Book Shop Girl is a former colleague of mine from the graduate program in Book Publishing. She is well read in young adult literature and writes with candor and enthusiasm.

Best of the Blog, 2009

Caught up in the general retrospection that comes with the end of each calendar year, I began to think about my blog and all that I have posted upon it. It occurred to me that I could do a sort of “best of” or “author’s choice” for 2009. I have mixed feelings about this, for sure, as I’m not one to place special emphasis on my work or parade it around. “Publish it and let it speak for itself: anything else is hubris”—that’s kind of my philosophy. All the same, I am often interested in learning from other artists (editors, authors, painters, musicians, and so on) what they consider their best work or their favorite work. Thus maybe my favorites will be of interest to some reader out there.

So here you go. These are the 2009 posts that I love most and of which I am most proud. My blog hasn’t even existed for a year, but it has passed the six-month mark, which is a small achievement.

My all-time favorite:
Life Lessons from Bella and Meg
I struggled for a long time to get this one right. It was hard to find the right tone, and I almost gave up trying. I’m glad that I persisted, because the lessons are worthwhile.

My favorite in the publishing category:
Life with Ligatures
For weeks if not months, this was my most popular post. Maybe people liked the examples. I certainly do—typography is a beautiful discipline.

My favorite in the science category:
Is this a stimulating conversation or just a clever simulation of one?
This post has a photograph of lunar soil simulant. What more do I need to say?

My favorite in the Newbery category:
The Dark Frigate, 1924
It is no masterpiece, but I enjoyed this one. “Curb your Arrrs and your mateys” was a fun sentence to write.

My favorite in the “about me” category:
Переводчица в России. A Translator in Russia.
This simply brings good memories.

Runners-up:

A Wrinkle in Time, 1963
I love this post mostly for the quotations from the book!

The Colophon
I like colophons. I like the word colophon. Good times.

Price Wars and the War for Independents
I’m not keen on this one because of my writing. It’s more that I feel the subject matter is important.

So in conclusion, I’d say: have you thought over your creative endeavors this year? What works are you most proud of? Consider sharing them with someone.

Life Lessons from Bella and Meg

Today, Bella Swan and Meg Murry are here to offer us some important lessons. Thanks, ladies.

1. Be yourself. Like who you are.

If you feel like a stupid lamb, or if you feel inclined to hate yourself, take some time out and remember that you are unique and worthy. You may not be flesh nor fowl nor good red herring—but, as Calvin O’Keefe will tell you, “you’re Meg, aren’t you?” And that is plenty good!

2. If life doesn’t go your way, accept it and be strong.

Your boyfriend might not want to turn you into a vampire, or your father might not solve all your problems for you. Don’t lose heart. There will be something important that only you can do, and you will do it well. The “weak things of the world confound the things which are mighty,” and the right does prevail.

3. Love others for the right reasons.

He might be unbelievably gorgeous, but remember that “people are more than just the way they look.” As Mrs. Murry might say, it is important to love people for who they are “in essence.”

4. Be careful in your choice of boyfriend.

If your boyfriend tends to chuckle at you, or he has a habit of following you around all the time, or he blames you for nearly getting assaulted, you might consider dumping him. If he does all three, dump him for sure. On the other hand, if your boyfriend likes to spend time with you, loves your family, and says that you are the nicest thing that’s happened to him in a long time, he may very well be a keeper.

5. Think for yourself.

Do you find yourself “mesmerized” by, for example, your boyfriend? Uh-oh. Whether it’s a stunningly handsome young vampire or a giant, pulsating alien brain, you have to say no and stand up for yourself. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [and women] are created equal.” Mesmerism is slavery. Think and act for yourself; don’t let anyone take away your independence.

6. When you find yourself in danger or discouragement, remember that you are loved.

And remember your capacity to love others.

Thanks again, Meg and Bella. We sure can learn a lot from you.

. . .
L’Engle, Madeleine. (1962) A Wrinkle in Time, Square Fish, an imprint of Macmillan; originally published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York.

Meyer, Stephenie. (2005) Twilight. Little, Brown and Company, New York.