Thursday, June 30, 2011

ALA 2011: Jeff Kinney

This past Saturday morning at the ALA Conference, I went to an "auditorium speaker series" featuring Jeff Kinney, the best-selling author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. I didn't get a super good picture, but here he is:

They also had the stage decorated with some of Kinney's drawings, which was a nice touch:

Kinney was very funny and endearing. He spoke about helping with his son's cub scout troop and initially wondering if any of the other boys would recognize him as the author of the books they loved to read. In one anecdote, Kinney shared that while introducing himself to a scout as "Mr. Kinney", the boy grew thoughtful and asked, "What's your first name?" When Kinney answered "Jeff", the boy looked at him and said, "Hey, you have the same name as the guy who wrote those books!" Kinney's response: "Yeah, I get that all the time."

Kinney gave his personal history leading up to the Wimpy Kid books - he had always dreamed of being a newspaper comic strip cartoonist, but realized early that he didn't, as he put it, have the talent. He said that his cartoons looked like they were drawn by a seventh grader, which wouldn't cut it in the competitive world of newspaper comic strips. But then he decided to use his drawing style to his advantage and draw from the point of view of a child.

Kinney said that he originally envisioned Diary of a Wimpy Kid as a "nostalgic book for adults." When a publisher convinced him it would be better suited to an audience of children, Kinney's first concern was whether the book would be appropriate for a young audience. But, in the end, few changes were necessary because Kinney has "PG sensibilities" to begin with.

After the first Wimpy Kid book was published, Kinney started receiving email after email thanking him for getting a "reluctant reader" to read. Kinney was unfamiliar with the terminology and was surprised that each email used the exact same term to describe kids who didn't usually like to read. He joked that later, he learned that "reluctant reader" is just "educational code for 'boys'." He showed some funny cartoons of books targeted to girls, including Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, of which Kinney said:
"I have no idea what that's about, I just know that it's like a toxin to boys."
Calling books "such a superior form of entertainment", Kinney shared some of his favorite authors growing up: Shel Silverstein, Judy Blume, and Beverly Cleary, among others.

Kinney also shared some insight on his drawings in the Wimpy Kid series. "I don't know if anyone's noticed," he said, but each boy is drawn with distinct features that distinguish them from each other, but every girl looks the same. With this tactic, Kinney is communicating that Greg doesn't understand girls the way he does other boys.

The author also commented on some of the criticism he's gotten because the main character of the series, Greg, doesn't always make the right choices and isn't particularly a good role model for young boys. "My books do require a small bit parental or teacher guidance," he said, indicating that discussing Greg's shortcomings can open up the conversation between kids and adults about why Greg's decisions are good or bad and how the child in real life can learn from Greg's mistakes. Greg is flawed, yes, but that is all a part of portraying childhood and creating a character to whom children can relate.

I just loved Jeff Kinney's presentation and feel like the audience got a good sense of the author's childlike personality, love for children, and passion for cartoons.

Have you (or your children) read Diary of a Wimpy Kid? What do you think of Greg's capacity as a role model for children?

ALA 2011: A Closer Look at the Loot

Last weekend I was in New Orleans for the American Library Association (ALA) 2011 Annual Conference. Overall, it was amazing. I met authors, saw the sights, and, of course, learned things to help me in my job as a health sciences librarian.

The best thing about New Orleans, hands down, is the food. I ate barbecue shrimp, bananas foster ice cream cake, gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, crab and corn bisque, mufaletta, and my personal favorite, beignets! I'm pretty sure I would have gained ten pounds if it wasn't for all the walking I did. With the walking factored in, it's probably only about five pounds ;). Another highlight was going to a jazz club and listening to some very talented musicians play.

The worst thing about New Orleans is the smell. What a dirty city! Everything smelled like garbage mixed with vomit. Yuck. A hostess at a restaurant we went to summed it up pretty nicely when she saw a little girl about to dip her finger in a puddle in the gutter - "Don't do that, Baby! We're too close to Bourbon Street - you don't want those germs!"

And finally, here they are! Below are some more close up pictures of the books I was able to get at ALA 2011.

These are all free galleys I got from publishers, but I also got some books (signed!) from author talks and panels and bought a couple from Faulkner House Books (more on that in a couple of days).

Here are a few highlights:

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
French Lessons by Ellen Sussman
Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller by Tracy Daugherty
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos
Following Atticus by Tom Ryan
Drama: An Actor's Education by John Lithgow
The Doll: The Lost Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier
Know the Past, Find the Future: The New York Public Library at 100
Jane Austen: A Life Revealed by Catherine Reef
Hello Goodbye by Emily Chenoweth
Practical Jean by Trevor Cole
Emily and Einstein by  Linda Francis Lee
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy aka Bermuda Onion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.

Just one word today from This Book is Overdue by Marilyn Johnson. I've been too busy at the ALA Conference to do much reading, but I did listen to this one on audiobook on the drive to New Orleans.

Palimpsest: a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.
"The ground it stands on is a palimpsest" (pg. 175).

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: This Book is Overdue!

 Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All (P.S.) 
My teaser today is from This Book is Overdue by Marilyn Johnson. I saw her speak over the weekend after almost finishing her book and she is fabulous!

"In the first decade of the twenty-first century, at the intersection of rapid change and financial meltdown, some of its librarians carve out a niche, some get iced out, and some help plan the future of the libraries and how we use them" (pg. 171)

Friday, June 24, 2011

ALA 2011 Loot

Didn't have time yet to really organize or make my stack pretty, but here is a first look at some of the free galley loot I picked up at ALA 2011 this evening. I think I got a little carried away (but to be fair, some of these are books my husband picked up to donate to kids in our area):

Tomorrow I have to get serious and go to sessions and speakers that relate to my job, but having fun so far!

The Desk that Binds Them

Great House: A NovelThe element of Great House by Nicole Krauss that struck me most was the structure. Krauss uses five narrators in the novel, alternating four of the five throughout, and bringing in the fifth at the very end. The narrators aren't all telling the same story and none knows the others, but the stories intertwine in subtle ways. Usually that happened by way of an old desk: the narrator owned it, or knew someone who owned it, or wanted to find it, or had it unknowingly change his life. The desk was enormous and
"was made of dark wood and above the writing surface was a wall of drawers, drawers of totally impractical sizes, like the desk of a medieval sorcerer" (pg. 83).
Krauss does not make any of the connections for us. The links between the very different narrators are subtle and require a keen reading to root out. I got many of them, but I don't think all. I love when authors have enough faith in and respect for their readers to put down the spoon and let us feed ourselves.

The first narrator in the book ("Your Honor") is possibly the most complex. She is a middle-aged, divorced writer who for years has been caretaker to an old and massive desk. A friend of a friend, Daniel Varsky, entrusts it to her in the 1970s when he leaves New York to return to his native Chile, where he is later taken by Manuel Contreras' secret police. She tells her story in the second person, seemingly addressing a patient, just called "Your Honor", badly injured in the hospital. We have no idea who he is or what type of relation he might have to our narrator. For him, she chronicles her story of divorce, mental illness, and emotional attachment to a piece of furniture she never thought of as her own, but that still broke her heart to give away when a young woman claiming to be Varsky's daughter shows up for it.

The second narrator ("True Kindness"), an older man in Israel with two grown sons, also speaks in the second person, but in this case, we know who we are supposed to be. He speaks to his younger son, Dovik, with whom he has never been close and could never understand. When his wife dies, he discovers that Dovik has abruptly quit his high profile job in London. Dovik moves back in with his father, who tries to finally connect with him before it's too late.

The third narrator ("Swimming Holes") is a retired professor living in London caring for his mysterious and ailing wife. When she dies, he discovers a secret she has kept hidden from him for 50 years and tries to reconcile the woman he knew and loved with a new picture of her that emerges.

The fourth narrator ("Lies Told by Children") is a woman recounting her experiences in graduate school with a strange family. She dates Yoav, the son, who lives in a large house with his sister, Leah. Their father, an antiques dealer, travels around but lives mostly in Israel. Mr. Weisz is trying to recreate his father's study with exactly the furniture it contained before the Gestapo arrested his parents and sold their possessions. The elusive piece is a large desk with many drawers.

The last narrator comes in only at the very end of the novel. To avoid spoilers, I won't say too much else about him.

Krauss gives each narrator a recurring heading to delineate who is speaking in each chapter, but the headings are hardly necessary. Each narrator has such a distinct voice and circumstance that it would be almost impossible to confuse one with another.

The writing is fantastic. I underlined many, many passages that stood out to me, either for the message they communicated, or the beauty of the syntax. Here are some examples:
"She had a limp, water on the knee, I think, a cup of the Danube that sloshed around as she thumped from room to room with her mop and feather duster, sighing as if freshly reminded of a disappointment" (pg. 111).
"Something in me naturally migrated away from the fray, preferring the deliberate meaningfulness of fiction to accidental and unaccounted-for reality; preferring a shapeless freedom to the robust work of interacting that demanded having to yoke my thoughts to the logic and flow of another's" (pg. 43).
"But the lesson didn't come easily to you, and you never accepted it in the end. You shot yourself in the foot, and then you spent years trying to account for the pain" (pg. 56).
"Not that she expected me to understand. More than anyone I've known, Lotte was content to live in a perennial state of misunderstanding" (pg. 85).
"The only exception was books, which I acquired freely, because I never really felt they belonged to me. Because of this, I never felt compelled to finish those I didn't like, or even a pressure to like them at all. But a certain lack of responsibility also left me free to be affected. When at last I came across the right book the feeling was violent: it blew open a hole in me that made life more dangerous because I couldn't control what came through it" (pg. 127).
In all, Great House was excellent. It took me a few pages to get into it and adjust to the narration (as I mentioned, the narrator of the first chapter is the most complex and therefore the most challenging), but once I did, I was engaged and mesmerized by the writing and the stories.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Legacy of Oedipus Rex

More than likely, you have heard the term "Oedipus complex" and you may or may not know that it has to do with having an inappropriate attachment to one's mother.

The term stems from a classic play by Sophocles called Oedipus Rex or Oedipus the King. You can read it online for free (like most classic literature).

I read Oedipus Rex early on in college, though it was not assigned for any class. I had one crazy English professor (who I have mentioned before), who always referred to other texts and movies - bringing them into the discussion of the required reading to widen our understanding. He would mention the work only briefly and without much explanation, insinuating (at least in my mind) that it was something with which we should already be familiar. Many times, to my chagrin, I was not. So I would find the text in the library and either read or skim it. Oedipus Rex is slim, so I read it.

Essentially, in Oedipus Rex, a king named Oedipus kills his father, marries his mother, and then blinds himself. The first two he does unknowingly and the last one he does upon learning that he did the other two.

Sons and Lovers (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)Sigmund Freud later explained that Sophocles' play illustrates a formative stage in an individual's psychosexual development in which a male child desires his mother and resents his father. Those who don't continue developing properly can retain these feelings into adolescence and adulthood, developing an Oedipus complex.

At the end of my copy of D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, one of the discussion questions listed asks
"Does Paul Morel have an Oedipus complex?"
The obvious answer is yes. According to Victoria Blake in the introduction to my Barnes & Noble Classics copy of the novel, "Sons and Lovers was taken to be the first, great Freudian allegory" (pg. xv). Here's an example:
"As he stooped to kiss his mother, she threw her arms round his neck, hid her face on his shoulder, and cried in a whimpering voice, so unlike her own that he writhed in agony:
'I can't bear it. I could let another woman - but not her. She'd leave me no room, not a bit of room - '
And immediately he hated Miriam bitterly.
'And I've never - you know, Paul - I've never had a husband - not really - '
He stroked his mother's hair, and his mouth was on her throat" (pg. 234).

Paul is often described as kissing his mother "passionately," though I don't think the term was as overtly sexual in the early 1900s as it is today. I think it meant more like "great emotion" or "deep feeling". But still. Creepy.

Lawrence wrote Sons and Lovers as a thinly veiled autobiography (though it became increasingly less autobiographical the more it was revised before publication) and Lawrence had "admitted in various letters that he had loved his mother like a lover" (pg. xvi). One such letter read:
"She is my first, great love. She was a wonderful, rare woman - you do not know; as strong, as steadfast, and generous as the sun. She could be as swift as a white whiplash, and as kind and gentle as warm rain, and as steadfast as the irreducible earth beneath us" (pg. xvi).
And another:
"This has been a kind of bond between me and my mother. We have loved each other, almost with a husband and wife love, as well as filial and maternal... Nobody can have the soul of me. My mother has had it, and nobody can have it again. Nobody can come into my very self again, and breath me like an atmosphere" (pg. xvi).
Despite all this, Lawrence never subscribed to a Freudian reading of his novel, insisting that it was a novel, not a case history.

Still, Paul comes to learn in the novel how his emotional attachment to his mother affects his relationships with women:
"They were so sensitive to their women that they would go without them for ever rather than do them a hurt, an injustice. Being the sons of mothers whose husbands had blundered rather brutally through the feminine sanctities, they were themselves too diffident and shy. They could easier deny themselves than incur any reproach from a woman; for a woman was like their mother. They preferred themselves to suffer the misery of celibacy, rather than risk the other person" (pg. 306).
In the end, Paul doesn't literally blind himself, but we are left with an image of him walking toward the city, long a literary symbol of depravity and immorality. Perhaps Paul's blindness is emotional, rather than physical. Either way, it's difficult to imagine he'll ever have a healthy relationship with a woman.

What's your take on the Oedipus Complex in literature? What other characters in literature exhibit Oedipal traits?

This post is a part of The Classic Bribe, hosted by Molly at Quirky Girls Read.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy aka Bermuda Onion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.

Some words today from Great House by Nicole Krauss:

Peripatetic: walking or traveling about; itinerant
"You'd be surprised by how often in my little peripatetic wanderings through the valley of death I meet the child you once were." (pg. 176)

Great House: A NovelMezuzah: a parchment scroll inscribed on one side with the Biblical passages Deut. 6:4–9 and 11:13–21 and on the other side with the word Shaddai  (a name applied to God), inserted in a small case or tube so that Shaddai  is visible through an aperture in front, and attached by some Jews to the doorpost of the home
"One day when I went to deliver a piece of mail that came to our house by mistake I saw a pale spot on the doorframe where the mezuzah had been." (pg. 185)

Yahrzeit: the anniversary of the death of a parent, sibling, child, or spouse, observed by lighting a memorial lamp or candle the night before and reciting the Kaddish  at the evening service of the day before and at the morning and afternoon services of the day itself.
"For a few years I lit the yahrzeit candle for them both, but then I lost the habit." (pg. 194)

And a few from The 10 p.m. Question by Kate De Goldi:

Muesli: a breakfast cereal similar to granola, usually consisting of rolled oats and dried fruit
"Frankie's sister, Gordana, had swiped the last muesli bar and the only crisp apple." (pg. 1)
The 10 PM Question 
Cheroot: a cigar with both ends cut off squarely
"She was enormously fat and very funny; she smoked small cigars called cheroots and drank whisky and liked to gamble on all her card games." (pg. 11)

Taramasalata: a Greek dip or paste of smoked carp roe combined with milk, bread crumbs, lemon juice, and olive oil.
"So, Louie packed Ma's cakes in the van, drove around to the Watsons, gave them the list of deliveries, then had them drop him at Vander's Deli, where he made peanut sauce, hummus, taramasalata, and various other dips for three hours." (pg. 45)

Glissade: a sliding or gliding step
"'Good God!' said Gordana, doing a hefty glissade back to the table with the phone." (pg. 50)

*All definitions are from

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: The 10 p.m. Question

 Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
    My teaser today is from The 10 p.m. Question by Kate De Goldi:
    The 10 PM Question
    "He was tired, tired, tired, so tired of all the worry - worry about himself, worry about Ma, worry about the world. Then instantly he felt shabby and mean, disloyal to Ma, ashamed of himself" (pg. 81).

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Short Story Monday: A Box to Hide In

    The short story of the week from the Library of America this week is very short. It's "A Box to Hide In" by James Thurber.

    I haven't really read any of Thurber's work, but this story intrigued me. As I mentioned, it's very short - less than three pages long, including an illustration. The story does, however, communicate well within those confines. Thurber tells about a man who goes around to various grocery stores looking for a box.
    "'You want a box?' he asked.
    'I want a box to hide in,' I said.
    'Whatta you mean?' he said. 'You mean a big box?'
    I said I meant a big box, big enough to hold me."
    None of the grocers have boxes, only the cartons in which the cans come. One grocer asks:
    "Whatta mean you want to hide in this box?"
    And the narrator answers:
    "It's a form of escape, hiding in a box. It circumscribes your worries and the range of your anguish. You don't see people, either."
    No matter how hard he looks, the man cannot find a box in which to hide. Instead, he must face his problems, like interacting with his cleaning-woman, head on.

    It's a good lesson for life. We all have problems, people, or situations we'd rather not face and we could try to hide in a box to avoid dealing with them. But somehow we can never find a box big enough to hide us away completely. The problems still find us, even when we do our best to evade them.

    The narrator in the story affirms his tendency to ignore problems, or hide from them, rather than solve or prepare for them, when one grocer questions him further about his box plan. The grocer asks how the man would get food and eat inside the box. The narrator answered that he didn't know, but "that would take care of itself."

    Thurber doesn't elaborate on from what the narrator of the story wishes to hide, or the sources of the narrator's anxiety. We don't know the man's age, circumstances, or even really that it is, in fact, a man. But we still feel his anxiety and relate to him. All within three pages.

    Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.