Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Book book boooook!

So, this chicken goes into a library...

No, seriously, a long, long time ago Carrie tagged me with a book meme. And I didn't do it. And didn't do it. And, well, here I am, trying to catch up on things. And I've been reading a lot this summer--books! Finally! Apparently my Internet addiction has now reached a level where it must be physically impossible for me to access blogs or email--i.e. in a camper van in the middle of nowhere in British Columbia--before I can successfully focus on actual books with pages that turn.

So, herewith the book meme. But I'm going to interpret it liberally and answer whatever I want. Because Carrie is in Madison and can't come get me! Hah!

Total Number of Books I Own

Okay, so there's my Fiction bookcase and my Children's Literature bookcase, each 4 or 5 shelves high (depending on whether you count the old Cricket magazines on the top shelf). Then there's the little bookcase full of trade paperbacks: mysteries, SF/Fantasy, Marge Piercy novels, an old copy of On the Road I bought at a used bookstore a long time ago--that kind of thing. Some of those are double-shelved. Then next to it there's the Jewish/Poetry/Memoir/Miscellaneous bookcase, and then the Anthology/Writing/Lit Mag/Library Literature bookcase. Which is only half-full of books because the rest is my old notes from library school, which why did I not throw out already? No idea. Some vague idea that I might need to look through them if I'm ever interviewing for another job?

Also, a couple of shelves and about half the floor full of old New Yorkers. Somewhere in there is the original Genie article that riveted me, and a few Adam Gopnik pieces that I loved, from way back when he was writing from Paris. So of course I have to keep all 300 or so issues.

Sorry...what was the question?

The Last Book I Bought

Oooh, I bought a whole bunch at Vancouver KidsBooks a few weeks ago, then RW went back that very night and bought the Canadian edition of the New Harry Potter at midnight.

I love Canadian bookstores, because not only can you buy the real British un-bowdlerized editions of British books (that's "trainers," not "sneakers," and "prat," not "jerk"--and of course "Philosopher's Stone," not "Sorcerer's Stone," thankyouverymuch), but there are books--especially kids' books--that never ever make it just the extra hundred miles or so over the border. And not just British and Canadian books, but books from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa...it's a paradise for kids' book lovers and Anglophiles, of which I am both. And even when you can get the books here, it's such a treat to have the original editions with the original artwork. They just feel different. Rare and exciting and crackly.

Anyway, one of the books I bought on our last big binge in Vancouver was Permanent Rose, by Hilary McKay. It's the third in a series about this crazy family of artists in England, the mom hides out in the shed where she has her studio and the dad is barely there because he's busy being cool and famous in London and all the kids are named after colors on the color chart (or rather, the colour chart) and there are various Issues which would all be made into their own problem novels in lesser hands (adoption, divorce, disability, bullying) but which here hardly register as Issues because they're just things that happen to the kids in the book, when they're not being funny and cutting and kind to each other and trying to figure out what to have for dinner because Mum's busy painting again.

Permanent Rose isn't out yet in the States I don't think. I love this series so much that I bought it in hardcover and then bought the first two--Saffy's Angel and Indigo's Star--even though I have them at work, because they had the British editions and I love them so.

The Last Book I Read

Well. I gobbled down Permanent Rose, then I read Gregor the Overlander, which is this terrific fantasy about a kid who falls down a grate in the laundry room and gets mixed up with a bunch of giant bugs and bats and also people who live way underground, and along with his two-year-old sister (who turns out to be a surprisingly effective weapon, especially when she's having a tantrum) saves things. Then I read this great huge doorstop of a fantasy called East which everyone's been raving about and it turns out they were pretty much right. It's based on East of the Sun, West of the Moon, a fairy tale I've never read, but I had no trouble following it anyway. A young girl goes on a journey to the end of the earth to repair the wrong she's done to a white bear who was under an enchantment from the Troll Queen! 500 pages, but it's in short chapters and zips right along.

Now I'm in the middle of the new Harry Potter. So far, it's better than the last one, about which I remember almost nothing except a great deal of almost incomprehensible excitement and yelling and things blowing up in the last 50 pages or so.

Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me

I think I waxed very wordy about Girls Visions and Everything and A Little Princess last time I did this meme. Fortunately, there are lots of others:

The Work of a Common Woman, by Judy Grahn. All I can think of to say about this is that it's "powerful lesbian feminist poetry," which is so inadequate. It's just..it's poetry like a knife or something, or like, oh, shit, I'm not a poet so I can't explain but it's SO GOOD. So good. I don't always like her later poems so much but this one, this one I love.

A Room Made of Windows, by Eleanor Cameron. Kids/Young Adult novel about a young girl who wants to be a writer. I know, blah blah blah, but this book is just so honest and true and specific and funny. Her dad is dead, and her mom is starting to date again, and she's really conflicted about it. She's also wrestling with her memories of her dad, who was a writer and also a very difficult person. It takes place in I think the 20's in the Bay Area but it feels like it could be happening now, there's very little that dates it or feels old-timey.

Daughters and Rebels, by Jessica Mitford. Jessica Mitford was the second-youngest child in a big, eccentric upper-class family in England. (Her older sister, Nancy, wrote novels of manners and was pals with Evlyn Waugh.) She was a Communist from an early age and ran away at 18 to elope with her second cousin and join the volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. Then they left England and sloped around America for a while before he went off to fight fascism in WWII. She was also HYSTERICALLY funny and addicted to pulling over-the-top pranks. Who knew making revolution could be such a hoot?
*Little-known fact: Jessica Mitford is one of J.K. Rowling's heroes; she even named her daughter Jessica after her. I think Mitford's influence comes through the Harry Potter books in many ways, especially Fred and George's pranks.

Disturbances in the Field, by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. This is a fabulous book. I've read it three or four times, but I can't read it again until MG is grown up because--not to spoil it too much for you, but the central event is a Very Very Bad Thing that happens, and its aftermath for the heroine and her family. In spite of that, it is not a depressing book, and there's lots of other wonderful stuff in it, particularly about the power of friendship and the paths people's lives can take, and there's also lots about Greek philosophy and music (the heroine is a pianist) and the Upper West Side and it's just this great big lovely contemporary realist novel which you should run right out and read if you are not superstitious like me. As soon as MG turns eighteen I'm going to read it again. Maybe even on her eighteenth birthday, come to think of it.

Isn't that five books yet? It's almost 10:30 and I still have over 150 pages of Harry to read.

Oh, fine. Okay.

A long, long time ago, I found a book called The Child Stealer. I think it was by John Updike? Or maybe John Cheever? It was on a high shelf in my always-deserted junior high school library. I might be the only person who ever picked it off that shelf. It was about, I think, a man who went around (surprise!) stealing children for his own nefarious purposes. My memory is that it was only very intelligent children he stole. At the end this one kid, a brilliant boy who's also fat and a misfit and miserable, goes with him willingly, even though he knows he's going to be put in a little box in the dark, because the child stealer is the only person who understands the value of his brilliance. It was really good, and really creepy, and I've never seen it or heard of it since, but I've never forgotten it.

Now I should tag someone else, but I'm such a bad memer myself that I just can't bring myself to. So instead I will ask you: what is the weird obscure book you read once and have never heard of otherwise but never forgotten?


Blogger LilySea said...

When I was a kid I had a stripped paperback from my dad's store. It was a y/a or maybe kids' book called "Octogon Magic." I read it a zillion times. Don't recall the author. It was a time-travel story which I used to just love.

11:09 PM  
Blogger RHD said...

Otto of the Silver Hand. I think it's by Howard Pyle, and it remember it being about knights and this completely angelic child, with serious heavy duty christian overtones, but it had the most amazing illustrations. It was in my school library and I would go and flip through it and wish I could draw like that. Never saw or heard of it again until last year when I found it on the NYPL database and put it on hold. The story is worse than I remember (and that's pretty bad!) but the pictures are even better.

LilySea, I think your book is by E. Nesbit. She wrote a bunch of magic books, like Half magic and Wet Magic. Good stuff.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Denyse said...

James Thurber's "The Wonderful O." It was really funny and my introduction to lipograms, which I still love. I had a really hard time tracking this story down as an adult because I somehow remembered the name as 'the story of o' which put me in a whole different genre.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Carrie said...

Bridge to Terabithia is not obscure, but when I was a kid I was seriously the only person who ever checked it out of the library. Nobody else I knew had read it or was willing to even try. There was only one other kid that ever read Newberry Award winners, now that I think of it. And people wonder why I ended up reading a lot of John Grisham...

Thanks for doing this, Elsewhere. I am looking forward to checking out some of your suggestions.

9:45 PM  
Blogger Jo said...

Yeah, I just want to go check everything out of the library, all at once. Sheesh. You should be a book reviewer.

9:49 PM  
Blogger GuusjeM said...

Lucky you - a bookstore full of British children's books! I would go wild there. I have the British editions of most of Noel Streatfeild's "shoe" books and they are so much better than the American versions.

6:04 PM  
Anonymous filkferengi said...

_Octagon Magic_ is by Andre Norton. She wrote several other books with _Magic_ in the title. Except for being uniformly excellent, they're unrelated to each other.

7:09 PM  
Anonymous Ellen Kushner (Mermaid Girl's Honorary Great Aunt and actual 2nd Cousin or something) said...

Hey, coz- what about _A Long Way to Verona_??

7:34 AM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Ellen--that's so funny you mentioned that because just yesterday I was thinking "Why didn't I put that one instead of Room Made of Windows? Or in addition?" Because I love it as much or actually even more. Viz, to wit:

"To hell with school!" yells the visiting author as the narrator sits cros-legged on the floor of her silly posh girls' school, somewhere in England circa 1940, just before her dad uproots her whole family and drags them off to the North of England because he wants to be a curateb. "To hell with school! English is what matters! ENGLISH IS LIFE!"


It's another out-of-print treasure but worth hunting down.

8:55 AM  
Anonymous Ellen Kushner (Mermaid Girl's Honorary Great Aunt and actual 2nd Cousin or something) said...

. . . and a request:

I used to read all good YA fantasy, usually as it came out, and knew what was worth reading - in fact, my early career in publishing - late '70s - was all about recommending great YA's like The Face in the Frost and The Vision of Stephen be put into paperback in the Ace Adult Fantasy line - this was back before there *were* children's paperback novels, my younglings.

I kept up awhile longer, cherishing Diana Wynne Jones & Margaret Mahy & Megan W. Turner & Susan Price & Frannie Billingsley . . .

But now "Harry Potter" has spawned such a lust for YA fantasy in publishing - fueled by greed more than taste - it reminds me of the post-Tolkien explosion that spawned Terry Brooks and other poor imitations that were well-loved and very successful, but, to me, derivative in the worst sense and utterly plodding and unreadable. And just as I would take overwhelmed friends who had loved Tolkien to the bookstore, confront the mammoth rack and lead them gently through it ("Here, read this. Avoid this!"), I would love someone to do the same now for me.

I love Holly Black's Tithe. I'm afraid to read Eragon. I fear anything with the word "series" on it, even when it could be good.

Would you, or your erudite correspondents, be willing to post a list? or direct me to one?

9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I was just thinking yesterday about a book I read over and over as a child. I haven't the slightest idea what the name was. It was at my grandparents' cabin in the Pecos Wilderness in New Mexico. Not that that helps with the name. It was about a family of girls, possibly in England, living in a house way out in the country. The house had an ell--I remember because it was the first time I saw the expression. I also remember it saying that the sisters could usually be found within an 8-mile radius of the house. They, of course, put on plays in the attic--or am I confusing the book with LMA? I don't remember anything about the plot but I just loved it.

Also a book--possibly more famous, again I can't remember the title. Again it was about a family living in a big house out in the country, but this time, I think, in the States. And the house had a cupola. My friend's sister read the book aloud to us and she pronounced this cup-ola, like you would pronounce crapola; then one day told us, in great astonishment, that it was pronounced cue-poh-la. Very disappointing; we all agreed that her pronunciation was much better.

And I read the Elizabeth Goudge book about Oxford (Cambridge?) in the 14th (16th?) century over adn over, too. Somethign about The Mists of Something?

I also found my way to various children's classics, like Narnia & A Wrinkle in Time, but I loved these much more obscure books just as much.

Now I must go over to the Inter-library Loan page for my local public library and order everything. Except Daughters & Rebels, which you gave me many years ago and which likewise I have read and re-read. I love the JKR connection--superb. Don't you love reading the HP series just for the life-in-Hogwarts accounts?

The Mists of Time? Towers in the Mist? I could just look it up--speedy and accurate but so much less engaging; I miss the days of speculation in which the most convincing person was believed, regardless of actual truth.

Oh, dear, I am just going on and on.


2:33 PM  

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