Books Read in 2012

4 Jan

Remember that resolution I made last year to read more books for fun? Apparently I didn’t remember it, either!

  1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle 
  2. Pure by Julianna Baggott 
  3. Graceling by Kristin Cashore 
  4. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore 
  5. Welcome to Vietnam (Echo Company #1) by Ellen Emerson White 
  6. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund 
  7. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein /
  8. Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead 
  9. The Diviners by Libba Bray 
  10. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett 
  11. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell…valiant effort but abandoned when it took six weeks to get to page 18.
  12. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 
  13. Winter Dreams, Christmas Love by Mary Francis Shura 

So next year, truly, I resolve to read more for fun, which has the added benefit of helping me stay sane and feel like myself. Funny how books can do that. 

And for the curious, I received 178 or so agented submissions this year, a healthy mix of age levels, but tending mostly toward YA. And edited a whole bunch of books, too, which involved reading manuscripts multiple times. Which is how it must work out that I’m constantly reading but only have 13 books on this list!

Mars, Stars, Curiosity

19 Aug

She didn’t want to go far, just out of the trees so that she could see the stars. They always eased her loneliness. She thought of them as beautiful creatures, burning and cold; each solitary, bleak, and silent like her.

–Kristin Cashore, FIRE

Image

Night sky by Michael McDonough

I’ve been thinking a lot about outerspace recently. You know, since the whole Mars thing and all. That quote from Fire is one that resonated with me right away, and that comes to mind a lot. Yes, it’s bleak, but the bleak part isn’t really what I mean. Rather, what I always come back to is the idea of looking up at the stars to ease loneliness.

One of the things I miss most about living outside the city is being able to go outside most nights, and look up, and see right there how expansive the universe is. There’s so much out there. And we can see light from thousands–millions–of years from the past. It makes me feel small, but in a good way. Whatever is stressing me out, whatever’s making me anxious, whatever I might be angry about, it’s not the whole world. It’s one small piece of something so much bigger. And whatever is thrilling me, exciting me, that’s part of something bigger, too. Another line I love is “The universe is not made of atoms. It’s made of tiny stories.” (I don’t know who said it, which drives me crazy, so if you do, leave it in a comment!) It’s calming and centering for me to look up at the stars and think about all of the stories that are out there, happening alongside my own.

And now there’s a machine on Mars shooting lasers at rocks and sending us back photos. A whole new story beginning and one we know through a robot some scientists put on another planet with their minds. It’s incredible.

Think about how many stories are traveling through space together, sometimes intersecting with ours.

Since it’s rare to see a sky full of stars here in NYC, the Brooklyn Heights promenade’s become my go-to place to remind myself of the bigger picture and all the other stories happening around me. Watching the lights come on–bright and silent and beautiful, each its own galaxy–is almost as good.

Image

Photo by me

listen: there’s a hell

of a good universe next door; let’s go

–EE Cummings

My New Hero

3 May

Last night, I went to a Q&A with Joan Ganz Cooney. The name doesn’t ring a bell? Well, that’s okay, because I didn’t know it until fairly recently, either, but she is one of the people behind Children’s Television Workshop, and thus, Sesame Street. Yes, behind the scenes, which is part of why she’s one of my new heroes.

Also, look how awesome and stylish she is.

The other parts are that she’s whip smart, still incredibly sharp, and so dedicated to what she does. She was interviewed by Leslie Stahl (of 60 Minutes) at the Museum of the Moving Image. Admittedly, it can be hard for me to get excited about going to a museum in Queens after work, but this was one of the best events I’ve been to in ages. Ms. Cooney was inspiring and hearing about how Sesame Street began firsthand… I mean, how cool is that? And, friends, Bob and Susan were in the audience. They were only three rows in front of me.

There are a lot of reasons I found what Ms. Cooney had to say illuminating, both personally and professionally. What she and her team did back in the ’60s was create something that she referred to as “educating, edifying, and entertaining” using the newest medium of the time, and filling a huge gap in education and entertainment for children. It’s not entirely unlike the place where publishing for children is today. Our goal might be slightly different (story at the fore, rather than education), but not much so. And we’re at the edge of another new frontier, needing to figure out how to engage kids and fill the gaps.

But the personal part of what I learned tonight is just how effective Sesame Street has always been at achieving its goals and never, ever talking down to children and never misrepresenting life. Ms. Cooney referred to the episode in the ’80s that dealt with death, and as a kid who was watching during that time, I knew immediately, even though she never named the character, that she meant Mr. Hooper. She told us how their researchers and cognitive psychologists told them that, yes, kids could handle hearing about death, but that it had to be done directly, and the most important thing for young kids to understand about it is that the person is not coming back.

I don’t remember watching that episode when I was four, but I remember knowing that Mr. Hooper died. I very very vaguely remember talking about it with my mom. And as Ms. Cooney spoke about their work on that episode, I realized that it was most likely when I learned that death meant someone wasn’t coming back. My grandfather died rather suddenly not long before this episode would have aired, and I can only imagine how much it must have helped my parents talk to me and my younger brother about death. How powerful something that’s crafted with such care and so specifically to help teach children can be.

So, thanks, Ms. Cooney, and Jim Henson, and Bob and Susan and Big Bird and everyone for what you’ve given to all of us. I hope my friends and I can look back on the work we do with similar pride in 40 years.

Why I <3 A Wrinkle in Time

13 Feb

I’ve been thinking about this post for quite a long time. You see, A Wrinkle in Time was never one of the books I would have said was a favorite when I was a kid. And yet, the more I think about it, and when I’ve reread it, I realize that it’s one of the books that has most shaped my view of the world. While I hate the question “What book changed your life?” because I believe that every book changes my life, this is one of the answers. So it seems like it’s finally time to fiddle around with articulating why, on the fiftieth anniversary of its publication and at least 20 years since I first read it.

I clearly remember the day my mom picked it up from a bookstore shelf and handed it to me, saying we should get it because I would probably like it. We were somewhere that had a bigger bookstore than our own mall, which was always exciting for me. (Yes, nerd, I know.) My mom was big on the Newbery  stickers, and was a big reader herself. The cover was totally unappealing, it must be said. It was this one:

THAT IS NOT MRS. WHATSIT, and that’s all I have to say.

There was a terrific op-ed by Pamela Paul in the New York Times last week that sums up perfectly what this book and Meg Murry did. Meg is one of the ultimate heroines for bookish girls: “Meg harbors doubts about her own intellectual abilities, and her exacting expectations rub off on the reader. If anything, the book enchants readers who might not entirely grasp its concepts with the delight in not knowing; the realization that even the most know-it-all kids do not, in fact, have all the answers and that certain questions are worth asking.”

And that was one of the important things for me, for sure. But perhaps more what this book did for me was make real life–science–magical. I have always been a fantasy reader, and I read a lot of ghost stories in this era of my reading life, too. And suddenly, Madeleine L’Engle showed me tesseracts, and what existing in the second dimension might be like, and added onto it Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, plus the idea that a star might sacrifice itself to save us all from darkness. And the idea that like and equal are not the same thing.  In Anna Quindlen’s introduction to one of the newer editions, she mentions the “fiction of science.” Perhaps that’s what I truly responded to as a kid–and still do now–that fiction, science, and magic…they are all the same thing.

In this world that Madeleine L’Engle created, too, it’s okay to be bright; unapologetically, incredibly brilliant, regardless of your age, and the adults treat the children and teenagers as intellectual equals. The dangers and difficulties are brutal and harsh. Nothing is softened for anyone, no matter his or her age. Truths are told. And they must be faced. At the celebration of Wrinkle in Time‘s anniversary this weekend, one of the many pithy things said was that Madeleine L’Engle believed that we must dare to disturb the universe. A video interview of Ms. L’Engle was shown, and she also said in it, “A good story always teaches something, but not if you plan to. It has to happen.” She knew how to do that, because she gave us Meg, in all her faults, and in all her love for the other characters, and she gave us a journey to go on with Meg.

In her Newbery speech, Madeleine L’Engle says, “A book, too, can be star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”

Her book certainly expanded mine.

Books Read 2011

7 Jan

1. Anna and the French Kiss  * Stephanie Perkins

2. Imaginary Girls * Nova Ren Suma

3. Matched * Ally Condie

4. Moon Over Manifest * Clare Vanderpool

5. Jane * April Lindner

6. Fire & Hemlock * Diana Wynne Jones

7. Water for Elephants * Sara Gruen

8. The Near Witch * Victoria Schwab

9. The Passage * Justin Cronin

10. How to Save a Life * Sara Zarr

11. The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda * Tom Angleberger

12. Alanna: the First Adventure * Tamora Pierce

13. In the Hand of the Goddess * Tamora Pierce

 

New Year’s Resolution: Read more books for fun in 2012! Ones that are already on the list to read: Death Comes to Pemberley, Swamplandia, Pure, Bonk, Breadcrumbs, For Darkness Shows the Stars, Everneath, The Selection, Unraveling, The Magicians, Remains of the Day, Okay for Now . . . and who knows what will be added!

Why I ♥ Jim Henson

24 Sep

Today would have been Jim Henson’s 75th birthday. It is no secret among my friends and family that I love the Muppets. And so it seemed fitting to start of this new little “Why I ♥” post series I’ve been planning to do with Jim Henson and the Muppets.

The Google Doodle today celebrates the Muppets!

Of course, I grew up watching Sesame Street, back before Elmo had his own line of anything, back when Snuffleupagus was Big Bird’s imaginary friend and no one else believed he was real. And I vaguely remember watching the Muppet Show and all the Muppet movies. Plus Labyrinth, which has long been one of my all-time favorite movies. Growing up when Jim Henson was still alive and behind all the new Muppet ventures was a magical thing, and I think my generation is particularly lucky.

What makes the Muppets so special, for me anyway, is that they are somehow this perfect blend of childhood and adulthood. They are joyous, energetic, not afraid to be surprised or to learn something new, but they are also whip-smart, sly, and knowing. The humor hits the balance between silly and dry, and it never gets old. The Muppets don’t talk down to kids. And they don’t talk up to adults. They are talking to everyone.

I love the post that Jim Henson’s son wrote for Google today. Especially the sense that “family” means anyone you love. And this: “Every day for him was joyously filled with the surprises of other people’s ideas. I often think that if we all lived like that, not only would life be more interesting, we’d all be a lot happier.” I’m lucky to have a job that lets me revel in other people’s ideas every day, too, and I agree that it’s one of the best things in life.

Plus, there’s the wild imagination. In the forms that the puppets take, in the worlds of Labyrinth or Dark Crystal or Fraggle Rock. In the storylines. Anything can happen. Anything can exist. And it can exist alongside us.

But perhaps what has always seemed most magical to me is that in almost everything Jim Henson created, the Muppets existed in our world. Sesame Street’s population was human and Muppets mixed together as though it could happen on any street. Even Labyrinth‘s world existed alongside our own, Sara just had to find her way in (and back out). The Fraggles live down below where human beings live.

Jim Henson gave me a world that could hold anything imaginable. You can go to a play and look up and maybe see Waldorf and Statler in the balcony. You could find a Fraggle in your backyard. The goblins could steal your baby brother. Oscar the Grouch might live in the garbage can in the alley. The world is full of surprising things, and all we have to do is see them.

Remembering.

11 Sep

I have stayed away from most tv, radio, and internet news today, and I hesitated even to write a post. I have always been conflicted about how to pass this anniversary each year. Part of me feels that this day doesn’t belong to me–I’d only been a New Yorker for one week on 9/11/01, and I didn’t have any loved ones in or near the World Trade towers that day. But another part knows that this day belongs to all of us, because our view of the world as a city, a country, and as human beings changed ten years ago.

And one of the things that I learned on 9/11 was that it doesn’t matter if you’ve been in this city for your whole life, for months, or for only hours–if you are here in a moment in which we all need each other, you are a New Yorker, and every other New Yorker is a person you can lean on.

Today, instead of sitting in front of my tv, I lived. I had brunch with friends I’ve known since college. Two of whom have two-year-olds. I got a picture of my 7-week-old nephew in a Steelers jersey and showed him off to everyone. I watched the “Isaac & Ishmael” episode of The West Wing. I did a little work.

And what I keep coming back to is watching my friends’ kids, and my nephew, whose entire lives will be lived in a post-9/11 world, and what else they might see. This is, I imagine, something every generation feels as they watch a new one being born. And so I am glad that what I do is help to give these children stories. Because we need stories to survive. Stories about first days of school, and friends, and families, and losing a first tooth. Stories about fear and courage, loyalty, and discovering who we are. Stories that show us experiences different from our own and ideas that widen our perceptions. Stories that show us we aren’t alone.

As Josh said in the West Wing episode (and come on, who could say anything better than Josh Lyman/Aaron Sorkin?): “Learn things, be good to each other. Read the newspapers, go to the movies, go to a party, read a book. In the meantime, remember pluralism. You want to get these people? You really want to reach in and kill them where they live? Keep accepting more than one idea.”

I think as long as we have stories and each other, we’re going to be okay.

 

When I say I’ve always loved to read . . .

23 Jan

I really do mean always.

Me (age a few months) & my dad

Around age 3ish, I think.

About age 4 or 5, maybe.

Reading with Dad & Nik

Age 11 on Dad's truck

So it might be no surprise that this discovery on Friday quickly became one of my favorite things on the internet: “You Should Date an Illiterate Girl.”

The girl who reads has spun out the account of her life and it is bursting with meaning. She insists that her narratives are rich, her supporting cast colorful, and her typeface bold. . . . You will accept nothing less than passion, and perfection, and a life worthy of being storied.

Books Read in 2010

9 Jan

1. Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose
2. Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
3. Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
4. Going Bovine by Libba Bray
5. Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O’Malley
6. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World by Bryan Lee O’Malley
7. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
8. Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness by Bryan Lee O’Malley
9. Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together by Bryan Lee O’Malley
10. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
11. Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe by Bryan Lee O’Malley
12. Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
13. Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O’Malley
14. That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
15. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
16. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
17. Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell
18. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
19. Sunshine by Robin McKinley
20. Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O’Malley
21. Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill
22. Divergent by Veronica Roth
23. Sleepwalk with Me by Mike Birbiglia
24. Winter Dreams, Christmas Love by Mary Francis Shura

I don’t keep track of how many manuscripts I read for work, or how many times I read each draft of ones that I’m editing, but it’s pretty safe to say that I read Entwined, A Touch Mortal, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Mistwood, Nightspell, and The Seventh Level several times each!

I received 383 manuscript submissions, 177 of which were agented. Most of the rest were from writers who attended conferences I spoke at.

Belief

25 Dec

I’m a believer. I know that there are things I cannot see, or prove, or taste, touch, hear, or smell that undeniably exist. And tonight is a night when you can sense those things perhaps a little more than any other night of the year. It’s important, I think, to believe in the magic of a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, and to listen for sleigh bells chiming or a hoof pawing on the roof. There is nothing like being a kid on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. And because we can believe in this myth, we can believe in so much else–like, say, a baby being born under a star in a manger.

As the famous letter says, how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. We have to believe in the intangibles.

I believe in light in darkness.

I believe in family.

I believe in friendship.

I believe in generosity.

I believe in God.

I believe in magic, science, creativity, and inspiration.

I believe in joy.

I believe in the power of stories.

I believe in understanding someone without words, in connection, in empathy and sympathy and support, in companionship.

I believe in dedication and in trust.

I believe in laughter.

I believe in knowledge.

I believe in love.

I believe in goodness.

I believe in people.

And I most definitely believe in Santa Claus. I always have and I always will.

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