Friday, August 27, 2010
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
I am a re-reader, and I suspect that many of you out there are, too. When I love a book I love to read it again and again.
Recently I started thinking about this gem of a book, so I found it at my library (added bonus of the re-read: often no waiting when you want to borrow it). I wanted to know if it was as good as I remembered, especially because I think I read a little more critically now.
Tiny synopsis: We meet Daniel as he visits the cemetery of forgotten books, in post-Spanish Civil war Barcelona. His father allows him to take one book from the Cemetery, and he chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. Daniel loves the book, but is dismayed to find that nearly every other copy of the book, and all other titles by Julian Carax are being systematically destroyed by a mysterious stranger. A stranger who finds Carax's books, and burns them.
Daniel and his friends work to uncover Carax's life story, only to meet new and confusing evidence around every turn. Daniel must find the answers to The Shadow of the Wind, but may not be able to do it before repeating the same mistakes that led to the total and complete downfall of Julian Carax.
Wow- all I have to say is, this still counts as one of my favorite books of all time. It is spectacular. Riveting.
Zafon and his translator have a magical way with words. He paints an image of Barcelona that is crystal clear, all the while presenting the reader with one meticulously crafted character after another. And though I probably mention this every time I review a book I like, I adore it when a story twists and turns but comes together again in a circular but surprising way.
The thrill is still alive and well when it comes to me and The Shadow of the Wind.
I am stoked that I get to share this book with one lucky reader as a part of my BOOKS I LOVE CONTEST.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Here's the link to the page, and here is the dedicated link to my story (not sure how long it will be on the features page) and don't forget to enter my contest.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
RTW is a blog carnival where people who create and read the YA Highway blog all answer one question.
So, if you have not read Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games you may not be aware that the third book in her trilogy just came out yesterday. It's kind of a big deal for those who love the books, which is nearly everyone (but not in fact everyone, I'm lookin' at you Erinn) I know online in the writing world.
I am not reading mockingjay-- which is partially to do with my lack of spending money, and partially because I haven't read book two. It will happen, but I'm not rushing it. My point: if you haven't read the books this might not make sense. But otherwise, here goes.
This week's question: How would YOU impress (or not impress) the Hunger Games judges.
That is tricky. I can shoot a gun (I'm from Georgia, people-- we can all shoot guns), but I wouldn't say I have especially strong shooting skills. Not having practiced in about 15 years will atrophy anything.
The same with archery. I attended camp and learned to shoot bows/arrows, but it's not something I've practiced for many, many moons.
The skills of a political scientist are not really the "defend yourself in a death game" kind of skills (debating, researching, conducting experiments, interviewing stakeholders)...
As a mom I certainly have my share of survival skills (can go without sleep for days if needed, can stay cool in unbelievably frustrating situations, can reason with a three year old)-- but I'm not sure that would get me far.
My knowledge of insects and animals may be all that's left. I could certainly use them defensively, but that's so been done before (Katniss and the wasps).
That's all I got! There's the risk of using a venomous animal but not being stung yourself, but it's a risk I'd have to take.
What I take from this RTW: Must add "develop survival skills" to To Do List.
What about you?-- if you had to defend yourself using survival skills, what would you do? Go to the YA Highway to see other comments!
HEY- CHECK OUT MY CONTEST! WIN THREE BOOKS I LOVE:
THE SHADOW OF THE WIND,
A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, and
THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE
all have YA protagonists, though you might not think of them as YA
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
it could only mean everyone is away from their computers devouring MOCKINGJAY.
I still have not read Catching Fire... (I know, LAME). I'm only 12th on the hold list at the library. That means I should read it by... December?
I am so far out of the loop, I can't even see the loop.
Check out my Books I LOVE contest, to win three fabulous books, The Shadow of the Wind, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and The Sky is Everywhere.
Monday, August 23, 2010
And then go over to Addicted to Books to see her contest, too.
AND NOW ANOTHER contest-y opportunity over at Sarah Enni's blog. I am crushing on those bookplates... I hope she can make a bug.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Sometimes when writing I try not to think about those books I love, because the bar is set so high it can get a little depressing.
But at other times, I remind myself that I have to start somewhere, and if I continue to work hard-- maybe one day, in 20 years or so-- I will have a book that I feel measures up to the books I love.
There are THREE books I love that I have been thinking about lately.
When I think about things I love, I want to share them.
I took one of them out of the library last week. It's a book I love but have never owned. Even the way we found it was a little magical. When my son James was a year old we went on a trip to Finland so I could go to a conference. (A completely different story is that this was called the Dry Toilet Conference, and it was all about composting toilets. It was awesome, if you're into that kind of thing. But I digress...)
We were living in the Netherlands at the time, so Finland was not such a trek. We rented a little cabin outside of Tampere, tucked into the woods around a massive lake. The cabin was isolated-- it was about 30 minutes by bus to town. When we got settled in the cabin we looked around and realized there were no English books.
One thing I love about renting a vacation place is the random assortment of books and such you find. You may read something you would never buy on your own. This house had a ton of Finnish books (no surprise, really), and some Finnish Huey, Dewey, and Louie comics. The comics were mildly entertaining but not able to dispel our boredom for long.
We started searching every nook and cranny of the house, to find JUST ONE English book, PLEASE.
Our efforts eventually paid off and we found The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It's a story about a mysterious book, which made it even more perfect as a find.
We devoured it, recommended it to friends when we got home, sent it as a gift to others, but never bought it.
So I borrowed it recently from my library, and have started falling in love with it all over again.
In college I got hooked on John Irving, and one of my favorite books of his is A Prayer for Owen Meany. I love the characters in this book so dearly, and it taught me most of what I know about Vietnam. I feel Irving's strongest talent is weaving a complex story that finds its way back home again and again. It is one of my all time favorites, and I re-read it every few years. In fact I'm due for a re-reading right now.
Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere. This is a YA book that I've recently fallen for. As I've said in an earlier post, if you don't like this book we can't be friends. (No pressure, if you REALLY hate it, I am willing to discuss options). I love the premise, the characters, and the story so much. It is enchanting.
So, I am holding my first contest!
What you need to do to enter:
+1 Be a follower of this BLOG
+1 Comment on this post telling me your total number of entries, and super special bonus (+1) a book you love.
+1 Tweet it
+1 Blog about it
If the bookstore won't ship to you, I will.
Open until September 25th!!!!
Friday, August 20, 2010
6 word memoirs
I saw this on Rachelle Gardner's blog and fell in love with the idea.
Can you encapsulate your life story in 6 words? Mine is the title for this post.
A project by SMITH magazine.
Try it-- leave yours in the comments.
Then sign on at SMITH and submit your 6-word take on a number of subjects, including food, the digital life, america, love and heartbreak...
Or leave a story in their projects section: memoirs, exes, brushes with fame, or what's on your fridge.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
We are so lucky.
We found our town almost by accident. We’d been looking for houses but never found a place that really clicked. We called a friend when we were in the area, who was at another person’s house and asked us to drop in. Little did we know we were about to crash a birthday party.
We had no present.
We only knew one person there.
We’d forgotten our diapers and had to borrow one.
But these people welcomed us anyway. While we were there we met a ton of other people. They were like us in a way. Smart, funny, creative, interesting people. Many with young kids. We couldn’t put a name to it, we only knew it felt like a community. So then we looked for houses only here, in the North End.
Yesterday was our community garden’s annual party. It was incredible. The clouds had been threatening rain all afternoon. Every few minutes I felt a drop, but it never broke. The sunflowers towered over our heads.
Everywhere I looked I saw perfect, and I mean magazine-spread-beautiful produce: tomatillos, tomatoes of every size, color, and variation of ripeness, herbs, cucumbers, eggplant, watermelons, and more. A Dixieland Jazz Band played and marched all over the garden with families and kids dancing behind. When they played When the Saints Come Marching In we ripped it up.
I watched the boys chase their friends around and around the garden paths, wishing I’d dressed them in brighter colors so they’d be easier to spot. The kids spent the evening ducking under tables, resting on chairs to exchange secrets, marching behind the band, playing instruments (somehow Willy stuck his head in a tuba) and begging for cake.
Kids from the neighborhood passed appetizers around. As I looked around I realized how many people I knew after living here for just a year. So many faces from that first party that I now knew well. It was heartening to look around and realize how many friends were there.
A couple with their new baby. Some kids I met when I took my bug collection to the elementary school. All the people from our little corner of the 'hood. The mayor. The principle who knows our kids by their first names, even though they haven’t started at his school yet. The community organizer who made it all happen.
The moms who commiserated with me over a glass of wine. A neighbor who, after years of work, completed her high school diploma. Then there’s couple I met at the garden who shared their tomato plants with me. I saw some of the kids from our mentoring program—many the first in their family to go to college.
The woman who I talked with about the South as we planted our crops months ago. The master gardeners, whose plots look like works of art, who are warm and kind to people like me whose plot looks more like a pile of compost.
All threads that are a part of the tapestry that makes up our community.
Monday, August 9, 2010
Looking for Alaska (John Green)
Tiny Synopsis: Pudge is the new kid at Prep School. A kid with no friends to speak of at home, he quickly falls in with a band of merry pranksters. His new friends include the Colonel and the moody Alaska, who Pudge falls for. For this group of friends, every week is an opportunity to break the rules and to create the perfect prank. When tragedy strikes, the friends have to figure out how to move on without losing each other.
Well, I get what all the buzz is about. This was a well-written book with a captivating plot. It reminded me a little of Dead Poet’s Society (prep school + death, I guess). The author seems so thorough—every element, even the chapter titles, gives you a sense of impending doom. Then, when the worst happens, you have to watch the remaining friends try to piece together an explanation that can allow them to move on. I hate death. Everybody does. Senseless death is difficult to see unfold. Especially when you’re powerless to prevent it. The author builds a lot of tension as he weaves the story, and as he resolves the character arcs of the students. It was a sad book, but I enjoyed it.
As I review more and more books on this site I realize what a softie I am. Reviews are at their essence just opinions. Especially a review from me. I have expertise in some areas, but not in anything that has anything to do with writing. As I think about my reviews I realize I prefer the happy endings. And this book’s ending has some high points, but it wasn’t happy. It was just not that kind of book. I liked it, but I might need more time before reading another book by the author.
How to Ruin Your Boyfriend’s Reputation (Simone Elkeles)
Tiny synopsis: Amy Nelson-Barak signs up for an Israeli Army Boot Camp Program for American teens, because she wants to sneak a visit with her boyfriend Avi, who is serving in the Israeli Army.
Okay, I’m dumb because I didn’t realize this was a series—so I picked up number three from the library while skipping right over number two.
I beeline to the Simone Elkeles section of the library EVERY TIME because I desperately want to read Perfect Chemistry and/or the Rules of Attraction. Unfortunately they are never there. I liked HTR Your Summer Vacation, and I also like HTR Your Boyfriend’s Reputation.
I must admit, though, I liked the first book better. I thought Amy’s shenanigans were a little less amusing this time. It seems like a ridiculous idea to “visit” your Israeli army boyfriend by signing up for BOOT CAMP, especially if you’re kind of on the prissy end of the spectrum. I guess I wanted Amy to be more mature this time—but maybe that’s just me.
Avi was just as stunning as last time, and the author again tried to touch on some of the politics of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, but I’m not sure it was as effective in this book. One soldier talks about it for a split second, but then says she’s not allowed to discuss politics while wearing the uniform. I wanted more from the political end of the issue. But I’m a political scientist. And this is a romance. So maybe I should just get over it. I raced through the book, and I enjoyed it—but just a bit less than the first one.
Dirty Little Secrets (CJ Omololu)
Tiny synopsis: Lucy has a secret. One she protects as if her life depends on it. Lucy’s mom is a hoarder, and Lucy will do anything to keep the world from finding out. Even if it means shutting everyone else out of her life.
Quick read. Fascinating book. I have a dirty little secret, and it’s that hoarders captivate my imagination. I find those programs, where they uncover hoarders, really intriguing. I’m also fascinated because it seems like such an American problem—or maybe it’s a consumer-society problem, or a first-world country problem—but you know what I mean. I think it’s interesting to think about mental illness (does that sound weird?)—and how this kind of thing gets out of control. Enough about my dirty hoarder fascination.
This book was really SO good. Lucy’s interactions with her mom are heartbreaking. You feel for a kid growing up in this environment. Especially because her older siblings get out, leave her, and never look back. The author also takes pains to depict Lucy’s mom, who seems really mentally ill, as a whole person—a person who is only partly defined by her hoarding behavior. Her mom is a person with a complicated past, a difficult marriage, and some issues, yes—but also a person who is a loving caregiver (though maybe not to Lucy) and is good at her job. It’s just mind-boggling, and really illuminated this type of mental illness for me.
The book takes place over little more than a 24-hour period. I really liked that presentation, and found the story completely riveting. Though I have some doubts about whether the story is completely plausible (not the hoarding part, I mean some of Lucy’s actions, but I don’t want to give anything away…). I was on the edge of NOT being able to suspend my disbelief. I’ll have to stop there or I will SPOIL it. I’ll end by saying I recommend this book.
The Highest Tide (Jim Lynch).
I have to admit. I was a little scared of this book. Not in my usual “Eek, I don’t like horror!” kind of way. It’s not horror or suspense. I was scared of this book because on the WriteOn.Com forums a couple of people likened it to a query I’d posted “in a good way”. So I checked it out. And then I let it sit by my bed for a while. It sat so long I had to renew my checkout online. I bit the bullet and dove in, hoping that reading this book would not make me feel completely inadequate.
Tiny synopsis: Miles O’Malley is captivated by the inlet where he lives near Puget Sound. He watches the tides and the wildlife, collecting specimens to sell to aquariums. Then he starts to notice strange happenings on the flats: a giant squid, a legion of invasive crabs, an oarfish. The media get involved, and then a local cult believes Miles is picking up on things the rest of us are missing. They believe he may be a prophet. Miles has little interest in any of that—he is busy enough, focusing on his parent’s split, pining over his next door neighbor, and trying to help care for an elderly friend. Then the tide comes in.
Great coming of age sort of story. INCREDIBLE depictions of the natural world. Anyone who can find a way to quote Rachel Carson in a book for teenagers has my loyalty for life.
Miles is such a great character. He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s vulnerable, and tries to be tough as he deals with his problems. His friends, family, and neighbors are an amazing group of people—all crystal clear, holistic characters that jump off the page.
It is not new to me to read a book that I wish I’d written. It IS new to me to read that kind of book, and have it actually be like my own manuscripts in some way. I am dealing with quite different things, of course—but a young protagonist who loves the outdoor world and can find solace in it—that is what my book is about in a big way.
Did this book make me feel inadequate?
Am I going to use these feelings of inadequacy to create the best novel I can create?
A resounding yes!
Friday, August 6, 2010
Hi5 - Favorite MG/YA Books to Movies
Anne of Green Gables. I totally agree with Nomes on this one. Ahhh. Loved this so much as a young girl. Anne is so smart and sassy, so vulnerable but tough. And who didn’t want to be raised by the perfectly balanced Mirella and Matthew at some point in their childhood?
Dead Poets Society. Classic from my own YA-dom. Cute boys who love poetry? Sign me up!
Little Women. I liked the Winona Ryder version—great cast, from the handsome (but never-gonna-get-Jo) Christian Bale to the charming Gabriel Byrne. I love the emphasis on women being more than their marriages.
Also on my shortlist: Rebecca, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Golden Compass, Jane Eyre, The Princess Bride
When I took the job I thought I’d be watching birds. Even though I knew research was more than that, I was not entirely aware of how much of a distance you need from them to work with them. Here’s what I’ve learned: In the name of science you have to be tough with the thing you’re studying. I can’t tell if this is how it always is, or if this is just because my boss is so old-school. Almost defiant about his dominance over nature.
So we have two jobs, taking blood samples from seaside sparrows, and taking food samples from red-wing blackbirds. Seaside sparrows are socially monogamous, and we’re taking blood samples of the couples and their young to see if they are genetically monogamous. Maybe she’s using him. Maybe she’s just playing along with her bird-equivalent-of-a-soul-mate and actually hitting it with some other sparrow on the side. Forcing this dolt to raise handsome’s babies. I don’t even have time to go into the irony of this. I’m dating my co-worker, and he’s already cheated on me. But no blood test is going to tell us once and for all if that is going to work.
We wait for the parentals to fly off, then take the baby birds and pull back a wing. I have a special, one-use-only needle that I use to prick the vein. Then I put several huge drops of blood in the vial before putting the bird back. My boss assures me that the bleeding will stop, but I don’t believe him. I can tell he thinks this is what I want to hear. We all tried to take the blood samples the first day, and I happened to be the best at it. Just one of those things. A skill I never knew existed, and one I’m not sure is transferable to many other things, except of course phlebotomy and heroin addiction. So… probably not listing this on my resume.
Then we have the red-winged blackbirds. This is my project—collecting what the adults feed their nestlings, then identifying the tiny crabs, spiders, and bugs. Sounds simple. But nothing is out here. When I signed up I never thought about how we’d get the samples.
We wait for the parents to leave the nestlings. This should be a sign, right? We’re always waiting until they are in their most helpless state. Then we take a small pipe cleaner and put it around the baby bird’s neck. Not so much to kill it, but enough to stop food from going down. Then we go back to a blind and watch. The parents come for several minutes, bringing food to their young.
In and out.
In and out.
After about 10 minutes we go back to the nest. The bird stares at us with big dark eyes. Above the pipe cleaner on its neck is a bulging mass. That’s what we’re after. We pick it up and force the bulge out, causing the bird to gag and spit up the most amazing things: fat fly larvae, tiny translucent crabs, bugs of all stripes, hairy wolf spiders. We put our booty into a labeled vial, remove the pipe cleaner and put the bird back. Now the parents can resume feeding it, and I hope against hope that this protein rich meal we stole won’t mean the death of the nestling.
That’s how it’s supposed to go. But it doesn’t always happen like that. The pipe cleaner can be too loose, or too tight. That’s what happened today, I had one that was too loose and too tight.
I am the first at the site. I go through the marsh, from one marked plot to the next: making rounds to set up the needed experiments, searching for new nests, setting up the blind, all to the intermittent sound of a clapper rail in the distance. I see my boss appear on the edge of the marsh, and then begin his walk across. It’s only a few hundred meters, but it can take thirty minutes. Everything around the marsh is supposed to be half-time. Slow as you can make it. No big movements, no loud voices. All of that will spook the birds, and you can’t do that.
You must never do that.
I go through my tasks, knowing he will be checking behind me. I focus on the samples I am taking. I set up one more blackbird. I hate not knowing if the noose—let’s just call it what it is—is too loose or too tight. I head back to the blind. He walks to my site, greets me noncommittally, and we go together to the nest. I can see the pipe cleaner was too loose immediately. No bulging pocket of critters in the bird’s neck. This little guy has been able to enjoy his breakfast. God forbid. My boss looks at me with contempt and disappointment. I blush mightily, and feel dread like a hot ball in my stomach. One failed attempt out of how many? Dozens this summer? Hundreds? Not to mention the bajillions of tiny veins I’ve opened for this guy. He acts as if I’ve ruined his life’s work. Like I may permanently threaten his career. I guess the truth is I don’t care. Well, I care, but I don’t care. I don’t care as much as he does. He picks up the nestling, tightens the pipe cleaner and turns his back to me as he approaches the blind. I follow behind, feeling like an inadequate child.
We wait without speaking. After twelve minutes we go back to the nest. I can see the bird’s unnatural posture from yards away. Conked out, like it’s taking a nap, but I know it’s not. The too-tight pipe cleaner kept the food out, yes, but also the air. I should feel triumphant, right? I proved once and for all how hard this precise balance is to achieve. hooray. for. me. There is no pleasure in being justified. Just sadness for the bird. My boss shrugs his shoulders as if this is just a typical day for him. He picks up the dead nestling, then puts it back without a word. He turns and walks on across the marsh. I turn slowly, and walk in the opposite direction, slowly picking my way through the spartina and the pickleweed. I realize this is not for me. I can’t live in a world where scaring birds is criminal but killing them is permissible.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Check out the Center for Biological Diversity's Ringtones
They are seriously awesome.
I have the Barred Owl right now, and it is amazing.
Also- check out the Ladies at YA-HWY for a killer contest!
Image from this page.
Monday, August 2, 2010
We nearly died getting here. Mohammed was supposed to come to Cairo, sleep all day, and then drive us to Dahab. But soon it became clear he hung out with his family all day. Awake. He came to our place in El Maadi in the middle of the night to pick us up. He was supposed to be well-rested but he wasn’t. We only know this because he kept falling asleep on the drive.
For hours we careened through the darkness, through a Mars-like landscape of piled red rocks that never felt like much of a road. We’d stop every few hours, halted by men with automatic weapons at checkpoints, gathering our passports and papers each time for examination. Eugenia says that it’s not as scary as it looks, that they probably don’t even have bullets for the guns. But does it matter, really, if they have bullets? The impact is the same: fear, a bit of worry, trepidation. They know exactly what those guns, with or without ammunition, will mean when people see them. We aren’t immune to their cold power.
I watch Mohammed, watch him but tried to act like I’m not staring. I’m southern, after all, we have manners. God forbid you embarrass the person who’s about to kill you by driving recklessly. Gentility above all. So I pretend to not watch him, but I do. Whenever I see that chicken-bob start, that motion that only means someone is sleeping, I shout his name:
Wake up Mohammed!
We worry that we won’t make it, but we do. With every nodding motion we yell, worried and frustrated that he will kill us all. Manners be damned. By now the sun is rising and we find it difficult to sleep, anyway.
When we step out of the SUV we feel like explorers, off a boat from another culture, another land, another world. Desperate for solid ground and comfort.
Our room is a rounded, circular thing. With stucco-ed interior walls and tiled floors. Our shower only sprays saltwater. When you hear that at check-in…
(I should mention, check in is just telling the guy who runs the place, Jimmy, that you want to stay. It’s not a formal process. Nothing is signed, no rates are posted. The cost is different for every single room. A quick calculation by the astute Jimmy, who takes in, in a millisecond, the clothes you are wearing, your country of origin, and your general demeanor. With these factors he can create a perfect price, what economists call one’s willingness to pay. He maximizes profit in a heartbeat, all the while giving you the impression that you’ve made a great deal. He’s quite good at his job, with a loyal following.)
So, when you hear “salt water shower” at check-in, you think: no big deal. Sounds refreshing, right. By day three, salt stuck in your hair, layering your skin, burning your eyes—you think differently. You’re desperate for sweet water.
Every afternoon we take our journals and our books to the ledge in front of the hotel. This place is no natural settlement. It exists only because we are here: asking for a hotel, an opportunity to dive, a meal, and some trinkets. The ledge is a tiled embankment hovering over the reef. Touching the reef. Built right to the edge. No protective policy in place. On the ledge an unending supply of food and drink can be brought to you. Lots of seafood. Who knows where it came from, who fished it, what their lives are like. We sit on the ledge, among large pillows and ottomans, lounging in what must seem a gluttonous life to the staff.
I sit for a while, writing. Two young girls, maybe 11, maybe 10, walk by selling bracelets. What I would call friendship bracelets. Embroidery thread knotted into patterns and curves. Eugenia says you have to haggle, but every time I try it makes me sick. I can’t argue with someone who has nothing about an amount that means little to me. A man making 12$ a month, and I’m supposed to try to make him come down in price by 10 cents before letting him sell me a scarf. I’d rather give him all of it. I’d rather throw up. Unless that’s more offensive.
The girls bring their bracelets over because I can never resist making eye contact with kids. I’ve always done it. I can get kids at a playground involved in an educational and constructive group activity in 10 minutes flat. Seven if we speak the same language. They bring their bracelets over and we invite them to sit with us. They are very shy, and can say almost nothing in English—only enough to say the price. An infinitesimal amount. Pennies. Literally. I ask to buy two, and they sell them to me, then sit to play checkers a while.
We ask to take their photograph, and they whip out head scarves in an instant, covering themselves before we snap the photo. I worry they will somehow get into trouble for allowing us this photo. I’m just not sure, and I don’t want them to be in a weird position. But they smile and laugh, finish the checkers game, and then walk on down the embankment—to sell their wares to other tourists.
I touch my stomach briefly, thinking about the little person inside. The person I know now is James, but didn’t know then. I wonder what the world, what life, will be like for that yet unknown person, and especially for those girls.