Thursday, May 31, 2007

Confessions of a Justified Book Buyer

Total number of bags of books taken to church book sale: 2

Total number of books picked up tonight at sale (the benefits of volunteering to help sort!): 13

So okay, I was supposed to relieve my gasping shelves and tottering TBR pile and not buy any books at all. But one of the thirteen is a gift for Emily, and one is a gift for James, and one is The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist so I have a copy to lend to interested parties and I don't risk losing my own, and one is Bel Canto which I've been wanting to read FOREVER, and one is Prep ditto, and one is The Year of Magical Thinking ditto ditto, and then there were Pale Fire and The Moonstone which I know I am going to read someday, and two are the second two books in the Temeraire trilogy which have been recommended to me for years and are described as Anne-McCaffrey-meets-Patrick-O'Brian and the lone word for that is AWESOME, and they were all much cheaper than if I'd bought them for new, and --

Enough apologizing. I was purely happy leaving the church, the double happiness of the satisfied buyer and the anticipatory reader, and happiness never needs excusing. New books! Hurrah!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road

I'm having another cleaning day -- at home this time, readying my apartment for summer. I changed the sheets; stuffed my comforter into a garbage bag to go to the cleaners; excavated the couch from the week's detritus of clothes and papers; put away all my winter clothes and transferred the summer tank tops and skirts into the closet; set a pitcher of tea in the window to brew. It's hot in here, our first really humid day of the year, so the box fan is whirring under the open windows, and I'm looking forward to that tea as soon as it cools.

I'm also cleaning out my bookshelves and CDs in search of donations for the church book sale next week. Oddly I find it much harder to get rid of CDs than I do books, even with the fact that I store half my albums on iTunes. . . . I guess it takes just a brief taste of a book for me to know whether it's worth keeping around, while with a CD I feel as if I have to listen to the entire thing to know whether it contains any nuggets of gold, and so I get vaguely anxious if I toss one out without listening to it -- who knows what life-changing song might be hiding there? Some CDs I associate so strongly with a particular time in my life (Sarah MacLachlan's Surfacing, spring 2001; the Dixie Chicks' Home, fall 2003; Patty Griffin's Flaming Red, fall 2004-spring 2005) that I want to keep them solely as mementos (and the music is pretty good too, of course). And books I buy for myself and live by myself, while friends, family, and exes have given me much of my music collection, so there are emotional associations with not just the songs but the physical CDs. . . . I'm letting go of part of my past -- a little part of me -- with each of these CDs, even if that past is dead and gone and moved on from to happiness; even if I never listened to the CD! Stories, stories, in every little jewel case.

Some days, I feel like my entire life is a YA novel, and I will never ever be grown up.

Still, I have a sizeable stack of CDs and two bags full of books to go to the sale, for which we'll be accepting donations at the church all day Monday and then Thursday and Friday nights. The sale itself is next Saturday from 9 to 4, and everyone in Brooklyn should check it out. As an FYI, I'll be gone on vacation from Monday to Wednesday, so please don't expect a reply to any e-mail until Thursday. And have a great Memorial Day weekend!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Curried Couscous Salad with Dried Sweet Cranberries

This is one of my favorite recipes because it tastes fantastic, it's low-fat, even a half-batch is enough for three or four lunches (the recipe below was designed for parties and serves 10-12), it keeps well, and it is absurdly easy and quick to fix (maybe 15 minutes tops from beginning to end, including the time spent boiling water). If you're fixing dinner, serve it with grilled chicken breasts and steamed broccoli; if you're invited to a Memorial Day picnic, it's a delightful change-up from the usual summer salad.

Curried Couscous Salad with Dried Sweet Cranberries
From Young and Hungry by Dave Lieberman*

3 cups couscous
1 1/2 cups sweetened dried cranberries
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced on an angle (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
Juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups chopped toasted walnuts (optional; to toast the walnuts, spread them on a baking sheet and bake in a 400-degree oven, shaking once or twice, until they turn a shade darker, about 8 minutes)

Stir the couscous, cranberries, curry powder, salt, and sugar together in a heatproof bowl. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil and pour it over the couscous. Add the OJ, give it a big stir, cover the bowl with a dish, and let stand. Stir it again once or twice until the liquid has been absorbed and the couscous is tender, about 5 minutes.

Fluff the couscous with a fork. Add the oil, scallions, parsley, lemon juice, and toasted walnuts if using them. (CK notes: You can also add other seasonings to taste; I like adding a tablespoon of cumin and a tablespoon of cinnamon for extra sweetness and kick.) Stir until everything is distributed evenly through the couscous.

That's it.

Yup, really.

* Random endorsement: This is the perfect cookbook to give a recent college or high school grad -- especially a guy -- as the food is classy, the recipes are all fairly straightforward, and it includes a wide array of basics or good variations on them.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Saturday Liveblogging, Part III

If David Attenborough were filming me for a documentary about the children's book editor in her natural habitat, the last two hours would have been rather more entertaining than the first. I put away books. I packaged manuscripts and took them down to the mailroom. (The new carpet is looking very nice.) I wrote a reject letter. I cleared off some projects that had been sitting on my IN chair for some time. I have not been doing anything very important or essential; but it's the little things that make one have a slightly clearer head, so the big things can then be tackled with more energy and hope. On Monday.

I found a Post-It that I used to have stuck to my computer monitor and stuck it back on. It said simply "Waldeinkamseit -- forest solitude" -- a beautiful German word for a lovely feeling.

Other things on top of or attached to my computer monitor:

  • A Chinese good-luck cat giving me the "CAT POWER!" sign
  • A McDonald's toy of a hippie bus (from the movie "Cars") that Lisa Yee sent me
  • A small silver U-shaped vase
  • A picture of the Tooth Fairy drawn by Ross Collins

And a series of Post-Its:

  • Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm. -- Winston Churchill
  • My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me.
  • DOES YOUR P&L HAVE A ROYALTY? [I always forget to add in the royalty in our P&L program and have to fix it]
  • i.e. -- That is, in other words; e.g. -- for example (no etc. @ end)
  • lie, lay, have lain; lay, laid, have laid. Lay takes an object.
  • (a note on a story to be written about meeting Death)

And another series of Post-Its stuck to the side noting books I want to read:

  • Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones [an author]
  • Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality
  • Two Eggs, Please by Betsy Levin and Sarah Weeks [Jill recommended this when I was thinking about picture books a few months ago]
  • Cross-X: A Turbulent, Triumphant Season with an Inner-City Debate Squad, by Joe Miller
  • Thy Kingdom Come by Randall Balmer

Rachel is now sitting in my office, in my reading chair, going over the copyedits for our spring 2008 book with Ross. The workmen have gone home.

And actually, Rachel and I have just decided to leave as well and go get pedicures. Red toenails, here I come.

Happy weekend, all!

Saturday Work Liveblog, Part II

Very little of physical excitement happened in these two hours: I read. I thought. I wrote. I stuck what I read and wrote in either a file box (to be shared with the rest of the imprint at our next staff meeting) or an envelope (to be returned to its creator or publisher).

But I read and thought about a lot of mentally exciting things: A book about Muhammad, who I am ashamed to say I know very little about, and I was fascinated by what I learned of his life. A poetry collection or two, which require careful consideration about the worth of the poetry and the best way to make it work for publication in today's market. Some French children's publishers' catalogues, which featured some really, really beautiful books. (Also a lot of books about philosophy and death, I must say . . . You can often discern a nation's character (or at least the stereotypes of a nation's character) in its children's book catalogues. The Swedish: amazingly open about sex! And death too.) And a foreign picture book about a little boy taking a bath in the sink and the deeply strange-looking adventures on which this leads him (starting with a grown man sitting in the sink with him with a clipboard), which features a lot of nakedness to go along with the weirdness. (Two other things that come up a lot in foreign picture books, which you hardly ever see in American ones: nakedness and peeing.)

It's also interesting, in reading foreign-publishers' catalogs, to see what's common across all children's publishing houses everywhere: A chick-lit line. A sports-book line (almost exclusively soccer in Europe). Horses, occasionally (though much more in the UK or Australia than in Europe central). Princesses, pirates, nonfiction about dinosaurs. And the incursion of multiculturalism in each country's unique form: The French have lots of books about Algeria and Islam; Germany has books about Turkey and Turks; we saw a lot of books from the UK and Australia about asylum seekers a couple years ago (though this seems to have fallen off a bit). (There's also deep stereotyping, I must say, in the form of wildly inaccurate-looking books about Native Americans or Africans that would give U.S. cultural arbiters fodder for years.) It's fascinating.

And going back to the nakedness/peeing/sex: Thinking about how other countries are so comfortable and accepting of these things and telling their children about them, I start to wonder why we're not. What's the matter with having really honest, frank discussions about body parts or losing your virginity or the fact that we're all naked under our clothes? While they don't need to be a topic of daily discussion (or picture books, necessarily), maybe we could all calm down a bit about these matters if we discussed them matter-of-factly rather than with our usual frenzied Puritanism. The scrotum debate is unimaginable elsewhere. . . .

I hope there's a European or Asian children's books editor out there somewhere who's writing the foreign equivalent of this post: "Those crazy Americans! So uptight about penises!"

Saturday Work Liveblog

I am here at work on an overcast Saturday, trying to clean off my desk, and to keep things interesting, I'm going to liveblog every couple of hours (trying very hard not to have the blogging eat up my work time). Rachel's here too, and she just brought in cupcakes from Dean & Deluca as a reward to both of us for our virtue.

Some men are installing carpet down the hall and listening to -- Eminem, I think. There's an R&B song on the Top 40 charts with the chorus, "You've got an icebox where your heart used to be, an icebox where your heart used to be," and then a man with a bass voice growls, "So cold, so cold, so cold. . . . So cold, so cold, so cold." It never fails to crack me up. I especially love the use of the old-fashioned word "icebox" -- "refrigerator" just had too many syllables, I guess.

Also on a musical note: On the way home from work last night, I saw a man in the subway station singing a song called "Suicide Is Painless" on a ukelele.

I have been thinking about children's literature this week, even if I haven't posted here. . . . I said this on child_lit in relation to a discussion about whether Tamora Pierce was great or good:

"I draw the distinction between great and good based on a work's depth -- the emotional and thematic/philosophical levels it strives for and succeeds in reaching. Tamora Pierce and Eoin Colfer are entertaining and good; Philip Pullman and J. K. Rowling are not only entertaining but thought-provoking (on the subjects of God vs. man and love/death respectively, I would say, being VASTLY reductive) -- and therefore great.

"Or to cite another genre: I am on a mad Georgette Heyer romance binge at the moment, and loving every minute of it, but while Heyer has Jane Austen's gift for character and humor, she doesn't have Austen's control of plot or clarity and fineness of morality/theme. And that morality lifts Austen to a great writer, while Heyer is simply a very good one.

"For more thoughts inspired by an earlier round of this discussion, see"

End of self-quoting. Would you all agree? I finished two Heyer novels in bed this morning, btw, Frederica and These Old Shades (both begun earlier this week or last), and they were just marvelous. I'm on to Arabella next, and thinking I'm going to order Regency Buck and Faro's Daughter to feed the addiction.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Luck Be A Lady

There's an article in the Times today called "The Greatest Mystery: Making a Best Seller." If you're in publishing, it will tell you what you already know -- that is, nobody knows anything -- but if you're not in publishing, it's a concise little introduction to the gamble.

Saying "Nobody knows anything" is disingenuous, though; or at least, it should be more specific: "Nobody knows anything about what makes a bestseller." (This article is in the Business section, not the Arts.) Editors know what makes a good book, or we hope we do; like all readers, we get that tingle up our spine, that feeling of falling in love, that urge to tell everyone about this wonderful new experience -- compounded, in our case, by the desire to help the book be even better. But a book's quality is no guarantee of its sales, and conversely, things of what I would judge questionable quality sometimes sell very, very well. And of course, standards of quality vary hugely . . . from grown-ups to children, editor to editor, reader to reader.

I've always thought we don't need more market research, we just need better ways to connect readers to books that already exist: You love Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane; you're in the mood for an intelligent literary mystery with wit and romance; you input all this into a computer, and beep-boop-beep-beep-bop-boo, you're told to read Laurie King's Holmes-Russell books. Something like that. And, of course, we need to expand the market, to figure out some way to show all those people staring into space on the subway or watching infomercials for vegetable choppers at 2 a.m. that hey, you could be reading something that would interest and engage and surprise you instead, and wouldn't that be more exciting? (And then connect those people with the right books, of course.) (Though that might require market research, to reach them.)

So maybe a better way to say it is "Everybody knows what they feel, and loves a good book, however they define it." But after that: "Nobody knows anything."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Book Illness Alert!

I have recently contracted a severe case of Pfefferitis and thought I should warn you all against what could very well become a raging epidemic of the disease . . . if you haven't contracted it already.

An intense 337-page inflammation of the mind and heart, caused by reading Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

Reading Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer; inability to stop talking about reading Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer; constant low-level concern about one's own survival in case of lunar disturbance.

Progress of Disease
Stage 1: Crack open book. Start reading about the pleasantly normal life of 16-year-old Miranda, who lives in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Stage 2: In the book, the moon is knocked off kilter by an asteroid, and giant tsunamis (drawn by the moon's gravitational pull) swallow both coasts. Realize you live on the coast, and thus, in the book, you would now be dead. Gulp. However, Miranda is still alive, and so you keep reading to see how she and her family survive.

Stage 3: Miranda and all her family join a mass ransacking of a grocery store. Picture this same scene in a New York City grocery store. Gulp again. Plan to start stocking up on canned goods now, and also procuring water-purification tablets and kung fu lessons. This resolution increases in inverse proportion to the family's food supply over the months that follow.

Stage 4: Holy freaking wombats! Volcanoes have sprung up near Montreal, literally pulled out of the earth by the moon! Could that actually happen? That couldn't actually happen. But the ash from the many new volcanoes brings on a new mini ice age, and the family must burn their stockpile of wood to stay warm. Note to self: Ask landlord to install wood-burning stove in apartment, or failing that, research likelihood of volcanoes in Brooklyn.

Stage 5: Give up regular life; let dishes rot; finish book.

Stage 6: Feel renewed appreciation of life, electricity, family, sunshine, and chocolate.

Only known cure: Finish reading book, then purchase a gallon of water and three tins of canned tuna. Store all five items in a safe place. Also -- because this should be a part of every prescription -- eat chocolate.

Highly contagious, whether by person-to-person or book-to-person contact. In fact, you may have been infected just reading this. If so, do not panic! Clear your schedule, proceed calmly to your nearest bookstore/library . . . and watch out for sprouting volcanoes.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Q&A: Lisa Yee, author of SO TOTALLY EMILY EBERS

Last month, Arthur A. Levine Books published Lisa Yee's latest novel, So Totally Emily Ebers, which was edited by Arthur and me. I invited Lisa to come over to my blog for a Q&A.

Q. What is your favorite part of writing?

A. Aside from seeing someone reading one of my books, my favorite part is when I write a great sentence. When the nouns and verbs and adjectives and adverbs and stars align just so. It is the best feeling, ever.

What's your writing routine? When is your best time to write? Do you work in longhand first, or do you do everything on the computer? Do you tend to complete drafts ahead of time, or work right up until the last minute? Does anyone read your work before you send it to me and Arthur?

OMG, is this one question?

I'm a night person and do my best writing after midnight. That's when the house is quiet, and it's just me and my words rattling around.

I would love to write in longhand first. But sadly, I have very bad handwriting and can't even read it. It was the only C I ever got in school. Penmanship. Sigh. Luckily there are computers! If we still had to use typewriters, I don't think I could an author--I make soooo many changes as I go.

I tend to (try to) complete drafts ahead of time. Then I overwork them to death.

I once asked my husband to read a manuscript, and he fell asleep in the middle of it. Neither of us has recovered from that. So now, no one reads anything before I send it to you and Arthur. Although, I do read passages to my family, especially to my teenager who enjoys pointing out my mistakes.

When did you start your LJ? What inspired you to do it?

I was inspired to start blogging because of a intense spiritual need I had to tell the world about my deep thoughts. (Snort!)

What really happened was that I belong to a YA Novelist listserv. A couple years ago, a bunch of people kept talking about this thing called blogging. It sounded weird/intriguing, so I thought I'd try it out. Now I'm hooked.

What writing communities/listservs/writing groups are you a part of? What is your participation with them like (e.g., do you share drafts, brainstorm, offer one another general support)?

I'm on LiveJournal and MySpace where I blog about writing and reading and Peeps and bad dogs and whatever crosses my mind at the moment. I also blog for AS IF!, Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom.

As far as listservs, as I mentioned I belong to a YA Novelist one. It's been WONDERFUL. It's the on-line version of a water cooler. Writing is so solitary. But with the listserv we ask questions, share information, procrastinate, and motivate one another. We cheer great reviews and hiss at bad ones. It's quite a lovely support system.

What about the LAYAs? How did you get involved with them?

The LAYAs stand for Los Angeles Young Adult Authors. (Technically, it should be LAYAAs.) We formed when author Cecil Castellucci realized there was a group of New York authors who got together for Drink Nights, and thought we should have our own west coast version of the group. We don't limit ourselves to Drink Nights, however. We've sort of gone bowling (once we all arrived, we decided not to bowl), we've had a dinner/wine night that was sponsored by a wine company, we've been judges (and worn crowns) for a parade, etc.

You weren't initially interested in the idea of doing an Emily book. What made you change your mind, and what did you find to connect with in her?

I heard from so many fans asking for a book about Emily. Plus, my daughter wanted one. When I starting thinking about it, I realized she really did have a story to tell.

What really pushed me toward it though was one night I was having dinner with someone--an adult, actually. And he said, "I can't imagine an Emily book because we already know everything about her from Millicent and Stanford's novels."

And I thought, "No, no, no, nooooooo. You don't know her. She puts on a good front, but there is so much more to her!"

With Emily I tried to tap into her bubbly exterior, all the while being aware of the pain she carried inside. I think a lot of kids (and adults) do this. And it's the seeming happy ones who can have the deepest hurt.

I can think of only one other author who's juggled the same plot over three books starring the three same characters (Joyce Cary, an adult novelist, who wrote a trilogy beginning with THE HORSE'S MOUTH). What were the challenges and rewards of such an approach?

Oh! I didn't know about Joyce Cary. I think I did mention William Faulkner's SOUND AND THE FURY in my proposal, though. However, that was a single book with multiple POVs.

At first I thought, "Oh, it'll be easy to write these because I already know what happens." Ah hem. Wrong-O!

The actual overlapping scenes are only a small portion of each novel. The challenge was channeling the voices of each of the three characters since they were all written in first person. For example, even though Stanford and Emily appear in Millicent's book, Millie only recounts what she hears them say, not what they are thinking. So I had to develop backstories and really get to know each character--what makes them laugh, cry, worry, be scared.

In doing all this, I fell in love with Stanford and Emily. I really hurt for them and I laughed along with them. It was wonderful. What was not quite as fun was doing timelines and calendars and charts to make sure the correct scenes and lines of dialog overlapped. Eeeew. Luckily, I had YOU! Man, you are a whiz at detail. A couple times on the phone you'd say, "Blah, blah and then this happens on this day . . ." and I'd go, "Uh huh, yep." (But then I'd have to go look it up because I didn't remember the scene you were talking about!)

Do you have a favorite scene common to all three books? If so, which one and why?

I think I like the drugstore scene the best. It's where Millicent, Emily and Stanford are together for the first time--sort of like a collision. To get each person's take on the event is such a hoot. When I go to school visits, it's what I like to read to demonstrate POV.

Emily's father was a rock star with the one-hit wonders the Talky Boys. Who were your favorite bands in the 1980s? Any memorable shows?

Ooooh, you would ask me that! Let's see. I liked The Culture Club (Boy George has a great voice). And I loved the song, "Careless Whisper" by George Michael, who had been with Wham! I was a huge Madonna fan and I liked Spandau Ballet. Later, I found out that Princess Diana loved Spandau Ballet, and I thought, "We are so totally alike!" I used to go to a lot of concerts and I remember seeing Hall and Oates, and Earth, Wind and Fire, and George Benson, and Melissa Manchester, and Christopher Cross, and Michael Franks, and . . . hmmmm, I should probably stop now or we'll run out of space!

Maddie, Millicent's grandmother, plays a prominent role in all three books, and her humor and vibrancy makes her one of my favorite characters in the trilogy. Is she based on a real person?

Maddie is a work of fiction. So often adults are bad guys in books. I wanted one who was fun and irreverent and loving and kind, even if she did break the law now and then. It's surprised me how much Maddie has resonated with my readers. A lot of kids ask about her and want to know more about her.

A lot of the brand names in SO TOTALLY EMILY EBERS are code references to real people. Could you identify some of them for us?

Oooooh, there are SO MANY references to real people. Hmmmm, here are a few . . .

  • Mr. Kinnoin, who jumps on a desk and starts screaming/crying after he wins the lottery, is named after my friend Dave Kinnoin, who's a singer/songwriter.
  • AJ Shiffman, one of Emily's best friends from New Jersey, is named after a girl whose mom won the "Your Name in My Next Book" auction for a fundraiser for my kids' school district.
  • The Castellucci Collection sundress is named for my friend, author/playwright/musician/everything Cecil Castellucci.
  • The Mercedes Metz lawn gnomes are named after our middle school principal.
  • Dr. Seto is named after my doctor and JodiJodi clothes are in honor of my agent, Jodi Reamer.

Your current project, CHARM-SCHOOL DROPOUT, is a YA novel. At what point did you realize it was going in that direction? Did your thinking or process change at all writing YA vs. writing middle-grade?

It was actually quite liberating writing a YA. The book didn't start out as one, but the more I delved into the main character's life, things started happening that took me by surprise. I realized that the content was so much more mature than what I had done in the past, and hence it became a YA. It's quite dark in some places, but still very funny.

Finally, can you provide some of the lyrics to Emily's father's #1 rock smash, "Heartless Empty-Hearted Heartbreaker"?

Uh. Hmmmm, I never thought of this before. I used to write jingles, but they were mostly about food products. So let me give it a try. Off the top of my head . . .

You, you ripped my soul apart

You, you are without a heart

You, you're the one who brought me to my knees

For you, I'd be back in a heartbeat, if you'd just say pleeeeease . . .

Heartless empty-hearted heartbreaker -- whoooo, whooooo, whooooooo

Hahaha . . . I can't stop laughing. This is soooooo bad. On purpose, mind you!

For more on the Emily Ebers editorial process, see this talk and Lisa's LJ. And to buy So Totally Emily Ebers (hint, hint), visit this link or your local independent bookseller!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Intimations and Promulgations

  • I will be speaking at the Missouri SCBWI conference in St. Charles (outside St. Louis) on November 10. I've now done a big novel-craft talk and a big picture-book-craft talk -- is it time for a submissions speech again? I'd love to talk about characters and characterizations in some way, I think, or voice, but I'm not sure how much of those can be taught. . . . Hrmm. Suggestions?
  • The Park Slope United Methodist Church Book Sale will be Saturday, June 2. If you love books, this is an amazing event -- we're taking over a whole gym this time for sales of hundreds of wonderful used titles. You can also donate your old books if you'd like to clear off your shelves; click here for more info, and mark your calendar.
  • Kate's Paperie in Soho is having a moving sale and it's fantastic -- 20-80% off a bunch of stuff, including their entire stock of paper.
  • Harry and the Potters are performing on June 1 at the Knitting Factory and -- this is awesome -- July 19, two days before DH-Day, at the Bohemian Beer Garden in Astoria.
  • Cool thing el boyfriendo has done this week: He recorded the voice of a character in Grand Theft Auto IV.
  • "Gilmore Girls" is going off the air. Having seen only maybe half of this season's episodes, and not being very impressed, I am not as sad about it as I would have been otherwise. Logan = feh, but at least Luke and Lorelai are moving back toward one another . . .
  • I can't talk about Luke and Lorelai without thinking of this fantastic Jennifer Crusie essay, "The Five Things I've Learned about Writing Romance from TV," to wit: "It's not that they're opposites and hate each other, it's that they're different enough to challenge each other's world views, and because of that, their attraction to each other becomes a demonstration of their characters. Or to put it another way: Interesting characters like people who challenge them and make them grow, not people who reinforce them as they are and help them stagnate." If you have any sort of relationship in your novel, this essay is worth reading, but if you have a romance, it's a must.
  • Rock. No, Paper. No, Scissors.
  • Ah, it's nice to be blathering here again.
  • And six more things that make me happy: Two new pillows, three new-to-me Georgette Heyer novels, and one last McVitie.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A Poem by Wislawa Szymborska

Some Like Poetry

not all, that is.
Not even the majority of all, but the minority.
Not counting school, where one must,
or the poets themselves,
there'd be maybe two such people in a thousand.

but one also likes chicken-noodle soup,
one likes compliments or the color blue,
one likes an old scarf,
one likes to prove one's point,
one likes to pet a dog.

but what short of thing is poetry?
Many a shaky answer
has been given to this question.
But I do not know and do not know and hold on to it,
as to a saving bannister.

-- translated by Joanna Trzeciak, in the collection Miracle Fair

Some People Like Poetry

Some people--
that means not everyone.
Not even most of them, only a few.
Not counting school, where you have to,
and poets themselves,
you might end up with something like two per thousand.

but then, you can like chicken noodle soup,
or compliments, or the color blue,
your old scarf,
your own way,
petting the dog.

but what is poetry anyway?
More than one rickety answer
has tumbled since that question first was raised.
But I just keep on not knowing, and I cling to that
like a redemptive handrail.

-- translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh and printed in The New Republic, October 28, 1996

To conclude National Poetry Month: One poem, two translations from the Polish. Which do you prefer?

This is why working on translations is so hard and so interesting, and why you have to find the right English "voice" for every foreign-language author and book (your cousin who speaks fluent Spanish won't do): Translation requires interpretation of the meaning of the text, and an adjustment of the translator's voice to serve the author's point. I like the second translation better, because its personality is warmer (all that use of the second person), less formal, more personal, as poetry should be: something you live with, that helps you get through the day, like dark chocolate or true friends. And I like the word "redemptive" in the last line. But I also like the "do not know and do not know" in the first translation, the active demonstration of and insistence upon that not-knowing; and the elegance of the word "bannister," as opposed to the plain dull "handrail." In translations even more than in other writing, I'm aware of an author actively making choices, and every word counts.

Thanks for sticking with me all this month! We'll be back to the usual approximation of "normal" here in May. And more Szymborska, all translated by Trzeciak: here, here, and here.