Sunday, January 26, 2003

Back from the midwinter ALA Conference in Philadelphia today. I sat in on the committee meetings for the Notable Books for Children and Best Books for Young Adults. As usual, BBYA was much more interesting and fast-moving than Notables: The booklist is more wide-ranging (including nonfiction, graphic novels, and adult books); the committee is more diverse (it has men!) as well as more passionate and less likely to be dominated by group opinion; I've read more of the titles nominated; and most interestingly, and usefully for their purpose, they solicit teen comments on the nominated books. This means that even a book like This Land Was Made for You and Me, over which every librarian and reviewer has just swooned, can get a negative assessment, if kids don't pick it up and read it. But then other committee members will disagree because they do find a way to put it in kids' hands. Books find their readers one reader at a time.

Besides the comments on This Land, the most interesting discussion I heard revolved around The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. The committee members acclaimed the book for its writing, the imaginationa, the utterly honest depiction of teenage wants, the spot-on relationships and minor characters, everything for which already it's been praised. (One librarian said "This should come with a warning for teenage girls that the man next door doesn't want to rape and murder them," and another responded, "No, it should have a warning for their mothers.") But one woman had had a nephew commit suicide the year before, and she felt strongly that the committee should not endorse to teenagers any book that showed a dead character looking back at the living: That might send the message that it would be all right to die, because they could still participate in life on earth. Others disagreed, arguing that the overall tone of the novel was so wondrous about life that it would encourage potential suicides to stay here. Is the committee responsible for reader interpretations? No. Should it leave a worthy book off the list because the book might be misinterpreted? No, and I'm sure Lovely Bones will be on the BBYA list when it's announced next week. A thought-provoking discussion, though . . . I'm sorry I didn't get to hear the talk about our St. Michael's Scales.

I also got to to see the back of the famous Richie Partington's head.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

I just realized my e-mail address isn't anywhere on this page. It probably makes no difference; I would be deeply surprised if anyone is reading this at all, except maybe Katy (hi, Katy!). But in case you-the-reader-who-is-not-Katy would like to comment in turn: Write me.

Yesterday I baked bagels -- and very good ones, I must say: buttery, noncrumbly, breadlike (isn't that reassuring?) but still light in the middle. (All thanks, praise, and credit due to "The Joy of Cooking.") Six of them are going to the Park Slope United Methodist Church bake sale this Saturday, if you'd like to try them for yourself. I may make some other yet-to-be-determined item for the bake sale as well, likely with a higher sugar content, because I love sugar and baking and especially the two combined.

Finished The Buccaneers, which I quite liked, except I could tell when the writing responsibilities shifted from Edith Wharton to Marion Mainwaring and my interest dwindled with the quality of the prose. Now drifting among Villette, one of my Resolution Books; The Browser's Ecstasy: A Meditation on Reading by Geoffrey O'Brien, purchased yesterday at a Seventh Avenue bookshop that sadly is going out of business; Summerland (although I'm afraid I left it in the laundromat on Saturday); and as of today, Dead Even by Brad Meltzer, which I'll read as long as I can stand the emotional broadcasting. I also shot through Hot Six by Janet Evanovich in the last week -- good, dirty, big-hair fun.

Lastly, the Lawyer and I went on two outings this weekend: One to "The Mikado," as performed by the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, and one to the "Quilts of Gee's Bend" exhibit at the Whitney. About "The Mikado": I can understand why some people like Gilbert and Sullivan, and I can understand why some people would rather have their eardrums extracted with gardening tools. But the Whitney exhibit was incredibly beautiful and sad -- the quilters' fierce individuality, their gift for color and rhythm in their designs, the love and the history they sewed into their work is all dying out now -- there's no next generation in Gee's Bend, Alabama. Much to my surprise, I was also inspired and moved by "Listening Post," which displays text from ICQ and other Internet dialogues on 100(?) small digital screens suspended from the ceiling, with audio accompaniment; sometimes it was voices speaking the text, sometimes sweeping, crashing music, all forming a fascinating mosaic of life on the Internet (meaning humanity -- at least the North American educated-with-computers set) at any given moment. Recommended for little maids from school, Grand Pooh-Bahs, and wandering minstrels alike.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

Oh, by the way, I did activate my cell phone, and it has already proved its use. Sigh. I hate it when my mother's right.

Which of the Pride & Prejudice Sisters are You?

brought to you by Quizilla

Thank goodness -- I was worried that I'd be Mary. But then my courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me. . . .

Thursday, January 09, 2003

The Lawyer and I watched "The Bachelorette" tonight. I've never seen a full episode of "The Bachelor," so I can't compare the gender politics involved, but I was generally disappointed by the lack of drama here -- or more accurately, by the lack of opportunity to get to know the 25 contestants and make my own choice among them. With a few (very few) exceptions, they all seemed like generic Charming Handsome Guys, rather interchangeable. (The exceptions for me were Bob, who gets bravery points for doing the Running Man in front of "the woman of his dreams" and on national television; the Tiffany's-bracelet guy (Russell?), because I liked what he said about wanting to date her -- and yes, the Tiffany's bracelet; and Jamie, but mostly because I like tall blonde basketball players.) Maybe they're selected partly for their blandness. Certainly that keeps things safer and less interesting. Did you notice the number of sports metaphors (cliches) used thus far? One of the un-rosed said "I guess I didn't bring my 'A' game." And judging from the previews, they're going to the mattresses next . . .

And, oh yes, so charming, that guy who didn't get a rose and then said "Well, obviously I should have bought a Tiffany's bracelet." Bastard.

I'm enjoying the imagination and multiple literary references in Summerland (Skidbladnir! Ragged Rock! Buendia!), but I'm just not falling into it the way I was sucked into -- to take the obvious example -- Harry Potter. (Or even better, Kavalier and Clay.) The writing is beautiful, of course, but the whole thing feels slightly too self-conscious to me: "Hey, kids, let's create a new American mythology!" (And said mythology seems to be equal parts Norse, Native American, and baseball myth, though I admit I'm not particularly well-versed in any of those.) Maybe I just don't love baseball enough. In any case, while I'm waiting for that magic "click" of love, I'll keep reading.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Ohh, tired tonight. Moments from this weekend: I finished The Exiles in Love, which is thoroughly charming and funny and makes me even more in love with Hilary McKay's writing; I bought a cell phone, though I still haven't activated it, because I haven't decided whether I am a cell-phone-owning kind of person yet; I lost my purse at Bed Bath & Beyond, but thankfully I didn't have to suffer the complete emotional breakdown such a loss would normally cause because I only discovered I lost it when the Customer Service department paged me to let me know it had been found, thank God; The Lawyer and I went to see Ikiru at Film Forum and had a fantastic dinner at the Blue Ribbon Bakery. Ikiru was amazing, but the best moment might have been in the hall outside the bathrooms: Film Forum is one of the few venues anywhere (and certainly in NYC) where men end up in the bathroom queue just like the women do, and I overheard a man on his cell phone say in a tone of complete befuddlement, "Yeah . . . No, I haven't gone in yet . . . I'm waiting for the bathroom . . . I'm in line." At which point all the females present collapsed against the wall laughing.

Two other read/see/listen notes: Friday night I rented X-Men, which I liked well enough, but it was a film obviously made for a fandom and therefore it didn't bother to fill in any characters beyond their superpowers and costumes -- disappointing. And tonight I watched Alias -- dumb, dumb, dumb scene between Will and Vaughn, but how much do I love Marshall? Next week's episode will apparently send Syd and Vaughn on a date . . . about bloody time, though as I was watching tonight I thought "Dammit, Vaughn/Syd, do something interesting." They've both been so boring and straight-arrow of late; other than that Michael Vartan smile (and worried look, and him in leather in Taipei, and his absolute concern for Sydney . . . ) I'm forgetting why she (I) should be in love with him. Maybe this date will shake them out of their stupor.

Now reading Summerland by Michael Chabon, which I'm enjoying thus far, but Chabon used the first person for his narrator at one point ("This story I'm telling you") and so I'm on my guard.

Friday, January 03, 2003

I forgot to add: BMG is an slippery, deceptive music service. They informed me today that my wonderful four-CD Stevie Wonder box set was on sale and so does not qualify as a "qualifying selection" -- e.g., one that allows me to get the advertised three free CDs. I'm not sure whether to keep fighting the Bertelsmann Man(n), to return the said supposedly free CDs (though I've already opened one of them, and love it -- John Mayer's Room for Squares, nice bubbly acoustipop), or to give up and pay my invoice.

On the other hand, the letter also says I am entitled to one free single selection, so what the heck -- if I can get seven CDs for the price of four bought in-store, I can live with that.

Cheryl, An Introduction:

Children's book editor, narrative addict, trivia hound, Harry Potter expert, Jane Austen disciple, Scrabble hobbyist, film junkie, Brooklyn (N.Y.) resident, Peculiar (Mo.) girl, mean sugar-cookie baker, Metrocard artist, daughter, sister, friend, American, countrywoman, copyeditor, listmaker, long-walker, collagist, blonde.

Employee of Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Press; magna cum laude graduate of Carleton College, Northfield, Minn., with a degree in English, class of 2000, and Raymore-Peculiar High School, Peculiar, Mo., class of 1996; leasor (?) of an apartment in the beautiful Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn; other roles upon request.

Last night I finished Donna Tartt's The Secret History. Excellent beginning, page-turning first half, and then they committed the murder and the whole thing became Guilt, Drugs, Fighting, Rinse, Repeat. Certainly this was the first big so-what of my 2003 reading year. But today I finished Hilary McKay's The Exiles at Home, which I loved even more than The Exiles and nearly as much as Saffy's Angel -- I laughed out loud three times on the F train, which earned me weird looks and furtive glances at the title of my book. Good. If more adults read children's books, this world would be a more joyful and interesting place. I'm now happily embarking on The Exiles in Love, and also continuing with Edith Wharton's The Buccaneers (as completed by Marion Mainwaring, I must note with trepidation).

Resolutions for 2003:

Live deeply, joyfully, passionately, and well.

Hang up clothes before getting in bed.
Go to the gym twice a week.
Do Core-Strengthening Exercises nightly.
Save a thousand dollars.
Let no food go bad.
Learn discretion.

Have a dinner party.
Walk the Queensboro and Bronx bridges. (There are at least four of them, plus the Triborough, and the Bronx is the borough I know the least -- it'll be my New World for 2003.)
Go to the American Museum of Natural History.
Attend a rock concert and a cabaret.
Get drunk.
Go clubbing.
Write and submit something for publication.
Bake a cheesecake and sourdough bread.
The Unexpected.

Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, and Italo Calvino
Moby Dick
A Passage to India
Midnight’s Children

Other suggestions -- for books, at least -- cheerfully accepted.