Friday, April 18, 2014

Everyone loves to get something in the mail

Two of my best friends (April and Steph) live in the UK. We don’t see or call each other very often, for fairly obvious reasons, but we’ve developed a love of sending packages. We write short emails or Facebook posts to each other, but more often than not, they’re quick “Hey – did you get my letter yet?” We scour stationery stores and thrift stores for fun things to add to our next box (the card and gift room has helped on a number of occasions – my friends love the Slap Happy cards I send). I’ve taken it to a whole new nerd level by purchasing a wax stamp to hold each of my letters closed and writing with fancy pens. But most importantly, we send books.

Right after graduating college, I experienced the all too common “Well, now what?” that most people that age do. I started doing yoga as a way to get out of the house and maybe get some exercise. My yoga teacher recommended a book she had read called Real Happiness, which helped ease some of my frustrations and fears. I sent April a copy right after I finished reading it and she experienced the same sort of relief. When Sharon Salzberg came to the store earlier this year, I had her sign a copy of her new book for April and grabbed a copy of Real Happiness for Steph. April sent me a beautiful print of a poem by Hafiz when I confessed my lack of direction and Steph followed up with some Neruda.

Steph is an artist. She puts postcards of her latest art shows in her packages and her letters are almost always on sketch paper with doodles in corners, sometimes obscuring the words entirely. I keep meaning to frame them. She sends books by authors I barely know whose names I can’t pronounce – Milosz, Szymborska, Akhmatova. I send her Man Ray necklaces, pamphlets from local art shows, and The Art Forger.

We send childhood favourites. I was absolutely aghast that April had never read A Wrinkle in Time, so I sent her my copy. She in return couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of the Just William series and so sent me one of hers. April is studying music in grad school and plays the harp, so I sent her a copy of Maggie Stiefwater’s Lament, about a young harpist (and some homicidal faeries). I just found out that Steph never read any E.B. White, so she’ll be getting Charlotte’s Web in her next package.

There’s just something about getting a well-loved copy of a book from a friend. Knowing that it’s changed the life of someone you love and who loves you makes the reading experience different. There’s also something special about knowing that you are the reason that someone is delving into a world for the first time. We inspire each other to be better women, better artists, better readers. I can’t wait to see what I get in my next box. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In Three Bookmarks

After lugging my borrowed copy through four countries, I finally finished The Goldfinch just in time for its Pulitzer Prize win. I borrowed it from Lydia, who borrowed it from Natasha, who had grabbed a galley copy of the book over a year ago. It has been loved, very, very loved, with three bookmarks, unintentionally bent pages and all.

Bookmark #1

When I was in Boston Logan waiting for my first of (too) many flights, I opened the book and discovered this bookmark on page 37, holding Lydia's page. It was made by the insanely talented Julia while she had a broken arm, and I'm not surprised that while wobbly, the entire image is legible! I'm happy to say Julia is completely healed (yes, it took me that long to finish this book) and is in tip top shape. I used it for my bookmark for a little bit, until I realized that meant Lydia would be at a loss when I returned the book.

Bookmark #2

I have to go to bookstores wherever I go. In Jakarta, I was attempting to navigate a mall with a friend and extremely limited knowledge of Bahasa (terima kasih!) when we happened upon a machine next to the mall directory. After using the touch screen to type out 'book,' out came this slip with very careful directions to the closest bookstore.  I don't think I've ever been so happy to see a touch screen in my life. This slip of paper made me so delighted, and in my desire to keep it forever I put it in the safest place I knew--the book I was currently reading.

Bookmark #3

Once I had gotten back to Boston, I put The Goldfinch on my kitchen table in an attempt to read it during breakfast. Almost immediately my roommate noticed and mentioned that she wanted to read it, so we started reading it in tandem. It was fun to see our respective bookmarks jump ahead bit by bit.

My roommate's bookmark of choice is a Brookline Booksmith bookmark (of course), continually supplied by me.

I'm glad to part from it. I have held this book in my hands, used it as a pillow among a sea of airport sleepers, been furious at myself for carrying a four-pound book with me when I am notorious for going over my luggage weight--in short, spent more than enough time with it. The Goldfinch is now safely nestled in Lydia's box, sans duct tape, ready to be read again.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Perseverance of Faeries

First many exciting books...

1. Noggin by John Corey Whaley
Before I say something about this book there are two things you should know about me:
1. I am not a Boston native. 2. I don't have a smartphone so I get around by walking around with Googlemaps directions written on post-it notes. If I get lost I can't easily find my way out. This makes me extra neurotic about knowing where I am.
I was so caught up reading this book I got on the wrong train, going the wrong direction.While not the most egregious error, it's pretty notable for me. This book is AMAZING.

2. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
The conclusion to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. Do I need to say anything else?

3. Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
This book is adorable. It doesn't hurt that Beekle looks like an Adipose. But my favorite is the Day-of-the-Dead-looking Octopus.

There have been a number of trends in the YA book world. Some of them are noticeably big. Some of them are thought to be "the next big thing" but never quite make it. Others are a constant stream through the YA world that never really seem to make a huge splash, even if they're always there.

One of these undercurrents that I've always loved are the faerie books. Faeries have made appearances in popular series and even have quite a few of their own.

They've always seemed like such an obvious choice of topic to write about. There's so much myth and legend readily available to play around with that I've always felt like there should be more books that utilize it. I think it's easy for people to dismiss the idea of faeries as little balls of light with wings and flower skirts, or even the little fiery pixies like Tinkerbell. But the faeries of myth of dark, bitter, blood-splattered things .

In many traditional stories these creatures are cold and cruel. They can't lie so they play games with people, revealing truths in ways that hurt others. They're tricksters. They steal children and replace them with faerie children.

This sort of dark, cynical cruelty is right up the alley of the sort of stories that are popular now.

That careful, tense, knife-edged diplomacy that's become so big in response to Game of Thrones' popularity can be easily transferred to the Seelie and Unseelie (roughly, light and dark) or season based faerie courts. The relationships between these courts are always strained, at best.

The eternally attempted retellings are often seen in alterations or flat revamps of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. And as big as mythology and folklore is now there are plenty of other books that just explore the Celtic ideas of the fae. The trickster ways and the old lore of how they are warded against, or summoned, or controlled.

There's so much material to work with and so many amazing things that people can do with it and I've read some really awesome and original work.

Some of my favorites are:
Holly Black's Modern Faerie Tales (Tithe, Valiant, Ironside) Heavily involved in the politics of the Seelie and Unseelie courts and how lore impacts faerie/human relationships

Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely series. (Wicked Lovely, Ink Exchange, Fragile Eternity, Radiant Shadows, Darkest Mercy) Season bases courts and politics.

Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series (Iron King, Iron Daughter, Iron Queen, Iron Knight) Season based courts with a definite twist and some Shakespeare thrown in for good measure (I mean, Puck is in it! You can never go wrong with Puck).

O.R. Melling's Chronicles of Faerie (Hunter's Moon, Summer King, Light-bearer's Daughter, Book of Dreams). Heavily based on different Celtic myths and lores.

Maggie Stiefvater's Books of Faerie (Lament and Ballad) Lesser known Celtic myths with a music twist.

Leslie Livingston's Wondrous Strange series (Wondrous Strange, Darklight, Tempestuous) Some season courts, mostly Shakespeare.

All of these books are such different tones and utilize such different parts of the faerie lore. At the same time they've all a darkness to them that I think appeals to readers right now.

I'd love to see Faerie books really get their chance to rise and show people just how amazing they are.


Friday, April 11, 2014

The German Word for That Permanent Expression on Jason Segel's Face

By now most of the internet has seen the on-set snaps of Jason Segel costumed for his role as David Foster Wallace in the upcoming film adaptation of David Lipsky's Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: a Road Trip With David Foster Wallace. Things look awkward to say the least, so let's get the requisite nail-biting and seat-squirming out of the way now.
Photo credit Vanessa Andrade
I tend to agree with George Lazenby on this one:
If I wanted to design a personal hell for David Foster Wallace, I would
  • summon a golem from the ashes of his strangled body,
  • put a $ on its forehead,
  • deprive it of the third dimension,
  • reduce it to a quaking shadow,
  • and project it on screen after screen after screen,
  • to prop up a road movie with the kid from facebook.
BUT since so much of DFW's work struggles against the modern tendency toward bitter cynicism and ironic detachment, I'll reserve judgement on this one until it hits the box office.

Haven't read DFW yet? Most (all) people start with (and quickly give up on) Infinite Jest, the author's 1,100+ page opus. Our staff STRONGLY recommends you instead try A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again - the author's best essay collection is every bit as brilliant and biting as his fiction, and much shorter.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Norton Juster is a rock star.

I arrived at the Boston Public Library about an hour early to hear Norton Juster, a children's author best known for a gentle 1961 fantasy called The Phantom Tollbooth. I was seventh in line. I was not the oldest one there, nor was I primarily surrounded by people in the children's book biz (though plenty of them soon joined the line). Several generations of Juster's fans eventually filled the lecture hall, abuzz with twenty-, thirty-, forty-year-old memories of discovering his work and with plans to hand signed copies to children and grandchildren.

Juster, in conversation with Megan Lambert, showed off a sense of humor that echoed a nearly-bygone generation of comedy (think Mel Brooks or Rodney Dangerfield). But amid all the friendly pot-shots at himself was a sense of wonder, of joy in the realization that everything we learn is connected. In particular, he exuded wonder in wordplay (punder, if you will). Much as we all enjoyed Juster's answers to Lambert's questions, he had three pun-laden passages to read from TPT, and until he got those puns out, he cut every tangent short with a "but let's get back to the story."

As often happens in Q&A sessions (am I right, events team?), many of the audience members began their questions with comments. And by "comments," I mean "gushing." Everyone had stories of growing up with Milo or of sharing his adventures with children. One mom said that her seventeen-year-old daughter had read TPT recently and had asked her to share that it had made her less "jaded."

So what is it about this book? I think its core lies in the title of Chapter 9: "It's All in How You Look at Things." Milo sees life as boring until he encounters new ways of looking at words, numbers, sight, sound, height, hunger, rhyme, and reason. Juster looked at The Phantom Tollbooth as a way to put off a more technical writing project. And I look at Norton Juster as a rock star.

Check out the BPL's Lowell Lecture Series here.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Discovering New Old Favourites

Sometimes, I forget how much I love an author until they come out with a new book. There are some (I’m looking at you, Maggie Stiefvater and Margaret Atwood) whose book news is downloaded into my brain – checking constantly for updates on their newest publications and looking for things I haven’t yet read. Some, however, linger in the back of my mind - favourites whose appearances on the bookshelves aren’t anticipated, but are sweeter in their surprise.

 A couple of days ago, I got one of those surprises. Bart Ehrman, probably best known for his books Misquoting Jesus and God’s Problem, has a new book out called How Jesus Became God. It deals with the transformation of Jesus Christ from Jewish prophet to god figure. Bart Ehrman was an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian whose faith was challenged by going to Princeton seminary and who now identifies himself as agnostic. There are few authors, however, who handle the conflicting needs of being true to the problematic original texts and sensitive to the faith of believers in such an astute manner.

 I became a religious studies major in college because of Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, but I stayed in that field because of authors like Ehrman. He writes books that challenge the ways both faithful and non-believers read the Bible. He asks the reader to reexamine their long held assumptions about the Bible and the origins of Christianity. When Bart Ehrman starts explaining how minor typos or unreadable notations change the way Christianity is practiced, I can’t help but be absorbed. The presence of one smudge in the original texts that might be a dot signifying a vowel has created the significant debate about whether Jesus is God or is of God. One dot! Fifteen hundred years of debate and schism is because of one tiny smudge, which I think is just fascinating.

Now, I’ll admit, his books have the distinct whiff of academia, however, I consider them onramps for people who haven’t studied in this field. They present popular, well-researched theories in theology without being radical in their representation. His books are accessible, but meant to be springboards to further reading. The indices and bibliographies of his books are almost book length themselves.

 I can’t wait to curl up with this book and really delve into the intricacies of faith with Ehrman. By the end of it, I’m sure I’ll have a long list of new books to read. He may even make me change my mind about what I want to study in grad school. He sure did in college.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Destination of the Month: Greece

Like lots of precocious teenagers, I too had a Nietzsche phase. I even obsessively read The Birth of Tragedy, his first one, much milder than his later tracts and ostensibly his jumping off point from philology to his own brand of philosophy. The book likes to hammer home the dichotomy between the Apollonian and the Dionysian arts - that is the "plastic" arts like sculpture and its opposite arts like music and poetry that came afterward and celebrate the more unconscious frenzied and liberated side of things. It is the opinion of your humble narrator that this dichotomy exists in all the best stories. "Beauty and the Beast." Jane Eyre. Narcissus and Goldmund. Lady Chatterley's Lover. Brothers Karamazov. And Zorba the Greek, one of my favorites of all time is no exception. (Though Zorba is from Crete and not exactly Greek I have to mention. But Aristotle is Macedonian, so I say Greek is a state of mind, man, live and let live). Zorba is a refreshing, effervescent novel, a shot of ouzo with a hint of lemon on a beautiful beach. It's a love letter to life, and to enjoying one's work and seizing the moment, and if there's anything that this long winter, now finally fading has taught us hardy New Englanders is to be like Zorba's foil Basil and run for the sun! Enjoy it while it lasts! So stop by and get inspired to see the ruins of the Delphic oracle, find true happiness in Aristotle, learn to ask for saganaki in Greek or meander your own maze sans minotaur, and let Kazantzakis be your oracle for a fantastic new adventure:
“This is true happiness: to have no ambition and to work like a horse as if you had every ambition. To live far from men, not to need them and yet to love them. To have the stars above, the land to your left and the sea to your right and to realize of a sudden that in your heart, life has accomplished its final miracle: it has become a fairy tale.” -Zorba the Greek