Thursday, October 27, 2011

Paperback Writer

The Texas Book Festival was fantastic. I missed much more than I got to see, but that’s always the case with an event this large. I heard from several authors in panels that a writer writes because they have to, they have no choice. Dudes, I’m totally not a writer. I have no pretensions to a well-crafted sentence or deep scholarly thoughts. It’s just fun. I read books and I like to talk about them and no one will stand still long enough to do it face to face. If I ever get delusions of grandeur about my need to express myself, just hand me a copy of Faulkner and tell me to shut up. One funny-mean thing that happened at a panel during the Q & A session was that the very, very literary lady who wrote Lord of Misrule asked the really fun lady who wrote Swamplandia! “what it feels like to be heavily edited. I mean, I’ve never had my works sent back with very many revisions, so I’m just interested to know what it’s like to have a manuscript come back all covered in red ink.” That’s literary bullying, y’all. The Swamplandia! lady is probably still rocking in the corner with her hair covering her face.

They did something new at the book festival this year, with night time events around Austin. I went to the Lit Crawl at the Texas State Cemetery. It was obvious that the Cemetery Historians/tour guides were expecting about 30 people, but there had to be 300 or 400. They split us into two groups, but even half that crowd was too large and ungainly to do much more than trot from stone to stone and hear a short story about the body therein or there-under. The stories were really interesting, though, and I would have loved to take the tour that they had planned. The Young Adult authors had their meet and greet at the cemetery after the tour, but I had to miss it. I was dragging my parents with me and my dad was halfway to the car before I could tell him it wasn’t over. There were a couple of Y.A. authors I would have loved to meet, but after you’ve told them that their book was super-great and stood around nodding like a bobble-head for a while, what’s left to say?

I did get to meet Gwendolyn Zepeda at the book festival and I felt about as idiotic as I sound above. I told her I had been reading her blog for a million years, but it’s a million years in blog-time. I know I’ve read her blog for more than 12 years, which is forever. I thought later about the stuff I know about her life and the changes she’s made over the last dozen years and wondered if she ever catalogues how many amazing turns her life has taken? And by taken, I mean that she’s worked really hard and jumped bravely into some unknown opportunities and made them pay off. If you drop even a few pieces about your life into a blog, and you’re as good a writer as Gwendolyn is, at the end of a decade, your readers know more about you than they do many of their real-life friends. She’s a real writer – I just talk about stuff.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Put Your Records On

This will not be a post about reading, because I haven’t managed to finish a single book since my book frenzy on Monday morning. I’ve been to the movies, I’ve watched large percentage amounts from my DVR, and I’ve driven to Austin for the weekend, so I’ve been busy. I don’t think I’ve stopped for weeks now, and I’m still in motion. It’s kind of slow-motion, but I’m moving.
My dad collects vinyl records and I’m the official driver, so I’ve chauffeured him to the twice-annual Austin Record Convention. (Bi-annual? Semi-annual? I never can remember which one is twice a year and which one is every other year. This one is the former no matter how many times I wish it were the latter.)It’s going on until Sunday at 5 in the old convention center on Lamar, if you’d like to stop by. I, however, will not be there. I’m leaving the lunatics with their records and going to hang out with the book lunatics at the Texas Book Festival downtown. Because what better way to celebrate the finish of a giant special event than to go volunteer at another one? At least the most important question I’ll get this weekend is for directions to the bathroom.
One funny aside about the record guys (not entirely, but at least 99% guys, with a handful of long-suffering wives and girlfriends and one woman who brings a doll with her every year and sets it on a chair and carries it around like a baby. I used to think she was bonkers, but the more bored I get at this thing the more tempted I am to bring my cat in a Beatles outfit and pretend that it’s perfectly normal. I think she may just be screwing with us for her own amusement. Sorry, that was an aside about the aside!) One year the record show fell during South by Southwest and they put the record guys and the poster guys in the same building. Both groups openly scoffed at the other side like they couldn’t believe that any idiot would collect something so stupid. And they all thought the people in town to actually hear live bands were crazy. Why on earth would you want to hear a live band when you could listen to a scratchy Hank Williams record as you sat under your black-light Elvis poster. It was a hilarious stand-off all weekend. This year is sadly more record-centric, with no outlanders in the building.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

If I Die Young

Last post, I asked for boy book recommendations – I’ve got one to recommend to you.

I finished my work project this weekend and then I finally slept. Sunday night I went to bed at 8:00 p.m. and popped up at 6:00 a.m. on Monday morning, but I was still that sick kind of groggy, so I hung out in bed and started reading a new book. Just in Case by Meg Rosoff. I read that book in an hour and a half and cried for about half that time.

This 15 year old kid, David Case, has a baby brother who almost falls out of the window trying to fly. The near-miss shocks David into a nervous breakdown, realizing that life is a series of near-misses and believing that fate has marked him for doom. He begins a mission to hide from fate, changing his name to Justin – a tougher sounding name. (And the jarring coyness of naming your character Justin Case is one of the few missteps Meg Rosoff makes here.). In changing his style, he meets an older girl who is capable of using Justin for her own needs, photographing him in the midst of tragedy to further her career, but not capable of saving him from his madness.

Or maybe it’s not madness. Maybe he is marked for disaster. People die around him. Planes crash where he stood minutes before. Maybe fate is playing a game with Justin, just to see how he’ll react.

If the characters in Just in Case are often archetypes, like the distant parents and the distracted teachers at school, Rosoff has populated Justin’s world with spiritual guides, too. His best friend Peter and Peter’s little sister, Justin’s own baby brother, these participate in Justin’s inner world while trying to draw him back to them. Trying to communicate enough understanding and solidarity to keep Justin from simply giving up and letting fate win.

For Justin, the radical act of defying and respecting fate is to decide that he will live. With whatever time he’s allowed, he’ll live it. So good.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Smart in a Stupid Way

We’re trying to figure out a way to start a small summer library for the kids associated with my work, so I’ve been really interested in Y.A. “boy” books lately. I have a top ten set of favorite books about teenage boys and I think it will be interested to see if actual teenage boys like them as much as I do. I picked up The Accidental Genius of Weasel High by Rick Detorie the other day because it reminded me of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and I love those books. Accidental Genius is a mix of text and comic strip style illustration and it was fantastic.

Larkin Pace is in love with his best friend. He thought she was his girlfriend until she asked him one day if there were any girls at school he was interested in and he realized that she didn’t know they were dating. They weren’t. He has a great taciturn friend who never says Larkin’s name, or much of anything, really, but Larkin’s mission is to make Freddie say his name. Freddie’s sole interest is making wallets out of duct tape. His older sister is awesomely bad. She wears a bump-it and is in full scale teenage angst. She howls and rages against the indignities of life and demands rewards for having to suffer her family. The more I talk about this book, the more surreal it seems. I loved it.

If you know more boy books for me to check out, let me know. The kids will thank you this summer!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Can’t Always Get What You Want

I’m a few days away from a huge work project, so I’m not getting a lot of reading done right now. I’ve worked my way through 3 or 4 Mediator books in the last week, but they are super-quick reads. Meg Cabot’s Y.A. series focuses on a teenage girl who is able to see ghosts. She tries to help them right whatever wrong is keeping them anchored to earth, like not having been able to tell the kids where the secret savings was hidden or to make sure that a family antique gets to the right person. It’s not always that easy, of course, and some ghosts don’t want to go. They want revenge, or justice, or just a chance to come back and do it all over again.

I think there are 6 of these books and I’m missing #5, so now I have to decide whether to just read the end and then go back and fill in later or track down the missing link. I’m sure you’re all waiting with bated breath to hear what I’ll decide, so I’ll be sure and let you know.

I’m still playing with Goodreads and piling up the to-read stack. My friend Gina accused me of being too ashamed to rate the Amanda Quick romance novels I read, but I showed her! I also added the complete oeuvre of Judith Krantz and Tori Spelling to my list. Thinking about it now, though, I’m not sure that I didn’t fall into her trap to make her list look more literary in comparison. Gina likes romance novels, books about animals, and vampire stories, so we decided one day that her perfect book would feature a vampire dolphin in love with a human. I think we made a cover and everything. That still cracks me up to think about, but we should have gotten on the Twilight train and written them. We would be millionaires and we couldn’t have been any worse at writing than Stephanie Meyers.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Girl Next Door

I just finished Meg Cabot’s How to Be Popular, about a high school girl who finds an old book detailing how to be more popular and uses the tips contained therein to almost ruin her life until she realizes that she’s happier with her current friends and station in life. There’s a nerd boy who turns out to be just right for her and a popular boy who turns out to be a shallow jerk and the world rolls merrily along. I don’t mean to paint the book as boring – It’s not. Meg Cabot really could make a grocery list entertaining, and there are some really fun details in this book that set the lead character apart from generic leading women.  Cabot’s women/girls are smart and funny and well capable of getting along just fine without a man. They also aren’t immune to a nice set of abs, but they aren’t going to settle for cute without nice, funny, and smart.

How to Be Popular reminded me of one of my favorite books from when I was young, succinctly named The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations: A Novel, by Ellen Conford. Man, I loved Ellen Conford’s books. Just like Meg Cabot, Conford wrote Young Adult books that followed the standards of Young Adult, while twisting the genre enough to make you feel like more of a grown-up by reading them.

The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations: A Novel features Julie, a high schooler trying to get through the year. She’s a straight man in a sea of absolute lunatics.  The student handbook talks about the importance of joining school clubs, so she tries to get her poems published in the school literary magazine, but the editor dismisses her efforts as too sunny, too conventional. She finally manages to write some piece of drivel that gets him truly excited, (if I recall correctly, it was about black and death, and the torture of the soul.), and when he wanted to publish it, she snorted at him and took the poem back. At a time when most Young Adult characters were simpering saps, Julie was a real person you wanted to be friends with.

Cabot is always a fun read - I’ll stand in line to buy anything she’s writing – but you should try and track down one of Ellen Conford’s YA books. I’m going to start rebuilding my collection right now.