A Booklist Blog
Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry
Thursday, March 6, 2014 9:47 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Hope Is a Ferris Wheel
Posted by: Annie Bostrom
The Booklist review of Robin Herrera’s Hope Is a Ferris Wheel (Abrams/Amulet) touts the debut novel’s delightful narrator and “unique supporting cast.” Here they are adorably animated in the book’s trailer, which features BTT’s first trailer (home) within a trailer (book). Girl with blue hair starts a school book club and finds solace and solidary in Emily Dickinson’s poetry? I literally just left my desk to see if there was a copy hiding around these corridors. Success! Added to my to-read tower. I hope you’re equally enticed.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014 9:37 am
Don’t miss Booklist at PLA 2014!
Posted by: Keir Graff
Exhibits for this year’s Public Library Association (PLA) conference open at 4 p.m. next Wednesday in Indianapolis. Will you be there? Booklist editors Bill Ott, Gillian Engberg, Brad Hooper, Donna Seaman, Rebecca Vnuk, Ilene Cooper, Joyce Saricks, and Keir Graff (that’s me) will be. Demands on your time will be many, but we hope you’ll make room on your schedule for few of the following fine events:
Mystery Author Meet & Greet. Join Booklist editors and mystery authors Walter Mosley, Peter Swanson, Ben H. Winters (and more!) for wine, cheese, and a little mystery! Thursday, March 13, 3:30–5 p.m., Booklist booth #1717.
Under the Radar: Good Reading You May Have Missed. Adult Books editor Brad Hooper joins a panel to discuss not-to-be-missed historical fiction. Thursday, March 13, 10:45 a.m.–12 p.m., Indiana Convention Center, Wabash Ballroom 1.
Association of American Publishers’ Young Adult Crossover Panel. Books for Youth editorial director Gillian Engberg moderates a panel with authors Laurie Halse Anderson, Jason Reynolds, Eliot Schrefer, and Gene Luen Yang. Signings to follow. Thursday, March 13, 10:45a.m.–12p.m., JW Marriott Indianapolis, White River Ballroom.
Top 5 of the Nonfiction 5. Reference and Collection Management editor Rebecca Vnuk joins a panel to discuss popular nonfiction for leisure readers. Friday, March 14, 10:45 a.m.–12 p.m., Indiana Convention Center, Wabash Ballroom 1.
Doing Time with Sisters In Crime. Audio editor Joyce Saricks joins a panel to discuss trends in crime fiction. Friday, March 14, 2–3:15 p.m., Indiana Convention Center, Wabash Ballroom 1.
Let’s Discuss Book Discussions. Rebecca Vnuk joins a panel to discuss book groups. Friday, March 14, 4:15–5:15 p.m., Indiana Convention Center, Room 244-245.
And, naturally, having read Joyce’s latest column, “RA at PLA,” I’m sure you’re planning to drop by our booth (an easy to remember #1717), business card in hand, to tell us which titles have been getting the most buzz. We’ll publish the results on this very blog. While you’re there, get your complimentary copies of Booklist and Book Links—and, if you need a new subscription, we’ll be happy to help out.
Thursday, February 27, 2014 11:52 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Dancing with Cats
Posted by: Annie Bostrom
This April, Chronicle will release a 15th anniversary reissue of Dancing with Cats by Burton Silver and Heather Busch (1999), which promises to keep “all the mystery and magic of cat dancing delightfully intact,” according to the book’s press release. The book’s copyright page acknowledges that, “Neither the publisher, author, nor photographer accept any responsibility for any adverse reactions which may result from the use of material in this book,” but I think you can still be trusted with this information. Without further ado, here’s Dancing with Cats.
It goes without saying that no cats were harmed in the making of this book, and I assume all received extra treats.
Friday, February 21, 2014 12:04 pm
Poetry and Film: An Evening with Bidart and Franco (yes, that Franco)
Posted by: Courtney Jones
On Wednesday, February 19th, Booklist senior editor Donna Seaman, and editorial assistant Courtney Jones went to see poet Frank Bidart and actor James Franco discuss poetry and film at an event during the Chicago Humanities Festival. Here’s what they had to say:
Lots of literati have been making fun of James Franco’s venture into writing via graduate school, but I’ve been intrigued by his great hunger for literary mentors and academic validation. Franco is a big movie star, so why subject himself to the demands of M.F.A. writing workshops? Why seek M.F.A.s in fiction writing and poetry as well as directing and filmmaking? The guy is already rich, famous, and able to do whatever he wants. He went back to school because he wants to do it all; he needs to do it all, and he wants to do it right.
I read Franco’s first novel, Actors Anonymous (2013) with high interest, and appreciated the nerve it took to write so scathingly about Hollywood from inside—his satire really does bite the hand that feeds him. The celebrity is keen to show just how oppressive and destructive fame can be.
Franco’s commitment to poetry had been expressed in films. He played Allen Ginsberg in Howl, created and starred in The Broken Tower, a biographical tribute to Hart Crane. Then Franco’s first poetry collection arrived, Directing Herbert White (2014) (see Donna’s review in the March 15 issue of Booklist!). The title refers to his homage to the master poet Frank Bidart—Metaphysical Dog is his most recent, stellar collection–and Franco’s short film adaptation of Bidart’s most disturbing poem, “Herbert White.” In his poems, as in his novel, Franco shreds the silver screen, but he also writes about his formative years, and pays tribute to Hollywood dead. It is an extremely compelling book.
So when I heard that Franco and Bidart were going to appear together at an event hosted by the Poetry Foundation and the Chicago Humanities Festival, I knew I had to go. And I was very lucky to score tickets. I found out later that the event sold out in seven minutes (the venue seats more than 800). And I was delighted that Courtney Jones was able to join me.
Girls screamed when Franco walked on stage, but ultimately the audience was just as enthralled by Bidart. What we witnessed was a two-hour mutual admiration marathon performed with affection by the 74-year-old poet and professor and the 35-year-old actor, director, and writer. A conversation facilitated by the poet, writer, academic, and Poetry Foundation president Robert Polito. Franco talked about how he always thought he had to keep his acting work separate from his writing—and he’s been writing his entire life. But once he realized that all kinds of fiction writers and poets were writing about the movies, a world he knew infinitely more about than they did, he knew that he could, and should, bring the two halves of his creative life together.
The actor loves poetry, the poet loves film—Bidart, like Franco, grew up in California and wanted to be a director. They talked about voice and adaptation and “Herbert White” and the mysterious and difficult art of poetry. They took great pleasure in sharing a stage, in reading each other’s work, and we all basked in that warmth, that radiance. Even if “Herbert White” the poem and Herbert White the movie are profoundly unnerving. Courtney and I continued the conversation as we left the building, concluding as we walked that poetry has a whole lot more dimension and impact than film.
What’s next for James Franco? He’ll be in Chicago for a while yet, rehearsing for his role in the Broadway production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Already an author of short stories and a novel, really it was only a matter of time before James Franco turned his eye to poetry. Of all his endeavors this one might seem to be the silliest, and that’s saying something considering his stint on General Hospital. Poetry is hard. Reading good poetry, for me anyway, is difficult, and writing it, seems nearly impossible. But alas, Mr. Franco has done it. Written a book of poetry, that is. That night, a few hundred eager, some might say giddy, young people clutched what possibly was their first-ever purchased book of poetry, sweatily awaiting their ten-seconds-or-less encounter with Franco when he signed it.
It was a full house, a mixed crowd—an interesting mash up of the hip, young, and possibly clueless, and the poised, poetical, and amused. There were those there obviously there to see Bidart. But Franco’s fans were dedicated. The young women sitting next to me had driven four hours for the event, and the women in front of us snapped pictures the entire time, zooming in on Franco as best their phones would allow. One might have thought they were at comic con, or some other fan convention. But it was not comic con. This was a discussion about poetry, specifically Frank Bidart’s “Herbert White,” a persona poem about a murderous, necrophiliac. Bidart had only ever read it publically two times; this event made three. Earlier in the day an email went out warning people about the content, and suggested a departure time for people who wished to avoid it.
I’ve written a couple posts about actor, writer, director, performance artist James Franco. He is a discussion topic precisely because he’s everywhere, and sometimes seems inescapable. And I admit, maybe I’ve been harsh, mostly because Franco is an easy target. By the time the film screening portion of the evening came around, I’d changed my mind about Franco. Watching him search for the right words to describe the immediate connection he felt to the poem (described as a “tingle”), it dawned on me slowly how into it he really is. He might not have the vocabulary to discuss the work, but as he laboriously explained his desire to capture youth culture and how Hollywood cannibalizes its young, gesturing enthusiastically when words failed him, it struck me that it isn’t some performance art piece or a practical joke to him. He cares. A LOT. Then I realized that I was the clueless one.
The film, like the poem manages to capture the isolation, self recrimination, and horror of the protagonist’s actions. Franco discussed honing in on the fact that Herbert had a family, and the bodies in the woods were his deepest darkest secret. A vice for which there was no help, no Murderers Anonymous support group he could seek out for comfort and the means to get over the compulsion. It was an interesting vision, and made for a gripping short film subject. Some of the deeper layers, the part that connects Bidart to the poem, don’t and can’t make it into that medium, and leaves some of the context to wither and die off- screen. But that’s part of adaptation, isn’t it? As with Franco there are facets to his nature which don’t translate to press junkets, movie premieres, and Oscar hosting gigs. It’s through the poetry and the novel, and short stories that we catch a glimpse of what he’s aiming for.
Thursday, February 20, 2014 5:00 pm
2013 Ezra Jack Keats Award Winners Announced
Posted by: Tim McLaughlin
Once again the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award winners have been announced for 2013. The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation is dedicated to the memory and works of the great children’s book author and illustrator, and also continues to promote children’s books that “portray the universal qualities of childhood, a strong and supportive family and the multicultural nature of our world.” The awards are given each year to new writers and illustrators, in hopes that their works signal a promising future for children’s literature. Enjoy!
New Writer Award Winner
Tea Party Rules, by Ame Dyckman
New Illustrator Award Winner
Rain!, by Christian Robinson
Honor Book Award Winners for New Writer
Sophie’s Squash, by Pat Zietlow Miller
I Love You, Nose! I Love You, Toes!, by Linda Davick
Honor Book Award Winners for New Illustrator
Tea Party Rules, by K. G. Campbell
Take Me Out to the Yakyu, by Aaron Meshon
My Grandpa, by Marta Altes
Thursday, February 20, 2014 2:14 pm
Book Trailer Thursday: The Boys in the Boat
Posted by: Annie Bostrom
Turn on your TV and flip to NBC. Now, dial it back 77 years, six months and a few days. Set the antennae about 60 degrees to the… What, your TV doesn’t do that? Did you try kicking the side of it? Switching off then on again? You should probably get that fixed, but luckily I can hook up your time travel today. (Next time will cost you.)
So, all together now, here we are at the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin for BTT’s second featured Carnegie longlist title, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (Viking). Alan Moores writes in his starred review that the book “informs as it inspires,” and interested listeners won’t be disappointed by the audiobook version, either, according to Sue-Ellen Beauregard. Stay tuned to see if The Boys in the Boat and other Carnegie titles make the next cut when the shortlist is announced this spring.
Thursday, February 20, 2014 8:59 am
Word for Word: That’s Dude
Posted by: Daniel Kraus
The curtain is lifted! Revealed below is the identity of the latest author who trudged into the unknown to play mad libs with his own book. As always, it wasn’t pretty.
I was 45 years old when I saw my first kite. It wasn’t my goose Oslo’s. It was a stocking who looked to have been around 19 or at last in her late 10s. She didn’t have any visible fire or rabbits, clocks, or televisions, so I assumed that she had just died of some Macbook or something; her tree barely hidden by the thin, pernicious sheet as it awaited its placement in the brats. The 73rd kite I ever saw was my storm, Oslo’s. I recognized his maniacal brown shoes immediately as the poem wearing the bright ridiculous coat grasped the tall handle and yanked hard to slide the body out from the clunky wall.
“That’s dude,” I said to her.
But of course such willy-nilly wording can’t hide the Printz-and-Morris-Awards-winning stylings of Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. (Man, books about kites always win.) Sure, we could’ve played Word for Word with Whaley’s new book, Noggin, but seeing as how screwy that book already is (it’s about a guy whose head is transplanted onto another body), we didn’t want you to O.D. on screwiness.
Here is the original kite-free passage:
I was seventeen years old when I saw my first dead body. It wasn’t my cousin Oslo’s. It was a woman who looked to have been around fifty or at least in her late forties. She didn’t have any visible bullet holes or scratches, cuts, or bruises, so I assumed that she had just died of some disease or something; her body barely hidden by the thin white sheet as it awaited its placement in the lockers. The second dead body I ever saw was my cousin Oslo’s. I recognized his dirty brown shoes immediately as the woman wearing the bright white coat grasped the metallic handle and yanked hard to slide the body out from the silvery wall.
“That’s him,” I said to her.
Thursday, February 13, 2014 9:55 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Romance Is My Day Job
Posted by: Annie Bostrom
In the spirit of wholeheartedly embracing that equally loved and loathed mid-February holiday arriving on our doorsteps tomorrow, BTT turns to–who else?–a Romance editor for some wisdom this week. Harlequin editor Patience Bloom shares her real-life love story via the well-known characters and plots of classic romances in Romance Is My Day Job (Dutton). (Dangerous stacks of books AND abdomnial muscles featured in the trailer below.)
But first–if you think a date with a book sounds pretty good, well, so do we! Check out the Twitter hashtag #bookvalentines, see the loving/clever/heartbreaking submissions and tweet one of your own to @ALA_Booklist. We’ll be featuring them in an upcoming blog post!
Love is “a lot of reading, re-reading, revising, and negotiating.” Actually, I think that just about sums it up.
Friday, February 7, 2014 9:45 am
The Long and Short of Writing Longhand
Posted by: Daniel Kraus
Yes, those are shotguns on the wall.
That’s me, age 10, working on Foul Play, a novella about an evil pro baseball team. I’d been writing stories, longer and longer ones, for a good five years by then, and though my pencils, sharpener, and spiral-bound notebooks had held me in good stead, I could not transition quickly enough to our family’s brand-new, futuristically taupe-colored Apple IIe computer. Gone were the notepads with their blue-lined cages; gone was handwriting with its multitude of flaws. (I was literally sick the week they taught cursive.)
Back then, the computer screen was black, the typeface green. But the blinking cursor — that impatient “Well, what are you waiting for?” — has not changed much in the subsequent decades. Over the past two years, I’ve been fascinated to see a small but noticeable number of authors going back to longhand. It is a process so physically and emotionally different from typing in front of a screen that it almost must produce different results — and from a writer’s perspective, that’s exciting.
I haven’t had the guts yet to try it, but the below authors have. It’s impossible to read their comments and not want to give it a shot. I especially urge you to stick around for Joe Hill’s essay at the bottom. It’s a bit longer than the rest, but well worth the read. And he wrote it, of course, longhand.
I write longhand on graph-lined Rhodia pads — specifically Bloc Rhodia No. 38, the pages of which are long and wide — and write with Pilot Precise V7 roller ball pens. I’ve worked this way for as long as I can remember. The Rhodia allows me to move around at will, as if on a computer, so that if I get stuck, I can just scoot over and start something new elsewhere. But because I’m still writing on the same page, I can always reference what I’ve abandoned, in case I want to crib from it a sentence or a thought. And if I have a random thought, I can jot it down somewhere else and then come back to it — and there’s room for that.
Writing longhand allows me to sit and think without a screen blinking at me. I need that. The long blank page reminds me that I’m not likely to write an entire novel in a day, so why not just calm down and concentrate on the sentences. Why not try to make the sentences — a few of which I can finish in a day — as good as they can be?
The only drawback to writing longhand is its secret strength. It slows me down.
–Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End
The choice is simply a matter of convenience for that day’s location. If I’m in my house, I type. If I’m outside or in flight, I go longhand. Most of my books are written through a combination of the two.
The two freeing aspects of the longhand part of a book are that 1) I am disconnected from tech disruptions (email, Twitter), and 2) it enables me to write without revising.
When I type, I revise as I write. It’s cleaner, but slower. Longhand is faster — annotated, arrows, dashes, scratch-outs — and often it reads more like scene direction or rough idea than actual prose.
–Melissa Marr, Wicked Lovely
From the beginning, from the time of my first novel and before, when I wrote poems, I have preferred to write my initial drafts by hand, in big journals with lined and numbered pages. The draft goes on the verso, its revisions and corrections on the recto, where they have plenty of room.
For about two decades, I wrote this draft in pencil, and was fetishistic about the brand. (Early on, Staedtler, which are German, tough, and hard-working; more recently, Palomino Blackwing, which are Californian, gentle, and more or less perfect.)
More recently, I use pens, fountain and rollerball (Visconti, Italian and elegant), which allow me to vary the color of the inks. I like the “made by hand” quality of these manuscripts, the record of micro-change they leave behind, and the way they permit an extra layer of revision during the process of typing up the mss.
–Peter Straub, A Dark Matter
I am a longhand writer. Not for every project, mind you, but my most recent books (one out, one pending, and two in their trial-by-fire before landing on my editor’s desk) began their existence in the quietness of paper, the intimacy of covers that close with a snap.
Writing longhand, for me, is far more sensual than typing — which, more and more, seems cold and detached to me. Like kissing a robot. Writing longhand turns the writing process into a touchy, loving thing, and I am a touchy, loving person. Always have been.
Also, I love walking into my office with no electronics, no distractions. Just slippers on my feet, tea on the desk, and a story in my fingers. I love the scritchy sound of the pen on the paper. I love the fact that I am forced to slow down — to breathe as my characters breathe, to worry over my inscrutable handwriting after a long day of writing, and to unwind the story like a long, tangled thread.
–Kelly Barnhill, The Mostly True Story of Jack
Over the years, I’ve come up with lots of reasons for writing longhand. It feels freer. I can doodle. I get an extra round of editing while transcribing. More than anything, though, it comes down to the fact that my handwriting is poor enough to hamper re-reading as I write. This keeps my attention focused where it should be: on the next word.
–Antoine Wilson, Panorama City
Even before I became I writer, I always wrote things longhand — I even wrote all the drafts of my dissertation longhand. I have always felt like a blank page is comfort and possibility, whereas a blank computer screen, with that damn blinking cursor, is judgment: “Have you written anything yet? Now? How about now?” Ugh.
But also, as physical act, I prefer the sensation of writing longhand. I like the feel of a pen in my hand, the way it moves over the paper. I like being able to choose the right color ink for the story, or to use variations in ink color to mark progress, revised sections, things that happen in different timelines.
I like the way writing longhand slows me down just enough to think about word choice, to hear the way the words sound together in a way that gets obscured by the clinking and thud of the keys as I type. (Though if I know I need to write a scene that is particularly difficult for me, I do sometimes draft that on computer, because I can type faster than I can reflect on what it is I’m typing, and sometimes that’s useful.)
Things are less gone when I write by hand — I’ll put a line through sections that aren’t working, but there’s no click to delete. I get the benefit of the first edit being the transition from notebook to computer, and I get the benefit of stories being only thing being accessible in my notebook — it’s the low-tech equivalent of Freedom.
–Kat Howard, “Painted Birds and Shivered Bones”
I had been working on different versions of what would become The Chaos of Stars for 18 months. Typically I finish first drafts in weeks, not months, and definitely not years, so it was a challenge. In order to force myself to pay attention, I needed to be cut off from everything. I’d take my notebook, sit outside while my kids played, and write by hand.
With nothing between myself and the page, the story finally spilled out the way it needed to. No editing, no second-guessing, and no internet. When I’m truly stuck, pen on paper always frees up words in a way a keyboard just can’t.
–Kiersten White, The Chaos of Stars
I came to longhand thanks to a member (Kelly Barnhill) of my writing critique group extolling its virtues at just the same time that I needed something to change, to freshen up (in my mind) a MS I’d let stagnate far too long.
I found quickly that writing longhand slowed me down — it let my hand and my brain breathe a little easier as I worked, detached me from a frantic electronic pace. Also, with my pen scratching lightly across a surface, I felt immediately connected to the words I was writing, more “inside them,” more present in every sense: I had an easier time envisioning setting and action.
Pragmatically, I love the idea of having a spiral notebook or two and a very good pen that I can have with me all the time — it demands no power supply, no table (my knees work fine), and no coffee shop, like the laptop I’ve counted on in the past for drafting. As you’ll see from the attached photo, there is the drawback of my horrendous penmanship.
–Steve Brezenoff, Brooklyn, Burning
For years I did all of my work on the computer, going all the way back to my high school days, when I wrote on a Mac SE/30, using Microsoft Word 5.1 (the last really reliable version of Word). The practice of writing all my first drafts longhand kind of snuck up on me over a period of a few years.
I was in Italy and wrote a story called “The Devil on the Staircase,” working by hand because I had left my laptop at home. A while later I dashed off a comic script, “Open the Moon,” for much the same reason; I was stranded in a foreign land without my cocoon of electronics. Those were both weirdly satisfying experiences: jobs that didn’t feel like jobs, work that felt like play. They flowed. It was less like writing, more like turning a faucet, only instead of water I got words.
Other things happened. My girlfriend got me rich, creamy stationery and asked me to write her old-fashioned letters. I did and it was fun, I liked it. My friend Neil Gaiman is evangelical about working longhand and encouraged me to give it a try. He made it sound like automatic writing. I came across a review my father had written longhand for Entertainment Weekly and was struck by how effortless it was: how funny, clear-eyed, unadorned, and totally him.
Finally, though, mostly . . . a part of me has started to hate screens a little. The electronic cocoon sometimes feels more like an electronic shroud. I know that’ll probably sound odd coming from a guy who tweets a frillion times a day, but more and more I find myself turning all the way on only when the machines are turned off.
For I don’t know how long, my favorite part of the day has been the half hour I give myself at 4 o’clock to drink the last cup of tea and read (a book of paper, ink, and glue, not a phone, not a device with a battery in it). I think at some point I decided that’s how I wanted to feel when I’m writing, too: relaxed and plugged into my daydreams instead of a piece of software.
Last year, when I went on tour for NOS4A2, I consciously left my computer at home, and took some pens and a notebook with me instead. When I came home a month later, I had a new 28,000 word novella spread across three notebooks (and a paper placemat), and I knew I was done writing my first drafts on the computer.
Possibly because handwriting is slower work than word processing, you counterintuitively wind up writing stories that move faster. You tend to only write the scenes that matter and you write them with less ornament, less conscious efforts at a style. The tools of word processing software encourage cutting and pasting, deleting, tweaking, and the creation of beautifully written filler. Writing by hand, there’s less to distract you. All you have is this line to fill, and then the next line to fill.
When you’re writing with pen and paper, you’re working in the same direct mode you use to tell a story to children, and for a first draft, that’s maybe not a bad thing. I don’t think it’s any surprise that most of the best known authors of children’s novels — Beverly Cleary, Urusla LeGuin, J.K. Rowling, and Neil — have all written their most famous stories by pen. You see it in the calm, straight-forward lucidity of their prose and in the way every scene naturally follows from the one before, the next domino in the line tipping over.
Finally, in a notebook, you’re stuck with yourself. You’re cut off from your games, the internet, Twitter, Facebook. The only thing you have to entertain you is your own imagination. Thank God there’s still a place you can go to be alone and work on your own private dreams for a bit.
–Joe Hill, NOS4A2
Thursday, February 6, 2014 10:15 am
Book Trailer Thursday: A Tale for the Time Being
Posted by: Annie Bostrom
The 2014 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction longlist titles were announced yesterday! While we wait to see which six books make the shortlist before two winners are announced in Las Vegas this June, I plan to periodically feature trailers for these exciting titles on BTT. Which brings me to Ruth Ozeki’s honored offering: A Tale for the Time Being. I haven’t read the book, and I like how just a handful of opening words already tips what notions I had of its title, and the book itself.
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