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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Thursday, June 22, 2006 11:26 pm
Five Minutes a Day
Posted by: Keir Graff

I spent so long reading Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker that I’ve gotten a little bit behind in my reading. True, we’re in the middle of what we call a “long writing period” – extra time built into the production schedule in order to accommodate events like ALA’s Annual Conference – and so my next deadline isn’t until early July, but still, deadline surfing is dangerous when it comes to book-reviewing. It’s only possible to cram so many pages of reading into one night.

On Sunday I started reading The Fourth Bear, the second book in Nursery Crime, Jasper Fforde’s second series (the first being Thursday Next). That’s a sentence sort of like he’d write, actually. Both his series are wildly inventive and postmodern, mystery-meets-fantasy in a world where characters from books are real, written with zestful silliness and an obvious love of language. His work has been compared to that of the Monty Python troupe a few times, but, aside from a healthy British love of nonsense, there’s a lot more to it than that.

Anyway, I’ve read about 100 pages a day and will finish The Fourth Bear tonight, and I’ll get at least one other book read on the way to and from conference (haven’t decided which one yet). A couple of the books in my to-review stack are big and heavy with stout covers and glossy paper (one on the World Cup and one on parenting), so I’ll leave those out of my suitcase and tackle them when I get back from New Orleans.

When I get back, I’ll only have one day in the office before I start my family leave – 12 weeks at home with my 3-month-old. Meanwhile, I’m clearing off my desk, creating lists and lists of lists of tasks for the people who are filling in for me while I’m gone, and generally trying to get my office ready for departure. (Ian Chipman, the extremely capable Books for Youth editorial assistant who will be helping fill in for my absence, shouldn’t have to deal with my coffee cups and potato-chip bags.)

Amidst all this chaos, I am pleased to report that I’ve also finished a piece of unassigned reading that I really enjoyed: The Three-Martini Playdate, by Christie Mellor. The jacket copy says it all: “How did children become the center of the universe? You were here first!” (See how quickly I turn to the jacket copy when I’m not reviewing the book?) Now, I love books like Cooking without Knives or Stoves: Making a Safe House for Your Precious Wee Ones, Communicating More Effectively at Work with Baby Talk, and Out of Sight, Out of Your Life: How Unwatched Children Are Likely to Explode as much as the next parent, but more and more I’m coming to appreciate the idea that paranoia and 24-hour companionship are not the soundest basis for raising healthy youngsters. We should bring our children into our lives, not the other way around.

Mellor thinks this way, too, and her book does an excellent job of promoting the idea of self-sufficiency among parents:

Do not make your child your hobby or you will end up waiting by the telephone in a cheery room covered in brittle, yellowed crayon drawings, regaling those few friends that are left with stale anecdotes about your youngster’s accomplishments. 

It’s written in a fun, semiformal, old-fashioned voice that I find very appealing. Chapter titles include: “Bedtime: Is Five-thirty Too Early?”; “Screaming: Is It Necessary?”; “Child Labor: Not Just for the Third World”; “‘Children’s Music’: Why?”; and so forth. I highly, highly recommend this as a gift for new parents. (I received two myself and I cherish both of them.)

You may ask yourself how I found time to read even a slim book (143 pages), given my reviewing schedule. And, truthfully, at the end of each year when Bill Ott asks us to share our favorite nonassigned reading, I often have only one, two, or three books to choose from. But – and please pardon me if this falls under the category of “too much information” – I have a new tactic. I keep books I want to read for myself – writing guides, parenting guides, writing about parenting, and so forth – in the, ahem, lavatory. With five minutes a day, one can accomplish wonders.

In fact, I’m thinking about writing a self-improvement book: The Classics of Western Literature in Five Minutes a Day. (No slur to the classics of Eastern literature, but including them would require at least ten minutes a day.)

How will I find time to write it? With five minutes a day, anything’s possible.

3 Responses to “Five Minutes a Day”
  1. BIll Says:

    Hmm . . . sounds like the three-martini-a-day family leave. Sounds good to me.

  2. Likely Stories » Blog Archive » Sweet Home Chicago, Part Deux Says:

    [...] I often write about the more intellectual and esoteric concerns of book reviewing, but there are practical ones, too. (I’m not talking about financial compensation-in the world of book reviewing, that’s practically theoretical.) Books are heavy. As I noted in my post, “Five Minutes a Day,” there were a couple of glossy-papered books that I couldn’t take with me to New Orleans. I wouldn’t have taken them to St. Paul, either, except that the reviews are due tomorrow and I didn’t want to make them up. [...]

  3. Likely Stories » Blog Archive » The Blog Entry That Was His Final Word on the Subject Says:

    [...] I like clean writing. And I try to write cleanly. (In fact, my current five-minutes-a-day book is William Zinsser’s indispensable On Writing Well, which we should all reread from time to time–it instructs us to eliminate cliches such as “from time to time.”) And I believe that, in almost every instance, the writer or speaker would be better served by a less grandiose arrangement: [...]


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