Wednesday, November 05, 2008

For those who won't get to see today's window display.

Thanks, Claudia. People have been enjoying this window all day.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For

The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For: The Lives, Loves and Politics of Cult-Fav Characters Mo, Lois, Sydney, Sparrow, Ginger, Stuart, Clarice and Others, by Alison Bechdel, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Alas, Alison Bechdel has suspended her strip to work on her memoir about relationships. I forgive her, because Fun Home was awesome and I'm eager to see what comes next. But if you need to catch up on the latest antics of Mo and friends, they are newly published in this giant compendium of strips from 1988 onward.

I need it, for the sake of completeness and also the funny introduction (illustrated, of course). "Good God. I FORGOT TO GET A JOB," says Ms. Bechdel, musing on her 20+ years of documenting ordinary but imaginary lesbian lives. I think I speak for all her fans when I say that we're pretty pleased about that.

It is also worth checking out her essay in State by State, edited by Sean Wilsey, published by Ecco Press.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Books About Mexico

You know what I'm really into now? Books about Mexico- like the graphic novel La Perdida by Jessica Abel, the new memoir Mexican Enough by Stephanie Elizondo Griest, and more. These new personal stories about modern day Mexico really show an understanding of how immigration laws and immigration stories affect all the citizens of Mexico, the dynamic of traveling to a "Third World" country and everything that entails, and the outsider/insider perspective of folks who are ethnically Mexican but grew up in the States. I personally love following the stories of people who go "home" only to realize home is such a relative term in regards to your culture, background, how and where you were raised, and a multitude of other dynamics.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Quote: Tamora Pierce

    Suddenly I felt a shimmer in my magic, like sunlight glancing off water. This time I didn't care if Rosethorn rode on without me. "Mica!" I yelled and jumped off my horse. "There's sheet mica here!"
    Mica lay scattered over a heap of rocks that had tumbled from a cliff face. It lay to the right of the road in sheets of a single thickness, delicate amber-colored glass that would chip away at a breath, and in clumps of different sizes, some of a hundred sheets or more. I picked up a few thick clumps to keep.
    "You like this stuff?" Jayat had followed me. "What's it good for?"
    "Scrying, if you need to have a use for everything." I showed him glittering flakes that fell from my hand like snow. "But mostly it's just wonderful — so delicate, and yet it's stone."
    I flicked a tiny burst of magic up the slope. Flakes, sheets, and clumps of mica flashed, thousands of flat crystals in the sun. Everyone who rode by would now see the stone as I did, glittering in the light.
    "Beautiful." Jayat liked what I had done. "I never thought of it like that. It was always just glassy stuff, laying around."
    Luvo looked at Jayat. "That is what magic is for, Jayatin. To help us think of the world in new ways."

- Tamora Pierce, Melting Stones

Hurray, mica! Mica is particularly resonant for me, living in this city with the Wissahickon Valley and its miles of glimmering trails... This quote is from Tamora Pierce's newest book in the Circle of Magic world -- which is particularly noteworthy for having been released first in full cast audio format, a year before its release in print.

Friday, August 01, 2008

A State of Anticipation

How often would you expect to find Jhumpa Lahiri, Alison Bechdel, Louise Erdrich, Dave Eggers, and S.E. Hinton published together in the same book? Would you like to read their essays on (respectively) Rhode Island, Vermont, North Dakota, Illinois, and Oklahoma? These essays (and 45 others!) will be coming out in September in State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America, edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey.

It's meant to be based on the style of the Work Projects Administration writings about the country as part of the New Deal. I'm looking forward to it! Some links:
Publisher's Weekly Review
Alison Bechdel's blog post on the book, including a comment in which someone has pasted the complete list of authors by state.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Quote: Ursula K. Le Guin

The three passages below are from Ursula Le Guin's recent Annals of the Western Shore series. It's not actually one quotation from each book; two are from Voices (book 2), which I have now declared my very favorite of her books that I've read. The third is from the third book, Powers. The whole series, starting with the first book, Gifts, touches on questions of power: what it means, how to recognize it, and how to use (or not use) it. The books all have different main characters, in different places, but those characters are significant in the following books (rather like the Earthsea Cycle), letting it feel more like continuity than a loss of it.

"I'm sorry, now, for that girl of fifteen who wasn't as brave as the child of six, although she longed as much as ever for courage, strength, power against what she feared. Fear breeds silence, and then the silence breeds fear, and I let it rule me. Even there, in that room, the only place in the world where I knew who I was, I wouldn't let myself guess what I might become."

- Voices (Annals of the Western Shore, book 2)

"I always wondered why the makers leave housekeeping and cooking out of their tales. Isn't it what all the great wars and battles are fought for—so that at day's end a family may eat together in a peaceful house? The tale tells how the Lords of Manva hunted and gathered roots and cooked their suppers while they were camped in exile in the foothills of Sul, but it doesn't say what their wives and children were living on in their city left ruined and desolate by the enemy. They were finding food too, somehow, cleaning house and honoring the gods, the way we did in the siege and under the tyranny of the Alds. When the heroes came back from the mountain, they were welcomed with a feast. I'd like to know what the food was and how the women managed it."

- Voices (Annals of the Western Shore, book 2)

"The first true leader I knew was this boy of seventeen, Yaven Altanter Arca, and I have judged others by him. By that standard, leadership means personal magnetism, active intelligence, unquestioning acceptance of responsibility, and something harder to define: a tension between justice and compassion, which is never truly satisfied by one without the other, and so can seldom be wholly satisfied."

- Powers (Annals of the Western Shore, book 3)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Quote: Frances Hodgson Burnett

"And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles. In the robin's nest there were eggs and the robin's mate sat upon them, keeping them warm with her feathery little breast and careful wings. At first she was very nervous, and the robin himself was indignantly watchful. Even Dickon did not go near the close-grown corner in those days, but waited until by the quiet working of some mysterious spell he seemed to have conveyed to the soul of the little pair that in the garden there was nothing which was not quite like themselves -- nothing which did not understand the wonderfulness of what was happening to them -- the immense, tender, terrible, heart-breaking beauty and solemnity of Eggs. If there had been one person in that garden who had not known through all his or her innermost being that if an Egg were taken away or hurt the whole world would whirl round and crash through space and come to an end -- if there had been even one who did not feel it and act accordingly there could have been no happiness even in that golden springtime air. But they all knew it and felt it and the robin and his mate knew they knew it."

- Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

About two weeks ago, Nif and I discovered a pair of cardinals nesting right outside our house! The female cardinal would arrive from elsewhere, hop around the branches, alight on a small clump of brush, and then go absolutely still. It's been very exciting. Sometimes when she takes breaks, the male cardinal comes and sits on a wire or a tree nearby, or hops from branch to branch in the same tree, singing and "cheer"ing. And then in the past two days we've been able to see, when she's off the nest, a little tiny head and mouth waving around!

A note about the quotation: if you're wondering why the robin's mate isn't also a robin...she is. It's just that the male robin has been a particular character in the story thus far, and his mate is a relative newcomer to the scene.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Quote: Trenton Lee Stewart

    The children nodded uneasily. All this talk of danger and emergencies, without explanation, was beginning to wear on them.
    "I'm sorry to put you ill at ease," Mr. Benedict said. "And I haven't much to say to comfort you. I can finally offer some answers to your questions, however. Who wishes to begin? Yes, Constance?"
    To the great exasperation of the others, Constance demanded to know why they couldn't have candy for breakfast.
    Mr. Benedict smiled. "A fine question. The short answer is that there is no candy presently in the house. Beyond that, the explanation involves a consideration of candy's excellent flavor but low nutritional value--that is to say, why it makes a wonderful treat but a poor meal--though I suspect you aren't interested in explanations but simply wished to express your frustration. Is that correct?"
    "Maybe," Constance said with a shrug. But she seemed satisfied.
    "Other questions?" said Mr. Benedict.

- Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society

Speaking of orphans (or virtual orphans) who end up going on dramatic adventures... They get to practice Morse code, too! And through the tests they pass to join the "Society" -- and through working together -- they come to appreciate the many different ways there are to be "gifted".
.-    .-.. ... -    ... ..-.    ..-. ..- -. !

Monday, March 10, 2008

Quote: Lois Lowry

"METICULOUS means extremely precise and careful. Surgeons have to be meticulous. Some people think great cooks are meticulous, but they are wrong. Great cooks read a recipe, maybe, but then they ignore the instructions and add extra garlic if they feel like it. Surgeons can't do that."

- Lois Lowry, The Willoughbys (ARC edition)

Lois Lowry's newest book, The Willoughbys, comes out at the end of March. This excerpt is from the glossary at the back of the advance reading copy. You probably can't tell from this quote that the book is about a lovely "old-fashioned" family where the parents don't particularly like kids, and the kids think they would be better off as orphans. (This potentially disturbing premise is mitigated by the book's general silliness.)

Remember: No adding extra garlic during surgery!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Quote: George Washington

Here is an excerpt of a letter from George Washington to the Jewish community of Newport, RI, in 1790:

"All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunity of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens....May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."

- George Washington, cited by Susan Jacoby in Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism

I was really excited to see this; I think it's an excellent example of the ideals to which our nation should continue to aspire. Our "founding fathers" were full of contradictions (Washington was a slaveowner), but sometimes they did get it right.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Quotes: Jane Austen

I have been reading a lot of Jane Austen in the past few weeks -- some rereads, some new. Here are some excerpts:

"Fanny agreed to it, and had the pleasure of seeing him continue at the window with her, in spite of the expected glee; and of having his eyes soon turned, like hers, towards the scene without, where all that was solemn, and soothing, and lovely, appeared in the brilliancy of an unclouded night, and the contrast of the deep shade of the woods. Fanny spoke her feelings. 'Here's harmony!' said she; 'here's repose! Here's what may leave all painting and all music behind, and what poetry can only attempt to describe! Here's what may tranquillise every care, and lift the heart to rapture! When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene.'"

- Mansfield Park (1814)

"Such an adventure as this, a fine young man and a lovely young woman thrown together in such a way, could hardly fail of suggesting certain ideas to the coldest heart and the steadiest brain. So Emma thought, at least. Could a linguist, could a grammarian, could even a mathematician have seen what she did, have witnessed their appearance together, and heard their history of it, without feeling that circumstances had been at work to make them particularly interesting to each other? How much more must an imaginist, like herself, be on fire with speculation and foresight? especially with such a groundwork of anticipation as her mind had already made."

- Emma (1816)

"They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm-in-arm when they walked, pinned up each other's train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set; and, if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up to read novels together. Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom, so common with novel writers, of degrading, with their own contemptuous censure, the very performances to the number of which they are themselves adding: joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronised by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard?"

- Northanger Abbey (1818)

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Quote: Michael Pollan

"For some reason the image that stuck with me from that day was that slender blade of grass in a too big, wind-whipped pasture, burning all those calories just to stand up straight and keep its chloroplasts aimed at the sun. I'd always thought of the trees and grasses as antagonists--another zero-sum deal in which the gain of the one entails the loss of the other. To a point, this is true: More grass means less forest; more forest less grass. But either-or is a construction more deeply woven into our culture than into nature, where even antagonists depend on one another and the liveliest places are the edges, the in-betweens or both-ands. So it is with the blade of grass and the adjacent forest as, indeed, with all the species sharing this most complicated farm. Relations are what matter most, and the health of the cultivated turns on the health of the wild."

- Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

The Omnivore's Dilemma is an amazing book. I'm two thirds of the way through at this point (Industrial/Corn and Pastoral/Grass, leaving only Personal/The Forest). In this chapter, Pollan has been visiting and working at Polyface farm, an incredibly sustainable "grass" farm where the end products of any one process are used to fuel the next and everything is interconnected. Farmer Joel Salatin has been explaining to him the importance of trees as windbreaks for the grass fields and how much energy is thereby saved for the actual growing of the plants.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A thicker picture book than usual...

Yesterday's American Library Association award announcements at the Philadelphia Convention Center included a bit of a surprise for the Caldecott: The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which is over 500 pages long! It's an excellent book. We're also excited to see that Elijah of Buxton, which is one of my Staff Picks, won a Coretta Scott King Award (having also recently won the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction)!

Further edification: On our Mt Airy and Beyond links page, we have links to the official web pages of a long list of book awards (including ALA), so you can always check there for current recommendations of outstanding books.