Friday, June 30, 2017

Jen's Five Books of Collaboration

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland (William Morrow & Company, $35.00)
A brilliant new release! At 750 pages, D.O.D.O. is the longest book I've read in a long time. Initially daunted, I decided to poke my head in after reading the authors' collaboration statements:
"...If the writers aren't in sync, it unravels pretty fast, but if they share a clear vision of the characters and the story -- as Nicki and I did in this case -- then it can come together with surprising ease and swiftness. Once we knew who these people were and what they were going to do, Nicki made a first pass over the opening phase of the book while I ran tech support, tracking the timeline on a spreadsheet and spewing out gobs of techno-gibberish when that was needed. Then she tossed that over to me and I did my bit while she forged ahead. I won't say it was easy but I will say the collaboration went very well, with a lot of humor and a minimum of drama." -NS
"This collaboration was great fun, in part because I got to witness Neal spew out gobs of techno-gibberish, which he does very elegantly. Sometimes I felt like Scout to his Atticus (if Atticus were a mad scientist). ... When we had differences of opinion -- which didn't happen much, given the scope of the book -- they were resolved, as Neal has said, with good humor and a minimum of drama. (Confession: I'm more dramatic than Neal.)" -NG
Funny! So I read the first page, and then I jumped in and kept going. And it was totally worth it. I've since read it again. Read it, read it! It came out earlier this month, and it's a great take on historians, academics, time travel, magic, and shadowy government organizations.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (Speak, $10.99)
Collaboration can work in all sorts of ways, of course. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is one in which the two authors each take a character and write their characters' alternating chapters. Two characters, same name, different stories, different angst, and a late-night meeting by happenstance, with dramatic and ultimately healing effects.

Sorcery and Cecelia, Or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (Harcourt Brace and Company, $7.99)
Sorcery and Cecelia is an epistolary comedy of manners set in Regency England -- well, alternate Regency England, with magic added. It came into being by way of the "letter game," in which two authors become their characters and write letters back and forth to each other in real time, creating and refining the story along the way.

The Fall of the Kings by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman (Bantam, $7.99)
Hm. Oddly similar to D.O.D.O. in that it deals with the differing priorities of governance and scholarship, and it explores new ways of bringing history to life. Otherwise, it's rather different.
A sequel of sorts to Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint (and, later, The Privilege of the Sword), this book began with the authors dividing up spheres of influence to focus their writing (the City vs the University), and then they began reworking each other's writing, and reworking the reworkings. 'It is a pretty long book, and I wish I could tell you who wrote what,' says Ellen Kushner. 'But true collaboration is a funny thing: as Neil Gaiman recently told an interviewer (re. his work with Terry Pratchett on Good Omens), “I wrote 90% of the book. The only problem was, [s]he wrote the other 90%.”'

"Kushner and Sherman don’t spin fables or knit fancies: they are world-forgers, working in a language of iron and air." —Gregory Maguire

Welcome to Bordertown: New Stories and Poems of the Borderlands edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner
And, finally, here's a massive collaboration: five anthologies and three novels, set in a shared universe, with many recurring characters and many authors, some of whom started out as fans! Begun over thirty years ago, the Borderlands books were created and curated by Terri Windling and populated by an evolving community of authors, including at least three of the aforementioned collaborators. (Four, if you include Neil Gaiman.) They're not available at the Big Blue Marble, but they're worth trying to get your hands on. Here's what I said of Welcome to Bordertown after it came out in 2011:

In the ‘80s and ‘90s came a flood of books from the Borderlands, the newly created edge -- and its floodplain -- between our world and that of Faerie; a place where both magic and technology work ... sometimes. Basically, if you're gonna ride a motorcycle, you want to have some good spells on hand for when the engine cuts out on you. And vice versa. Bordertown is where runaways from both sides of the border go to start a new life. Now the birthplace of urban fantasy is back, and newbies are always welcomed...

Jennifer Sheffield, June 2017

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Harry Potter 20th Anniversary - What's your first Harry Potter memory?

Harry Potter and Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone was first published on June 26, 1997 - 20 years ago! Can you believe it?

Big Blue Marble asked our staff and customers to share their first memories of reading Harry Potter and being seduced by J.K. Rowling's wizarding world. 

If you'd like to share your memory, email us at and we'll post your entry here and in our newsletter.

Deborah Zubow, West Philadelphia: Drinking butter beer at the release party for the second volume. Kids in costume, fake owls hanging from the ceiling. First taste of pepper jelly beans.

Kelly Kuwabara, Philadelphia:  I remember once talking to a stranger on the (NYC) subway, a young man who told me he had never had an interest in reading, but got completely absorbed in the Harry Potter series. He loved those books. He said that after that, he was a lot more interested in books and reading, and expanded to other types of novels and non-fiction. When we struck up our conversation, he was reading Notes of a Native Son.

Maisie Quinn, age 10, Philadelphia: "My first memory of Harry Potter was when I was really little, like 3 or 4 or something, and I found my mom's old Prisoner of Azkaban book. I opened it up to the place where Hagrid just got the letter about Buckbeak saying Buckbeak would have to be in a hearing, and is hugging Harry and Ron and Hermione. Then I shut it again. I first started reading the books straight through in Kindergarten."

Katherine Knorr, South Philly: Visiting the official Harry Potter bus with Elliott batTzedek! Also,  I remember having to take the 3am train back to Philly from New York and being salty about missing the earlier one. But then I noticed the Hudson Books was still open and they were setting out copies of the latest HP because it was now officially release day. I bought my copy and sat around Penn Station reading until my train arrived. 

Douglas Gordon, Philadelphia: My primary memory of HP is also a regret: that I've always intended to write a parody called "Larry Porter and the Crumpets of Doom" but have never gotten around to it. 

Claire McGuire, Germantown/Philadelphia: I didn't learn about it til maybe early 1999. I was working as a nanny in Seattle. My charge was a baby, but her older brother was 5, and his mother was reading the first HP aloud to him. I remember that the mom was excited because her son said, "I'd rather listen to Harry Potter than watch TV!" When they were done with the book, I borrowed it.

Nini Engel, Philadelphia: We were living in England for two years, when HP5 Order of the Phoenix came out. We had pre-ordered a copy, but there were five of us, my husband and I, and our three daughters (14, 11 and 7. We spent the entire day, into the night, taking turns reading it aloud to each other. We got several hundred pages in before the youngest went to sleep and the eldest ran off with the book. It was a magical experience, and really, one of my happiest memories of their childhood. 

Lorrie Kim, author of Snape: A Definitive Reading: I was part of a Usenet discussion group fighting an appalling troll. We were so tired of seeing her name that some people suggested we call her "She Who Must Not Be Named." Others had to explain to me that this was a reference to a popular children's series with an unspeakably loathsome villain. I just now realized that this is my very own "Troll in the dungeon!" story. :-)  Little did I know I would end up writing a book about this children's series. 

Sheila Allen Avelin, Owner, Big Blue Marble BookstoreI bought my first HP books in California because I happened to be there on the launch day of HP4 with Elizheva Hurvich and we noticed this crazy long line of kids and were super-curious about what they were waiting to buy. I feel somewhat abashed that it took me so long to catch on, but I caught up quickly.

Elliott batTzedek, Event Coordinator, Big Blue Marble: I first found Harry Potter when I started working at Children's Literacy Initiative. While we only did books for pre-k to 1st grade, HP was on the staff shelf and all the trainers, who had been elementary teachers, talked about it endlessly. I finally read HP1 and HP2, and, honestly, I wasn't completely enchanted. Fun, yes, but they also felt redundant. Something happens in summer, train to school, feast, things happen, Quidditch, Halloween,  Christmas, things happen, more Quidditch, end of school year and dramatic things happen, tests, train home. But then HP3 came out and while the plot time line was the same for the first 3/4 of the book, the last 1/4 was amazing. Suddenly I cared passionately about Harry's parents and their few living friends, about the  people who had fought evil and paid a huge price, and how that after effects of that fight was totally shaping these kids' world in ways they were only beginning to comprehend.  After that it HP all the way, including the wonderful ritual of re-reading each book before the next one came out, and then going to the Midnight release.  I only discovered the Jim Dale audio books when they came out in Digital format and now they are my constant go-to if I need background for doing cleaning or chores or awake at night and needing the familiar to help me get my brain to shut up and go back to sleep.

Mariangela Saavedra: I was working at a daycare center in North Carolina in 2000 and a boy there named Kyle was a 4th grader who I drove on my van from school to the center every day after school was out. Because he was so tall (and also well behaved) he was allowed to sit in the front seat. He had HP3, The Prisoner of Azkaban,  with him on day. It had just been released in the fall (of 1999) and I had never heard of  Harry Potter but he was glued to this book every day. So I asked what it was about. Kyle absolutely lit up when he realized I had no idea about the story and he would be able to tell me everything about it. Starting from the very beginning every day on our 15 min ride from school to the center he would tell me a little more, till one day we caught up to where he was in the book. Everyday after that as he read more he would keep me updated on the story till it was done. Not long after that the 1st movie came out and to my excitement it was exactly as Kyle had described the story to me. A book that could capture the attention of a 9 year old, whose details he could remember perfectly, even though he was now books ahead in the series? This was a book series I had to read for my self. I read the first three in time for HP4 The Goblet of Fire US release and I read every book from then on the weekend they came out. Engrossed by every single one of them. I have loved many a book series in my life. But none as much as I have loved every single book in the Harry Potter Series. I can read them over and over and never tire of them. When we take family vacations we listen to the audiobooks narrated by Jim Dale. I look forward to turning my niece and nephew on to them when they are old enough to read them. It will be a magical time indeed! 

Mary Gaia Prevost: I had initially avoided reading the Harry Potter books due to the “frantic fan frenzy”, but then a friend of mine who needed a distraction as her husband (who worked for the CIA) was going on a dangerous mission overseas. So we went to see the first H.P. movie…and I was HOOKED !!! I immediately went out and bought all the H.P. books that were out (the first 4 books) and was even more amazed. This was also the first time I had ever watched a movie before reading the book AND the first time (after reading the book) that the movie had captured the book almost perfectly. (P.S. the husband returned from the mission safely) 

Faith Paulsen, Norristown:  I remember I read a review somewhere and introduced sons #1 and #2 to the first book which is all there was in the US at that time.So they were in maybe 4th and 6th grades. My oldest was a big devoted reader from early childhood and a big magic fan. My 2nd was more of an outdoors kinda kid, totally opposite of his brother. Yet they both loved the book! And we were hooked!

Dawn Vuckson, Minneapolis, MN: When I saw the first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I was completely mesmerized by the Wand Shop. The shop and owner were exactly what my mind pictured when I read the book. I've never had a movie match my imagination before.

Jane Wiedmann, Philadelphia: HP5, "The Order of the Phoenix," came out on my wedding day so part of our honeymoon was spent reading it aloud to each other. We also gave it as our bridal party gift.

Ysabel Y. Gonzalez, Somerville, NJ:   Having a chance to see Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone while the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra played live at NJPAC.

Christopher Schaeffer, Philadelphia:  I remember resenting the first book because all of a sudden nobody wanted to talk about Redwall at recess anymore.  

Tiara Richardson, former Big Blue Marble stafferI was grounded for a week in third or 4th grade. I read every book except for the last one that week. I didn't read the final book until I was in my twenties which time I bought the Kazu Kibuishi edition from Big Blue Marble. I was actually thinking of taking Sorcerer's Stone to Jury Duty with me tomorrow.

Tanya Kegler, NE Philadelphia: I wanted to read the books, but all copies of the Sorcerer's Stone were checked out at my local library.  After several visits, I decided to get the audio version for my morning/evening commute (at the time I worked in NJ) but I was so mesmerized by the story and the narrator that I started listening during lunch and at bedtime.   I finished the entire collection in a matter of five days.  HP books are still my all-time favorite and in honor of the 20th Anniversary I plan on reading them with my daughter (who is also 20).  #potterhead




Thursday, June 15, 2017

Poetry is Not a Luxury - "Bartram's Garden" by Eleanor Stanford

Our June, 2017 selection is Philly poet Eleanor Stanford's
Bartram's Garden. Eleanor will be joining us for the discussion!

From Brazil’s Bay of All Saints to Philadelphia, from Florida’s brutal humidity to the drought-scorched Cape Verde Islands, Bartram’s Garden takes in the pulse and ache of the natural world: the bittern balanced in the swamp, cashew fruit’s astringent flesh. With a gardener’s eye for color and motif, and a mother’s open-hearted sensibility, these poems explore vivid landscapes both intimate and foreign.

Eleanor Stanford is the author of the new book of poetry, Bartram's Garden (Carnegie Mellon University Press), a memoir, Hist√≥ria, Hist√≥ria: Two Years in the Cape Verde Islands (Chicago Center for Literature and Photography) and of the poetry collection, The Book of Sleep (Carnegie).

Her poems and essays have appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, The Harvard Review, The Georgia Review, The Massachusetts Review, Brain, Child Magazine, and others. She is a 2014-2015 Fulbright Fellow to Brazil where she is researching and writing about traditional midwifery in rural BahiaShe is the recipient of a Hadassah Brandeis grant and  was a Henry Hoyns fellow at the University of Virginia, where she earned her M.F.A. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and three sons.


All live wonders of the world--humans, plants and animals--are citizens of meaning in these poems. Each poem is a tesseract which reveals the intimate connections between things seemingly at great distance in time and place."
Kazim Ali

"Sometimes we hurry to grow up too soon, Rilke suggests in the Duino Elegies, and so we may find ourselves suddenly exiled from childhood as from a place we've called 'garden' and have forever lost. Yet such a garden...might still exist if only we could perfect a language to intuit it. Eleanor us that language, by turns synesthetic and elliptical, utterly transportive, reacquainting us with the deep mystery of our lives lived in the womb of the world, attuning us to its sweetnesses as well as its astringencies and to our great arduous task of finding one within the other."
Gregory Djanikian

Flora, fauna, the wild and the domestic, these poems sing gorgeously "with their glowing throats / and feathered tongues."
Moira Egan

As luck and timing would have it, I come to Eleanor Stanford’s Bartram’s Garden just as a seemingly infinite number of Brood XXIII cicadas have emerged from their hidey holes in western Kentucky. I can’t imagine a better book to read to the accompaniment of the music of the spheres, as I keep calling the rattling surround sound produced in the resonant abdomens of the male cicadas clinging to the leaves of every tree, bush, and flower in our neighborhood. The last time I heard it — exactly thirteen years ago, in accordance with the periodicity of Brood XXIII — my children, who are now both almost out of the teenage years, were the same age as Stanford’s young children. If the home is a kind of garden, those are the years of near absolute retreat into its sanctuary.  keep reading
 Ann Neelon


Late sown, they grow
thrifty; in this narrow
rowhouse kitchen,
we set their two-pronged
hearts in jars of water
on the windowsill.
We have little sun,
less earth, and yet
I want my sons to know
that what feeds them
grows from light.


In candle-lit flickering, you trace 
rib’s slope. Your bed
of dark strata, each seam a deeper
face. Not far from here, a town
built on a mine caught fire
fifty years ago and is still 
burning. Beneath the overburden
of those other lives—friable surface
where residents of small hope
and coal smoke make peanut butter 
sandwiches or bicker, or sing 
their coal-tinged lullabies—we move 
in upcast shadow. Lampless 
and luminous, breath crumbles again 
in the smoldering, the bitumen,
the glittering ore body.

With J., Discussing Grammar in the Anarchist Coffee Shop, West Philadelphia

There is only one kind 
of sentence, you insist:
declarative. Meaning,
when you ask—our hands 
conjugating each other 
across the table—do you
love me, what you are saying
is you love me. Meaning,
the basic unit can only be
affirmative: the soft 
gray rain fogging
the windows. Palm
on palm. Black coffee
in a small tin cup.