I had nothing to do with the editing -- that was all Arthur's genius, and Jonah's and Ana's and our designer Marijka Kostiw. But I did write the flap...moreI had nothing to do with the editing -- that was all Arthur's genius, and Jonah's and Ana's and our designer Marijka Kostiw. But I did write the flap copy.
The case cover for this book is terrific and should be made into gift wrap or something. (less)
This book displays all of the virtues of a really well-written novel for children in the classical mode: an interesting story that shows young readers...moreThis book displays all of the virtues of a really well-written novel for children in the classical mode: an interesting story that shows young readers more of the world; simple, elegant writing; a child character who does things, doesn't just think about them; wisdom in its telling. A wonderful book. (less)
So, first, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Part I: The Pox Party, by M. T. Anderson. This volume wae the National...more(crossposted from my blog)
So, first, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Part I: The Pox Party, by M. T. Anderson. This volume wae the National Book Award winner for 2006, but I had -- not avoided it exactly, but never made time to read it, until the recent CCBC discussion and Times review of Volume II prompted me to pick it up. More out of a sense of duty than anticipated pleasure: for while I very much admired M. T. Anderson's Feed (the only previous novel of his I'd read), and I knew from that and from reviews of Octavian that he could accomplish extraordinary feats of voice, emotion, imagination, and historical recreation, his temperament and view of humanity seemed rather darker and harsher than mine, almost on the verge of nihilism. And it is always hard for me as a quasi-optimist to read pessimistic works -- not only are the events described unpleasant, and realer than I daily care to look at, I feel like something of a fool as I read, for this, the pessimists are telling me, is reality, and why don't I just face that fact and get on with it? Additionally, I'd read so much about Octavian at this point that I felt it was approaching the category of books that the first chapter of If on a winter's night a traveler would call The Books One Never Needs to Read Because So Many People Talk about Them That It Seems Like You've Read Them Already.
So I took up Octavian knowing most of its big surprises -- the nature of the experiment, that he would at some point lapse into inkblots, the eventual escape. And at first I read with attention mostly for the undeniable genius of the thing -- the deep knowledge of history and science, the construction of the voice, the fascination of the situation. (Not to mention the incredible feat of copyediting this book must have been, to get the ampersands and the spellings and the historical references right and consistent.) And that awareness of genius was so strong, and the events described so deeply inhumane (to Octavian; all too humanlike in other ways) and yet true, that I found myself reading more with aesthetic pleasure than emotional pleasure -- that is, I took pleasure in the excellent aesthetics of the book, but I had no pleasure being with Octavian inside the world created by those aesthetics. About halfway through, I would have liked to stop reading.
And yet I could not, Mr. Anderson's aesthetic genius having caught me up in caring about Octavian and made his world sufficiently real that I had to see how the experiment played itself out. If readers usually identify with main characters and have the pleasure of sharing in their experience, the experience and pleasure here felt like that of martyrdom: intense pain and also nobility, the one increasing the other. But once I gave myself over to that and accepted it, about the time of the Pox Party, I found some pleasure in sharing Octavian's burden, like we had to go through these awful things together. And more than that, I realized that I had misjudged Mr. Anderson, because anyone who feels such sympathy for the suffering (as I think he must to portray suffering so accurately and acutely) cannot be a nihilist: because in nihilism nothing matters, and he clearly feels that human suffering does, and should be alleviated. That does not mean it WILL be in the course of the book, of course, but it's nice to have something to believe in as a reader, and not feel like the author is simply leading you toward fictional misery and pointlessness (the better to underline the misery and pointlessness of actual existence).
So, oddly cheered, I flew through the last third of the novel, marveling still at the brilliance of the historical writing and the turnabout of the usual patriotic story; and hoping now, hard, for Octavian to escape and all to be -- if not well, or even peaceful (which would be foolish in a novel chronicling the beginning of the Revolutionary War), more resolute still in favor of this sense of the possible goodness of humanity. And while I understand Volume II will test this hope even further, I look forward to getting and reading it after I return to New York. All of the best novels I've read this year have been YA: Paper Towns, Graceling, Suite Scarlett, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, The Hunger Games, the Attolia trilogy; and now I will set Octavian Nothing among that company, as, if not the most pleasurable, certainly the most distinguished in imaginative and historical accomplishment.
(It strikes me that this is less a review than an account of my reading experience with random, very possibly pretentious-sounding philosophical bits thrown in. Ah well, I'm enjoying writing the bloviation, and I hope you don't mind reading it.)(less)
This book gets a big fat F from me from a political perspective -- Bella, grow a spine and stop suffering nobly! -- and a C- for writing -- Edward sni...moreThis book gets a big fat F from me from a political perspective -- Bella, grow a spine and stop suffering nobly! -- and a C- for writing -- Edward snickers, every line of dialogue seems to have an adverb attached, the plot (besides the romance) is nonexistent, etc. etc. But it somehow gets an A for emotion, for getting the reader to feel the intensity of the romance. Not a good book, but a fascinating one. (less)
**spoiler alert** THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS is The Book I Have Hated Most in My Adult Life -- or perhaps my whole life, as I don't remember hatin...more**spoiler alert** THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS is The Book I Have Hated Most in My Adult Life -- or perhaps my whole life, as I don't remember hating any book this much as a child or teenager. I loathed the main character, I loathed the fact that the story to me had no point, and I especially loathed the author's air of self-satisfaction at having created "A Fable." I reviewed it on my blog a long time ago; go here for the full text, or read the main argument below. Seriously, if someone can explain to me why you saw this as a good book or how you understood its point, I'd appreciate it.
I didn't like the main character, so I hated the story, and I didn't see the point Mr. Boyne was going after, so I felt he wasted my time. Throughout the book, Mr. Boyne can't decide how ignorant either his readers are or Bruno should be. Bruno knows at one point that there's a war going on, but later, when his sister Gretel moves pins around a map of Europe, he doesn't understand what she's doing. He has never heard of Hitler (whom he calls "The Fury"), nor of Jews. If the author had made him five or six rather than nine, then this might have been believable; as it is, it feels completely author-constructed and -manipulated, and it made me have zilch respect for Bruno -- or less than zilch, actually, as he's also a spoiled, selfish, ignorant brat. The author seems to like him, or at least think he's an okay kid doing the best he can, but when Bruno deliberately turns a blind eye to his "friend's" suffering and beatings . . . not okay! Who wants to hang out with a kid like that?
Boyne continues the ignorance game by keeping the name "Auschwitz" away from his readers with that "Out-with" -- a ploy I couldn't figure out, because if readers were approaching the story from the same ignorance as Bruno, they wouldn't have heard of Auschwitz, so it wouldn't matter if the name was included; and if readers knew anything about the Holocaust, they would see through it, and then it would come off as cutesy and evasive. The same is true of the ending: Without a knowledge of the Holocaust, readers would have had no idea Bruno went to the gas chamber, and therefore the story would have had no meaning for them. "He disappeared? Is that all?" If you have that knowlege, then I suppose you can recognize that Bruno has been punished for his ignorance, but without the main character grasping the message, the story is neither satisfying nor clear.
And is that even Boyne's point? According to a number of reviews, yes; they claim Bruno's deliberate ignorance is an allegory for the willful blindness of adult Germans during the War. Perhaps so, but in that case, Boyne should have shown us Bruno's death scene so readers understood the consequences of such ignorance, no matter their prior knowledge of the situation; and the message would have been infinitely more effective if the book were written in first person or Bruno was at least respectable (if not likeable), so I gave a damn when he died. The musical "Cabaret" focuses on that same willful ignorance, but the moral power of the show arises from the audience's awareness of that ignorance throughout the debauchery onstage, and its creators' final condemnation of that ignorance and display of its effects in the last scene of the show. If this is Boyne's point also, he's removed all the teeth from it. And if it's not, then, as Roger Sutton said in his Horn Book review -- "If Auschwitz is the metaphor, what's the real story?"(less)
I decided this book was going to be awesome the moment one twin brother offered to step into his missing brother's engagement-of-convenience, because...moreI decided this book was going to be awesome the moment one twin brother offered to step into his missing brother's engagement-of-convenience, because I love twin-switch stories to start with, and then clearly Brother #1 was going to fall in love with Brother #2's fiance, and Hijinks would Ensue. Alas, it is less Hijinksy and awesome than I hoped, but still very light and enjoyable in all the good Georgette Heyer ways. (less)
I am a good friend of the author's and I appear fairly often in this book, so I'm cheerfully biased about it. But judged solely as a piece of writing,...moreI am a good friend of the author's and I appear fairly often in this book, so I'm cheerfully biased about it. But judged solely as a piece of writing, it is excellent and essential reportage about the history of the Harry Potter books and phenomenon -- the only book with firsthand accounts from J. K. Rowling, her agent, her editors and publicists, and various other people involved in the publication of the series or who helped to make it big. Melissa covers the growth of the online fandom, from the first websites through the shipping wars, and follows the band Harry and the Potters on a week of their spring 2007 tour. She interviews Laura Mallory, the Georgia woman frequently dismissed as crazy for her quest to ban the HP books from schools, and while they hardly come to agree on the series, the interview is revealing and enlightening. Finally, this is a moving memoir of the way a love of something, and the courage to pursue that love, can change a person's life, as Melissa moves from editorial-assistant peon to reporter and Webmistress extraordinaire; and it's a fun walk down Memory Lane for any HP fan, who will remember their own excitement about the first movie, the fifth book, the series end. (less)
I enjoyed both this and my other recent read AUDREY, WAIT! quite a lot for their spunky characters and witty banter (the "Visa" and "Mastercard" defin...moreI enjoyed both this and my other recent read AUDREY, WAIT! quite a lot for their spunky characters and witty banter (the "Visa" and "Mastercard" definitions here especially). But I also have to say the witty banter is SO witty ALL the TIME in both books that they felt a little exhausting. . . . They reminded me of a definition of the comedy of manners that I read once: "putting twice as much energy into the conversation as it requires." (less)
I predict that this and THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins will get a lot of attention and comparison this fall, as they both star kickass heroines d...moreI predict that this and THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins will get a lot of attention and comparison this fall, as they both star kickass heroines drawn into intense romantic relationships under dangerous conditions, they're both excellently written, and they're both very hard to stop reading. (I loved them both.) The main difference between the two is their settings: this in a fantasy world with seven kingdoms, HUNGER GAMES in a future dystopian USA. So this one I would recommend highly to fans of Kate Constable, Robin McKinley, Tamora Pierce, etc., and HUNGER GAMES to readers who like their fantasy a little darker and more realistic -- Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Cory Doctorow. (less)
Kevin Crossley-Holland is one of our most luscious writers of prose in YA fiction -- his background as a poet showing in every line -- and this book d...moreKevin Crossley-Holland is one of our most luscious writers of prose in YA fiction -- his background as a poet showing in every line -- and this book demonstrates that gorgeously.
N.B. This is the American edition of the book published in the U.K. and Canada as GATTY'S TALE. (less)
I edited this, so I am the most biased person in the world, but it is excellent. Marcelo is a seventeen-year-old on the autistic spectrum whose father...moreI edited this, so I am the most biased person in the world, but it is excellent. Marcelo is a seventeen-year-old on the autistic spectrum whose father challenges him to spend a summer in the father's law firm, leading to all sorts of problems and revelations, especially thanks to his co-worker Jasmine. It's a love story, a legal drama, funny (sometimes), moving, and wise; WONDERFUL characters with real problems and solutions, and just beautifully, beautifully written. (less)