A Literary Map of Manhattan

September 25, 2010 at 1:16 am (Current Events) (, , , )

In cheerier news, someone with time on their hands and a great idea in their heads (Randy Cohen & Nigel Holmes) made this fabulous map of Literary Manhattan, “where imaginary New Yorkers lived, worked, played, drank walked, and looked at ducks.” I reserved final judgement till I found my beloved O.Henry at Number 68 (200 Fifth Avenue), and then I delighted in it unashamedly.

You will find authors from the likes of E.B. White, E.L. Konigsburg, and Madeline L’Engle to Martin Amis, Tom Wolfe, and Edith Wharton (of course). (And yes, Henry James is present, too. Among many others. Perhaps you should go play with it and see?)


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News: RIP Judith Merkle Riley

September 25, 2010 at 1:07 am (Current Events) ()

I learned something terrible and sad today: One of my favorite historical fiction authors, the too-little known Judith Merkle Riley, died nearly two weeks ago. I’ve never thought she got the attention she deserved (not in the US, at least; I know her last novel was in print overseas when it was impossible to find here), even in these halcyon days when we’re glutted with historical fiction, both good and wretched. Riley always stood out for her dry, often absurd humor and the flights of fancy her novels often took: “If all the chronicles of earthly life were recorded with such drama, flair and wit, the world would be filled with history majors,” Betty Lukas wrote in her 1989 Times review of “A Vision of Light,” Riley’s first novel. That about says it.

I found The Oracle Glass in the library in tenth grade, and went looking for it again after I moved to the Mainland a year later. It took me years to painstakingly build my collection of her novels, but I thoroughly enjoyed every one of them (perhaps the later Margaret of Ashburys a bit less, but still). I kind of wish I’d written a fan letter to her, just so she’d know how very much I liked her books. And I ended up a History major, too.

As an homage, I think I’ll read a few of her books this week. Resquiat in pace, Judith.

Full LA Times obituary.

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the Walter Scott shortlist & my TBR

June 8, 2010 at 12:06 am (Current Events) (, )

I bookmarked this article to share back on April first, but was still too despondent over Kitty Girl to be a good and dutiful little blogger and actually post it. So APRIL FOOLS! HA HA HA! I know, that wasn’t funny in the slightest.

Basically, three (count ’em, THREE!) of the novels shortlisted for the Booker Prize have also been shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize (coming on up on June 18th), which is for historical fiction, of course. (I feel so bad that I haven’t finished Waverly, because it was really getting to be rather funny when I put it down. And it’s such a good, literary babyname–not for me, though, not right now; my sister’s having one soon.)

Historical fiction, according to Moffat, is enjoying an unprecedented boom. “Historical fiction may have become more popular because at a time when the future seems terrifying to us, we need to refer back to and understand the past more fully,” he said.

I’m not sure I necessarily agree with Mr Moffat, however. Historical fiction, more than anything else, reflects the present and its attitudes and perspectives. By using the past as a vehicle, historical fiction brings greater understanding of our own times. We don’t study history simply to understand the past, but also to understand ourselves. You think?

Regardless, most of the books sound pretty interesting (and I did just read and enjoy Wolf Hall), so I may just have to add them to my TBR.

The shortlist
Hodd by Adam Thorpe
Lustrum by Robert Harris
Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears
The Glass Room by Simon Mawer
The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

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February 3, 2010 at 3:59 am (Current Events, Worth a Thousand Words)

Aloha, darlings!

I have been lax in my updates and posting so far this year, but I promise you that I have been reading and taking notes on everything that I read! (In fact, I can hardly just read a book without thinking about what I’ll be writing about it. I need to start writing things down, though, because I often forget. Especially when I’m drunk and reading. Argh.)

BUT! We just returned from our honeymoon in Hawai’i, and not only did I read some fun books there, but I also have some fun pictures of … LIBRARIES! Yeah, we toured some of the important Libraries I Have Known on our honeymoon. Cuz that’s how I roll.

So, look forward to my getting all caught up on reviews, and also library stories–and to leave you with something to reflect upon, here is part of what my wedding bouquet looked like, constructed out fo pages from my Jane Austen omnibus that tragically (and providentially) fell apart a few months ago:

Mostly pages from Pride & Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion, with a few from Northanger Abbey and a smattering of Sense & Sensibility. Learn to make your own at Offbeat Bride!

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BSC revived and revised

January 12, 2010 at 4:15 am (Current Events, Juvanalia) (, , , , )

Have you seen this article in the New York Times? Ann M. Martin’s seminal series The Baby-Sitter’s Club is being resuscitated by Scholastic with not only a reprint and a prequel, but also a revision to update the books. No more perms and no more cassettes!

Like a lot of my peers, I read a fair number of BSC books in their heyday. It was never my favorite series, but I liked it better than the wholly ridiculous Sweet Valley High (and far better than the loathsome younger reader spinoffs of that) for featuring somewhat realistic girls doing well, everyday activities. And while there are far better books out there for young readers, I do not mind them reading stuff like the BSC. But is a revision to update the books really necessary? When I was in that same age group, I inherited some of the books that had originally belonged to my two older sisters, ten and twelve years older than me. Among these were several Judy Blume books, the requisite horse books like Marguerite O’Henry’s Misty books, and also the Amy and Laura books. The latter series was about a pair of sisters, different as different can be (and I suspect that difference is why my sisters had them; they had a very difficult relationship till they were adults), living in the Bronx in the–well, to this day I’m not entirely sure when they lived. Their lives were drastically different from my own, and though I wanted a malted, I wasn’t entirely sure what one was. But there were many similarities besides the complicated relationship between Amy and Laura, which echoed the one I witnessed between my own siblings. Like Laura, I checked out the Lang Fairy Books (I remember her interest in finally acquiring the Olive volume), and like Amy, I enjoyed riding my bike around the neighborhood. I really don’t think any small difference between my technology and theirs impeded my interest in their lives in the slightest.

The same goes for many classics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; though my mother had to explain segregation and belts for pads (when I read Iggie’s House and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, respectively), that hardly lessened my enjoyment or understanding of the books. But I suppose there may be an argument that since the BSC books are of less err, literary merit, shall we say, then they do need updating to remain relevant to children. I don’t know. But I may have to take a trip thrifting soon, and try to stock up on those original volumes just in case I ever have some girls interested in Stoneybrook.

Also: I first saw this article on the second of January, when the comments were already closed (really, NYT? Really?), but I MUST respond to this comment by Adrienne of New York (who is more than welcome to rebut):

This whole generation of girls who had grown up reading ‘The Baby-Sitters Club’ were now teachers, librarians or mothers,” Mr. Levithan said.

…Does Mr. Levithan really believe that little girls can only grow up to be teachers, librarians or mothers?? These books were about strong, entrepreneurial women. Mr. Levithan just robbed all women of the childhood joy they derived from these books. Thanks.

Ummm, yeah. Pretty sure Levithan is entirely aware of the fact that the women most in the position of recommending books to young readers are, well, mothers, teachers, and librarians. Ya think?

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Spider & Jeanne Robinson Could Use a Hand

September 9, 2009 at 4:35 am (Current Events) (, , )

callahan's ladyBack in the fuzzy days of my pre-adolescence, when my reading matter was often chosen as much for titillation as for intellectual stimulation or entertainment, I stumbled across a rare find. Down in the basement of the Historic Irvington bungalow my father and stepmother inhabited were many a cardboard box of books, books of every sort, from the fundamentals of theatre to children’s classics. And above all, there was fantasy and science fiction. Boxes upon boxes of paperbacks both slim and fat, from every genre of science fiction and fantasy there was in the Seventies and Eighties. And on hot summer days, my little sister and I would duck into that cool vault and sort through the treasure trove of books we found.

I hated to be told what I could read and could not, so I would always have to hide my finds, sneaking them upstairs and reading them on the sly; my prurient pre-adolescent mind gravitated toward the naughty, and I dreaded being found out and having my precious books confiscated–which had happened before and which would happen again. And one hot afternoon, I happened upon a promising book. It was called Callahan’s Lady, and in it, I found a place where I wanted to belong, Lady Sally’s House. Yes, it was a brothel somewhere on Manhattan Island, but it was also a place where decency and good manners were respected, and where people could have fun and be accepted for who they were–whether they were in fact people, freaks, aliens, or even genetically-engineered German Shepherds. Instead of simple titillation, I found in Callahan’s Lady commentary on the human condition (as is found in the best science fiction), good humor at its worst (those puns!), and a new Heinlein (to whom my father had already introduced me).

I kept Callahan’s Lady (don’t tell my dad where his copy went), and I bought the sequel The Lady Slings the Booze, as well as the first Callahan book, Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon. I checked out other Spider (and sometimes Jeanne) Robinson books from the library, and I was a total SF nerd. And I loved it. In turn, I passed those books on to others, like my eldest sister Heather and some of my friends, and every one has loved them. Spider Robinson also has written some fantastic essays, including an amazing defense of Robert A Heinlein for People Who Just Don’t Get It. (And I would love him for that, if nothing else, because I do adore RAH.)

I learned a lot from those books in the way of basic civilization: Live and let live. Let well enough alone. Vengeance is counterproductive–and it gets your soul all sticky. Placebo !/= spaseeba. Pain shared is lessened, while joy shared is multiplied. Treating people as you wish to be treated is the best way to achieve that goal. And I had a lot of fun.

Just over four years ago, my mother died from metastasized breast cancer, and it’s a pain I live with every day. I would do anything to keep someone else from having to go through what I and my sisters–and tutu and aunts–have suffered, the pain we live through every day, and that’s why I’ve written this post. Jeanne Robinson suffers from a rare biliary cancer that has already taken her gall bladder, bile duct, and most of her liver. She and Spider are having a hard time affording the treatment she needs, and I would dearly love to pay them back in any way possible for the hours of amusement, entertainment, and thought I’ve had thanks to their work. If you’re interested in their work, buy it from Amazon through Spider Robinson’s site. There are a few Ebay auctions for her benefit. Also a benefit site with other options.

And perhaps best of all, this gent came up with a way to benefit Spider & Jeanne with ANY Amazon purchase! I just bought a couple of books last night, but I will happily do some early Christmas shopping this way to help them out. Even if you aren’t interested in their books, you can send a little their way with any Amazon purchase.

Maybe I’m a shill, I don’t know. What I do know is how much I have suffered without my mother thanks to cancer, and how much enjoyment I’ve have from a few printed words that Spider Robinson happened to write. And that I started to cry when I first learned what was going on, and I’m still tearing up now. I’d rather not, but I suppose that can’t be helped. I might not be that fond of sherry, but I’ll take any port in a storm.

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