Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Who knew Meg Cabot reads Betsy-Tacy?

My friends at B&N.com just sent me their weekly email about new releases, including a link from Meg Cabot, which says she is reading Maud Hart Lovelace (you have to scroll down)! I am not a fan of the Princess Diaries; that genre has been done better by Gwendoline Courtney in A Coronet for Cathie, A Royal Pain by Ellen Conford and others. However, I have enjoyed her 1-800 and Mediator series and other YA titles, as well as her adult novels. And clearly if she likes Betsy-Tacy, her heart is in the right place.

As you may know, the most famous Ruritanian story is The Prisoner of Zenda, in which dashing Englishman Rudolf Rassendyll, vacationing in an imaginary Balkan-like imaginary country, unexpectedly meets the local king, Rudolf the Fifth. They are similar enough to be twins (but they're cousins!), due to a long distant ancestor, but the Englishman is brave and honorable while the king is well intentioned but weak. When Rudolf learns that the king's life and throne are in danger, he has no choice but to impersonate him. Rudolf steps in gallantly to save his double's throne but does not bargain for falling in love with the king's betrothed, the beautiful Flavia. Ultimately, he must give her up - the honorable thing to do - and return to England with only his integrity for company, leaving the flawed Rudolf as king. This story has been filmed several times (and spoofed also; one of my favorites is a Get Smart episode called The King Lives).

Friday, July 27, 2007

More Grammar (or lack thereof in Junie B. Jones)

Count me in with those who feel that Junie B. Jones is Talking Trash when author Barbara Parks has her heroine (cheerfully) prattle ungrammatically. I understand that children do not speak in perfect English, and sometimes their errors are cute and amusing but frankly if such glitches are the fabric of your plot Parks has work to do as a writer. How will children ever learn the difference between good and bad grammar if they can't rely on books recommended by teachers and librarians? Not every parent can provide correction at home, and many children learn by reading as well as listening.

Normally I agree with the school of thought that feels any books beloved by children are worth supporting but I must make an exception here. While Ramona Quimby's malapropisms are charming: "Turn on the dawnzer's lee light," for example, this series leaves me cold! There are lots of other books with more likeable characters than the verging-on-obnoxious Junie, and I am sure booksellers (although perhaps not Random House, publisher of this series) and librarians can help these readers find something better!

Grammar Police

Someone is correcting the grammatical errors on signs in public places and no, I am not the culprit (although frequently tempted). I did used to cringe when I read the emails and other documents disseminated by my former boss but at least he would let me edit when it was something for a major presentation involving other people (I'd like to say this saved us both embarrassment but he never let anything bother him so I was effectively only protecting myself). He had a good heart and he meant well.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Run for president of Red Sox nation!

Have you ever dreamed of becoming president of the most enthusiastic, obsessive and loyal (yet at times the most unforgiving) fans in the world, those of Red Sox Nation? If for no other reason, the perks sound great:

• Four tickets to 10 games in 2008
• A ceremonial first pitch before a game in 2008
• A suite for one regular season game in 2008
• A trip to Spring Training with a guest
• Official business cards
• A credential to allow entry for all 2008 regular season games
• Periodic appearances on NESN/WRKO
• Periodic meetings with Red Sox senior executives
• Official spokesperson reacting to Red Sox news




And maybe I would get to meet my favorite players, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek!










Thursday, July 19, 2007

What was your favorite book as a child?

The New York Times asked today what was *your* favorite book when you were a child and it is interesting to see all the comments. Many mentioned favorites of mine such as The Phantom Tollbooth, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series, Narnia, The Lord of the Rings but I was also interested to see an early comment listed the Mallory Towers and St. Clare's books of Enid Blyton, which very much influenced my early (and lasting) love of English school stories. Many of the books I loved as a child were books that were already published so I tried to remember books that my sister and I eagerly anticipated coming out in the same way we now await HP VII tomorrow night. Her daughters will never forget the week leading up to midnight 7/21, and Alexa was frantically finishing HPVI as late as Tuesday. She wasn't even born when the first book came out!



Janet Lambert's books about the Parrish and Jordon families and Lenora Mattingly Weber's books about Beany Malone and Katie Rose Belford are definitely among my favorites but I caught both authors, so to speak, in their last years when the quality of their writing was not as strong. One author I do recall eagerly anticipating new books from was Ruth Arthur - in particular, The Autumn People, which has some parallels to Mabel Esther Allan's Time to Go Back. In addition, Ruth Arthur was published in the US by Atheneum, then under the auspices of Margaret K. McElderry. Her imprimatur was almost a guarantee that I would like a book in those days, from Susan Cooper's Over Sea Under Stone to Nancy Bond, L. M. Boston and Elizabeth Enright (and more recently, Hilary McKay's books). I am sorry I have never met her because not only am I a huge admirer of her work in publishing but she was married to one of my grandfather's closest friends, Storer Lunt (former president of WW Norton).



If you asked me which authors I most eagerly anticipate now, at the top of the list might be my request for another Damar book from Robin McKinley, and she is clearly tired of that question. I also look forward to new books from Diana Norman, Katie Fforde, Suzanne Brockmann, and Shannon Hale, to name a few. My sister Clare probably awaits Michael Connolly's books with equal enthusiasm.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Police Excuse Angry Computer User for Outburst

As the police observed, who *hasn't* wanted to toss her computer out the window in a fit of frustrated rage? I completely sympathize. In fact, in this day and age, it would almost be abnormal not to have become so enraged at least once...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Find Out Your Harry Potter Personality!

Distressing to find that my Harry Potter Personality reveals that I am the Weasley Twins! My law school friends thought I was much more like Hermione and I could hardly argue.

And here is a great article from the Washington Post on Pottermania. While I have been a fan since November 1999 when Joe Monti summoned me from the hallway outside his office and said he had a treat for me, then carefully handed me my own copy of Sorcerer's Stone, I know others came to the books later or through their children. Thank you, Joe!

Maida's Little Island

On Thursday, Carolynne Lathrop (visiting Betsy-Tacy listren from Iowa, who is also a Maida fan), my mother and I set out to visit Spectacle Island, one of the Boston Harbor Islands, the setting for Maida's Little Island (1939). The island has been expensively restored after 6 million tons of dirt and gravel from Boston's Big Dig were dumped on it, creating an 80 foot mound of trash. A friendly and helpful park ranger drove us to the island's north drumlin, the highest point in Boston's Harbor, where we were 157 feet above sea level (I had not worn appropriate shoes and was delighted to have scored us a ride in the airport-like people mover since the day was hot and the road to the top was long and dusty). This vista towered over neighboring islands and boasted a view spanning Boston's skyline and the 40 miles between Salem to the north and the Blue Hills Reservation to the south. The island itself was named by early colonists because of its resemblance to a pair of eyeglass spectacles shaped by two hills, with what is called a bridge in the middle. See map.

(above, left, the North Drumlin, Spectacle Island; below, Constance and Carolynne on Spectacle with Boston skyline behind)

Maida was the millionaire daughter of Jerome "Buffalo" Westabrook, who coaxed her back to health and animation in Maida's Little Shop, set in Charleston, MA, and published in 1909 by Inez Haynes Irwin, an early graduate of Radcliffe College, my alma mater. After an operation, on a chance visit to Charlestown, MA, Maida and her father visit a little neighborhood shop, and Maida is enchanted, wishing that that she, too, could tend a shop just like this one. Delighted to see Maida take an interest in something, her father buys the shop and arranges for Maida to live there and run it with the help of Granny Flynn, an Irish nanny-cum-chaperone. Mr. Westabrook makes two conditions: that Maida must make the shop pay and she must not reveal her true identity. Maida finds happiness and health by making friends among the neighborhood children and is restored to health by living an ordinary life, tending her little shop.




(above, view from the top of Spectacle Island; Carolynne contemplating the path to the South Drumlin)


Later in the series, Maida and her friends, now practically adopted by Buffalo Westabrook, are taken to visit what Inez persistently refers to as Spectacles (plural) Island. "Great is the joy of the Big Eight when Maida's father takes them for a vacation to Spectacles, where exploring the island provides endless fun and many thrilling adventures." My mother wondered why the author chose this island for the setting when even in her day it was being used as a landfill but perhaps Inez chose it simply for its appearance. Buffalo Westabrook says his deed to the island is dated 1703, and he refers to the Southern and Northern "eyes" instead of "drumlins" but it is unmistakeably the same island we visited. During their four day camping trip, Maida and her friends not only discover (and capture) a dangerous anaconda and also find buried treasure on the island.


(view of distant Downtown Boston from the top of the North Drumlin, Spectacle Island)



As has often been told, my mother collected all the Maida books growing up. After she left for college, my grandmother gave away all her books, including the Maidas (along with a complete set of the 1954 Giants team baseball cards).* Once my mother introduced me to the books, I too became a Maida fan. It took us years to reconstruct the collection, and admittedly the first book is by far the best. Still, if one is a completist, as is yours truly, then one cannot simply own just the first book in a series of this importance.
* My grandmother says if she had known these things were important to my mother she would not have discarded them.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge, Book 1

I began with Charlotte's Rose by A. E. Cannon, juvenile historical fiction which I had read a very positive review about years ago and noted for future reading, either for myself or my nieces. It is exactly the sort of book I read by the armful as a child. Charlotte and her father are Mormons who have left England in 1856 for the religious freedom and better economic opportunities of Utah. While Charlotte is the archetypal heroine in some ways - impulsive, quick tempered, imaginative, determined - however, she seems surprisingly young for her age given the era and the recent loss of her mother. For example, she does not seem to suspect that her animosity for family friend John, a boy her own age, is the precursor to adolescent romance (John seems more aware of it than she does).

As this group of Mormons travels towards Salt Lake City, a young woman dies in childbirth, and Charlotte surprises herself by offering to take care of the baby Rose while the grief-stricken husband Thomas Owen recovers. Cannon does well at describing the difficulties of carrying and tending to a baby as the group struggles along the trail. In particular, Charlotte, who still misses her mother and finds it hard to be taken seriously either by adults or peers (although she has a great relationship with her father), pours her emotions into baby Rose, and the pain of eventually returning Rose to Thomas was movingly depicted (in a different type of book, perhaps, Thomas would have proposed to Charlotte but this outcome was better). There is a strong sense of the difficulties and isolation of the long journey, as well as the physical obstacles encountered as members of this group push small carts containing all the personal belongings each was allowed to bring for the new life. It is made clear that this life in the New World does not offer an easy solution from the problems encountered in the Old World, and some are rightly apprehensive of what lies ahead. An interesting thread was Charlotte's longing to be able to read, contrasted also with her fear that she was losing her memories of her mother. Cannon delicately implies that reading and writing are the way to capture memories permanently (obviously, I agree), and a sorrowful young woman, part of the Mormon group, eventually promises to teach Charlotte how to read after they reach Salt Lake (if there were a sequel I predict this woman would eventually marry Charlotte's father).

I think my favorite frontier book continues to be On to Oregon by Honore Morrow, which was read to my fourth grade class by Miss Barnes many years ago, but this book gave a vivid picture of the exhausting struggle to Salt Lake and provided a sympathetic portrayal of Mormon settlers (not surprising, since the author is a descendant of Mormon pioneers herself), and I recommend it to an audience of 8 - 11.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

New Outfielder

Although Friday was the one weekend game the Red Sox did not manage to win (and it probably cost Josh Beckett the start at next week's All Star Game), it was fun to attend the game with the Duke Club of Boston and my fellow clerk/fellow alumna Felicia. It was also the debut of the much heralded Red Sox rookie, Jacoby Ellsbury. He reached base that night, and on Monday he managed to score from second on a wild pitch, to the joy of all spectators who have watched our lack of base running prowess/speed for years. So far he is displaying becoming modesty, which will further ingratiate him with the Nation...

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Chocolate Reduces Blood Pressure

Why am I not asked to be a volunteer in such a study, I ask you! Volunteers for the study were asked to eat over 6 grams of dark chocolate daily for almost five months. Just so you know, I really prefer milk chocolate but I would have sacrificed myself for a good cause.

Please let me know if you hear that See's is asking for volunteers, although it is really just their Scotchmallows I adore.

A bygone era


The Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge

I saw this mentioned on Kate Sutherland's blog and it sounds fun. The challenge originates with Lesley of A Life in Books, and the rules require the participants to read six books that connect with the ‘armchair traveling’ theme between July 1st and December 31st. The books need not be limited to conventional travel writing. Fiction or non-fiction will fit the bill so long as the location is integral to the book. Participants are asked to post their list of six at the outset, although making substitutions along the way is cheerfully permitted.

I do not usually like travel memoirs but I think I can find some novels that fit the bill just from the armful I brought home from the library today or my TBR pile.

1. That Summer in Paris, Abha Dawesar (this might not have been my choice but my friend Mandy selected it for our next book group) (Paris)
2. Charlotte's Rose, A.E. Cannon (Mormon trail, Iowa City to Utah)
3. The Sparks Fly Upward, Diana Norman (Paris and, I think also, England)
4. Fever Hill, Michelle Paver (Jamaica)
5. Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky (France)
6. It's Perfectly Easy, Mary Scott (New Zealand)

Hmm, more France than I would have expected but perhaps I will add some variety later on.