Saturday, May 30, 2009

Two More Reviews

Falling Through the Earth
by Danielle Trussoni
3 scoops
(Great material- and some chapters were really quite moving- but on the whole I felt the moments were not connected into a gripping narrative arc)

Big Mouth and Ugly Girl
bu Joyce Carol Oates
4 Scoops
 (She did a great job of following an idea all the way through; she shows all of the ways in which a person and those in his immediate circle are impacted by an event, in this case, the character of Matt having been being falsely accused of threatening to blow up the school.  She also does interesting things with syntax and perspective to show the development of identity.  I liked the character of Ugly Girl/ Ursula Rigs/u r.)

Friday, May 22, 2009


There are three books I've read recently that I keep meaning to review in depth.... Shiver, After Tupac and D Foster (Thank you Allary!), and The Vast Fields of Ordinary. But, since my time management skills have slipped into some sort of coma, you will have to settle for this:

The Vast Fields of Ordinary
by Nick Burd
5 Scoops

(Seriously, I feel like he wrote this just for me. This book is amazing. Top Ten. You'll love it. I promise. And you'll probably feel like he wrote it just for you too. But don't worry, I'll still like you if you don't. This book is gorgeous. The perfect combination of funny, sincere, and angry. It's about loneliness.  And about not being able to fully express the complexity and truth of our emotional lives while we are living them. Or being able to and choosing not to. So, buy this book. Support this guy. I want him to write some more books for me.)

by Maggie Stiefvater
4 Scoops

(I'm not usually a fan of fantasy, but this book was a good read. It was well written, although there were too many butterfly references. I kept hoping the werewolf thing was a metaphor for something profoundly grand, but I think it's just a book about werewolves; feeling conflicted within yourself, searching for your true identity, wanting to fit in with people who genuinely understand you, of course that's all in there, but really just a love story between a girl and a werewolf. I can't say I liked the last chapter- but I wont tell you any more about that. Read it and then we'll talk.)

After Tupac and D Foster
by Jacqueline Woodson
3 scoops

(Enough with the overly lyrical inner monologue and the forced ghettronic dialogue. I do love me some Tupac though...)

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Today was an amazing day. 

GET YOUR READ ON! was a tremendous success- all the readers were awesome and the audience was extremely supportive.

And we officially announced the launch of Verbal Pyrotechnics- our new online magazine exclusively dedicated to showcasing teen literature. 

Gabriela Maria Periera is our Editor in Chief, Kathryn Holmes is the Fiction Editor, Benjamin Andrew Moore is the Non Fiction Editor and I am the Poetry Editor. we will post our submission guidelines as soon as the website is up and running.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I guess more of you should volunteer to read at the next GET YOUR READ ON! Don't forget to join us tomorrow at the Fat Cat at 3:30! 

Some Thoughts on the Lost Art of Reading Aloud

Published: May 16, 2009
New York Times

Sometimes the best way to understand the present is to look at it from the past. Consider audio books. An enormous number of Americans read by listening these days — listening aloud, I call it. The technology for doing so is diverse and widespread, and so are the places people listen to audio books. But from the perspective of a reader in, say, the early 19th century, about the time of Jane Austen, there is something peculiar about it, even lonely.

In those days, literate families and friends read aloud to each other as a matter of habit. Books were still relatively scarce and expensive, and the routine electronic diversions we take for granted were, of course, nonexistent. If you had grown up listening to adults reading to each other regularly, the thought of all of those solitary 21st-century individuals hearkening to earbuds and car radios would seem isolating. It would also seem as though they were being trained only to listen to books and not to read aloud from them.

It’s part of a pattern. Instead of making music at home, we listen to recordings of professional musicians. When people talk about the books they’ve heard, they’re often talking about the quality of the readers, who are usually professional. The way we listen to books has been de-socialized, stripped of context, which has the solitary virtue of being extremely convenient.

But listening aloud, valuable as it is, isn’t the same as reading aloud. Both require a great deal of attention. Both are good ways to learn something important about the rhythms of language. But one of the most basic tests of comprehension is to ask someone to read aloud from a book. It reveals far more than whether the reader understands the words. It reveals how far into the words — and the pattern of the words — the reader really sees.

Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words. To read with your lungs and diaphragm, with your tongue and lips, is very different than reading with your eyes alone. The language becomes a part of the body, which is why there is always a curious tenderness, almost an erotic quality, in those 18th- and 19th-century literary scenes where a book is being read aloud in mixed company. The words are not mere words. They are the breath and mind, perhaps even the soul, of the person who is reading.

No one understood this better than Jane Austen. One of the late turning points in “Mansfield Park” comes when Henry Crawford picks up a volume of Shakespeare, “which had the air of being very recently closed,” and begins to read aloud to the young Bertrams and their cousin, Fanny Price. Fanny discovers in Crawford’s reading “a variety of excellence beyond what she had ever met with.” And yet his ability to do every part “with equal beauty” is a clear sign to us, if not entirely to Fanny, of his superficiality.

I read aloud to my writing students, and when students read aloud to me I notice something odd. They are smart and literate, and most of them had parents who read to them as children. But when students read aloud at first, I notice that they are trying to read the meaning of the words. If the work is their own, they are usually trying to read the intention of the writer.

It’s as though they’re reading what the words represent rather than the words themselves. What gets lost is the inner voice of the prose, the life of the language. This is reflected in their writing, too, at first.

In one realm — poetry — reading aloud has never really died out. Take Robert Pinsky’s new book, “Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud.” But I suspect there is no going back. You can easily make the argument that reading silently is an economic artifact, a sign of a new prosperity beginning in the early 19th century and a new cheapness in books. The same argument applies to listening to books on your iPhone. But what I would suggest is that our idea of reading is incomplete, impoverished, unless we are also taking the time to read aloud.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Follow Up- Colson Whitehead

So, it seems as though my post stirred up quite a bit of discussion. I like this idea. I like that people are thinking and talking about what it means to be categorized. And I am very impressed that Colson Whitehead himself got involved in the discussion. Thanks! You can read his words at the bottom of this post.

I am currently taking a class with Laurie Sheck who has just published a text called A Monster's Notes that her publishers are calling a novel and she insists is not a novel- she believes there is no accurate category for what she has written. As a result we have been studying many texts this semester that similarly straggle or merge genres, and yes, the conversations can be exhausting and often seem futile, but I think what ultimately matters is how the label can effect readers expectations. 

As someone who is writing Young Adult literature I am often made aware of the snobbish hierarchy of the book world.  I think in my question to Whitehead at the New School reading I was excited that his book might be doubly marketed/categorized and that his readership could be expanded in that way and was put off when that enthusiasm was not immediately reciprocated. I do realize, however, that an author has little to no say in how their book is labeled, marketed, reviewed, and shelved. And that this can lead to frustrations with the very subject. But with the world of publishing being what it is, it is naive to ignore or purposefully avoid issues of categorization. Issues of marketing are really issues of getting the book into readers hands- which clearly is important to all authors, except maybe Emily Dickinson.

Colson Whitehead Responds to YA “Controversy”
Written by Edward Champion
Posted on May 4, 2009
Filed Under Whitehead, Colson, YA

The blog A Lil’ Sumpin’ Sumpin’ recently posted an item from an appearance that Colson Whitehead made at The New School. At the event, Whitehead was reportedly asked about whether his latest novel, Sag Harbor, could be classified as YA. And it was reported that he got “huffy” about the issue. This surprised me, because Sherman Alexie and China Mieville have both written specifically for a YA crowd. And it might also be argued that David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green and Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time could swing both ways as a YA and an adult title. If Whitehead had indeed said these things, it seemed counterintuitive to reduce his novel’s possible audience.
Curious about Whitehead’s side of the story, I contacted him by email and he responded to my questions quite quickly. Here is his answer:

Thanks for letting me address this “controversy.”

I remember the exchange. Do you have a transcript of it? Anyone who knows me will tell you that I don’t do “huffy,” but I do roll my eyes in exasperation, as I will when asked at a writers conference about “how will it be marketed?” I’ll talk about writing, how I got started, my work process, what have you, but marketing is boring and not what a writer should be asking about. Write the book. Make it the best book you can make it. All the other stuff is crap. So if I seemed “huffy,” that’s the reason: I’d rather talk about the work. I’m not hawking Flowbees here. I don’t “target” my work to a “demographic.”

Labels bug me. My first ideal reader was a teenage version of myself; someone who might randomly come across my book and be changed by it, the way I was changed by so many books in that key time. Then I started publishing, and the people who came to see me read were so varied – old, young, black, white, redheaded, balding, etc. – that it seemed dumb to have a mental picture of my ideal reader. It’s a blessing if anyone reads your book at all. But if she or he is a “Young Adult,” great. With braces & a bad slouch, even better.

If I had my way, there wouldn’t be any categories at all. For me, it’s all just “writing.” Is The Colossus of New York non-fiction? Not strictly, but it has to go somewhere in the bookstore, and if it’s in Essays or in the About New York section, I don’t care. I’m just glad that it’s getting out there. But we need classifications, I guess, and this has to go here and that has to go there. If Sag Harbor is in YA tomorrow, I wouldn’t care, as long as people who want to read it can pick it up. In some bookstores, I’m in African American as opposed to Fiction; this is a category failure, but it’s out of my control and in the end I’m glad that I’m in the store at all, and hopefully the savvy consumer who is looking for me will find me. What I’m saying is that we write, and then the world categorizes us, and the next day we get up and start writing again.

I’m publishing in the age of the web. You don’t have to go far to find that I’m not a snob about genres, and go out of my way to say that I came to writing by loving comic books and Stephen King, because that’s how it happened and you should read what you want to read, and not what someone else thinks is proper for you to read. Frankly, I don’t really know what YA is. Does that mean it features kids or teenagers and is only intended for kids and teenagers? I’m sort of out of the loop about these turf battles. They seem kinda dumb. If it’s a good story, I don’t care what section I find it in.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ayelet Waldman

Love her or hate her- this is worth listening to as Mother's Day approaches.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Feeling directionless????

Interesting way to stay motivated this summer...

Colson Whitehead

I have mixed feelings about Colson Whitehead's newest book, Sag Harbor.  When I heard him read a section and speak about his life as an author I was hooked. I loved his blend of sarcasm and sentimentality, but when I asked about the marketing of the book, whether it would be YA or A, he got huffy. He had no idea who I was or why I was asking and probably didn't even realize the New School, where he was speaking, had an MFA in Writing for Children, but he went right ahead and said something about how he wouldn't let it be classified as Young Adult because it clearly isn't for young adults and it felt like he was saying God help him if it was sold as such. Um, right, a coming of age story about a teenage boy, written in the first person, could never be considered Young Adult. Please. Get over yourself.  

The article in the New York Times addresses the issue of audience, but in terms of race, not age. But the whole thrust of this article seems to support the idea that it is precisely the young people, the next generation, that would benefit from reading this book and seeing a representation of the "post-black identity" in action.  I hope that this book finds its way into the hands of teens, despite the authors intentions. 

Saturday, May 2, 2009

So B. It

Last night I read So B. It by Sarah Weeks. It was marvelous. The language is rich and the pacing perfect. It is a very tightly written novel with a compelling, suspenseful story arc. It is also profoundly beautiful and provides a truly emotional experience for the reader. 

Yay. 5 Scoops. 

Too bad the cover is stupid; the subject is not representative of the content of the novel, nor do I feel it captures the right tone.  If I was in charge of the world I would have had either a red notebook with a pencil or a photograph of two cards from a Memory game with drawings of yellow ducks. Read the book and tell me what you would have put on the cover...