SLJ Battle of the Books: The Myth of Safety

As expected, today's Battle of the Books was fantastic: The Storm in the Barn vs. Tales from Outer Suburbia. I didn't have a clear favorite here - I love them both - but I was really excited to hear what Shannon Hale had to say. Mostly I adore her because her enthusiasm for books always shines through and this was no exception.

Here is my Fire quote for today:

Go safely. Go safely, she thought to him as he left the building and his convoy pounded through the gates.

What a silly, empty thing it was to say to anyone, anywhere.
Ah, this one hit home for me. Each reading of this book and this line has brought a different meaning for me.

The first time I read this, it reminded me of Kate McClelland and Kathy Krasniewicz. I remember before ALA Midwinter in Denver, I signed off all my emails to fellow attendees with "Travel safe and see you there!" And, really, who ever thinks twice about signing off emails like that? I certainly didn't. And it was awful afterward to think about how flippantly I said it - it was just a way to sign off emails. After their deaths, "travel safe" did indeed feel like a silly and empty thing to ever say to friends on journeys.

This time, I thought of Bug. Oh god, how many times a day do I tell her to "be careful" or "be safe"? It still doesn't prevent her from falling off counters or tripping on the sidewalk. The sheer number of bruises on her calves are proof enough that "go safely" is a ridiculous thing to say to her, or any child.

Which all comes back to Fire (I swear, it does). Cashore regales us with tales of flying raptors, wars, political intrigue, and people with special powers. And yet fantasy can have so much to say about the real world we live in. We read these stories because there is something escapist about them. Except when there isn't. Except when they have so much to say about the here and now. About motherhood, friends gained and lost, tragedy, love
We're nearing the end, folks. Tomorrow Megan Whalen Turner (squee!) is sharing her thoughts on Charles vs. Emma and The Lost Conspiracy. This is a little nervous-making, seeing how Megan is either going to lay the hurt on A Chair, A Fireplace, & a Tea Cozy ("Team CharMa!") or on Fuse #8 ("LoCo! LoCo!"). Hearts will be broken. Dreams will be shattered. But it's Megan Whalen Turner. I'll adore her no matter what, and I have no doubt she'll rise to the occasion.

Game on!


SLJ Battle of the Books: Color

Christopher Paul Curtis is over at BotB, deciding whether Marching for Freedom or A Season of Gifts will move on. I love his justification not so much for which book goes forward but because Christopher Paul Curtis is so succinct in his writing. You might finish his passage and feel he skimmed a bit...read it again. He says so much more.

So here is my Fire quote for the day:

And then sudden pain, blinding and brilliant. Fire wrenched her head and fought against the healer, against Archer's heavy strength. Her scarf slipped off and released the shimmering prism of her hair: sunrise, poppy, copper, fuschia, flame. Red, brighter than the blood soaking the pathway.

One of the things I love best about this passage? Read it aloud. I love the way all those colors roll off your tongue and somehow dictate the pace at which you read. There are many parts of this book that I have read out loud to Adam simply because I know they're meant to be said aloud.

Color is huge part of Fire. I mean, sure, it means lots of bright language about color - nothing is ever red. It's fire and flame. There's lots of shimmering.

But don't be so quick to dismiss it (or compare Fire and her devastating beauty to a certain sparkling vampire).

I don't know if Cashore meant to do this, but I feel like she used color as a have-or-have-not in this world she created. Fire and her father Cansrel had it, and their color is a source of power, which they use in vastly different ways. Those without their monster color are weaker and can easily suffer by Fire and Cansrel. Likewise, Immiker is a Graceling. With two different colored eyes, he has a special power over others that, again, they're nearly powerless to defend against. Color becomes a metaphor for power - some have it, others do not.

Just a few more days left in BotB! Tomorrow is the day I am STOKED about (save the day when Fire comes back from the dead, of course) - Shannon Hale is judging the match of the graphic novels: A Storm in the Barn vs. Tales from Outer Suburbia! It promises to be good, good fun!

Game on!


SLJ Battle of the Books: Humor

I liked today's contest: The Last Olympian vs. The Lost Conspiracy. Angela Johnson was very...diplomatic. The Last Olympian is fun...it's riveting...it's un-put-down-able. But it's not all that challenging...at least, that's how I interpreted Ms. Johnson's analysis. Where I thought she did an exceptional job was not being judgmental about that. She still heaps praises on The Last Olympian. In the end, though, The Lost Conspiracy won out.

That said, I'm just hanging in there for the Undead round, hoping my beloved Fire stages an epic comeback. Until then, here is my quote for the day:

Fire's tears were real now, and there was no helping them, for there was no time. Everything was moving too fast. She crossed the room to him, put her arms around him, clung to him, turning her face to the side, learning all at once that it was awkward to show a person all of one's love when one's nose is broken.

Love this. Just loved this. It's this tender, intimate moment...it's pivotal...and yet we laugh. Yes, a broken nose can be a hindrance when finally letting your guard down and showing someone your love. I've soooo been there, girl.

A couple days off..where I'm hoping to actually take a break from BotB blogging...and then back on Monday for Marching for Freedom vs. A Season of Gifts. And stay tuned for the graphic novel battle on March 30th: A Storm in the Barn vs. Tales from Outer Suburbia...judged by none other than Shannon Hale!!!

Game on!


SLJ Battle of the Books: More About Personal Strength

More controversy about today's BotB match: When You Reach Me vs. Tales from Outer Suburbia! People are upset because Julius Lester appeared to dismiss both When You Reach Me and A Wrinkle in Time on the mere basis that they're "time travel books" when, indeed, they're so much more.

This has been an eventful Battle of the Books to say the least.

I know I'm harping on a theme here, but this is the Fire quote today:

Living is too hard right now, he whispered into her mind. Dying is easy. Let me die.

Certainly overcoming adversity and finding inner personal strength are themes in both Graceling and Fire. And I'm always looking for inspiration so I'm naturally drawn to these moments in the books.

I will note, too, that I'm not giving anything away with this quote. You don't know who I'm talking about (assuming you haven't read the book) or whether he lives or dies. But given that my theme today is still personal strength, you can guess...

Tomorrow it's Round Two with M.T. Anderson judging Charles and Emma versus The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.

Game on!


SLJ Battle of the Books: Personal Strength

I'm thrilled with today's results over at SLJ's BotB website: The Storm in the Barn vs. Sweethearts of Rhythm - it wasn't an easy one to judge but Silvey is always articulate and her reasoning was just.

As expected, when I give myself something to write about on a schedule, I tend to drop some days. Nevertheless, I'm back with another quote from Fire that is just the sort of thing I need to hear today:

I'm not Cansrel; at every step on this path I create myself. And maybe I'll
always find my own power horrifying, and maybe I can't ever be what I'd most
like to be.

The quote goes on and I would share more, but I'm trying not to give away any plot points here.

But I love this quote..."I create myself." The idea that there is no past, that you have the power to shape yourself, to affect the quality of each and every day. Fire has inherited such a hideous legacy and I love this moment where she frees herself from it.

Waiting with bated breath for tomorrow's vote: When You Reach Me vs. Tales from Outer Suburbia!

Game on!


Dear East Coast, It is Pronounced ORE-gun, NOT Or-i-GONE

Funny story ahead:

Adam was recently on a business trip in D.C. and dining at a fancy restaurant with some co-workers. One of them, KH, is rather well-connected in the restaurant world and was looking over the wine list with the sommelier. Adam's doing his thing, having fun, enjoying himself...and then he overhears this:

"I'd recommend this pinot noir from the Will-uh-METTE Valley. It's excellent."

KH nodded sagely. Yes, yes, of course. The Willamette Valley has some of the best pinots in the world.

Adam spoke up. "Um, it's Will-A-mette, dammit.*"

KH and the sommelier looked up, surprised. "Really? I didn't know that. So it's Will-A-mette? Not Will-uh-METTE?"

Adam responded that he should know: he grew up in the Willamette Valley, crossed the Willamette River countless times, and graduated from Willamette University.

Good to know, responded the sommelier. And left.

KH couldn't believe it, telling Adam about the number of 4-star restaurants she had been to in NYC, and she has only ever heard it pronounced "Will-uh-METTE". Not only that, but KH observed that "they always get the French right."

Which hit the nail on the head. All these pretentious wine snobs that study their French and Italian, that visit all of Europe's most famous wine regions...and they have neither visited one of their own country's most famous wine regions nor learned to pronounce it even.

That's okay. It means we Oregonians get to feel smug correcting the country's most renowned sommeliers.

Eat, drink, and learn to pronounce "Oregon"...just as we all learned to pronounce "Arkansas" in school.

* That's how we educate others. "Willamette" and "dammit" rhyme.

Note: FYI - that is not a Willamette Valley wine in the picture. It's a Stratus Chardonnay from the Niagra region. Incredibly toasty and buttery, which some people don't like in a wine...but I enjoy it every now and then.


SLJ Battle of the Books: Love

Ooooh, Round 1 Match 3 was announced this morning, and I have to make note of Helen Frost's review: that is how a match is judged! And I confess that I haven't read either book...but her reasoning was just, well-thought-out, and intelligent. So much fun to read.

So today is a little different. I am sharing two quotes from Kristin Cashore's Fire*, both of which say a tremendous amount about love and relationships.

The first:

We're not lovers anymore, she thought at him. This is the thing I needed to tell you. The closer you get to me the harder you pull, and your grip is too tight. You hurt me with it. You love me so much you've forgotten how to be my friend. I miss my friend, she thought at him fiercely. I love my friend. We're through as lovers. Do you understand?

And the second:

You asked me once why I trust you. This is not the entire reason, but it's part. I believe you have shouldered a great deal of pain for the sake of other people. I believe you're as strong and as brave as anyone I've met or heard of. And wise and generous in the use of your power.

I love the first because it captures that part of romantic relationships that is so important: friendship first. And the second is such an amazing letter - who doesn't want someone reassuring you how brave and strong you are? And that they love you for being that? Seeing yourself through another's eyes...


I'm having a blast with BotB this year and I hope you're tuning in as well.

Game on!

I Pine, I Swoon!

I want this now. And I have to wait until December 1st?!


SLJ Battle of the Books: Universality

I'll get right to it. I love this one. Here is the quote from Fire today:

She wondered if a person could be powerful, but inside be broken into pieces, and shaking, all the time.

Oh heavens, yes.

One thing I love about this book is that, even though it seems to be about adults, there's this commonality of emotion and human experience that makes it so accessible to teens. As a 30...something...parent, wife, friend, employee, etc., I soooo understand this passage. And you don't think a young teenager feels this way? Of course they do. We all feel this way.

On that same note, I sat on a bus with Kristin Cashore at an ALA Annual event a couple years ago, and I actually asked her (as it relates to Graceling), paraphrasing: "You used the term 'lover' when describing Po and Katsa's relationship. Do you think that...um...bumps it up to an adult level? Isn't that an adult sensibility?" To be honest, I actually don't remember Kristin's answer - I was too busy being embarrassed about the question. But it was there in Graceling and again in Fire - that adult sensibility.

But here is what I love about that: as an author, Cashore does not talk down to teens. For better or for worse, even if they don't understand the adult nuances, many teens know what it feels like to have (or be) a lover. They know what it feels like to be confused about sex and all its complications and implications. They know what it feels like to be shaking and vulnerable and scared...but capable of so much strength and power. Especially young teen women. This book is for them.

Game on!

SLJ Battle of the Books: Family

I don't know if you're keeping up with it or not, but Nancy Farmer put the smack down on my girl Fire today.

First, and foremost, I have to remember this is all in good fun. It is. It is, it is, it is.

Second, Nancy Farmer might get some flak for this vote. Not because Fire lost but for her reasoning.

Lastly, as I mentioned, I don't envy the judge that had to make this decision. It was not going to go well either way, I think. And, for the record, I truly enjoyed Calpurnia Tate.

So I'll just hope that Fire comes alive in the Undead Poll and, if you didn't vote, shame on you. Shame, shame. Hasn't recent history shown us how important it is to VOTE?!

In honor of today's BotB smackdown, I give you this quote:

It always struck Fire, the physical affection between these siblings, who as often as not were at each other's throats over one thing or another. She liked the way the four of them shifted and changed shape, bumping and clanging against each other, sharpening each other's edges and then smoothing them down again, and somehow always finding the way to fit together.

Well, if that isn't a wonderful, loving, happy tribute to the true nature of families, I don't know what is.

I'm going to finish up some work while I remind myself that BotB is all fun and games, which is true. But make no mistake that I have some very strong thoughts on how this match was judged which I don't feel free to express. So I invite you to have at it in the comments or air your thoughts on your own blogs.

Game on!


SLJ Battle of the Books: My Favorite Passage from Fire

Go check out SLJ Battle of the Books for the first elimination: Claudette Colvin vs. Charles and Emma.

Here is your Fire (by Kristin Cashore) quote for today (my favorite one):

And now it was the speed of Fire and Small versus the swarm descending upon her from the north and from above. Under her, Small was desperate and wonderful. He had never flown so fast.
When I first read this passage, the first time I read Fire, I gasped out loud. I do not exaggerate. The characterization was just gorgeous: this beautiful woman riding this leaning, stumpy, "small-minded" horse while these vividly colored flying monsters attack them from all sides, clawing and biting them. Small is the Hobbit of horses - he's determined and gentle and protective and loving. Don't even think of underestimating him just because of his size or his perceived intelligence. He is as loyal a companion as you could ever have, and he's one of the few things on earth that asks nothing of Fire. They have a true partnership, which is a rare and precious thing for her.

All captured in this brief passage. Brilliant.

Tomorrow's the day: Fire vs. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Make the right choice, Nancy Farmer*!

* I certainly don't envy her this decision - I loved Calpurnia Tate, I did. And these are such different books - how do you even compare them? But in the case that Fire loses, you bet your arses that I voted for Fire in the Undead Poll so I'll keep posting quotes, hoping for a resurrection!

Note: I'm also tweeting this (a little) at #sljbotb.


SLJ Battle of the Books!

Let the Battle of the Books begin!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'll be quoting all things Fire by Kristin Cashore in an effort to prove the brilliance and superiority of the writing.

And I won't hold back. So here's the first heavy-hitter:

It had been easy once, taking Archer into her bed; not so long ago it had been simple. And then, somehow, the balance had tipped between them. The marriage proposals, the lovesickness. More and more, the simplest thing was to say no.

Why this one? Because in a brief paragraph, so many themes of the book are revealed: power, sex, love, feminism. So many teen girls are confronted with this dilemma - namely, the power they hold by the giving and withholding of sexual intimacy - but how many books for them really put voice to it? It's a scary power to have at such a young age, and it's moments like this in the book where I feel glad that Fire is in the hands of teenage girls (and grown women too, for that matter).

In that way, I'm reminded of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. When that one came out, so many reviewers (myself included) heralded it as feminist literature for the modern teen set. The same could be said of Graceling and Fire.

Likewise, I'm reminded of Megan Whalen Turner's work as well. Adult characters and adult themes that somehow still reach out to the teen reader. In Turner's work, the balance of power is such a prevalent theme. It's no wonder that teens are drawn to the works of Cashore, Lockhart, and Turner: teens feel powerless to change their world - they're beholden to family, teachers, and friends. These stories, though, demonstrate ways in which the balance of power is a subtle, ever-changing idea and perhaps they have more strength than they believe. Once again, I find myself wishing that I had access to these writers when I was 14 or 15.

And that's my Fire quote of the day. All my Battle of the Books quotes won't be nearly this long, I assure you, but it's a rainy miserable Sunday...I'm still in my PJs...a steaming cup of coffee beside me...it's the perfect time to wax poetic about my favorite book of 2009!

Game on!


The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Weird blog post title, right? But it's relevant, I swear!

I had a phenomenal weekend. Amazing. And you know what? I didn't take a single photo. Part of me cursed about the fact that I "forgot" to document the whole thing...

...but then I was glad. Sometimes you don't need to make sure the whole thing is recorded. There are memories. There is an emotional high. I swear, this high will get me through the entire upcoming week.

It's hard to live on the other side of the country from my family - I struggle with it daily. It's hard to find that work-life-home balance that we're all striving for. It's hard to have the majority of our friends here be child-free...mostly because I worry that we're inconveniencing them with our child. And it's hard to develop your own community, your own inner circle, and your own chosen family in a place where you did not come from.

But today was one of those days. 58 degrees - the first REAL spring day we've had in NYC this year. We spontaneously invited anyone from our "adopted family" to join us for a picnic in Central Park. Totally last minute.

Friends showed up. Lillet was introduced to those who had never experienced it. Taleggio was enjoyed by all. Bug played aerobie with Adam and her adopted uncle. I forgot that the grass areas are still fenced off so we lounged on top of a large boulder. At one point I thought it looked like we were warming ourselves on the rock like lizards. In a good way. We talked food, movies, books...and lots in between.

So the revolution will not be televised. It will be live. The moment when I don't take a picture because I'm so in the moment. The instant where I realize and appreciate that we do have a family here. The millisecond where I feel that we are right where we need to be right now. I needed this day and it was given to me.

Eat, drink, and thank you to New York for all of this.

Note: the lyrics/poem can be found here. And infinite thank yous to Amy for the mix CD(s) that brought me this song. It spoke to me.


San Antonio Regrets

I think I've made it clear to anyone who asks that, yes, my new job in publishing is kicking my arse...but it's doing so in the most challenging, most fulfilling way possible. I'm exhausted but I'm also engaged and enthralled by my new world.

One thing I do love is the travel. At least I do at this point (I'm only 7 months in so that could change eventually). For instance, in a month, I'll be at the Texas Library Association conference. I've never been to Texas, let alone San Antonio, and I'm so excited. I've heard Texan librarians are super friendly and super fun - many folks in publishing passionately declare that the TLA conference is their favorite all year. I'm stoked.

But then...

...I read my blogroll and Kitchn seems to be writing love letter after love letter to foodie haunts in San Antonio.

Like Tienda de Cocina, Melissa Guerra's shop.

Or the Pearl Farmers Market.

And guess what? I won't get to go to either of these places. Conferences do give me a chance to travel and go to great restaurants in the cities I'm visiting...but farmers' markets and pottery shops? Ha! Don't I wish!

So if you're Texan...or at least going to the TLA conference in April...stop by the booth and say hi. And tell me about all your fabulous San Antonian finds so that I might live vicariously through you and experience the city!

Eat, drink, and do it like a Texan!