DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!

May 2012

May 4 2012

Dear Genius

by Patricia D

The very beginning of children’s literature was based on a need for instruction, not just in reading, though of course that was a great thing to achieve, but for turning out a person of high morals and sound character.    Early examples of Good Books for Children are, to my way of thinking, the very best of adults sermonizing.  Even my beloved Louisa May, who gave us Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom (and that other book Little Women) can never stop herself from holding forth on the dangers to a young person’s character that come with reading popular books instead of “sweet, simple, wholesome tales.”  However, dime novels flourished, French novels (le gasp!) were translated into English and children’s publishing moved forward, leapfrogging from sweet and simple to the here and now concepts pushed forward by writers such as Margaret Wise Brown.  From there it gets worse.  Shel Silverstein not only contributed to Playboy but also created witty, adult-undermining poetry and pictures for sly ten year olds.  Maurice Sendak explored the terrifying emotional landscape of a small boy in Where the Wild Things Are (but remember at the end, Max’s dinner was still hot) and drew a naked kid in In the Night Kitchen.   Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy was not a “nice” little girl, and M E Kerr and Robert Cormier were downright depressing and sometimes really mean.  Captain Underpants was too much potty humor and in Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet not only does Alanna make a space for herself as a knight in a world that would deny women quite a lot, she also takes three different lovers over the course of the four books.  Clutch the pearls, mama, how can that be?

To trace some of this evolution, including the “invention” of young adult literature, one must read Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom.  I know, I’ve mentioned her before, as well as Minders of Make-Believe by Leonard Marcus, but truly, this bears repeating.  Nordstrom’s letters to her authors are whip smart, coy, cajoling and have lots of teeth.   She begged for manuscripts from difficult authors, she took chances, sometimes staking her career on something in particular and she made mistakes, which she openly confesses.  You could read it in one setting but I wouldn’t.  Read a few letters at a time and savor them.  She wrote as well as any one of her Dear Geniuses.

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May 2 2012

Do you have a secret?

by Dea Anne M

Rebecca Joines Schinsky of  The Book Lady’s Blog recently featured an amusing post (found via Atlanta Book Lover’s Blog) in which she reveals some of her own “dirty little reading secrets,” and asks readers to share theirs. Schinsky’s revelations and request certainly generated a lot of lively comment and the responses are a lot of fun to read. Quite a few of the respondents admit to never having liked Jane Eyre or the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. One of my favorite comments comes from someone who admits to often judging a book by its cover. As a former bookseller, I can certainly relate to that and I smile to remember a customer rejecting one of my suggestions with the words “I can’t let anyone see me reading that!” Her objection was either to the title or the cover and unfortunately I’ve forgotten the book altogether. Anyway, it was for me another great illustration that our choices in reading are often (maybe mostly) more emotional than rational. Here’s a short list of my own guilty reading secrets:

There was a period in college when I carried Finnegan’s Wake around with me at all times. I couldn’t make any sense of it but I sure wanted people to think of me as the sort of person who would choose to read (and understand!) such a work. “Oh no, it isn’t for a class. I just wanted to read it.” I’d rehearse saying… in answer to the question which never came.

I fell under the spell of J.D. Salinger for awhile (also in college) particularly his novel Franny and Zooey.  I find the title characters nearly unbearable now but at the time I thought their urbane and angst-ridden cleverness well worth imitating. I’m sure my circle of friends found my “witty”  posturing as baffling as it was irritating.

I read two pages of The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen then put it down never to pick it up again. Actually, I don’t really feel guilty about that…it just wasn’t a novel for me.

I really hated The Da Vinci Code. When I made the mistake of bringing up my thoughts at a party one night, I was roundly castigated as a “book snob” and schooled forthwith in all the ways my opinion was objectionable and wrong. I don’t care…I still hate that book.

A fun, related article is this one from The Awl in which writer Nadia Chaudhury asks various authors and publishing professionals about their embarrassing “first book crushes.” From Ayn Rand to Sweet Valley High, the usual suspects are here as well as some surprises. The work of Raymond Carver comes up for more than a few of the respondents and On the Road is a top choice for many of the men. My own cringe-inducing literary period would have to be that double-header year when I was obsessed not only with Robert Graves The White Goddess but also with the entire oeuvre of Anais Nin. Yikes!

What are your guilty little reading secrets? Do you have a first book crush that makes you cringe now?

P.S. Thanks to Robbin P. for steering me to this!

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