Thursday, June 30, 2011

CPC: Week Two

Week the second! Highlights?

---Running into an old friend who I haven’t seen in six years. No biggie. Just walking down the streets of New York.

---Finding the perfect rooftop bar (with twinkle lights!) that serves my favorite hard cider.

---Touring and apartment-scouting in Brooklyn with my soon-to-be housemate. It’s like a summer camp down there! I kept getting distracted by all the puppies.

---Peter Pan Doughnuts. I had a chocolate crème-filled doughnut with a chocolate glaze. It was the size of my head and I only paid a dollar for it. I nearly died.  

---Oh, you wanted publishing news? Ha. OK. We were incredibly fortunate to have the creative team behind The Tiger’s Wife come to speak with us, including Téa Obreht (the author), Seth Fishman (the agent), Noah Eaker (the editor), Susan Kamil (his mentor/boss), and Jynne Martin (the publicist). We’d heard from several sources that a certain ineffable combination of alchemy and synergy must be present to create a bestseller. That combination, so hard to describe with words, was on full display that evening. I could tell they genuinely loved working together, and they were all so gracious with us. Téa signed everyone’s books long after she was supposed to leave, and she even remembered one of my friends from a book signing earlier in the summer. (She doodles a pretty adorable tiger.) I am completely rooting for her as her career develops, but I know she’ll be fine. She has a great talent, not to mention a great team guiding and growing with her.

---Again? Again. The YA controversy I touched on here has reignited. The author of the original article published a defense in the WSJ which I found just as tone-deaf as her first piece. Again, she’s complaining that books for children are too dark, that dark books endorse their subject matter, and that the quality of the writing has gone down. Fine, if you think so. I’m not even engaging with that. I did, however, break the first rule of the internet by reading the comments. Though my blood pressure went up, I think I have a better handle on what people think they’re objecting to when they call YA books “too dark.”

I think it all boils down to people’s views on how books should function. A ton of the commenters (I’ll hazard saying they skewed older) lamented that books used to be transportive, that they took children away from the sadness of everyday life to a place where hopes and dreams were realized. (Alternatively, if sad things happened, there was always hope at the end.) Now that the world is so much bleaker than they remember, they thought books should do the same thing for today’s youth. (I don’t think many of this crowd read current YA books or even get beyond the flap copy.)

The second group of commenters was comprised of YA readers and advocates. This bunch refuted that books help children make sense of the world as it is. (They also entertain!) Books about tragedy teach empathy by exposing kids to situations they have been fortunate enough not to encounter. On the other hand, “dark” books help kids (some of whom have been exposed to these horrors) by doing exactly what the first group says: showing a way out and lessening the sense of being alone. Sure, a number of these books are mishandled, but not all adult books are of the same stellar quality. The classics never go away either! Just two hours ago, I popped into a children’s book store to check out the current titles. A little girl came in with her mother asking for iCarly. She left with Little House on the Prairie. (When I was that little girl’s age, I read classic and new books alike. Just check out my list of favorites here and here.)

The bottom line is that the two camps are not so far apart. In children’s literature, now and then, lessons are learned and friends are made. They have their adventures in far-off lands or in their hometowns. The characters grow up in small and big ways. Their dreams are still a very present part of the genre. They may not be the same dreams of fifty years ago or even the same dreams the protagonist had at the beginning of the book, but something is realized in the pages lived. Children are smart enough to know exactly what that is.

...Anyway, I’m heading into the book workshop this week. Hello, 16 hour days! No blogging for a while, but I’ll miss you!

Friday, June 24, 2011

CPC: Week One

Checking in from the first week of the Columbia Publishing Course. First, let me say how incredibly tired I am! It’s the best kind of tired though. I love waking up in the morning and knowing that I’ll be able to eat and breathe publishing for the next twelve hours.

I can’t say enough about the people I’m meeting. They’re quickly turning into friends, and soon, I hope, they will become my colleagues. I also can’t believe the quality of the speakers that we are lucky enough to see on a daily basis. I don’t want to drop a ton of names, but they are the cliché-breaking best and brightest. I am routinely dazzled by their experience, their enthusiasm, and their obvious passion for their profession.

I’d be here forever if I rehashed everything I wanted to, but I’ll drop a few cookie crumbs:

---On the first day, I spied a girl with brilliant turquoise highlights. I ended up sitting next to her at the welcome BBQ, and of course, I complimented her hair. She said, “Oh, I modeled them after…” “…STEPHANIE PERKINS!?!” (The overenthusiastic one is me.) We were soon chatting about our mutual love of YA. (For those of you not up on your teen reads, Stephanie Perkins wrote the swoon-worthy Anna and the French Kiss, which I previously reviewed here.)

---I wrote a Summer Reading List for my friend Sam Coren at Student Advisor, and it went up on my second day here. I was so happy to do this for her, as she was one of the first people who told me to start a blog. SLB exists because she told me to write about what I love, so thanks, Sam!

---I have some breaking news! The dynamic and very funny Megan Tingley (Senior Vice President and Publisher of Little, Brown for Young Readers) came to speak to us about YA literature, which thrilled me to no end. (She is the editor who acquired the Twilight series. Can we say great instincts?) After her talk, she told me there would be a companion novel for Ship Breaker, which I reviewed last week and adored. Look for The Drowned Cities in May of 2012. (I just started Bacigalupi’s adult sci-fi The Windup Girl, so that might tide me over for a small while.)

---More news! I heard this tidbit from Nathan Englander’s editor (who’s also the Vice President and Senior Editor of Knopf). The incredibly warm and charming Jordan Pavlin let us know that Englander has a new set of short stories coming out. If you don’t know to be excited, you should be! His collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges is nothing short of brilliant, and his novel The Ministry of Special Cases is a well-researched heartbreaker. He is one of my favorite adult authors writing now.

---What would a publishing course be without free books? Two of the novels I’m most stoked for are the buzzed-about Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor and the beautiful Ruben Toledo edition of Jane Eyre. I’ll let you know about the other ones as I work my way through them.

---I wrote a professional bio for the first time. Let me know what you think:
A fifth-generation Virginian, Amy Rosenbaum received her B.A. from Tufts University, where she majored in English and minored in Communications and Media Studies. Her senior project—an original episode of Grey’s Anatomy—was honored with a program-wide award. While at Tufts, Amy stage-managed the first licensed production of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and interned at Walden Media, where she helped design a marketing plan for a middle grade murder mystery. Her newest project is “Simple Little Bookworm,” a review blog focused on the magic and mechanics of storytelling. Amy is currently pursuing a career in book publishing.

That last line just about says it all, no? Wish me luck!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviews: Exposition and the Three Bears

I’ve arrived in NYC! Carrying almost everything I own on the Bolt Bus with me was a surreal (and heavy!) experience, but I made it all in one piece.

Long time, no writing. I have been reading though! Three books, to be exact. They are wildly different books, but they all made me think about the same theme: exposition and how it affects a reader’s experience.

Remember how I compared those books to dessert? I’m in the mood for another little deviation. Let’s call it the Goldilocks Scale.

The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney: This was a YA title that fell somewhere between paranormal romance and a mythological quest story. We’ve got a love triangle (though the heroine doesn’t know it yet), a secret society of Alchemists, and bloodthirsty faeries all primed for a trilogy. The alchemy angle was interesting and I didn’t mind the heroine, but it felt like the action stopped every twenty pages for someone to ask “Uh, what’s happening again?” There was a lot of backstory—how/why the iron tattoos happened, why Donna dropped out of school, how her parents died, the history of the Alchemists (including their orders/goals/secrets), who important Alchemists are—that pushed the rest of the story out of the way. I mean, her climatic showdown with the beast that killed her parents/destroyed her arms took maybe two pages at most. Some of the dialogue rubbed me the wrong way too, like the author was trying a little too hard to capture a “teen voice.” Verdict: Too much exposition! That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. I did, but I often got impatient for the story to continue.

God’s War by Kameron Hurley: I was dropped immediately into this story, as the main character literally hit the ground running. Terms—burnous, bakkies, bel dames, butchers—and names of strange places—Faleen, Punjai, Nasheen, Chenja—were thrown at me. I only got flashes of understanding before things began to knit together. When that did happen though, I was drawn completely and totally into the story. Umayma is a brutal planet embroiled in civil war, racial prejudice, sexual ambiguity, and bugpunk technology. The mercenary Nyx and her team are perfect windows to this world, a motley crew of complex motivations. Even though the prologue was chapters long and the story suddenly jumped forward seven years, it didn’t even bother me. It was just that fascinating. (If you want a more complex breakdown, the reviews on Amazon are actually amazing.) Verdict: Too little exposition, but it didn’t matter. I was along for the ride, seeing the environment through the eyes of the characters that lived there. They didn’t need to explain the commonplace. That choice made Umayma feel more real than anything else. I absolutely can’t wait to read the rest of this planned trilogy.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi: This was actually the first of the three books I read, the one that made me start thinking about exposition in the first place. Bacigalupi is just so perfect at showing and not telling. There was a lot of slang in beginning, not unlike The Maze Runner, but the book felt a little more sophisticated. The characters were immediately interesting, already knowing the importance of half-truths and divided loyalties. It was a murky setting to be sure, a dystopian future earth racked by immense storms and floods brought on by global warming. Genetic experiments, slavery, religious cults, and class were all hovering around the periphery of the protagonist’s experience. Nailer was dynamic, so his journey, both physical and mental, captured me. Plenty of surprises and elegant twists are in store for the reader. Ship Breaker has a companion novel coming, but this bildungsroman stands perfectly well on its own with a satisfying story arc and plenty of food for thought. Verdict: Just right! The exposition in service of the world-building and character creation was phenomenal. Can’t get enough of Bacigalupi’s porridge, so I’ll have to pick up The Windup Girl ASAP.

The blog will be pretty quiet as I begin the Columbia Publishing Course, but I hope to post about once a week. (There’s always the review archives and other old posts to hold you over.) I’ll also be fairly active on Twitter, so look me up @simplebookworm. Bye for now, fellow bookworms!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Review: The Girl Who Was on Fire

Ever since I perfected the “look Ma, no hands” trick on the elliptical, I’ve gotten a lot of my reading done at the gym. Today, I slipped a book into my bag—The Girl Who Was on Fire, a collection of essays by various YA authors on The Hunger Games trilogy—looking for something light I could engage with at will. I wanted something with no story to pull me along, something I could put down when I heard a good song. It was only after I realized I’d been on the elliptical for 55 straight minutes (my legs: “You crazy broad, put the book down!”), I knew I’d gotten more than I bargained for.

Each essay (it’d be a shame to single out only one or two) was so insightful—examining the three books as a whole, outlining influences/inspirations, teasing out issues, and illuminating relevance. Their authors drew some really lovely connections, reaffirming my love for the series and my admiration of Suzanne Collins’ skill, even to the point of mitigating my disappointment in Mockingjay. (I think I read that book more as a fan than a reviewer, which is a testament to its greatness anyway. I do want to reread it when I’m in less of a rush.)

Casual fans of the series (are there any?) will find their appreciation deepen after reading these layered, well-considered thoughts. Less-casual fans will undoubtedly adore this penetrating stare into the characters, story, and world burned into their memories. As a less-casual fan, I enthusiastically recommend The Girl Who Was on Fire. I may be sore tomorrow, but it was so worth it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

YA in Shades of Gray

I'm working up some new reviews I think you'll like, but in the meantime, I have something else on my mind. There's been a big kerfuffle over The Article That Must Not Be Named in The Wall Street Journal. (I don't want to link to it, but I'm sure you can find it.) Meghan Cox Gordon paints a pretty ugly picture of depraved, sordid tales polluting the minds of young readers. I had a few reactions: Really? REALLY?!? Grrr. Aww.  Wow.

The "aww" and "wow" may look out of place, but you might find yourself feeling similarly once you read the YA community's rebuttal. The hashtag #YAsaves has been cranking out incredible, inspiring stories. Authors, booksellers, librarians, journalists, bloggers, and readers have easily taken apart Gordon's claims. They've written about censorship, parenting, writing, reading, acceptance, history, generational conflict, morality, purpose, intention, and stories for their own sake. There's also some great humor mixed in with the accompanying hashtag #YAkills. I don't need to rehash these brilliant and nuanced reactions (though I do advise setting aside some time for googling), especially because my thoughts on the matter have already been said by someone more eloquent.

In this season of graduation and change, I stumbled across J.K. Rowling's 2008 Commencement address at Harvard. (I loved it like I loved Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk.) She is an immensely talented, empathetic, funny author. Everything I need to combat that misinformed article comes through in her speech. Do yourself a favor and take the time to listen, maybe even learn.

I will say this: Criticizing the content of books (YA especially) is a failure of imagination. It is a failure to see the light, a failure to seek out the light in the darkness, and a failure to realize that some darkness doesn't have light. Children, like adults, will find their way, especially if they are readers. It will be true, and it will be theirs.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday #81

Oh, I’ve always wanted to do a YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday, and this one was right up my alley: What is the strangest/weirdest thing you’ve ever researched? So glad you asked! Some of my stories have included:

---breach pregnancies

---50s style wedding dresses

---feeding schedules of baby goats

---Route 66

---hallucinogenic leaves found in the Amazon

---percolator coffee pots 

---shoeing horses

---loom weaving

---graveyard maintenance

Anybody curious about something in particular?