May 20, 2007

Assistant Pig-Keeper's Lament

Lloyd Alexander is dead. He passed away on Thursday. Two weeks after his wife of 61 years went. Events like that never fail to make me shiver. Was it the cancer? Or did he just decide, now that she was gone, to go too?

I've spent the past few days grieving, floating from website to website, blog to blog, reading memorials and tributes, soaking up the fellow-feeling out there in the ether. Not that I should have been surprised, but there were so many of us out there whose lives were literally shaped by his work. I lost count of how many of you said, "My sixth grade teacher read every one of the Chronicles of Prydain aloud to us after lunch. He did all the different voices, from Gurgi to Gwystl. I'd never fallen into books like that before. But thanks to them, I have many times since. I think I've read them all 8 times, 9 times, 10? They are among the books of my life." And I think, surely I must know you. Surely you were in my class. For that's exactly the experience I had and it felt so personal and it felt so integral to who I was when I was 11 and who I've become now that I'm 28. No other books feel quite the same to me and Thursday it felt like a piece of my childhood slipped away.

I wrote a letter to Mr. Alexander after running across his address somewhere online. I was 20 and my fingers shook as I wrote my small note telling him how much his books meant to me. How grateful I was for their humor and compassion. It was a typical reader to author letter, but it was the first one I'd ever written and perhaps required a little more in the way of courage than it otherwise might have. A short while later a cream-colored envelope arrived in my mailbox, my name typed in bold black by a manual typewriter. The return address: Lloyd Alexander, Drexel Hill, PA. I fought down the urge to hyperventilate and tore open the flap. It was the most charming letter I'd ever received, thanking me for my missive, responding specifically to my words. He was sure I was one of "the girls who will always be Eilonwy." I smiled through my tears, as I'm doing right now.

I've written to many authors since then, thanking them for their work. Letting them know how much it enriches me. They've all written back, so gracious and engaging. But his is the only one I framed. Before it fell to pieces from being opened and read so many times. It, like my copies of his books, began to show the wear and tear of serial rereading. I pulled them out today, fingering through the pages. It's good to hold them in my hands and remember.
Now that he is gone.

May 1, 2007

A Month of Reading: April


Best reads of the past month:

Such a Pretty Girl
by Laura Wiess
I finished The Book Thief and looked around morosely for what I could possibly follow it up with. In my search, I ran across a review of Such a Pretty Girl and thought, hey, Slim Incest/Abuse Novel=perfect chaser for Mammoth Holocaust Novel! How unexpected that I was right. I thought Wiess struck the perfect balance between moments when Meredith is supported by a desperately needed group of truly good people (a cop, a cripple, a zealot), and moments when she is left utterly alone to stand up to her demons. This one is also tied for the Best Last Line Award of the month. Debut novel for Ms. Wiess: A+. Can't wait for Leftovers.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
I had heard a lot about this book before I picked it up. The Cybils picked it as their favorite YA novel of the year. I just loved the title. And the concept. Cohn and Levithan took Norah and Nick (respectively) and wrote alternating chapters from "their" character's point of view. I loved it in Sorcery and Cecilia and I enjoyed it here. The book was exhilirating and alive and makes the reader feel as though she took a 24-hour shot of adrenaline.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
I have not laughed so much while reading a book since the hilarious Straight Man. I laughed myself silly reading this book. The kind of laughing where it's so hard you're frantically wiping the tears away because you don't want to have to stop reading long enough to clear your sight. I passed it on to my brother-in-law who usually poops out a few pages into a work of fiction, and he not only finished it but loved it! For more hilarity* see Green's blog where he and his brother Hank are currently contributing a video clip a day for an entire year. While you're there check out Green's On the Radio archive of essays he wrote for NPR. I recommend "The Colonoscopy." But first go read Katherines.

Looking for Alaska by John Green
And in a bizarre repeat performance of last month's reading regimen, I read the second novel by a new (to me) author first, then ran promptly out and got that first one I'd been avoiding because of the shiny sticker on the cover. I wonder if authors ever worry that an award sticker will deter readers even as it boosts library and bookstore sales? Probably not. I mean, they won the freaking award! In any event, Looking for Alaska was as good as I was afraid it wouldn't be. Completely different from Katherines in tone, but with the same smooth, incisive writing. The chapter titles were genius. Tied with Such a Pretty Girl for the Best Last Line Award of the month.

Ironside by Holly Black
All the other books I read this month were surprise finds, but this one I'd been waiting for. I was so excited to see it on the shelves in my local B&N the night before it was to come out. I felt like someone was watching me as I surreptitiously snatched it off the shelf and scurried through the checkout line and out the door with it. I hope it was the benevolent bookseller who placed it out early, because I truly got my money's worth. What a fun read. I was very pleased with Kaye's storyline, quite moved by Corny's and Luis's, and extremely relieved that Roiben and Ravus were getting their dark-lord groove on.

Best rereads of the past month:

Tithe by Holly Black
In preparation for the release of Ironside, I gave Tithe its first reread. It was superb. As is so often the case, I enjoyed it more the second time around. Far and away my favorite Tam Lin retelling, it really does a good job with the themes of sacrifice and love. Plus Roiben is perfect in that hopelessly doomed kind of way.

And Both Were Young by Madeleine L'Engle
The last read of the month felt like it should be a L'Engle. I chose this one because it had been the longest since I reread it and because I was in the mood for something sweet and hopeful. It was both and I am ready for a new month and all its possibilities.

*Warning: Brotherhood 2.0=Highly Addictive