The Year in Pictures

Katy blasphemously imitates Lord Nelson (she's missing an arm) at the H.M.S. Victory Museum in Portsmouth.

"The Gates" by Christo and Jean-Claude, as seen from Cherry Hill in Central Park.

Ted, a game of Scrabble, and the bottle of Monty Python's Holy Grail Ale that went to the winner (me, I think, but we split the spoils) during my weekend trip to the Everglades.

My reflection in a tram window in Munich, Germany, on my way home from the Chinescher Turm beergarden.

My mother, Becky Klein, with her cake at her retirement party from twenty-odd years of teaching.

My shiny sparkly silver toenails, getting a break during a long Brooklyn walk.

Twenty minutes before the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Melissa Anelli and Ben on a ski lift up a mountain in Winter Park, Colorado. Ben hiked back down; Melissa and I saved our shins and rode.

Moi in Montauk, New York, after a nine-mile walk out to the point.

The yarn that went into my first-ever successful knitting project -- a pretty red brick-pattern scarf.

Melissa A., Daniel Radcliffe, and John Noe at the "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" premiere after-party.

My cousin Preston Tyler Klein contemplates his next move -- that is, picking up someone else's ball and dropping it somewhere that is not its original location -- during the Killer Klein Croquet game at Thanksgiving.

The Brooklyn Bridge, as seen from the Manhattan Bridge, as I walked to work with Rachel during the transit strike. The patch of green at the bottom is Brooklyn Bridge Park, where I held my 27th-birthday party in September.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I didn't send out a 2005 favorites list with my Christmas cards this year, partly because I've been terribly dilatory about the cards in general, partly because it was a somewhat difficult year for me and it felt wrong to be all happy-cheery about it. But there were a great many things and people that were happiness-inducing over the course of the year, so these are some of my Favorite Things that I First Experienced or Came to Appreciate Properly in 2005:
  • Books: Atonement by Ian McEwan; The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer; Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke; Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff; Riders by Jilly Cooper; Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber; Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta; Permanent Rose by Hilary McKay; Gilead by Marilynne Robinson; The Big Love by Sarah Dunn
  • Music: "Out There Live" by Dar Williams; "Tahquamenon Falls" by Sufjan Stevens; "The Book of Love" by Magnetic Fields; "September" by Earth Wind and Fire; Barbara Cook singing "Not a Day Goes By / Losing My Mind"; "Tupelo Honey" by Cassandra Wilson; "Once in a Lifetime" by the Talking Heads; the Postal Service's "Brand New Colony"; "Merrily We Roll Along" by Stephen Sondheim; "Pet Sounds" by the Beach Boys; "Good News for People Who Love Bad News" by Modest Mouse; "Changesbowie" by David Bowie
  • Performances: "Play Without Words" at BAM; the twelve-hour Stephen Sondheim Celebration at Symphony Space; "SPAMalot"; "Altar Boyz"; Cassandra Wilson at SummerStage in Central Park; the New Yorker "Parting the Waters" benefit for Hurricane Katrina victims; "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"; "The Elements of Style" at the New York Public Library
  • Movies: "Head On" (a German film about two Turkish immigrants who fight their way into love, hands-down the best thing I saw this year); "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"; "King Kong"; "The Squid and the Whale"; "Hitch"; "Hustle and Flow"; the Reverse Shot "Before Sunrise"/"Before Sunset" double feature; "Grizzly Man"; "The Constant Gardener"
  • Things: my iPod Mini and iTunes; pedicures; my new PalmPilot (a Christmas gift); beer (which I'd had before, certainly, but never properly appreciated until I went to Germany); wireless DSL; chocolate-covered Key lime pie on a stick; Smart Cars; my website; the Llama Song; my Thomas Pink shirt and sparkly shoes; Brooklyn Bridge Park
  • Activities: crashing the New York City Marathon; cooking dinner for friends; knitting; canoeing; kayaking; NaNoWriMo; blogging

Since I'm off to Edinburgh tomorrow, this will probably be the last night I post this year; so Happy 2006, everyone!

'Twas Two Nights Before Christmas . . .

. . . but I will spare you any more of my rhyming this month. After missing my flight Wednesday night thanks to the transit strike and spending the night in a motel near LaGuardia Airport, I'm home now in Missouri, eating and resting and happy. My mother is watching the Fort Worth Bowl in the family room; my father is trudging up and down the stairs to the basement to get wood for the fire, and my sister and her excellent fiance are wrangling over Five-Minute Fudge in the kitchen. All my Christmas shopping is done (I got my Dad a radio transmitter for his MP3 player -- which indeed has "Hey Ya" downloaded to it, sitting oddly among Dan Fogelberg and the Doobie Brothers). Melissa (my sister) and I went to Target, Kohl's, and Hy-Vee today and ran into five former classmates and three people we knew from church, so I really knew I was back in small-town-suburban Kansas City. (Lis and I were also greatly amused by the margarine selection at Hy-Vee, which included "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!", "Best Thing Since Butter", and -- most ominously -- "Could It Be Butter?")

Obviously I am descending into minutiae here, but it's all the homey minutiae that add up to contentment: my sister's snarky, hilarious remarks and imitations; Joe (the fiance) talking over the Chiefs' chances tomorrow with my dad; my mother's endless lists; cards from long-distant family friends, and getting caught up on their stories; the steady thrum of the wood-burning stove; the Christmas tree with all our treasured ornaments on it; even unloading the dishwasher, which has been my primary chore since I was six years old. Here's wishing you all similar contentment (though not similar chores): family; friends; good food and entertainment; peace, health, happiness; and of course presents galore.

And God bless us, everyone!

A Harry Potter Christmas filk: "It's Voldemort Outside"

(If you'd like to hear this performed live, the marvelous Melissa Anelli and the jolly John Noe are going to sing it on this week's Pottercast.)

"It's Voldemort Outside"
to the tune of "Baby It's Cold Outside" by Frank Loesser

Bold = Ginny Weasley; Italics = Harry Potter

You really must stay
But Voldemort’s outside
You can’t go away
But Voldemort’s outside
This evening has been
I have to go fight him
Just like a dream
Yes—wait, did you just hear that scream?
We’ve got some cushions here by the fire
It is a really wonderful fire
This comfy Kneazle rug on the floor
Destiny is oh such a chore
The situation can’t be that dire
So warm with you by the fire
Come on just a butterbeer more
I can put off the Dark Lord

I won’t let you go
Baby, it’s bad out there
I’ll cast “Imperio”
Death Eaters are mad out there
I wish I knew how
Voldemort on the prowl
To keep you safe
He looks like that one actor Ralph
I want to tell you not to fight
I promise you that I’ll be all right
But I know it’s up to you to decide
It’s more than just a matter of pride
(Both:) I wish you/I could stay
And yet Voldemort’s outside

Then I’m going too
Ginny, I fight alone
I’ll fight him with you
Oh please don’t take that tone
Who knows when you’ll need
Do I have to plead
The Bat-Bogey Curse?
Sweetie, you’re just making it worse
Bubotuber pus—just a squirt!
Imagine how I'd feel if you’re hurt
One of Fred and George’s Dungbombs!
This is not making me calm
And then when he’s really burnt
(Spoken:) He’ll be furious
I’ll shout, “Remember me, little Tom?”
Oh no she looks just like her mom

So we need to run
It’s Voldemort outside
My sweet Chosen One
Yes, the Dark Lord outside
We’ll stop to get Ron
He’s coming too?
And Hermione
She'll bring Hogwarts: A History
Who knows if we’ll see tomorrow
And maybe then all that sorrow
At least they’re gonna say that we tried
I’d like to have you by my side
(Both:) I love you and so,
Let’s fight Voldemort outside!

(Big finale:) Yes, we’ve got to go
It’s Voldemort . . .
Out . . .

Songs for My Father

We are giving my father an MP3 player for Christmas (I can say this here because he has no clue I have a blog), and because I am the only Klein with personal high-speed Internet service, I have been deputed to download all the music from his Greatest Hits collections. This is no small task, as he's been making mix tapes of his favorite music since there were tapes to make them with. So I am sitting here now on Napster (his MP3 player came with a free one-month subscription), and I'm filled with such affection for my father at this moment, listening to all his dear Daddy music: Steely Dan, and Bread, and Brooks and Dunn, and Fourplay (a smooth-jazz group he inexplicably adores), and Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and Toto, and the Commodores, and more Steely Dan, and Paul Simon, and Hall & Oates*, and Billy Joel, and some guy named Brian Culbertson. (I like a lot of this too, of course, after years of hearing it from him, and I'm grabbing an extra Bruce Springsteen song here, an extra Phil Collins** track there for myself.) And then there are the surprises: "Disco Inferno"; Wilson Phillips; a song by Point of Grace, an excellent Christian female quartet. It makes me feel as if my father is here with me, earnest, intense, a good man, a little dorky, but always loving, and often a little unexpected -- here with the resonances in my own tastes. It's a surprise gift for myself in putting this together for him.
* I'm also downloading the "Anchorman" medley of "She's Gone," featuring Will Ferrell musing, "Heartache is a bitch. But you know what's worse? Catching fire barbecuing while drunk. It's no contest."

** "Against All Odds," which I will add to my collection of great 1980s power ballads. Rock on.

Of Buses and Birthdays

I'm hanging out on the Internet till midnight to see if the MTA is going to strand me in Brooklyn tomorrow. I love my job, but the prospect of having a whole day at home to read manuscripts, write letters, and in general work in my pajamas -- on a Friday when we're supposed to have freezing rain all day -- is so enticing that I feel like a kid watching it snow the night before a big test: Oh please, oh please . . . So until the clock strikes twelve:
  • Live in New York? Come join the world's largest snowball fight! This is a serious thing -- the next time it snows, a guy named Jonathan Rosen wants to break the Guinness World Record for the World's Largest Snowball Fight by gathering more than 2,473 people in Prospect Park for an all-out war. You can read the New York Daily News article about it here; see the guy's craigslist posting on it here; and sign up to participate by e-mailing brooklynsnowballfight at gmail dot com. (Thanks to my friend Liz Mills for sending this on.)
  • The Carleton Alumni National Trivia Contest will be February 26. Mark your calendars.
  • I am going to Edinburgh for New Year's (Hogmanay) with my dear friend Katy, there to drink whiskey, dance in the streets, and maybe even eat haggis! Alas, I'm going to miss the Viking ship burning in the Shetland Isles (a Celtic New Year's tradition Katy and I reenacted at Carleton during our senior year, except our ship was six inches long, made of paper, and floating in a cake pan), as that doesn't take place till January 30; but I daresay I shall shout "Up-Helly-A!" nonetheless.
  • Along similar lines, I bought a bottle of honey mead the other day called "Ragnar's Reserve*", and below, after the asterisk: "As if Ragnar had any reservations." Hee.

Also, tomorrow -- soon to be today -- December 16, is Jane Austen's 230th birthday. Here are some ways to mark the occasion:

  • If you love someone, look deeply into his or her eyes and say, "In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings can no longer be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
  • Along the same lines, if you disapprove of someone, say, "I send no compliments to your mother" or "Badly done!"
  • If you write something, honor the eighteenth-century style by ensuring every sentence includes (a) a semicolon, (b) an adverb, (c) more than two clauses, or (d) all of the above.
  • Refer to all specific locations as "-------," as in "-----ville," "-----burg," or "------ City."
  • Go country dancing.
  • Wear an Empire-waist dress, or a pair of breeches and a topcoat. (If you choose the latter option, practice flipping your tails aside before you sit down -- done right, it's incredibly sexy (cf. Guy what's-his-name in "The Count of Monte Cristo").)
  • Hold a Jane Austen film festival. You can watch the films in chronological order of the novels (S&S, P&P, MP, E, & P) or in ascending quality (MP, E, P&P, P, and S&S, if you're asking me, though the last two are pretty much a tie); or you could watch all existing adaptations of one particular novel; or you could just watch the proposal/letter/kiss/"Brother and sister? No indeed"/wet shirt/Look scenes repeatedly.
  • Recognize a grave error, prejudice, foolishness, blindness, or rudeness on your part; vow to reform; and do so.
  • Read her precursors: Samuel Johnson, Samuel Richardson, Fanny Burney, Ann Radcliffe.
  • Read her descendants: E. M. Forster, Georgette Heyer, Patrick O'Brian (whose own birthday was Monday the 12th), Helen Fielding, J. K. Rowling.
  • Or the most obvious, and always a great pleasure: Read her.

12:13 a.m. No news. Ah well, I'll go to bed, and we'll go from there. Happy Jane Austen's birthday, everyone!

Augghhh!: An Impromptu Christmas Rhyme

Some Christmas cards arrived today.
Mine in the corner glare and say:
"Those cards are spreading joy and hope.
When will you send us, you dope?"

To which I plead:

To-do lists coming out my ears!
Things forgotten!
Things in shards!
Things unboughten!
No time for cards!

Friends to gather!
Gifts to make!
CDs to burn!
Baked goods to bake!

And manuscripts and authors too.
Movies at last I want to see!
A party to attend--or three!
My apartment is a mess!
Stress stress stress stress stress stress!

And still the lists;
Damn the lists:
To buy, to pack, to call, to fix.
And all I want to do is sleep.
And read. And write. And rest. And whine.
Oh, and play Scrabble. And then whine.
Joy diminished.
Rhyme here finished!

Bah. Ho. Sigh.

"Pride and Prejudice": The Brooklyn Arden Review

First, I quote: “Sometimes the last person on earth you want to be with is the one person you can't be without.”

Hello, clichés? Ending a sentence with a preposition? Only a passing resemblance to the novel? This tagline on the movie poster taught me exactly how much to expect from this version of "Pride and Prejudice," and for that I thank the marketing people at Focus Features, as otherwise I would be writing a much more keyed-up, pissed-off, and disappointed review.

As it is, I went in not expecting very much at all, and this is good, as I now call this "P&P: the 'What the Hell???' version." This name derives from the filmmakers’ incredibly puzzling interpretation of the novel, which results in pigs in the Bennets’ hallway, the First Proposal in the rain, shots of running deer, and sundry other “What the hell???” choices that don’t make sense historically, fictionally, or especially as an adaptation.

I can kind of guess at what they were thinking. P&P is one of the world’s Great Romances, and Lizzy and Darcy rank up there with Romeo and Juliet, Rosalind and Orlando, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, Heathcliff and Cathy, Lord Peter and Harriet, Rick and Ilsa, Harry and Sally, and Jesse and Celine (and I mean all of these entirely seriously) as classic romantic protagonists. Another Focus tagline for the movie was, “This holiday season, experience the greatest love story of all time,” and while that’s a title with a lot of competition, P&P would definitely be in the running.

But the filmmakers’ crucial mistake (which resulted in the WTHness) was in not distinguishing between a great Romantic romance, a la Romeo and Juliet and the Bronte examples given above, and a great Rationalist romance, a la Rosalind and Orlando, Lord Peter and Harriet, and all the cinematic examples cited. Romantic romances concentrate on feeling foremost: love at first sight, passion even unto death, “You are my everything,” blah blah blah. They are intense, sexual, dangerous, and the intensity and drama and danger of the relationship is of course as much of an attraction for the lovers as the individuals themselves are.

Rationalist romances do not lack feeling (or sex), but their protagonists are aware of principles and claims outside each other—they have a sense of proportion. As Rosalind puts it: “Men have died before, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.” And they fall in love for reasons besides its forbidden nature, namely, that they like each other, they have things in common, they are kind to each other, they can talk to each other (a crucial element, as their conversations usually make up at least a third of the book/play/movie -- and you want to listen to them). As Austen describes it after Elizabeth comes to appreciate Darcy: “If gratitude and esteem are good foundations of affection, Elizabeth’s change of sentiment will be neither improbable nor faulty. But if otherwise, if the regard springing from such sources is unreasonable or unnatural, in comparison of what is so often described as arising on a first interview with its object, and even before two words have been exchanged, nothing can be said in her defence, except that she had given somewhat of a trial to the latter method in her partiality for Wickham, and that its ill-success might perhaps authorise her to seek the other less interesting mode of attachment.”

(Ah, an interlude of Austen prose. Didn’t that just bring a little delight and clarity to your day?)

Where was I? Yes. So. The filmmakers had a Great Romance on their hands, and knew it; but they chose to adapt, design, and especially shoot it as if it were a Romantic romance rather than a Rationalist one, probably because our benighted mass culture worships the commercialized signs of love much more than the actual thing they signify. The result is a case study in Form not following Function. As the lines quoted above show, the narrative voice in P&P is affectionate, precise, gently mocking. Cinematography’s role in a film adaptation is to reproduce that narrative voice (I am sure many film theorists would disagree with me), and the cinematography here was more suited to a Anne Rice adaptation than Jane Austen: overdramatic close-ups, unnecessary dramatic angles, lots of hand-held camera movements, occasional effects like Elizabeth staring at herself in the mirror as hours pass . . . These heavy-handed techniques perhaps carried the romance (particularly as the script does so little to establish it), but they drowned the humor, and they made Austen’s thoroughly linear, “light, bright, and sparkling” story and dialogue feel entirely beside the point. The movie wants P&P to be more passionate and romantic than it is, in the conventional Romantic windswept way, so it forces it into that mold, with ridiculous, unsatisfying results.

And while many of the script adaptations were a bit strange (Lizzy not telling Jane about the First Proposal? Mr. and Mrs. Bennet sincerely in love?) and the interpolations eyeroll-worthy (Mr. Collins making intercourse jokes? Eeeegh), the only unforgivable alteration was to the text of the First Proposal scene. What on earth is wrong with “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”? The answer is “absolutely nothing,” and I would send no compliments to this movie solely on the basis of that change.

That said, compliments. Most of the casting was strong, especially Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. Darcy; I even preferred him to Colin Firth of the great P&P2, as he was more expressive, more vulnerable, and less stiff. (Or, as the astute Editrix of AustenBlog said, “What a very fine, strapping, juicy hunk of British woof on the hoof. Bring that gaping frilly shirtage over here, sir, and you can leave your boots on.”) Keira Knightley did not get Elizabeth’s depths or sweetness (tending toward the pert, as most Elizabeths do), but she reminded me of how young Lizzy is supposed to be, and she looked pretty, at the least. Brenda Blethyn and Dame Judi Dench each excelled at what little they were given to do. The dresses were gorgeous, of course, and the country dancing made me quite long for a ball.

To close: When the DVD is released, I invite all my female readership over to play the "P&P:WTH" Drinking Game. The rules are these:

1) Whenever there is an overdramatic closeup, you drink.
2) Whenever there is livestock or a wild animal on screen, you drink.
3) Whenever there is a ridiculous line like “Your hands are cold,” you heckle, and then you drink.

A good time will be had by all. In the meantime: Feh.


Earlier this week, child_lit was discussing how we define good books, who gets to decide what makes a good book (especially a good children's book, considering the critics and the intended audience are often completely different), the qualities of a good book, etc. This was obviously too tempting for me to resist, so I wrote a post that articulated a lot of things I'd been thinking about vaguely for a while. There is more to say on it, but this is my beginning:

I'd like to say a word here, since I think about this problem daily in the manuscripts I consider for publication and the books I edit. I've mostly set aside my concerns about being an adult judging materials for children -- I just start from this perspective, every day:

I think good fiction books (good art in general) create a deliberate emotion in the person experiencing it -- "deliberate" meaning it's the emotion the author of the book set out to create, so well as that intention can be discerned by the reader. The emotion is achieved authentically through immersing us in the character's lived experience, not through cheap manipulation. This is most often accomplished through well-crafted prose: prose where every word has been considered carefully by the author and belongs in the work; prose that communicates clearly what the author wants us to see and know, so that we can see it too and (again) be immersed in the character's experience or the narrator's perspective. Think of Lolita, where against one's will one is seduced by Humbert's genius, his creativity, his fever for Dolores, so that one understands his passion intellectually and possibly even sympathizes with it emotionally . . . It's a morally horrifying but artistically incredible feat.

And while every reader's interaction with a text is different, in great books, the emotion the author intends -- what I think of as the emotional point -- is experienced by the vast majority of the people who come in meaningful contact with the work. Otherwise the author isn't achieving what he or she set out to do.

In good children's books, the emotional point of the book will speak to or expand the child's own emotional experience -- usually at least partly through their identification with the main character -- and will be appropriate for a child.The Newbery winners usually excel at creating emotion, especially sad ones; I well remember my grief reading Bridge to Terabithia, A Single Shard, Out of the Dust, even Because of Winn-Dixie, and how transported and elevated I felt by that emotion. It's the classical (Aristotelian) model, where great sadness equals moral elevation equals great art.

But kids don't always WANT to experience great sadness -- and who can blame them? And so they love Captain Underpants and Goosebumps and Artemis Fowl and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and all those books that make them feel more pleasureable emotions, humor or warmth or excitement or "safe" (controllable) fear.

I think Harry Potter is such a tremendous success because it succeeds at creating emotion in readers almost instantly; its characters are all realistic (I know Rons and Harrys, I occasionally AM Hermione) in an unrealistic but fascinating setting; and it provides a wide range of emotions that echo the wide range of emotions in real life . . . You grieve over the loss of a friend, but you also laugh at Fred and George, you crush on Ginny Weasley, you squabble with your best friend, you struggle with homework -- and that range is much more realistic than being in a constant haze of misery (a la more than one Newbery I can think of).

On a wider scale, I think we can make critically-agreed-upon lists of Great Books because we all experience the same emotions in reading a certain book; we then agree that those emotions are good for other people to have, and we recommend said book. Things get interesting when we can't agree on the emotions that should be experienced, especially by children (cf. Newbery winners vs. Goosebumps above) or teenagers (cf. people who want to ban The Catcher in the Rye, no matter how beautifully it speaks to the teenage search for meaning). . . .

And the discussion goes on from there.

Pullman vs. Lewis: Pullman's Response

I have seen the new "Pride and Prejudice," which I believe future generations will call "Pride and Prejudice: the 'What the Hell???' version." (Future generations of my offspring, at least.) A longer review is forthcoming. In the meantime, this is Philip Pullman's response to the Chronicle of Higher Education article mentioned below (response sent through child_lit; (c) Pullman 2005; posted without his permission for the interest of those who might be interested):

If the devotees of C.S. Lewis can do no better than this sort of ad hominem attack on my qualifications to speak about him, then Narnia must be in more trouble than I thought. Michael Nelson needs to find out more about the subject, and I suggest that he begins by reading the section on Lewis in John Goldthwaite's 'The Natural History of Make-Believe' (OUP, New York, 1996) which mounts a much more closely argued and ferocious attack on Lewis and Narnia than anything I've managed. I am far from being the only critic of these books, but to judge from the journalism about at the moment, you'd think I was the only person ever to express a whisper of doubt about the greatness, beauty, wisdom, truth, sanctity, etc, that they embody. In the past week alone I've fielded requests for interviews on the subject from four national newspapers in Britain, two TV programmes, and four BBC radio programmes. I'm tired of doing the work of lazy journalists for them, so I said no in each case.

I do wonder, though, why the Lewis cultists are in such a state of nervous tension at the moment. It's another example of their inability to get him in proportion. I've noticed before that criticising Lewis is not just a literary activity: his fans react with the sort of righteous and irrational passion that is only normally seen in zealots confronted with an infidel. You'd think they actually worship him. Criticism is not just mistaken, it seems: it's blasphemous.

As for the Puddleglum reference, which is supposed to knock me and my arguments sideways: it does exactly the reverse, because it bears out whatI've been saying all along about the peculiar nature of Lewis's Christianity. It's yet another example of his thoroughgoing Platonism, another point where his work leaves orthodox Christianity far behind and strikes out for the wilds of heresy. The Narnia stories view this world with contempt and think there is another and better one elsewhere. The fact that God made this world and Lewis invented the other one, and that preferring his world to God's is the REAL blasphemy, escapes the zealots entirely.

I'm tired of this subject after so many years and I'm not going to argue about it any more. To anyone else who raises it, I say simply: I expect you're right.

Philip Pullman


Play online Scrabble all by yourself! (Or better yet, play it with me.)

Just in time for the Narnia release: The great Philip Pullman-Narnia debate is reopened. Pullman responded to this article on child_lit, but unfortunately I left the message at work, so I'll have to forward it home to post. In the meantime, gacked from R. J. Anderson, His Dark Materials condensed. (I wrote a long post in semi-defense of Pullman on RJA's LJ here.)

My child_lit friend Pooja Makhijani has a great website featuring South Asian Children's Literature:

The editor of the Horn Book, Roger Sutton, has a supersmart children's lit blog here (and knowing Roger, he's sure to kick up a controversy sometime soon). The Horn Book also recently posted its Fanfare list of the best books of the year; I recommend especially An Innocent Soldier by Josef Holub from Arthur A. Levine Books (guest-edited for the imprint by the wonderful Janna Morishima) and Permanent Rose by Hilary McKay, which makes my own best books of 2005 list (as Saffy's Angel was best of 2003 and Indigo's Star best of '04). If you've never read McKay, she is *terrific*, smart and funny and surprising and moving.

All the same goes for William Stafford's poetry -- the adjectives and the recommendation. I currently have "An Introduction to Some Poems" by William Stafford as the Poem of the Season on my door at work; I also love especially "A Ritual to Read to One Another."

Jeremiah provided a Five Bucks to Friday gift guide and better still Christmas cards (scroll down past the cartoon and blog for each, though you should read them on the way).

The actor James Urbaniak, who (Ben tells me, as he gave me the link) played R. Crumb in "American Splendor," has a splendidly intelligent and amusing blog.

Two great groups that occasionally play 1920s-style jazz in the Seventh Avenue F train station: The Blue Vipers and River Alexander's Mad Jazz Hatters (a trio that includes an actual washtub bass!). Whenever these bands are playing in the station, I know it's going to be a good morning; there are marvelous free MP3s at both links if you'd like to brighten your own day.

From Leaky: Forbes magazine identifies the fifteen richest fictional characters, including, in a hilarious profile, Lucius Malfoy.

And finally, I updated with my 2006 writers' conference appearances. I'm currently collecting thoughts (much like Dumbledore with his Pensieve) for a talk based off Aristotle's Poetics, which will really be about plot structure, moral development, and the importance of emotion in children's/YA picture books and fiction. . . . I'm thinking of it as Jane Austen meets the Wild Things.

Happy December!


Greetings from the great gray (with snow, at the moment) Midwest, where I'm still ensconced after a happy Thanksgiving weekend with my family. I came down with a stomach bug yesterday that left me with a temperature over 100 and no energy whatsoever, so I decided to stay home an extra day and let my mom take care of me. Thus today I read two manuscripts, overdosed on morning television, finished knitting my first-ever scarf, crossed the 47,500-word mark on the Bad Novel (putting me in good shape to complete 50,000 words by Wednesday), and . . . didn't do much else, having a nice, restful day around the house. I'll fly into New York tomorrow and real life will resume. Until then, other news:
  • My funny, smart, and beautiful sister -- still six months away from graduating from Missouri State University -- already has a job with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City as their newest management trainee. Yay kid!
  • Speaking of my sister, I tried on bridesmaid dresses over the weekend, and it looks like I'll be wearing a V-neck halter with a long A-line skirt, all in a pretty rose color. Melissa said, "You can't wear that, you'll look hotter than I am!" when I put it on, so I knew immediately it was the right one. The wedding is next July.
  • I caught up with my elementary-school friend Cydney Rabourn, who is now running for state representative in Kansas.
  • I saw "Rent" and "Walk the Line." I love the Broadway version of "Rent," but I felt the movie suffered from being a little too faithful to the original material: Relationships and transitions that were perfectly believable onstage felt forced and clumsy in the naturalistic setting of film, and Stephen Chbosky's screenwriting skills and/or Chris Columbus's directorial imagination weren't quite able to open them up and make them real. Still, it's valuable merely for preserving the terrific Broadway performances from Anthony Rapp, Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs, Jesse Martin and Wilson Jermaine Heredia . . .
  • . . . and my sister said after we saw it, "So is that really what happens to people with AIDS?" And I said, "Yes, really," and she said, "Oh. I didn't know that." So it accomplishes one of the best things art can do: creating imaginative sympathy.
  • And "Walk the Line" was quality as well, though what's remained in my mind three days later were the intense performances from Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix (hello, Joaquin Phoenix) and the wonderful, wonderful music.
  • Still haven't seen the new "Pride and Prejudice."
  • I caught a video on FUSE for the excellent Hasidic reggae singer Matisyahu.
  • And I taught my technologically challenged father to use my iPod, which he found really easy and cool. The number-one song he wants for himself? "Hey Ya."

For the Beauty of the Earth

This is my favorite hymn, for its simplicity and its wonder, and because it does list so many of the things I'm grateful for: my family, with whom I ate an enormous Thanksgiving dinner earlier today; my friends, whose humor and faith keep me alive; community; peace; the "heart and mind's delight" provided by nature and the arts and having good work to do. . . . It doesn't mention chocolate, Twinings Earl Grey, the novels of Jane Austen, and wireless DSL, but otherwise, it's got me pretty much covered. The words are by Folliot Pierpont; the music, Conrad Kocher.

Happy Thanksgiving!

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour,
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon, and stars of light.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and mind’s delight,
For the mystic harmony
Linking sense to sound and sight.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For Thy Church, that evermore
Lifteth holy hands above,
Offering up on every shore
Her pure sacrifice of love.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For each perfect gift of Thine,
To our race so freely given,
Graces human and divine,
Flowers of earth and buds of Heaven.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

Eliot Deflated

Courtesy of child_lit:

Two limericks off Prufrock:

A man did not dare eat a peach
But he wore trousers rolled at the beach.
Women walked to and fro
Saying, "Mike Angelo"
And he heard mermaids call each to each.

An angst-ridden amorist Fred
Saw sartorial changes ahead.
His ears started ringing
With fishy girls singing.
Soft fruit also filled him with dread.


Waste Land Limericks
by Wendy Cope

In April one seldom feels cheerful;
Dry stones, sun and dust make me fearful;
Clairvoyantes distress me,
Commuters depress me–
Met Stetson and gave him an earful.

She sat on a mighty fine chair,
Sparks flew as she tidied her hair;
She asks many questions,
I make few suggestions–
Bad as Albert and Lil–what a pair!

The Thames runs, bones rattle, rats creep;
Tiresias fancies a peep–
A typist is laid,
A record is played–
Wei la la. After this it gets deep.

A Phoenician named Phlebas forgot
About birds and his business–the lot,
Which is no surprise,
Since he'd met his demise
And been left in the ocean to rot.

No water. Dry rocks and dry throats,
Then thunder, a shower of quotes
From the Sanskrit and Dante.
Da. Damyata. Shantih.
I hope you'll make sense of the notes.


He deserves this. But also: The Four Quartets.

Cardeology + Quotation + Signs of the Times

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year(tm) quickly approaches . . . and indeed I'm such a sucker for Christmas that I really do think it's the most wonderful time of the year, excepting September (my birthday month), May (spring), and any time I'm out luxuriating in one of the parks on a sunny day, when I'm convinced that's the most wonderful day of the year.

In any case, I have been thinking about ways to extend the holiday joy to you, my dear readers, and I think it's easiest just to offer this: Send me an e-mail between now and December 1 and I will send you a Christmas card in turn. No hoops to jump through, no odd vocabulary to include in the message, just a simple e-mail with your postal address to chavela_que at yahoo dot com and a little envelope of good wishes and good cheer will come to your mailbox. Many of you friends-and-relations will of course already be on my list, but I hope also to hear from you strangers who post occasionally or who have lurked on the blog up to this point. And it would be lovely if anyone who receives a card from me would send me one in return, but it's certainly not an obligation.

Ten points to the first non-Katy reader who identifies the source of the new headline (author and book).

And the small signs of the season changing:
  • I put my comforter on my bed last night, after months of sleeping with only sheets and blankets;
  • I linger under it far longer than I should;
  • I bought a new hat and gloves (magenta and striped, respectively) and a new pale teal winter coat;
  • the snowflakes are up on the lightposts along Seventh Avenue, and light-and-tinsel stars strung across the streets of Williamsburg and Little Italy;
  • grocery-store specials on stuffing, yams, pumpkins, and cranberries;
  • I'm planning craft projects for Christmas;
  • socks curled up in odd corners of the apartment;
  • I have an afghan on my lap as I sit here typing;
  • the electric teakettle bubbles and clicks all day long.

The Happy List: November 17, 2005

  • I went to bed around 11 last night, so when the alarm goes off at 6:20, I feel well-rested and ready to get up
  • I get inspired and write over 2,000 words on the Bad Novel
  • And crack the 100-page mark!
  • The sun is shining
  • My Thomas Pink shirt doesn't require ironing
  • And I wear it
  • (And I own a Thomas Pink shirt)
  • There's a lovely autumn nip in the air
  • I read The Brothers Karamazov on the train
  • On Five Bucks to Friday, Ron and Starbucks Girl (the Little Red-Haired Girl of the strip) have a great date at last
  • A good game of Internet Scrabble ends in my victory (but it's close)
  • I think long and hard about a manuscript, and eventually write and send revision notes
  • The Acquisitions committee approves a picture book I want to acquire
  • And I get to make the offer
  • I read the blues for The Valley of the Wolves -- the last manuscript stage of a book I've been working on (on and off) for two years
  • I have a hot ham-and-cheese sandwich, potato chips, and a chocolate-chip cookie for lunch
  • While eating, Rachel and I discuss the usual: her upcoming birthday party; her books, my books, books in general; how much we love food; our families; friends; men; and work (those last four semicolons could also be commas)
  • The very sweet Olgy Gary of Children Come First tells me that her e-book of "The Rules of Engagement" is getting a lot of requests and nice comments

  • The National Agricultural Library asks us for a copy of Food for Thought: The Complete Book of Concepts for Growing Minds for their collection -- which is "What the hell?" but also terrific and hilarious
  • Katy and I get to talk
  • My family is going to have a huge Thanksgiving dinner with all of my favorite dishes (including, especially, Jiffy corn casserole)
  • And we'll play croquet
  • My cold is dissipating
  • I listen to the Dixie Chicks, Patty Griffin, and Alanis Morrisette while doing dishes
  • I drink my first hot chocolate of the winter
  • I register for the domain name for the Talking Books site, so there is now a website with my name on it, which is odd but cool
  • And having written a blog post with all of these felicities (and hoping I don't sound too smug -- I'm just delighted to have had such a good day),
  • I am going to go to bed before midnight and read Saving Francesca.


Goblets & Glamour

So Saturday I attended the New York premiere of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." It was held at the Ziegfeld Theatre on 54th Street, and when Rachel and I arrived early that afternoon, we were surprised and delighted to see we got to walk down the red carpet -- not with the stars, who were on the press line and separated from us by a movie-poster barrier, but on the red carpet nonetheless. Hundreds of fangirls were lined up across the street from us, shrieking at every black-windowed car that passed by, and we admired their homemade posters and enthusiasm as we waited in line to get in. Once inside, we met up with the other Scholastic people and found our seats in the theatre. After an hour of celebrity-spotting (our genius creative director David Saylor was seated next to Jon Heder from "Napoleon Dynamite," and Rachel saw James Gandolfini and Tim Robbins) and easy HP trivia questions while more important people made their way inside, it was time for the main event.

(Note: major spoilers ahead, and all opinions are of course only my own.) So, "Goblet of Fire." It's quite good, very pacey, and it manages to be both the funniest and the most intense of the HP movies so far. The focus is very much on the big action scenes: the Quidditch World Cup (though we see only the introductions, none of the game), the tasks, the Yule Ball, Voldemort's resurrection, the aftermath. The film does an excellent job setting up the Crouch/Moody plot, and I very much liked Brendan Gleeson as Moody; they managed to drop the house-elves entirely while still keeping the story clicking along, which is an accomplishment. Voldemort in the graveyard is as terrifying as it ought to be, and the Malfoy-as-bouncing-ferret scene is here in its entirety! (We once got a letter at work from a woman who kept pet ferrets and was upset that Buckbeak ate them in OotP -- I hope she isn't too distressed when the ferret goes down Crabbe's pants.)

But what's missing in the focus on the big scenes is the connective material that makes those scenes matter, particularly any sort of emotional transition from scene to scene or emotional context for the events. At the live Pottercast afterward, John Noe said that he felt he was watching an unfinished movie, and while he can't have been right -- thousands of rolls of film must be on their way to theatres this very moment -- I knew what he meant; it seemed a little jumpy in its hurry to pack everything in. (It reminded me of "Elizabethtown," actually, in the sense that both are good movies that feel as if pieces have been forcibly removed from them for reasons other than the filmmakers' vision.) It's hard to know if the movie is aimed at people who have read the book or not; the script takes the trouble to foreshadow Moody's secret identity through his endless slugging from a flask, and yet I don't think it explained "Priori Incantatem" fully (I could be wrong about this), which means the graveyard scene must have been absolutely baffling for some viewers. And while the romantic triangulations leading up to the ball are handled nicely, and Neville especially gets a wonderful not-in-the-book moment to shine, the Ron/Hermione tension doesn't snap the way it could -- particularly when the big "You should have asked me first!" scene ends with Hermione shouting "Go to bed!" at the boys. (Mrs. Weasley? Where did you come from?) But it's always hard for me to judge the HP movies on first viewing, and on the whole I very much admired the filmmakers' work at packing a big, bursting, rumbustious book into two and a half hours of efficient, enjoyable film.

After the movie, I said goodbye to Rachel, and it was on to the live Potter/Mugglecast at the Barnes & Noble at Union Square. Melissa had reserved a seat for me, so I walked past the fangirls (who seemed to have migrated down en masse, switching their undying devotion from Daniel Radcliffe to Emerson along the way) to a place near the side. The MuggleNet boys all look about twelve, but they'd be the smartest and smart-aleckest twelve-year-olds I know, and Andrew especially had many intelligent things to say about the film. Afterward I met Emerson, John Noe (for the second time), and the super-sweet Sue Upton from TLC.

And then began the surreal portion of the evening: Melissa had secured tickets to the premiere afterparty, so we shot uptown to an old church near St. John the Divine that had been converted into a party space. The Goblet of Fire stood on a pedestal outside, and the Triwizard Cup just inside the doors; the main space was decorated to look like the Yule Ball, with waterfalls of shiny silver material flowing from the balconies to the floor, where tables stood covered with white tablecloths and spindly ice sculptures. By the time we arrived, about 10 p.m., the party had moved downstairs to the dance floor and bar/lounge space. We saw Melissa's lovely mother, the all-powerful Mrs. Anelli; she and Melissa introduced us to Jamie Waylett (Crabbe), then Rupert Grint (Ron) and Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy). Melissa, John, and Sue met Daniel Radcliffe and the beautiful, beautiful Robert Pattinson, but I was feeling shy because of my lingering voice-warping cold, book-and-not-movie background, and not-very-swanky clothes (I feel I can safely say I was the only person at the party wearing something from Old Navy), so I circulated around the room by myself, thinking "Oh! That's Hermione. Oh! That's Fred or George, and there's also Fred or George. And that's Neville Longbottom, he did a great job . . ."

Eventually I came back to where Sue was talking to Jason Isaacs (and trying not to faint), and we three chatted for a few minutes about the books, "The West Wing," and American electoral politics. I excused myself to use the bathroom, where I found myself standing in line in front of a pretty Asian girl in a black dress -- Katie Leung, who plays Cho Chang.

"You were very good in the film," I said.

"Thanks," she said. "I'm excited."

"Is this your first movie?"

She nodded, then put her hand over her mouth and said, "Excuse me, I have the hiccups."

"I always try to hold my breath and take a drink," I told her. "That gets rid of them."

"Oh," she nodded again, and at that point a stall opened and I went inside. Then I thought, "Oh, my lord. I just advised a movie star how to get rid of the hiccups" -- and the incongruity, the unlikelihood, the sheer goofiness of that made me smile: for these stars were all people like anyone else, and they certainly acted like anyone else, getting hiccups and hating George W. Bush. And yet there is something about stardom that makes them seem more real: They are more seen than I am, and therefore more important in the world, even if they get hiccups too. But to the credit of all the stars of the party, none of them acted like this fact existed; I smiled at Katie as I came out of the stall, and she smiled back.

Then it was back to the main room, to observe, to listen, to chat with Mrs. A. and fan Sue (who was still recovering from her time with Jason Isaacs), till the three TLC'ers and I left for the PotterCast afterparty. I didn't stay for this -- the clock had struck midnight, literally, and my head felt like Cinderella's pumpkin. But I relished the memory of the whole night on the ride home, as I probably shall for a long time to come: my brush with glamour for 2005.

Enjoy the movie, all!

Sniff Sniff

I woke up yesterday morning with a knife-sharp sore throat and a stuffy nose (no doubt the result of wearing summertime running clothes to a November marathon), so I decided to spend the day working at home. It was actually a nice day, as I finished reading/made notes on two novel manuscripts and edited the text for a rhyming picture book from a French publisher: "Clever orange fox--tell me, who are your friends? / Not the tall farmer but her tasty hens." I wrote my assigned hour for NaNoWriMo (over 58 pages/16,625 words of crap now!); I listened to the rain chatter on the roof; I drank endless mugs of green tea with honey.
  • But it's a good thing my uncle didn't send me the link to this website until today, because then I would have accomplished nothing -- it's more addictive than Minesweeper. I've gotten up to 17 seconds three or four times now, but I can't break that 18 barrier. . . .
  • And I managed to keep myself from goofing around on the Talking Books page till tonight, when I added a few new links and created an annotated list of books I've edited.
  • Because of my cold, I will not be working the baked-goods table at Park Slope United Methodist Church's Hollyberry Fair this Saturday as I was supposed to; but if you're in the Park Slope area, you should definitely stop by to see/buy beautiful crafts by Brooklyn artisans and get started on your Christmas shopping. Saturday from 10-4, just behind PSUMC on 8th St. between 5th and 6th Avenues in Park Slope.
  • Oh! And at the Hollyberry Fair, you can bid in the silent auction on a "manuscript consultation with a professional editor," that is, yours truly. I edit, I copyedit, I'll strategize with you about getting published. . . . Opening bid is $40, I think.
  • I keep forgetting to say: On my HP&SS analysis, thanks to all the people who advised me that the "Privet" in Privet Drive is a hedge and not a toilet. That line has been cut.
  • Anthony Lane reviews the Keira Knightley "Pride and Prejudice," which I have no choice but to see sometime in the next week. Really, I will try to resist, and I will fail utterly. It sounds like it truly is Austen's story with Brontesque throbbing and precipitation, and even then maybe it's not so big on the story part; but at least it should be pretty to look at. If any of you see it, let me know what you think.
  • The life of Charles Dickens, "South Park" style. (In animation, not content, thankfully.) (Link from Katy)

All right, I must take myself and my poor beleaguered nose to bed. Have a good weekend!