Two Things

First, the Read-a-Thon is in two days, April 2nd! 24 hours (or however many you can work in) of reading, blogging, giveaways, and FUNFUNFUN! If you are free this Saturday, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Go over here to sign up and here for the homepage.

(Edit: Whoops! As Mia correctly pointed out, the Read-a-Thon is on the NINTH, not the 2nd! So not this Saturday, but next!)

Second, the wonderful Maureen Johnson has a sequel coming out next month, and to promote it you can download a free copy of the first book, 13 Little Blue Envelopes. I’ve read the book and it is a super fun romp through Europe, with Johnson’s characteristic delightful characters. I highly recommend it! Go here for more information and the link to pre-order the free download.

Poem of the Week, “Morning Song”

“Morning Song”

by Sylvia Plath

Love set you like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

At night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

This poem comes from Ariel, Plath’s final book, published posthumously after her suicide. Arguably, it is her best volume– and most of the poems that I love come from it (the title poem, for example). I have a pretty conflicted relationship with Plath’s poetry. Originally I flat out hated her. I first read “Daddy,” and that was enough for me. Later on I was forced to read other poetry, and then to read Ariel last semester for a class. Since then I have really come to appreciate her work.

I am crazy about “Morning Song.” I read online that it is a poem about post-partum depression, conflicted in tone, and dark like all of Plath’s poetry. I don’t know. I just  don’t read it that darkly. Sure, the poem begins with separation from the child by describing it as a machine and then a statue, but I find the end of the poem more mixed and certainly more tender. The images of  “Your mouth clean as a cat’s” and the baby’s vocalizations rising like balloons strike me as incredibly tender and endearing.  I guess I’ll admit that it’s conflicted, but I think that the progression of the poem is from distance into intimacy.

Borders Roundup

As I’m sure everyone in or outside the book blogosphere knows, due to bankruptcy Borders has had to close shop on something like 30% of their bookstores across the country. While there are definitely conflicting opinions about the value of larger chain bookstores that can afford to be more well-stocked than their independent brethren, it’s a sad sight to me to see any bookstore at all have to shut its doors for good. On the other hand, this means that the Borders stores in question are selling their remaining product and even fixtures at greatly reduced prices, and the cheapskate in me who refuses to pay retail for anything jumped at the chance to swing by our local closing-down Borders yesterday. If you know me, you know that I hardly ever buy books new–I tend to frequent my local library as much as possible, and I’ll collect stacks of weird books that I find at thrift stores or used bookstores. Maybe that’s why I went a little crazy and walked out of Borders with as many books as I could carry, plus one or two.

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Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

My copy of Prep announces, in two separate places, that it is a bestseller: once on the actual book itself, above the title and a gushing blurb from the Boston Globe, and once on the Borders sale price sticker, where the font is only slightly smaller than that of the sticker’s advertisement that the book is only $8.99. A good portion of readers around the world are strongly influenced by bestseller lists and the mysterious allure that clings to books that have attained that bestseller status. There’s definitely logic in this; the more people that like this book, the more likely a random individual is to like it as well. Popularity is telling, and there’s no denying that bestseller books which are regularly bashed as bad apples spoiling the bunch–The DaVinci Code, Twilight, and so on–have something that draws people to them. It may be a fast-paced plot or a story with identifiable wish-fulfillment, and there’s nothing wrong with reading books for these reasons. Still, though, and this is where I mark myself as a snob who has yet to shake old habits, there’s something distinctly uncomfortable to me about being seen reading a bestseller. I freely admit that this is my damage, not the book’s; I also feel slightly awkward or conspicuous reading YA or SF/F in public. It doesn’t matter what I would enjoy more, but the fact is, I feel smarter and more legitimate if someone catches me reading Anna Karenina on the plane than, say, Wild Magic (putting aside the sheer awesomeness of Tamora Pierce). Nevertheless, I have been working hard to shake these feelings, because being popular or a genre novel or non-“literary fiction” does not make a book any less legitimate or any less something to read, and enjoy, and analyze.

I say all this (woo woo, all aboard the Tangent Train!), but with Prep it was a moot point. Both times I’ve read it so far, it has been nearly from start to finish, absorbed in it while curled up in a nest on the couch or in bed while dishes pile up and other work begs to be done. I completely understand how this book became a national bestseller. If Prep is one thing, it’s thoroughly addictive. “Addictive as M&Ms,” if you believe and agree with the Boston Globe blurb. Me, I find M&Ms somewhat limiting in their addictiveness, unless they’re the peanut butter kind, and would more accurately describe the book (at least for me) to be “addictive as roasted yam slices.” That doesn’t quite have the same ring, though, and while a beautiful shade of orange, yams aren’t as bright and colorful, or as indicative of youth, as M&Ms, so the comparison feels like a deliberate and apt one on the part of the Globe’s reviewer.

What makes Prep so addictive? Part of it, I think, is the boarding school setting. It’s extremely immersive, moreso than a regular high school where there’s home and the mall and friends’ houses–Prep has that, but because it’s a boarding school, those settings that pull away from the 24-hour immersion of Ault become themselves bigger steps, more significant. Speaking of significance, it’s interesting to me that a lot of reviews that came out when it was first released mentioned Prep as being “light on plot.” To me, the slightly meandering, episodic feel is nostalgic. When I think back on my high school years–granted, with much less clarity than grown-up Lee looks back on hers–it’s with that same feeling, of this-is-a-story-that-happened and this-is-another-one. It’s striking to me how small things make or break a young person’s world; I was really surprised when I actually paid attention to the plot of “A Christmas Story” for the first time in years recently and realized how small, how trifling wanting a rifle for Christmas and not getting it seems now. But even so, our worlds aren’t often made up of huge intergalactic wars or battles between good and evil. We struggle through the small things and they become significant in our day, and that’s what the plot of Prep feels like to me: a young woman finds that her world increasingly revolves around one thing–a boy–and when she finally gets what she thinks she wants, she finds it isn’t as good as she cracked it up to be.

Some of the parts of the books that stood out the most to me were her interactions with her parents. I don’t know if I just have a thing for parent-child relationships in books, but whatever. What made them significant for me what the level of expectation her parents have for her, and how angry and disappointed her father is when she talks back and treats them disrespectfully during their visit to Ault. The second time through, all I could think was, isn’t that how teenagers are expected to act? what’s the big deal? It seems like such a small thing, like something her father should write off as a product of youth and rebellion and hormones, but somehow the most obvious and insignificant-seeming things don’t seem that way when one is in the middle of them, instead of looking in from outside.

Lee herself, too, is part of what I think makes Prep so absorbing. I found her largely unlikeable and then, in the same breath, undeniably familiar. She’s something of an uncomfortable mirror, and I imagine this is be the case for most people, with very few exceptions, who pick up and read Prep. (Bookshelves of Doom recently made a side-note in a review about how most, if not all, YA main characters are outsiders or isolated in some way from their peers, and although Prep is not strictly YA–is it the sex that separates it? its supposed aspirations towards “literary fiction”? the length?–that’s definitely the case here. May the god of nerds strike me down for making blanket statements, but most avid readers were a bit weird as children, and that isolation or outsider status creates an immediate connection between the reader and the main character that is harder to forge if the main character is the most popular girl in school, or someone wildly rich and successful–and then, characters like that usually experience a fall that makes them infinitely more identifiable.) Most of Lee’s problems stem from herself and her perception of how she thinks she should be, or how she thinks others think she should be, and it’s somewhat painful to see her go through that. Everything she does is so self-conscious and over-analyzed, and yet she seems surprisingly unconscious of the totality of her own actions. Which, really, seems exactly like a lot of teenagers I’ve known. Maybe the familiarity is what makes Prep so fascinating? Either way, I’d recommend it as absorbing, somewhat painful, somewhat cathartic, and very interesting.

Notable quote:

“I’d always loved the part in movies when a project, or even a person’s whole life, came together: the montage, set to uplifting music, where you saw the spunky multicultural kids set aside their differences and fix up the old man’s house, straighten the hanging shutters, pain the outside, mow the lawn, and weed the flowerbed; or the twentysomething woman who finally lost weight, dancing through aerobics classes, mopping her brow while she rode a gym bike, with a white towel around her neck, and then at least she emerged from the bathroom all cleaned up, bashful but beautiful (of course, she had no idea how beautiful), and her best friends hugged her before she left for the date or party that would be her triumph. I wanted to be that person, and I wanted the in-between time when I improved myself to glide by just that smoothly, with its own festive sound track. But to really learn precalculus would be laborious and miserable.” (p. 262-263)

Jessica’s Fabulously Exciting (and Shiny) Thoughts on the YA Mafia and the Author/Reader Dynamic!

The other day I was mooning around, trying to think up a topic on which I could write a solid journalism-style article (and never you mind why), and Jessica suggested I could interview her about her fabulous and exciting life and ideas. Knowing just how fabulous and exciting (not to mention shiny) Jessica generally is, I obviously accepted.

It was my first time really interviewing someone–unless you count the third grade project I did where I interviewed my mother on her youth and how she got appendicitis on a family vacation, thereby becoming The Daughter Who Ruins Good Times For Everyone–and it kind of shows; the topic sort of meanders from my original idea and I often Show My Opinions more than I really should when I’m supposed to be asking someone else about their opinions, but Jessica saves the day by being an interesting and informed interviewee. So, for your reading pleasure, I present: Jessica’s Fabulously Exciting (and Shiny) Thoughts on the YA Mafia and the Author/Reader Dynamic!

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Look, A Shiny! (Mia Version)

Okay, so I’ve lately become obsessed with combing through Etsy and finding cute jewelry and crafts to moon over. This in particular seems like it would be a popular piece among the book blog circuit, even for people who aren’t so keen on brooches.

Cute, right? I can imagine myself buying a couple of falling-apart SF/F paperbacks to try this myself, but it would lead, at most, to confetti and despair.