When I wound up with an airline voucher that would go away if I didn’t spend it, I decided to return “home” to Santa Barbara for the first time in close to 10 years. Even though I’ve lived in Chapel Hill for 23 years, a part of me still yearns for beach walks, mountain hikes, my many friends and the fare of Superica Taqueria.
Rainbow Rowell burst on the scene with “Eleanor and Park” (St Martin’s Griffin, ages 14 and up), the story of an unpopular, unattractive, prickly young woman who wins the love of Park. Park, the book’s second narrator, gets past Eleanor’s guardedness and learns heartbreaking truths that rule her life. Rowell’s first book captured children’s book fans, including the celebrated YA author John Green who wrote a glowing New York Times article, and five writers who gave it starred reviews.
One always wonders about new books from authors whose books have created a sensation. Will they be able to fulfill the promise, or was this a one-time amazement? Elizabeth Wein and Rainbow Rowell have each published a second book this year and all these books deliver!
My children were on the edge of leaving home, my husband told me he wasn’t into traveling when they left, and my work crashed and burned. These events coincided just before I turned 50, scooting me into the depression I’d been skirting for a couple years. A thick glass wall rose from some ugly inferno and slipped between me and the rest of the world. The wall magnified laughter and amplified the conversations of those on the other side. I moped, sulked and lurked invisible behind its glare. I stopped going to parties. Being around more than one other person made me so nervous I’d vanish behind the wall’s cold shield.
When my son and daughter-in-law were new parents, I gave them the audio of Pamela Druckerman’s “Bringing Up Bebe: One American Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting,” narrated by Abby Craden (Random House, approximately 9 hours).
“It’s going to be the next big YA book,” a publicist told me about Rick Yancey’s “The 5th Wave” (G.P. Putnam, ages 12 and up). This is the kind of comment a reviewer has to weigh. Is this sales spin, or a truly remarkable book that will captivate young audiences — and me? The only way to judge the hype is to read, or listen for myself. The last time I’d heard that kind of pumping, a publicist was recommending Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games.” I devoured that book in a weekend and have watched its sales and fan base grow ever since.
People talk about beach reading, but I think first of beach listening. My husband and I visited a friend on Okracoke, and I knew he’d be his usual serious self while driving---eyes on the road, watching for tailgaters, speeders, and lurking police cars. The last time we went, he worried about catching the ferry, disobeyed his own rules and caught a ticket before we made the boat. So I knew there would be no chitchat aside from my periodic plea for a bathroom stop, so I plugged into audios.
Two questions I heard again and again growing up: “Where we you when they walked on the moon?” and, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?”
I have a young friend who was a hero in Iraq, not that he’d claim that title, but I saw him that way. He was part of the team that knocked down doors in Fallujah seeking insurgents, not knowing what, or whom he’d find on the other side of the door.
I gained an interesting perspective when I listened to two books by Chris Bohjalian back to back. I’ve been a fan since his 1998 “Midwives,” but for some reason his 2008 “Skeletons at the Feast” (Random House, 10 CDs, 12 hours) kept sliding to the bottom of my pile. Why? I suspected it might be a tough listen given Bohjalian’s emotive writing. Whatever subject he tackles, he develops characters you care about quickly. And when you’ve just begun to know their inner and outer terrains, he places them in difficult situations. The fact that “Skeletons” was about WWII insured intensity.
In my adolescence, I was decidedly unpopular. If I hadn’t known it before, I certainly did when, at age 10, my best friend told me, “You’re the most hated kid in the sixth grade.”
Generally, I am what a friend calls “an audio slut,” but I quit two audios in a row.
I had to ask myself, why did the voices of these two audios not work? Curiously, both were written by celebrities and both narrated their own work.
The first was Michael Moore’s autobiography, “Here Comes Trouble” (Hatchett, unabridged, 10 CDs, 12 hours) and the second is Ron Clark’s “The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck: 101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers”, read by the author (Simon and Schuster, unabridged,11 CDs. 12.5 hours).
An author’s choice of specifics is crucial to success. I listen for them in the work of my children’s book students, relentlessly pursue and root out generalities in the memoir I’m writing, and am aware of their power in the children’s books I read and the audios I hear. Specifics anchor and animate and can make even the most tired subject new and fresh again.
“I didn’t care much for history while I was in school,” began Kadir Nelson in a recent interview. This is a curious statement from an illustrator-writer who is known to make history shine and has some pretty shiny awards to note his contributions. In terms of illustration, he’s won two Caldecott Honors. One is for his rendition of Carole Boston Weatherford’s “Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom” and the other for Ellen Levine’s “Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad.” Nelson has also written and illustrated two longer books: “We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball” won the 2008 Siebert Medal for nonfiction and in 2011 he won a Coretta Scott King Honor award for “Heart and Soul: The Story America and African Americans.” The latter, told by an unnamed elderly black heroine, blends poignant personal memories and family tales with famous people and known events.
“Gone Girl is the best book I read all summer,” said someone in my children’s book club, “But it’s an adult title.” And then, she shuddered. The following week several people in my exercise class referred to Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” as addictive. I contacted the audio publicist, she gave a third recommendation and sent it immediately.