Saturday, October 31, 2009

Good advice for Halloween

You can see some of the inside and buy it right over here. And you probably should, since it is witty and wise.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

This may be a reach.

So. I've had Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" playing continuously in my head since last Thursday.* (Thanks, Vampire Diaries.) In pondering why it's so catchy, I realized that the refrain has something in common with another song that often gets stuck in my head, "Ultimatum" by The Long Winters.

Now, I know that the main reason these songs are earworms** has to do with the music. But both also involve the idea of reaching and holding.

My arms miss you
My hands miss you.

Enjoy the Silence:
All I ever wanted,
all I ever needed,
Is here, in my arms.

Maybe this also has something to do with why they stick in my head. The concept of reaching out and holding and connecting. It's such an important part of life. And is it perhaps also why book jackets with images of hands are so compelling and appealing?

Or is that a crazy theory?

* There may also have been some secret apartment singing and dancing involved.
**I hate the word earworms. I can't believe I used it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Thinking about the Centuries

One of my favorite books is Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. I've read it many times, but the first time, I borrowed it from a friend in the third grade. She had a hardcover edition that was oversized. The cover shows us Mary in a yellow coat looking over her shoulder while pulling back a wall of ivy. I remember resting it on my lap while I read it. It had heft and weight and smelled of paper and ink and a little of my friend's house. Even now, though I don't have a copy of that exact edition, it's part of how the story lives in my mind whenever I think of it or reread it.

And I thought of that reading experience this weekend after walking through some of the exhibits at the Morgan Library. The museum has a fantastic, if small, exhibit on Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, which includes original art and handwritten original manuscripts. (Undeniably amazing.) But it also has a Gutenberg Bible, letters and original manuscript pages from the likes of Dickens, Eliot, and Hemingway, and a number of illuminated prayer books and bibles. At the end of the summer, I also went to an illuminated manuscript exhibit at the Met which blew my mind a little bit.

Standing in front of a book that's a thousand years old--a thousand years old--with an eReader and a blackberry in my bag made my brain want to implode. That's a millenia of ways to read all within a few square feet. And those centuries-old books are so full of craft. People spent years and years perfecting their skills to make those books. The calligraphy, the artwork, the bookbinding, papermaking . . . it's a work of art. One that you can tell a person, or many people, put care and attention and love into. All books are works of art, even today. Care goes into the choosing of typeface, the layout, design, presentation. Every single detail is taken into account.

The lack of physical presence is one of my worries about ebooks. And that's not to say that I don't like ebooks, or digital books, or whatever is currently developing. I think it's exciting and interesting and part of the future of reading. But have we figured out the craft of creating them yet? Right now, they seem more about convenience and availability, not design or art. A good story is a good story no matter how it's presented, but a good package makes the reading experience even better. None of the digital readers are what I'd call beautiful yet. (Ok, maybe the iPhone is the exception here.) But I think we'll get there, so that reading a digital book has the same physical presence, evokes the same sensory memory that reading The Secret Garden--and so many other books--has always had for me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Big City, Small World

The first year I lived in the city, whenever I went back to my small Pennsylvania hometown for the holidays, I would hear from high school classmates, “Didn’t you move somewhere crazy?”

On one hand, sure, I guess I did. I got run into by an old man in a wheelchair the other day (being pushed by a teenager) while I was standing perfectly still on a street corner. Which is only the most recent in strange things that have happened in the last eight years--and one of the most mild.

But New York, and especially Brooklyn, most of the time feel even smaller than my hometown. Even though there are millions of people in this city, and even though I see so many different ones every single day, I also see familiar faces. I can get on the subway and it’s not all that unusual for one of my best friends to get on the same car. Walking from one of my favorite indie bookstores to the B&N down the street, recently, I ran into another friend and we stopped to talk books and art until we both got too cold. And, of course, children’s publishing is an even smaller world, where everyone knows everyone, and you’re never at an event by yourself. Occasionally even when that event has no relation to publishing (but of course everything to do with good taste).

I always get a warm glow when I run into someone I know. It leaves me smiling. Seeing friends when you expect them and when you least expect them makes this vast city cozy. And surprising, and familiar, and, yes, strange. And it makes it home.

Cue Cheers theme song.