Remembering William Sleator

When I got my first job, in the marketing department at Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, the prospect of working with kids’ and teen books was exciting enough to have me giddy and nervous and delighted on a regular basis.

Then they handed me the key to the bookroom.

This bookroom, before the office moved a few months later, was a long, hallway-like space filled with tall industrial shelves. I could’ve spent days in there. It wasn’t ALL the books, but it was a wide selection of things we had on hand in case someone wanted or needed them. Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books, Katherine Paterson books I’d never even heard of before, books from authors I’d yet to encounter —

And a book I’d been looking for for years. I’d read it in elementary school. I loved it. It was like Nancy Bond’s A String in the Harp, a book that stuck with me though I forgot the title and the author’s name for years on end. I found the Bond novel doing searches for Welsh mythology and young adult novels; I found William Sleator’s Interstellar Pig because it was sitting on a shelf staring at me. The cover was different, but I knew it was that book, the one about the kid at the beach house who starts playing a game with his neighbors, only maybe it’s not really a game, and maybe they’re not really his neighbors. Ominous, fun, totally engrossing, Interstellar Pig loomed large in the mythology of my young self’s reading life. I’d never had any idea the author had so many other books, or was so popular. You don’t come out of the Elmira Elementary School library with a grand sense of scale; you come out wondering if anyone else ever read that copy of Watership Down, or wondering why, of all the books in all the libraries, it was that one about Ben Franklin and the mouse that was assigned reading.

I never read any other William Sleator books. The Boxes came out while I worked at Penguin, and it sat on my at-work to-read-someday shelf forever. I knew I should read The House of Stairs. People always talked about it. There were other books, too. I kind of thought there would always be other books.

Publishers Weekly has reported that William Sleator died yesterday in Thailand. He was only 66, which is too young.

Go and read his books, if you haven’t already. You might also read this Nick Antosca interview with Sleator. Just read, and remember those stories — scary, thoughtful, sharply intelligent and wickedly fun — that you might’ve forgotten you knew.

Remembering William Sleator

What’s Wrong with Torchwood?

The first episode of the second season of Torchwood opens with a blowfish driving a sports car. It doesn’t really look that much like a blowfish, but I’ll take Gwen Cooper’s word for it.

This sequence — go on; it’s only a minute — sums up a lot of the initial charm of Torchwood, the Doctor Who spinoff which once freely mixed camp with its saving-the-world-from-aliens premise. It was a twisted version of The X-Files with a sense of humor and a lot more sex. If you didn’t laugh at the absurdity of the blowfish scene, you’re very possibly not its audience.

Or weren’t. Everything changed with Torchwood: Children of Earth, the intense, bleak, impressive miniseries that aired in 2009. I blogged about Children at length for the Eugene Weekly, and I loved the series for its fearless approach to horrible situations. People die without reason; a healthy dose of cynicism regarding the powers that be turns out to be a handy thing; saving the world requires incredible sacrifice for which there is no balm, no salve, no forgiveness. Engrossing, taut, and imperfect — the pacing went a little wonky, and the score butted in a lot — Children of Earth was Torchwood gone sideways.

Torchwood‘s new direction works far less well. Torchwood: Miracle Day is full of change: it’s set in America, for starters, which involves a lot of unfunny “translation” jokes and painting-with-broad-strokes ideas about what America and its people are like. (The jokes also come fairly quickly on the heels of a handful of similarly flat cracks in spring’s season openers of Doctor Who.) Two major and two minor characters return, and the rest of the show is filled out by too many characters I care too little about. Yes to Dr. Vera Juarez, sharp as a tack, efficient, impatient, logical; yes to Jilly Katzinger as she appeared in the first three episodes, though the incompetent/giddy version of Jilly that appears in episode four seems like a different character.

I’m less impressed with Rex Mathison and Esther Drummond, the stand-ins for a new American audience (now that the show is on Starz, not BBC America) who are both CIA agents now on the run as a result of their curiosity about Torchwood. The word appeared online everywhere, then disappeared from the entire internet; at the same time, people stopped dying. Everything is connected, but the show is taking its own sweet time with the how and the why and the things that lured me into the show in the first place: Snappy Gwen Cooper, a police officer turned heart of the Torchwood team; Jack Harkness, the (mostly) immortal leader and sometime pal of the Doctor; and curious, playful, dark, sometimes clever plots that have as much to do with the relationships between the characters as they do with the promise and peril of alien life and technology.

As a friend put it, right now it’s like Torchwood got in a bar fight with NCIS or CSI and lost. The last episode included a lengthy heist that lost most of its power because it was clear from the word go that the nameless man on Torchwood’s trail was going to catch up to them mid-thievery. A lot of time is spent with fancy Torchwood computer software, gizmos we’ve seen in other seasons, and characters who are a lot less fascinating than the show seems to find them. Dialogue clunks and grates and tells us what we already know, and the focus is too rarely on Gwen or Jack. When it is, Jack’s off getting laid (which is realistic enough, given the situation) and Gwen’s on the phone to her tiresome husband, Rhys, asking about their baby.

Like Gwen, Esther has family to fret about, or at least to provide an excuse for her to put the team in danger. Meanwhile, a creepy pedophile, played with disturbing relish by Bill Pullman, becomes an unlikely poster child for the “miracle” — he was the first person to not die — a fake Sarah Palin natters about being a mom and a voter and gosh, just sure her idea is the right one, and a sly pharmaceutical rep with a gorgeous red coat sticks her finger in the pot and stirs wherever possible.

Torchwood‘s not awful. But Miracle Day will test your patience. We’re four episodes in, but the plot is advancing too slowly while simultaneously lacking emotional resonance. What’s at stake, other than Gwen’s admittedly adorable baby? The world is in crisis, the population is soaring, the devil is in the drug companies, but nothing about the show feels big despite the obvious scope. From camp to drama to … procedural?

I’m holding out hope that there is much more than meets the eye to all of this. A quick reference to families that will rise, a throwaway comment about how germs benefit from an undying populace — there’s a foundation for a good story, but it’s shaky. Splicing serious-American-television DNA with Torchwood’s brand of serious campiness, it turns out, is about as awkward as it sounds.

So far.

What’s Wrong with Torchwood?

Read All the … Other Things

So as it turns out, maybe, when you’ve decided that your summer reading (and beyond) project is to read all the books on your  to-read shelf, the best thing to do is NOT get yourself engrossed in a 5000 page (and counting) fantasy epic.

Translation: What I should’ve posted a month ago: BRB, going to Westeros.

(Also, there will be spoilers below, though not for the newest book.)

I just put down A Feast for Crows and will be picking up the “human-head-sized” A Dance with Dragons from the estimable Tobias Carroll tonight, or maybe tomorrow. A day or so without a Martin tome in my hand wouldn’t hurt. Right? There are, in fact, other books in the world, three or four of which are scattered around my apartment in various states of unfinishedness, and 140 or more of which are still on the bookcase that is one of the first things I see in the morning. Hey, the books say. Hey. Remember us? You said you were going to love us and read us and put words about us on the internet. Dirty liar.

The deeper I get into George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world, the more absorbed I get — and the more frustrated. A Feast for Crows expands his world massively, building on the way each previous book broadened the perspective, and then stretching it even more. There are tricks with names, cliffhangers for beloved characters, other beloved characters entirely missing from the story — and new characters about whom I just don’t care at all (I’m looking at you, all the Greyjoys who aren’t named Asha). A character who once seemed deviously adept at steering court machinations either becomes an idiot, is ill-served by the men surrounding her, or gives way entirely to fear for her children; I’m still not sure which it is, or how I feel about Cersei’s story, or how I feel about Martin’s female characters overall. Something I can’t quite pin down isn’t sitting quite right with me, even as I love stubborn Brienne, can’t wait to get back to Dany, and admire the different ways Sansa and Arya are learning to adapt.

I think part of it comes down to this: Though Martin is clearly aware of, and often playing with, the limited possibilities for women in the sort of world he’s built, those limitations sometimes feel as if they still might overpower even the most dominant women’s narrative arcs. Cersei loses her grasp on the kingdom because she puts her children before all; Dany sees all her subjects as her children, and finds power in them calling her “Mother.” Catelyn Stark makes terrible, foolish choices for her family — she’s hardly the only person to do so, but she and Cersei are the only characters whose love for and dedication to their children leads them to horrible places. Ned Stark lost his head to a noble and flawed notion of honor. I’ve yet to see a man make an error in judgement, or rattle a kingdom to the edge of war, because he was worried about his kids. *

But therein lies the rub: It’s often the women whose decisions and actions set things in motion. (Women, and children, as the nasty King Joff’s decision at the end of Game of Thrones is one of the acts on which all other things pivot.) No one fears the Queen of Thorns, and to the south, there’s an entire desert full of equally prickly, sly women. When I get fed up with one aspect of the story, something else twists, things settle into place, and it works. I can barely track all the characters, let alone how I think and feel about each of their arcs, and the power given to or taken from them, and the fascinating and horrible reasons for which they make all their decisions.

I also can’t seem to get anything done but reading. So for this last (thus far) book, I’m going to do the obvious thing: Combine my distraction with my project, and blog my reading of A Dance with Dragons. It’s 1040 pages (though doubtless at least 50 of those are the endless lists of Houses and courts at the end of the book), so I’m thinking a post roughly every 200 pages.

Starting tomorrow. After I catch up on Torchwood. Which the internet seems to be barely discussing at all. What gives, nerdpals?

* Though there’s a case to be made that all Littlefinger does – and Jaime, at first – is for love, or lust, whichever you want to call it.

Read All the … Other Things

Read ALL the Things: Valente, Murakami, Martin

Books added to the Shelf of Doom since last post: Embassytown, China Mieville; Pretty Hate Machine, Daphne Carr. To give myself more credit than necessary, I did order PHM before beginning this quest.

Currently reading: Didion, Didion, Didion

Summer does something to ambition. Or maybe that’s just me; I’ve spent my working life on either a publishing schedule (summers slow) or an alt-weekly schedule (summers slow, in theory), and I’m still adapting to the OMG humidity of Brooklyn in July. But I have been reading. And with every book I’ve picked up, I’ve wanted to just keep reading books by the same author. I resisted the urge to read more Ellen Gilchrist and read Haruki Murakami. I resisted the urge to read more Murakami and read George R. R. Martin. I resisted the urge to read more Martin … no, actually, I didn’t. But I did make a deal that I won’t get my hands on A Clash of Kings until I’ve read three more books — not these three — for this project.

But before all that, I read Catherynne M. Valente. I’ve been gnawing at my own thoughts about and around The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making for weeks and weeks and weeks, and for a handful of reasons. One, I don’t so much worry about doing the book justice — plenty of others have done that, and this is a reaction blog, not a review blog — as doing my own feelings about and around it justice. And two, many of those feelings are tied up in the internet, and social groups therein, and how you come to have Ideas about things and people you really aren’t sure you have any call to have said Ideas about.

An editor friend said, a few weeks ago, that Fairyland isn’t a book for children; it’s a book for grown-ups who want to feel like they did when they read certain books when they were kids. She said this after I said it was The Phantom Tollbooth. She also said it was Lewis, and Carroll, and we threw some other things into the conversation.

None of this is a bad thing; all of this is true. Fairyland is a lot of things tied up in a bow and then decorated with Valente’s personal flourishes and those of her tribe. Or at least, that’s how it feels when you come to it from a certain (and self-chosen) just-outside-the-window perspective; I don’t know the author, but I read her blog, and some of her friends are my friends, and so I feel like I’m watching their group at lunch across the quad while talking about zines with this girl named Aimee with whom I did such things in high school.

That isn’t a complaint, not in any way, shape or form. It’s an acknowledgment of how the way the internet brings us together — I love reading Valente’s blog, and I admire the respectful, enthusiastic, giving relationship with her readers and friends that is apparent from it — can also give so many more pieces of information that we glue into our mental scrapbooks, those pages that overlay every piece of writing we come to. Every story I’ve read or heard or paged through, every LiveJournal entry by everyone, but especially by the author, is another piece of the story I read when I open a book. My book starts where your book starts, but it also starts in a million other places. Books are like New York City; everyone has their own version. This is mine.

I can’t read Fairyland as if it were written by a stranger, a mysterious woman in a high castle. I don’t want to. But if I were little, if I were 10 or 12 and done with Juster and Lewis and Anderson and Cooper and moving on, I would, and it would be amazing. Because the other person this book is for is that particular kid who wants nothing more to walk further into that world – the one where authors wear red shiny dresses to their readings and know all the secrets of all the Fairylands they can imagine (which is a lot). They will pull you into that world with their personal, glorious, ordinary stories, and resistance is entirely futile.

Fairyland works very smartly to be for those kids. September, its heroine, is not a princess or a sweet blonde thing or a girl easily frightened (I’m suddenly reminded of young Amy Pond, in the Doctor Who episode “The Eleventh Hour”). She does get scared, but she pulls herself together, makes friends with a Wind and a Wyverary and a Marid, and completes the difficult quest the Marquess asks of her, only to find that this world, to borrow from Labyrinth, is not always what it seems, and that the rules of Fairyland are no more set in stone than the rules of our own, though they’re born in the same dark places. Mythology soaks the pages; seasons reach out and grab the unwary; the scope is immense and personal, the geography gloriously imprecise, the darkness as dark as the real fairy tales, the ones Valente knows very, very well; and everything smells just like it should, from a young woman made of soap to the treats of the Autumn Provinces to a salty naked girl on her own raft.

I love this book. It’s coy and honest and smart and sweet and dangerous, and it expects you to keep up.

I should say less about Haruki Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun, not least because Murakami uses so few words to say so much. Like his Norwegian Wood, this book is slim and deceptively simple. A man grows up, missing the friend he made when he was young; he gets married, opens bars, has kids, is happy and isn’t. And then he finds the girl again. Everything goes just as you expect, which is to say that it goes every which way at once: happiness sits overlaid on deep uncertainty, and life’s plainest details reveal the character’s most hidden hearts. But that sounds slightly grandiose, which Murakami is not. Everything is normal-sized, including pain and regret and bitterness, even when they take over.

And then there’s George R. R. Martin, and here is where I will snap this post neatly off behind the “Continue Reading” button, because even though this book came out 15 years ago, a lot of us are just now discovering it and are not fond of spoilers (which there are plenty of in the next few paragraphs). Continue reading “Read ALL the Things: Valente, Murakami, Martin”

Read ALL the Things: Valente, Murakami, Martin

Not lacking for kitchen knives

  1. On his birthday, I tell my father about toting my Global knife — a present from him — to my boyfriend’s house in order to slice vegetables for dinner. I wrapped it in a napkin my mother made in the ’70s, though I left this detail out during the phone call, and carried it and a cheap plastic Ikea cutting board in a brown paper tote bag left over from a trip to Eastern District. I did this twice, actually, once with a jar half full of Manhattans. The jar still smelled a bit of bloody mary mix, but it didn’t ruin the drinks.
  2. My dad says he may have extra knives. I know what this means. He has a lot of knives. New ones and old ones. There is a reference to having more than one knife block.
  3. A box of knives is promised. He says there may be overlap with what I already have. I refrain from mentioning that I left Oregon with only the knives he’d given me — the Global and two paring knives — and a bread knife that was a gift from friends.
  4. Some time later, I come home to a box in the entryway. The box is full of knives, carefully packed, one in a locking safety sheath. There are five of them, including an enormous chef’s knife and a bread knife, which I immediately set aside to fill the knife-shaped hole in a certain other apartment. Another knife clearly has a specific purpose, though I’m not totally clear what that purpose is. A filleting knife? A boning knife?
  5. After the knives are pulled from the box, I stand over the sink, carefully sorting the dissolvable packing peanuts from the non-cornstarch kind, before putting the rest of the knives away (carefully making sure the blades are not touching each other, as I do not have a knife block). I am not sure whose child this makes me, but I’m going to write a thank-you email soon.
Not lacking for kitchen knives

Read ALL the Things: Revisiting Ellen Gilchrist

Forgive me, internet, for I have slipped. It had been … at least a month since I last bought a book. Yesterday I bought two. Does anyone remember Nick Hornby’s delightful Believer column in which he documented what he read vs. what he bought? This project definitely threatens to slip into that territory. For the record, I came home from Word with A Game of Thrones (because I’m caught up on the series and just know I’m going to want more the moment Sunday’s season finale airs) and Alina Simone’s You Must Go and Win (because she was really funny when I saw her read last week, and I’m inclined to support anyone who stands in Word’s tiny, wonderful basement and does a deadpan Britney Spears cover).

But then I pulled an older book off the Shelf of Doom and fell right into it. Now, the real danger is the temptation to order every Ellen Gilchrist book I can from Powell’s. I used to have so many of them. I had them for years. More years than I remembered; my copy of The Annunciation dates back to when I noted the dates I finished books on their inside covers (a habit I’m tempted to pick back up, Goodreads or no Goodreads). It’s entirely typical that I pared down the stack to just two before I moved — and then promptly remembered why I had all those books in the first place.

I picked up Gilchrist for a purely self-centered reason: When I was in college, my stepfather read something I wrote — an essay, a paper, a story; I remember writing about watching tiny spiders appear from a nest on my backyard playground — and told my mother I could be the Ellen Gilchrist of the Pacific Northwest. My mother told me, and I, ignorant and curious, went to Smith Family and bought the Gilchrist book that looked the most interesting.

Or maybe I picked The Annunciation because it was her first novel. Maybe not. My messy scribble inside the cover says “Summer 1996,” which is a story of its own.

I remember almost nothing about the book, but that it made me pick up all these other now-lost Gilchrists. My January culling left me with only The Anna Papers and The Courts of Love. Why did I pull Anna off the Shelf of Doom yesterday? Because I tried Out of Africa and wasn’t in the mood. Because I want to alternate brand-new books with the books I’ve had the longest. Because some part of my brain remembered that Gilchrist writes fearlessly about fearless women, fearful women, passionate women who make mistakes and aren’t afraid to think their lives are charmed or cursed or wonderful, despite the pressures of family and the rest of the world.

Anna Hand isn’t entirely likable, which is why I like her so:  Continue reading “Read ALL the Things: Revisiting Ellen Gilchrist”

Read ALL the Things: Revisiting Ellen Gilchrist

Fish, Barrel: YA vs. WSJ

Not for the first time, I feel a little like I’ve been trolled by a major newspaper. Just recently, we had The New York Times‘ inane Game of Thrones review (it’s for boys and the “sexy” bits were added to lure women); the NYT again with a review declaring that YA fiction’s purpose is to tell a story and provide a message; and now the Wall Street Journal has joined the fray with a piece — somewhat questionably labeled a book review — decrying the terrible, dark, violent, gloomy state of young adult literature. These pieces almost read as if they’re positioning themselves to get a response — knowingly assigning a reviewer who doesn’t care for a genre and is likely to say something dismissive, or creating a straw-man argument so that the writer can appear to be responding to a trend, not just bitching in a vague and overgeneralized way.

And even as I feel like I’m playing into their link-baiting hands, I get irritable and cranky and feel compelled to post something, somewhere, in response.

Can I add anything to the chorus of voices pointing out what’s wrong with this piece? Is it worth writing a response when this ground has been so thoroughly covered, from so many sides? The arguments have been made, and well, by Cecil Castellucci writing for the L.A. Review of Books; Josie Leavitt writing for Publishers Weekly; author Gayle Forman, from a journalist’s angle; author Laurie Halse Anderson, writing with anger and compassion;  everyone posting on Twitter with the hashtag #YASaves; and The Horn Book‘s Roger Sutton, whose perspective is as refreshing as ever.

But every response still matters, because they’re our responses as readers, and as former (or current) teens. Every story about a girl who found solace in a dark book that stretched her understanding, or about a boy whose world grew because of the gritty story he read — every one of those personal anecdotes is the argument against the WSJ‘s narrow-minded piece. They pile up untidily, like stories do; they link dirty, tired, exhilarated hands and form a bigger, longer tale, all of our individual moments knotting themselves into something bigger than each of us.

My story is simple. I was a pretty good kid, but I never felt like I belonged. Books — young adult books, fantasy books, all kinds of books — gave me stories in which that could change. They promised that the world was bigger, and that it was full of more kinds of people than I could imagine, plenty of whom were just as unsure and unsatisfied as I was. I read countless fantasies in which a seemingly ordinary but unhappy, uncomfortable kid found out she really had another life waiting, if only she could get through the challenges and obstacles that waited on the path to that life. Maybe a girl would become queen; maybe a boy would save the world. Maybe it was the other way around.

Some of these stories were fluffy and light, but others went to dark places full of loss, grief, violence, suffering and painful survival. They all said the same thing, though: You can get through it. You can find allies. You can fight your battles no matter what shape they take. You will change, and your life will change.

Not all the characters who change their lives and/or their worlds turn out to be world-saving wizards, reluctant revolutionaries,  or long-lost monarchs, but some of them do. There are plenty of brilliant, dark books that take place in the real world, but I always opted for the books with the heightened, fantastical stakes, where magic and horror helped reflect the internal reality that whatever we’re facing is often the most important thing ever, even when we’re not 15 anymore. For Buffy Summers, not going out one night really will mean the world ending. For the rest of us, the results are usually smaller, but the hurt and excitement is just as real.

I still read a lot of YA and I still look for these stories. They’re the ones that remind me how to find magic in the ordinary, or how to take scary leaps of faith, or how to make the things you need out of the things you have, and how to be grateful and compassionate. They’re the ones that remind me that family is built as well as born, that your friends will save you and you’ll save them back, and that the fantastical can be a beautiful metaphor for feeling different. They’re the ones that tell stories in which teenagers do great, incredible things, and stand up to broken societies, and see the world in ways I never would have thought of. They’re the ones in which the battle to be yourself can be the most difficult fight of all, and the ones that remind us that everyone else is fighting that same battle — and sometimes losing.

They’re the ones full of hope. And the darkest books are often the most hopeful, whether they’re Laurie Halse Anderson’s heartbreaking Speak (a book I love unreasonably), or Patrick Ness’ heavy, relentless Chaos Walking series, or books that are a different kind of dark, like Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series and countless other books in which the world the adults have made is not the world in which the next generation wants to live.

If the books seem to get darker, it’s worth asking where the darkness comes from.

There were dark books when I was a kid. There were dark books when you were a kid. There were dark books handed to me in high school, safely patted down by the authorities and deemed acceptable, and there were dark books I pulled off the shelves myself. It’s been pointed out that kids can self-edit, that they skip or ignore the things they’re not ready for or don’t fully understand. A book lets you do that. I see what I’m reading in my head, like a tiny, flickering movie screen I control. If a thing is too much, I don’t have to see it.

If a thing is too much, you don’t have to read it. But you also don’t have to freak out and fear for the children, because if young adult books have taught those of us who read them anything at all, it’s that the children are a lot smarter than we remember being.

Fish, Barrel: YA vs. WSJ

Read ALL the Things: The prequel

It’s a prequel for a very simple reason: My mind likes to make up complicated rules, and one of those, for this game, is that books that I’ve picked up in the last few weeks that never made it to the Shelf of Doom, well, they don’t count. (And books I borrow from elsewhere don’t count at all, unless I feel like it. But these books have been sitting on my desk insisting that I do Something about their presence there.)

This is absurd, clearly, but for the purposes of keeping the tricksy parts of my brain happy, I’m ok with deciding that the book I’m reading right now counts, because it sat on top of the shelf, but these three don’t, because they either went straight into my bag or, in one case, straight into my hand when I walked out of the Strand and into the subway.

That book was the Kate Bernheimer-edited My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales, which is the kind of book that I pick up from a table somewhere and start cursing about: How come no one told me? Not one of my friends saw fit to mention this fat little tome, full of stories I’ve read (Kelly Link’s magical “Catskin”) and stories I didn’t know I was going to fall head over heels for (Shelley Jackson’s “The Swan Brothers”)? How could the world keep this secret so long?

I grew up on fairy tales, earning actual gold stars that were stuck to the inside of construction paper folders, marking how many stories my elementary-school self had read. Every time I try to write fiction, it’s a fairy tale of some kind. (Most things are, but some things wear it closer to the skin than others.) I carried this book around for weeks. I skipped two stories, or skimmed them, because I couldn’t entirely leave them alone, but the style was too much for me. I wound Neil Gaiman’s “Orange,” which owes itself to no single story, around my little finger, and I fell into Timothy Schaffert’s version of “The Little Mermaid.” Continue reading “Read ALL the Things: The prequel”

Read ALL the Things: The prequel

Read ALL the Things!

I might identify a little much with Hyperbole and a Half’s brilliantly funny “This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult.” Oddly enough, most everyone I know feels similarly, and that crowd includes some honest-to-goodness talented adults. But maybe some part of each of them is always screaming, “INTERNET! FOREVER…”

Internet Forever is not exactly the rallying cry of a generation. It’s also a really good way to accumulate a considerable to-be-read pile, especially if, say, you, were once a books editor and could never let go of those really interesting books you really hoped to review someday but never had time/space/wordcount/an entire newspaper to devote to them.

This is where my delightfully doomed project comes in: Real ALL the Things!

The concept is simple: All book nerds have a stack of unread books. Some of us shelve them separately from the read books. Some pile them horizontally. Some incorporate them into the shelf with the read books (heathens!). Some desperately hope that the the piles won’t topple on us in our sleep. I’ve been most of these people.

It’s time to take a stand. I’m challenging you — but more importantly, I’m challenging myself — to Read ALL the Things. To take on the pile of unread books — the one that sits there, off-kilter, wondering if you’ll ever put down Entertainment Weekly or turn away from more blogs than you can count and turn back to those pages, those Kindle titles (yes, ebooks totally count, even if they don’t pile up the same way), those hardcovers that have been out in paperback for three years already.

Since my to-be-read shelf is actually almost an entire bookcase, I’m giving myself a little bit of wiggle room. But I’m also making some rule-like things. To wit:

1. Nonfiction is optional. I love nonfiction, but it takes me twice as long to read. Nonfiction is like extra credit in the RAT challenge.

2. All read things must be blogged, even if it’s a puny little entry about how many tears I cried at the end of some really touching novel I don’t really want to tell you, the entire world, was on my shelf.

3. RESIST THE URGE TO ADD BOOKS TO THE SHELF. All new books must be begun immediately, before they so much as touch the to-be-read shelf. They are still Things in the grand scheme of Things, but … you see where I’m going with this, right? The shelf is infinite. The shelf can never be defeated if it’s one book off, two books on. (I bought myself Catherynne M. Valente‘s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by promising myself I would read it immediately. I then got my grabby hands on Emma Forrest‘s heartbreaking and wonderful Your Voice in My Head and, when I finished that, was away from home and had to steal something from someone else’s shelf, so opted for My First Palahniuk and picked up Choke. It’s a vicious cycle. And Fairyland is totally next, as soon as I’m done with sex addicts and feigned choking and envisioning Sam Rockwell, as in the movie adaptation, in my head.)

That’s it. Three is my lucky number and three is a good number of guidelines-slash-rule-like-things. I just want to be able to desire a book, obtain it, and immediately begin to read it without feeling like there are 47 other books I should get to first. This may be an unmeetable goal, but it should be fun to try. Especially if you play along.

Now: Who’s with me?

(Coming soon: A photo of the bookcase in question. Then you can tell me what to read first. Seriously.)

Read ALL the Things!

Awards don’t mean anything

That’s what everyone says, and when I say everyone, I include myself. But all the same, it’s nice to get a dollop of recognition — especially for reviews of books I absolutely loved.

Last weekend, the Society of Professional Journalists, Oregon and Southwest Washington chapter, handed out its annual awards, and the Eugene Weekly swept the arts criticism category. My former colleague Suzi Steffen won first place for her review of the Lord Leebrick Theatre’s production of Eurydice; I came in second and third with reviews of Blake Butler’s Scorch Atlas and David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

It’s often far easier to write about things I don’t care for than it is to find the words to describe what’s wonderful about the things I love. Maybe, though, that’s more the case with movies than with books. Maybe the exquisite sentences and engrossing worlds of these two novels were just that much more inspiring when it came time to piece together sentences of my own.

Maybe I just got lucky. But I’ll take it.

Awards don’t mean anything