“I could compare writing a novel to sculpting a piece of art, and there are some similarities I’m sure, but there is one main difference. With sculpting, you can acquire the clay that you’re sculpting by buying it. With writing, you have to make the clay first.”—Malinda Lo, On Writing the First Draft
ah I'm so happy this is a blog now! I have been coming to the Athenaeum for years.. being a providence native. There is nothing better then spending time in there when you feel like getting away for the noisy world for a bit. It's definitely one of my most favorite things about the city.
Thank you, we’re so glad you found us - in the city and on tumblr!
New to the Athenaeum YA collection is Clueless, the 1995 teen comedy based on Jane Austen’s Emma. From Rotten Tomatoes:
Jane Austen might never have imagined that her 1816 novel Emma could be turned into a fresh and satirical look at ultra-rich teenagers in a Beverly Hills high school. Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and Dionne (Stacey Dash), both named after “great singers of the past that now do infomercials,” are pampered upper-class girls who care less about getting good grades than wearing the right clothes and being as popular as possible. But Cher, who lives with her tough yet warm-hearted lawyer dad (Dan Hedaya) and hunky, sensitive stepbrother (Paul Rudd), also has an innate urge to help those less fortunate — like the two introverted teachers she brings together (“negotiating” herself improved grades in the process) and new friend Tai (Brittany Murphy), who starts out a geek and ends up a Cher prodigy. Cher also possesses her own sensitive side, and she is looking for the perfect boyfriend, whom she ends up finding where she least expected.
Terry Pratchett in his foreword to The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy. Today, April 28th, is his 64th birthday.
Pratchett is the author of the Discworld novels and others, with fifty bestsellers in all according to his official website. After being diagnosed with a form of early-onset Alzeheimer’s Disease in 2007, he donated one million dollars to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, noting in a speech that Alzheimer’s research receives about 3% of the funding of cancer research.
His many works have been adapted into plays, films, radio dramas, TV specials, video games, songs and role-playing games. He has received multiple awards and was even knighted for his services to literature. He continues to write with the aid of dictation.
For most of my life I’ve said it’s The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. It was a formative book for me as a youth, and re-readings still have the power it had initially. However, it’s not a perfect book even by my own standards, and it’s not one I’d recommend to everyone on the planet. It’s hard to pin down what makes a favorite.
If you’re looking for something more in the way of a recommendation, here are a dozen books I consider favorites - some for the quality of their words and ideas, some for the sentimental experience I had while reading them, and mostly a mix of both. Several are YA, and maybe one will be catch your eye.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy by Alison Bechdel
Witch Baby (Weetzie Bat series) by Francesca Lia Block
Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation edited by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergstein
Looking for Alaska by John Green
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody
Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente
Currently on the New YA Bookshelf, Meg Rosoff’s There Is No Dog. From the Newsday review:
Meg Rosoff has written several oddball and utterly compelling young-adult novels, and “There Is No Dog” is her best yet, for it is laugh-out-loud hilarious. The premise is that God is a teenage boy. That would explain a lot, wouldn’t it? This God is surly and self-involved, has little attention span, and even less ability to sort out the mess he set in motion…
God, or Bob, as he is known here, has a beleaguered administrator, Mr. B, who does his best to keep the whole chaotic mess running after Bob’s first flurry of creative inspiration: six days and… fffttt, time to kick back. Mr. B doggedly attempts to answer mankind’s prayers, while the skirt-chasing Supreme Being is deaf to all but the comeliest petitioners. It’s a difficult premise to sustain and has the potential to offend all kinds of people, but Rosoff has the chops to pull it off, and any reader who can get past the idea of God being ruled by adolescent hormones will find truly wonderful theological possibilities.
What's New: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth
Currently on the New YA Bookshelf is emily m. danforth’s debut novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post. From the NPR review by YA author Malinda Lo:
Written in the first person from Cameron’s perspective as she looks back on her so-called “miseducation,” the novel opens in 1989. Cameron is 12 years old, and her parents have just died in a car accident. When she learns that she has been orphaned, her first feeling is relief: Her parents won’t ever learn that only the day before, she had been kissing her best friend, Irene. Cameron’s guilt over the kiss — and her attraction to girls — becomes tangled with her grief in complicated ways. Danforth makes sure that the knot of emotions buried deep in Cameron isn’t unraveled quickly or easily. There are no shortcuts to Cameron’s story, and that’s the reason it works.
Cameron’s friendship with Irene ends, but other girls come to Miles City, Mont., the small, dusty town where Cameron lives… Aficionados of the coming-out story can see the heartache coming a mile away, but that doesn’t detract one bit from its poignancy. The summer before sophomore year, Cameron’s friendship with Coley turns into something more. After they kiss for the first time at Coley’s ranch, Cameron recalls: “I’m not gonna make it out to be something that it wasn’t: It was perfect.”
Perfection, of course, never lasts. When Cameron is outed, her conservative Aunt Ruth sends her away to God’s Promise, a boarding school designed to cure Cameron of her gayness. While Cameron is supposed to be learning to live a holy — that is, ex-gay — life, the irony is that God’s Promise delivers Cameron her first queer community: a group of teens much like herself…
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is indeed an important book — especially for teens growing up today in communities that don’t accept them for who they are. But it is also a skillfully and beautifully written story that does what the best books do: It shows us ourselves in the lives of others.
Currently on the New YA Bookshelf, Mal Peet’s Life: An Exploded Diagram. From The Guardian review by fellow YA writer Meg Rosoff:
Take a big breath before you open this book. In chapter one, a suicidal Nazi pilot swoops out of the sky, inducing a premature birth in a Norfolk rhubarb patch. Four hundred pages later we’ve arrived in lower Manhattan on 11 September 2001, by way of a deeply affecting first love affair and an edge-of-the-seat rendering of the Cuban missile crisis.
…Somehow it all connects, thanks to Peet’s cool eye, generous sensibility and fierce intelligence. It doesn’t hurt that his storytelling prowess is more than a match for the lust of his young protagonists, the inner workings of JFK’s war cabinet, and the gruesome conditions inside a Russian submarine, which “tipped and slewed in the water like a drowned rocking-horse” (and also happens to be carrying an atomic bomb with America’s name on it).
The question that will undoubtedly be raised in relation to this – and one that has been asked of Peet’s work before – is whether it really belongs in the young adult section… the slight sneer that follows the category often suggests it’s a sub-valid form of literature, OK for those not intelligent or mature enough for real books. Life: An Exploded Diagram is a real book, a rare treat for thoughtful readers of any age.
New to the Providence Athenaeum’s YA collection is the 1989 ode to freedom, beauty and seizing the day, Dead Poet’s Society, starring Robin Williams and a young Robert Sean Leonard (now best known as Wilson on House MD). From the Washington Post review:
Before you run off expecting “Robin Williams Live”: He not only turns in an acting performance (and a nicely restrained one at that), but he’s not on screen half the time. “Poets” is about his influence, or teacher John Keating’s influence, on a crop of impressionable young lads at Vermont’s “Welton Academy” (actually Delaware’s St. Andrew’s), where learning is something you take twice daily, so you can wake up a doctor in the morning.
When new professor Keating, a Welton alumnus, brings in his subversive modus operandi (he starts by insisting his class tear out the club-headed introduction to a poetry book), it’s academic liberation from then on. He has them march in circles, stand up on their desks (to see things from another perspective) and generally question conventional thinking. Little by little, his pupils (a fine classroomful of young performers — Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles, Gale Hansen and others) spread their wings.
Cris Beam’s debut novel, I Am J, is currently available at the Providence Athenaeum. Look for it in our YA-themed Crossing Over Staff Picks on the main floor.
I’m always looking for diversity in YA fiction, and I Am J is one of the best LGBTQ YA titles I’ve ever read. J has a lot of struggles to which any young person can relate - he fights with his parents, has a falling out with his best friend, doesn’t know how to act around girls, can’t express his feelings except through photography, and has no no idea what to do with his life with high school graduation on the horizon. He’s also coming into his identity as a transgender guy and has to create a whole new life when he’s forced out of his home - new school, new support network, new future. There are other YA books about transgender teens (Luna, Parrotfish) but I Am J is the first I’ve seen with such a diverse cast of complex characters. I hope a lot of people who have never seen themselves in literature before get a chance to pick up this book, and I hope more like it are to come.
Cris Beam worked with transgender teenagers before she ever conceived of writing about them, and I think the experience shows in her thoughtful but accessible first novel. If you, a friend, or a family member is transgender, or if you just want to learn more, I Am J is a great resource as well as a good read.
What's New: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Currently on the New YA Bookshelf is The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. From the official website: Based on the legends of the eich uisce — the Celtic water horse — The Scorpio Races take place on the tiny, fictional island of Thisby. Each November, water horses emerge from the black ocean and gallop the beach beneath the cliffs of Thisby. And each November, men capture these horses for a thrilling and deadly race.
Both Sean Kendrick, four time champion, and Kate “Puck” Connolly, newcomer to the races, will ride this year, and both of them have more to gain — or lose — than in any previous year. But only one can win.
This Printz honor book was named one of the best for teens in 2011 by The New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Amazon and the Young Adult Library Services Association.
In our first What’s New to feature new YA DVDs, we welcome all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the Providence Athenaeum!
In lieu of a synopsis (the title is a pretty good overview anyway), I’ll give you my top seven episodes for new viewers (I was going to do five, but I had trouble even getting it down to seven!). If you want to dabble before you dive in, try one of these:
Witch (Season 1, Episode 2) Like a lot of shows, Buffy spent its first season finding its footing. The second episode, Witch, is one of the best of this first bunch, and exemplifies some of the overarching themes to come. Buffy struggles to create a sense of normalcy in her life full of vampires and mayhem, and the anxieties of growing up that can feel so monstrous (in this case, living up to your parent’s expectations) take on a truly supernatural form.
Lie to Me (Season 2, Episode 7) If you’re sick of the “vampire craze”, you might like this one. Buffy encounters a cult of vampire worshippers and gives them a much less romantic picture of these creatures of the night. She gets her own kind of disturbing wake-up call when an old friend seeks her out in Sunnydale.
Homecoming (Season 3, Episode 5) High school drama is high as Buffy tries to beat insensitive queen-bee Cordelia for the Homecoming crown. Meanwhile, a gang of villains gather for Slayerfest 98 and Cordy gets caught up in the hunt. I love this episode for its simple plot that delivers a lot of both laughs and action.
Helpless (Season 3, Episode 12) Buffy’s eighteenth birthday is approaching, and her Slayer powers are failing. Without her super-strength, and with her trust broken, she can only rely on herself against one of the show’s most truly frightening villains - Zachary Kralik, who started torturing and killing humans long before he became a vampire.
Hush (Season 4, Episode 10) If you only watch one episode of Buffy, make it this one. The creator, Joss Whedon, wanted to push his limits after being accused of relying on witty dialogue to carry a formulaic show. In this largely silent episode, creepy fairytale monsters called The Gentlemen steal all the voices of Sunnydale in order to remain undetected as they harvest human hearts. Never content to be gimmicky, Whedon uses this brilliant episode to explore the meanings and limits of language and communication.
Fool For Love (Season 5, Episode 7) A character study in Spike, the bleach-blonde bad-boy vamp who had his appetite for destruction disabled and now finds himself falling for the enemy. Flashing back to his life in 1880s England, China during the Boxer Rebellion and 1970s New York, he means to recount slayers he’s killed but ends up revealing a more human nature than he would like to admit.
Checkpoint (Season 5, Episode 12) My personal all-time favorite episode. Sure, the mythology is a little thick by this point, but I still see this one as a great introduction. Buffy’s circle of friends have to explain their roles when the Watcher Council comes to test her slaying methods, and Buffy’s speech at the episode’s close is almost a mission statement: “See, I’ve had a lot of people talking at me in the last few days. Everyone just lining up to tell me how unimportant I am. And I’ve finally figured out why. Power. I have it. They don’t. This bothers them.”
“Quite often somebody will say, ‘What year do your books take place?’ and the only answer I can give is, in childhood.”—Beverly Cleary, librarian, writer and creator of beloved characters such as Henry Huggins, Beatrice “Beezus” Quimby, Ramona Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse. She turns 96 today.
What's New: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Currently on the New YA Bookshelf is Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. From the New York Times review:
Any book that opens with “Once upon a time” is inviting high expectations… In this case, the story that follows, by Laini Taylor, a 2009 National Book Award finalist (“Lips Touch: Three Times”), is a breath-catching romantic fantasy about destiny, hope and the search for one’s true self that doesn’t let readers down. Taylor has taken elements of mythology, religion and her own imagination and pasted them into a believably fantastical collage.
Starting with 17-year-old Karou, who is far from a typical teenager, with hair that grows in a bright ultramarine, no rebellious dye required. That’s not the only thing setting her apart from her fellow students at the Art Lyceum of Bohemia in Prague. The monsters Karou draws — one woman who is serpent from the waist down, another with human eyes but a parrot’s beak — are not of her imagination. They are real chimeras, demons, and they are the closest thing she has to family.
Having read it myself, I have to say this one does have something for fantasy fans of all stripes. If you like dark urban fantasy, Daughter offers the beautiful old structures of Prague accessorized with gas masks and monsters. If you like high fantasy, it’s got mythical beasts, ancient civilizations and endless war. If you like awesome female protagonists, there’s Karou - a blue-haired art student who keeps a knife tucked in her boot. If you want to get swept up in a paranormal romance, Daughter has an epic star-crossed love that outshines any sparkly vampire.
After extensive coverage on other literature, pop culture and news sites, Anna Holmes at The New Yorker gives her take on Hunger Games Tweets, a tumblr documenting and discussing ignorant remarks made via twitter about the film adaptation’s casting. If you follow through to the Hunger Games Tweets tumblr, be aware that there is foul and racist language as well as spoilers for The Hunger Games within.
In addition to offering object lessons in bad reading comprehension, Hunger Games Tweets—there are now more than two hundred up on the blog—illuminated long-standing racial biases and anxieties… They also beg the question: If the stories we tell ourselves about the future, however disturbing, don’t include black people; if readers of “The Hunger Games” are so blind as to skip over the author’s specific details and themes of appearance, race, and class, then what does it say about the stories we tell ourselves regarding the present?
…[Executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation Deborah] Pope tells me that data analyzed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center in 2010 found that only nine per cent of the three thousand four hundred children’s books published that year contained significant cultural or ethnic diversity. She points out that the white default—in books, as in other forms of mass media—is learned and internalized early, including by children of color. It takes vigilance—and self-awareness—to overcome.
What's New: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
Currently on the New YA Bookshelf, Jennifer E. Smith’s The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. From Mint Tea and A Good Book:
Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?
Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan’s life. She’s stuck at JFK, late to her father’s second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon to be step-mother that Hadley’s never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport’s cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he’s British, and he’s in seat 18C. Hadley’s in 18A.
Twists of fate and quirks of timing play out in this thoughtful novel about family connections, second chances and first loves. Set over a 24-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver’s story will make you believe that true love finds you when you’re least expecting it...
I love, love, love books that are set in a short time period because there’s so much action and you just feel like you’re “getting everything.” And when I heard that The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight was set in just about 24 hours, I was eager to get my hands on a copy… There’s a level of detail with this book that you can’t get when the book spans over months and months. There’s also that sense with this book that you also get with traveling (coincidence?) where you can’t believe that the thing you did this morning was earlier today because it seems like so many years/pages ago… Overall, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is a great contemporary novel… And it’s a great read for traveling too!
“Books are the perfect entertainment: no commercials, no batteries, hours of enjoyment for each dollar spent. What I wonder is why everybody doesn’t carry a book around for those inevitable dead spots in life.”—Stephen King
What's New: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
New to the Providence Athenaeum’s YA section is New York Times Bestseller Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. From the blog of Ransom Riggs:
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here—one of whom was his own grandfather—were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.
A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.
“As you read a book word by word and page by page, you participate in its creation, just as a cellist playing a Bach suite participates, note by note, in the creation, the coming-to-be, the existence, of the music. And, as you read and re-read, the book of course participates in the creation of you, your thoughts and feelings, the size and temper of your soul.”—Ursula K. Le Guin
“The best candy shop a child can be left alone in, is the library.”—Maya Angelou, poet, activist, and author of the much acclaimed and beloved auto-biography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Today, April 4th, is her 84th birthday.
What's New: The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare
Currently on the New YA Bookshelf, the first two books of Cassanda Clare’s Infernal Devices trilogy, Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince. The third, Clockwork Princess, comes out in 2013. From the official website:
When 16-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London’s Downworld,where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.
Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What’s more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa’s power for his own.
Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by—and torn between—two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm’s length… everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world… and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.
"Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a publisher hearing a pitch about a children’s book whose tangled plot braids together quantum physics, fractions and megaparsecs (a measure for distances in intergalactic space). The book also casually tosses out phrases in French, Italian, German and ancient Greek. Sound like the next kids’ best-seller to you?
It didn’t to the many publishers who rejected Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, which turns 50 this year. The novel was an immediate hit with young readers and with critics when it was published, and it won the Newbery Medal in 1963. Since then, it has remained a beloved favorite of children and adults alike.
But it almost didn’t see the light of day. At the time, L’Engle already had six books to her name, but publishers were perplexed by her latest.
L’Engle’s granddaughter, Charlotte Jones Voiklis, describes the publishers’ befuddlement to All Things Considered host Melissa Block: ‘Was it for adults, was it for children? What is this, science fiction? Oh, I know what science fiction is, but there aren’t female protagonists in science fiction. Are you sure you want to talk about good and evil — isn’t that a little bit philosophical? Can’t you just cut that part out?’
Despite considerable misgivings, Farrar, Straus and Giroux bought the book. They sent it to an outside reader, who called it ‘the worst book I have ever read.’ The book’s editor admitted it was ‘distinctly odd’ but conceded: ‘I for one believe that the capabilities of young readers are greatly underestimated.’
His faith in young readers paid off. There are currently 10 million copies of the book in print.”