Thursday, November 10, 2011

Meanwhile, across the Pond

I'm watching a live stream of James Murdoch being questioned by members of Parliament in London, even as I write. (Thank you, Guardian newspaper.) I continue to be fascinated by this scandal, for reasons too numerous to examine in this post. But here's what struck me this morning:

12.54pm: Louise Mensch apologises that she has to leave immediately after her questions to collect her children which she says are the same ages as Murdoch's.

Could you imagine for one second that a member of the US Congress would say he/she had to leave a hearing to pick up his/her children? Even one as glamorous as Louise Mensch? I await the day.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Why I (still) love the Con

I stopped in at New York Comic-Con tonight on my way home from drinks at the Old Town. Granted, I didn't start attending Comic-Con when it was a few folding tables with old comic books in downtown San Diego. But I have been going for a while. I almost skipped this year, but here's why I still love the Con. Eleven reasons, because prime numbers are cool (at the Con).

1. The Popular Kids can't make it to the Con.
2. People read at the Con.
3. Folks are humble at the Con.
4. They give you the benefit of the doubt at the Con.
5. Good ideas come from the Con.
6. Nobody tries to stop you at the Con.
7. There's a lack of irony at the Con.
8. All body types are celebrated at the Con.
9. The graphics are great at the Con.
10. People share at the Con.
11. There's a lot of hope at the Con.

See you in San Diego.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

To do list for this past Columbus Day

Write till noon
Dye eyelashes
Bike downtown
Come up with good book idea
Occupy Wall Street
Kayak in Hudson
Catch Martin Scorsese's Hugo as a work-in-progress

All done!

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Sometimes I go to the Hungarian Pastry Shop to write. It’s where I’m writing now. I’ve been coming here since I first arrived in New York and lived at the Deanery on the grounds of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (long story) right across the street.

Yesterday I was here working on a picture book text, which I had owed to my gifted and clear-eyed editor, Lee Wade, for some time. I am proud to say I finished a first draft. Now Lee will tear it apart, at least I hope she will.

I was a little distracted – but not too much – by a fortyish, shaven-headed man at the next table who was pitching a business idea to a younger friend? intern? B-schoolmate? It was only when the pitcher described the business as “a reservoir of stories that you can go to any time” that of course my ears pricked up. Like the pitchee, I didn’t really cotton to what this business was. People wrote stories, posted them, and then other people could buy them as a plot for their own work? At least that’s what I think it was. Who would do such a thing I can’t imagine. (It would put Hollywood out of business.) But he was convinced, if not convincing.

It made me think of the Gold Rush and the last last frontier we had: the Wild West. I’ve been thinking about the Wild West because I’m the lucky co-agent of Caroline Lawrence’s Western Mysteries, the first book of which, The Case of the Deadly Desperados, is coming out in Spring of next year. If you think of the series as Deadwood meets Mark Twain by way of Richard Peck, you’ll have the right idea. It’s funny, original, unsparing, and it has the most original hero you’re going to meet anywhere in books next year. I love it.

For a while we thought that space was the next (and final) frontier. But virtual space is our own Gold Rush, and its power and allure are as palpable as they were in 1849, even if the coffee and beans have been changed to espressos and ischlers.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Poetry Friday: The wisdom of Kentucky trees

Here's a poem I received as part of an everyday email today from the wondrous George Ella Lyon:

We're having a cold spell in Kentucky.
The trees keep saying April! April!
and the wind says Fool! Fool!

But we know the trees are right.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Poetry Friday: The Unacknowledged Legislators of Mankind

Marilyn Singer will be one of the panelists tomorrow at a program at the New York Public Library called "A Passel of Poets: Children's Poetry in the Modern Age." One of the questions librarian Betsy Bird asks is "Does poetry for kids ever truly get its due?' I actually think it does; if not publicly, then in the hearts and minds of the readers. Certainly that was true for this reader of poetry.

Shelley called poets the unacknowledged legislators of mankind. Here's an acknowledgment of poetry for a Friday night by way of Kurt Anderson and his radio program Studio 360. Anderson interviewed Palestinian poet Tamim Al-Bargouthi on NPR earlier this week. Al-Bargouthi, previously unknown to this blogger, is a poet who came to the world's attention with his poem "In Jerusalem." His father is Palestinian; his mother Egyptian.

Al-Bargouthi is not in Cairo right now, though from Kurt Anderson's interview it sounds as if he longs to be there. But his contribution has been felt. He wrote a poem about the revolution in Egypt, and faxed it to his newspaper in Cairo. According to Studio 360, when the paper published it, the text was photocopied and distributed among the people risking their lives in Tahrir Square. Al-Bargouthi's image was somehow broadcast "every ten minutes" on sheets pinned up by the people calling for Mubarak's ouster in Cairo. In a revolution, poetry is worth dying for.

This is a transcription of Al-Bargouthi's very rough and off-the-cuff translation on Anderson's radio show. I don’t have any Arabic, so I can neither read nor transcribe his words. I wish I could. But even in this unpoetic translation, the poetry speaks for itself.

O Egypt, It’s Close

We’re close, it’s going to be a good day,

Nothing remains of power but a few batons,

If you don’t believe it, just come to the Square and see.

The tyrant only exists in the imagination of his subjects,

Even those who stays at home after this will be free.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Seen today on Upper Broadway. Between the snow and his expression and the sign -- let there be no mistake: it's the Duck that's not in service -- my heart cracked a little.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ricky Gervais for Newbery/Caldecott Banquet?

Somehow I don't think so.

Ricky Gervais might have been the right host for the Golden Globes this year, but he'd never do at Newbery Caldecott or the National Book Awards or PEN or the Authors Guild. We've had celebrities -- Garrison Keillor (he counts!) and Steve Martin and others. I know the N/C banquet can seem awfully earnest, but honestly I'd take that over ungraceful mockery. People in Hollywood actually work very hard on movies. A lot of films are works of art that will last after we're all gone. Some of them are not, but I think our pals in Tinseltown deserve something better.

So before we in the book community bemoan the fact that the Today show doesn't pick up our authors, or that NBC doesn't cover Poets & Writers, let's remember that when events are not televised, they're allowed to have their own personality and style. Their own profile, warts and all. They're allowed to rejoice in themselves. Sometimes banquets are dull; sometimes speakers are unspeakable; but the banquets I've been lucky enough to attend and the speakers I've been lucky enough to hear are all trying to get at something: that art has a place; that artistic endeavor should be lauded; and that some things are worth taking seriously.

Last week, I was hunting around for photos for my daughter's yearbook page. I found some great old pics of her, and I also found this photo of Virginia Euwer Wolff at the National Book Awards in November, 2001. Below are Jinny's remarks from that evening. After hearing them, Steve Martin (never sufficiently to be praised) said "My God. She went from shock to eloquence in three seconds."

That's the kind of remark we're privileged to hear at a celebration of artistic endeavor that takes itself just seriously enough.

Here's what Jinny had to say:

Like most authors, I have wondered since September 11th what I would ever write again, if I would ever write anything, and if so, would it matter? Usually, the answer has been no, for two months, the answer has been no. You understand, don't you? Of course.

Today my son, Anthony, and I went to the World Trade Center site and we walked around. What I saw was living proof of Faulkner's six. Faulkner said in 1949 in the Nobel speech that if we are not writing about these six things we are not doing our job. They are love, honor, pity, pride, compassion and sacrifice. I think of them as Faulkner's six. I used to have them on my wall until I memorized them and now they're on this wall in here.

And I saw them today at Ground Zero, the work that is going on and the awe and the humility and the hush and the consideration. Love, honor, pity, pride, compassion and sacrifice. That's what you and I and all of us are supposed to be writing about; Faulkner said it and he was right. Thank you.