In memoriam

This post is dedicated to book covers past…

 

Yesterday, as I was pondering the majestic world that is Pin, I realized how much I miss the days when books had that special “secret picture” behind the front cover. Pin had one, although the most memorable such covers came from the V.C. Andrews series:

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book covers are such a big deal these days. I read blogs with people analyzing every little detail and nuance of the artwork. Which is pretty cool, on an aesthetic level, but I ask…where’s the pragmatism???

 

 

You see, back in the olden days, when a pocket paperback came with a secret picture cover, (or big puffy letters or just a strange cheesy picture or a grammatical error in the title)…you knew what you were getting. The cover set up an expectation.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A secret picture cover said: “I may have been purchased in the supermarket.” “I am meant to be enjoyed and not analyzed.” “I can be read in the bathtub and if you drop me, that’s okay.”

 

Certain other books shapes and artsy covers denoted a literary interior.

 

Those gritty and dramatic covers told other messages. They said: “I will make you look smart.” “I can be read at the café.” “I can be listed as a ‘favorite book’ on your Facebook profile without fear of ridicule.”

But now? The line between commercial and literary covers has been blurred. This seems especially true in the teen horror genre, which is one of my favorites. But I read all kinds of books and now when I go to my bookshelf, I am confused. Is that Haruki Murakami or is it Stephenie Meyer? There is no visual cue. Just these gorgeous evocative pictures and designs that scream read me, me, me, me, me!

But shhh, I’ll tell you a secret. My biggest complaint regarding the dearth of secret picture cover books is this:

I can no longer judge other people by the covers of the books they read.

Yup, that’s right. A great piece of social data has vanished. Poof!

Ah, secret picture cover, I miss you. Gone, but not forgotten…

 
 

 

SCBWI, literary experiments, and musical brilliance

Ah, it’s been an interesting past few weeks, punctuated by a very last-minute decision to attend the SCBWI conference down in Los Angeles.
I don’t know LA, I’ve never been to a writers’ conference, but…the inspiration just struck. And thanks to the inimitable kindness of the GOTYA and YAHighway writers, inspiration became reality. Once there, I wandered around, slightly starstruck, in the dark depths of the Century Hyatt.
Part didactic learning, part ethnography. I attended Gordon Korman, M.T. Anderson, and Jon Scieszka’s breakout sessions and tried to absorb their passion and wisdom for the books they write and the readers they’re writing for.
M.T. Anderson, in particular, gave a wonderful presentation on literary experimentation in children’s books. I loved that he used Daniel Pinkwater’s “Young Adult Novel,” as an example of letting a story become the metaphysical concept that the narrative is about. And while John Barth isn’t a young adult writer, his famous short story “Lost in the Funhouse” does the same thing: following the teenage Ambrose and his family to the beach while at the same time following a self-conscious narrative about how to write a story.
I also relished the way M.T. Anderson made very clear one of the great literary freedoms of writing for children: books can be playful. They can be playful and experimental for deep, meaningful reasons, and they can be playful simply because, well, l’art pour l’art and nothing more.
For the rest of the conference, I dedicated myself to absorbing the culture: from writers, to agents, to editors. There’s really nothing better than hearing people talk about…books, so I just soaked it up. Brought home heaps of books, too. I was very impressed with the genuine sense of support and community from everybody that I interacted with. Thank you to everyone who made me feel like I’m a part of it all.
In happy music news—well, beyond happy, really: ecstatic, elated, double rainbow rapture news—Three Mile Pilot has an album coming out this fall. You can buy it here. I can’t say enough good things about this San Diego band.
By the way, I’m not a music snob. Not at all. But back when I was in college, I remember traveling with a large group of friends up to San Francisco to see them play. One of those unforgettable, rowdy, hormonal, we’re-so-freaking-hip type of nights.
These days, I’m old and boring and don’t get out to clubs that often. But last winter, when I happened to see that Three Mile Pilot was on tour again for the first time in FIFTEEN years, I didn’t think twice about getting tickets. And when I showed up at Bottom of the Hill, it was like an unannounced college reunion had taken place. A large number of us that had been there, in that same club, fifteen years earlier, all ended up there again…simply because we’d all remembered that earlier show and how damn good it was. I can’t think of any other band that could inspire that type of loyalty after not playing for so long. But 3MP, they’re that good. Truly. Check ‘em out.

Loving Day

Loving Day

A special day around my house. A special time to share with my wonderful husband and to rejoice in our beautiful family. But also a time to remember that 1967 wasn’t all that long ago. And to remember that not everyone in this country has the freedom to marry the one they love.

In the sage words of Clarence Darrow:

“You can protect your liberties in this world only by protecting the other man’s freedom. You can be free only if I am free.”

Amen.

Kismet

Well, gee, if my kid doesn’t have the coolest second-grade teacher ever!

After school this afternoon, I heard him head outside into the backyard. It’s perfect this time of year, with the lilac and jasmine in bloom and the sun finally making an appearance. I guess I figured the kid was off riding his bike or climbing trees, but when I peeked, there he was, sitting in the faded Adirondack chair with a huge stack of books at his side. That’s when he told me that his teacher had let everybody in the class pick out ten books to take home as a gift from her. Sweet, sweet, sweet.

It’s true, there’s an undeniable lack of diversity in the books that makes me a little sad, but that’s not to appreciate the fact that he picked out some real gems. Made me nostalgic for my own childhood days when my father worked at the San Francisco Chronicle. He was able to buy the publisher’s review copies at 1/10th the cover price and he would come home just loaded down with an assortment of titles–anything, really–that he thought I might read. And really, I would read anything, so it was a win-win for us all. But it was through this very random methodology of selection that I discovered some of my very favorite authors and books.

I remember reading tons of Gordon Korman, starting with his Bruno and Boots series. In fact, I’m still reading Gordon Korman today…more than twenty-five years later. Just picked up Pop from the bookstore not too long ago. But it’s his Don’t Care High that holds the most special place in my heart.

But a few other books I recall with fondness: Center Line by Joyce Sweeney, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, and Into the Dream by William Sleator.

If you get a chance, give ‘em a read. I know, I know…nice pictures, huh?