The Classics Revisited

I actually have one more Little, Brown editor to cover, but I threw my back out a couple days ago and sitting up to type at the computer has been particularly uncomfortable. So stay tuned for a further update there.

Have any of you gone back and read those classics you loved years ago…but have never revisited? I was feeling uninspired by the unread books on my personal bookshelves…so I reached for Little Women. I haven’t read it since I was 12 years old or so. Luckily, I had a lengthy subway ride into Manhattan today and was able to get into it….

…And I’m not so sure I like it as much anymore. I mean, don’t get me wrong – reading about the March sisters is just as delightful as can be. They’re some of the best written characters ever. But all of the sisters’ we’ll-try-to-be-less-wicked moralizing is a bit annoying.

This concerns me because I vividly remember falling in love with this book as a kid. So why would it annoy me so much as a grown-up? Perhaps it was just my mood?

But now I’m looking at my shelves – seriously, they’re just to my right – and considering the rest of those classics I loved and have been hanging on to: Catcher in the Rye, The Fountainhead, Fahrenheit 451, Wuthering Heights. These are books that had tremendous influence on me as a teenager – and I haven’t read them since (I don’t usually read books more than once). I definitely think I’ll resist cracking them open again anytime in the near future. Little Women has lost its luster a bit for me now – I’d hate for that to happen with the others.


YAY! WEDNESDAY! Oh Yeah, It's Back!

Oh, I’m well aware of how many weeks it has been since I’ve covered the NYT Dining section. The reasons why aren’t terribly complicated: 1) I’ve been ridiculously swamped with all things life-related, and 2) I have been horribly uninspired by the Dining section lately. Really. The recipes have been blah, the restaurant coverage has been blah…as you can tell, I’m not so concerned with burning bridges with Frank Bruni. Do you have any idea how much would have to happen before someone like me came on his radar? Yeah, I’m not concerned in the least.

Anyhoo, this is the week where it finally came back together, and I just pored over every inch of the paper. Needless to say, they caught my attention with this picture on the front page:

Shazam! As you’ve probably guessed, the article was about heritage turkeys and trying to preserve not only certain breeds of turkeys but also preserve the integrity of the term “heritage.” The article’s author, Kim Severson, told one farmer’s story; the farmer is the preeminent heritage turkey farmer in the country, and there are several mentions of how much he loves his turkeys. It’s funny – I’ve heard this about turkey farmers before. Likewise, an article about buffaloes several weeks ago talked about the same thing – how attached to the animals these farmers are. I find this fascinating. Clearly I am so out-of-the-loop with Mother Nature. I can’t imagine being so attached to an animal or “the land.” I feel a sense of detachment, lack of understanding, and…indifference, perhaps. Definitely not good. But what to do? Leave my 17th floor apartment in NYC and go live off the land? That hardly seems reasonable or realistic. So the question becomes how do I find the sense of the natural in the city? And I don’t think I can argue that Union Square and Central Park do it for me, as I have said for the 7 months I’ve lived here. Because when it gets down to it, for the long haul, Union Square and Central Park don’t come close.

I was also struck by this photo on the front page as well:

I'm telling you: the front page was eye candy! This picture was advertising an interesting article on Madeira and that River Café is selling some of their most highly coveted bottles.

Frank Bruni wrote an unexpectedly funny article about patronizing language use by restaurant staff - we've all heard the phrases he mentions ("Pardon my reach"...so why the hell don't you just say "Excuse me"???). I won't say anything else about it because there's no way I can adequately sum up Bruni's delicious smugness. Just go read it for a good snicker.

Calling all chocolate lovers! Read here for the most delicious places in NYC to get that high. Our country may have its puritanical roots, but thank goodness for the hedonistic pleasures of chocolate and coffee. How else are we to get through the daily grind?

And recipes! Oh, yes, there are recipes! Check out two: Pan-Fried Pizza and Bacon Topped Meatloaf Burgers. Mouth watering much? But I do approach these recipes with trepidation. First, I have a real hate-hate relationship with pizza dough. That stuff is just gosh-darned sticky and difficult - I have never found a pizza dough I've liked. Especially since the husband can get this thin crust at Chelsea Market on his way home and save me such a huge headache. It's not even that bread-y, heavy crust - it's that light as air stuff that crisps up so beautifully. So I have to wonder if this is worth the trouble on a Thursday night when we're trying to get the kiddo bathed and in bed, you know? As far as the burgers are concerned, they sound delectable, but the author, Melissa Clark, seemed to take out a lot of ingredients that makes meatloaf...you know...meatloaf. No eggs and breadcrumbs?! And the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and onions added at a glaze at the end?! Not in the meatloaf?! I don't know - it just seemed like an awful lot of blaspheming going on there. But since I don't tend to be offended by blasphemy...I'll add this recipe to my repertoire.

See? Told you it was a good section this week.

Little, Brown Spring 2008 Preview: Day Four

Final stretch!

Next to last was Jennifer Hunt, who is just about the bubbliest editor you’d ever want to meet. She presented Crocs by David Greenberg and illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (but it was actually edited by Alvina). The rhymes, about an urban family that goes on vacation, are funny and silly. Alvina read some pages aloud and the text had wonderful rhythm – this will be a hit at storytime, I assure you.

She also presented a clever-looking little book called Billy Bones by Christopher Lincoln (but it was actually edited by Nancy). It’s about a family of skeletons who lives in a closet and they keep the secrets of the family that lives in the house (funny, right?). According to Jennifer, there is a boy and girl protagonist who get equal page-time; however, the marketing people very smartly featured the boy on the cover and the title is boy-specific. I predict the boys will like this one.

Lastly, Jennifer presented Sara Zarr’s upcoming title, Sweethearts. If you’ll remember, Ms. Zarr is on the shortlist for that little token of recognition, the National Book Award for Story of a Girl. Sweethearts isn’t a sequel. I hadn’t grabbed a galley of this at the beginning of the preview but, following Jennifer’s presentation, I snatched this baby right up. It’s about two friends – Jennifer described it as one of those early-in-life friendships, where the relationship is the first one where you let someone into your life beyond your family. One of the friends moves away but then returns years later when they’re now in high school. Obviously, they’ve grown up completely different, one is now in the popular crowd and the other one has stayed in that nerdy group. I’m not describing the book as eloquently as Jennifer, of course, but nevertheless it appears that Sara Zarr is officially a rock star of YA literature.

PUB DATES: Crocs – 5.08, Billy Bones – 8.08, Sweethearts – 2.08


Little, Brown Spring 2008 Preview: Day Three

So this is Day Three of my Little, Brown coverage. Thank goodness I pre-prepared this - I just returned from meeting Shaun Tan at Scholastic, and I'm just shell-shocked. I think I was more giddy over meeting Arthur Levine than Shaun Tan! But now I'm just exhausted. So I'm sipping a glass of chenin blanc, posting, and hitting the sack. Zzzzz...

Next at our table was Andrea Spooner, editor extraordinaire who had only been back to work for 3 days from maternity leave. She started off with Willow Buds by Mary Jane Begin. The cover states the book has “friendship stories inspired by The Wind in the Willows.” Andrea was clear to point out that these are not retellings, but they are original stories. She also compared the tales to the Muppet Babies, Toad and Badger before the Wind in the Willows days. She also called it a “values book” – which made me cringe a bit – telling us that it teaches kids how to “navigate friendship” but that the book is “not didactic.” Intriguing, no? I do see quite a few people chanting “blasphemy!” about it…

She also presented a really cool full-color graphic novel, In the Small, by Michael Hague (yes, that Michael Hague). It’s an apocalyptic survival story where Mother Nature has exacted her revenge on humanity and made the people only 6 inches tall. I’m not a graphic novel fan, but I made sure to pick up a galley of this one – I might be convinced to switch sides.

Lastly, Andrea showed us The Mighty Twelve by Charles R. Smith, Jr. and illustrated by P. Craig Russell. The idea is that Greek gods are portrayed as superheroes with superpowers. Andrea promoted it as a teaser to get kids interested in mythology, and she also recommended it for reluctant readers. The text is written in what seems to be poetry...however, try reading it out loud. The rhythm is fantastic - it has a slam poetry, hip hop feel to it that could be dynamic in a classroom setting. However, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. There are so few mythology books printed anymore, of any note, yet kids consistently need them for reports. This book won't be your answer - there really isn't enough to support assignments. Nevertheless, the illustrations have a cool classic, comic book feel and they're in full-color. And the text presents lots of possibilities.

PUB DATES: Willow Buds – 4.08, In the Small – 5.08, The Mighty Twelve - 4.08

Snow* and Best Books of 2007...already?!

Apparently I’m not the only one excited about the upcoming holidays and the end of 2007: PW has just released their Best Books of 2007 list. I was unsurprised to see some titles: At Night by Jonathan Bean is just a gimme, you know? The Invention of Hugo Cabret is on the list – gasp! We’re going to see it on every Best of 2007 list. And I got warm fuzzies when I saw Before I Die – a well-deserved spot on the list.

However, I was enormously dismayed not to see Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban on there. It was an exceptionally well-crafted novel: equal parts humor, poignancy, coming-of-age, and conflict. It was smart and it didn’t condescend. So what happened to it in the shuffle? Perhaps it’s too quiet, too endearing, too…something? And where – oh, for goodness sake, where! – was Let It Shine by Ashley Bryan?! That omission is glaring and I think some readers are going to have something to say about that. Like me.

Lastly, since when did “children’s fiction” become ages 7-18??? I missed that somewhere.

Thanks to Fuse #8 for the info.

EDIT: Kirkus also came out with their Best of 2007 list.

*Apparently the omnipotent weatherpeople are forecasting possible snow showers this weekend for the NYC Metro area. Mwah?!


What the Roux?! Add More Pumpkin!

I made Croque Monsieur for dinner tonight, courtesy of Miss Ina’s recipe. God, I love her. Heaven forbid I ever meet her – I have no doubt I’ll make a total ass of myself.

But I digress.

The recipe, from her Barefoot in Paris book, calls for a roux: you melt butter in a saucepan, add flour, stir it around until it becomes a sticky paste, then vigorously whisk it while adding hot milk. Once it’s all thick, you add Gruyère, parmesan, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. However, tonight’s sauce was so watery that it hardly seemed that I added flour at all, let alone a cup’s worth of cheese.

The kicker is that I’ve made this recipe about a half-dozen times and every time has turned out different. I’ve had lusciously thick creamy sauces…and I’ve encountered the water-sauce before as well.

So my question is: what is the trick here?! Is it the heat I’m using? Is it my pan? Is it the type of butter and milk? I looked up “roux” in my Food Lover’s Companion*, but it was no help, other than to inform me that I made a white roux versus a blond roux. And that there's a whole separate roux you make with lard. Have any of you tried to find lard in a store?! Not an easy feat, let me tell you. At least it wasn't when I lived in Jersey. Again, I digress.

So what did I do? What any novice cook would do, of course. I ordered my husband to add another tablespoon of flour! And any of you experienced cooks out there will probably guess what happened. The flour globbed all up and looked like bits of congealed cream floating in my sauce. The good news is that once the whole saucepan was poured on top of the sandwiches and stuck under the broiler the bits of flour disappeared. It was a decadent and delicious dinner.

In other food-related adventures, I’m giving up my search for Sortilège maple liqueur. Why have I been looking for it, you ask? Because I love all things pumpkin and I’ve been sitting on a recipe for a Pumpkintini. I’ve never made it, but I’m convinced this is my year. I got it from Rachael Ray’s mag. But it uses this maple liqueur, which I had never even heard of until this recipe came on my radar. I can't find it anywhere. I have a friend of mine who runs the bar at a darling restaurant in Brooklyn Heights, and he swears that he has Sortilège on his shelf right now...but there's no way I'm going all the way to Brooklyn Heights for it. Even if it is to make what I have built up in my mind to be the end-all-be-all of drinks. So I'm giving up...for now. But like all true obsessions, I'm only taking a break. The search will be on again in another week or so.

*I linked to the 2007 edition, but I am using the 2001 edition. Does the 2007 have updated info on roux creation?

Little, Brown Spring 2008 Preview: Day Two

So we're on Day Two and Editor Two of last Wednesday's Little, Brown preview:

Next was Alvina, who of course has her own blog as well. She started out of the gate with Sergio Makes a Splash, written and illustrated by Edel Rodriguez, who also illustrated Oye, Celia! This is the first book that Rodriguez has written; it features a penguin who is scared to go swimming. The colors are very simple with a retro feel, and it’ll be a great storytime book (I asked Alvina if I could just take it to the library now). Another Sergio book is in the works.

Alvina also mentioned The Postcard by Tony Abbott (of Firegirl and Secrets of Droon fame), describing it as “Carl Hiaasen meets Chasing Vermeer meets Holes.” Intriguing. But will it be boy-friendly? Let’s hope so.

Alvina also presented The Blue Stone by Jimmy Liao, which is originally published in Chinese. It’s full-color and has been cut down from the original 160 pages to 80 pages to make it marketable in the States. It’s being advertised as “all ages”, which is always met with skepticism (which I told Alvina). It really isn’t for the picture book crowd, though some kids may enjoy browsing the illustrations. It’s really ideal for older kids, and it’ll be a good graduation gift, as reflected in the subtitle being added: “A Journey Through Life.” (Note: I believe this is the cover the Chinese edition - the new version Alvina showed us had a slightly different design)

PUB DATES: Sergio – 5.08, The Postcard – 4.08, The Blue Stone – 4.08


Little, Brown Spring 2008 Preview: Day One

As I said in yesterday's post, you're getting an update each day - a different editor each day. So this here is Day One. (Note: I apologize for the lack of up-to-date cover art for the titles mentioned - they just aren't available yet. I've included links where possible).

First up at our table was Nancy. Unfortunately, her last name has escaped me but, no matter, because all you need to know is that she’s one of the most gorgeous editors you’ll meet. And as sweet as can be.

She started her presentation with Suddenly Supernatural: School Spirit by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel (of Lily B fame). The main character’s mom is a supernatural medium and then the girl (Kat) realizes that she also has the power. The book is about friendships and mother-and-daughter relationships. A sequel is also planned, Scaredy Kat, due out next season.

We were also told about a novel by Alan Madison, 100 Days, 99 Nights, which is about a father who goes on a tour-of-duty, leaving a family behind. This is Alan Madison's first novel, though he is a prolific picture book author (Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly is one of my sentimental favorites of 2007). In this book, Iraq isn’t specifically named, though the war is taking place in a desert. Nancy stressed that it wasn’t political, and the illustrations intentionally have a very timeless, warm, endearing feeling to them. The book is recommended for ages 8-12, though it could go as low as 7. It will be interesting to see how this title does; while it looked really gorgeous – I just adored the illustrations – I’m thinking the audience could be rather limited.

Nancy also presented an ultra-cool-looking YA book called Ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley, a debut novelist. It was described as a mix of Heathers and Mean Girls, which automatically pricked up my ears. Underneath that, though, it’s “about being invisible and wanting people to notice you.” Awwww. Before it was a book, it was a website – Ghostgirl – so check that out.

Lastly, Nancy presented the sequel to The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey! This is going to make some kids very happy.

PUB DATES: Suddenly Supernatural - 6.08, 100 Days, 99 Nights - 5.08, Ghostgirl – 8.08, Perilous Journey – 5.08


Spooky Affair: Little, Brown's Spring 2008 Preview

So last Wednesday was a big day: Halloween; the NYT Dining Section; Little, Brown’s preview. I spent the whole day dressed up as an anti-social butterfly (thanks, Allison!), even though my butterfly wings broke at the preview.

So let’s talk about the preview. I started writing my post and it just got ridiculously long. Seriously. I couldn’t shut up and be more succinct, apparently. So I’m going to try something new – I’m spreading out my posts. Each day this week, I’ll cover a new editor’s presentation, and today I’ll just do a general description. So here’s the line-up for the week:

Monday: Nancy Whose-Last-Name-I-Can’t-Remember
Tuesday: Alvina Ling
Wednesday: Andrea Spooner
Thursday: Jennifer Hunt
Friday: Rich Johnson

So check out this blog on each of those days to find out about the new books these editors are publishing – there are some rather exciting prospects coming up.

I think I can say this without burning any bridges, but Little, Brown is my favorite preview to go to, which is not to say that I don’t enjoy the others, of course. But Victoria is so delightfully feisty, not to mention that I stood at the window of the Luce Room, looking at Radio City Music Hall, which was already decorated in its holiday regalia.

As I said, I was dressed up as an anti-social butterfly, and there were a few others dressed up as well. Betsy Bird had on some fun orange-and-black striped tights, which were perfect for the holidays, though I remember years ago the “grunge” crowd wore stuff like that on a daily basis. Thank goodness the “Seattle sound” is over. Amy Sears wore a Red Sox jersey but, no worries, her life was not in danger – there seemed to be quite a few Red Sox fans in the group. Carlie Webber was dressed up as Avril Lavigne, which was pretty fun, though she did complain that most people didn’t know who she was supposed to be…and she got some weird looks on the train.

At Little, Brown the editors circulate around the room, while you get to sit in one place, sipping coffee and munching some of the best snackies provided in the publishing biz. To celebrate the holiday, at the break, enormous Halloween cupcakes were brought out, in both vanilla and chocolate. Alas, I didn’t have one – it’s impossible to eat cupcakes gracefully and I didn’t want to make a total ass of myself, as I’m prone to do.

Each editor only presents about 3 books so you don’t ever feel rushed – there’s actually time for discussion! How novel! Though I suppose that also invites criticism from the peanut gallery, but the editors always seem to handle it graciously and take what is said to heart. As a result of this method of presentation, you definitely get a personal relationship going with each editor – more so than other houses, I think.

Okey dokey, stay tuned for the rest of the round-up this coming week!


Yee-haw! Time for a round-up!

Bad blogger, bad blogger! In addition to my round-up, I still have to chat about the Dining section and the preview at Little, Brown yesterday. And I'm going to Lit-Fest tomorrow so there will be lots to share about that as well, n'est-ce pas? Got the secret to creating more hours in the day? Please share it. Please.

  • Queens Library may have the #1 circulation in the country, but NYPL gets a collection of Katherine Hepburn memorabilia, gifted to the library by her estate. We don’t have anything like that at QL that I’m aware of. See, this is why I mildly entertained the idea of focusing on archival studies in library school. I want access to these beautiful items. Thanks to my weekly AL Direct email for this tidbit.

    Along the same lines, this was why I always wanted to work at HarperCollins – I’d do just about anything to see Ursula Nordstrom’s original letters.

  • Also courtesy of my AL Direct email, Germany’s Library of the Year has been awarded to a small prison library, JVA-Münster, winning over all the showier public and academic libraries. I found this article particularly interesting given the controversy in the States lately about religious texts in our prisons. I’m not a big fan of loveliness in prisons – otherwise, why would it be considered a punishment to be there? However, I am in favor of the library being the one and only lovely place. When 80% of the prisoners use the library, and are bettering themselves by doing so, I can’t help but be a fan of that. I’d like to believe that if anything will help a prisoner succeed once they’ve rejoined society, it’s being literate and educated. But that’s just my naïve view…

  • Visit the Longstockings page where Caroline Hickey tells a scary Halloween story that actually happened to the poor Longstockings crew. Some crazed B&B proprietor went completely berserk on them during their retreat and left our gals hunting for a place to stay on a rainy autumn night. I couldn’t help but wish that I was a writer so that I could have been there to be part of the story. Also, I thought that those sorts of things are horrific when they’re happening but – goodness gracious! – they make the Best Stories Ever. And even though I'm not a writer, I have to guess that it is life moments like this that make perfect fodder for creativity.

  • Lastly, this past Tuesday we held an in-service meeting for the children’s librarians. We started off with a speaker who passed on frightening information about lead poisoning – she scared the crap out of everyone in the room, rightly so. To lighten things up, we ended with a visit from Amy Hest. I’m a bit sentimental about Mrs. Hest’s work – when I started working in a children’s room in Salem, Oregon at 22 years old, When Jessie Came Across the Sea was the first children’s picture book I bought for myself. Having just gotten married myself, I was incredibly sentimental about the moment at the end when Jessie gets the proposal. So I was awfully gushy about meeting Mrs. Hest. Luckily, there was no reason to be nervous – she was lovely and engaging. Not to mention that she inspired an entire room of children’s librarians to be writers: we get to swim laps in the morning, write in our pajamas, and be steps away from the ice cream in the freezer?!?! Sign me up for that gig!!!!

    By the way, I tried to load a nifty little cover picture of Mrs. Hest's newest book, Remembering Mrs. Rossi, but my computer connection hates me. Truly. It's out to get me. So use your imaginations...or check out the link to Amazon. Apparently my computer can do hyperlinks but not images. Curse you, technology!!!!

And goodness gracious, lots of posts coming about food and books. You know, once someone figures out that time machine thing.