le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

will grayson will grayson

I confess: I have not yet read any of John Green's books. After burning through WILL GRAYSON WILL GRAYSON in an evening, this will be changing as soon as I can get my library fines paid off and my borrowing privileges restored.

Because Will Grayson, Will Grayson was fantastic. I was a little leery; I like David Levithan, but I have found that I get a little irritated with his - what? - optimism? - by the time I finish one of his books. I've also read Levithan's co-authored Naomi & Eli's No Kiss List (with Rachel Cohn), and I find the back-and-forth a little irritating as well.

Not so with the Will Graysons of this book!
Each Will has a distinct personality, and writes with a distinct (and appealing) voice. Early on, I couldn't decide which Will Grayson I identified with more; by the end, I did choose one (and it's....will grayson!). But both are compelling and interesting and felt reasonably authentic to me. I liked that neither Will was super-well-adjusted nor super-messed-up. Neither is totally friendless; neither is especially popular. They each seem to fit into a very average-feeling high-school niche while at the same time retaining their own fantastic personality.

The book is funny, too - Tiny Cooper, the really, really large and really really gay hero of the book - is funny in both the stereotypical queeny gay way and in his own self-absorbed but genuinely kindhearted way. His musical - initially called Tiny Dancer, a name which makes me giggle every time I see it - is both brilliant and campily hilarious. I find myself wishing, fervently, that I could see the scene in which Tiny is visited by the ghost of Oscar Wilde.

It's a buddy book, a romance - multiple romances, really - an almost-but-not-quite coming of age book. It's got queer characters happily going about being queer, without making their queerness the focus of the book. It's not incidental queerness; the queerness permeates the entire book as both a practical fact of the lives of the characters and as a sensibility, an aesthetic maybe, of the text. There's no effort at "normalizing," (ie, making the gays just like everyone else!) but we see clearly and repeatedly that, in fact, every single character has his own set of issues, many of them inflected by gayness or queerness. But the three main characters - the two Wills, and Tiny - are all multidimensional. No one is stuck being a sidekick or a caricature.

Having just re-read (twice in one week) and taught Markus Zusak's I Am the Messenger, I was struck at the novel's end by how much resonance it has with Zusak's book. I'm not sure I can even explain how, just yet - I think I need to sit with Will Grayson Will Grayson a little longer, perhaps read it again - but there is a shared worldview there. A kind of positivity that manages to avoid dipping into gross sentimentality or perky unbelievability. Levithan and Green have managed to create an emotionally rich and real, moving story without falling into the vast abyss of the sappy and unrealistic. As with Zusak's novel, by the end I felt as though the events of the book were just this side of "that could never happen in real life."  It's almost far-fetched, almost beyond the realm of the really plausible - but only almost. The world doesn't have to turn too far on its axis for those events to become very possible, even likely.
I am not keen to turn books into movies, but Tiny is utterly cinematic. He defies convention - a huge gay teenager who is attractive to other boys. he's also got a voice and personality to match the hugeness of his body (I think Will Grayson tells us that Tiny is six-foot-six), and that kind of larger than life persona is one that deserves to be on the screen. Unfortunately, I'm sure any director and screenwriter who end up with this in their hands will disobey RuPaul's injunctions and totally f*ck it up. Probably by scaling back Tiny and amping up the hetero love story.

But! This is really a masterfully written book - it's brilliantly plotted, the language is just excellent, the characters' voices are deep and rich and mesmerizing. Each time the narration switched between Will Graysons, I felt a bit of a wrench - I hated to leave whichever Will I was with at the moment.

I will be buying this book for my own personal collection, and I will be adding it to my list of Books I HAVE to teach. I'd like to pair it, pedagogically, with I Am the Messenger, and then maybe one of those grim-adolescence novels - Portman's King Dork comes to mind (I love King Dork, despite it's very serious girl problems, but it does represent a pretty specific, and grim, side of adolescence). Levithan and Green have created, in WILL GRAYSON WILL GRAYSON a set of characters and a story that encompasses many sides of adolescence - the grimness, the confusion, the silliness, the anxiety, the overwrought love and lust, the friendships, the betrayals, the fun, the risks that fail and the risks that pay off. It's a book that - somehow, even to me (and I am an awfully cynical reader) - manages to affirm the failures and the successes of life, in an utterly believable fashion.

Three cheers for the Will Graysons of this world, and to David Levithan and John Green: I appreciate you.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

course idea: brainstorming

It occurred to me last week that it could be awesome to put together a sort of science-fiction children's/YA lit class. Initially, i thought an all-time-travel syllabus would be cool, but then the idea of parallel worlds occurred, so I imagined a split course, half time-travel, half parallel worlds (problem: what parallel world books would I use? and how to avoid just teaching everything Diana Wynne Jones has ever written?)

Tentative booklist:

The Story of the Amulet
A Tale of Time City - Diana Wynne Jones
The time of the ghost - DWJ
A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle
When You Reach Me - Rebecca Stead
HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban

something like Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising series?? where does THAT fit?

Parallel Worlds:
Golden Compass, maybe even the whole trilogy - Philip Pullman
Howl's Moving Castle?
The Merlin Conspiracy?

I'm sure there are a zillion more titles that I;m not thinking of. It would be very interesting to poke around and see what kind of 19th-century time-travel books I could scare up (Jules Verne, maybe? HG Wells, The Time Machine, a book I haven't read - ?).

I love planning syllabi! even for imaginary courses that I'll probably never teach. Making up imaginary classes/imaginary syllabi is how I discovered/decided that I wanted to be a teacher.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

a meme!

From facebook (of course), a meme: a list of 100 "best" children's books. Mark which ones you've read. The list is - for me, anyway - in no particular order. I do have some quarrels with it: I wouldn't include Mysterious Benedict Society as a best. I'd skip Frindle, Jeremy Thatcher, Charlotte Doyle (gods, I hate that book). I wouldn't include Edward Eager, either, but that's my personal quibble with Eager - HOWEVER, I do not think it is at all acceptable to include Eager but NOT E. Nesbit.  Eager wouldn't exist if not for Nesbit; the premise of all of his books, as far as I can tell, is to "re-imagine" Nesbit plots in some altered/contemporary manner. Aside from Eager's dependency on her, Nesbit is stellar in her own right, and a really important part of children's literature in English.

I'm surprised Tom's Midnight Garden isn't on here; everyone seems to love that one, though I couldn't make it through more than the first third of it. I also regret the lack of Diana Wynne Jones, since I absolutely ADORE her and think her books are amazing. 

With the possible exception of Peck's novel, and Stargirl, these are all pretty firmly children's books, not young adult books. The Harry Potter novels, especially the later titles, also walk the line, but really belong in the children's category. It would be very hard indeed to create a list of 100 best children's/YA books.

This list is nice because it really does a good job of historical scope - we get some good 19th century titles, some early 20th, a whole slew of mid-century titles (which sometimes get overlooked in our haste to skip from Narnia to Hogwarts, it seems).  One thing about this list which does make me feel a little queasy/uneasy: lots of historical fiction with REALLY problematic representations of Native Americans (Little House, Indian in the Cupboard, Caddie Woodlawn) AND there are very few titles here written by non-white writers. Christopher Paul Curtis may, in fact, be the only one who isn't white. NOT good.

I get a huge kick (and, okay, ego boost of smugness) from lists like these, because I usually do quite well in terms of what I've read. This one I've read 83 titles from, which isn't shabby at all. A few of the unread ones I actually own and intend to read in the next few months (ie, Green Knowe, Betsy-Tacy).

Someday, I think it would be deliriously dorky fun to create my own top 100 list. I wonder if I could do 100 children's novels and 100 YA novels? I certainly couldn't do 100 picture books, though I could probably eke out a top 50 (if I let myself include every single Kevin Henkes book, anyway).  Maybe creating my own Top 100 will be a goal for the first half of the summer.

100. The Egypt Game - Snyder (1967)**
99. The Indian in the Cupboard - Banks (1980)
98. Children of Green Knowe - Boston (1954)
97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - DiCamillo (2006)**
96. The Witches - Dahl (1983)**
95. Pippi Longstocking - Lindgren (1950)**
94. Swallows and Amazons - Ransome (1930)**
93. Caddie Woodlawn - Brink (1935)**
92. Ella Enchanted - Levine (1997)**
91. Sideways Stories from Wayside School - Sachar (1978)**
90. Sarah, Plain and Tall - MacLachlan (1985)**
89. Ramona and Her Father - Cleary (1977)**
88. The High King - Alexander (1968)**
87. The View from Saturday - Konigsburg (1996)**
86. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Rowling (1999)**
85. On the Banks of Plum Creek - Wilder (1937)**
84. The Little White Horse - Goudge (1946)
83. The Thief - Turner (1997)
82. The Book of Three - Alexander (1964)**
81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Lin (2009)
80. The Graveyard Book - Gaiman (2008)**
79. All-of-a-Kind-Family - Taylor (1951)
78. Johnny Tremain - Forbes (1943)
77. The City of Ember - DuPrau (2003)**
76. Out of the Dust - Hesse (1997)**
75. Love That Dog - Creech (2001)
74. The Borrowers - Norton (1953)**
73. My Side of the Mountain - George (1959)
72. My Father's Dragon - Gannett (1948)**
71. The Bad Beginning - Snicket (1999)**
70. Betsy-Tacy - Lovelace (1940)
69. The Mysterious Benedict Society - Stewart ( 2007)**
68. Walk Two Moons - Creech (1994)
67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher - Coville (1991)**
66. Henry Huggins - Cleary (1950)**
65. Ballet Shoes - Streatfeild (1936)**
64. A Long Way from Chicago - Peck (1998)**
63. Gone-Away Lake - Enright (1957)
62. The Secret of the Old Clock - Keene (1959)**
61. Stargirl - Spinelli (2000)**
60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle - Avi (1990)**
59. Inkheart - Funke (2003)
58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Aiken (1962)
57. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Cleary (1981)**
56. Number the Stars - Lowry (1989)**
55. The Great Gilly Hopkins - Paterson (1978)**
54. The BFG - Dahl (1982)**
53. Wind in the Willows - Grahame (1908)**
52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)**
51. The Saturdays - Enright (1941)
50. Island of the Blue Dolphins - O'Dell (1960)**
49. Frindle - Clements (1996)**
48. The Penderwicks - Birdsall (2005)**
47. Bud, Not Buddy - Curtis (1999)**
46. Where the Red Fern Grows - Rawls (1961)**
45. The Golden Compass - Pullman (1995)**
44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Blume (1972)**
43. Ramona the Pest - Cleary (1968)**
42. Little House on the Prairie - Wilder (1935)**
41. The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Speare (1958)
40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Baum (1900)**
39. When You Reach Me - Stead (2009)**
38. HP and the Order of the Phoenix - Rowling (2003)**
37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Taylor (1976)**
36. Are You there, God? It's Me, Margaret - Blume (1970)**
35. HP and the Goblet of Fire - Rowling (2000)**
34. The Watsons Go to Birmingham - Curtis (1995)**
33. James and the Giant Peach - Dahl (1961)**
32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - O'Brian (1971)**
31. Half Magic - Eager (1954)**
30. Winnie-the-Pooh - Milne (1926)**
29. The Dark Is Rising - Cooper (1973)
28. A Little Princess - Burnett (1905)**
27. Alice I and II - Carroll (1865/72)**
26. Hatchet - Paulsen (1989)
25. Little Women - Alcott (1868/9)**
24. HP and the Deathly Hallows - Rowling (2007)**
23. Little House in the Big Woods - Wilder (1932)**
22. The Tale of Despereaux - DiCamillo (2003)**
21. The Lightning Thief - Riordan (2005)**
20. Tuck Everlasting - Babbitt (1975)**
19. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Dahl (1964)**
18. Matilda - Dahl (1988)**
17. Maniac Magee - Spinelli (1990)**
16. Harriet the Spy - Fitzhugh (1964)**
15. Because of Winn-Dixie - DiCamillo (2000)
14. HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Rowling (1999)**
13. Bridge to Terabithia - Paterson (1977)**
12. The Hobbit - Tolkien (1938)
11. The Westing Game - Raskin (1978)**
10. The Phantom Tollbooth - Juster (1961)**
9. Anne of Green Gables - Montgomery (1908)**
8. The Secret Garden - Burnett (1911)**
7. The Giver -Lowry (1993)**
6. Holes - Sachar (1998)**
5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - Konigsburg (1967)**
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - Lewis (1950)**
3. Harry Potter #1 - Rowling (1997)**
2. A Wrinkle in Time - L'Engle (1962)**
1. Charlotte's Web - White (1952)**

I've read 83!