Friday, January 30, 2009

Just reading the Guardian book section...

Where can you read about a new novel that mixes Pride and Prejudice with zombies along with two interesting debates, one about the validity of the science fiction genre and one about a canon for children's literature?

For Pride and Prejudice and zombies, look here. Actually, in the spirit of fun, why not? Many have played fast and loose with Jane Austen and she is never hurt by the experience. Besides, I have a sneaking suspicion that she'd have written her own zombie novel if she'd lived today. Actually... Northanger Abbey could have had its sister novel...

The debate over genre fiction continues here. The comments are the more interesting part of the discussion and I lean towards the idea of disbanding the generic boundaries altogether. Most of the time, they are indeed meaningless and create a class system in a society that is supposedly moving beyond old systems of class apartheid. Mind, it does make it easier to find the entertaining books when you just have to dig into the genre sections of the store...

Then a debate over whether there should be a canon of children's literature or even 'children's literature' at all here. Of course, often these things fall apart into the 'I liked this book... I didn't like this book' debate. Personally, I'm not entirely convinced canons are useful things. They convince people that there are certain books that they should read and should study. I like to see people buck that system.

Oh, and I was delighted to see an admittedly old article about Michelle Obama reading Olivia and the Missing Toy. Okay, she was reading it to children in a library, but still... it's better than that goat book...

""Do you guys know Olivia?" she asks her rapt audience. "She's a pig; she's quite the personality; she's a drama queen. Do you guys know what a drama queen is? Always into something.""


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Academics in Heatwave

I've been hiding away in my air conditioned room with the laptop and a variety of books about reading and paratext (Genette is a name to note). The only hiccup is the number of times I lose books under knitting projects.

I do wish I could be using a laptop from here. I wonder if I could claim it as a necessary research expense? I could start writing about steampunk...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wilde Fairy Tales

Click here to hear Stephen Fry reading a Wilde fairy tale. Stephen Fry is one of the most marvelous readers. His readings of Harry Potter are an absolute delight. They're in the library.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What Did President Obama Read As A Child?

There have been many column and cyber inches devoted to discussion of what President Obama reads and has read. He is a very literate President, who lists authors such as Melville and Morrison as his favourites (according to a variety of sources). The New York Times posted one of my favourite photos of the President with a book. But, through all this, I keep wondering... what did he read as a child? That's what I'd really like to know.

I'm also a little curious as to what his daughters read. Although, that has been partly answered. At least, I so hope this is true. Yes, Harry Potter and the Twilight books. Admittedly, picturing the President of the United States reading Twilight is a little bewildering.

In the meantime, I've been watching the preview for the US version of Life On Mars. I'm not sure why we need a US version when the original UK version is so wonderful, but it reminded me of my theory that Sam Tyler is a male Sleeping Beauty. In the Perrault version, it is written: "it is very probable (though history mentions nothing of it) that the good Fairy, during so long a sleep, had given her very agreeable dreams." Sam may not concur that his experiences in the 70s are exactly agreeable (though I do like Gene Hunt), but I'd like to play a little more with the theory.

Perrault's version is incredibly detailed. The Princess even has a spaniel called Mopsey. This version also includes my favourite seven league boots. It's worth reading if you have a chance.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Free Books

Do free books, issued online, hurt sales and thus hurt not simply authors, but the entire publishing industry, or actually promote reading and consequently sales? Meg Cabot wrote briefly about ebook piracy in today's blog (and her weekend sounded suspiciously familiar... well, not exactly familiar, but familiar enough). She did point readers to Cory Doctorow's thoughts on the issue and I'd recommend following the link.

It's not only the music industry troubled by downloads. As technologies improve, ebooks will become more readily available and piracy issues will become more familiar. Of course, in the early days of book publishing, piracy was rampant, so perhaps we're just experiencing another history cycle. And if you wished to pursue this line of thought, there's a wonderful world of bibliography and book history to explore.

Incidentally, guess which book earned the Newbery Medal?

What a brilliant choice! You can read the author's reaction here.

It's also worth checking out the winner of the Caldecott Medal.

And, just to finish, imagine Pride and Prejudice this way. I actually really enjoy it!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Am I Old Enough To Read This?

One of the challenges of thinking, talking and writing about children's literature is avoiding the trap of assuming you know the 'child.' All children are different. You can't define children by their age. Class, gender, ethnicity, education etc all have an impact, just as they do upon adults. Indeed, personal likes and dislikes have as much to do with which child is ready for which book as they do with which book an adult will choose to read next. The argument for age-banding books has met with great opposition, including from authors like Philip Pullman. Personally, if there were age-banding, I'd like to see it extended: "this book is only suitable for 30-35 year olds" or "this book is only suitable for 96 year olds." I'd be tempted to age-band Persuasion, for instance, for "29 year olds and above."

Remember your primary school days? How many of us had to fight a teacher or librarian to get access to a book judged 'too old' for us? How many of our mothers charged up to the school to demand we could read a book? The problem is, while guidelines can be useful for teachers and others who are faced with purchasing a book for a child, they often turn into the 'law.'

So I smiled when Neil Gaiman came up with a mushroom response to this trap. Indeed, it all depends on the child. And don't forget that some children do like to be scared.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Generally, I'm suspicious of anyone proposing a list of books you must or should read. So I was naturally suspicious of this list. Nonetheless, in The Guardian putting together a list of books you should read, it was nice to see that they did include fantasy, even if they combined it with science fiction and horror.
How I sometimes feel about 'must read' lists

Why am I suspicious of such lists? I'm not comfortable with the idea that there are books you should read... whether to be educated, entertained or anything else beginning with 'e'. It's too dictatorial. Besides, just reading Milton or Blake doesn't necessarily educate you. One could get quite as much education out of... ah... let's say Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh or Child's Charlie and Lola books. Being able to assert you've read such and such a book does not give you greater intelligence, mean you understood the book in the first place, or indicate that you have better taste than everyone else. It's simply a lazy short hand that has gained credibility.

Of course, it is sometimes amusing to create your own list of 'must-read' books. However, even though I have a doctorate, I have no desire to impose my list on any one else. Even in terms of coming up with reading for my subjects, I wish one day to come across a way to make it practical for everyone to read what they wish to. In the meantime, I just settle for trying to find some examples that may hopefully challenge preconceptions.

This is not to say that it isn't worth reading Milton or Blake, either. It is. Definitely.

And MacGavran wrote a brilliant essay about Blake's poetry and Calvin and Hobbes that I would recommend!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sinister Buttons

There is a brilliant video of Neil Gaiman talking about buttons here. Best in the small view, though - the resolution isn't great.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Pray for pumpkins

As most of us realise, the same or similar ideas often result in very different stories. Campbell, Propp and others have given us tools to locate and understand the basic building blocks of stories, but in the end, stories take on lives of their own. I do, however, enjoy descriptions of where the ideas come from and this one is fast becoming my favourite. From Neil Gaiman's blog today: "Sometimes I think that ideas float through the atmosphere like huge squishy pumpkins, waiting for heads to drop on."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dementors in Fashion?

I'm spending much of the summer break researching fashion and fairy tale. This involves an element of 'fun research' (a prerequisite for most of my research projects), which led me to this. You have to enjoy the notion of a Dementor with fashion ambitions. What a terrific description!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In stitches

You will see the link to Coraline on the sidebar now. You can read it before seeing the film. I seriously recommend a visit to film's site, where they've been doing all manner of creative, handy-crafty things and you can also button your eyes. The music is likewise suitably creepy. I think I'll need to purchase the soundtrack.

You can also knit a Coraline sweater if you feel the inclination. This was created by an independent designer, Ysolda. She had a couple of copies signed by Neil Gaiman himself.

The links between needlework and storytelling preoccupy me. It is ingrained in the spirit of fairy tale. I would say more at this point, but my thinking is too undercooked for even a blog.

And then there are poetry mittens. There is a pattern available here if you are inclined to not only carry about your poems, but actually wear them also. Or, for a little fun, a very bad mitten joke. Admittedly, it's a bit too hot to be thinking this much about mittens.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Do you believe in sequels?

In this case, I'm thinking about sequels to, for want of a better word, classic novels, written not by the author of the classic novel, but by someone 'commissioned' by the estate. It's Winnie-the-Pooh who is up for the treatment this time (see here).

And does it make it better that it's for charity?

I suppose in a practical sense, it's not really a bad thing. Though it is far too easy to write a parody of Milne's style without capturing the actual wit. We shall see. And if we don't want to see... well, no one is making us read or even acknowledge the sequel.

And, after all, I wasn't that upset about Eoin Colfer writing a sequel to the Hitchhiker books.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Things to do with one sentence

Fan fiction always intrigues me. The books that are in books always intrigue me. So this certainly intrigued me. A fan wrote the book Torrance writes in The Shining.

Otherwise, you may like to read about the pairing of rugby and Mills and Boon. I'm still not sure what to think about this.