James Kennedy Interview

I hope you’ve all been watching the original Between Two Ferns, but if you haven’t, you should. Once that’s taken care of, you should watch Madison copy the format in her interview with author James Kennedy, because it’s hilarious.

I don’t know how she manages to keep a straight face through the whole thing. That girl is made of talent. James Kennedy is pretty okay, too, but he’s no Madison. As Madison kind of points out.

“Live in the Layers”

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   

but because it never forgot what it could do.
-from “Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye

Jules introduced me to this poem some time ago, and I’ve had it in my mind over the last few weeks as people have been in various ways honoring the work I’ve done at WPL. I felt weird about the attention at first, but then I relaxed about it. I am grateful that so many people have in enjoyed the work I’ve done as much as I have, because I love my work. Much of it is, as Nye says, nothing spectacular–buying books, managing budgets, answering people’s questions, reading to kids–but I’ve always pushed myself to do things a little better today than I did yesterday and tried to do the best job I can.

On Tuesday, there was a lot of fanfare for me in the morning and early afternoon, and I appreciated and enjoyed it so much. I spent the end of my day working in the Children’s Room, though, the way I always have, helping people find books. I wound up spending some time with a family I’d never seen before. It started with a mother asking me for help finding books for her 10-year-old daughter. After we spent some time going through the stacks talking books, and the girl had a few books in her hands to take home (we bonded over our shared love of Wendy Mass), the woman called over her sixth-grader, “Come over here! This woman knows what she’s talking about with these books!”

So I found that girl some books, too. I got her started on Meg Cabot.

And that was just as rewarding as anything else that happened that day. Because that’s what I do: I help people find books.

Missy wrote up a beautiful post about my last Stories in the Park, with a wonderful gallery of pictures that she and Amy took. (I think you can see those photos even if you aren’t on Facebook. If not, I’ll have to post them elsewhere.) What a gift these things are, as is this post my friend Val did over on her blog.

I have a few days off, sort of, before I start my new job on Tuesday. I’m going in to Henrietta to meet some of my new coworkers this afternoon and get a handle on a few things I have to do immediately, and I have some other things going on, but I’m moving at a more leisurely pace than I’ve been, enjoying these beautiful summer days to their fullest.

This is my favorite time of year.

Quotable Wednesday

“Nobody tells you how to get from the bad moment you’re in to where you manage to live happily ever after.”
-Justin in Happy Families by Tanita S. Davis

Penny, I wrote this one in my quote book. Thank you for that.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

“Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.”
-Peter Van Houten in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I must start by pointing out the obvious: I can’t separate myself from the subject matter of this book. If you would like an objective review, Jen Robinson wrote a very nice one.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a book about Hazel, a teenager with terminal cancer who falls in love with a guy she meets at her cancer support group.

Books and movies about cancer typically make me angry because they use cancer as a cliched metaphor for a character’s inner turmoil or as a way to kill someone slowly or as a way to upset the reader without earning the emotion. They also portray people who have cancer as beatific, either making Herculean efforts to make the world they’re leaving a better place or just kind of endlessly smiling and comforting other people while they die. John Green addresses this when he has Hazel say about her own favorite book, also about a girl who has cancer, “But it’s not a cancer book, because cancer books suck.”

This book doesn’t suck.

I recognize the cancer. Hazel has to cart around oxygen all the time, and throwing up and losing consciousness and hospital stays have become routine. There are wheelchairs and PICC lines. People gain and lose weight in funny ways. They are tired. It’s not pretty, but it’s their reality, and Green presents it without dwelling on it. It’s Hazel’s world, but it’s not the point.

The point has to do with how one carries on with life once real pain enters the picture, and that is something anyone who spends time with cancer can’t help but think about. At one point at support group, Hazel and the group leader have this conversation:

“I wish I would just die, Patrick. Do you ever wish you would just die?”
“Yes,” Patrick said, without his usual pause. “Yes, of course. So why don’t you?”

This is the central question of the novel: Why do we keep living? How do we keep living? When Hazel begins to fall in love with Augustus Waters, she decides not to engage. She figures she can’t do anything to spare her parents pain when she dies, but she hopes to spare other people. Augustus, for his part, is desperate to make a mark on the world, to do something noble and grand. They circle around each other, observing people who manage to thrive in spite of pain and people who are broken by it, the people who stick around and the people who run.

What I love about Green’s novels is the way he explores a topic, showing the reader a number of possibilities. He references William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow” in every last one of his books, I think, but here he includes it in its entirety. He lets Williams tell us that so much depends upon being present, upon seeing and appreciating what’s right in front of you, upon ordinary moments that become profound because you’re paying attention to them. And that is the point of this book. We are all dying. Not one of us will escape pain in this life. As Augustus says, “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you.”

This book made me sit on my couch sobbing for a half hour. It made me glad to be alive. It made me think a lot and then some more.

When I finished it, I went back to the beginning and read the whole thing again.

Why Cinna is My Favorite Character in The Hunger Games, or I Wanted to Wear My Dress that Bursts into Flames to the Movie Premiere But Tammy Said No

“I asked for District Twelve.”
-Cinna in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Over the weekend, a patron was telling me how she started The Hunger Games and couldn’t finish it. I told her what I often tell people, which is that not every book is for every person. Then she asked me what it was that I liked about a book that is so hopeless and dark.

I gave a kind of evasive answer, partly because the question surprised me and partly because all I could think was that I don’t find The Hunger Games hopeless, which got me to thinking about why, which led me to my favorite character, Cinna.

The Hunger Games is a story about pain–the pain of grief, the pain of people we love disappointing us, the pain of separation, and the pain of trying to survive in a difficult and sometimes indifferent world. It is heightened, of course, and there is an intense exploration of violence, of the damage it does to the victim as well as the person inflicting it. At its core, though, the questions the book really asks are about how one lives with pain and whether it is even worthwhile to keep living in a world that is so damaged. In the first book, we see a couple characters, Haymitch and Katniss’s mother, who have both all but given up on life.

Katniss doesn’t give up, and the answer to Collins’ novel is in the why.

Which brings me back to Cinna and why I love this book so much.

Katniss doesn’t give up on life because she loves people. She tries as much as she can to be cool about it, but she loves her mother and sister and Gale and his family. She loves Peeta long before they really get to know each other. She even loves Greasy Sae and that crazy old Haymitch. She grows to love her enemy, Rue. She loves her home and work and life. She loves food. Collins shows us the redemptive power of love and kindness and loyalty in a lot of ways. They are the things that sustain Katniss, but they also impact the people around her. Her mother begins to recover, Haymitch starts to try, and Peeta finds a strength that initially seemed unlikely.

And she finds an ally in Cinna, a man she only just met and is predisposed to despise.

Cinna intends from the get-go to make Katniss a winner, to draw support to her and get her through the games and make her a symbol that will ultimately change their world. He does this with a dress–not because the dress is beautiful, though it is, but because it’s a piece of art, designed to make a statement. That dress makes all the difference for Katniss, through the whole trilogy. I love that Cinna is this person who decides that this is the way he wants to change his world. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone. He is never even unkind. He knows what his talents are, and he figures out a way to use them fully and positively to create something that makes people stop and think.

And that is why he’s my favorite character.

Cinna and the dress aren’t the only way Collins talks about the power of art, of course. There is also Rue’s whistle, the song Katniss sings her when she’s dying, and the way Katniss covers her in flowers before the hovercraft takes her away–all things that turn out to have impact beyond the immediate and throughout the rest of the series.

All that is why I don’t find The Hunger Games hopeless. Life can be hard, almost impossible to endure at times. That’s just real. But it comforts me to be reminded of what makes it livable–love, art, even something as simple as good food. Collins posits that in the worst of times, people can choose to live well and be kind and do what’s right. That isn’t hopeless: that’s hope.


Caesar: The ides of March are come.
Soothsayer: Ay, Caesar; but not gone.
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (Act 3, Scene 1)

I’m a fan of Shakespeare in general, but I have never been able to warm up to Julius Caesar. The last time I saw it staged, I fell asleep in the theatre, marking the one and only time I’ve ever fallen asleep in a theatre. It was that dull.

This is maybe why LIKE AN IDIOT I missed the fact that Suzanne Collins basically stole all the names for the characters in The Hunger Games from that play.

You may remind me about this the next time I try to sound smart about something.

Yes, I Did Buy that Skirt in Portland

Put a Bird On It

By request, here is a picture of me in my boots that mean business, doing my best to look like a librarian/writer/widow/coddled woman of leisure in my office.

I think this is the messiest angle we can get in my still-clean office, but I kind of like the way I’m trying not to crack up while Jason is taking my picture. Also, you can see my Military Xander action figure in the background, which is one of my favorite possessions. I’ve wanted one ever since I read about Mia’s in The Princess Present by Meg Cabot.

I would like to note, too, that they totally nailed Portland with that Put a Bird on It sketch on Portlandia, because in addition to that skirt, I own a purse I bought in Portland that has a bird on it (well, two birds: here is a picture of me carrying it proudly the morning after I saved it from a mugger).

But back to the boots.

In addition to making an amazing noise when I walk, they make me a couple inches taller. I like my spine straight, so I don’t own a ton of shoes with heels, but having my head a couple inches higher than I’m used to is an amazing, powerful feeling. Also, sometimes when I wear my boots, one of my coworkers, Carol, shouts “Work it, baby!” as I walk by, which is one of those things that brightens my day. I am, in fact, working it, and I appreciate someone noticing (well, a kind and safe person like Carol, anyway).

I can also wear completely weird socks when I wear my boots, and no one knows.

This is not one of my more focused posts.

Quotable Wednesday

“And maybe getting a grip and letting go are not so dissimilar, when the holding on or the letting go is all part of moving on–getting on with it. Getting on with the difficult and dizzying business of living.”
-Tim Wynne-Jones in “Blink & Caution” (2011 Boston Globe Horn Book Fiction Award Winner speech), The Horn Book Magazine, January/February 2012

A Book Cover’s Guide to Swooning

So the girl on the cover this book called Swoon by Nina Malkin doesn’t look like she’s swooning so much as she looks like maybe she’s sleeping:


Or maybe she’s dead. Or… something. Not swooning, though.

The girl on the cover of the sequel, Swear, doesn’t look like she’s swearing. She looks like she’s swooning:


Wouldn’t it have been great to have that girl with that hair and that dress on the cover giving everyone the finger? I’d read that book. I should write that book.

And, fine, I find this cover intriguing, too, or I wouldn’t be blogging about it.

Last, there’s this girl swooning in midair on the cover of After Obsession by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel:

after obsession

I want a dress like that and an event to wear it to, and not a swooning event. If I’m going to swoon, I don’t need to dress up. I can just do that at home in my If You Give a Mouse a Cookie pajamas or whatever.