September 30, 2008

Kidlit Conference '08: Part II

Sheesh, it's so much later than I was hoping to post this. I don't know where the time goes. And before I start, I just want to say that you should head over to the Cybils blog bright and early tomorrow and get nominatin'!

So I realized that I forgot an important part of my conference day in my post yesterday. I had a fairly quiet start to the morning, sitting down to breakfast in the hotel restaurant; there weren't many people in the section where the hostess seated me, and I had brought my notes for the Cybils panel to peer at over coffee. Soon, I was joined by Greg Pincus of GottaBook, whom I'd met at the 2007 SCBWI summer conference; not long after that, we were joined by a few more, and soon it was a friendly and lively affair, and a nice start to the day. I just wanted to point that out.

Anyway, when I last left off, we'd just enjoyed the second keynote panel with Colleen and Jackie. After that, we all adjourned to one of two offerings: one for beginning bloggers and one for intermediate/advanced bloggers. I attended the latter: Kick Your Blog Up a Notch with Pam Coughlan, aka MotherReader. Now, there's no drawing of MotherReader, simply because she was so animated and lively and funny that my doodling just couldn't keep up. If you're familiar with her TEOTF article "Be a B-List Blogger," this was the live version, updated for 2008, with a healthy bonus dose of the funny.

Then...well, then it was time for the Cybils session. I had to miss Mark Blevis' session on podcasting, but I had the wonderful privilege of being part of a panel with Jen Robinson (whom I met in person for the first time earlier that day--which is silly, because we only live about an hour and a half away from each other) and Jackie Parker. We talked about how the Cybils work, and got a lot of great questions and suggestions, and we even had a nice conversation with Philip Lee--yes, the Lee of Lee & Low Books, who also joined us for lunch--"us" being MotherReader, Jackie, Colleen, Jen, Anastasia Suen, and me. Philip was so wonderful and so interested in all of us bloggers, and he donated a ton of excellent prizes for the raffle, too. I'm now proudly sporting a button that says "Yes We Can: A Biography of Barack Obama." But I'm getting ahead of myself. Check back for Part 3!

Banned Books Week: Baseball

ALA's Banned Books week continues, and today's challenged book is Ken Mochizuki's Baseball Saved Us which was challenged in 2006. Questions about the book's appropriateness for second grade reading lists rose in New Milford, Connecticut school districts because the book uses the word "Jap" as a taunt.

Baseball Saved Us is about Japanese families living in internment camps during World War II, and how playing baseball gave shape to their lives and reminded them that they were still a part of America, despite the fact that they were being treated as enemy combatants and strangers in their own country. I was really surprised that this book was challenged; I actually bought this for my little brother years and years ago, so I've read it. I know that the word "Jap" was used, but it was used in a way that made it obvious to even the youngest reader or listener that it was said hurtfully, and it wasn't right. Being called names were the least of the troubles in which Japanese Americans found themselves during that part of history, and even second graders can be counted on to know what bad names are, and how they're hurtful.

Everyone wants to protect little kids -- and protecting them from having to live in a world again where things like internment camps happen means allowing them to be informed about injustice in a way they can understand.

Celebrate your right to read -- and to learn! Happy Banned Books Week!

September 29, 2008

Kidlit Conference '08: Part I

I've been looking forward to this for ages. Since last year, actually, when I just didn't have the travel funding to go to the first annual Kidlit conference. (We were saving up for a trip to the Venice Biennale last fall.) So I was really eager to meet fellow bloggers and represent for FW and RR at Kidlit 08: Bridging Books and Blogs.

On Friday evening, I arrived in Portland, and had the opportunity to try to transport myself to Deschutes Brewery downtown to meet up with kidlitosphere folks, but I was tired, and also feeling shy, so I didn't make it out of the hotel. Instead, I treated myself to a late dinner in the hotel restaurant and went back to my room to relax. I figured an early night was not a bad idea, since the day of conference fun was going to kick off around 8:00 a.m. (I am not a morning person. Not a bit.)

Shortly after 8:00, our lovely hostesses Laini Taylor and Jone MacCulloch welcomed everyone to Portland, and the day kicked into high gear. The first session was "Bridging Books and Blogs: A panel discussion about the Kidlitosphere," with Mark Blevis, Betsy Bird, Alice Pope, Dia Calhoun (our fellow Mills alum), and Lorie Ann Grover. I did take actual written notes, but as I have a tendency to do, I also doodled little pictures of the people who were presenting. Pictured at right: Lorie Ann Grover and Alice Pope. Pictured below: Mark Blevis.

I feel compelled to offer the following: Please do not be offended if I didn't doodle your picture. It probably means one of three things: a) I did not have a good view of your face from where I was sitting; b) you were moving around (which is not a criticism); or c) I was so rapt by what you were saying that I was too distracted/busy writing stuff down to draw you. Or, d) I did draw your picture, but I didn't like how it turned out so I don't want to show it to the public. :)

Anyway, one of the ideas that stuck with me from the opening session was the example of the Readergirlz, whose online and offline success seemed attributable in part to having a well-defined mission--a driving interest and a unique purpose. I don't know if FW has that--or needs it, since we're basically just two writers and readers talking about stuff we like--but it's something to ponder. Do we need a mission? Is FW really a project, or is it more of a pastime?

In any case, it was so exciting to get to meet such a great group of writers and bloggers in person--I can't emphasize that enough. Then, at 9:10, Colleen Mondor and Jackie Parker (over there on the right) spoke on "Making the Most of the Community: Blog Tour Events." I was especially looking forward to meeting Colleen, since we've communicated so often due to the SBBT/WBBT and working together on Guys Lit Wire; and I'd already met Jackie over the summer during a trip to Seattle, along with Alkelda the Gleeful, so I was super happy to see them both again.

It's funny, but when I met you all in person it was like we already knew each other, even though we kinda sorta didn't. I imagine that's what it's like when you think you knew someone in a past life (if you believe in that sort of thing, which I tend not to, but it's fun to think about). More on past life friends tomorrow, in Part II...

TBR3: A Tale of Two Cities - And So It Goes

It's the end of The Big Read. Thanks to Leila for organizing this!

Book III, The Track of the Storm, Chapters 13-15
Chapter 13 ~ Fifty-two
I don't know how a person who is on Death Row can compose his mind. Of course, in California, prison terms seem to last full lifetimes, and one considers one's mortality for ages, but the guillotine worked a lot faster. Poor Charles, knowing full well that he's going to die, tries to compose himself.
His hold on life was strong, and it was very, very hard, to loosen; by gradual efforts and degrees unclosed a little here, it clenched the tighter there; and when he brought his strength to bear on that hand and it yielded, this was closed again.
What a very Victorian sentiment, the idea that one is meant to compose oneself, and go to one's death quietly. WHY??? What is dignity if one is dead? But eventually, Charles manages to calm himself for the sake of his spouse and thinking of others who have nobly gone, and he writes a few letters. He "never once" thinks of Sydney Carton.


And then follow some of the most amazingly awful but author-awesome passages. Dickens really stretches his imagination and gets into the mind of someone waiting to be executed -- the things that go over and over in one's head, the desire to know everything about the scaffolding, the disproportionately huge interest in what will be over in seconds -- it's written so well, and it's so awful.

This chapter is just SO AWFUL. When Sydney Carton comes, and has Charles exchange clothes with him, and write out a letter, and we finally see what he bought at the chemist -- although, he had three packets from him. I find myself hoping the other two packets were poison, and that he dies painlessly and soundlessly before the blade falls.

The next "so awful" moment is the realization that Charles is writing Sydney's farewell letter to him. The third "so awful" comes quickly after that, when Sydney is recognized as not being Charles by the young seamstress (a poor little faint thing, self-described -- why Mr. Dickens? She's not in hysterics. She's brave.), who wants to hold his hand on the way to the guillotine.

Now approaching the end of this, I recall at my first reading being so conflicted in the last chapters of the book -- not at all loving Charles and Lucie, but not wanting Sydney's sacrifice to be in vain. This time, I imagine reading this book the year it was written, 1859, and positively swooning and writhing (my brow, anyway) over reading it in weekly installments. No skipping ahead, and no way to avoid the emotional impact of the end. Brilliant. Writers should do more installment writing now. Cliffhangers improve the circulation, it has been said.

I'm so completely avoiding. Must read on...

The wind is rushing after us, and the clouds are flying after us, and the moon is plunging after us, and the whole wild night is in pursuit of us; but, so far, we are pursued by nothing else.

Chapter 14 ~ The Knitting Done
At last! Miss Pross. Thank goodness. If not for comic relief, I trust her to cross swords -- or knitting needles -- with Madame DeFarge, and come out on top. Jeremiah Cruncher, too, is a changed man. If only the innocent can be saved, he will change in some unnamed way, and leave Mrs. Cruncher alone in her "flopping." No one in poor Jerry's world understands one word in five that he says, but Miss Pross is distracted enough to not really care, and I'm glad, anyway, that he's going to give the poor woman a break.

The dawning horror of Madame DeFarge coming and coming and them dithering and fussing -- arrgh! And then, she comes, and Miss Pross has to hold her by herself.

"I am a Briton," said Miss Pross, "I am desperate. I don't care an English Twopence for myself. I know that the longer I keep you here, the greater hope there is for my Ladybird. I'll not leave a handful of that dark hair upon your head, if you lay a finger on me!"

Go, Miss Pros!
Oh, DRAMA! Miss Pross finally makes it to the carriage at the cathedral. In the end, it's a small price to pay for... *cough*
That's right.
We're encouraging others to read this for themselves, aren't we? So, run along...

Chapter 15 ~ The Footsteps Die Out Forever
Just two words. No real elaboration. Charles Dickens is a master.
But I still freaking hate him at the moment.

During the final "prophetic" soliloquy, Dickens mentions the future deaths of those who have incited the revolution to such bloody ends, proving yet again that those who live by the sword -- or the revolver tucked away handily -- generally die by the same. He also spoke about a golden future in which France straightens itself up and does better. It's all cycles on Fortune's Wheel, and Sydney throwing himself under the wheel for someone else means that someday he'll have a namesake who rises high in his chosen field, and makes his name great again.

The idea of a wheel means that it continues to turn. A vexing truth: trouble always comes again...

The Big Read: it's been awesome, the best of times, and the worst. I need a few hankies and a lie-down before I read anything else, however. I feel like I ought to be trying to apply the text to relevant times, life right now, political expediency, something... but I'm too sad.

'til next time, The Big Read rests.

September 28, 2008

Sharing Some Love

I don't have a full report ready yet after the 2nd Annual Kidlit Conference, but rest assured it's coming tomorrow, complete with a photo or two and even some little doodles of kidlit folks (yes, I'm one of those people who doodles during presentations...don't worry, I'm still paying attention!! Probably.).

Anyway, in the meantime, check out the photo of everyone on the kidlit blog site (hint: I'm the one with my eyes closed! Big surprise) and don't miss the roundups as they get posted. And, I just want to also mention how wonderful it was to meet everyone in person. You are all lovely.

Banned Books Week: In the Night Kitchen

Every year that The Chocolate War is still on some school's banned list kind of gives me a headache. I always wonder if anyone has actually read the book -- really read it. How can they get upset? But, it's a perennial "favorite," and so it stays.

I paged through a picture book only last summer when I was weeding through my Mom's classroom library, and read The Night Kitchen through again for old time's sakes. A weird dream a child has, hearing strange noises and falling through space, falling out of his pajamas and into a cake... I couldn't imagine why it could be banned. And then I read -- for nudity. Really!? Oh, yeah. Mickey falls out of his pajamas.

...I won't bother telling you how many dreams I've had when I've been undressed. Or halfway undressed. Or dressed in strips of carpet. Our unconscious minds are surreal places, but the point of the book is about what's in the dark -- and how to cope with it.

Banning a book misses the point of a story. Celebrate your right to read!

September 27, 2008

Banned Books Week

Welcome to Banned Books Week! Since 1982, this yearly last-week-in-September ALA event reminds us all not to take our freedoms for granted. This year, 2008, marks BBW's 27th anniversary. Celebrate the freedom to read!

September 26, 2008

Poetry in His Soul

I love you, Sherman Alexie.

I still don't think of him as a poet, but his words occasionally make me spontaneously weep.

Books, Blogs, and Baggage

Today is a momentous day in the world of kidlit. Our National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Jon Rhymes-With-Fresca, receives his medal as part of the National Book Festival, er, festivities.

And, I'm (sort of) busily packing away for tomorrow's 2nd Annual Kidlitosphere Conference in Portland--yay! I'll do my best to represent for FW and RR, and for the Cybils. I can't wait to meet some of my online blogging friends in person for the first time (and see a few of you again!), and I look forward to some great discussions about blogging, writing, and books. I promise a full report (or at least an informative overview) after I get back. It may not materialize until Monday, though...I also have art appreciation essays waiting for me to grade when I return. D'oh. Hopefully nobody will refer to the "fifteenth chaple" this time.

Poetry Friday: Friends in the Room

A friend I met my junior year in college gave me a few lines of verse by an author I hadn't heard of -- it was something to do with grain and chaff and it was a little sentimental for me. I chuckled about it, not at all being a sentimental person [*rolls eyes*], and studying too much 19th century literature to take it too seriously at the time. I tucked the quote away in a journal, and read it periodically, liking the words, but still not quite understanding.

Years later, I dig out the verse with the comprehension that was missing. This poem is actually not a poem at all, though it was included in the 1936 version of Best Loved Poems of the American People under the title "Friendship." It is really an exclamation from a character in an 1859 novel called A Life for a Life by the English writer Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, who was born in 1826. From the Wikipedia entry:

A Life for a Life (1859)
Thus ended our little talk: yet it left a pleasant impression. True, the subject was strange enough; my sisters might have been shocked at it; and at my freedom in asking and giving opinions. But oh! the blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one's deepest as well as one's most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely. Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.
Somebody must have done a good deal of the winnowing business this afternoon; for in the course of it I gave him as much nonsense as any reasonable man could stand ...

I posted this piece for one of my very early Poetry Fridays, and this slightly revised version seems a fitting retread for today.

Imagine a world where the breath was used for that kindness of blowing the unintended nonsense away...

Poetry Friday is hosted by the inestimable Miss Rumphius.

TBR3: A Tale of Two Cities

III. The Track of the Storm, Chapters 9-12
Are you reading?

Chapter 9 ~The Game Made
While the real tense stuff is going on in another room, Mr. Lorry has asked the fatal question of the reluctant Jeremiah Cruncher, that is, what else he might do for a living, besides working as a messenger for Tellson's. One has to wonder if Mr. Lorry has ever actually spoken to Jerry Cruncher, other than to order him to take a message somewhere. Has he actually looked at him, thought of him as a real person? Does he understand one word in four of the gibberish about flopping and whatnot that he's now saying to him? Somehow, I doubt it.

Jerry's reply to Mr. Lorry is that one can't blame the goose without the gander -- a Resurrection Man doesn't work without the doctors who bank at Tellson's -- ! It's maybe time to change careers anyway, and become a real gravedigger. I like that he suggests that his son keep his job so that he can take care of his mother. Maybe he doesn't mean it, but it sounds good.

Meanwhile, we spend a melancholy time with Sydney Carton. He has arranged...something with the sheep of the prisons for the morrow, and then takes poor sad Mr. Lorry to the Manette's house to look after Her. I hate that Lucie is still the obsession of so many people. Gak.

Sydney walks the night away through the dangerous city, which seems to have no power to hurt him. He buys the makings of some kind of incendiary device from the chemist. Is this Plan B? Sydney walks, remembering what was read out at his father's funeral. I am the resurrection and the life... Not sure if this is more meant to be thoughtful than hopeful or what. I can't figure out Sydney Carton's frame of mind at all... can't say I like that.

Meanwhile, the morning of the trial. Lucie's brow is, of course, looking its best. There's the usual sham of justice, with charges being read and false witnesses being produced, but then -- the twist -- Doctor Manette is said to have been the one who accused Charles. The DeFarges are the other two, and I think bloodthirsty Jacques III is counting on the fact that a.) the cell has burned and b.) that the doctor doesn't remember anything from that time in his life. I remember them looking for something in that cell!!! But they didn't find anything... did they!?

Chapter 10 ~ The Substance of the Shadow
The writings of Doctor Manette -- truly the writings of Doctor Manette?? -- tell an horrible story of Charles Darnay's ...father, and uncle, and the evil that they did to peasants when he was a tiny child. Finally readers see the reason Doctor Manette was originally put away for eighteen years in prison, and the rabble determines that Charles will go back to Concierge and be guillotined in twenty four hours.

This was such arresting reading that I couldn't come up to comment.

Chapter 11 ~ Dusk
Lucie swoons, but for once, she pops back up and asks to embrace Charles, all nonsense set aside, now that she's heard that he is doomed. Amazingly, the two guards present let them embrace, and the family is able to mourn together for awhile. Lucie is able to see Charles away with a positive expression (although, what expression could one really give?), and then, then she faints. Unfortunately, her father is collapsing too. Sydney and Mr. Lorry are them to gather them and take them to a carriage.

At the house, Lucie Junior animates long enough to prevail upon Sydney to save her parents. He briefly kisses the fainted Lucie, says something to her, then goes out, telling Doctor Manette to try and prevail upon the revolutionaries to save his son-in-law. And then, he has one last conversation with Mr. Lorry, where they agree that nothing can save Charles... and Sydney walks out with "a settled step." Which means he has a plan to save him, and sacrifice himself.

Oh, I'm sick.

Chapter 11 ~ Darkness
Shadow. Darkness. Dusk. These chapter titles are so evocative. Darkness we know indeed, as Sydney goes about in Saint Antoine to be seen -- as an Englishman who resembles Charles. Because of his perambulations to the wine shop, we now have evidence of the root of Madame DeFarge's twisted mind. It was her family against whom the Marquis first transgressed so horribly; the Marquis put the Doctor in prison because he knew of what had been done to her sister, her brother, and her brother in law. Her denouncing the family of the Marquis makes some sense... but the bloodbath of others uninvolved assures us that she is quite, quite unhinged. And who on earth is The Vengeance? She just has popped up as a continuing faceless character -- is she the mother of the child who was run over, and the widow of the man hung at the fountain? An editor nowadays would have taken Dickens to task for that randomness, but for now, The Vengeance really is more a word than a character; The Vengeance always follows Madame DeFarge.

Poor Monsieur DeFarge. He's beginning to worry that the bloodshed will not end until his wife has managed to exterminate everyone.

Poor Doctor Manette. I have to say that I expected this, and almost wondered if Sydney had pushed him to bring him to this place, so that he could seem pitiful, and not as dangerous or apt to be denounced.

"I cannot find it," said he, "and I must have it. Where is it?"

His head and throat were bare, and, as he spoke with a helpless look straying all around, he took his coat off, and let it drop on the floor.

"Where is my bench? I have been looking everywhere for my bench, and I can't find it. What have they done with my work? Time presses: I must finish those shoes."

They looked at one another, and their hearts died within them.

"Come, come!" said he, in a whimpering miserable way; "Let me get to work. Give me my work."

Receiving no answer, he tore his hair, and beat his feet upon the ground, like a distracted child.

"Don't torture a poor forlorn wretch," he implored them, with a dreadful cry; "but give me my work! What is to become of us, if those shoes are not done to-night?"

Lost, utterly lost!

Their hearts died, how tragically apt. Doctor Manette is once again a prisoner in his mind, and Sydney and Mr. Lorry are the only ones left who can act to save anyone. Sydney knows all too well that Madame DeFarge has made up her mind that the Manettes are no longer friends of the Republic, no matter their histories. As it is a capital crime to mourn for a victim of the guillotine, Lucie is next on the list, and then her child, and then her father.... But Sydney Carton has a plan. He and Mr. Lorry take Doctor Manette up to Lucie, and he says... farewell.

I don't see a way around it. SOMEONE is going to die...

September 25, 2008

Toon Thursday: Not Quite a Rebuttal...

We had an awfully fascinating, albeit heated discussion on the site a few days back, and I didn't really make much of a contribution to the fray. That's because part of me--the part that shies from confrontation--didn't want to touch this with a ten-foot pole. I've been swamped this week, and I just couldn't seem to organize my thoughts into a sufficiently coherent form to weigh in. I'm actually not even sure I have a strong opinion one way or the other.

However, another part of me--the snarky and irreverent part--took one look at the conversation and saw a scene just ripe for toon-ification. That part of me very sternly and convincingly said, "Hey! Now you don't have to come up with a real idea for Toon Thursday! How 'bout that!" So consider this my two cents.

Sunny Downtown Forks, Washington

Via the Smart B's, Trashy B's comes a great little story about the real town of Forks...

A little disappointed that the next Twilight book isn't coming out? Need a dose of hard, white, sparkle in your life? Visit Forks, Washington, and head down to La Push! Give blood at a blood drive organized by the... Cullens. Go and enlarge the economy of a town that was rapidly going downhill due to the fall off of timber mills and logging. They're eager to welcome you, and have really done an amazing job of recreating a fictional place in a short time.

This is the SECOND COOLEST THING that has happened because of the Twilight books. I still think the FIRST coolest thing is that Gail Gauthier Book Evangelized her hair stylist. That is still my all-time favorite Twilight tale.

Oh, no!

Goodbye, Minx.

Always a bummer when a graphic novel imprint goes under.

September 24, 2008

TBR3: A Tale of Two Cities - Wheels Within Wheels

Are you reading?

Oh, dear. Events are hastening to their close, citizens. Mr. Dickens is pitting the forces of good and evil against each other, and ...I may have words with him about some of the ideas he has. I'm being reminded that this is a 19th century melodrama more with each passing chapter.

To the text!
Book III - The Track of the Storm, Chapters 5-8

Chapter 5 ~ The Wood-Sawyer
I love that "sawyer" was once a verb.
Lucie's poor brow is permanently ruffled, but Dickens seems to have written her into a state of Hallowed Purity yet again, as she waits and is Good and Kind and Patient and whatever other virtues you can shove into a sentence. Lucie doesn't spend a lot of time weeping and cursing her spouse's stupidity -- and possibly her own, for bringing her daughter into the land of death. Her father is the only one she cries to, and that, only occasionally, such a good girl is she. And eventually, her Goodness, Patience and Quietude is rewarded. Papa finds her a place to look at the prison so that Charles can perhaps see her. He's only maybe allowed there sometimes on every fifth Tuesday, but our girl is Good -- have I mentioned that? And thus she is there daily, without fail, dragging her child behind her.

In all weathers, in the snow and frost of winter, in the bitter winds of spring, in the hot sunshine of summer, in the rains of autumn, and again in the snow and frost of winter, Lucie passed two hours of every day at this place; and every day on leaving it, she kissed the prison wall. Her husband saw her (so she learned from her father) it might be once in five or six times: it might be twice or thrice running: it might be, not for a week or a fortnight together. It was enough that he could and did see her when the chances served, and on that possibility she would have waited out the day, seven days a week.

Of course, Lucie's routine gets noticed.
Is it ominous if a woodsman's favorite phrase is, "But it's not my business" as he watches her? Or is he serious? He used to be a road mender... Huh. Then, because this is a farce, there's a line dance...

My OED also mentions the carmagnole as a peasant jacket, and additionally, from the encyclopedia: The farandole is an open-chain community dance popular in the County of Nice, France. The farandole bears similarities to the gavotte, jig, and tarantella. The carmagnole of the French Revolution is a derivative.

The "ding-dong, the wicked aristocrat is dead" dance really was danced in the streets. Dissent: not something well known during the French Revolution. Can you imagine declining this impromptu jig? "Merci, non, I prefer not to dance in the blood of my enemies in the streets." Eh? You say "non" to the line dance? Well then, off with your head... Oh, I can see I wouldn't have survived this.

Lucie's father reassures her -- that wild heathen dancing scared wittle old her! -- and lets her know that Charles can see her, and she can blow him a kiss. Unfortunately, Madame DeFarge sees her blowing kisses but Lucie's being packed off anyway. Charles is finally going to be tried for his ...crimes.

How long is Doctor Manette's eighteen years of imprisonment going to stand him in good stead? How long will he be enough to protect Lucie from Madame DeFarge's shadow? The chapter ends with another mystery: WHO do they meet at Tellson's who hugs Lucie in greeting? Who has come to Paris -- for heaven's sakes, who's left in England!? It had better not be Sydney. That's all I'm saying.

Chapter 6 ~ Triumph
So, Charles Darnay's trial begins. Dickens says something really interesting in this chapter about the prisoners -- they're living in their own strange world. They hold "entertainments" nightly, and periodically, last minute substitutions have to be made, which just seems surreal. He adds,

In seasons of pestilence, some of us will have a secret attraction to the disease-a terrible passing inclination to die of it. And all of us have like wonders hidden in our breasts, only needing circumstances to evoke them.

Unfortunately, the "passing inclination" of the season of pestilence passes; the guillotine is kind of permanent... That makes me really thoughtful.

Doctor Manette has carefully, carefully coached Charles on the matter of his arraignment, and he comes through beautifully. Monsieur Gabette -- alive and unscathed -- emerges, and corroborates Charles' tale of why he was actually in the country, and voilá -- the fickle crowd loves him, and he pardoned. He goes home, the Child Bride faints, all is well.

I admit myself somewhat bewildered disgusted as to why Lucie is seen to be guided through appropriate behavior. It's like watching a parent prompt a child. "Now, what do you say to your Daddy, Lucie? Can you say 'thank you for rescuing my husband'? Come on, honey, you can do it." Her father objects to her being weak and trembly, but so far, no one objects to her being a brainless idiot. Strange, that.

Wonder where the DeFarges made off to at the end of the trial? What was with them glaring at the jury? Hmmm.

Chapter 7 ~ A Knock at the Door
If I'm ever held captive in a revolution, please just bring me Miss Pross.
Although Miss Pross, through her long association with a French family, might have known as much of their language as of her own, if she had had a mind, she had no mind in that direction; consequently she knew no more of that "nonsense" (as she was pleased to call it) than Mr. Cruncher did.

Hee! "Nonsense." Her employer only makes his living from teaching French, but it's nonsense to Miss Pross. I can hear her now saying, "Whatever," in a most crushingly dismissive way. Hee!

Is it just me, or is Doctor Manette just a wee bit proud of himself? The phrase "I have saved him" from the last chapter grated on me just a teensy bit. And, since Dickens was a typical 19th century bloke, versed in Biblical literature, I think I can see the shape of things to come: "Pride goes before destruction," after all. Dickens isn't exactly subtle in his intentions, and as Miss Pross and Jerry Cruncher go out to do the shopping -- wisely varying their purchases and the neighborhoods in which they procure -- the redcaps come for Charles again. And now we know where the DeFarge family got off to -- Midnight Murder and Mischief -- or madness -- Central. And now Charles is going to Saint Antoine, to answer for his crimes again.

Chapter 8 ~ A Hand at Cards
Once again, Dickens has surprised the heck out of me.
I've read this book before. Three times... but ages and years ago. And so, it's so much fun to go through and recall -- and be shell-shocked -- by the bits I've forgotten. First, Miss Pross finds her brother Solomon!!! And, none of us expect him to be loving -- she has a massive blind spot for the wee scunner -- but man, is he ungracious. No longer in prison, he's... an official in France!? Second, Jerry Cruncher seems to recognize him -- and asks him his name, says he was a spy at the Bailey!?!? And third shocker: Ol' Solly now goes by the name ...John Barsad!!!!

JOHN BARSAD. THAT guy, whose name is embroidered in Madame DeFarge's quilt o'deadliness! Only, he's pretending to be someone else now? Eh? He's no longer English?

...OH. NO!. My Sydney!
(Note to C. Dickens: You and I are going to throw down if you kill off one of my favorite characters. I'm just sayin'.)

It seems now that Mr. Carton knows... something. He sees through this "sheep of the prisons" and though I can't yet tell which side the blighter is on, Sydney knows.

And the card game begins.

I admit: I suck at cards, except for Old Maid. And the occasional game of canasta. Sydney Carton, however, plays a really deep game of cards, and lets Barsad know, in as casual a manner as possible, that he has all of the aces. He could easily become the hero of the hour minute (these Parisians are fickle) by denouncing Barsad, and well Barsad knows it. Sydney could distract everyone and save Charles again. Barsad, the weasel, keeps trying to wriggle out of it:

"I play my Ace, Mr. Barsad," said Carton, taking the answer on himself, and looking at his watch, "without any scruple, in a very few minutes."

"I should have hoped, gentlemen both," said the spy, always striving to hook Mr. Lorry into the discussion, "that your respect for my sister--"

"I could not better testify my respect for your sister than by finally relieving her of her brother," said Sydney Carton.

Oh! Snap!

And it Just. Gets. Better.
Sydney Carton casts his mind back to the first trial in which Charles was accused back home, and remembers there was someone else with him, accusing Charles of being a spy. Barsad/Pross says, oh, no, that poor Roger Cly, he died.

And Jerry Cruncher's hair stands on end!
I had to look up the nursery rhyme to figure out what the heck Dickens was going on about a cow with a crumpled horn doing Jerry's hair. And then I remembered: the cow tosses things. Dogs, mainly.

This is the man all tattered and torn
That kissed the maiden all forlorn
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn

Jerry, who rather evasively does not own how he knows (he kind of suspects that Tellson's representative would not look kindly on his rabble rousing and desecrating graves), relates that the coffin which held the alleged remains of Roger Cly was filled only with paving stones and earth. He remembers his aggravation that night, and repeatedly states he'd choke the blighter for half a guinea. And, so, at last, John-Solomon-Pross-Barsad -- is nicked, as they say. He gives up.

But the viewing of the card hands has been done before witnesses. Sydney wants the loathsome Solomon to have a few private words with him now. And my thoughts are now ominous, ominous, ominous indeed.

And I say to you again, Mr. Dickens: don't try me, here. I will hate you for at least ten minutes if you do what I think you're going to do. If there's some awful Biblical scene about a man laying down his life for his friends, I will throw the book. And wail a little. Don't do it, Mr. Dickens!

Tune in next time to see if Doctor Manette reverts to the shoemaking prisoner of the north tower, or if his strength continues; find out if Miss Pross bops anyone in the head with a handy wine bottle for speaking "nonsense," and learn if Mr. Cruncher's headquills raise any further, and make him the goblin he truly longs to be. Will this family will ever leave this benighted country in one piece???

Because a Semi-Colon is Not a Surgical Procedure

Once again, it's that special day which encourages professional sign makers, business persons and elementary students to really try and learn how to use an apostrophe properly. It's National Punctuation Day!

I just listened to the Punctuation Rap, (or you can listen to the funky blues version, if you want to actually understand the words -- the kids who do the rap are cracking up and not quite as clear) and thus am full of love for the world of properly punctuating people in the blogosphere.

The rap is a part of program called Punctuation Playtime for first through sixth graders put together by the guy who put Punctuation Day on the calendar four years ago, Jeff Rubin. I expect he's running around East Bay schools as Punctuation Man today. This whole thing makes me chuckle because it's making me think of "Conjunction Junction." And if you don't know what I'm talking about, pretend you didn't hear it...

Yesterday I read a piece in the Guardian about L.M. Montgomery -- probably most of you have heard by now that the family of the Anne of Green Gables novelist have chosen to reveal that she died by a deliberate overdose at the age of sixty-seven. I have to admit that I was sort of stunned into silence by that -- mainly because I'm not sure if it matters now. But I like the reasons given by the family:

Kate Macdonald Butler, daughter of Montgomery's youngest son Stuart Macdonald, made the long-kept family secret public in an article for Canada's Globe and Mail. "I have come to feel very strongly that the stigma surrounding mental illness will be forever upon us as a society until we sweep away the misconception that depression happens to other people, not us – and most certainly not to our heroes and icons," she wrote.

Perhaps the legacy of what Anne gave to the rest of us gave her the courage to do that. If only Kate's grandmother could have known.

Ooh! Check out the very cool bookmarks on Guys Lit Wire! Sa-weet!

I am so jealous that it's not even funny. Everybody going to the Portland Kidlitosphere Conference, have fun! And don't forget to write..!

September 22, 2008

Blurring the Lines

It was a buzz, and today it's a launch. YA for Obama is a ning group started by "best-selling young adult authors," according to a Condé Nast blog, who are concerned with creating a place for the under-18's in the democratic process. Their goal? To get Mr. Obama elected.

It's a social-networking site, and it's open to everyone, even, curiously, people who don't support the election of Mr. Obama, and sentient cheese life forms. Those best-selling authors include Holly Black, Judy Blume, Libby Bray, Meg Cabot and of course, the group's founder, Maureen Johnson. There are really cool things on the site, including a link to The Living Room Candidate, which is a collection of scary political commercials since the dawn of televisions, and other spaces to discuss issues such as race and energy and how the economy is impacting people right now.

From many angles, this site seems pretty innocuous. I mean, it's social networking, and we all like the social, yes? There's a kind of sanguine bubbliness in the videos and posters, the slogan suggestions and the posters (and an eye-scalding overuse of the word "awesome"). Everything has a fun, positive vibe.

I'm not sure it IS positive.
I wonder about whether this site constitutes "undue influence" upon the young people at whom it is targeted.

Undue influence is about taking advantage of social position to influence someone to do or think something against what their will. It's about using one's authority to control people, really. It's nasty - subtle and kind of crazy-making, really, because it's hard to prove.

Undue influence is not as obvious as being forced to sign a contract at gunpoint -- or under duress. Undue influence is more insidious, and subtle. It's like being invited to your boss's church, or having a college professor ask you on a date. It's like your priest assuming you'll vote a particular way because the parish would benefit from a certain person being in office. It's taking a personal thing and making it someone else's business, and it's causing someone to do something they maybe wouldn't have chosen to do on their own.

I know that this site intends to provide a place for people who aren't yet voting age to enter into the democratic process, and use their creativity to help Mr. Obama get elected, and a venue like that is certainly a good thing. The content of the site isn't what I wonder about. I do wonder whether we're using our position as storytellers inappropriately. I wonder if we're overstepping our role, and using that privilege as a platform from which to push political views.

In the early American days of big slogans and Manifest Destiny, there was a popular phrase: "...the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world." I prefer not to think of YA'ers as a faceless, nameless force that is ripe for manipulation and direction, even in the kindliest meant ways. When I write for young adults, I write to remind them that adolescence doesn't last forever, and that they're not alone in being basically ignored, condescended to, or disenfranchised. It might seem like a social networking site aimed at including YA'ers in the voting process is a positive and inclusive step, but are we including young adults in a conversation that they want to have? Or is this another way of playing politics and using technology to reach kids "where they live"? Somehow, writers inviting young adults to join them as they stump for a political candidate just doesn't seem entirely

The other day, Liz posted that she votes for herself in terms of sanity, and keeping her blog politics free. I think I vote for me, too, and for keeping secret ballots secret, differentiating between what is politically or morally right and staying the heck out of trying to mix my readers with my politics.

Just thinkin' some thoughts this fine sunny Monday morning.

Please note that though this is a team blog, the opinions of one teammate are not necessarily those of the other member of the blogging team.

TBR3: A Tale of Two Cities - The Dark Before ...?

Are you reading?

Book III - The Track of the Storm, Chapters 1-4

It's the bottom of the ninth, kids. Hard to believe, but we'll finish our scintillating coverage of A TALE OF TWO CITIES this week. And, I have to admit, I'm about ready to be finished. I'm seriously annoyed with Charles Darnay's last move, and I still haven't forgiven him for it. Probably Lucie will wriggle her brow a few times, and get over it, but me, I'm with Miss Pross, who will probably repudiate him and try and get her brother out of jail to marry Poor Lucie.

Well. There's no help for it. The gaping maw of the revolution is before us, and we must go in. Brace yourselves: to the text!

Chapter 1 ~ In Secret
Oh, stupid, stupid, Charles. He travels onward to France, which is more perilous than usual. In everyday travel, one would have bad inns and badly shod horses; now it's bad inns, bad horses and people waking you up at 3 a.m., telling you that they will escort you to France, and making you pay for it. And then, when you're okay with that, calling you "the prisoner".

The word "wife" seemed to serve as a gloomy reminder to Defarge, to say with sudden impatience, "In the name of that sharp female newlyborn, and called La Guillotine, why did you come to France?"

"You heard me say why, a minute ago. Do you not believe it is the truth?"

"A bad truth for you," said Defarge, speaking with knitted brows, and looking straight before him.

"Indeed I am lost here. All here is so unprecedented, so changed, so sudden and unfair, that I am absolutely lost. Will you render me a little help?"

"None." Defarge spoke, always looking straight before him.

SUDDEN!? UNFAIR? HELLO!? People have been dying for. Three. Years. Did he miss this!? Charles, carrying the letter from Monsieur Gabelle, seems still so ...clueless. Granted, it's maybe like how the rest of the world didn't find out about the atrocities committed upon the Jews in WWII -- maybe the British truly didn't know. Dickens assumes this to be so. However, one would think the British knew enough to know that lives were being lost. Daily. Hourly. The king had been overthrown. Did they think revolution happened nicely?

At least Charles has the pride not to ask again. At some point, facing tyranny, one realizes that resistance is futile.

Oh, WHY did Charles think himself so special that this would not happen to him? Because Lucie of the Agile Brow had chosen him? Because he'd made it out of a accusation of treason before!?!? Did he now suppose himself to be magical?


Chapter 2 ~ The Grindstone
Poor Mr. Lorry. He's in Paris, and of course, Tellson's itself has his suitably horrified. First, there's a plaster cupid peering down at the money. Next, there are mirrors, and the Tellson' clerks are apt to dance -- in public! -- at any time. They're French, and when they were there, they were shocking. But the clerks are gone and the people who put the money in are mostly imprisoned or beyond balancing their accounts ever again. Nothing can distract from the murderous bloodlust Mr. Lorry sees in the street. Jarvis Lorry is scared.

His fear -- and trepidation -- only get worse when Lucie and the Doctor show up -- with MISS PROSS AND THEIR CHILD. (Hello!? Child welfare? We have a case for you... Whose idea was it to bring the child AND the nanny? I mean, does Lucie seriously still need her to corral that brow? And wasn't Miss Pross of the opinion that she should always stay in England?!) Oddly, Mr. Lorry locks Lucie in a room briefly -- apparently maybe the nanny is for HER -- and gives Doctor Manette the 411. Because his Bastille street cred goes before him, he's well loved in the city, and knows he can help Charles. He zips out without his hat to La Force, where Charles is being held, and doesn't come back. And Lucie swoons. Because that's helpful and stuff.


Chapter 3 ~ The Shadow
To this lodging he at once removed Lucie and her child, and Miss Pross: giving them what comfort he could, and much more than he had himself. He left Jerry with them, as a figure to fill a doorway that would bear considerable knocking on the head, and returned to his own occupations. A disturbed and doleful mind he brought to bear upon them, and slowly and heavily the day lagged on with him.

Mr. Lorry takes his job seriously. With the roving band of marauders in the streets, he realizes that he personally cannot sacrifice the bank for the silly people who have come to Paris. That he gives them Jerry is both amusing and touching. He's not one of those people who will be easily killed, Jerry isn't, but that Mr. Lorry would leave himself unprotected is poignant. Stupid Charles.

Monsieur DeFarge comes to see Mr. Lorry, and brings with him the merry duo: Mme. DeFarge and The Vengeance. M. DeFarge has a letter for Lucie from Charles, and she's all kissing hands and joy about it -- not seeming to really look at the people who have brought her the letter. MADAME DEFARGE IS FREAKING KNITTING. Does anyone else find this ominous?

You had better, Lucie," said Mr. Lorry, doing all he could to propitiate, by tone and manner, "have the dear child here, and our good Pross. Our good Pross, Defarge, is an English lady, and knows no French."

The lady in question, whose rooted conviction that she was more than a match for any foreigner, was not to be shaken by distress and danger, appeared with folded arms, and observed in English to The Vengeance, whom her eyes first encountered, "Well, I am sure, Boldface! I hope you are pretty well!" She also bestowed a British cough on Madame Defarge; but, neither of the two took much heed of her.

Oh, Miss Pross, I love you. I give a discreet and snide British cough in your honor. I won't even ask what the heck a British cough is, just for you.

Dickens depicts the British as almost childlike in this section, or criminally unobservant. It's still baffling to me. They're in Paris. Lucie has been with her father all this time, surely all of the paper-checks between the Channel and Paris alerted them that something was different in France. Surely the idea that Charles had been imprisoned just for entering the country should have given Lucie some ...idea of the gravity of the situation. But she still seems so grateful, so eager to kiss hands and beg the cold-hearted butchers for help. Charles, at least, caught on a little sooner.

(All right, Dickens. Stop writing the young women as stupid.)

Chapter 4 ~ Calm in Storm
In a surprising a reversal, Mr. Lorry finally realizes he no longer has to worry about Doctor Manette lapsing back into madness. The Doctor, knowing very well evil done unprovoked and without cause, is at home in providing succor to both the Upright Citizens Brigade masquerading under the flag of liberté, equalitié, fraternité -- and death, and those who are the citizen's victims. He's not about to go mad. For once, what he's gone through doesn't make him a weak man, or a nutter about to go off and scandalize polite British society. He can do something for his daughter to help her, and he's set on it.

However, it's not easy, and I have to say I'm glad that Dickens doesn't make it so. We might have been required to suspend our disbelief on some things, but the fact of how many died and how is filled in as fact.

-- though I still have some major issues with the fact that no one told Lucie. She was seventeen when her father was "recalled to life." She's a married woman, at least in her mid-twenties. Can she grow up now? Please?

There was no pause, no pity, no peace, no interval of relenting rest, no measurement of time. Though days and nights circled as regularly as when time was young, and the evening and morning were the first day, other count of time there was none. Hold of it was lost in the raging fever of a nation, as it is in the fever of one patient. Now, breaking the unnatural silence of a whole city, the executioner showed the people the head of the king- and now, it seemed almost in the same breath, the bead of his fair wife which had had eight weary months of imprisoned widowhood and misery, to turn it grey.

France is washing to sea on a tide of blood that Doctor Manette cannot stem, and now Charles has been in prison for a year and a half. There's nothing anyone can do.

I suppose Monsier Gabelle is dead by now. What a horrible irony.

Will Charles EVER get out of prison? Is Jeremiah Cruncher finding a side occupation ferrying corpses across the Channel? Is Miss Pross going to say something tart and acerbic to get everyone going again? Tune in next time as we continue THE BIG READ.

September 19, 2008

Because Da College, She Isna' Cheap

This is a public service announcement: College Isn't Cheap.

Hello, People Who Know Seniors! mental_floss: Where Knowledge Junkies Get Their Fix , is giving away college MONEY. Listen to me now. ¡M-O-N-E-Y! And you don't have to be a 4.0 -- or even a 3.5 -- to get it. mental_floss honors even those of us not on the honor roll. All you have to do is ...want. Then, write.

The Contest: In 750 words or less, explain why you (as the most deserving person on the planet) should win a $10,000 prize for tuition/books in the fall of 2009. The contest is open to full-time students pursuing an undergraduate degree at an accredited two-year or four-year college or university in the U.S. or Canada in the fall of 2009. Essays must be original work and should reflect the tone of mental_floss magazine. Winning essays must be truly memorable. They should be easy-to-read, funny, quirky and creative without being pretentious. Just (we hope) like mental_floss magazine. The prizes will be awarded on the overall quality of your essay.

Eligibility: You must be 18 years of age or older (by August 15, 2009) and a legal resident of the United States (except Puerto Rico), the District of Columbia or Canada (except Quebec) in order to enter.

Go on, read the fine print and if you're eligible, or your kid is eligible, or your neighbor's kid is eligible, stand on their front porch, send them text messages and show up on their dates until they actually put fingers to keyboard and enter.

This has been a public service announcement: Thank you.

Poetry Friday: A Shadow Borne Lightly

God in the Details
by Mike White

I’ve seen to it that ants
carry their dead

in the ceremonial style
of a great long poem

but the distances
are manageable

and how heavy
after all is an ant

when I am myself
a shadow borne

so lightly

Mike White is a Utah poet whose work has appeared in journals including Verse, Poetry, Margie, Fulcrum, The Antioch Review, The Iowa Review, The New Republic, and The Threepenny Review. I'm not able to find much more about him - but I'm looking.

Poetry Friday today is at author amok. Don't miss Jules' discovery of William Stafford's elegant "prayer of a poem;" something you may find yourself reading over and over again.

TBR3: Insufferable Happiness, Insufferable Pain

It's the Big Read: Are you reading?

Crivens! For a brief moment at the beginning of this section, I was quite moved to give Our Charles such a kicking! He was really making me nauseous -- and I couldn't help but wonder if he wasn't perhaps just going a wee bit overboard on the Lucie is the Angel of the Home theme. WHEN was the story going to begin!? We were already a hundred pages in, and modern editors would be writhing in their seats and making big slash marks with their green (my editor uses that merciful shade) pens! But eventually, we got into the meat of it -- and how.

Innocent leaves are being swept along in the tide, and unwise choices are being made. What are these people thinking!?!?!?. Ah, never mind now. To the text!

Book II ~ The Golden Thread,
Chapters 21 - 24

Chapter 21 ~ Echoing Footsteps
I just don't REMEMBER this book being so... tooth-achingly sweet! Pah, for the 19th century sentimental view of women and motherhood and children! I'm in need of a thumping good dose of Mark Twain now. Dickens, my man, I thought better of you.*Sigh*

Ah, well. Our Lucie hath beget, and there is, in the house on the corner, the echoing pitter patter of tiny feet. Lucie is so happy she fears she might die -- and when she's pregnant, she has a rather maudlin imagination and fears that Charles will one day mourn her. Apparently that's normal for the newly married. Anyway, there's an ineffable sense of golden happiness -- even when Lucie's second Little Angel flies back to Heaven from whence he came, he is Good and Compassionate and not Sickly and Ailing and causing his parents pain and agony as he dies. Oh, no, he's practically chirpy as he returns to his Maker, and even says to comfort Syd when he's gone. ALL holy wee babies love Sydney Carton, aren't all the children of the Agilely Browed attracted to dissolute drunks?

Dickens. Stop it. Now.

Syd is still being dragged along in Stryver's wake as his "jackal." Though married to a well-off widow, and the steppapa to three boys, Stryver is still just as stupid as ever, now telling the story of how Lucie set out to catch him, and how he evaded her. Stryver, then, is still a blowhard and a liar, but elsewhere the world is actually changing. There's a run on Tellson's bank. French people are desperately withdrawing and depositing monies, and Mr. Lorry and the dessicated husks at the bank are actually being required to work with some haste -- which probably raises puffs of dust and arthritic creaking.

Mr. Lorry takes refuge at the home of the Manette's, but meanwhile, back at the village...

"Come, then!" cried Defarge, in a resounding voice. "Patriots and friends, we are ready! The Bastille!"

With a roar that sounded as if all the breath in France had been shaped into the detested word, the living sea rose, wave on wave, depth on depth, and overflowed the city to that point. Alarm-bells ringing, drums beating, the sea raging and thundering on its new beach, the attack begun.

Jacques Three -- the bloodthirsty one -- and DeFarge race into the Bastille, and then shove a turnkey ahead of them to One Hundred and Five, North Tower. It is Alexandre Manette's old cell, and they tear it apart -- seeming to be in search of something...? Not finding it, they burn the cell, and go away, down to the main floors, to print their blood-stained footprints throughout the streets of Paris.

Chapter 22 ~ The Sea Still Rises
Saint Antoine has changed:
The raggedest nightcap, awry on the wretchedest head, had this crooked significance in it: "I know how hard it has grown for me, the wearer of this, to support life in myself; but do you know how easy it has grown for me, the wearer of this, to destroy life in you?" Every lean bare arm, that had been without work before, had this work always ready for it now, that it could strike. The fingers of the knitting women were vicious, with the experience that they could tear. There was a change in the appearance of Saint Antoine; the image had been hammering into this for hundreds of years, and the last finishing blows had told mightily on the expression.

It's not the men who have changed so much. Dickens, squarely showing himself a man of his times, mostly fears for the changes in the women, who are now insanely overwrought and murderous, tearing at themselves and screaming for blood, and dropping into indelicate swoons -- from which the men save them.

Apparently, a woman with agency to act is A Very Scary Dame in the 19th century! It's interesting how much better the men come off in this -- even as everyone is killing everyone else. And, so, the rabble of Saint Antoine is roused, and the blood of le bête noir, -- littered with grass -- flows in the streets...

Chapter 23 ~ Fire Rises
Road mender Jacques is still working -- though who might be paying him now, I can't tell. The more things have changed in the village, the more they stay the same; though blood has been shed and tyranny roused, people are still starving. They continue to blame Monseigneur for everything -- the weather, the crops, the state of the world -- where previously he was held up as an example of worthy Class.

The road mender is working in the dust when he meets another Jacques. They exchange ritual signals, the new Jacques, dressed in wooden shoes and animal skins, sleeps for a few hours through hailstorms and sun, and then they part ways at sunset, the road mender going to the fountain in the middle of town, and the other Jacques going two leagues beyond there.

The entire village looks out in the darkness at the old chateau, and four unknown persons come from North, South, East and West... and it burns. The poor servant left behind tries to rouse everyone to help him fight the fire, but no one cares anymore about preserving things for the Marquis, and one wonders how Monsieur Gabelle has missed that things have changed with regard to the chateau and the village! He spends the night on the roof, preparing to throw himself down and crush a few people at his death if they break down his door.

The night of fire isn't successful everywhere, but it's successful enough. People all over France realize that things are changing.

Chapter 24 ~ Drawn to the Loadstone Rock
I had to look up "loadstone." I thought it might be a cornerstone, but no, it's just loadestone spelled wrong. Or, *cough* a spelling variation. (Whatever, wrong is wrong, Dickens.)

Wee Lucie is now three six years old, and for three years, the house on the corner has been awash in the bloody echoes of the city across the sea. I love how Dickens describes the glittering class as leaving France -- as if Monseigneur had tried for eons to raise the devil and was scared to death when he actually managed it. The royals are all gone, and only their spirits remain. Many of those spirits haunt Tellson's, which is obliging to those formerly rich. It has turned into a meeting place for impoverished Frenchman, who hear news of still wealthy French aristocrats, and hope for help. We find ourselves at this French intelligence bureau and discover that Mr. Lorry is going to Paris... for the bank.

Charles Darnay is remonstrating with him, gently suggesting that he's too old to go, but thinking himself someone with an intelligent voice, to whom people would listen. I have to say that I sort of rolled my eyes at this; last time he visited the Marquis didn't convince him that a.) there was a problem, and b.) people were no longer listening!? Hello? Jarvis Lorry rightly scolds him for even thinking about going to France, and insists that he is going on this one last journey for Tellson's... and taking Jerry Cruncher with him.


(On one hand, I think the DeFarges may at last have met their match. On the other... Boy howdy, talk about going to hell and taking various demons with you. Jerry Cruncher!? Ah, well, better the devil you know. Or don't know about. Or something. At least Mrs. C. will get a break.)

Idiocy runs rampant in Britain about the revolution; Stryver remains, of course, at the forefront of idiocy, and is foaming at the mouth about ungrateful peasants. Darnay sticks around to try and put in a word of sense, but he's suffering himself under a great attack of stupidity.

Doctor Manette has made him promise to keep his true name a secret between them both -- because he's as wise as oceans are deep, despite his occasional attacks of madness, and Darnay is, in his semblance of sanity, quite frankly a fool. Doctor Manette foresaw these troubles, and knew that for Lucie's happiness to be secure that Darnay would have to turn his back on being Marquis D'Aulnais -- but of course, when a letter comes addressed to him at Tellson's, he says he knows the man. Stryver blows hard about Darnay knowing him, and the type of alleged gentleman who would leave his property to the murderous band of cowards, and essentially sputters that he's probably heading them up, and killing off other aristocrats.

Okay: you know it, and I know it: Monsieur le Stupide is going to Paris.

WHY he can't just -- let things go is beyond me. Okay, so there's a letter from Monsieur Gabelle, who is a prisoner in the Abbaye and who is resentful that he's going to be killed merely for being a family servant -- okay. One would wish to do all in one's power to take care of that. And granted, yes, the house should have been sold and the servant discharged eons ago -- who pays these people to keep working and collecting rents after the Master of the House has been murdered? Why did the cycle of life keep going on, even when there was no one to grasp from Saint Antoine and squeeze it to death? Is it really human nature to stay in the shadow of slavery when the cell doors are opened? Dickens is asking us to stretch with him, so, okay: we're stretched. That idiotic man is going to Paris.

And he's not telling his wife or her father until he's gone.

Because there's no point in making a suicide attempt if you don't leave a note.
Pah. I am flat disgusted.

Tune in next time to see just how many pages are devoted to Lucie's trembling swooning, the doctor's rejuvenated madness, and her wrinkled brow. Count the paragraphs and see how long it takes everyone to run after Charles and risk death by maddened mob and guillotine.

September 18, 2008

Toon Thursday: While We're On the Topic of Vampires...

Evidently all rejected book titles are long-winded in my world. Either that, or I have yet to learn that brevity is the soul of wit.

Did you know that Just One More Book now has a newsletter? It's true! Fans of their podcast won't want to miss the cool extras. Maybe we need to start a podcast about YA books...though, considering how elusive (I was gonna say reclusive, but elusive sounds more mysterious) TadMack and I tend to be, I can't imagine that happening. We like to write stuff, not necessarily say stuff. Plus I sound about eight years old in recordings.

September 17, 2008

Books Worth Knowing

A friendly note from a cool person at Flux let me know that A LA CARTE is being featured at the Illinois Library Association's Reading Conference. Along with my book are some other tomes of awesome, including Marla Frazee's well received A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever (here's a Just One More Book podcast from last year), Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, Rapunzel's Revenge, by Shannon Hale, and Siobahn Dowd's The London Eye Mystery, and Paula Yoo's Good Enough.

I'm in fantastically good company. Thanks Illinois librarians!

TBR3: A Tale of Two Cities: Selflessness & Survival

Are you reading?

Detailed, Aquafortis mentioned, and yes, Dickens is that. I note my chapter recaps getting longer and longer and LONGER, so I attempt herewith to reign them IN. To the text!

Book 2: The Golden Thread, Chapters 17-20

Ch. 17 ~ One Night

I think the word that best describes this chapter is selflessness. The 19th century penchant for sentiment-drenched moments of epiphanies between friends is here clearly seen, as Lucie and her father exchange remembrances the night before Lucie's wedding. Yes, it's slightly cloying, to my personal sense of familial affection, but it's also sweet. Lucie clearly doesn't want to abandon her father, and her father, the esteemed "Doctor of Beauvais" does not want her to waste her life nursing him. He actually talks about his past here, more than previously, which gives Lucie chills.
"My child, you did see him, and it is Charles. If it had not been Charles, it would have been another. Or, if it had been no other, I should have been the cause, and then the dark part of my life would have cast its shadow beyond myself, and would have fallen on you."

It was the first time, except at the trial, of her ever hearing him refer to the period of his suffering. It gave her a strange and new sensation while his words were in her ears; and she remembered it long afterwards.

The Doctor is well pleased that Lucie is to be married, and their household undergoes only the slightest change; Lucie will simply take the rooms above where her father lodges, so she will always be near him if he needs her, but has her own home as well. No word on where Miss Pross will stay.

So, this is the night before Lucie marries. I still recall that on the morning of the wedding, Charles will tell the doctor his real name. Despite all being restful and peaceful in the light of the full moon, I don't think that will go well.

Ch. 18 ~ Nine Days
"You were a bachelor in your cradle." Now, there's a line to which there's no easy comeback! Ah, my dear Miss Pross is back -- sniffling and slightly ferocious and completely necessary to render the wedding not completely bile-inducing. I love how she and Mr. Jarvis get along, and though she tells him he was cut out before birth to be a bachelor, I think she has a wee soft spot for him. After all, the woman loves hats -- can't dislike a man who likes his wigs...

As it turns out, Pross and her ferocity are hardly needed to keep the chapter from being a bilge-fest; Doctor Manette came out from talking to Charles looking quite pale and haunted, and the moment Lucie's carriage drove away, he fell into his old madness... for nine whole days.

And dear Mr. Lorry, for the first time in his life, took time off from Tellson's to watch him, in hopes that he'd come back to sanity.

Aaargh! WHY did Doctor Manette wait until the very last minute for Charles to tell him the truth? And WHY did he never tell Lucie? I remember in the last chapter, he talked a lot about having a son to revenge him, and a son to know his story... and a daughter to show him her house and children. Okay, so there's my answer. Lucie of the Agile Brow is obviously no bloody help. Hmph.

Ch. 19 ~ An Opinion
...and then, suddenly SNAP! And everything is back to normal. Sort of.

I grow to respect Mr. Lorry more and more, in these chapters. Before, I thought him a dry stick, a clueless old duffer, to press Miss Pross as to the reasons for Doctor Manette's never speaking of his mental illness. Now he shows himself to be the soul of tact and courage as he broaches the difficult subject, in the name of "a friend," and allows the poor Doctor Manette to know that he has, in fact, slipped his cogs and gone shoe-making mad once again.

"Now, did you ever see him," asked the Doctor, distinctly and collectedly, though in the same low voice, "engaged in that pursuit originally?"


"And when the relapse fell on him, was he in most respects -or in all respects- as he was then?"

"I think in all respects."

19th century readers were familiar with Bedlam Hospital, and its horrors. Dickens must have been deliberately freaking out his readers - and trust me, even sans Bedlam, it's working. Poor Doctor Manette. And the worst things of all is that he doesn't remember what set him off... and Mr. Lorry has guessed very wrongly indeed what it was.

On the night of the day on which he left the house, Mr. Lorry went into his room with a chopper, saw, chisel, and hammer, attended by Miss Pross carrying a light. There, with closed doors, and in a mysterious and guilty manner, Mr. Lorry hacked the shoemaker's bench to pieces, while Miss Pross held the candle as if she were assisting at a murder for which, indeed, in her grimness, she was no unsuitable figure. The burning of the body (previously reduced to pieces convenient for the purpose) was commenced without delay in the kitchen fire; and the tools, shoes, and leather, were buried in the garden. So wicked do destruction and secrecy appear to honest minds, that Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross, while engaged in the commission of their deed and in the removal of its traces, almost felt, and almost looked, like accomplices in a horrible crime.

Ch. 20 ~ A Plea
Ah, the darling and dissolute Sydney returns! I adore Sydney. I can't help it. He's so honest. I aspire to Miss Pross' ferocity and Mr. Carton's honesty -- to go around and tell people, "No, you don't like me. And I don't like you. Let's get over ourselves!" is kind of refreshing, if a bit terrifying. And now he's extended his terrifying uncouth manners to chide Mr. Darnay about using figures of speech instead of saying what he really means.
"Ah!" said Carton, with a careless wave of his hand, as if he waved that away. "On the drunken occasion in question (one of a large number, as you know), I was insufferable about liking you, and not liking you. I wish you would forget it."

"I forgot it long ago."

"Fashion of speech again! But, Mr. Darnay, oblivion is not so easy to me, as you represent it to be to you. I have by no means forgotten it, and a light answer does not help me to forget it."

Charles: Sydney! Of course we're friends.
Sydney: No. We're not. But we should try now.
Love it. Although, it really brings the questions as to why Syd wants to be his friend... for Pure Lucie's sake? Lucie, of course, goes all Eyebrows and Concerned on her husband's behind when he says even the tiniest thing about Syd, and he has to kiss her dear, sweet widdle compassionate tears away. Gak. Lucie still wears me out, but at least she's safely married now, and maybe we can focus on something other than her forehead for a chapter or two...

Tune in next time to see if Doctor Manette rebuilds his cobbler's bench, if Miss Pross should take to more outrageous millinery choices, and if Mr. Lorry might declare himself to her once and for all...

September 16, 2008

Gearing Up for Fall

There are so many exciting kidlitosphere goings-on right now, I can hardly stand it. Besides TadMack and I gearing up for the WBBT in November, I'm also getting REALLY excited about the Portland Kidlit Conference in a couple of short weeks. I'll be doing my best to represent for FW and RR, and I'll also be helping Jen Robinson and Interactive Reader Jackie with a session all about the Cybils. If you're interested in the Cybils and planning to go to the Kidlit conference, stop by the session for an overview of the awards process and helpful hints for panelists and for people who just want to spread the word.

Another cool thing going on this fall is National Arts and Humanities Month, sponsored by Americans for the Arts. Granted, I know we all deserve more than a measly month, but I do like the idea of making arts and culture extra visible for a little while.

Now that I've finally finished reading Breaking Dawn, I felt like I could read the Smart B's post that TadMack linked to without fear of spoilers. Turns out there weren't really spoilers, but it was such a great post that I wanted to link to it again. Thanks to SB Sarah, I now have a new theory: the reason why Bella is so addicted to Edward is that he is, quite literally, MADE OF CRACK. It's what makes him so sparkly.

Since I'm done with vampires for the time being, I'm making an effort to get caught up with Miss and Doctor Manette, the aptly named Jerry Cruncher, Mr. Jarvis Lorry of the Ambiguous Motives, the chocolate-obsessed Monseigneur, the sneakily freedom-fighting Madame Defarge, and the rest of the Tale of Two Cities cast of characters. I'm finding myself a lot more taken with Dickens' sense of humor now, but similarly frustrated at the rather excruciatingly slow pace, though I can appreciate his eye for detail. Every single detail.

September 15, 2008

TBR3: A Tale of Two Cities - Sighing for Versailles

Are you reading?

It occurs to me that we now are thoroughly acquainted with the two cities of which this novel is a tale. Saint Antoine and Soho; Paris and London. In both cities there is graft, theft, degeneracy (which is a great 19th century word) and poverty. In both cities there are good people living above average lives, and average people living lives that could be considered thoroughly dicey. Perhaps Dickens' point is that this selfsame story could have taken place... in either location.

This brainwave came to me because the characters continue to amaze. At times I root for them, then, in the next page, I pretty thoroughly hate them. That's... like real human beings. They're complicated and really hard to pin down.

Dickens. A master novelist kind of guy.

Onward ~ to the text!
Book 2: The Golden Thread, Chapters 13-16

Ch. 13 ~ The Fellow of No Delicacy
Lucie Manette, three, Universe, zip.
It was inevitable that Sydney Carton, poor moody, melancholic Syd, would come admire Lucie's charms next. At least it wasn't with an eye towards securing said charms for his Eeyore-ing self. He once called her a golden-haired doll, and apparently he chooses to use her as small children use dolls -- to talk to, and to tell a secret. They have a thoroughly depressing conversation:

She was pale and trembling. He came to her relief with a fixed despair of himself which made the interview unlike any other that could have been holden.

"If it had been possible, Miss Manette, that you could have returned the love of the man you see before you- self-flung away, wasted, drunken, poor creature of misuse as you know him to be- he would have been conscious this day and hour, in spite of his happiness, that he would bring you to misery, bring you to sorrow and repentance, blight you, disgrace you, pull you down with him. I know very well that you can have no tenderness for me; I ask for none; I am even thankful that it cannot be."

Poor Lucie.
For the first time, I feel kind of sorry for her, and feel that mighty brow might actually be creased in genuine confusion. Imagine some guy coming by and saying, "Basically I'm wrecked over you, but I'm not good enough for you, I know you'll never like me, I'm glad you can't, but for a moment I considered trying hard enough to be better than awful for you, now let's never talk about this again."

At least Syd got it off of his chest.
(I guess.)

Ch. 14 ~ The Honest Tradesman
Ah, Dickens, Dickens. Such irony, using the word "honest."

Here we see Jeremiah Cruncher, heathen rustic (!), surveying the world from his stool in front of Tellson's, along with Jeremiah Junior, who sees a funeral procession coming, and ...cheers, the little ghoul. He gets a thick ear for his pains, but then his father goes off and joins the rowdies who kick out the mourner and take over the hearse of the alleged spy. With a bear processing along out front, they sing and cheer and dump the body at the morgue -- and then rush off to accuse other people of being spies, and kick the crap out of them.


Somehow it doesn't surprise me at all that this Cruncher guy is in the thick of the ignorant behavior of the mob. Not at all. His ignorance continues at home -- where he accuses his wife of praying for him again (showing himself to be a True Believer, only somehow of a backwards sort), not feeding up Jerry Junior and basically bullies and threatens everyone for an interminable length of time, until he orders them to bed.

Meanwhile, Jerry Jr. turns out to be a dab hand at the spying game. He's faked sleeping, knowing his Dad is going "fishing" that night. He follows him and sees him meet with another mysterious fisherman, and then they go to the graveyard...and fish out something horrible, to poor Jerry's eyes.

It hid in doorways too, rubbing its horrible shoulders against doors, and drawing them up to its ears, as if it were laughing. It got into shadows on the road, and lay cunningly on its back to trip him up. All this time it was incessantly hopping on behind and gaining on him, so that when the boy got to his own door he had reason for being half dead. And even then it would not leave him, but followed him upstairs with a bump on every stair, scrambled into bed with him, and bumped down, dead and heavy, on his breast when he fell asleep.

Jeremiah Cruncher returns home without whatever it is he was after while grave-robbing, and he's in a fit. He abuses his wife some more, and goes to bed, but is later cheered by the sly comments of Jerry Junior, who asks what a Resurrection Man might be, and comments that he wishes he might be one someday. His father tells him ponderously to mind that he "dewelop" his talents, and finds himself much soothed to think that his smart boy will make up for the boy's mother.

(At this time, I'd like to say that it is my sincerest hope that Mrs. C. does something really awful to that man.)

Ch. 15 ~ Knitting
Boy, the drinks flow early in Saint Antoine. Six a.m., and Mme. DeFarge is already up and knitting and passing out very bad wine, apparently a sort that makes people more ill-tempered than ever. Nobody seems to notice M. DeFarge's absence, and when he finally appears, there's a general stir of almost... happiness. He's brought a man with him called Jacque, who is a road mender, and young and poor. Jacques has a glass of wine, eats some black bread, and soon retires to an apartment M. DeFarge is happy to show him. Of course, it's the same apartment where Dr. Manette convalesced after his imprisonment.

Crazily enough, everyone in the apartment is named Jacques. I mean, okay: this is France. But the fact that they're numbered Jacques clues me in to the fact that they're code names. And then I remember: the name signed by the Marquis' executioner... was also Jacques.


This Road Mender Jacques tells Jacques 1-4 about the guy he saw on the bottom of the Marquis' coach that night. And then he tells about how the guy was arrested. Sadly, it was the father of the child who the Marquis' coach and horses killed, or so it's assumed by the authorities. Despite M. DeFarge's seeking a stay of execution from the King, explaining what had happened with his son -- for which he is beaten by the guardsmen and soldiers -- Gaspard is tormented, imprisoned, and hung -- above the fountain in the town, which poisons it for the whole village.

The Jacques dismiss Road Mender Jacque, and pass judgment. Doomed to destruction, they decide, and write it down.

And then, wisely, one of the Jacques wonders if they should be writing down anything. The wine shop owner calms them, and reminds them that the registrar is Mme. DeFarge, who knits the records in a pattern only she can read -- which explains her constant composed stitching.

The road mender is unnerved by her knitting, and shocked when she brings it in the carriage and into the public sphere on their trip to Versailles. Not surprisingly, after an explanation, the newest Jacques finds her work just that bit more terrifying:

"You work hard, madame," said a man near her.

"Yes," answered Madame Defarge; "I have a good deal to do."

"What do you make, madame?"

"Many things."

"For instance-"

"For instance," returned Madame Defarge, composedly, "shrouds."

Okay, yikes, lady.

And then, in one of the most succinct and condescending conversations ever, Mme. DeFarge cheerfully tells Road Mender Jacques that he's a royalty whore, that he'd cheer for anything with enough bright lights and color, and that if he could have the shiniest dolly or the brightest bird for himself, he'd pick the prettiest one.

"You have seen both dolls and birds to-day," said Madame Defarge, with a wave of her hand towards the place where they had last been apparent; "now, go home!"

Ch. 16 ~ Still Knitting
So, at last, the DeFarges go home, and Road Mender Jacques goes his way, to look at the chateau of the Marquis. The DeFarges are stopped at the police station; the policeman looks over their papers and exchanges a bit of information with M. DeFarge -- mainly that there's a new guy in town, and he's a spy. Mme. DeFarge asks for a description of him, and it's detailed -- she's quite pleased.

M. DeFarge takes the news with a bit of discouragement; his actions on behalf of Gaspard are probably the reason the spy is coming to town. Mme. DeFarge simply makes note of the man's name and appearance, and says he will have to be "registered."

I am reminded of Lord and Lady MacBeth in reading this chapter. The DeFarges -- though plotting -- are so loving to each other. M. DeFarge paces and watches his wife's pecuniary economy admiringly; Mme. DeFarge, in her brisk, acerbic way, watches him pace and yanks him out of his halfheartedness and encroaching depression.
"How long," demanded madame, composedly, "does it take to make and store the lightning? Tell me."

Defarge raised his head thoughtfully, as if there were something in that too.

"It does not take a long time," said madame, "for an earthquake to swallow a town. Eh well! Tell me how long it takes to prepare the earthquake?"

"A long time, I suppose," said Defarge.

"But when it is ready, it takes place, and grinds to pieces everything before it. In the meantime, it is always preparing, though it is not seen or heard. That is your consolation. Keep it."

At first, I thought that the rose that Mme. DeFarge had next to her the following day, in the fly-ridden wine shop, was from her husband, in thanks for her supportiveness. I had briefly forgotten with whom I was dealing! These are revolutionaries! A rosebud in a lapel or, in this case, in Mme. DeFarge's high hair, is a SIGN, and when Mme. DeFarge puts hers on, the wine shop empties... except for a newcomer.
"Good day, monsieur."

She said it aloud, but added to herself, as she resumed her knitting: "Hah! Good day, age about forty, height about five feet nine, black hair, generally rather handsome visage, complexion dark, eyes dark, thin, long and sallow face, aquiline nose but not straight, having a peculiar inclination towards the left cheek which imparts a sinister expression! Good day, one and all!"

The spy has been so well described that Mme. DeFarge is on to him in a second. (The second major clue is that he says the cognac's good -- and of course, it's not.) For awhile, Mme. DeFarge chats with him and admits nothing, and then M. DeFarge arrives -- and he's really not as good at the whole Spy v. Spy thing as his ruthless lady. He doesn't jump when the spy calls him Jacques -- which gave ME a turn -- he just tells him that's not his name. The spy persists, acting like he knows all manner of things, but no one bites.

They do a sort of James Bond sort of wrangling -- the spy trying to get them to admit things, the DeFarges turning bland ears to all of his comments -- until he strikes a nerve, and tells them that Mam'selle Manette is going to marry the nephew of the evil Marquis. Soon afterward, Spy Barsad leaves, and M. DeFarge expresses his disbelief that Charles Darnay -- D'Aulnais -- could possibly be marrying Manette's daughter, when Doctor Manette was so ill-treated by the government. M. DeFarge hopes for Lucie Manette's sake that Charles keeps the heck out of France.

Mme. DeFarge, meanwhile, just knits in Charles Darnay's name into her register!

Her husband smoked at his door, looking after her with admiration. "A great woman," said he, "a strong woman, a grand woman, a frightfully grand woman!"

Oh, dear. "Frightfully" is right.