What Gets Me (And Publishing) Excited

I could spend today talking about all of the amazing, wonderful things I learned about publishing at BEA this week, but the truth is, Janet Reid is doing a far better job of saying everything I would say on her own blog (here!).

This was my second year going to BEA. A year ago, I did not have a blog or Twitter account, and I didn’t really know many other people in the industry. While my biggest fear in life is still “networking,” I think I was in better shape this year. That said, this year’s BEA, like last year’s, remained what I wanted it to be for me: the literary equivalent of Supermarket Sweep. 
Books I didn’t even care to read were thrown into my tote bags, and some of them I don’t even remember picking up. It was amazing. Of course, some books got me more excited than others. “Buzzworthy Books,” if you will. So here are my Top 5 books that not only am I personally excited about, but the publishing industry is excited about too.

1) The Passage by Justin Cronin. Good lord were they hyping this book! Sadly, I was not able to get a copy because I’m fairly certain they ran out within ten seconds. It’s yet another vampire book, but it’s one that reminds us that vampires do not, nor should they ever, sparkle. Post-apocalyptic, gritty, and destined to be a bestseller! In fact, I think it is already.

2) Room by Emma Donoghue. I’m very excited to read this book. Told from the perspective of five-year-old, Jack, Room is about being forced to live in captivity, and thinking of it as home. Of course, to Jack’s mom, it’s a prison from which she thinks she cannot ever escape. But more than that, it’s about the bond between a mother and son. I hope it’s not too premature to say that I think this book might do for mothers and sons what The Road did for fathers and sons.

3) The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale. An absurdest “memoir” of an evolved chimpanzee named Bruno who falls in love, and shares a detailed intimate moment, with his human caretaker, Lydia. That should pretty much explain it all.

4) The D.U.F.F. by Kody Keplinger. You can accuse me of being biased, since Kody is a friend of the blog, but I am definitely not the only one excited about this book. It was a featured title on the “Buzzworthy YA” panel and her editor’s praise could not have been any higher or more genuine. The D.U.F.F. is about Bianca, the “Designated Ugly Fat Friend,” who begins a relationship with the hot and popular, Wesley. It’s realistic fiction that might be so real it’s raw, which I think is something sorely missing in YA lately. 

5) Matched by Allie Condie. This is another title I, unfortunately, could not snag at BEA, but I look forward to buying it. It was described in a way that reminded me of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishigur. That is, a seemingly Utopian world that turns out to be anything but. In Matched, teenage Cassia looks forward to getting matched to her “perfect guy,” only to have her Matching Ceremony act as the catalyst in discovering her world is not what it appears to be. 

What’s exciting to me about each of these titles deals is that they deal more with human nature than they do with plot. Yes, The Passage will rely heavily on events and action, but like with any dystopian novel, what will make it interesting is how the characters struggle to survive. To me, this only proves that publishing is not a lost cause. At its heart, it still wants, needs, and gets excited about stories. Throw a vampire in there. Add a world-turned-upside-down. Or maybe just set it in a high school, letting the natural drama surrounding that world project your characters forward. In any case, remember it’s the story that matters, not the gimmick.

I Just Had the Strangest Dream

Don’t worry. I’m not going to give anything away.

To me, no show has ever fully embraced the concept of “the journey, not the destination, matters,” more than Lost. You didn’t need to have seen the finale to pick up on that. Not to sound too much like Jacob, but life is not about the situation you’re in, but rather how and why you handle that situation the way you do. Lost was a show of ideas and of human nature. It was never, ever, a show about “hey, what’s this crazy island?” Those who are arguing over the ending or still questioning “what’s it all mean?” will probably never be satisfied, and, sadly, those people completely missed the point of the show. I think it’ll be a long time before television audiences are ready to put up with such a concept again, so for that reason, I am sad to see Lost go. 

Moving on.

The end of the most novelistic show on television got me thinking of the most outrageous, satisfying, beautiful, or completely infuriating endings to novels we’ve read. Reactions to book endings usually don’t have blogs or message boards devoted to them, so feel free to geek out in the comments.

For me, my favorite last line might be (I’m predictable, I know), “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody,” from, of course, The Catcher in the Rye. I’m also partial to the entire last paragraph of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (which I mentioned before here).

As for “infuriating endings,” I think I’m guilty of naysaying. That said, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows made me a little mad. First, for people who did die and people who should’ve died but didn’t. Second, for the “tra la la” epilogue. I’ve heard JK Rowling talk about the book, and I understand why she did it, but when I read it I admit to making my “seriously?” face.

What is your favorite, or least favorite, ending or last line to a book? (Rule: Respect the “spoiler alert” code of not being a ruiner! Thanks.)

The Perks of Being Patient

Disclaimer: This post is going to be entirely about The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. There are no spoilers, but I’m just warning those who may not have read it in case they get bored. But if you haven’t read it, read the below post anyway, and then go read the book!

If any of you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen my multiple exclamation point tweet yesterday regarding the news that my favorite book EVER, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is finally being made into a movie. I’ve mentioned my love of this book before (here, for example), but I think most people my age (especially you bookish types!) can remember reading it when it came out and thinking “finally somebody gets me!”

It seemed like such a small book at the time. Not many other people from my high school had read it (except for the select few who were forced to hear me rave about it). It wasn’t until I went to college that I met people who had the same reaction to it that I had, and I realized what an effect it had on my generation. Since it still pops up on “banned books” lists, I assume (and hope!) that it’s having that same effect on the next generation of insecure teens. The news of the movie finally being made, eleven years after its original publication, only confirms its continuing impact on young readers.

Since 1999, I’ve read Perks eight more times. As an older teen, I found I could relate to different characters in the book too, not just the main character, Charlie, anymore. In my early twenties, I felt more nostalgia when I re-read it, and now in my late twenties, I just want to give everybody a hug and tell them “don’t worry, it all gets better!” Still, even after the many changes I’ve been through in my own life, I can still find ways to relate to the awkward, depressed, insecure, and ever-lovable Charlie.

News about the movie can be found here. Some obvious gripes: The inevitable “movie tie-in re-release,” which you might remember from this post, I dislike. Also, I think Hermione (*ahem* Emma Watson) will make a good Sam, but I would’ve preferred someone more like Kristin Stewart, only younger and better. And yes, the kid playing Charlie sort of looks the part, but he’s eighteen, and will only be older by the time they start filming. It’s only a three-year age difference, but in teen years, that difference is huge, especially when playing a fifteen-year-old who already looks young for his age. But, then I think of Luke Perry on 90210, or the entire cast of Gossip Girl, and suddenly things don’t seem so bad.

The one major perk for me, and everyone else, it seems, is that the author, Stephen Chbosky, is both writing and directing the film, which means it stands a chance of staying true to the book. It also means there’s way less of a chance of “Nick and Norah-ing” it and making a great book terrible.

Some more obvious perks:
People will start talking about the book again!
Gen(whatever I am)-ers who were maybe just old enough to miss it the 1st time will read it for the first time!
Popularity of “non-paranormal” YA novels is reawakened!
1990s nostalgia sky-rockets and I can start wearing snap bracelets again! (OK, I’m getting ahead of myself, and a little out of control.)

Joking aside, there is something to be said for growing up in the ’90s and I’m so happy that I did. Sure, every generation thinks theirs is “the best,” but the ’90s were as close to the ’60s as us “children of boomers” were going to get. Even I was a little too young to fully appreciate it, since my teens also bled into the early ’00s, but it’s the decade that resonates most with me when I think of my own “coming of age” and The Perks of Being a Wallflower captured that perfectly for me at an age when I needed it most. There is no way the movie will live up to the book for me, but I still cannot wait to see it.

Thanks for bearing with me and my ode. 140 characters was just not enough space to talk about how excited I am that this book is back in my life. (Not that it ever left.)

The Books Within

Have you ever wished you could read a book that was only created within the context of another book, movie, or TV show? Personally, I would love to read Hogwarts: A History so I can be as smart as Hermione, or get lost in Leo Gursky’s The History of Love from Nicole Krauss’ real novel of the same name. And is it possible to pre-order Castle‘s next thriller?

Mostly, I think nothing would make me happier than seeing the children’s pop-up detective book, Little Gumshoe, by the brilliant Emerson Cod (from the dearly departed Pushing Daisies) in bookstores.

There are many more that I’m not mentioning, so you tell me – what fake novel would you love to read in real life?

What Writers Can Learn from Betty White

On Saturday night, through the sheer power of a Facebook group, 88-year-old actress, Betty White, hosted Saturday Night Live. I loved Betty as Sue Ann on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and as Rose (the original Charlotte) on The Golden Girls (the original Sex and the City). Betty White has worked consistently since then, but for some reason, from a time I can’t exactly pinpoint, she has become a geriatric equivalent of a rock star. 
Sure, the golden gals had long ago reached Cher and Gaga status in the gay community, but when did Betty Mania take over the rest of the world? It wasn’t from her work on various David E. Kelley shows, was it? Her appearances on Ellen where she swore all the time? Perhaps it was her role as Ryan Reynold’s grandmother in The Proposal. Or was it that awesome Snickers commercial? 
My point is, she wasn’t resurrected from obscurity. She didn’t have to become a parody of herself (a la Shatner) in order to get noticed again. She didn’t dance alongside “stars” or get lost in the jungle with Heidi & Spencer. All she did, as an actress, was keep acting. And she’s more popular now than she’s ever been throughout her six (!) decade career.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. 

In fact, there are several things writers can learn from Betty White:

  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • Surprise your audience and your peers, but, more importantly, surprise yourself.
  • Stay humble.
  • Don’t let others tell you when your time is up. The next great series or pivotal novel can be just around the corner, even if you’ve already had a storied career.
  • Stay true to yourself and your style, but remember to stay relevant to the times.
  • Being classy, funny, and genuinely nice is timeless.
Remember these lessons and perhaps, someday, you will be able to say the literary equivalent of “Jay-Z is here, so stick around. We’ll be right back!”

Fun With Lists!

Friends of the blog know that sometimes I like to make lists. (See: Things to Avoid and Non-literary Characters.) I make lists in my real life too. Pros v. Cons lists, Things to Do lists, Amazon Wish Lists, and I only evaluate my “favorite” of anything in the form of a Top 5 List.

So, it should come as no surprise that I love Flashlight Worthy Book Recommendations, a site devoted to presenting you with the best books for pretty much any occasion or reason. I particularly enjoyed the recent “Most Challenged Books of 2009” list, in which three of my favorite books appear – The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird. (I should say that with books, I do not have a Top 5 List, but rather I break them up into multiple Top 5 lists based on genre, nostalgia, cultural relevance, etc. Yes, I have issues.)

Anyway, Flashlight Worthy Book Recommendations has inspired me to create a new list, but unlike the professional list-makers, I won’t be focusing so much on “the best” as I will on “my favorites.” So, I present the Top 5 Books I Find Flashlight Worthy:

1) Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H. P. Lovecraft. This is a huge book. Not one to travel with or take on the subway. But it is the perfect book to curl up with under a sheet in the dark and scare the pants off yourself! H.P. Lovecraft did literary horror first, and arguably the best (funny how that usually works out, isn’t it?).

2) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Yes, it is one of my favorites, as I mentioned above, but I assure you I’m not being biased. This book still works for the purposes of this list. The creepy mystery behind Boo Radley is certainly flashlight worthy, but there are also the many layers behind the plot and characters to unravel in the dark.

3) In the Woods by Tana French. Like Mockingbird, this book has multiple layers of mystery going on. (See also: The Likeness). Not only does French offer a page-turning whodunit, but she also slowly reveals an eerie mystery within the main character.

4) Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. OK, this one seems obvious, but with a combination of nostalgia and a self-explanatory title, I defy you to find me a more flashlight worthy book. If you haven’t read this since childhood, go revisit. Or, read it in a pillow fort with your own kids. I used to be convinced that the girl with the ribbon around her neck was one of my sister’s friends (because she said she was), so I can no longer think of this book without thinking of how much my childhood was traumatized by it.

5) Pretty much anything by Stephen King. Seriously. There’s a reason Joey Tribbiani keeps his copy of The Shining in the freezer.

What do you all think? As you can see, I went with mystery and horror when I think of flashlight worthy books, but I guess that doesn’t always have to be the case. What are some of your favorite books to read in the dark?