Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Shelf Discovery Chat (or, Exactly What You'd Hear If You Spent an Hour With the Burton Sisters)
Lizzie Skurnick’s column, Fine Lines, frequently featured some of our very favorite (or at least, very familiar to us) books. Born in 1973, she falls right in the middle of the three Burton sisters. Kathleen is slightly older than Skurnick, and Wendy and I were always delving into Kathleen’s books. Like Skurnick, we read many popular titles of the ‘70s and ‘80s, along with earlier classics and ‘50s favorites.
So we’d been looking forward to Shelf Discovery, subtitled “The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading.” While not all of them are teen, not all of them are classics, and several of them we have never read, a quick skim of the Table of Contents assured us that we are the “We” of the title.
Wendy and I opened our books together one Saturday morning to talk about Shelf Discovery.
[Online chat transcript has been edited for clarity, brevity, and to remove side comments about PG Tips, Constant Comment, and Wendy’s zumba class that she missed while were chatting.]
Wendy: I'm really afraid to read some of these because they might get my ire up, for two reasons. One: if she disrespects books I think are awesome. Two: if she makes the points that I always make about these books, except she published them first.
Laurie: OK, take a look at the Table of Contents.Several of the authors--Zindel, Peck, etc.--I never read at all, but she read a lot of L'Engle, which led me to find her a kindred spirit (though she was clearly much more interested in Judy Blume than I was; that seems true of everyone I know).
I've spotted several I've NEVER HEARD OF.
And You Give Me a Pain, Elaine. To Take a Dare.
Wendy: First one I haven't read: Harriet the Spy. I TRIED. I was bored.
Laurie: My favorite Fine Lines post (which was not actually written by Skurnick) is included: Laura Lippman on Willoughby Chase. It’s titled, "Life's a Bitch, and So is the Governess."
So, let's read one.
Wendy: Oh, this is hard. I pick Stranger With My Face.
Laurie: Oh, goody. (Not Goodwife Cruff, though.) I find Lois Duncan holds up very well, re-reading as an adult.
Wendy: When I think of SWMF, I think that it's a sexy book.
Long black hair and almond eyes--twice over! and gorgeous guys that are accessible to slightly awkward girls because their faces are half burned off.
Laurie: Oh yes--the gorgeous guy who is literally smoldering. (sorry)
Really, all that stuff where Lia is telling Laurie about their past and astral projection, it reads like a seduction scene.
Kind of vampiric, I guess.
Laurie: And it has SECRET ADOPTION, which is something all kids/teens love to read about
Your parents aren't your real parents!
Wendy: Secret adoption with exotic past!
Everyone knows it is cooler to be "ethnic" than generic Caucasian.
Laurie: Indeed. It's practically wish fulfillment.
Wendy: It's also one of those books I bemoan where the heroine is plain and then suddenly gets beautiful and then Life Begins.
Laurie: You're right--just like in Moon by Night. Actually, the guy in SWMF is not unlike Zachary. OK, I'm going to page 277.
Wendy: Hey, what's it like to read a book where the main character has your name? Especially a SCARY book. It seems like it could be awesome.
Laurie: Yes, I always liked that about this book.
Wendy: I was reading the excerpt from SWMF and getting so into it that I was both startled and disappointed when it ended and went back to commentary...
When I was a kid I couldn't picture Jeff Rankin; I had trouble believing his face was really that messed up. Now that I've seen a lot of burn victims, I get it.
I like that she's pointing out all the dichotomies in this book. Clearly, this is a book Lois Duncan worked hard on, and that's what makes it so good.
Did you realize when you were a kid how shocking and horrible it was to split up twins? I didn't.
I mean, really, that makes the parents seem kind of cruel. But I was FASCINATED (and still am) by the idea of the evil baby that the mother didn't like holding.
Laurie: I think I had an idea splitting twins wouldn't usually be done, but I never questioned it in the context of the book because we all knew LIA IS EVIL!!
Laurie: Yes, this is a good piece. It reminds me why I like Stranger with My Face, which I assume is the goal of the book (Shelf Discovery), along with, possibly, sparking our interest in some we haven't read before.
Laurie: So, before we conclude this chat, I have two questions
What book are you very happy to see included in Shelf Discovery?
What book do you wish was included in Shelf Discovery?
I'm happy to see: Tell Me if the Lovers are Losers
Wendy: I was going to write that, too! It is so of this era.
Laurie: Like with other Newbery winners, Cynthia Voigt's other books tend to be overshadowed by Homecoming/Dicey's Song and Lovers is really, really good
Wendy: Also very strange, but yes.
Laurie: You should pick something else, though, since I picked that first
Wendy: Okay, then. Are You In the House Alone? I've never been that interested in Forever, which I find so one-note. Are You In the House Alone? is a book about rape, obviously, but it is so much more than that, and is also a book about teen sex during that era, just like Forever is.
Laurie: I wish she had included: at least one book by Lois Lowry. Preferably Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye, which would have been my choice. A Summer to Die seems an odd omission. And of course I love Anastasia Krupnik. NINE Judy Blume books, FIVE Lois Duncan books--but not a single Lois Lowry?
Wendy: I was just thinking that there ought to be some Norma Johnston up there.
Laurie: Yes, I would have been interested to read her take on The Keeping Days. But I wouldn't be surprised if she had missed Norma Johnston growing up; we easily might have, if Kath hadn't had that one paperback Keeping Days.
Wendy: Oh, there's so much we might have missed; it's scary to contemplate.
Laurie: So, what do you think about the Lowry? Is Keeping Days your answer to what you wish had been included?
Wendy: Well, I knew you were going to say Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye, but I probably would have said that, too...
Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones, maybe, which might be too old for Skurnick's teendom. Plus it is too precious to me; no one's allowed to snark that but ME.
Wendy: Let's do one of our favorites.
How about Tell Me If the Lovers, since you brought it up?
Laurie: no, something more fun. Westing Game?
Laurie: or Basil E. Frankweiler? or Moon by Night?
Wendy: Westing Game, I'm already there. I remember the magic I immediately sensed, the first time I read the first page of this book. I think you might have read it to me, actually.
You used to laugh aloud at books, and I would ask you what was so funny, and if you were in a good mood you would read it.
Laurie: I just remembered to tell you that I am not a big Harriet the Spy fan either. Never read it as a kid. It always strikes me as one of those books that people who have never read anything cite as their favorite (you know, like George Bush and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.)
OK, The Westing Game.
Wendy: Ah, "oh, yes, one was a bookie, one was a burglar, one was a bomber, and one was a mistake." That's the line you laughed at and the one you read out loud to me. Though I didn't know what a bookie was.
Laurie: "Denton Deere was troubled. Just what did Angela mean by 'nun'?"
Yes, this was the first time I had ever heard of a bookie.
Wendy: Angela is probably my favorite character, although of course I resented her beauty.
I certainly didn't understand that being a bookie was illegal until I saw them on Dragnet years later.
Laurie: Angela is the most satisfying character, because she changes the most.
Wendy: I really like this Westing Game essay. It's solid.
Laurie: I like the Westing Game essay too. "A profound meditation on how humans, given a set of clues, miss what's actually missing right in front of them, and instead project themselves onto the negative space."
Wendy: And that is why it is the best Newbery winner of them all.
Laurie: The End.
Now I have to wake up Iris, and some time after that I am going to read your latest post on Six Boxes. Bye!
Lizzie Skurnick very kindly spoke with Wendy for an hour about Shelf Discovery and YA then and now. Look for the interview piece coming soon.
Shelf Discovery also spurred an interesting and humbling conversation about the lack of racial diversity in our childhood reading, which will also be its own post, eventually.