From the Shelf
Connie Willis: Listening In
Connie Willis is a member of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and a Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. She has won more Hugo and Nebula awards for both her short fiction and novels than any other author in the genre. Her latest book is Crosstalk (Del Rey, $28), a witty novel about communication and emotional connection in the not-too-distant future. She described its genesis for us:
|photo: G. Mark Lewis|
My new novel is about telepathy, and it's amazing how many people think being able to hear other people's thoughts would be great.
No, it wouldn't. It'd be awful!
At best, it'd be like being back in middle school and accidentally overhearing the person you thought was your best friend saying nasty things about you. And at its worst... well, just think about all the creeps and porn addicts and serial killers out there. What if you were stuck listening to their thoughts? Any way you look at it, being telepathic would be pretty much of a nightmare.
And also pretty amusing, which is one reason I wanted to write Crosstalk. Lots of people have written stories and novels about telepathy, but nearly all of those have been pretty grim, focusing on all the negative consequences--madness, social ostracism, outright mental enslavement.
Hardly anyone's written about the funny side of suddenly finding yourself telepathic--or about the romantic complications which might ensue. Which brings me to the other reason I wanted to write Crosstalk. Telepathy abounds in fantasy and science fiction, but almost nobody has set a telepathy story in the here and now, in the middle of our already oversharing social media society. What would happen if you added an even more efficient form of communication? How would it change things?
Our social media were supposed to make communication (and relationships) easier and better, and instead we got nude selfies, online dates who lie, and the Kardashians.
I told you, lots of possible disasters and romantic complications!
I had fun playing with all of them in Crosstalk, and I hope you have fun reading it.
In this Issue...
by Box Brown
Tetris: The Games People Play is a graphic history of one of the most popular video games of all time.
by Brit Bennett
This wise and beautiful coming-of-age novel--one of the season's most anticipated--considers the tension between loss and redemption.
by Javaka Steptoe
Young artists will find inspiration in Javaka Steptoe's beautiful, energetic picture-book biography of New York City artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Review by Subjects:
10/27/2016 - 11:00AM
10/27/2016 - 7:00PM
10/27/2016 - 6:30PM
10/28/2016 - 7:00PM
Friday October 28 7:00PM The Awkward Yeti (Nick Seluk) and The Oatmeal (Matthew Inman) Heart and Brain: Gut Instincts: An Awkward Yeti Collection and 404 Not Found: A Coloring Book by the Oatmeal (ANDREWS MCMEEL)
10/28/2016 - 7:00PM
10/29/2016 - 11:00AM
10/29/2016 - 4:00PM
10/29/2016 - 7:00PM
10/30/2016 - 3:30PM
10/30/2016 - 4:00PM
10/30/2016 - 1:00PM
Shakespeare's 'New' Co-Author
Tempest to come?: "Christopher Marlowe Officially Credited as Co-Author of 3 Shakespeare Plays," NPR reported.
Halloween countdown: Teen Vogue modeled "8 DIY Halloween costumes based on book characters"; Electric Lit tuned up "13 literary songs for the Halloween season"; Mental Floss conjured "8 magical Harry Potter Halloween festivals for wizards and muggles"; and Bustle was haunted by "the 13 creepiest ghosts from literature."
"Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life." Signature featured "9 Oscar Wilde quotes for artists and icons."
The New York Public Library "is now storing its collection based on a book's physical dimensions instead of shelving them based on where they fall in the Dewey Decimal System," Quartz reported.
Curbed showcased a home outside of Paris that "makes ingenious use of bookshelves."
Suzanne Chazin: Looking Out the Window
|photo: Phyllis Garito|
Suzanne Chazin is the author of three books in the Jimmy Vega mystery series, including No Witness but the Moon, just out from Kensington Books, and three previous novels that make up her Georgia Skeehan series, as well as dozens of short stories, personal essays and magazine articles. She has twice been the recipient of the Washington Irving Book Award for fiction. Her short fiction appeared in the anthology Bronx Noir, which won the 2008 Book of the Year Award for special fiction from the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association. A graduate of Northwestern University, Chazin spent more than a decade as senior editor at Reader's Digest, and has taught fiction and nonfiction writing at New York University, the New School for Social Research and Sarah Lawrence College. She was a 2012 writing fellow at the State University of New York at Purchase and is a frequent guest lecturer on writing at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Chazin has worked with several immigrant organizations in Westchester County, N.Y. She lives in Chappaqua, NY.
Suzanne Chazin always aspired to be a novelist. "I tried to write my first novel when I was 17, and I got 40 pages into it and said, 'I can't do this.' " Her first minor setback, combined with the belief that it's rare to support oneself as a novelist right away, caused her to study journalism in college. After that, Chazin worked as a freelance writer: "For more than a decade I was a writer for Reader's Digest. I really enjoyed my journalism career and my work has a journalistic feel because I try to be really accurate." But that grand dream to be a novelist stayed with her.
In her late 20s, Chazin again tried her hand at a novel. This time she succeeded in surpassing her previous record of 40 pages. She made it about half way before throwing in the towel. Still, she wasn't deterred. "I kept coming up with these different ideas. I was still working at Reader's Digest and my editor said to me, 'You're always trying to write about people you don't know anything about. Why don't you write something you know?' " As with many individuals, Chazin felt her life was mundane, and she didn't know anything or anyone exciting enough to write about. When her editor pointed out she was married to a New York firefighter, Chazin still didn't think this was a workable idea. "He's a man and I'm a woman." Simple enough, write about a female firefighter. "But there are so few... oh!" And the idea for Georgia Skeehan, a New York fire marshal, was born.
"I started the series before 9/11 and people said, 'Wow, this is novel and interesting to have firefighters and put them at risk this way.' " That sentiment didn't remain after the national tragedy, though. Instead, readers viewed the books as exploitative, and Chazin grew increasingly uncomfortable writing them. However, she was three books in and still had a fourth under contract for the series. While the country was reeling from the shock of terrorism, Chazin was dealing with her own personal life changes: her mother was dying and her daughter was born. She completed that fourth book, but it never even found an agent.
Chazin continued writing short works, ghost writing and freelancing, but she lacked the inspiration that would spark a new novel. "I decided that I was going about things wrong so I sat down and I asked myself, 'Suzanne, don't even think about writing, what is it you care about in this world?' " The answer came from her walks by the Mount Kisco train station. "I would see day laborers lining up in the bitter cold in just hoodies. I did not and still do not speak Spanish, but I wanted to talk to them, wanted to find out about their lives." Chazin wasn't thinking in terms of an idea for a novel, though. Instead, her journalism background drove this newfound passion. "I decided I would work at the [local immigrant center] as a volunteer, and then I would approach the director and say, 'I'm a journalist, if you could pair me up with a translator, I will tell these people's stories in their own voices.' " At the onset Chazin's idea was well received.
"For the next couple of years I sat down with the people and through translators I heard the real stories, these incredible stories of triumph and tragedy, unbelievable, amazing stories." But they weren't what the center director was anticipating. "When I started the project I think they thought I was going to write a bunch of stories like 'I am an American...,' 'America is a great country... I'm having a wonderful experience....' 'It's great to be in America.' " But the stories Chazin compiled were the real, grueling experiences. "[The director] looked at [the compilation] and she said, 'There's no way I can put these stories out there. These are very true but these are stories people in the larger community don't necessarily want to hear.' So she pulled the plug on the project. I thought that was the end and I was pretty crushed." But stepping back, Chazin had a realization. "You know what? I'm a mystery writer, and I am a fiction writer. How about if I try to tell these stories in fiction?" Traveling a very different route than she did with her Georgia Skeehan novels, Chazin arrived at the Jimmy Vega series.
In No Witness but the Moon, book three of the series, Chazin follows her style of blending an important issue in the immigrant community with conflict in the life of her police officer protagonist. She wanted to address the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the border that resulted because their parents currently in the United States feared their options being cut off permanently. But Chazin felt she needed to deliver the idea with a twist, because this series is about suburban America. "I had to be very careful to not have a story about a girl traveling from Honduras. That would take the story away from where it belongs. I had to find a way to bring in the trauma of what this girl had experienced and her readjustment but also not really deal with the journey."
The other major element of No Witness but the Moon is a killing by a police officer. When Chazin began considering this plot line, she wasn't sure she could go through with it. "The first time I thought about the idea, I got really scared. I was like 'No, I love Jimmy. Jimmy would never shoot someone like that.' But, the more you say the world never as a writer, the more intriguing it is. You think, 'okay, I just put him in the worst possible situation I can put him in, let's explore that.' " And explore it she does. "I read a book written by a police officer who had been through two shootings that were ruled justified. I'd also looked at the stages of grief and PTSD and what happens to people in those situations. I know Jimmy's a really good man, and I know that the death of this man will play on him. So I decided to take him through the stages of grief. He goes through each of the stages and in each stage he's saying, 'I'm really fine.' Until finally he realizes he's not fine. And I think when he goes to see Dr. Cantor, it becomes apparent to him how deeply messed up he is. Ultimately I wanted to take a good cop and say, 'look what it feels like to be a good cop in this situation. Look what it's doing to this man.' That's what I want people to see. As I want the readers to read the books and feel differently about immigrants, I guess I would like them to see the police officer's perspective, too."
A good deal of life's experiences--ups and downs--shaped the writer Suzanne Chazin is today. Looking back, she sees the evolution, "I think every writer starts out wanting to write the great American novel. I think every writer loves words--I know I do--and wants to cram in as many amazing words and images as they can. It's like that little kid wanting to take that blank page and draw all over it. As I went along, I discovered as much as I love words, what I'm trying to do is communicate. It doesn't matter how beautiful your phrase is--that's nice and all--but ultimately the reader has to feel that you've told them something, you entertained them, you inspired them. It's what the reader feels, not what the writer gives. So I changed from being a writer looking at the mirror to a writer looking out the window. I'm really trying to look at the world and give somebody else something worth reading. Or something someone will want to pick up one day even when I'm not around anymore." --Jen Forbus
by Brit Bennett
At 21, Luke, his dreams of a football career ended since his leg was shattered, is the directionless son of the pastor at the Upper Room, the local church that is the center of the community. Aubrey, who turned her back on her family and found the Upper Room on television, is the straight-laced best friend of Nadia, who is ambitious, smart and beautiful. Nadia is in her last year of high school and dreaming of college, but is unmoored by her mother's recent suicide. When she takes up with Luke and becomes pregnant, she has a secret abortion paid for by Luke's parents, and moves to Michigan. She's a lawyer by the time she comes back to California to care for her ailing father.
As the two left behind, Luke and Aubrey become entangled and eventually marry, though neither Nadia nor Luke tell Aubrey about the pregnancy and abortion. Nadia's return to the Upper Room community, however, precipitates the spilling of secrets, testing the ties that bind their relationships, and ultimately forcing each to choose what is most important.
Their story is narrated by a collective of elderly Upper Room gossips known as "The Mothers," and in Bennett's hands, this framework casts the overwhelming circumstances as the stuff of life, which in no way diminishes the tragedies and betrayals. The Mothers is remarkably powerful. It is a gorgeous, pitch-perfect and compassionate novel about three young people in a tightly knit African American community who fumble into adulthood under the shadow of their losses. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: This wise and beautiful coming-of-age novel--one of the season's most anticipated--considers the tension between loss and redemption.
The Red Car
by Marcy Dermansky
Meet Leah--the smart-alecky but vulnerable, dogged yet fragile protagonist of Marcy Dermansky's piquant third novel, The Red Car (after Twins and Bad Marie). A writer who's just finished a draft of her first novel and is living in Astoria, Queens, with an Austrian immigrant husband, Leah is adrift and vaguely dissatisfied with her life when she learns that Judy, her former boss and mentor in San Francisco, has been killed in a car wreck. Leaving her husband behind, Leah impetuously flies out for the funeral and finds that Judy left her the carcass of her beloved red sports car, a modest cache of money, a small painting and a letter--part suicide note and part annoying advice. What else for Dermansky's precipitous heroine but a road trip in the red car, magically repaired by a hippie Deadhead mechanic?
When she climbs into the car, she has Judy's voice and scolding advice haunting her. Like Disney's Jiminy Cricket, Judy is always at her side to chide and encourage her: "My dead boss, my dead friend, constantly annoyed with me." Judy guides her through a couple of random sexual digressions and then on the road to Stanford to meet a long forgotten college roommate and a wealthy entrepreneur who was smitten with her as a freshman.
Dermansky knows how to write, and wrap up, a good road trip--a Big Sur epiphany and newfound resilience. The Red Car is like a film so mesmerizing that you want to get another box of popcorn and see it again. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: A New York writer with a memorable, saucy voice takes an unexpected journey through grief and confusion toward self-understanding and hope.
Mystery & Thriller
A Most Novel Revenge
by Ashley Weaver
Amory Ames and her handsome husband, Milo, are set to winter in Italy when an urgent summons from her cousin Laurel reroutes them to Lyonsgate, the notorious country house of the Lyons family. Seven years earlier, a houseguest froze to death in a snowstorm, and socialite Isobel Van Allen, part of the house party that weekend, wrote a thinly veiled novel soon after claiming that the death was no accident and that another guest was the murderer.
Amory and Milo are shocked to discover that the ill-fated party, including the whole Lyons family and Laurel, has been called together again (with the addition of the Ameses)--and that Isobel Van Allen has a scandalous announcement. All too quickly the drama turns deadly, as Amory literally stumbles upon a body.
Reminiscent of many of Agatha Christie's famous "house party" mysteries, A Most Novel Revenge is a clever mystery with a pair of likable protagonists. Amory and Milo's witty repartee makes the story entertaining, and although Amory briefly references her husband being shot in a previous investigation, A Most Novel Revenge can easily be read alone. However, Ashley Weaver's charming style and interesting characters are sure to send readers looking for the first two Amory Ames mysteries (Murder at the Brightwell and Death Wears a Mask). Fans of Charles Todd, Susan Elia MacNeal and Jacqueline Winspear will appreciate the portrayal of 1930s England, as will anyone who enjoys deft historical mysteries. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: In this appealing historical mystery, an English socialite and her husband investigate a murder at a notorious estate.
Tetris: The Games People Play
by Box Brown
Box Brown, author and illustrator of the graphic biography Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, turns his attention to the complicated history of one of the greatest video games ever made in Tetris: The Games People Play. Brown's cartoonish art style--distinctive in its eye-catching black-and-yellow color palette--allows him to break down into accessible pieces thorny topics such as game theory, the psychology of gaming, copyright law and the byzantine bureaucracy of the Soviet Union, Tetris's home country.
Brown starts with Alexey Pajitnov, a computer scientist at the Moscow Academy of Science who created Tetris in his spare time. The game then became a viral phenomenon in the Soviet Union and, eventually, a global success based on its simple, yet timeless, gameplay. In explaining Tetris's appeal, Brown's choice of a visual medium is very handy. According to Brown, "Alexey had tapped into something in the brain. The nature of the gameplay causes the player's pre-frontal cortex to be stimulated constantly. People remained motivated to continue to play on and on." The game's addictiveness, in other words, is founded in neurochemistry: tasks create tension in the brain, tension that releases once the task is finished. Brown compares this elasticity to stretching a rubber band, and illustrates the concept with diverse examples, including an anecdote about wait staff in a 1960s Vienna pub.
Tetris is an ambitious work of history in graphic novel form. It approaches the world-conquering game as a dopamine delivery system, a lucrative product and, above all else, an artistic triumph. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books
Discover: Tetris: The Games People Play is a graphic history of one of the most popular video games of all time.
Flying Couch: A Graphic Memoir
by Amy Kurzweil
Flying Couch begins with a sketchbook atop a book unfolding to become a house, from which flutters a note: "Amy--Here are Bubbe's Stories...." This affecting debut graphic memoir from Amy Kurzweil centers on her search for identity as the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. Her grandmother's (Bubbe's) story and the influence of her psychotherapist mother loom large as she grows up and moves away to go to college. "The women in my family have certain stories to tell," she says. Amy clutches a pillow on her sofa, glancing apprehensively at a ghosted image of her Bubbe, fallen and injured as she tries to outrun the Nazis. "Why does it feel like I'm not the protagonist of my own life?" It's an arresting, ironic moment in a memoir filled with heartache and humor, and Bubbe herself gets most of the laughs.
While the subject recalls Art Spiegelman, Kurzweil's tone and loose composition--her line drawings create organic page divisions in lieu of rigid paneling--is more Will Eisner. The sly details, though, are her own. Kurzweil is as candid as she is focused: this is the story of a search for meaning across three generations of women. Amy's father (noted author and scientist Ray Kurzweil) is nowhere to be seen, and she promises that his side of the family will be the subject of her next book.
Flying Couch is worthwhile reading for any sensitive person struggling to find their place in a world--or a family--that often overshadows them. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller
Discover: A young woman searches for identity as she contends with her grandmother and the legacy of the Holocaust.
by Daryl Seitchik
In Exits, comics artist Daryl Seitchik (Missy) ponders the meaning of one's existence in a fast-moving, often insensitive world. Depressed and self-loathing Claire Kim is a 20-something clerk working for a jerky boss selling mirrors. After leaving work one evening, Claire is followed by a creepy man. As she runs from him, she steps into a puddle of water on the pavement and suddenly disappears from sight before turning the tables on the bully, kicking him and running off. Claire finds her newfound invisibility invigorating and wreaks havoc in people's homes and on the street until the loneliness of her situation both overwhelms and burdens her, making her realize how much she misses being visible.
Seitchik uses incomplete sketches and outlines in her panels, contrasting the visible world in which Claire no longer belongs with the shadowy grey world she inhabits. This leaves readers to ponder the truth of Claire's invisibility--whether it is a coincidence or something more profound. In one particularly touching scene stretching over 21 pages, Claire boards the subway with only her bandaged hand visible; as a faceless conductor hassles a young man for fare, Claire uses her invisibility to toy with the conductor until he leaves the young man alone. The young man then reveals to her that his sister had also turned invisible. These quiet moments bring out the resonance of Seitchik's storytelling: the struggle to become an adult and be recognized in that very adult world. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: Exits is a coming-of-age tale about a young girl who navigates an adult world invisibly while wrestling with her insecurities.
Biography & Memoir
A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment
by John Preston
Novelist John Preston turns to nonfiction with A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot in the Houses of Parliament. In this thrilling story, a member of Parliament almost gets away with murder.
Jeremy Thorpe was an MP for the Liberal Party in the 1960s and '70s, became his party's leader and looked poised to lead a coalition government. His charisma enchanted everyone he met. But he had secrets. When the battle to legalize homosexuality was being fought, Thorpe had affairs with other men, harassed and abused them, and eventually--when one young man wouldn't go quietly--conspired to have him killed. After years of posturing and payoffs, and a final dramatic scene of attempted murder worthy of fiction, Thorpe faced charges of conspiracy and incitement to murder at London's Old Bailey.
Preston tells this salacious tale with a mostly straight face. The characters he portrays are often ridiculous: Thorpe's relentless optimism and self-importance is countered by his victim Norman Scott's sad struggles with mental illness, and the worshipful devotions of Thorpe's friend and helper, David Holmes. Preston's central source, Peter Bessell, is a fellow MP and fervent friend deeply mired in Thorpe's intrigues. Bessell is perhaps the most vulnerable character in this drama: a bit absurd, but earnest, he is powerless to resist Thorpe's magnetism. A Very English Scandal is a story of human weaknesses and outrageous spectacle. Preston's play-by-play will captivate readers of true crime, British upper-crust history and classic tragedy alike. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: John Preston energetically recounts extraordinary crimes of British political high society.
The Speed of Sound: Breaking the Barriers Between Music and Technology: A Memoir
by Thomas Dolby
In 1977, when many teens in London were trolling pawnshops for a cheap Fender Stratocaster, Thomas Dolby was dumpster diving behind the Electronic Music Studios lab, looking for discarded synthesizer soundboards. After four Grammy nominations for his album Aliens Ate My Buick, he left the world of music composition and performance in 1993 to found the digital tech company Headspace (later renamed Beatnik), which integrated music into digital games and invented the RMF (Rich Music Format) file that launched the now ubiquitous ringtone apps. Packed with meticulous detail from notebooks and journals, his engrossing memoir, The Speed of Sound, covers 40 years of music history as the industry transformed from powerful corporate record companies to a DIY, digital, direct-to-listener streaming cloud--from MCA and EMI to Pandora and Spotify.
A music and science nerd, he changed his name from Robertson to Dolby, after his boarding school nickname. His early synthesizer play in tiny clubs and pubs imitated bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Throbbing Gristle, but he soon moved into more mathematical arrangements and dystopian, sci-fi lyrics. Success came slowly at first, but then in a rush. He hooked up with Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, David Bowie, George Clinton and others. The second half of The Speed of Sound shifts into something of an entrepreneurial business primer, but music remains Dolby's first love. Rich in the details of every gig, band mate, song, tech toy, business contract, bed-sit and Los Angeles home, Dolby's memoir is a talented iconoclast's story of life in the fast lane of modern music and technology. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Thomas Dolby recounts his innovative life riding the leading waves of synthpop music and the digital audio revolution.
Gone 'Til November: A Journal of Rikers Island
by Lil Wayne
In 2010, Lil Wayne entered New York's Rikers Island Prison Complex to serve a yearlong sentence for illegal possession of a firearm. The New Orleans rapper was in the midst of a record-breaking career: multiple platinum records, Grammy Awards and financial success. In the eight months he spent in Rikers, Wayne kept a slim journal, published as Gone 'Til November.
Wayne repeats himself: what he eats day to day varies little (the theme is burritos filled with chicken, rice, noodles, Doritos or Ruffles, beef jerky), and each night he does pushups, prays, reads his Bible and listens to ESPN. This monotony is to be expected in a prison diary, and is broken by the minor dramas of Wayne's visitors, fellow inmates and the corrections officers he befriends. While the odd mention is made of violence occurring in other wings, the celebrity rapper has a relatively safe experience, plagued mostly by boredom. Entries are undated, requiring close attention to mark the time Wayne was incarcerated, from March through November. His slangy, informal tone shines vibrantly throughout.
A diary in which not much happens may sound less than gripping: this memoir will appeal most to Wayne's many fans, who will find references to other rappers, future projects and Wayne's lovers and children. But as an account of daily life in prison and its discontents, and as an exhortation to avoid incarceration, Gone 'Til November offers a rare perspective for general readers as well. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: Lil Wayne's prison diary gives a day-to-day account of his time in Rikers Island and a taste of the rapper's offstage voice.
Essays & Criticism
Upstream: Selected Essays
by Mary Oliver
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver should also be known for her prose: thoughtful, joyful and wise, always sparkling with characteristic energy. Upstream collects previously published essays and one new piece, skillfully grouped to chart a philosophical journey and "felt experience" much like that which she attributes to Walt Whitman.
Oliver revisits her childhood, and early instances of the sense of wonder so integral to her poetry, which she has often found in nature. The essay "My Friend Walt Whitman" speaks of a youthful and persistent literary affinity. Others explore natural places and creatures--spider, puppy, bear, bird--and the pleasures of artistic work. The middle of the collection contains slightly longer pieces of literary criticism--rediscovery of and praise for Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Whitman and William Wordsworth. Poets and the natural world mingle as Oliver invokes Percy Bysshe Shelley while hunting for turtle eggs. Finally, the previously unpublished essay, "Provincetown," honors the Massachusetts fishing town where Oliver lived for many years. Brief but redolent, this love letter to a place in the passage of time tends to look backward, as do several of the essays immediately preceding it, so that the collection moves toward retrospection.
Upstream serves as an excellent, accessible introduction to Oliver's work, and despite its largely previously published contents, will satisfy her fans with its fresh arrangement and feeling of movement. These meditations are evocative, lovely and of course poetic, charming in small pieces and as a whole. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: In a collection of prose, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet ruminates joyfully on art and nature.
Children's & Young Adult
Radiant Child: The True Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
by Javaka Steptoe
The story of New York City artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) is sure to inspire young artists to follow their passion and, perhaps, color outside the lines. Javaka Steptoe's (In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall) vibrant, gorgeous picture-book biography Radiant Child is a labor of love.
"Somewhere in Brooklyn, between hearts/ that thump, double Dutch, and hopscotch/ and salty mouths that slurp sweet ice,/ a little boy dreams of being a famous ARTIST." So begins this lyrical, crying-to-be-read-aloud narrative, illustrated with Steptoe's richly textured, boldly colorful, Basquiat-inspired collage-style paintings that literally incorporate "bits of New York City," as they're painted on the wood scraps he found in discarded Brooklyn Museum exhibit materials and in brownstone Dumpsters.
Steptoe tells his story in the present tense, giving it a disarming immediacy. It's as if readers are right there, peering in at young Basquiat as he paints on the floor, while his Haitian-born father plays jazz and his Puerto Rican Mama Matilde "cooks arroz con pollo/ and calls Jean-Michel 'MI AMOR.' " Basquiat's mother, who encourages her son's obvious talent, breaks his heart when she becomes mentally ill: "He tries drawing the terrible out of his blues, but things are not the same." When he moves to the Lower East Side at 17, he starts spray-painting his poems and gloriously messy, often political artwork on walls. Basquiat gets attention, charms crowds and rapidly becomes the famous artist he knew he'd be even when he was "RADIANT, WILD, A GENIUS CHILD." The fascinating author notes fill in even more of Basquiat's story that ended too soon. A star and a crown for this one. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Young artists will find inspiration in Javaka Steptoe's beautiful, energetic picture-book biography of New York City artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Diary of a Tokyo Teen: A Japanese-American Girl Travels to the Land of Trendy Fashion, High-Tech Toilets and Maid Cafes
by Christine Mari Inzer
"Flower jeans are everywhere." "I have a weak spot for cute boys and flags." "This is what a typical ramen has." In 2013, 15-year-old Christine Mari Inzer traveled solo to Japan for two months to rediscover her roots, and the lively, full-color scrapbook of her adventures--complete with drawings, comic-strip panels, photos and entertaining observations--grew into the travelogue Diary of a Tokyo Teen.
Shortly after landing in Japan, the intrepid teen in "shapely yoga pants" and new Converse travels to Kashiwa, a small city outside of Tokyo where her grandparents (Baba and Jiji) live, to the very house where her mother grew up. On Japanese television, Christine watches "a man strip down to his underwear and hide under various pieces of furniture," "that one young guy with anime hair" and "[i]ntense period dramas." She talks her grandmother into letting her go to Harajuku by herself on the very clean subway, and heads for Takeshita-Dori, where "all the young trendy people go to shop," then panics in the crowd: "Oh, wait, I'm claustrophobic." Her advice on managing stranger danger seems reasonable: "Look like you're gonna commit homicide! But don't actually." She thinks this solo trek will be glamorously adult, but afterward she feels even more like a kid, and lonely.
Readers will glimpse images of bullet trains, Kyoto's side streets and temples, Christine's "Buddhist crime" of ant-killing, geisha, cell phone-carrying monks, vending machines and 6 a.m. sushi... all seasoned with the sometimes earnest, often comical commentary of a likable teenaged explorer. Diary is fun and inspiring in equal measure... Japan calls. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: In this terrific travelogue, the 15-year-old Japanese-American author-illustrator-photographer journeys to Japan to explore her roots.