Posts Tagged ‘books’

kriti-logoI’ll be at the Kriti Festival, run by Desilit, this weekend in Chicago. Looks like there’s a fabulous array of speakers and topics prepared. Here’s where I’ll be–perhaps I’ll see some of you?

(NOTE: Kriti is co-sponsored by the English Department, the Asian Studies Program, and the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and will be held on campus, at 750 S. Halsted, Chicago.)

Thursday, September 25th:

4:00 – 6:00:  Opening reception, photographic diasporic history art exhibit, and rapid-fire reading, in collaboration with SAAPRI, the Asian American Resource and Cultural Center, Campus Programs, and UIC’s students, faculty and staff. (Ward Gallery, Student Center East, 750 S. Halsted St.) This event is free and open to the public. Speakers include featured photographer Preston Merchant. Readers: Fatimah Asghar, Sonali Dev, Anjali Mitter Duva, Syed Afzal Haider, Soniah Kamal, Parul Kaushik, Mina Khan, Neha Misra, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Rajdeep Paulus, Shakuntala Rajagopal, Phiroozeh Romer, Ankur Thakkar, Deepak Unnikrishnan, Vidhu Aggarwal, and Bishakh Som.


Friday, September 26th:

Friday 12 – 12:50

Paths to Publication (brown bag lunch)

What are today’s alternatives to “traditional” publishing, and how do you decide if one of them is good fit for you? The publishing industry has undergone, and continues to undergo, massive and rapid change. The array of publishing options now runs the gamut from traditional publishing to self-publishing, each with its own characteristics. What is happening in the middle of the spectrum? How is a writer to decide what path to follow? What are the relative pros and cons, and what are the questions to ask oneself in order to ensure a positive publishing experience?  This panel will address small press publishing, self-publishing, crowdfunding, social media, and more. As it occurs over lunchtime, please feel free to bring a brown bag lunch. (Anjali Mitter Duva, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Rajdeep Paulus)


Friday 4:00 – 4:50

Dirty Laundry

There is a clear market in the West for a certain kind of expose/pathos story from South Asia: child prostitutes, wife beating, widows in Brindhavan, untouchables, street kids, etc. When does exposing an evil move over into exploitation? What responsibilities does the writer have (if any)? (Tanaz Bhathena, Nayomi Munaweera, Anjali Mitter Duva, Soniah Kamal)


Saturday, September 27th:

Saturday 10 – 10:50

Blowing Your Own Horn: Marketing Yourself as a Writer

With so many new writers emerging, it can be difficult setting yourself apart from the crowd. Writers discuss various methods for marketing themselves and their work, from setting up a web page to hiring publicists and beyond. (Anjali Mitter Duva, Ankur Thakkar, Gotham Mamik)


Saturday 12:00 – 12:50

Vocal performance and reading

(Tara Swaminathan / Anjali Mitter Duva) (20 min each)


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Every time my oldest comes home with a book club flyer from school, my heart sinks. I understand and fully support the motto of “building confidence in young readers,” but does that have to mean that each flyer must be a compendium of mostly the following:

  1. Books pertaining to underwear and bodily functions;
  2. Endless series of vapid characters in interchangeable stories;
  3. Books packaged with items such as zombie glasses, glow-in-the-dark slime or Ninjago figurines;
  4. History and science presented in terribly uninspiring and reeks-of-school titles;
  5. Books derived from cartoons or other TV characters?

Lost among all these are a few gems: Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, Eleanor Este’s Ginger Pye, Charlotte’s Web. But those are not the ones the child clamors to buy (but look, Mom, it’s only $3.99 and it comes with a cupcake charm!)

For a while, I went with the whatever-she-reads-is-great attitude, because I just wanted her to discover the joy of reading. But now that she’ll happily curl up on the couch with a book, I find myself very discouraged with the books she’s exposed to through the library at school, or the book fair, or the abovementioned flyers. Sure, she can read all the Captain Underpants books and giggle with her friends about how often the word “fart” shows up in Diary of a Wimpy Kid (I’ll hand it to those authors that they’ve nailed their audience on the head), but I feel compelled to help her dip her toes into the vast, rich, magical world of wonderful children’s literature – the kind that transports you, haunts you, affects your very soul and stays in your memory forever – that exists out there. The one that sustained me, nourished me, when I was a young child.

And thus is born our book club, for her and up to seven of her friends from school. We held our first, organizational meeting this past weekend. There were snacks, coffee and tea for the parents, several girls piled onto each arm chair, and lots of pink-and-purple-socked feet waving around. We discussed ground rules, respecting opinions, what to do if you don’t like the book (read at least 25 pages and come prepared to explain why you didn’t like it), what the name of the club should be (there were evocations of bookworms, pandas, panda worms – ew – without any consensus), and of course what the selections would be. I handed each girl a booklet with a list of titles and authors, a picture of each cover, and a description, and asked each one to nominate three from among the 22 or so on the list.

The first vote was almost unanimous for Francis Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Remember that one? I thought so. I can’t wait to see what the discussion of the book will yield. The book was written one hundred years ago (I don’t think the girls know this yet), takes place for the most part in Yorkshire, England (after Mary’s parents die of cholera in India) and is quite unlike anything these girls have read yet. It’s a far cry from the school-based series revolving around someone’s best friend moving out of state, or a weird substitute bringing the class on an adventure, or a band of classmates solving the mystery of the disappearing lunchboxes. I wonder how much of their decision was based on my use of this particular cover? (On a very abridged, Scholastic version from 1993.)

The Secret Garden


I’ve written before about the drastic variation in covers on editions of old classics, and how that predisposes today’ children to shy away from some of these gems. What if I had used this cover image instead? (Simon & Brown, Dec 2012)

The Secret Garden

Or this one? (Random House abridged version from 1987)

The Secret Garden

And here’s the list of book options that I have compiled so far. Other suggestions welcome!

  • Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Judy Blume
  • From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by e. l. konigsburg
  • The Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
  • The Complete Verse and Other Nonsense, by Edward Lear
  • Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech
  • The Story of Doctor Dolittle, by Hugh Lofting
  • Sideways Stories from Wayside School, by Louis Sachar and Julie Brinkloe
  • Rickshaw Girl, by Mitali Perkins
  • The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate
  • The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, by Julie Andrews Edwards
  • My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brian
  • Frindle, by Andrew Clements
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin
  • Poetry for Young People: William Carlos Williams
  • Wonder, by R. J. Palacio
  • The Double Life of Pocahontas, by Jean Fritz

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I am currently reading MM Kaye’s The Far Pavilions. Because it is close to 1,000 pages long, and because my reading time these days is relegated to the late evenings, when I’m so sleepy that sitting down to read inevitably leads to drooping eyes and a slipping book, “currently” has been going on for a while. The thick tome, with its cover curled upwards from being held open, has been an integral part of the living room landscape for weeks, alternately on the side table, the sofa, the kitchen counter, and the third step of the staircase up to the bedroom (the first two being within the reach of the pudgy paws of a one and a half year old).

During this time, I’ve had ample opportunity to remember seeing my own mother read the very same book, about 25 years ago. One image in particular stands out in mind: my mother in a low-slung, striped chaise longue on the rough and uneven terrace of a spare, stone house atop a hill in Corsica, France. Her hair is dark, her short sleeved top is brown, maybe reddish, she’s wearing cream-colored capris, and she’s sitting in the shade of the house near a the long wooden table at which we took most of our meals. The image is vivid because of all the other impressions associated with it. A long, timeless series of beach days stretching endlessly ahead of me in the way that summer days—back when they were blissfully unstructured—appeared to me as a child. The hot, dry aroma of thyme and rosemary growing wild on the scraggly Corsican hillsides. The moist coolness of the inside of the house with its sparse and rugged wooden furniture and occasional bats. The wild hogs and ambling donkeys who came to root about the house and knock at the shutters with their snouts and muzzles. The clammy-and-rough feeling of removing a one-piece, sand-filled bathing suit after the last dip of the day in the sea, and the way the bathing suit ends up all rolled up onto itself and inside out and unpleasantly cold against sun-warmed skin. The sparkling turquoise of the Mediterranean waters lapping at the strip of golden beach at the bottom of the hill. I knew nothing of the contents of The Far Pavilions at the time, and in fact they bear no relation to this setting since they take place in 19th century Northern India, but these are my memories of my mother reading this book.

Fast forward to now. Seven-year old K has noticed the book, given how long it’s been sitting around. She’s delighted in the fact that I am using a bookmark of her creation, a white and red laminated strip of paper with her name crookedly spelled out in crayon, affixed to which is a piece of twine strung with five brightly colored plastic beads. She’s asked me “So what is The Far Pavilions about anyway?” She’s noticed that the cover has become warped with use. We are not in a locale with a particularly striking set of sights or smells, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, upon seeing this same tome many years from now, she has a sudden memory of her sister at the age of 20 months, eagerly extending her chubby fingers to try to grasp at the beads that dangle so tantalizingly from the bookmark. Or if she recalls the peaceful quiet of Sunday afternoons with her father on his computer and her mother reading, spending companionable “quiet time” together while the baby naps, and then having tea time all together, with a proper set of china cups and of course some cookies.

Perhaps I’m romanticizing the whole thing, perhaps she won’t have a single memory of it, but there are other books from my past whose physicality brings me back to very specific times and places (for example my stained copy of Watership Down which I read at the age of 11 in a train cutting through the French countryside, and on which I spilled a bottle of apple juice), and because of this I suspect she’ll have similar memories.

But only for a while. For in the age of e-books, the collection of memories associated with a specific copy or edition of a specific title—not the memories of its contents but the memories of the time and place in which one read them, of the person one was at the time—will be moot. I don’t mean to sound like a Luddite here; I’m ready to embrace certain aspects of the whole e-book wave, and it’s entirely possible that my own book will come out as an e-publication. But no one can tell me there isn’t some nostalgia in which to indulge here.

What are some of your own memories associated with your reading of certain books? Do you still have those volumes on your shelves?

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I’m on the phone on a work conference call, and in the middle of it, I see an email pop up from my mother, subject line: Christmas caca. For those of you who might be linguistically challenged, that translates to “Christmas doodoo.” (My mother lives in France.) Of course I have to take a look right away, while keeping my ears focused on the call in which I’m participant and opinion-giver and note-taker and assigner of tasks. And then I have to mute the call so I can chortle freely.

My mothers’ note continues:

“No, I’m serious. Herewith verbatim from our local weekly rag reporting the 8 most popular toys/games, already out of stock! (Estimated family spending on each kid: 240 euros, or roughly $320.)

(Note—I’ve translated the rest from the original French.)

“To help you make the right choice, here is a selection of the most popular toys:

  1. “Toutou Rista: this toy is a smash hit with the younger set. Toutou Rista, a plastic dog, swallows Play-Doh, then expels it through its bottom. The object of the game is to pick up the greatest number of turds in a given time. Price: 20 euros ($30). (Note: Turns out this originated in Germany, under the much better name Kackel Dackel, and apparently the following video of it went viral. Amazing how much I miss out on by not having spare time on my hands.)   
  2. Monster High: these new horror dolls, along the lines of Barbie, are inspired from classic monster movies, such as Dracula. Several models, such as Abbey Bominable. (Note: I looked these up on Amazon and found the following other names: Dead Tired Ghoulia Yelps Doll and Spectra Vondergeist Doll with Pet Ferret. Apparently these are hot here in the US as well. I must be living under a rock.) 
  3. (For boys) Beyblade Tops: little boys are tearing these warrior tops away from each other. The basic idea: plastic tops shaped like miniature tanks battle in an arena, and the first to stop is eliminated. Euros 70 for two tops and an arena. (Sez my mother: I suppose that could cover two kids. Figure the profit margin on this no doubt China manufactured diversion…)

Following this, my mother asks: Is it only France that’s obsessed with a) body functions, b) “tendance” (i.e. knowing what’s been deemed popular will guide you to making the right choice, like a robot, without thinking), and c) strict separation by gender?

The answer is a) well, the French do take it to an extreme, that’s for sure; b) nope, that’s flourishing on this side of the ocean, too, and c)… huh. Yes, there are of course the gender stereotypes, and the lists of toys/games for boys and toys/games for girls. And most kids think certain things are for boys and others for girls. But I was pleasantly surprised when I checked out the top list by gender on Amazon, the go-to site for shopping. (I mean, do you even bother going to stores in December? I have a handful of independent, quirky stores I still frequent, but for the bulk of the purchases I make in December, most of which are for the various children incorporated into our lives, Amazon is it. And apparently this year Cyber Monday—the first Monday after Thanksgiving, for the first time outstripped Black Friday for the most dollars spent.) Seven of the top ten in each list are identical. The differences: girls get a portable karaoke machine, “Baby Alive Crib Life Twins” and Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows DVD, while boys get Spynet Stealth Video Glasses, LEGO Mindstorms and Matchbox Smokey the Fire Truck. On Amazon’s French sister site, the ratio is reversed, and there are only three items in common between the two lists.

So what is the point I’m trying to make? I guess I expected to share my mother’s outrage about the shopping options being presented to those who are in the market for gifts for children, but ultimately, it doesn’t seem that bad to me, from where I sit in New England. Sure, there are horrendous things out there whose very existence as a product one could spend money on and actually present to a child is abhorrent, such as Justin Bieber nailpolish or American Girl Cootie Catcher Kits, but all in all, I don’t feel bombarded with insistent messages about the poop-scooping, gender-specific popular toys I need to be buying for my children. At first I thought: maybe that’s because I rarely watch television and when I do, it’s pre-recorded, so I never actually see commercials. But my parents don’t have a TV (gasp!) so that can’t be it, if I’m to compare with her experience.  And then I saw this: “No Hit Toy to Brighten Retailers’ Christmas” on today’s New York Times. It seems that this year is singularly lacking in must-have items, as retailers have cut down on toys overall, fearful of ending up with too much unsold inventory. As a result, “classics” are in, and shorter supply is leading to higher prices. Not a bad retail move.

Anyhow, enough musing. Here’s some of what I did end up purchasing for the various children in my life (and there seem to be many, although only two biologically related to me), all between the ages of 14 months and 10 years this holiday season. Perhaps this will be of help to some of you late shoppers out there.

Harriet the Spy, one of my all time favorite books from my childhood, by Louise Fitzhugh;

Milles Bornes, the French classic road race card game;

Sleds, because, after all, we are in New England;

Water bottles from Crocodile Creek (indestructible and highly functional and cute);

Dresses from the Tea Collection, delightfully on serious sale for one day only;

Tech Deck mini-skateboards and ramps;

Silly slippers from Garnet Hill, half off on the day of my purchase;

Guidebooks for an upcoming trip to Mexico;

Snorkel set, also for Mexico;

Art supplies, for a future art teacher;

Tintin, the original series in French;

Tintin in English translation;

Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings, a fun fold-out book with textures, for babies/toddlers;

Earlyears Farm Animals Bowling set, a set of plush animal bowling pins and soft ball.


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