On August 11, 2014, thousands of teens and their parents eagerly purchased tickets for the long-awaited film adaptation of Lois Lowry’s 1994 Newbery Award-winning novel The Giver. My teenaged son read it in junior high and loved it. I loved it too. Like Madelyn L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Lowry’s The Giver has a subterranean angst that readers can feel bubbling under their fingertips as pages are turned, a sense that no matter how calm this world is on the outside, something is irreparably wrong.
Everyone complains when a beloved novel is turned into a film. This may be especially true of science fiction works, as entirely new worlds depend on an individual’s imagination formed from an author’s words. When one person, a director, substitutes his own vision for that of countless personal interpretations, tempers flare. While most moviegoers understand the necessity of divergences from the original text, other alterations are harder to accept.
Must. Remind. Self.. The OED is not an arbiter of, but a chronicler of, English language use.
Every year, the Powers-That-Be lean over the windowsills located high atop their Ivory Towers and cock an ear towards the milling crowds below. When they hear a word they do not recognize being shouted often enough, they dip their quills into wells of octopus ink and inscribe that word on gold-rimmed parchment.
Okay, not really. Actually, it’s only been since 2004 that Oxford has selected a word of the year at all. Judy Pearsall, editorial director at Oxford, explains that a language usage program “collects around 150m words of current English in use each month.” The word in 2013 that has become the most frequent was “selfie.” According to The Guardian,
The word can be traced back to a post on an Australian online forum in 2002: “Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”
So now we can blame Australia for both Crocodile Dundee and the word “selfie”! (Just kidding, mates!)
Is your Kindle finger itching? Do you have a yearning to go to the bookstore or library but don’t know what sounds good? Well, maybe this will help. Last night, this year’s National Book Awards were announced. Here is the complete list of winners and finalists.
James McBride took the fiction prize for his novel The Good Lord Bird (Riverhead Books/Penguin Group USA):
Abolitionist John Brown calls her “Little Onion,” but her real name is Henry. A slave in Kansas mistaken for a girl due to the sackcloth smock he was wearing when Brown shot his master, the light-skinned, curly-haired 12-year-old ends up living as a young woman, most often encamped with Brown’s renegade band of freedom warriors as they traverse the country, raising arms and ammunition for their battle against slavery. Though they travel to Rochester, New York, to meet with Frederick Douglass and Canada to enlist the help of Harriet Tubman, Brown and his ragtag army fail to muster sufficient support for their mission to liberate African Americans, heading inexorably to the infamously bloody and pathetic raid on Harpers Ferry. Starred Review, Booklist –Carol Haggas
Finalists for the prize included:
The winner for non-fiction is George Packer for The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
A couple of years ago, I was going about my Sunday chores and listening to NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. A writer of children’s books myself and a lover of children’s literature in general, my ears always perk up when Daniel Pinkwater comes on the show to discuss a new children’s book. The one he selected for this program was I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.
I was captivated by the deceptively simple story and delighted in Simon and Pinkwater’s animated reading of the book and their descriptions of Klaussen’s illustrations. It seemed to me to strike the right balance of humor and a bit of angst, just right for the 4-to-8 year old set. (You can listen to that broadcast here.)
Of course, I wasn’t alone in my delight. Klaussen’s book went on to become a #1 New York Times bestseller, winning a place on its list of “Best Books of 2011, and also nabbing the Theodore Geisel Honor (Dr. Seuss) that same year as well.
This year, Klaussen followed his runaway hit with This Is Not My Hat, and again found popular and critical success, ultimately winning the Caldecott Award, the highest honor for an illustrated children’s book. In this story, a tiny fish comes upon a round top hat which fits him perfectly…and all will be well, unless the enormous fish to whom it belongs wakes up.
Hats and children’s books have a long history. Here are some examples which you might also recall fondly:
Poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips had an enviable problem recently. He won both the 2013 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry AND was also chosen as one of the winners of the Whiting Writers’ Award. Ceremonies for both the awards were to take place on the same night. Decisions, decisions….
Using some powers not bestowed on mere mortals and non-poets, Phillips managed to attend both fetes (although he was a little late for the Whiting).
The title of Phillips’ multiple-award winning work is The Ground.
Here is one of the poems from that collection:
What were you doing at age 28? If you were author Eleanor Catton, you would be graciously accepting Britain’s highest literary honor, the Man Booker Prize. Catton won the prestigious award for her second novel The Luminaries. In addition to making her the youngest recipient in the history of the prize, Catton’s 832 page novel is also the longest work to ever win.
The Luminaries is set in New Zealand during the gold rush of 1866. Catton knows the country well, as she moved from Canada to New Zealand at the age of six.
Here is an excerpt from the novel, published by London’s The Telegraph. Click here to read the longer sampling:
“Oh yes!…The sweet summons of God to man. That’s when He calls you up to His arms. And it’s the most beautiful thing, a rebirth, a new life. But, just the same I’m in no rush to find out.” ― Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos
Oscar Hijuelos, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for his novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love , died yesterday of a heart attack while playing tennis, according to his agent, Jennifer Lyons. Hijuleos was 62.
Hijuelos was the first Latino writer to be awarded the coveted prize. The novel traces the journey of two Cuban brothers who leave Havana for a life in New York to pursue a career in music. In 1992, the novel was adapted into a film starring Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas.
Although the Pulitzer brought the author fame, it also brought hardships. Hijuelos felt labeled as an “ethnic” writer. In an interview on NPR’s Newshour in 2011, Hijuelos discussed his memoir Thoughts Without Cigarettes. He told interviewer Ray Suarez that he
sometimes felt like a freak, simply because the level of my success and traveling around the world as — quote — “a Latino writer” as much as anything, was sort of wonderful and also very strange for me at the same time, because, indeed, I’m — I came up as but one version of many potential versions of Latinos that there could be.
And I have never — as I say in the memoir, I have never intended to represent myself as a spokesman for anybody but myself. And yet I would be in a roundtable in Sweden, in Stockholm, Sweden, at a live television show, and the host would come on and look around trying to figure out who the Latino guy was in the group. That kind of thing was both interesting and alarming at the same time.
Here is the complete interview. Rest in Peace, Mr. Hijuelos.