August 17, 2009



Oh my gosh, I want to get my hands on a copy of Herge. We lived in France for 2 years and have loved Tintin ever since - we even named our dog Milou!


Tuesday, a Caldecott winner by David Wiesner


Mark -

I've found that the best used book stores are in retirement communities. For obvious, if ghoulish, reasons. I stumbled across one in Palm Springs a few years back that was an absolute gold mine - first editions of rare, forgotten stuff everywhere (I picked up a first edition of Apartment in Athens for like two bucks). And no computer books.

I used to ding myself for having such a large personal library, but I don't any more. I've been adding to it for so long, that I can no look at my shelves and see so many books that are no longer in print and that would be impossible for me to read otherwise. Also, history teaches us that the fate of almost all public libraries is to burn. Almost everything we know about antiquity, for example, comes from sources preserved in private, not public, libraries.

So keep up the hoarding. Two thousand years from now, someone will appreciate it.

The problem with David Gates, it seems to me, is that he thinks he's being witty when he's just being boorish.


Re: #2--And Make Way for Ducklings has the additional notoriety of being referenced by James Wood to illustrate free indirect style in How Fiction Works.


I could go on and on with kids' book recommendations. But for you, especially, I must point out the wonderful Francoise


We wore out the binding on this one (and then I bought another and framed the illustrations). So charming, so French!

Susan K. Perry

I had to wait until my kids grew up to read Proust, so if you're even seriously thinking about it with a baby in the house, you're ahead. Here's my own recent Proust blog post, if you need inspiration:


Susan K. Perry

(Guess I posted my own website incorrectly. Oops.) I just wanted to give you credit for even thinking of reading Proust with a baby in the house. My kids had to grow up before I did it, as I wrote about here:


Jack Pendarvis

I still recall the library book sale more than 20 years ago at which I picked up purely at random my first Flann O'Brien and my first Bruno Schulz. The best fifty cents I ever spent - probably changed my life.


My sister's favorite book growing up was Madeline. Plus it will give her something to remember when she gets around to Proust.


Bien sur, Reagan! Thanks for the recommendation. We'll grab a copy next week. And we actually already have Madeleine - in French - which I bought for her during my last visit to the Librairie Francaise in NY, but we should probably supplement with an English copy, too.

Incidentally, I liked Madeleine growing up, too ... The boy/girl choices don't break down so neatly.


There is a children's series that I loved in my youth, but is little remembered today. It's the "Green Knowe" series of books, about children living in the eponymous mansion and having all kinds of strange adventures. The series has some eerie moments in it that would appeal to an Emily Strange sort of kid. Archaically, I had the series read to me by my fourth grade teacher as part of our after lunch reading hour every day. Quaint, no?


Tess Rooney

I'm a New Zealander and we have some wonderful homegrown favorites that you might not know of. I'm also a mum of four little boys, so our house is swamped by children's books.

Lynley Dodd's "Hairy Maclary From Donaldson's Dairy"

Margaret Mahy's "A Lion in the Meadow"

And anything by Jow Cowley, but my children would recommend the Greedy Cat books.


The Pacific Palisades Library sale is no ordinary sale, it's an event that people wait anxiously to attend. When the date is announced I'm sure to get at least one e-mail to share the news.

My absolute top suggestion for a kids book: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. I do not take responsibility for the fact that 15 years from now you and Mrs. TEV will be able to recite alternate verses at a moments notice.

Second: Time for Bed by Mem Fox (with Mem Fox you can't go wrong), beautiful pictures, very loving text.

We read to our kids every night from the day of their birth until they became such avid readers they had to read on their own. Last summer I was looking forward to sharing Little Women with my daughter. We did a chapter a night for three nights, then the she spent the entire next day reading the book, she just couldn't wait. I'm going to start Pride and Prejudice when she starts school so she can't read the book all day, she'll have to wait for me.

You are embarking on a precious time for you and your daughter.



Do you remember the name of the bookstore in Palm Springs?


'Him With His Foot In...' is one of the best examples showcasing Bellow's versatility and immense talent. The stories here really show us how Bellow is equally adapt at creating his usual powerful hard-hitting stories from the economical space and limitations of the short story format. My Penguin paperback edition is well nigh yellowed and battered by now. What I would give for a hardcover edition. Also, selected as on of the Best Books of the Decade (1980s) in Time Mag's Jan 1 1990 edition.


Love You Forever, Robert Munsch - I still read it sometimes when I miss my mother.


Clara is still young, and you have many hours ahead of you of reading to her, so it must engage the adult as well as the child.

Hence (as a another New Zealander I will endorse Lynley Dodd, - a new book out in the last couple of months, GO FOR RHYTHM OR POETRY, Edward Lear "The New Vestments" (I think), and I will also endorse 'Madeline' which is only poetry with pictures, albeit two colours, and you think won't grab attention, but it will.

All rolicking and fun, and they will stay your memory forever.

(I can probably repeat Beatrix Potter's 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit' verbatim as well - the niece who read that avidly at 3 years, worked for a time in a publishing house - Orchard - but was dismayed at finding the ways of the world - working as many hours as there are in a day, for a pittance. She now does hospital administration!)


Kim -

Sadly, that used bookstore is no longer there. There are great used bookstores all over that area, including the Morongo Valley/Joshua Tree area where you might least expect them. You just have to get off the beaten trail.


Reading the list of childrens books in the above post I was filled with nostalgia. My children are now in their teens but all of the books in the list and scores more remain on our bookshelves, bearing the scars of - in some cases hundreds of - repeated readings. In some ways these books mean more to me than any others can hope to and I've no doubt that you will find the same thing happens. What amazed me when I revisited childrens books in my 30s when my children came along was how incredibly rich the best of them are (and the category of "the best" is a large one in this genre). So I do envy you the pleasure that will come to you over the next several years as you and your daughter explore these books.
You will probably be besieged by suggestions and I am very happy to see that Quentin Blake has arrived in your household already (but do explore him as author of his own work also), here are two more from England: John Burningham and Janet and Allen Ahlberg.


It'll be a while before your daughter is ready for them, but the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace is absolutely delightful.


(Please excuse my inconsistent / just-plain-wrong subject-verb (dis)agreements.) Bad taste, tired brain, too-fast fingers.

Laura Strachan

Ecco does a really lovely book, A CHILD'S ANTHOLOGY OF POETRY. The poems are all ones that will capture a child's imagination, but not necessarily "children's" poetry.

Carolyn Kellogg

I know it's too soon, but From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (I dreamed of camping out in the Met before I'd ever seen it). Things she'll enjoy sooner? The Very Hungry Caterpillar. And Everyone Poops.


"Stinky Cheese Man" --a must read!

John Verity

Maurice Sendak's 'In the Night Kitchen' is right up there with 'Wild Things.' Indeed, he has written and/or illustrated so many wonder-full books that are generally overshadowed by the best-known titles. Another of his my son enjoyed having read to him over and over is 'Higglety Pigglety Pop!: Or There Must Be More to Life' - a mysterious rehash (what else to call it?) of that famous nursery rhyme.
Be careful, though. Once you start looking into Sendak you may want to start collecting them all.
I second the emotion, too, about 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' - a perfect on-ramp to the literary superhighway.


James Wood would start his Harvard course lecture on free indirect discourse by passing out Xeroxes of pages from "Make Way for Ducklings," generating a lot of quizzical looks and, ultimately, amused comments from students.

Also, I don't know if you have seen this, but there's a re-evaluation of certain children's books in the Los Angeles Times by Madeleine Brand:


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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."