Archive for December, 2006


Posted: December 31, 2006 in Holiday Wishes


Happiest of New Years to all who’ve come by to visit my blog this year!

It’s been a wonderful year spent sharing thoughts on reading, writing and various assorted matters with all of you this year, and I look forward to many, many more wonderful virtual “meetings” in 2007.

Celebrate well and thoroughly, but please do celebrate safely.

Warmest wishes for a VERY HAPPY 2007 to all.

May you enjoy health, happiness and WONDERFUL READS in the

New Year.


Auld Lang Syne
by Robert Burns

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
And surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
And gies a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie-waught,
for auld lang syne.




Verrry difficult this year, as it is every year, but the more I looked at my list of books read in 2006 the more clear my Top 10 List became. Though I read a lot of really great books, the ones that stood out as stellar were really pretty obvious choices.

The books I chose as my “best of” were the ones that most likely blind-sided me by their sheer brilliance. A book that turns me inside-out, then rips out my heart for good measure, is very likely to make my Top 10 List. Also, a book that has deep, never-ending empathy, forcing me to look at things in my own life I may or may not be comfortable with thinking about but which I need to address, is a strong contender.

Then there are the classics, those books that set the standard for what a good story is, or should be. These stand the test of time, and often multiple readings, and every time I read them I find something entirely different within the very same pages (often the same edition) I’ve held in my hands before.

So, without further ado, here is:

My Top 10 Books Read in 2006:

(Not necessarily in order, mind…)

10. The Barracks by John McGahern

9. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

8. The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson

7. A Lifetime Burning by Linda Gillard

6. Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal

5. The Stranger Next Door by Amelie Nothomb

4. The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead

3. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

2. TIE: The Invisible Woman: The Story of Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan by Claire Tomalin, England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton by Kate Williams

1. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Honorable Mention Status:

1. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

2. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

3. Mother’s Milk by Edward St. Aubyn

4. Blaming by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not the actress!)

5. The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls

N.B.: For the record, everything I read by Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine remains in its own special, separate category of books I read selfishly and with utter abandon, but which didn’t quite make the cut for the hallowed list. To her I tip my bonnet with deepest humility and thanks, and I’ll give her the title of the Writer Least Likely to Disappoint Me When I Need a Really Good Creepy Read. Without Rendell/Vine I don’t know how I’d fill this very vital (to me) void.

Last, but certainly not least, heartfelt thanks go out to everyone I’ve chatted with on all matters bookish, all who’ve been reading my blog or whose blog I’ve read over the year, and to all who’ve given me such outstanding recommendations for books I simply MUST READ. Also, a thankful nod to all the publishers who keep sending me your books to read, enjoy and review. You’re all completely invaluable to me, and I only wish there were some way I could mention all of you to repay your incredible kindnesses. Humble thanks to all of you, and long may we all continue to enjoy this free, open community of like-minded souls communing and sharing our thoughts and feelings on the subject nearest to our hearts…



Here’s to more of the same in 2007.

Happy Holidays to all, and all best wishes to you and yours in the New Year.


Author Interview: Frank Portman

Posted: December 11, 2006 in Author Interview

An Interview with Frank Portman, Author of King Dork


From School Library Journal

Grade 10 Up-Original, heartfelt, and sparkling with wit and intelligence, this debut novel tells the story of a 14-year-old outsider, Tom Henderson. For him, life is a series of humiliations, from the associate principal who mocks him to the popular girls who put him on their Dud list. The teen takes refuge in music, writing songs, and inventing band names with his only friend, Sam. He looks for a copy of The Catcher in the Rye in a box of books left by his father, a detective who died under strange circumstances. Tom sets out to read each volume, decode the secret messages that he finds, and figure out who his father really was. The daily torments of life at Hillmont High School play out brilliantly in ways that are both hilarious and heartbreaking. Sexual references and encounters abound, and the language is frank-oral sex is a frequent topic, as is drug use by teens and adults-but none of it is gratuitous. The plot unfolds at a leisurely pace, with digressions on music, popular culture, high school customs, literary criticism, and general philosophical observations, but Tom is so engaging that most readers won’t mind. He’s intellectually far above most of his peers but still recognizably a teen in his obsessions. The plot’s mysteries come together for a conclusion that is satisfying but doesn’t tie up all the loose ends. This dazzling novel will linger long in readers’ memories.-Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

1. King Dork was obviously heavily influenced by Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. What was it about Salinger’s classic that particularly inspired you, and in what ways is that book still relevant today?

Many books about teenagers invoke The Catcher in the Rye, and many authors and publishers try to spin their books as The Catcher in the Rye of the Future. Writing a book from the point of view of a disaffected, smart-ass high school student automatically put me in that category, I knew, so I decided to have fun with the situation. Catcher in the Rye is the book on rebellion that everyone is required to love (an ironic situation to be sure) so I had my narrator base a great deal of his analysis and description of the world on a deep-seated loathing for the book. At the same time, the book and the character mimic and parody aspects of Holden Caulfield, often in ways that the mock-sophisticated narrator doesn’t even realize. Which I thought was kind of cool.

As for whether CitR is “relevant” today: it certainly is, as it is still in print and still celebrated unquestioningly by thousands of teachers and librarians, priests and rabbis, actors, actresses, and rock stars, along with perhaps millions of earnest non-celebrity readers. Putting it on your list of favorite books is guaranteed to make practically everyone you come in contact with say something like “what a wonderful, wonderful person! That’s *my* favorite book, too!” Since my book was published, though, I’ve heard from an astonishing number of people, young and old, who share Tom Henderson’s lack of enthusiasm for it, leading me to believe that there has to be a significant proportion of Catcher in the Rye fans who are, in fact, faking it.

2. What writing projects are you working on currently? Have you considered writing for the adult market, or do you plan to keep writing for young adults?

I’m working on my second novel now. Like a lot of writers, I cling to belief that my work is for everyone, regardless of marketing category. However, I have a long-standing relationship with YA as a reader and now as a writer and I love being a part of the tradition. Plus, it has worked out pretty well so far so I’m sticking with it.

3. What advice would you give to aspiring writers of fiction in general, or young adult fiction in particular?

You can have all sorts of grand schemes and hifalutin ideas about changing the face of fiction and so forth, but it’s never going to happen till you actually start typing, something to which few writers are in the end willing to stoop.

4. What have you been reading lately? Is there anything you’re reading now, or have read recently, that’s impressed you?

I loved David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green.

5. Aside from writing and reading, what else do you feel passionately about?

“Passionate” might be pushing it, but I do like to watch TV, or at least to have the TV on in the background. I am in love with background noise. I like rock and roll music, too. And cheeseburgers.

6. Do you have a favorite quotation, or perhaps just a few words, you feel sums up your philosophy on life?

“Love is like oxygen
You get too much, you get too high;
not enough and you’re gonna die.

Love gets you high.”

7. If you were marooned on an island, stuck in an elevator, or otherwise cut off from society, what one book would you want to have with you?

Code of the Woosters.

8. What memories do you have from your childhood, about your experiences in public libraries? Did they play a role at all in your love of books and reading?

I spent a great deal of my childhood in the local public library and I worked there as a page in middle school and high school. As a kid, I loved how it was almost always practically deserted, except for the desultory staff and a senior citizen here or there. When I myself later became a member of the desultory staff, I appreciated this deserted quality even more. I passed the time by reading every book in the children’s fiction section in alphabetical order; hence my deep knowledge of the YA tradition. And I imagine that when I am a senior citizen, I will return once again, to stand near the magazine rack with a confused and vaguely hostile air, totally unaware of my surroundings. So it goes.

Author Frank Portman

Frank Portman’s website:

It’s a fact not universally known that Christmas as we know it today owes much of its current format and popularity to Victorian author Charles Dickens, whose wildly popular book A Christmas Carol gave the holiday a huge shot in the arm at a time the holiday seemed in danger of dying out.

In 1843 Dickens was struggling financially. His most recent novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, had been pretty much an uncharacteristic flop. As the father of ten children, not to mention a man fond of going out to attend parties, social events and plays, etc., he required a lot of money to keep his household going. A few years later he’d be not only supporting a huge family but also a mistress, the actress Ellen Ternan. A steady stream of money was absolutely crucial to maintaining the sort of lifestyle Dickens demanded, and he was in truly dire straits.


In a bid to make more money and recover his reputation as the most popular novelist of his day, Dickens penned A Christmas Carol. Desperate to get the project moving forward, Dickens funded the publication with his own money. The edition he chose to publish was a red cloth illustrated edition, with gilded page edges. As luxurious as it was, printing costs ran high, resulting in the fact Dickens didn’t make all that much profit on it. To top it all off, pirated editions of the book started coming out, further cutting into his profits. He challenged the literary pirates in court, as well, costing him a fortune in court fees.

However little the profits of this first edition of the book, the story proved wildly popular. Dickens was a tremendously popular novelist, greeted upon his visits to this country with a roar echoed later only when the Beatles first landed on our shores. His books enjoyed the sort of following J.K. Rowling’s books do now, if you can imagine that. His books were published in serial form, in various periodicals in the U.S. and U.K., and when ships carrying the latest serial installment arrived at port in the U.S. there were throngs there waiting to get a copy.

When he published A Christmas Carol Dickens singlehandedly gave Christmas the boost it needed to come back to the forefront of family celebration. The reading public was so completely enthralled by this story of a curmudgeonly old man who received new hope after having the wits scared out of him by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come the holiday seemed to suddenly take on more meaning, becoming much more a family event to be celebrated in a very big way. If not for Charles Dickens there’s no telling where Christmas would be today, and whether it would still be celebrated with so much hedonistic joy and good cheer. So, as you cut into the Christmas goose, or pop the figgy pudding into the oven, give a bit of due to Charles Dickens, the man who effectively saved Christmas as we know it from dying out.

As Tiny Tim would say, “God bless us, everyone!”