Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bad Blogger, Good Consumer

Hello. I can't even remember when I blogged last, but I have excellent excuses.

Excuse Number One: I have been buying a car to replace the late lamented Green Monster Impreza. For me, this is similar to stalking a tiger while reading up on the quality of his teeth and claws and transferring tiger bait from bank to bank all over the trackless jungle.

When Rob needs a car, he gets up one morning, yawns, scratches himself, decides to visit the dealer, drives a car, then pays his money and comes home with it that night. I am not like that. I consult Consumer Reports,, the Kelley Bluebook,, and 450,000 dealer web sites, plus everyone I know who has ever owned a car plus tea leaves and the innards of snakes.

I then test drive and dither and fret: Hybrid, or manual transmission? Hybrid, or All Wheel Drive? What about AWD but automatic transmission? Manual but front wheel drive with studded tires? If I buy a Prius, can I drive down a back-woods road without scraping hell out of the undercarriage? Do I HAVE to buy another Subaru Impreza, or would a Forester be OK?

The situation was exascerbated by the fact that, once I finally decided that I wouldn't be comfortable slinging a kayak on top of a Prius and driving it through the woods, it turned out that used Imprezas no longer exist, at least not hatchbacks with manual transmission and fewer than 50,000 miles on the odometer. I briefly considered ordering a new one and waiting three months while poking my depleted bank account to see if it was dead. But at last I decided on a 2006 Impreza Outback Sport with everything I wanted but too many miles on it. (The documented maintenance is beyond exemplary, so it could be worse.)

I bought the car yesterday. I am still hyperventilating. Fortunately, we have already tracked wood ashes into the interior (we've been burning all the trees that fell down and smashed perfectly innocent Green Monsters), so I am not subject to the usual waiting-for-the-first-ding-on-the-new-car terrors.

Excuse Number Two: I've been dealing with copy-edits on SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS. I don't even want to talk about this. I roped in my writer's group and my high school friend Shelly (copy editor to the stars) to help me make sure all was well. They are still speaking to me. I am grateful.

IN OTHER NEWS: The entire town of Brooklin is obsessed with Battlestar Gallactica. Yup, I know, old news to the rest of the world. But we don't get cable here, and many of us wouldn't buy it anyway and therefore do not have satellite dishes either. So when the library got the complete DVD set, the jostling began.

We're next on the list for discs 13 and 14. Today, Librarian Tracey called.

TRACEY: Disc 14 came in, but Disc 13 is still out. Shall I hold Disc 14 until Disc 13 comes in?

ELLEN: What if the guy who has 13 wants 14?

TRACEY: Maybe he's the one who watched them out of order, lemme check. Nope, he hasn't seen 14. But what if I take your name off it and somebody ELSE takes out 14?

ELLEN: Oh god. I don't know. *ponders for a minute.* OK, listen, just keep our names on 13 and we'll take our chances on 14. That's only fair.

TRACEY: I'll take your name off of 14 but I'll keep it here at the desk for a day or two.

Tracey and I have conversations like this a lot, because she's the Brooklin Interlibrary Loan guru. Over the past year she has helped me score books on the Cape Verde Islands, West African animism, and literacy in Elizabethan and Stuart England. She stalks books like tigers in a jungle. We get along very well.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


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book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

The weather’s bad with a chance of awful around here, but yesterday there was a change of air, the hint of a smile on the face of the world. Spring is coming.

Nevertheless, the comfy chair with the good lamp beckons. If you’re a kid or appreciate books written for kids, you couldn’t do better than this tale of a plucky, kind-hearted girl and her friend the dragon. Full disclosure: Grace Lin is a fellow Inkie, I’ve written about her before, and I have no business reviewing her book. Sorry—the ghost of my younger self insists.

Don’t forget to click the icon above for more reviews. Oh, and FCC: I got this book in a swap at the Kid/YA Lit Tweetup during the ALA Midwinter meeting.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
By Grace Lin
Little, Brown BYR, 2009

WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON has won a Newbery Honor and a galaxy of starred reviews, but I happen to know it’s also won the highest honor in children’s literature: reports from parents that their children insist on reading it over and over and over.

One of those children would have been me.

It’s the whole package, you see. Lin is an illustrator as well as a writer, so her cozy, endearing story comes with cool chapter headers and spectacular full-page illustrations. The cover art, as you can see, is gorgeous. The book even handles well, with sturdy materials and supple binding. This would have been bedtime reading for me every night in elementary school, possibly beyond.

The book is fueled by Chinese folk tales, simple, often funny stories of greed and foolishness and hubris. As entertaining as they are, the original tales tend to rely on stock characters—crafty monks, corrupt bureaucrats, greedy merchants, foolish or kind or beleaguered peasants. It’s amazing what happens to them when you add real humans, as Lin has done.

Our heroine, Minli, is a farmer’s daughter in a mud-encrusted village under Fruitless Mountain. To her mother’s disgust, her father brings joy to her life by telling her stories of dragons and magic and the wisdom of the Old Man of the Moon. Her mother sighs, the sun burns, the mud clings, and finally Minli has had enough. She sets off on an epic journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how to change her family’s fortune.

Minli is a normal kid, not uncommonly smart or brave or virtuous. But she has the heart of a hero, and that’s what drives her to rescue a dragon, befriend a beggar and a king, overcome fear, and find help when she needs it.

She’d get nowhere without stories: the ones her father told her, and the ones she picks up from new acquaintances along her journey. The tales weave through the book, explaining the characters Minli meets, feeding her information she needs to complete her quest. They help her, and us, to understand the world a little better, adding richness and color.

Minli and others who open their hearts to stories have special powers: For them, stone lions come alive, and goldfish share their wisdom.

Guess that’s why we’re here, right?