Thursday, September 28, 2006

MBA Day 1

Officially on the road! I left home at 6am after being up for only 30 minutes. And yet it was way, way too early for me. 7am is too early to wake up and I have to do it several days a week. Bought coffee on the way to meet the charter bus - mostly because I decided I might as well have some boost to the trip since I know I won’t fall back asleep, no matter how badly I will want to (and I do!). I had just sat down on the bus and in typical fashion, promptly spilled coffee all down my front. Right on my nice new striped coffee and cream striped shirt. Although now the coffee on it wasn’t just the coloring. At least we hadn’t started down the road and I was able to scour under the bus for my bag and pull out another top. A light sweater, but I get warm easily. I hope it won’t be a problem.
I do love the golden glow of the sunrise. It makes everything so warm. The music on my current iPod playlist (Amelie, March of the Penguins, Bill Evans) adds an interesting musical undercling to the scenery passing by the window. Corn fields, low shrubs, mown pastures; colors green, red, gold, purple. When did Autumn get here?

Lunch and on the way again. I read one book already today. I’m still reeling a little from it. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. What a stunning read. I blew through it in under 2 hours. Part of the speed was due to the pacing, to the way the novel pushed your forward out of curiosity and a palpable fear. The other part was the simplicity of the prose. No complicated phrasings to stumble over, no over-descriptive paragraphs to have to re-read several times in order to get a clear picture. And it was over too soon. More lengthy thoughts to come.
Some education sessions to attend this afternoon: events related ones and then a roundtable for your “younger” bookseller/bookstore owner (directed to those of us in our 20s and 30s). A reception. A few headed to author dinners - not me! I will take notes during the sessions because I am, in fact, a nerd.

1230pm ARRIVAL

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Simple Update

I have been reading like mad, but have been too preoccupied (lazy?) to share my thoughts here. Recently read and loved:

Smonk by Tom Franklin
Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood
How We Got Insipid by Jonathan Lethem
Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian

This weekend I will be at the Midwest Booksellers Association trade show in St. Paul and will attempt to do some blogging from there. No promises, but the noble vestiges of action will be on my mind.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

American Bee, James Maguire

The dust jacket of this book is all you need to read to suck you inside in an instant. I could not not open the book and start from the beginning. It captures you like the peak, tense denoument of any thrilling movie or riveting sports event. And it's only a spelling bee!

Eagerly I dove into American Bee wanting to know...did David Tidmarsh win? Or did he hyperventilate and collapse onstage? How does this exciting moment, making up only the first chapter, constitute a book-length exploration of the spelling bee? As I read onwards, new questions sprang to mind: How did the bee become so huge? When did ESPN decide it was a worthy sporting event for their discriminating network to cover? Have the words always been so obnoxiously difficult? When did spellers start studying word etymology rather than simply memorize spellings? And so on.

Maguire not only answers all of these questions, but goes into a fascinating history of the spelling bee itself (social construct for young men and women to safely flirt with one another on wintery evenings in the 1800s), individual profiles of champions (several profiles covering the last 30+ years of spelling) and even into the history of orthography (spelling) back to the beginning throes of english. To think that our own dictionary, our modern spellings and fleshed out language, only truly became such 200 years ago is actually quite stunning in light of how many years society has existed and communicated to one another.

I love that Maguire makes all this so accessible that even a non-word geek would appreciate the fascinating bits of trivia and lingual history. I know this because I have been reading parts aloud to my spouse who does not, does not read, at all. He has been amazed at just how interesting this information is to him. Sure, we can read about the history of the english language and learn all about roots, outside language influences, the creation of the dictionary, etc. in other, lengthier, more academic tomes. But! But it would not be nearly as interesting to non-linguists, non-writers and non-orthographers. That's the spark of American Bee. What it takes to make what is seen as boring, interesting, is the skill of a talented storyteller.

Of course, the peering into the lives of kids who are so atypical and finding out what a broad cross-section of cultural and educational and class the Bee cuts into...that is the essence of a great history. The first national spelling bee near the start of the 20th century was won by a young girl who was, gasp, black. A black girl? You can imagine the tizzy into which society was thrown after that. Yet it stands as a perfect example of how the Bee progressed, culturally. Color-blind, gender-blind, the Bee only has ever focused on pure hard-work, intelligence and passion. Yes, passion. Wait until you read about these kids and the hours they put into learning about word roots, learning other languages and voraciously devouring anything they can read. It's enough to inspire someone to get out there and do the same, even "late" in life.

Who doesn't have an intense involvement with the spelling bee they lost? Who doesn't remember the word they mispelled and placed lower than first? I know I remember the word that brought me 3rd place in the school-wide bee I participated in as a 4th grader. Bacterium. I spelled it right in my head and raced through it, forgetting the "u". It ruined me for future bees. I guess I just didn't have what it takes. Did you?