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Jacqueline West, Writer

Bestselling author of The Books of Elsewhere and Dreamers Often Lie

2017: The Big Bookish Wrap-up of the Year

December 18, 2017    Tags: , , , , , ,   

Whew. 2017.

When I look through my files, I guess I managed to get some stuff done–books written, a poetry collection accepted for publication (!!!), a play finished and performed–but I can’t estimate the number of hours I spent reading the news with my stomach aching and my TMJ in overdrive, writing postcards and emails, leaving phone messages for politicians while clenching my jaw even harder (thanks, phone phobia!). I know it’s a privilege not to live in constant, fearful awareness of politics, but–really selfishly here–I’d like a little of that privilege back. A year or two from now, I’d love to apply the KonMari method to my brain and go through all the names of cabinet members and lawyers and congresspeople who are no longer in those positions, all the “there’s no way they really said that” quotes, and fill up a few dozen garbage bags.

I’ve got a lot of reasons to look forward to 2018 — I’ll have three (!!!!!!!!) books coming out, for starters — but for me, one of the biggest ones has to do with voting. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so enthusiastic about voting in my whole life. And that’s a positive thing, right?

So bring it on, 2018. Ready and waiting.

Writing-wise:
– Books written: 2 (YA project and Story Pirates mystery)
– Books revised: 3 (THE COLLECTORS, YA project, and Story Pirates mystery)
– Short stories written: 2 (and they’re both pretty crappy! Woohoo!)
– Short stories published 1 (“The Scarecrow” in Stinkwaves Magazine)
– Poems written: 8
– Poems published: 1 (“Yanys” reprinted in THE DRIFTLESS READER)
– Poetry collections finished: 1 (CANDLE AND PINS: POEMS ON SUPERSTITIONS will be published by Alban Lake Press this spring)
– Plays revised, rehearsed, and premiered: 1 (SNOW DAY: A Dark (and Cold) Comedy about Climate Change, performed by Red Wing’s Soapbox Players from December 1 – 9, 2017).

Reading-wise:
(Re-reads are marked with an asterisk, and read-alouds are in bold.)
THE INQUISITOR’S TALE – Adam Gidwitz
DAD IS FAT – Jim Gaffigan
LIZARD RADIO – Pat Schmatz
LET ME TELL YOU – Shirley Jackson
SCRATCH: WRITERS, MONEY, AND THE ART OF MAKING A LIVING – Manjula Martin, ed.
FREAKONOMICS – Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
THE SMELL OF OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES – Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
THE POET’S DOG – Patricia McLaughlin
SHOW YOUR WORK! – Austin Kleon
MONSTRESS 1  – Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
THE SOMEDAY SUITCASE – Corey Ann Haydu
THE NATURAL WORLD OF WINNIE-THE-POOH – Kathryn Aalto
ARE YOU LOATHSOME TONIGHT – Poppy Z. Brite
BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME – Ta-Nehisi Coates
HILLBILLY ELEGY – J.D. Vance
NOVEL DESTINATIONS: A TRAVEL GUIDE – Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon
AMERICANAH – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiechie
WHAT WE DO NOW: STANDING UP FOR YOUR VALUES IN TRUMP’S AMERICA – Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians
HOUR OF THE BEES – Lindsay Eagar
ONE SUMMER: AMERICA 1927 – Bill Bryson
THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE – Katherine Arden
THE RAVEN BOYS – Maggie Stiefvater
THE NIGHT GARDENER – Jonathan Auxier
THE HATE U GIVE – Angie Thomas
NORSE MYTHOLOGY – Neil Gaiman
*THE LOTTERY AND OTHER STORIES – Shirley Jackson
WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? – Maria Semple
ONCE AGAIN, TO ZELDA: THE STORIES BEHIND LITERATURE’S MOST INTRIGUING DEDICATIONS – Marlene Wagman-Geller
I REMEMBER NOTHING – Nora Ephron
DARK MONEY – Jane Mayer
SAGA, VOL. 1 – Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
PATHFINDER – Angie Sage
TALKING AS FAST AS I CAN – Lauren Graham
THE MAGICIANS – Lev Grossman
THIS IS AN UPRISING: HOW NONVIOLENT REVOLT IS SHAPING THE 21ST CENTURY – Mark and Paul Engler
BOOKED – Kwame Alexander
BAPTISM OF DESIRE: POEMS – Louise Erdrich
A FIELD GUIDE TO GETTING LOST – Rebecca Solnit
OH CRAP! POTTY TRAINING – Jamie Glowacki
DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE – Laini Taylor
ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY – Chris Grabenstein
*THE WESTING GAME – Ellen Raskin
MOCKINGBIRD – Kathryn Erskine
COUNTING BY SEVENS – Holly Goldberg Sloan
SHIRLEY JACKSON: A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE – Ruth Franklin
VICIOUS – V.E. Schwab
SKY BLUE WATER: GREAT STORIES FOR YOUNG READERS – Jay D. Peterson and Collette A. Morgan, eds.
SOME KIND OF HAPPINESS – Claire LeGrande
BAD GIRLS GO EVERYWHERE: THE LIFE OF HELEN GURLEY BROWN – Jennifer Scanlon
CHARLIE AND THE GREAT GLASS ELEVATOR – Roald Dahl
AL FRANKEN, GIANT OF THE SENATE – Al Franken
DARING GREATLY – Brene Brown
CIRCUS MIRANDUS – Cassie Beasley
A BOTANIST’S VOCABULARY: 1300 TERMS EXPLAINED AND ILLUSTRATED – Bobbi Angell and Susan K. Pell
*BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA – Katherine Paterson
THE ANNIE YEAR – Stephanie Wilbur Ash
THE DOOR: POEMS – Margaret Atwood
SAGA Vol. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 – Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
THE BIG BAD BOOK OF BOTANY – Michael Largo
PAPER GIRLS 1, 2, and 3 – Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, etc.
THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH, REVISITED – Jessica Mitford
STARGIRL – Jerry Spinelli
THE MEMORY BOOK – Lara Avery
THREE DARK CROWNS – Kendare Blake
*A WRINKLE IN TIME – Madeline L’Engle
THE SPELLBOOK OF THE LOST AND FOUND – Moira Fowley-Doyle
THE HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON – Elaine Aron
THERE’S SOMEONE INSIDE YOUR HOUSE – Stephanie Perkins
A GOOD TIME FOR THE TRUTH: RACE IN MINNESOTA – Sun Yung Skin, ed.
THE JUMBIES – Tracey Baptiste
THEFT BY FINDING, Vol. 1 – David Sedaris
THE SECRET OF DREADWILLOW CARSE – Brian Farrey
ROLLERGIRL – Victoria Jamieson
BLACK PANTHER, Vol. 1: A NATION UNDER OUR FEET – Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze
WE ARE THE ANTS – Shaun David Hutchinson
VOODOO DREAMS – Jewell Parker Rhodes
A FIERCE AND SUBTLE POISON – Samantha Mabry
THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP – Marie Kondo
THE LITTLE BOOK OF HYGGE – Meik Wiking
TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN – John Green
HOW TO HYGGE – Signe Johansen
A WALK IN THE WOODS – Bill Bryson
WISHING DAY – Lauren Myracle

Quite a bit of brutal and necessary nonfiction this year (A GOOD TIME FOR THE TRUTH is excellent, DARK MONEY raised my blood pressure by several points, and BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME left me feeling like I could barely breathe), some amazing comic/graphic novel stuff (Hello, SAGA! Hi, ROLLERGIRL!), and some books that I wanted to shove into the hands of every young reader I meet (like THE HATE U GIVE, THE INQUISITOR’S TALE, and THE SMELL OF OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES). My personal favorites were Bill Bryson’s ONE SUMMER: AMERICA 1927, which Ryan and I tore through on trips to and from St. Paul for critique group meetings (Bryson is always charmingly readable, but this one was extra charmingly readable, and with its confluence of amazing historical events, it felt like a way less murderous version of THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY), TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN, which has some of the strongest character creation John Green has pulled off yet, Shirley Jackson’s LET ME TELL YOU, and SHIRLEY JACKSON: A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE, which might be the best literary biography I’ve ever read.

Writing SNOW DAY and seeing it produced here in my hometown was definitely the writing highlight of my year. I’m sad that it’s done, but so happy and dazzled and grateful that it happened in the first place. (Here’s a shot of the entire cast looking up in wonder at the northern lights, the incredible old barn where Soapbox Players performs–See the lighted windows? That’s the stage!–and one of my little guy at the Christmas tree lot. Because cute.)

 

Happy holidays, merry Christmas, and a wonderful New Year, everybody. XO

Spectacles

2016. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

December 12, 2016    Tags: , ,   

This year, you guys. This year.

Ugh.

I’m trying to hang on. I’m trying to take whatever small actions I can. I’m trying to move forward, and to look for all the cracks where the light gets in (RIP, Leonard Cohen), and to keep putting words on paper, instead of slipping down the whirlpool of terrifying news and social media and exhaustion.

I’m trying to hold on to hope.

Because we have to keep fighting.

—————–

Well, it has been so long since I’ve posted here that I’d actually forgotten how to log in on WordPress. Probably not a great sign. But it’s been my tradition to post a year-end list of everything I’ve written, published, and read, and I think my tired, angry brain can manage this much.

Here goes:

Novels published: DREAMERS OFTEN LIE  (Dial/Penguin, April 2016)
Short stories published: “The Troll Truth” (and accompanying essay, “The Edible Lie Detector Test”) in the anthology BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, VOL. 2: SCHOOL DAZED (Grosset & Dunlap, August 2016)
Poems published: 0 (It’s been a very bad year for poetry. *&#$ing 2016!!!)

Novels written: 2 (One MG, one YA)
Short stories written: 4
Poems written: 1 (like I said, BAD YEAR)
Plays written: 1 (almost)

 

Reading list (rereads are marked with asterisks, and read-alouds are in bold):

PRAGUE – Arthur Phillips
THE LAST MADAM: A LIFE IN THE NEW ORLEANS UNDERWORLD – Christine Wiltz
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, VOL 1: WRITING STORIES FROM REAL LIFE – Mike Winchell, Ed.
DO UNTO ANIMALS – Tracey Stewart
EL DEAFO – Cece Bell
THE ARGONAUTS – Maggie Nelson
NO LOGO – Naomi Klein
WINK POPPY MIDNIGHT – April Genevieve Tucholke
REBEL BELLE – Rachel Hawkins
AN EMBER IN THE ASHES – Sabaa Tahir
DOVE ARISING – Karen Bao
THE DARK DAYS CLUB – Alison Goodman
BONE GAP – Laura Ruby
REBEL OF THE SANDS – Alwyn Hamilton
GIRL LAST SEEN – Anne Greenwood Brown and Heather Anastasiu
JUST KIDS – Patti Smith
BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA – April Genevieve Tucholke
WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR – Paul Kalanithi
THE SCORPIO RACES – Maggie Stiefvater
IN WINTER’S KITCHEN – Beth Dooley
WHEN YOU LUNCH WITH THE EMPEROR: THE ADVENTURES OF LUDWIG BEMELMANS – Ludwig Bemelmans
NINTH WARD – Jewell Parker Rhodes
THE WALLS AROUND US – Nova Ren Suma
EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR – E.K. Johnston
*DAVID COPPERFIELD – Charles Dickens
FATES AND FURIES – Lauren Groff
GREEN BABY – Susannah Marriott
THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS – Neil Gaiman
WEREWORLD – Curtis Jobling
* TELEGRAPH AVENUE – Michael Chabon
A MAN CALLED OVE – Fredrik Backman
WILD – Cheryl Strayed
RADICAL – E.M. Kokie
LIFE AFTER DEATH – Damien Echols
DEAF CHILD CROSSING – Marlee Matlin
THE CONSUMER HANDBOOK ON HEARING LOSS AND HEARING AIDS – Richard Carmen, Au D., ed.
CORPSES, COFFINS, AND CRYPTS: A HISTORY OF BURIAL – Penny Colman
HUSH, HUSH – Becca Fitzpatrick
WYTCHES, VOL 1 – Scott Snyder, etc.
THE DEATH OF IVAN ILYCH, FAMILY HAPPINESS, THE KREUZER SONATA, MASTER AND MAN – Leo Tolstoy
*SWEETBLOOD – Pete Hautman
BLOOD AND SALT – Kim Liggett
SEE NO COLOR – Shannon Gibney
COMET IN MOOMINLAND – Tove Jansson
BELZHAR – Meg Wolitzer
RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE – Kate DiCamillo
PETER NIMBLE AND HIS FANTASTIC EYES – Johnathan Auxier
A TANGLE OF KNOTS – Lisa Graff
NINE LIVES: FROM STRIPPER TO SCHOOLTEACHER – MY YEARLONG ODYSSEY IN THE WORKFORCE – Lynn Snowden
WRITING THE OTHER: A PRACTICAL APPROACH – Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward
STEERING THE CRAFT – Ursula K. LeGuin
THE JOKE – Milan Kundera

Standouts include the utterly gorgeous BONE GAP, which deserves every bit of praise it’s gotten, WILD, which was just as good as everybody says and which was the fuel for about a zillion conversations afterward, WYTCHES, which is the most viscerally terrifying comic I’ve ever read (knocking FROM HELL off of that particular pedestal), and the wondrous, world-affirming RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE and NINTH WARD. These are the books that make me want to keep going, keep trying, keep writing. And I have to give a special mention to FATES AND FURIES. I generally forget a character’s name and specific qualities soon after I finish a book–they just dissolve back into the slosh of fictional stuff bubbling in my brain–but Lotto and Mathilde stand out in my mind, as clear and solid and complicated as two real live people. Groff’s character construction is masterful.  Ooh–and THE ARGONAUTS. And JUST KIDS. And THE SCORPIO RACES.

Okay: it may have been a dark year, but there were a lot of beautiful books in it.

(Also, I have the little smiling creature on the sled in my life. That makes everything brighter.)

b-and-r-sledding

Spectacles

The Not-So-Big Bookish Wrap-Up of 2015

December 24, 2015    Tags: , , , ,   

So, it’s been a crazy year. I’ve read fewer books, written fewer stories and poems, traveled less. But I also moved to a new home, finally finished a book that was eight years in the distilling, and kept a tiny new human being alive. And I became something new too–it’s been like opening a door expecting to find another room, and instead finding another world. It’s been the biggest, quietest, longest, fastest, rawest year of my life.

2015. You’ve been a good one.

As has become my tradition, here’s a list of what I read this year (a zillion board books not included). It’s scantier than usual — for obvious reasons. Rereads are marked with asterisks, and read-alouds are in bold:

THE ART OF ASKING – Amanda Palmer
THE BOOK OF THREE (THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN #1)* – Lloyd Alexander
THE LAST REPORT OF THE MIRACLES AT LITTLE NO HORSE – Louise Erdrich
REBEL BOOKSELLER – Andrew Laties
THE BLACK CAULDRON (THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN #2)* – Lloyd Alexander
LAUGH LINES: SHORT COMIC PLAYS – Eric Lane and Nina Shengold, ed.
REVOLUTION – Russell Brand
YES PLEASE – Amy Poehler
STUFF AND NONSENSE – A.B. Frost
WISH YOU WERE HERE: THE OFFICIAL BIOGRAPHY OF DOUGLAS ADAMS – Nick Webb
THE CASTLE OF LLYR (THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN #3)* – Lloyd Alexander
KURT VONNEGUT: THE LAST INTERVIEW (AND OTHER CONVERSATIONS) – Tom McCartan, ed.
THE APE’S WIFE AND OTHER STORIES – Caitlin R. Kiernan
THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY – Gabrielle Zevin
SOUL ON FIRE: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF PETER STEELE – Jeff Wagner
HOW TO BE PARISIAN WHEREVER YOU ARE – Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, Sophie Mas
HALF MAGIC – Edward Eager
TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS: ADVICE ON LOVE AND LIFE FROM DEAR SUGAR – Cheryl Strayed
THE INNER VOICE: THE MAKING OF A SINGER – Renee Fleming
UNFATHOMABLE CITY: A NEW ORLEANS ATLAS – Rebecca Snedeker and Rebecca Solnit
TRIGGER WARNING: SHORT FICTIONS AND DISTURBANCES – Neil Gaiman
THE HALLOWEEN TREE – Ray Bradbury
MOONWALKING WITH EINSTEIN: THE ART AND SCIENCE OF REMEMBERING EVERYTHING – Joshua Foer
TARAN WANDERER (THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN #4) – Lloyd Alexander
I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN – Jandy Nelson
TRAVELING MERCIES * – Anne Lamott
THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN – Jill Lepore
THE REAL BOY – Anne Ursu
DEAD WAKE: THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE LUSITANIA – Erik Larson
TEA WITH MR. ROCHESTER – Frances Towers
THE ART OF NEIL GAIMAN – Hayley Campbell
THE HIDDEN LIFE OF DOGS – Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
COLLECTED POEMS: 1934 – 1952 – Dylan Thomas
THE POISON EATERS AND OTHER STORIES – Holly Black
PROXY – Alex London
PERSONAL EFFECTS – E.M. Kokie
GET IN TROUBLE – Kelly Link
THIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE: ESSAYS – Ann Patchett
FAMILY MAN – Calvin Trillin
I AM MALALA – Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
VOYAGERS: PROJECT ALPHA – D.J. MacHale
THE SIGN OF THE CAT – Lynne Jonell
TELEGRAPH AVENUE – Michael Chabon
THE MAP TO EVERYWHERE – Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis
WHAT TO EXPECT: THE FIRST YEAR – Heidi Murkoff
PERFECT DRAGONFLY: 15 YEARS OF RED DRAGONFLY PRESS  – Scott King, ed.
ZERO TO FIVE: 70 ESSENTIAL PARENTING TIPS BASED ON SCIENCE – Tracy Cutchlow

Anne Lamott, Lloyd Alexander, and Michael Chabon were as wonderful as ever, but for me the standouts of the year were Kelly Link’s short story collection GET IN TROUBLE, which was gorgeous and strange and brilliantly crafted, like everything she does (I’m still thinking about “The New Boyfriend”), Ann Patchett’s THIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE, which had passages that made me smile, get teary, and actually say “AMEN!” out loud, and THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN, which was so blow-you-out-of-the-water fascinating and encouraging that I wish I could scatter copies from a hot air balloon, watching them fall into the hands of present and future feminists and comic book fans alike.

As for Beren, current favorites are THE MITTEN, THE SNOWY DAY, and anything with ducks in it.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and peace, wonder, and joy to everyone. See you in 2016.

Beren and Cmas Tree

 

 

Spectacles

Glad to live in a world where there are Octobers

October 15, 2015    Tags: , , , , ,   

Anne Shirley Octobers
(Anne Shirley and I are kindred spirits.)

It’s my favorite month. Blustery days. The light that falls through red and gold leaves. Jack-o’-lanterns and cider and eerie stories read while wrapped up in a blanket. Beren highly recommends BabyLit’s Dracula; he’s been practicing counting wolves and castles and rats and garlic blossoms, and occasionally howling like a true little child of the night. I highly recommend Through the Woods, by Emily Carroll — twisted, brilliant, beautiful, and terrifying comics that take folk and fairy tales to even darker places — and Get in Trouble, Kelly Link‘s latest collection of gobsmackingly good short stories. Or, of course, you could read The Books of Elsewhere. I hear they’re perfect for Halloween season. Especially Volume Four. (And if you liked them, you could recommend them to other readers, which is the best possible Halloween gift you could possibly give an author. Just saying.)

Bear and Dracula

October is also the month of the Twin Cities Book Festival. If you’re anywhere in the area, come to the Minnesota State Fairgrounds on Saturday the 17th for a truly incredible day of readings, signings, panels, talks, and bookish fun. I’ll be moderating a Middle Grade Adventures panel featuring Lynne Jonell (The Sign of the Cat), D.J. MacHale (Voyagers: Project Alpha), and Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis (The Map to Everywhere), and in true middle grade style, we’re going to play Truth or Dare. Come join the fun: 12:15 p.m., 10/17, Middle Grade Headquarters. (And the whole incredible day is FREE!) Lots more info here: http://www.raintaxi.com/twin-cities-book-festival/

Along with the leaves, events for the next school year are beginning to pile up… Keep an eye on my appearance calendar if you’d like to know where I’ll be.

And for even more autumnal richness, The Books of Elsewhere, Volume Five: Still Life is a finalist for this year’s Silver Falchion Award, as well as being up for the Reader’s Choice Award — go and vote, if you’re so inclined.

Happy October to all you kindred spirits out there.

Spectacles

A brief hello from the land of revisions, board books, and packing tape

August 12, 2015    Tags: , ,   

Holy cats, it’s been a while.

I just managed to weather final revisions on the YA novel, Ryan’s scary bout with Lyme disease, buying a new house and packing up an old one, and a few more months of babyhood, and suddenly it’s mid-August. Everything’s on the upswing now — YA novel in copyedits, husband recovered, move rapidly approaching, baby getting bigger and more fun with every hour that passes — but this summer has felt like one long log-rolling competition. I’m starting to look forward to fall, when I can lounge in front of the fireplace (!!) in our new library (!!!) with a baby in my lap, and maybe everything will slow down for a few minutes. Or maybe not.

Proof of Beren’s increasing fun-ness: He’s starting to love books (– and not just sucking on their corners, although he loves that too). As you can see from this photo, he’s a quite a discerning reader already.
Beren reading skeptical
…I’m just not buying the characterization here.

Because god knows he’s reading more books than I am these days, I present the first edition of BEREN’S BABY-SIZED BOARD BOOK REVIEWS.

LITTLE BLUE TRUCK: Full of great messages about kindness, interdependence, and the importance of toads. Plus, it forces your parents to make a wide variety of animal and vehicle noises! You’ll want to hear it again (and again and again and againandagainandagain).

WHERE’S SPOT?: I don’t want to be hyperbolic here, but this may be the single greatest mystery since The Hound of the Baskervilles. Is Spot under the stairs? In the closet? Under the rug? You’ll be on the edge of your seat/mother’s lap until the stunning conclusion!

ORANGE PEAR APPLE BEAR: A compelling story told in only five words. If Hemingway had written a children’s book, this would be it.

PAT THE BUNNY: A true classic. A feast for the senses. The standard by which all others can be judged. At that climactic scene where Judy touches Daddy’s scratchy face? Gets me every time.

Beren reading ABCD

 

More news on the YA front to come. For now, it’s back to packing…

Spectacles

Big Bookish Wrap-Up of the Year

December 29, 2014    Tags: ,   

We had a sludgy brown Christmas here in Red Wing, but as I type this, snow is falling, and an untouched layer of whiteness covers the world outside my windows. AT LAST.  I’ve been waiting–at first hopefully, then hungrily, then poutily, then trying to pretend that I didn’t care, even while using each evening’s early-falling darkness to imagine that everything outdoors was blanketed in snow–and now, with a cup of coffee beside me and Brom Bones snoring softly at the other end of the couch, I am content.

It’s been a strange year. And a speedy one. (My last post here had to do with All-Hallows Read, which shows how the final months of 2014 slipped away from me entirely.) The end of a five-book, thirteen-years-in-the-preparation series. Two cross-country tours. More school visits than I can count. New writing projects. Hard losses. One very big, slowly approaching gain. But whatever was happening around me or inside of me, written words kept me company, as they always have.

They’re a lot more reliable than snow.

Here’s what I read this year (rereads marked with asterisks, and read-alouds in bold):

WICKED PLANTS – Amy Stewart
MANHOOD FOR AMATEURS* – Michael Chabon
QUIDDITCH THROUGH THE AGES, THE TALES OF BEEDLE THE BARD, FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM – J.K. Rowling
THE VAMPIRE LESTAT* – Anne Rice
THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG – Muriel Barbery
THE STRANGE CASE OF EDWARD GOREY – Alexander Theroux
GOBLIN SECRETS – Will Alexander
BOXERS AND SAINTS – Gene Luen Yang
EMMY AND THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING RAT – Lynne Jonell
WONDER WOMAN 1 & 2 (Blood and Guts) – Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiary
ADVENTURES OF A CAT-WHISKERED GIRL – Daniel Pinkwater
SPIN – Robert Charles Wilson
QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT WON’T STOP TALKING – Susan Cain
THE PLEASURES AND SORROWS OF WORK – Alain de Botton
SIN AND THE SECOND CITY – Karen Abbott
THE FOURTH STALL – Chris Rylander
A RELIABLE WIFE – Robert Goolrick
BAD MOTHER* – Ayelet Waldman
THE CHILDREN OF ODIN – Padraic Colum
CULTURE SHOCK: JAPAN – P. Sean Bramble
BRADBURY SPEAKS: TOO SOON FROM THE CAVE, TOO FAR FROM THE STARS – Ray Bradbury
COUNTRY GIRL – Edna O’Brien
THE MASTER BUTCHERS SINGING CLUB – Louise Erdrich
THE DROWNED WORLD – J.G. Ballard
TOM WAITS ON TOM WAITS: INTERVIEWS AND ENCOUNTERS – Paul Maher Jr., Ed.
VIRGINIA WOOLF: A BIOGRAPHY – Quentin Bell
DANSE MACABRE – Stephen King
THE BOOK OF JEZEBEL – Anna Holmes, Ed.
A WOLF AT THE TABLE – Augusten Burroughs
THE OCTOBER COUNTRY – Ray Bradbury
FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB – Antony John
A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE: A GAME OF THRONES – George R. R. Martin
THE OLD WILLIS PLACE – Mary Downing Hahn
CAUTIONARY TALES FOR CHILDREN – Hilaire Belloc and Edward Gorey
THE GHOST IN THE GLASS HOUSE – Carey Wallace
ROOFTOPPERS – Katherine Rundell
SKELLIG – David Almond
THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES*  – Nathaniel Hawthorne
SONG WITHOUT WORDS: DISCOVERING MY DEAFNESS HALFWAY THROUGH LIFE – Gerald Shea
FAR FROM THE TREE: PARENTS, CHILDREN, AND THE SEARCH FOR IDENTITY – Andrew Solomon
COUNTY O – Robert Hedin
THE TRIP TO ECHO SPRING: ON WRITERS AND DRINKING – Olivia Laing
WHAT’S THAT PIG OUTDOORS: A MEMOIR OF DEAFNESS – Henry Kisor
THE APOTHECARY – Maile Meloy
SCARY, NO SCARY – Zachary Schomburg
DOLL BONES – Holly Black
WOULD COULD THAT BE AT THIS HOUR? – Lemony Snicket
THE CABINET OF EARTHS – Anne Nesbit
GALVESTON – Nic Pizzolatto
WE WERE LIARS – E. Lockhart
EON – Alison Goodman
A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT – Linda Urban
HOW I LIVE NOW – Meg Rosoff
DOLL BABY – Laura Lane McNeal
CLEMENTINE – Sara Pennypacker
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY* – Roald Dahl
PICTURES OF HOLLIS WOODS – Patricia Reilly Giff
DIAL-A-GHOST – Eva Ibbotson
WISCONSIN LORE – Robert E. Gard and L.G. Sorden, collectors
DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD – Roald Dahl
ALABASTER: GRIMMER TALES – Caitlin R. Kiernan
WAIT TIL HELEN COMES* – Mary Downing Hahn
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT – Erich Maria Remarque
THE GHOST OF CRUTCHFIELD HALL – Mary Downing Hahn
MADE FROM SCRATCH: DISCOVERING THE PLEASURES OF A HANDMADE LIFE – Jenna Woginrich
CHANGING MY MIND: OCCASIONAL ESSAYS – Zadie Smith
THE BLUE JAY’S DANCE: A BIRTH YEAR* – Louise Erdrich
DEMIAN – Herman Hesse
CARSICK – John Waters
DANIEL DERONDA – George Eliot
SEX, DRUGS, AND COCOA PUFFS: A LOW CULTURE MANIFESTO – Chuck Klosterman
CLASS MATTERS –  Correspondents of the New York Times
SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS – Laura Amy Schlitz
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO – Stieg Larsson
UNACCUSTOMED EARTH – Jhumpa Lahiri
THE MAN IN THE EMPTY BOAT – Mark Salzman
SEX & VIOLENCE – Carrie Mesrobian
OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS: A JOURNAL OF MY SON’S FIRST YEAR* – Anne Lamott
REIGN OF ERROR: THE HOAX OF THE PRIVATIZATION MOVEMENT AND THE DANGER TO AMERICA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS – Diane Ravitch
THE BEST OF FRIENDS: MARTHA AND ME – Mariana Pasternak
SEXUAL POLITICS – Kate Millett
THE UNLIKELY ADVENTURES OF MABEL JONES: THE VOYAGE OF THE FERROSHUS MAGGOT – Will Mabbitt
NEW ORLEANS CITY GUIDE: AMERICAN GUIDE SERIES – Federal Writers’ Project/WPA, 1938
AN ACCIDENTAL ADVENTURE #3: WE GIVE A SQUID A WEDGIE – C. Alexander London
ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS – Stephanie Perkins
TALES FROM MOOMIN VALLEY – Tove Janssen
THROUGH THE WOODS – Emily Carroll

It’s crazy — as I type this list, I can suddenly recall exactly which book I was reading at the gate in Reagan International Airport, or Richmond, or Phoenix; which book was with me on a balcony on Jekyll Island, Georgia, or in a teeny white cottage in coastal New Hampshire, or in a patisserie in the French Quarter; which books I read to Ryan in the car on Thursday night trips between Minneapolis and Red Wing and which ones he read to me in the kitchen while I made dinner.  Thank goodness for books. Without them, a lot more of this year would be a blur.

There are lots of wonderful things on this list, including some old favorites, but a few first-time reads that stand out in my mind are David Almond’s SKELLIG, a British children’s novel published in 1998 that is so spare and subtle and strange and beautiful I’ve had trouble describing it without getting teary, THE MASTER BUTCHERS SINGING CLUB, which is one of those books that is so perfectly constructed that you don’t even notice the complex, distinctive writing until it knocks you over with its beauty (and then does it again and again), and THROUGH THE WOODS, Emily Carroll’s 2014 graphic novel, which uses that increasingly well-worn trick of re-imagining fairy tales, but in a way that feels entirely sharp and fresh. Distinctive, rich, eerie, and lovely.

Wishing you a New Year full of good stories–both the true and the almost-true kind.

snowy christmas light

Spectacles

The Big Fat Book Wrap-Up of the Year

December 30, 2013    Tags: , , , , , , , , ,   

2013 has skidded to an end so fast that I know I’ll be writing the wrong year on checks (yes, I still use checks) for weeks — or, if I’m honest, months — to come.

It’s been a year of massive revisions and small beginnings.  I started a new play (yeah, I’m surprised too), wrote the first several chapters of a new MG trilogy, revised THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE, VOLUME FIVE: STILL LIFE, edited some short stories, dug back into an old MG stand-alone, and rewrote the lumbering YA project for the eighth time, longhand, and am just now typing it in its nearly (I think…) finished form.

I appear to have written just four poems this year, which makes it the least poetic year of my life since 6th grade.  I wrote zero new short stories, which saddens and surprises me, but I should be back in the short story saddle soon.  I saw one novel published — THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE, VOLUME FOUR: THE STRANGERS — in July, and an anthology — STARRY-EYED: 16 STORIES THAT STEAL THE SPOTLIGHT — released in October, and I completed a novel — and series — with VOLUME FIVE: STILL LIFE.  I’m looking forward to some new adventures and some fresh starts in 2014. Lots more news on those fronts soon.

Between revisions, travel, and school visits, I plowed through about a third of the books that had been waiting in increasingly dusty piles all around my house.  Here’s 2013’s reading list.  As before, titles in bold are rereads, and asterisks denote books that Ryan and I read aloud together.

THE MARRIAGE OF STICKS – Jonathan Carroll
ARCADIA – Lauren Groff
*CINDER – Marissa Meyer
THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET – Brian Selznick
THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD – Charles Dickens
ROMMEL DRIVES ON DEEP INTO EGYPT – Richard Brautigan
STUPID FAST – Geoff Herbach
HOW TO BE A WOMAN – Caitlin Moran
AMERICAN ISIS: THE LIFE AND ART OF SYLVIA PLATH – Carl Rollyson
UNDERWORLD – Don DeLillo
TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN – Phillipa Pearce
A GATE AT THE STAIRS – Lorrie Moore
LAURA LAMONT’S LIFE IN PICTURES – Emma Straub
ODD GIRL OUT: THE HIDDEN CULTURE OF AGGRESSION IN GIRLS – Rachel Simmons
ALABASTER: WOLVES – Caitlin R. Kiernan
OUT OF THE EASY – Ruta Sepetys
TOUCHING FROM A DISTANCE: IAN CURTIS AND JOY DIVISION – Deborah Curtis
HOCUS POCUS – Kurt Vonnegut
THE BLOODY CHAMBER AND OTHER TALES – Angela Carter
NEW ORLEANS STORIES: GREAT WRITERS ON THE CITY – Andrei Codrescu, ed.
THIRTEEN REASONS WHY – Jay Asher
PRODIGAL SUMMER – Barbara Kingsolver
THE FLORABAMA LADIES’ AUXILIARY AND SEWING CIRCLE – Lois Battle
MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY – Winnifred Watson
A PROUD TASTE FOR SCARLET AND MINIVER – E.L. Konigsberg
STORYVILLE, NEW ORLEANS – Al Rose
NUTCRACKER OF NUREMBERG  – Donald E. Cooke
A GOOD HARD LOOK – Ann Napolitano
STIFF – Mary Roach
WHITE TEETH – Zadie Smith
THE PENDERWICKS – Jeanne Birdsall
A WRITER’S GUIDE TO EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE MIDDLE AGES – Sherrilyn Kenyon
*THE HOBBIT – J.R.R. Tolkien
AN EXALTATION OF LARKS – James Lipton
SHIPBREAKER – Paolo Bacigalupi
THE CLOISTER WALK – Kathleen Norris
THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN – Simon Winchester
TRUMAN CAPOTE – George Plimpton
SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM – Joan Didion
*LET’S EXPLORE DIABETES WITH OWLS – David Sedaris
THE SHADOW OF THE WIND – Carlos Ruis Zafon
BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY – Ruta Sepetys
MIDNIGHT MAGIC – Avi
DE PROFUNDIS AND OTHER WRITINGS – Oscar Wilde
FOUNDING MOTHERS: WOMEN OF AMERICA IN THE REVOLUTIONARY ERA – Linda Grant DePauw
STAG’S LEAP – Sharon Olds
SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT – Beth Hoffman
JOHNNY AND THE DEAD – Terry Pratchett
THE JEDERA ADVENTURE – Lloyd Alexander
BELLS IN WINTER – Czeslaw Milosz
THE RESURRECTIONIST – Jack O’Connell
ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE – William Goldman
*THE WITCHING HOUR – Anne Rice
THREATS – Amelia Gray
GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY, HOLLYWOOD, AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF – Lawrence Wright
DAUGHTER OF HOUNDS – Caitlin R. Kiernan
ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING – Ray Bradbury
THE FANTASY WORLDS OF PETER S. BEAGLE (LILA THE WEREWOLF, THE LAST UNICORN, COME LADY DEATH, A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE) – Peter S. Beagle
*A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES – John Kennedy Toole
NO CONTEST: THE CASE AGAINST COMPETITION – Alfie Kohn
*BLINK – Malcolm Gladwell
GUSTAV GLOOM AND THE PEOPLE TAKER  – Adam-Troy Castro
GUSTAV GLOOM AND THE NIGHTMARE VAULT – Adam-Troy Castro
GUSTAV GLOOM AND THE FOUR TERRORS – Adam-Troy Castro
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES – Ray Bradbury
*OUT OF THE EASY – Ruta Sepetys
*PRIME – Poppy Z. Brite
*THE DARK THIRTY: SOUTHERN TALES OF THE SUPERNATURAL – Patricia C. McKissack
THE BOOKLOVERS GUIDE TO NEW ORLEANS – Susan Larson
ETIQUETTE (1960 edition, orig. 1922) – Emily Post
THE 13 TREASURES – Michelle Harrison
TALES FROM THE HOUSE OF BUNNICULA: INVASION OF THE MIND SWAPPERS FROM ASTEROID 6 – James Howe
THREE TIMES LUCKY – Sheila Turnage
STARRY-EYED: 16 STORIES THAT STEAL THE SPOTLIGHT – Ted Michael/Josh Pultz, ed.
THE BRONTES: CHARLOTTE BRONTE AND HER FAMILY – Rebecca Fraser
ELEANOR & PARK – Rainbow Rowell
SMASHED: STORY OF A DRUNKEN GIRLHOOD – Koren Zailckas
MARCH – Geraldine Brooks
THE ILLUSTRATED MAN – Ray Bradbury
WRONG THINGS – Poppy Z. Brite and Caitlin R. Kiernan
*THE SEX LIVES OF CANNIBALS: ADRIFT IN THE EQUATORIAL PACIFIC – J. Maarten Troost

 

Not counting much-loved rereads (looking at you, Bradbury and Tolkien), the books that really stuck with me this year are the fascinating GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY, HOLLYWOOD, AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF, by Lawrence Wright, the un-put-down-able ELEANOR & PARK, by Rainbow Rowell, Peter S. Beagle’s heartbreaking A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE, Geraldine Brooks’s luminous MARCH, and Lauren Groff’s gorgeous ARCADIA, which is the sort of flawlessly constructed, richly layered, utterly and frighteningly believable book that pulls you into itself and sends you back out into the real world tinted and changed.

Wishing you a 2014 rich with stories, satisfying work, and good surprises.

snowy night in red wing

A snowy night in Red Wing.

 

 

Spectacles

Release date approaching…

October 1, 2013    Tags: , , , , , , ,   

Just one week until STARRY-EYED hits shelves!  Kirkus really liked it:

Sixteen stories of performing are each paired with anecdotes about life behind the scenes and in front of the footlights.
Even a teen with only a pang of stage or screen hunger will be fascinated by this book, with its various accomplished contributors, from the introduction by Clay Aiken to stars from television shows such as Modern Family and Glee. The stories run a rich and varied emotional gamut… Each story is followed by a first-person anecdote by a noted performer, which is itself followed by a brief biography. Teens needn’t be star-struck to enjoy this collection, as under the hubbub of the theater world are themes that deal with common teenage issues such as insecurity, jealousy, the fear of coming out and young love.
Definitely worthy of applause. (Anthology. 12 & up)

You can read the whole review here, at least for now.

The school visit season is kicking into high gear.  Events are lined up in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Louisiana, and Missouri, with Tennessee and Illinois as additional possibilities. To find out where I’ll be, keep an eye on http://jacquelinewest.com/appearance-calendar.php,and I’ll do my best to keep it up to date, I swear.

It’s October, my very favorite month of the year. It’s time to reread some of my very favorite books and rewatch some of my very favorite movies and listen to the fallen leaves whisper along the curbs. And later, there will be miniature Milky Ways and Twixes.  (Twixices? Twixi? Is Twix already plural?)  The only way this month could be better is if it lasted twice as long. And if Twixes were calorie-free.

Right now, I’m rereading this particular favorite book…
something-wicked new
…although it’s this cover, which was on the copy that I checked out from my middle school library twenty years ago, that left its mark on my mind for good.
something wicked hardcover

Now back to the copy-edits of STILL LIFE. Nearly done…

Spectacles

Banned Books Week

September 26, 2013    Tags: , , , ,   

When I was teaching high school, during Banned Books Week, I brought in the ALA’s list of most frequently challenged books.  The students tried to guess what was on it and why, and then we discussed book-banning and censorship in general.

One book that has made that list over and over again–and it’s in the top ten even now, thirty-two years after the first installment was published–is the Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz, with the mindblowingly masterful illustrations of Stephen Gammell.

Scary-Stories(Collage from geeklegacy.com)

The books are usually challenged for the rather arbitrary reason, ‘Unsuited to age group.’  I think it’s  pretty strange to assume that a book that’s suited to one ten-year-old is going to be suited to all ten-year-olds everywhere.  I’ve known ten-year-olds who love Captain Underpants (the most challenged book of 2012) and ten-year-olds who devour Stephen King.  Just like what terrifies a thirty-something like me–the dark, big fish, the telephone–is not going to terrify every other adult.  Obviously.

As a child, I was far more frightened by the “Terrible Tunnel” episode of Fraggle Rock than I was of any book.  Because when it came to books, I was in control.  My imagination was the engine that gave books their power.  I could skip past a particularly creepy page, or throw a book across the room if I liked, or study a single terrifying paragraph or image until the fear it provoked had crumbled away, replaced by familiarity, admiration, and even a little bit of pride.

I loved Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as a child, even though–and partly BECAUSE–the illustrations haunted me.  I’m glad no one managed to remove these books from our school library.  Then again, I’m pretty sure that if they had, my friends and I would have passed our personal copies around even more feverishly, arranging extra sleepovers just to pore over their pages by flashlight, enthralled by the power of words and pictures.

Spectacles

I’d like to see that lazy Mississippi hurrying into spring…

March 25, 2013    Tags: , ,   

This is just a quick post, because we’re rushing off to New Orleans (just for self-indulgent fun…although I’ll be going back for the 2013 Louisiana Book Festival in November!) and deadlines are looming — but I wanted to share these photos from the week I just spent at Glacier Hills Elementary.  This was my third annual visit, and once again the kids blew me away with their questions, enthusiasm, creativity, and painting skills.  Thanks to everyone who makes that school such a wonderful place.

Glacier Hills Class Photo with JWGlacier Hills-Kids' Paintings

Glacier Hills PaintingsGlacier Hills Class - Crazy

I also wanted to mention one very special book.  Poison, Bridget Zinn’s debut novel, has just been released.  I tore through my copy between classes at Glacier Hills; it’s delightful and funny and adventure-filled and romantic, and it made me think again and again of the Princess Bride.  Bridget was an agency sibling (we’re both represented by Upstart Crow), and she is not here to see her book emerge into the world and make its way into the hands of readers (read more about that here and here), but I hope that Poison will be found–and loved–by scads of them.

IMG_20130325_165048

Spectacles

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