Archive for August, 2009

Clearing something up

Skurnick’s essays on young adult novels fill you with a deep longing for a time when your biggest concern was that pimple that refused to vacate your left cheek.

I am glad to be a trend. And I hope no one else mentions acne in reference to my book.

August 27th, 2009 at 2:57 pm

no comments

This is where I learned the word “pudenda”

….although I did not discuss THIS PARTICULAR ASPECT OF THE BUSINESS on NPR.

HERE’S my piece on Jaws on NPR’s Guilty Pleasures series!!!!!!!!!!

Actually truly the best book ever.

Actually truly the best book ever.

Please recommend it. We’re going to need a bigger book review.

August 26th, 2009 at 2:01 pm

no comments

Refuse to keep track of your Slate blogs, however

Washington Post, why are you not content with one publication? Why must you bring forth blogs like some kind of web-based hydra? Nonetheless, thank you for your nice mention in whatever this thing is:

Skurnick even thinks to include risque fiction by Jean Auel and V.C. Andrews, which was intended for adults but nonetheless got passed around at recess. Shelf Discovery may not hold universal appeal, but for anyone who got excited about library visits as a child it should prove an enjoyable excursion down memory lane.

WaPo, are you feeling insecure about this universal appeal thing? I’m not sure rolling out a new publication every time 500 people express an interest in things is the answer. But I will start reading Express Night Out, if it makes you feel better.

August 26th, 2009 at 9:57 am

no comments

Tabled II, w/commentary

I have been keeping track of sightings of Shelf Discovery because I am, you know, a new author, and it’s neat. (I love my book of poetry, but it gets shelved in a lovely bookstore called Paypal.) But I must share with you my absolute FAVORITE photo of the summer, which comes from the blogger Jackie W.:


I love this photo, but I love it especially because the poolside read is so central to my life it even makes it into the title poem of my collection, Check-In (PDF).

Jackie also wrote a wonderful remembrance of her own teen reading, AND made a hilarious observation about The Witch of Blackbird Pond, which should probably now be titled America’s Next Top Witch of Blackbird Pond.

Whether Skurnick is searching for common themes in Lois Duncan books or wishing she had a boyfriend straight out of Madeline L’Engle’s imagination, Skurnick is a champion of young heroines.  Strong, pretty, smart heroines.  Heroines that are hard to come by these days in the pages of “Gossip Girl” or “Twilight.”  Not to knock those books, at all, you should see my copies of them, I ADORE those books.  But the books from Skurnick’s young adulthood were more authentic.  Maybe the girls had ESP or could travel through time and inhabit other people, but they were girls that were normal until this other thing happened.  And the magic of that is that this girl in this book facing all these challenges could be you, the reader, sitting in the library or on your bed reading about her.

As much as I have dreamed to be as gorgeous as Serena or have a boyfriend as undead as Edward, I know it probably won’t happen for me.  I’m 26.  I’m not a teenager.

Read the rest here.

August 25th, 2009 at 10:55 am

no comments

Second Sight(ings)

More books on tables! Maybe I’ll just buy a table at home, and lie on it. The first of these is from Jackie W., who made the most marvelous display I have EVER SEEN:

IowaB&NDisplay at Iowa B&N

SAD the wondrous Miss Judy is getting disembodied treatment, though I can’t decide which is worse, the lower-body or this new half-face thing! It’s like Phantom of the Menses.


Brooklyn's Court Street B&N

Snapped by my marvelous friend Casey.


Newark Penn Station's Hudson Books

I asked the nice lady who works here to stock my book…and she DID. Since I have given Amtrak approximately $6,789 this summer, I don’t feel all that guilty about this.

August 25th, 2009 at 9:00 am

no comments

Fish incredulous to actually yet again receive gift of bicycle

Recently, I once again shared airspace with the lively and fun Ed Champion of the Bat Segundo show, who, amidst much chatter about redheadedness, was one of the many men who have challenged, in RANK FINGER-POINTING outrage, my alleged needless gender focus, to the tune of half a show. (Over coffee I had brewed for him, I might add.) Ed’s objection to my book was along the lines that he a) once had long hair and b) was not a violent mill-worker, and had thus somehow become the object of discrimination. I will simply direct all further inquiries here.

Oh, whatever. I will do one more pick, from Levi’s otherwise nice write-up:

My biggest problem with Shelf Discovery involves its unnecessary gender focus; which Michael Orthofer also recently wrote about. Teenage boys read books too. Why leave half the world out?

It’s not yet at arguing with the dining room table level, but I just — I just do not follow the logic here. My book, last time I checked, was not a Valediction Against Boys Reading. If the argument is that boys DID read these books, I have said nothing to the contrary and, as my grandmother would say, Enjoy!. If the argument is that I have not written enough about books FOR boys or BY boys, though in fact I wrote about many, I direct the critic to his own typewriter, where I have not placed a ONLY FOR WRITING ABOUT GIRLS!!!!!!!!!! sign, the last time I checked. And if men are worried no one is paying attention to them, I direct them to NPR, which created a male-only companion piece of a kind to my TOTN interview by devoting the response segment to a man, talking about books he read as a boy, none of which appears or has anything to do with my book.

If the argument is simply that I wrote about a period of books mainly by female authors, often featuring female heroines, and read mostly by girls — hello. I did. Now go iron my shirt.

August 24th, 2009 at 9:00 am

with 7 comments

Bergen Record and Newark Star-Ledger will step up, I am sure

Amid the truly amazing (to me, at least) response to this book from creatures great and small has been one teeny sadness: a noticeable lack of hometown love.* (Brian Lehrer — seriously? Why don’t you think women should be allowed to read????) Still, I could not have chosen two more echt-hometown organs, nor more wondrous writeups, than those with Newsday** and THE POST!!!. Excerptry:

From my interview with Newsday’s Carmela Ciuraru:

What do you think about parents monitoring their teenagers’ reading habits? Many parents have slammed the “Twilight” series. I take a dim view of telling other people what to read. What I liked so much about this period of reading in my life is that no one was paying any attention to what I was reading, or why I was reading. People don’t give teens credit for being able to enjoy a book while still seeing its flaws.

And from Sara Stewart’s writeup in The New York Post, w/ONE of my favorite parts:

At her best, Skurnick alternates between reveling in the familiar details (like the time Nancy lied about getting her period in “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret”) while layering in edgier interpretations: ” ‘The Big Woods’ lays the groundwork for all the sublimated sensuality that comes thereafter,” she writes of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first novel, “including Mary and Laura’s epic, savage rivalry . . . Laura gathers too many rocks by the shores of a lake and tears out her pocket — Mary is clean and neat and keeps her hands nicely folded in her lap. (Of course she does, the f – – – ing bitch!)”

Thank you hometown! I may live in Jersey City, but I was BORN in the Bronx.

* This psychological process is actually true: positive attention begets complaint! Fascinating. I asked for yellow M&M’s only, goddamnit!

** Apparently there is a picture in the print version, which I haven’t seen yet. I had coincidentally had my hair done at the House of Curl Expertry, the Devachan salon, that day, so I am glad to have a record of the amazing HAIR, despite what else happened, because I have of course been unable to replicate it.

August 21st, 2009 at 1:03 pm

with 2 comments

The Wonderful Preface to Henry Sugar (One More)

I wrote a brief intro to my Jezebel essay on The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More about boys and Shelf Discovery that I meant to go on for three sentences and of course went on for 65. (That’s what happens when you drink three coffees and get on the Acela w/computer.) It is mainly an excercise in un-peeving myself so I can turn to one of my FAVORITE BOOKS in the world without feeling like I’m handing over the Sudetenlands. I’ve posted all 19 paragraphs here. To get back to the far less militant Jezebel essay, click on link at bottom.

A brief – in true Dahlian fashion – note on the text:

Since the publication of Shelf Discovery, I have been cheered and amazed by the lovely and wide-ranging response to the book. Slightly surprising, however, has been the mild rebuke I have received from various quarters for not including books quote unquote for boys. (If I do not mistake myself, I lost a whole actual star for it here!) When I started Fine Lines, I did not conceive of it as a column quote unquote for girls, though it a) appears on a women’s web site and b) does, in fact, involve books mostly read by girls.

But, excuse me – so what if I had? While I am not inordinately bothered when I am asked if I also have book recommendations for boys – that is, after all, a natural enough question, though does ANYONE ask Chuck Klosterman if he has music recommendations for women? – I am quietly outraged at how apparently it is against the law to not talk specifically about boys and what they might need/enjoy/prosper from for five seconds.

Because I would like to point out – pointing! Pointing! — that the YA and midlist markets are dominated by women because that is, in the main, where the publishing industry has slotted women. In the corner of worthy literature, you found what I was made to read grade school to high school: Of Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby, The Red Pony, The Old Man and the Sea, The Pearl, A Light in the Forest, Black Boy, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Ethan Frome, Native Son, Moby Dick, and Hamlet. Worthy books all – but, you know, most of the women in them wind up dead.

Shelf Discovery is a memoir of my particular history but it is also a memoir of an actual history, one in which when I read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, The Bluest Eye, Jacob Have I Loved, or Me Me Me Me Me, I found them on my own, whether from my mother’s shelves or the teeny bookstore that thank God stocked most of the works found in SD. As I know from your letters, many of you also read all the books we can, if we must, consider books for boys as well as the summer reading list canon you find above, but no one has forgotten about I, Robot or Dandelion Wine or The Outsiders, and that’s why you don’t find them in SD. My general mission is to write about books no one (allegedly) remembers, or that never receive (in my view) enough credit. Any perceived discrimination is not a reflection of my bias, but a bias visited on me.

Or you could just put it like Nomie did.

Click here for column.

August 14th, 2009 at 3:00 pm

with 6 comments

That might have been MY mother. And yes, ‘And This is Laura,” coming, coming!

When I started SHELF DISCOVERY, I immediately remembered so many small details about some of the books, silly little inconsequential details that have no effect on the plot, story, or characters, but nonetheless remained wedged in my brain (in some cases 25+ years later). Is it shameful that I can’t recall the major characters and plots of most of my “required” high school and college reading, but can remember that in Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, she had been humming the song “Beautiful Dreamer” to herself while floating in an inner tube when she was stung by a man-o-war? Or that in The Cat Ate My Jumpsuit, Marcy is worried that her new purple pantsuit with make her look like an enormous grape at her friend Nancy’s party?

The blog Syndicate Product Covert HQ puts me to shame with a really lovely rundown of the inconsequential details we all nonetheless remember from these books. I had forgotten the thawed-out PB&J Jill sneaks in the bathroom! Why do I think it’s just PB, though? Or is there another book in which a mother makes and freezes PB sandwiches that the daughter hates to eat? In any case, go witness.

August 13th, 2009 at 2:43 pm

no comments

‘It’s Beginning to Hurt’ by James Lasdun

It’s the ability to delude ourselves that Lasdun keeps coming back to, knowing it can lead only to a more horrible moment: when we realize that we should have noticed sooner how we were going wrong.


August 13th, 2009 at 12:36 pm

no comments

There’s a very minor error that’s grammatically wiggleable but WILL SEEM WRONG. Ignore

I reviewed It’s Beginning to Hurt, by James Lasdun, for LAT:

It’s the ability to delude ourselves that Lasdun keeps coming back to, knowing it can lead only to a more horrible moment: when we realize that we should have noticed sooner how we were going wrong. (That’s perhaps truly clearest in “The Old Man,” where a fiancé has the dreadful realization that he’s about to marry a murderer.) Most moving is the moment in the title story when a man recalls with despair his mistress dismissing him: “Marie never asked him to leave his family, and he had regarded this too as part of his luck. And then, abruptly, she had ended it. ‘I’m in love with you,’ she’d told him matter-of-factly, ‘and it’s beginning to hurt.’ ”

In this marvelous, masterful collection of such unexamined moments, that minor character is the only one who ever sees it coming.

August 13th, 2009 at 12:31 pm

no comments

I’ve made a little list

Booklist’s Book Group Buzz wrote a very nice post about how you should have your book group use my book, which you should:

I have found an entire shelf of tween-favorites in this book. After I spent a weekend strolling the bookshelves of my mind (and placing reserves on all these life-shaping books that I neglected to keep), I began to think about talking about these books with other readers.

Skurnick is not only paying tribute to these great, classic novels of teengirldom, but she’s also thoughtfully looking for the messages, ideas, and crafted writing that we missed as kids. These are the subjects I believe will make great discussion topics in a book group.

I am actually not in any book clubs, because book reviewers are horrible bullies and that’s why we work alone. But I am happy to COME to any book club and just eat all the cookies.

August 12th, 2009 at 8:07 pm

no comments

“An Old-Fashioned Girl,” in case you were wondering

If you would like to read one of the few love letters I have ever actually mailed to the other party, check out Library Love Fest: Lizzie Skurnick Loves Libraries!, where they’ve reprinted a letter I wrote to the teen branch of the ALA, YALSA, this summer. ALSO AND INCIDENTALLY, you have a chance to win one of 25!  I do love librarians — mine really was nice and let me take the same book out for weeks. (And yes, she did notice.)

Dear Librarian,

I can still remember the exact cover of the book (pink plastic dust jacket, fraying) and where it was shelved (fourth bookcase on the right towards the back, middle of the second shelf from top). The spine had long since been rubbed to illegibility, and, looked at from the side, the crumbling pages were jagged, like teeth. The condition of the book may have been due to the fact that my grade school library in Englewood, NJ simply was in dire need of funding. But I suspect I inflicted much of this damage personally—since for a period of some months, that copy of Louisa May Alcott’s…..

August 12th, 2009 at 10:43 am

no comments

The City that Actually Did Read this One Thing

Three of the wonderful people of Baltimore, where I lived for about 8 years, threw me a book party this weekend which was BEYOND FUN even though one friend made me read and stand on a kids’ table like I was on a bima and I really feel that I almost broke it, but I just gave a big quiz about blacking and papooses and survived. AND and more relevantly…apparently my old friend Tom Hall ran the interview I did with him a few weeks ago about Shelf Discovery for WYPR’s Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast while I was there! I missed it but in my grand campaign to upload and flash everything, here you go:

Witness the ending theme music! I love that.

And here’s me giving some little web extra about how I hate lessons, a trait unfortunately reflected in many aspects of my life:

(I haven’t been authorized to post photos of others, but here’s the offending bima, my accusatory wine glass. Actually I’m pretty sure that was a toast to Christine, Jane and Liz. Thank you darling ladies.)


August 11th, 2009 at 9:21 am

no comments


Who were the geniuses who invented placing books not on shelves but in stacks on tables like so many sweaters at J. Crew? I don’t know, but they were smart. And I am on two tables! (Presumably more, but who knows where.) Thank you, B&N and/or marketing geniuses. Pics, this first from my agent:

Powell's in Portland

Powell's in Portland

The West Village, where I made some poor Danish tourist take a picture of me on the way to therapy. She was clearly terrified that it all had something to do with drug-running or human trafficking but she acceded. Then I took the book from that part of the shelf and swapped it with the one copy left of Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father, because I don’t think he’s being aggressive enough on health care:

Sixth Ave B&N

Sixth Ave B&N

I forgot I had this last one, but here it is at B&N uptown, shelved in literary criticism. I pointed out to the saleslady (humorously, I humor myself) that it says “Memoir” on the cover and that’s the way the Library of Congress indexes it. She gave me a frozen look and said, “We shelve it here.” HEIL.

82nd street B&N

82nd street B&N

Under Faulkner. HarperCollins tried.

August 10th, 2009 at 2:26 pm

with one comment