Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Everything You Need to Know About the (Maybe) Coming Global Pandemic

Okay, the media have gotten hold of the Influenza A H1N1 story and they're going to ride it for all it's worth. Leaving you unclear whether you should panic (a) not at all, (b) just a little, or (c) for all you're worth.

Luckily for you guys, Marianne used to work in public health and knows this epidemiology stuff inside out. So here's the abbreviated but reliable Inside Stuff, based on questions I've been asking her over the past couple of days:

1. Is it really that serious?

Could be. The new strain is the result of a reassortment event (the technical term for various strains swapping around genetic material with each other), which means that it's so new nobody is immune to it. It can be transmitted person-to-person, and human contact is a wonderfully efficient way to spread a disease. Plus, it appears to hit young and middle-aged adults as strongly as it does children and the elderly -- which is one of the factors associated with pandemics.

2. How fast is this thing going to spread?

If it is a pandemic and the pattern of earlier pandemics holds true, the sudden appearance of the disease will be followed by a gradual tapering-off of infections through the summer. Then, in the fall, just when we're beginning to feel annoyed at those public health people for scaring us all spitless, it will reappear, spreading rapidly through the winter to become exactly the sort of thing we all fear it will.

Then again, it might just peter off and dwindle into insignificance. There's no way of knowing. Biology is a messy science.

3. What are They going to do to protect me?

Forget about closing the borders. The flu is already here. Right now, the drug manufacturers are working on a vaccine with all the verve and enthusiasm of folks who can make a huge pile of money while incidentally Saving the World. The vaccine will be manufactured over the summer and made available everywhere in the fall. Trust me, you'll be hearing about it.

If it all works out the way they hope it will, enough people will take the vaccine to short-circuit the pandemic, and a major problem will become a minor one.

If not, well, a lot of people who didn't take the vaccine will get sick, and a certain number of them will die.

4. What should I do to protect myself?

Get the flu shot when it comes available. And wash your hands frequently. I know it sounds silly. But all the public health people I know -- and I know a lot of them -- swear it's one of the best way to stop the spread of disease.

This has been my first and -- unless this thing does go pandemic -- probably last public service announcement. Next post, I return to the usual silliness and ruthless self-promotion. I promise.

Cool stuff for pandemic watchers . . .

A friend reports that : "Google Maps is being used to help private citizens track the Swine Flu outbreak in 'real' time. The data stream isn't perfect, but it demonstrates a good application of the power of aggregating data like this across a geographic area for situations like this. It's also a hugely-beneficial thing, because it allows private citizens who may not get information from traditional government outlets to have the info readily available at their fingertips so that they can make informed decisions or be aware of what's happening around them."

Monday, April 27, 2009

It LIVES! The Monster LIVES!


Okay, so today I am happy. I just received a box of the mass market paperbacks of The Dragons of Babel. Mass market! That means Tor thinks that that everyday reading-for-pleasure people might buy it.

Which would be extremely cool.

So elated was I that I took the books in the backyard and build an exactingly accurate scale model of the Tower of Babel with them.


Friday, April 24, 2009

A Ballard Bibliomancy

A bibliomancy, in case you haven't previously encountered the concept, is an act of divination.  You take a book, usually your preferred sacred text (the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Koran), let it fall open to a random page, and then, eyes closed) place your finer on the page.  After which you read the discovered passage and act accordingly.  Most major religions forbid divination, of course, but bibliomancy falls into a grey area because it's employed used by the devout looking for moral guidance at a time of difficulty.

On a less exalted level, in memory of J. G. Ballard, I decided to perform a bibliomancy using a collection  of his interviews (J. G. Ballard Conversations, edited by V. Vale, RE/Search Publications).  With only the proviso that if my finger fell on something the interviewer said, I could try again, here are the first ten randomly-chosen sentences:

1.  I think realist fiction has shot its bolt -- it just doesn't describe the world we live in anymore.

2.  The Internet is like that "Democracy Wall" in Peking ten years ago, where anybody can post up anything.

3.  Immediately I think of the cyberpunks of the mid-eighties like William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, who were attacking big corporations, brand names, etc.

4.  One of these footballers turned out to be a private pilot, and on some airstrip not far from here he's got a World War II British single-engine fighter, which is the fastest single-engine propeller-driven plane ever built.

5.  There's no parental discipline.

6.  These cameras are hooked up to a license-plate recognition system and if you want to enter the zone in your car, you have to pay five pounds.

7.  One can't help wondering that.

8.  Human subjects are being exploited in just the same way that, say, animal subjects are exploited in research laboratories testing the effects of cosmetics and all the reset of it.

9.  He has a big reputation in this country over here too.

10. We drive away from the coast, away from all the concrete and [can't read this word] and huge supermarkets, back into Provence, up into the hills.

Which at least shows us how articulate the man was.  I've been interviewed pretty often, and can testify how hard it is to come up with interesting answers to every question.

(That may not be "Provence" in the last quote, though.  My handwriting is really terrible.)


Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Lost Highway in the Garden of Cars

I wasn't going to blog today.  But then Marianne, whose office is downstairs, emailed me a link to an article about the Lost Highway in Tom Merkel's Car Garden.  (Yes! Rather than yell up the stairs we communicate via a vast network of interlinked computers.  I am so science fictional.)  And I had to share it with you.

The Lost Highway is a four-lane mile-long string of cars caught in a timeless and eternal traffic jam.  It’s only part of the Car Garden, a sprawling collection of automotive vignettes and arrangements of motor vehicles somewhere in southern California.  Exactly where is a closely-guarded secret because the artist doesn’t want the likes of you and me clomping around on his work-in-progress.

This is, everybody who's seen it agrees, as serious a work of landscape art as Spiral Jetty or Opus 40.  But it's on a scale that makes the Cadillac Ranch or Carhenge look punk.  

The simple and clear summation can be found at Tom Vanderbilt’s blog. 

A far more detailed account can be found at Car and Driver.



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Five Entries from the Luddish Lexicon

And the push to promote Hope-in-the-Mist: The Extraordinary Career & Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees continues! (Not that the book actually needs promotion, since it's coming out in an edition of 200.  But I want to make sure that those people who absolutely positively need a copy know it exists.)

As a small extra, Henry Wessells is including my "A Lexicon of Lud" in the book.  It's a slightly expanded version of an article of the same name that was originally published in The New York Review of Science Fiction.  The Lexicon covers obscure words and hidden implications that the reader of Lud-in-the-Mist might well enjoy knowing.

Here's a sampler:

labyrinth of dreams:  When the Crabapple Blossoms” dance to Portunus’s tune, they weave in and out of the labyrinth of dreams.  So, too, does Nathaniel Chanticleer as he moves through the novel follow a mazy trail of dreams.  He has recurrent dreams of the Note, his son Ranulph converses with otherworldly Powers in his dreams, and his wife has dreamy and languorous eyes, offset however by the mocking set of her mouth.  In the Elfin Marches he is recognized as “Chanticleer the dreamer.”

pleached alley: An alley or lane with tree branches or vines plashed or interwoven overhead.  Mirrlees portrayed pleached alleys as a still, quiet halfway state between the mundane world and Faerie.  A passage describing how Chanticleer seeks solace in the still quiet of his pleached alley rather sinisterly concludes, “If life in Lud-in-the-Mist could always be like that there would be no need to die.”

Sops in wine: Yet another name for the gillyflower, which see.   Also a variety of apple.  Joseph T. Shipley, from whose misnamed but delightful Dictionary of Early English (in fact, a collection of obsolete words) the entry on gillyflowers is chiefly derived, memorably wrote that “Burroughs in LOCUSTS AND WILD HONEY (1879) states that bees will suck themselves tipsy upon varieties like the sops-of-wine.  This is hard to believe of the workaday bee; but I have seen lazy cows apple-tipsy.”

Mother Tibbs:  A “half-crazy old washerwoman, who, in spite of her forty summers danced more lightly than any maiden.”  Which ability marks her as an acolyte of Duke Aubrey.   Tib is a shortened form of Isabel, and hence a typical name for a woman of the lower classes, as in “Tib and Tom,” used in the same sense as “Jack and Jill.”  Saint Tibb’s Eve is the evening of the last day, or the Day of Judgment.  There being no such saint in the calendar, an oath to do something by St. Tibb’s Eve is a promise it will never be done.

the Unicorn: Described as “a low little tavern down by the wharf, of a not very savoury reputation,” and “a foul noisy little den.”  There is a touch of anticipatory irony here in that when, decades later, Ballantine Books published Lud-in-the-Mist without bothering to obtain Mirrlees’s permission (under copyright law of the times, it had fallen into the American, though not British, public domain), it was published under “the Sign of the Unicorn,” the logo for their Adult Fantasy line.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why Fantasy Fans Everywhere Love Charles Vess


The above is Charles Vess's sketch for the frontispiece of Hope-in-the-Mist which he gave me permission to post here.

Wonderful, isn't it?

Some totally unnecessary (but fun) annotations of the above sketch . . .

1. The apples: In Mirrlees's novel, the tranquility of the sleepy backwater country Dorimare is disturbed when somebody begins smuggling fruit from neighboring Fairyland into Lud-in-the-Mist, its capitol city. The effects of eating fairy fruit are an alarming mixture of madness and addiction.

2. The "Crabapple Blossoms": The dancing girls are the students of Miss Primrose Crabapple's Academy for young ladies who, after being exposed to fairy fruit and to the fiddle music of Portunus, flee their mundane lives and dance away to Fairyland.

3. The perspective: Note how everything billows -- the clouds, the winds, the land, the water. Though the sketch at first appears to be a model of serenity, all (save for the town of Lud itself) is in flux and motion. The swell in the water indicates that the scene is set at the confluence of the Dapple and the Dawl, Lud's two rivers. An old maxim of Dorimare bade one never forget that "The Dapple flows into the Dawl." The Dawl was the mercantile river; but the Dapple flowed out of Fairyland.

Note also that the viewer's perspective is from the water -- which is to say that the viewer, who may think everything is fine and beautiful, is actually drowning.

4. The wicker frails: If you look closely, you'll see baskets of smuggled apples on the deck of the merchanter.

5. The fiddler: Actually a conflation of the fiddler Portunus, "a queer wizened old man" with bright eyes, and the rather more handsome Willy Wisp, a constant threat to the virtue of young women.

6. The crew: These are the Silent People, as they are known in Dorimare, which is to say the dead.

7. The pennant: Decorated with an ivy-and-squills pattern, the badge of Dorimare's former and long-dead (but still active) ruler, Duke Aubrey.

8. The birds: In Mirrlees's mythology, birds are emblematic of Fairyland. The villainous Endymion Leer declares that in Faerie birds are dreams.

9. The sun, moon, and stars: The most powerful oath one can swear in Dorimare is, "By the Sun, Moon, and Stars, and the Golden Apples of the West."

10. The apples again: Note how the apples serve as literal apples, metaphoric drug, musical notes, and the lyke road as well -- the great white way, as Mirrlees called it, which is simultaneously the Milky Way, the road to Fairyland, and the way to death.

This last in particular neatly demonstrates Vess's extreme economy of imagery. There is a great deal encoded into the sketch and yet he manages to make it look not cluttered but clean, open, and obvious. It's like a conjuring trick, really. Even if you know how it's done, it's still magical.


Monday, April 20, 2009

The Good Doctor: J. G. Ballard (1930-2009)

J. G. Ballard, who spent his adult life charting an extended pathology of the Twentieth Century, died yesterday. Though preliminary reports are sketchy, it appears he was killed, appropriately enough, by prostate cancer.

There was a bleak romanticism to Ballard's work, filled as it was with rusting rocket gantries, drained swimming pools, compulsive and joyless sex, and a sense that its people are all living in the aftermath of some unidentifiable atrocity. It was as if he were a citizen of some distant future, spinning tales about a barbaric, doomed civilization which just happened to be our own.

The beautiful monstrosity of his work, combined with Ballard's refusal to moralize, made him one of the most controversial and misunderstood of modern authors. Many readers (and later viewers) interpreted his clear-eyed analysis of the psychic ills of our times as a celebration of them. Gordon Van Gelder once told me of coming out of the movie theater after viewing Crash and being driven by the baffled and negative comments of his friends into rounding on them angrily, saying, "You're just upset because he won't tell you what to think!"

Which is precisely what was going on. Crash was one of Ballard's most challenging books. It followed an invented (I think) sub-culture of people who are sexually aroused by the thought and reality of car crashes, into a doomed inward spiral of violent erotic obsession. It was eventually made into a movie by David Cronenberg. "Don't get me wrong," Terry Gross said to Ballard in an NPR interview about the movie, "but it seems like all these people are . . . well, sick."

"Yes!" Ballard said. "Exactly!" Back in the Sixties, when he was doing things like publishing his collages as paid advertisements in art magazines, and placing wrecked cars on display in art galleries," he had a doctor friend who pulled medical journals and papers from his wastebasket, so Ballard (who was trained as a doctor) could work snippets of jargon and analysis into his "condensed novels" -- brief, experimental works with a density of content that placed them outside of the category of the short story. He took the findings of neuropsychology and applied them to society as a whole.

Ballard was best known for Empire of the Sun because Steven Spielberg made a major movie out of it, and because it was his only novel dealing directly with his childhood internment in a Japanese prison camp in China during WWII. But the movie can only hint at what makes the semi-fictional novel so powerful -- and a key as well to Ballard's other, sometimes cryptic work. I strongly advise you to start with the novel and then use the movie as a video scrapbook, a visual gloss on a work that is central to Ballard's oeuvre.

Similarly, the movie version of Crash occasionally manages a visceral glimpse of what drives the characters, but only the book manages to implicate the reader in the madness -- to suggest that whatever is wrong is not just something Out There, inhabiting other people, but has managed to colonize ourselves as well.

Ballard's cold, dispassionate affect turns a lot of people off. But it's the steely reserve of a doctor, one who is able to assess the trauma after a terrible event and describe what can and cannot be done in the aftermath.

Now the Good Doctor has left the building. God bless him. He was one of the greats.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Pictures! Pictures! Pictures!

It's a great day for the visually-oriented. The extremely fine Charles Vess sent in his sketch for the frontispiece of Hope-in-the-Mist and it is nothing like anything I'd visualized and yet, once seen, inevitable. Which is to say, it is an independent work of art. Everybody involved is very happy with it indeed.

I can't share it with you because I haven't permission. But I can let you see what the front and back covers of the book will look like.

An image of it can be found here:


and in much larger size here:


The color of the title on the front cover will be tweaked before the book goes to press, so it will stand out.

Doesn't that look like a nifty little book, though? I'm extremely happy for me.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

While Others are Fighting Pirates, I'm Still Writing Books

And Relentlessly Flogging Hope-in-the-Mist: The Extraordinary Career and Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees Week continues! Page proofs of the book arrived in the mail yesterday while simultaneously a mock-up of the cover came via the magic of the Intertubes. I'll share the latter with you as soon as it's final.

Meanwhile, over on Neil Gaiman's blog . . .

I found the following nifty little video. Moby gave "Shot in the Back of the Head," an instrumental track from his new CD to David Lynch, who animated it. It's good to have friends in the arts.

You can find Neil's blog here or you can simply Google "Neil" and click on the first item to come up. (Yes! He's bigger than Neil Armstrong.) The blog is full of interesting stuff because the guy is involved in dozens of projects all the time.

Did I mention that he's writing an introduction for my book?


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ian Fleming -- the Early Years

Okay, here's the story I promised you yesterday.

Hope Mirrlees, you must understand, was born into aristocracy, and (skipping over a great deal of genealogical complication) her nephew, Prince Robin de la Lanne-Mirrlees, had a long association with Ian Fleming. On Her Majesty's Secret Service was dedicated to him, and a character in one of the Bond novels who held down the fictional title of Sable Basilisk Pursuivant was based partially on him. (Robin Mirrlees was Rouge Dragon Pursuivant of the College of Arms -- one of the greatest job titles ever! -- and as such attended Queen Elizabeth II's coronation.)

Long before any of this, however, Ian Fleming went up to Robin's mother, Countess Frances de La Lanne-Mirrlees, who was a noted beauty of the day (as, having seen a copy of Man Ray's photo of her I can attest), and told her was writing a novel.

"Oh, Ian," she said. "Don't write a novel -- you haven't the brains for it."


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Little More on Hope Mirrlees

Yesterday's post ran a little long, so I put off until today the explanation of exactly who Hope Mirrlees is. So here's the very opening of Hope-in-the-Mist: The Extraordinary Career and Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees:

Hope Mirrlees is easily the most mysterious of the great twentieth century fantasists.She wrote one important work of modern fantasy, Lud-in-the-Mist, and then abruptly fell into silence. Her single professionally published poem was only the fifth work put out by Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press, and is considered by critics to be a significant and possibly even important modernist work. But, despite her long and enduring friendship with T. S. Eliot, she never followed it up. She was a fringe member of the twentieth century’s single most prestigious literary sorority, the Bloomsbury Group, and yet by 1970 she was almost completely forgotten. There are no biographies of her, few pictures, and personal information is dauntingly difficult to find. The mists of time have closed around her.

Still, traces remain. With patience, it is possible to gather together these widely-scattered references to Mirrlees, and so assemble a rough sketch of her life and achievements.

Let this slim book serve as a beginning.

And, anticipating your question . . .

Why is this book coming out in an edition of two hundred? Because, while New York publishers have big corporations, warehouses full of books, night watchmen, and the like, small press publishers are often one-man operations and very frequently run out of the publisher's home. So the small edition allows Henry Wessells (who's not even trying to make a living out of Temporary Culture) to get about his living room without having to clamber over cartons of unsold books.

I dropped by the headquarters of a growing small press once just before it became big enough to justify the purchase of a separate building for the books and office and it was not a pretty sight.

Oh, and what the heck . . .

I have a small anecdote about Ian Fleming that I uncovered in the course of my researches but which I didn't include in the book because it had nothing to do with Mirrlees herself. So I'll share it with you tomorrow.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Announcing: HOPE-IN-THE-MIST


It's official! Hope-in-the-Mist, the first book-length study ever of the great fantasist Hope Mirrlees will be published on July 10th at Readercon in Burlington, Massachussetts.

Bookman extraordinaire Henry Wessells will be publishing the book under his Temporary Culture imprint. At 96 pages, it'll be a slim but (knowing Henry) beautiful book. With an introduction by Neil Gaiman and a frontispiece by Charles Vess. Why those two in particular? Simply because Neil's Stardust was in part inspired by Mirrlee's great fantasy novel Lud-in-the-Mist, and because Vess did the illustration for the first published version.

Intelligent people can argue for hours about which version (illustrated, prose-only, or movie) is best. But as for me, I saw the Vess version first and imprinted on it like a little baby duck. So I, quite appropriately, am extremely happy.

Details and ordering info can be found here.

How it came about . . .

Everybody has a hobby. Mine is writing. After a long day of courting literary immortality, I like to relax by writing non-fiction. Several years ago, I noticed that the only thing anybody appeared to know about Hope Mirrlees was that Virginia Woolf had called her "“her own heroine — capricious, exacting, exquisite, very learned, and beautifully dressed." So I went to Woolf's Diaries and Letters and copied down everything that Woolf had written about her.

I followed those leads to other leads in a treasure-hunt that went on for years. I found myself in contact with academics, critics, and relatives of the author all over the world. With his permission, I published a long letter from Mirrlees's nephew Count (now Prince) Robin Ian Evelyn Milne Stuart de la Lanne-Mirrlees in the New York Review of Science Fiction. The late Julia Briggs as a courtesy sent me a draft of her article on Mirrlees for the Dictionary of National Biography -- and I sent her back corrections. I received a note from T. S. Eliot's widow Valerie, granting me permission to quote from one of her husband's unpublished letters.

It was a great intellectual adventure for me.

And now it's over. Since Julia Briggs died, I've been so far as I can determine the world's foremost authority on Hope Mirrlees. However, I put everything I know about her into the book and so whoever reads Hope-in-the-Mist and then discovers one more fact about the lady (what she said at that tea with Yeats, what Picasso thought of her, the title of her never-written fourth novel) will instantly inherit the distinction. With, I might add, my blessing.

So who was Hope Mirrlees and why should you care . . . ?

This post is getting a little long. So I'll tell you tomorrow.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Rainbow Over the Painted Bride


Last Friday, Marianne and I went out on the monthly art crawl and, as we were parking our car, saw a rare double rainbow, landing smack-dab on the Painted Bride Art Center.

The Painted Bride is a pretty rarefied organization, artwise. Not sure how they'd feel about this shot.

The man who covered the Center with mirrors and tiles, however, Philadelphia's own legendary artist Isaiah Zagar, would have to approve.

Oh, and stay tuned . . .

I've got an announcement to make. Probably Monday.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I was quoted in a long article about Samuel R. Delany that ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday.  And my friends have been calling me up ever since and asking to speak to Michael Swankier.  Anything that gives my pals a chance to razz me happily is a good thing.

You can read the article here.  I believe my name may have been corrected.


Monday, April 6, 2009

In Which I Finally Become Too Cool to Live


Last night, Marianne and I drove up to NYC to catch Philip Glass and Patti Smith performing at the City Winery. The evening was titled "Footnote to Howl, The Poet Speaks, Homage to Allen Ginsberg," and was held twelve years to the day after the poet's death. Which was an event Smith and I believe Glass too were present to witness. So Glass played piano (is anybody surprised that he's a brilliant pianist?) while Smith read Ginsberg's poetry. Plus some of Smith's poetry and songs and a couple of Glass's etudes, and a fair amount of reminiscing about "Allen's passing."

Patti Smith really did manage to catch that incantatory-prophetic thing that Ginsberg's best poetry embodies. I thought her reading of "Wichita Kansas Vortex" was the highlight of the evening, but Marianne thought it might have been a poem about Manhattan which was (I blush to admit) new to us both.

So, having been there, I am now officially too cool to live.

Allen Ginsberg breezed through Williamsburg back when I was in college, as he did from time to time, on the day when a total eclipse of the sun was visible from nearby Norfolk. A couple of my friends saw him in a diner and went to say hello.

"Did you see the eclipse?" he asked them. "Oh, it was mad! Mad!"


Friday, April 3, 2009

City Root Rootless


Yesterday, Marianne and I jaunted down to 12th and Callowhill Streets to see Keiko Miyamori's sculpture City Root.

The blood-red cube of resin contains a 4,000-pound root mass of an oak tree pulled from the ground at an urban excavation at 11th and Girard Streets, here in Philadelphia. Bricks, metal, and glass caught in the roots are visible, as are strings of bubbles and fracture lines within the resin itself.

City Root is gorgeous, monumental, and essentially abandoned. It's sitting behind a chain-link fence on the grounds of Shelly
Electric Company , because cracks developed during the long curing process, rendering it unsuitable for outdoor display, and so the park which commissioned it refused to accept ownership.

The whole sad story can be found here.

What a beautiful piece of art it is, though! If you happen to have a business with a huge lobby or a mansion that needs something to astonish and intimidate your friends . . . well, here's your chance.

And in the mail today . . .
. . . came an advance copy of The Best of Michael Moorcock, edited by John Davey with Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, from Tachyon Publications. Now, the idea that you can squeeze all the best of Moorcock's short fiction into a single handsome trade paperback is laughable. Nevertheless, it is one heck of a good-looking book, crammed with absolutely superior fiction.

The bottom line? If simply knowing this book is about to come into existence doesn't make you want a copy of your own, then I have no respect for you. Intellectually, that is.

I got an ARC because Jacob Weisman, the publisher, is a buddy. The rest of the world, alas, will have to wait until May 15.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

This Glitterati Life (Part 10,343)

Tuesday, Marianne and I went to see Kyle Cassidy's play, Raven's Gate, which was given a reading at The Painted Bride. It was directed by Carla Emanuele, and performed by Trillian Stars and an actor whose name (this kind of low-budget event doesn't have programs or anything) I managed to miss. Plus Get the Woolite written by Mona R. Washington and directed by Anthony P.Kamani. Quite a splendid evening, with surprisingly lively question-and-answer sessions after each play.

Then last night we went out on Toad Patrol again. It's a glamorous, glamous life!

And I cannot resist sharing this with you . . .

It's called Matrix Ping-Pong, and what a terrific example of the power of the imagination it is!


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Pleasant Thing to Find in One's Mailbox

My Alex Award has arrived!

The Alex Awards, you'll remember, are given out by the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association every year to ten adult novels that young adults can read with pleasure. Nick Hornby has dubbed them the "not boring" awards, because by definition any novel a teenager can be bothered to read is not a snooze.

You can see why I'm so pleased with this. And being in the company of nine other winners very pleasantly points out the fact, often obscured by awards, that this is not a competition. We're all of us engaged in a common attempt to write books that will endure.

The ALA gives out a slew of YA awards yearly, the very biggest of which is the Newbery Medal. Which was won this year by Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. I just now checked its online listing at Amazon and saw that it's rated as being for ages 9-12. I hate those upper-age caps and their implicit aren't-you-too-old-to-be-reading-this?-ishness.

So I guess that it's the twelve-year-old in me that thought it was a fine piece of work.