Scott Phillips

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

My booktalking buddy and I were walking past one of the big screens at the England Run branch, and it was playing a crystal-clear print of an old, old movie, made way back when moviemaking was young. It had excellent effects, too, for such an early film. "We have a picture book by the man who made this movie," said my colleague, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick."

What a big book, made of half pictures, half words! The reader is drawn into the world of Hugo Cabret, a boy who lives in the walls of a train station in Paris. He is not always alone, but he is trying to keep himself a secret. His uncle used to wind and fix the many clocks in the train station, but he disappeared. Now Hugo winds them, and works on a project of his own. He has a mechanical man, a legacy of his father, and a notebook of drawings of the works of the mechanical man. Hugo needs parts for his project, so he steals them from the grumpy old man's toy booth at the station. Hugo does not realize the grumpy old man has secrets too....

Books in My Baggage: Reading at the Beach

Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found

But not ON the beach: pages oily from suntan lotion; wind and sand. Nah, bad for paper. Watching pelicans cruise over the waves is preferred. Knowing we would hit the Beach Book Mart, a bookshop in Atlantic Shores with an interesting historical selection, I packed two books. One of those plus two of the three store-bought titles had a thread: Italy.

First down the chute is Norman Douglas’ Siren Land, a memoir of  Capri and the Sorrentine Peninsula. Two previously read authors, Paul Fussell and Elizabeth Davis, quoted and discussed Douglas, and the library owns the title. I found his prose dense, witty fairly often, even had a couple funny bits. It is more than a travelogue: it is learned and chatty. Emperor Tiberius was the first famous Roman to retire to Capri; his stay is touched on. Douglas includes stories of saints, a single thread  of the story of these siren lands. History and biology of the sirens is knocked off in the first couple of chapters, followed by a wandering over the land, a boat ride or two, and an island full of fleas...with gossip, lore, architecture, history, and memorable characters.

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, by Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain's first book, Kitchen Confidential, was a surprise when it hit national best seller lists; even the author was taken aback. He thought it would appeal to food-service workers in the New York city area, as it was a "look behind the curtain" of local restaurants. The secret to Bourdain's success in this and later books is his passion for food and his ability to write well why he finds food exciting. We get two Tonys in his books: bad Tony and good Tony. Good Tony is articulate and writes well about food or preparation of food. Bad Tony is foul-mouthed and angry. We get both Tonys in Medium Raw.

Cooking the wolf (or fox) at the door

Three authors wrote notable books on eating in lean times: MFK Fisher, Elizabeth David, and Patience Gray. Fisher and David wrote during and just after the war, respectively. Gray wrote about places where food was scarce at certain times of the year. They all offer sage advice and write well. 

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People who Read Them, by Elif Batuman

Odd, the things one finds when browsing the shelves. I found this jewel the other day, when I was looking for something, anything to read. What a great way to start summer reading: a visit to Samarkand, hi-jinks at graduate school seminars,encounters with strange yet endearing characters , dark hints about Tolstoy's death, and the link between King Kong and Isaac Babel.

Donna Jo Napoli: A Hunger for Words

It's true: hunger impels an author to write. The hunger can take the form of putting food on the table, yes; or, the hunger comes from an author wanting to read a book about a topic and that book doesn't exist. Then there is the hunger for words: their similarities, their differences, and their power. These are the reasons why Donna Jo Napoli started writing.

Graham Salisbury: Island Boy

We seek heat in the dark cold winter night. Sleeping, we dream of warm air, beaches, and jungles. Imagine growing up in such a place, an island: not wearing shoes until the 6th grade; not seeing snow until you were 19, (and away from home). Some people call Hawaii paradise; Graham Salisbury called Hawaii home. The islands and surrounding waters are the locale for his compelling stories and novels.
 

"Love is a dangerous angel": Francesca Lia Block

Block was born in Los Angeles, sometimes known as "Shangri-L.A.", other times "Hell-A", depending on how the day is going. The daughter of a poet and painter, she attended the University of California at Berkeley. Francesca was a riot grrl before the term had even been invented. She read the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez while at college; his magical realism became a major influence. Block's work is grounded in urban realities, though she sees pixies and genies in that "jasmine-scented, jacaranda-purple, neon sparked city". She missed Los Angeles, and wrote her first novel to cure homesickness. That novel was Weetzie Bat, and it made a big wet splash in Young Adult literature.
 

Walter Dean Myers

Walter Dean Myers started school, looking to conquer the world. He could read well; he had discovered the powers of the written word. Words failed him, though, when it came time to speak. He had a speech impediment, one that caused him immense frustration: some words he couldn't pronounce. His frustration soon turned to anger. Luckily, a teacher recognized his problem. She told him to write words he could pronounce, and he began to write. He created poems at first, then short stories, full of words that he did not fear reading aloud. He was soon being praised for his writing: it was just a preview of the praise he would receive when he embarked on his life of writing.

Chester Himes: Writing from the fire

Chester Himes had a hard life, even for someone growing up in the 'thirties. He took some knocks early on, knocks many people get in life; it was the racism he encountered in LA that made him bitter, a bitterness which put a fire in his belly and informed so much of his best work. Himes probably would have drawn little consolation over the fact he was breaking new trails for  authors such as  Walter Mosley. But he did.