Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Diane Stanley

Diane Stanley is the author and illustrator of more than fifty books for children, noted especially for her series of award-winning picture book biographies. Her novels for older readers include Saving Sky, Bella at Midnight, The Mysterious Matter of I. M. Fine, and the Silver Bowl Trilogy, The Silver Bowl, The Cup and the Crown, and The Princess of Cortova.

Stanley's latest book for young readers is The Chosen Prince.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I read a lot of books this year, many of them very good. But four books really stood out for me. The first was the wildly original and elegantly written magical-historical novel, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. The story is so inventive and the characters so unusual, there’s no way to do the book justice in only a few words. Let me just say that this is not the World War II we are all familiar with. And the character who touched me the most wasn’t the blind girl, Marie-Laure, who “sees” with her fingers, but Werner, a student at the Academy for Hitler Youth and later a Nazi soldier. This book is deeply engaging, heartbreaking, surprising, and wonderfully satisfying.

All Our Names by Dinaw Mengetsu is (or seems) as simple in its structure as All the Light is complex, but if anything, it goes deeper. Two characters tell the story in alternate chapters: Isaac, a young Ethiopian who has escaped the violence and revolution of 1970s Uganda by gaining a US student visa to study at a small Midwestern college; and Helen, the social worker assigned to help Isaac adjust to the change of cultures, who becomes his lover. Isaac’s saga and the unveiling of his secrets are devastating and mind-opening. I remember thinking, there is no way on earth the author can possibly end this book without its being a terrible disappointment. No ending could be worthy of what had come before. Yet he did find a way, and his solution was so delicate and brilliantly perfect, I just sat there for about half an hour in awe.

A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman is lighter than the others on this list, but it was such a tender and clever delight I have to include it. An aspiring young writer, Slava Gelman, is asked by his grandfather, Yevgeny, to create a history and write a letter of application for restitution from the German government. Since Yevgeny doesn’t exactly qualify, this will be a work of fiction, loosely based on his late wife’s genuine Holocaust narrative. Soon every ageing √©migr√© in South Brooklyn has heard about it and wants a story too and reluctantly, Slava is pulled back into the old neighborhood he thought he had left for good. The author finds a perfect balance of humor and pathos as Slava engages with one eccentric old man after another and contemplates their pasts and what remains of their futures.

Finally, I saved the best for last. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren is hardly a new book. It was published in 1946, won the Pulitzer Prize, and has long been considered one of the great novels of the 20th Century. But somehow I had never read it. I knew it was about the rise and fall of Willy Stark, a southern populist politician of the 1930s, based on Huey Long. But what I didn’t know, what no one had ever told me, was that this was a novel written by a poet who had served up a epicurean buffet of words, metaphors, and turns of phrase that had me gasping and laughing with delighted surprise all the way through a very long book. All the King’s Men is now on my top-ten list of all-time favorite books.
Visit Diane Stanley's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Princess of Cortova.

My Book, The Movie: The Chosen Prince.

--Marshal Zeringue