Monday, October 14, 2013

Diane Stanley

Diane Stanley is the author and illustrator of beloved books for young readers, including The Silver Bowl, which received three starred reviews, was named a best book of the year by Kirkus Reviews and Book Links Lasting Connections, and was an ALA Booklist Editors' Choice; The Cup and the Crown; Saving Sky, winner of the Arab American Museum's Arab American Book Award and a Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book of the Year; Bella at Midnight, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and an ALA Booklist Editors' Choice; The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy; The Mysterious Matter of I. M. Fine; and A Time Apart.

Stanley's new novel is The Princess of Cortova.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Stanley's reply:
I’ve always been a reader of literary fiction with a weakness for Man Booker Prize winners, Wolf Hall being one of my all-time favorites. But lately I’m all over the map.

I’m currently reading Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. I haven’t read her lately, but then came all the reviews of MaddAddam, part three of a trilogy that begins with Oryx and Crake. Since I liked The Handmaid’s Tale, I thought I’d take another visit to a Margaret Atwood dystopia. If I liked it, I’d read all three.

The book is dark and occasionally funny. It’s well-written, no surprise, the characters are good, and her world building is very inventive. But I have to say that the take-away for me as a writer is the danger of trying to predict the future, especially where technology is concerned. I looked at the pub date (2003), calculated the year it would have taken to bring the book out, then added a year or more for Atwood to write it, and arrived at around 2000 – 2001. So no wonder her futuristic office includes a fax machine; no wonder CDs and DVDs and printouts are mentioned so often. And while the character has a jacket that allows him to read email on his sleeve, no cell phone of any kind makes an appearance. This gets a little distracting; I find myself noticing these things and wondering whether she revised her world in the second and third books to keep up with the emerging technology—all of which pulls me away from the story. But it’s still a first-class read and I plan to read the other two. I would recommend it.

Before Oryx and Crake, I read The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. She’s not new on the scene, but she was new to me and I admire her writing. It’s not the kind of novel I usually read, but she had an intriguing premise: A group of teenagers meet at a summer camp for the arts and form a group, The Interestings—because, well, that’s what they consider themselves to be. We then follow them from the 70s to the present day. The book reminded me a little of Olive Kitteridge, in that Wolitzer explores a series of characters, each chapter often feeling as if it could stand alone as a short story. Also because her character development is so spot on, at least with the major characters.

The Interestings sags a bit in the middle, as books so often do. But I found it a very engaging read. More than that I found it illuminating—about life, and how we move through it, and how we are changed along the way.

I always like to have a recorded book to listen to in the car. Since I read so much fiction, I usually listen to nonfiction while driving. Since I loved The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin, I am currently listening to the sequel, The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court. Toobin is a very good writer. He does his research and gives you wonderful insights; but unlike far too many nonfiction writers, he doesn’t feel compelled to put everything he knows into the book. The result is a well-balanced narrative, not only in the way he arranges his material but in the absence of any personal bias. He just steps back and just tells his story.

And a fascinating story it is, told chronologically through important cases but featuring in-depth descriptions of each justice. The material in The Nine and The Oath on Sandra Day O’Connor, Clarence Thomas, and John Roberts are especially fascinating. Both books are as enlightening and important as they are entertaining. Highly recommended.

And finally, on my digital “nightstand” at present: Oliver Twist (yet again); NW: A Novel by Zadie Smith; Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon; and 1940: FDR, Wilkie, Lindbergh, Hitler – the Election amid the Storm (which wins the prize for longest title).
Visit Diane Stanley's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Princess of Cortova.

--Marshal Zeringue