Thursday, January 17, 2008

ALA awards, books, disillusionment (not all related)

I always look forward to the announcement of the ALA awards--the Grammys/Emmys/Oscars of kidlit, but without all the fanfare, beautiful costumes, and witty comments. Oh yeah, a lot like the Grammys/Emmys/Oscars this year! I haven't read any of this year's winners, much less the honor books, but I've now added a pile of books to my to-read list. Plus, they always give me added encouragement in my own writing. I'm having a lot of fun right now with my sci-fi/caper/road trip novel, something I promised myself I'd finished after my sad and intense first novel (now in revisions). I don't know if the sci-fi novel is any good yet, but I'm having a lot of fun with it.

Right now I'm reading Michael Ondaatjie's Divisadero. What a terrific writer he is, and one of the things that really impresses me is that it is nothing like The English Patient, which in turn is nothing like In the Skin of a Lion (these are the only books I've read by Ondaatjie). OK, well, there stylistic similarities, but thematically, they all seem quite different to me. I guess the thing that ties them all together is his wonderful attention to character.

I also recently picked up Sara Paretsky' writing memoir, Writing in an Age of Silence (I was looking for her newest books, Bleeding Kansas, which Borders did not have. Bad, bad, Borders!) Paretsky is the author of the V I Warshawski detective series. I've enjoyed reading her books over the years, not only because I like her writing and her protagonists' commitment to social justice issues, but also because I have some curious connections to the author. Her father, David Paretsky, was one of my microbiology professors at the University of Kansas. I knew him as a genial, kind man who seemed to take a real interest in his students.

He used to call me "Sally," because he said that was his nickname for his daughter, also named Sara, which I thought was kind of touching. I think at the time I knew him, she may have just have been writing or published her first V I Warshawski novel. Not only that, but her brother, Jonathon, was my German T.A. for two semesters. But that is not all. When I met Tony at the University of Chicago, I learned that one of the physicists in the department was married to Sara Paretsky. I met her, briefly, at a departmental party. She probably doesn't remember me, or my mention of my connection with her father and brother, but I remembered her, and when David died several years ago from Alzheimer's disease, I wrote her a note expressing my sympathy.

So it was with interest, and great sadness, that I read Sara's memoir. It seems that the public David Paretsky I knew was nothing like the mercurial and belittling father Sara Paretsky knew. One girl with four brothers, she alone was not allowed to attend a private school; it was apparently expected that she might become a secretary, if that. She became successful in spite of, not because of, her family.

I suppose it's worth noting that she grew up in a very different time. Yes, we both grew up in Kansas, but those twenty-three years that separate us represent tremendous advances in attitudes towards women. But he was very progressive in civil rights issues--especially in the 1970s, when the University of Kansas was more politically inflammatory than most other schools. But not so progressive, it seems, when it came to his family.


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4 comments:

caraf said...

Wow, "Sally," so many connections! Interesting. I'd love to pick up this book. Bleeding Kansas, too!

Lufus said...

Ok, any more connections and you might almost be considered a stalker. I've even got a nickname for you - The Sci-Fi Stalker.

Guess I've read too many of these crime novels, eh?

Barrie said...

And to think Michael Ondaatjie started off as a poet! (Actually, I think it shows. His prose is so lyrical.)

Sara Latta said...

barrie, I had forgotten that Ondaatjie was first a poet! Have you read any of his poetry? You're so right about the lyricism of his prose. Your comment reminded me that I've also read his memoir Running in the Family, really almost like a prose poem in places. Have you read it?