professornana (professornana) wrote,

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Tradition! Tradition! Tradition!

Today is a day we call Christmas Adam. Mutual friends (the ones who introduced me to BH many, many years ago) used to joke that the day before Christmas Eve should be called Christmas Adam. It stuck. There are many traditions we have about Christmas though some have changed as I grew from childhood to adolescence to adult. This Christmas Career Girl is beginning a new tradition for her family by cooking the traditional dinner she loved from her own childhood. So today, texts went back and forth between her house and mine as she checked details about the stuffing (not dressing) and the macaroni and cheese that her mother made and I took over so the tradition could continue after her death. There is comfort in tradition. There is also learning.

And I was reminded of some of that this morning as I chatted for almost an hour with a dear friend about books, YA books. We talked about classics: The Chocolate War, Annie on my Mind, and others. We talked about how, without Cormier's uncompromising novel in the 70s, we might not have the brilliant novels of those who followed. Ditto the contributions of Walter Dean Myers. Take moved on to more contemporary authors, those who we just cannot pigeonhole because each new book takes us different places as readers. It was a lovely discussion, one I wish I could have each and every day.

It reminded me of other traditions of sorts: the traditions I employ (and so do many others) as I serve on selection committees. Things that are just sort of "go-to" on my list. I look at titles closely. I recall one of Richard Peck's questions to ask about a YA novel is this: what does the title tell you about the book and does it tell the truth? I look at surface meaning of the title and then look to see if the title meaning is deeper. Take WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE: here is a literal meaning for that title of course. Max travels to the place of the wild things. But there is a metaphorical journey as well, right. Where are the wild things? They are in Max's very real life, in his head, in his very home. I think how the title of PETER'S CHAIR is both descriptive and also a bit of foreshadowing. As I move on from the title, I am aware of the arc of the story. Do I move from point A to point B and then maybe even back to a new point A? Do the characters change and develop? Do the details matter? Are they there in the story for a reason, a purpose?

There are other traditions, of course. But these are there at the outset. Alongside me are post-it notes and a pen. I often annotate as I read so I can go back and look at my comments and questions later in the story. I flag passages that sing or zing or sting. When I am reading for this type of committee, reading is in depth and repeated. After all, as Sir Francis Bacon observed, "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention."

During this holiday break, I plan to do some tasting, some chewing and some curiously. And a few will be read wholly with great attention.
Tags: committee work, reviewing, tradition
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