Lois Lowry's Blog
Leaving shortly for a videotaped interview at Barnes & Noble (which will be available on their website... And yesterday I did one at Time for Kids, the junior version of Time Magazine, and that will be on THEIR website...they use kid reporters, mine a charming 11-year-old named Sarah) Then tonight I go out to long Island to speak at a teachers' conference before heading home tomorrow.
Here is a truly New York Moment:
Yesterday, on arriving, my hotel room wasn't ready yet so I went out for a walk. When I encountered a drugstore I remembered that I needed dental floss so headed inside but was stopped at the door by a 25-ish African American man wearing a Yankees sweatshirt, who asked me for money by saying, "I'm from Afghanistan."
I declined politely and went in the store, but as I looked for the dental floss department I was thinking about him. From Afghanistan? Why no accent, then? And he didn't look Afghani. Well, might he have meant that he had been in Afghanistan with the military? Made more sense. And if that were true, I certainly wished him well, although I still wasn't inclined to give him money.
I paid for my stuff and headed out of the store, and there he was again, again asking for money, and again I shook my head no and said, "Sorry." His reply: "Well, God bless you anyway, cheap bitch!"...
Well, that is what it has felt like here, with 10 inches of rain in 72 hours. We got lucky---just a LITTLE water in the basement---others were totally flooded.
Tomorrow I leave for NYC, where I will do a video-taped interview with Barnes & Noble, also an interview with Time (magazine) for Kids, and then out to Long Island to speak at a teachers' conference. Home Saturday, just in time to see my son and his friend who are coming overnight Saturday night and will take me to brunch Sunday for my birthday; then next week I go briefly to Harrisonburg, Virginia. It's a busy, busy spring---but most of it good stuff.
And crocuses are blooming like crazy in my yard.
This has just been sent to me and I am still pondering what, if any, action to take.
This is the central atrium of the beautiful public library in Spartanburg, SC, where on Saturday they held their annual Jamboread! event, to which thousands of children came to hear three authors/illustrators (me, Jane Yolen, and Paul Zelinksky) and to have books signed. They also got free ice cream and face-painting as well as some other entertainers, so it was a great success on a gorgeous blue-sky day.
Fun for the authors as well, in part because it is rare that we get free time to be with each other uninterrupted. But Jane and I had a leisurely dinner together and time to talk----well, okay, make that gossip.
I got home Sunday in time for the Oscars, and then today had lunch with Allegra Goodman, author and neighbor, then spent a lot of computer time dealing with the logistics of upcoming travel. Can one get easily or quickly from Bozeman, MT to Sacramento? (answer: no) Well, how about Wallingford, CT to South Bend, Indiana? (also no)
Here is yet one more classroom enjoying a Gooney Bird Greene Day:...
I wish I could say that the title of this post means that they have started shooting the film of THE GIVER. Not so.
It only means that this morning a film crew arrived and set up shop in my living room:
and then filmed an interview with me for Weston Woods, which will make it available along with a video of my book "Crow Call."
So it was a busy morning, followed by lunch with two women friends, and now I'm about to go out to dinner at a wonderful Cambridge restaurant called Oleana, a combined birthday celebration for me and my friend Alan Jacobson---both of us with March birthdays (an amazing number of friends have March birthdays. Someday I should have a big March party and invite them all)...
In this uthopic-disthopic society pain has been removed. But we get to know that only passing through a process of suffering one can become really wise.
Where you thinking of the ancient Greeks, Aeschylus in particular, when he says: knowledge doesn't come but from sufference? Or was it your experience, your life, which seems to characterize so much your writings?
When I sit down to write a book, I begin with a character, a setting, and an idea of some journey that character will make. This will be a metaphorical journey, or course; but often, as I write, I find that the character makes a physical journey as well—as Jonas does when he flees the world he has known and makes his way into an unknown realm. I am not aware, while I write, of calling forth past writers or thinkers. But of course all of us are influenced by our education and by what we have learned from writings of the past. I never, while writing this book, thought of the Greeks—of Aeschylus, as you suggest, or of Plato, as others have suggested. And yet what I studied of the Greeks years ago is still there in my brain, deeply buried in my subconscious. Everything we learn stays with us and affects what we think—or in my case, what I write.
The more western society 'grows up', the more it looks like the one you described almost 20 years ago. In fact, death's refuse, or better: this kind of taboo about death, is becoming little by little stronger. How do you see the situation? Do you consider this as a real danger?
Generations ago, death was a frequent and expected event within families. I own a house that was built in 1768. Down the road is a small cemetery and in it lie those who lived in my house more than two hundred years ago. I can read the gravestones and see that many, many children died then, and young wives and mothers. Those who lived in my house would have died there, in their beds, and been carried by their family members down the hill to be buried. It would have been an intimate, loving, and sadly commonplace act.
But of course that is no longer true. Technology and science have prolonged our lives but at the same time have caused us to to see death as a fearful enemy, something to be battled, and those battles take place not in the warm comfort of our homes but in the sterile atmosphere of a hospital. The family retreats as the technicians take over. And we have begun to avert our eyes.
Like everything presented in THE GIVER, there is no right or wrong. It is a book about things we have sacrificed, about what we have given up, and what we have gained. We have a longer life expectancy now that we did in the 1700’s. This is good. But we have sacrificed the familial intimacy and acceptance of death. In the book, the society has gone even farther, has disavowed death, and re-named it.
And what about freedom of choise, which looks progressively weaker?
The entire book is about choice. In essence, it is intended to cause readers to think deeply about political choices. The community in the book has become very safe, has found ways of dealing with some of the things that threaten contemporary. There is no danger of overpopulation, for example. But (as in today’s China) they no longer choose the size of their own families. In the book, there is no divorce. But (as in some of today’s India) they do not choose their mates. So the reader is constantly weighing the issues that freedom and democracy present.
In the dangerous idea of sameness is hidden the ideal of equality. Am I right? What's the line which divides the two?
Same thing. There is no bigotry, no discrimination. This is good. What have they sacrificed, though? They have lost all the diversity that makes our societies so rich and interesting.
Love and sex are banned. Control of birth is perfectly elaborated. Euthanasy as well. Are these the themes that made “The Giver” a book banned by many associations and libraries? Aren't instead themes which should be considered challenging for guys?
It is true that THE GIVER has been banned in some places in the USA and that some groups of individuals see it as a dangerous book for young people to read or discuss. I have come to think that these groups or individuals are people who are fearful: fearful of knowledge, and of independent thinking. They are more comfortable with strict rules and restricted information.
The banning of THE GIVER is ironic, because one of the things Jonas’s world has lost is literature. Not only are all troubling and thought-provoking books gone—but ALL books have disappeared. As has art, and music. Things that promote deep thought or deep feelings have been eradicated.
The most interesting theme, in my opinion, regards this freedom of lying which seems to allow individuals to be themselves. Would you talk a bit about it?
The entire book is about hypocrisy. Sadly, this is something we see today most clearly in the political world. Lying is commmonplace and we have learned, with good cause, to mistrust our leaders.
You said you got many ideas about the book in Japan. Why?
I lived in Japan as a child and I love that country and its people. Yet as a Caucasian child in Japan in the late 1940’s, post WW II, I was viewed as “foreign”...and I viewed the Japanese the same way...as “different”...and this prevented us from truly connecting with each other. We were fearful of the differences. The world of THE GIVER has done away with the concept of different cultures. And of course there is no religion, And no money. All of those things that cause suspicion or conflict are gone—hence no crime, no war. But at such a high cost.
You said you write for young people because it makes you remember of your life as a child and because much of you adulthood was spent taking care of your children. Is it still the same?
It is not that writing for young people makes me remember my own childhood but rather the reverse. Remembering my own childhood makes me write for young people. Although the details of everyday life are very different now from the years when I was young, he emotions of childhood have stayed the same. The fact that I have such clear memories of those emotions makes me able to put myself into the consciousness of a young fictional protaganist and to re-experience all of those fears and joys and yearnings.
What do you think of this triumph of the young-adult genre?
Today’s young people are growing up in a very complex and difficult and challenging world. I think literate people have always used fiction as a way of making sense of their own lives. For a young adult, the privacy of a book is a very safe way to explore complicated feelings, and fiction, in particular—the excitement and suspense of a story—leads them into an exploration of issues that seem relevant. I’m always very moved when young people write to me and tell me how a book has touched them personally, has made them think.
Do you still dream of a world in peace or else you consider war as connaturated to human beings?
That’s a question I can’t answer. I watched my father go off to war when I was a child, and generations later I stood beside my own son’s casket and watched as he was buried with military honors. Now I have grandchildren—am I to go through this again someday? There are times when I feel very pess imistic. But then things happen that give me hope. The election of Barack Obama was one such thing. The letters I receive from today’s young readers are another.
This is the Italian translation of THE GIVER, about to be released in Italy...somewhat surprising, after these many years in which it has been translated into more than 25 other languages already. But...to indulge in a cliché....better late than never. This coming week I am to be interviewed by a journalist from La Repubblica, described as an important periodical in that country; and I've been invited to a book festival in Tuscany on the fall (not sure that I'll get there, but it would be nice).
IN the meantime, in this country, I now have four books off my desk and in the hands of publishers, so though I have interesting projects coming up, at the moment the only thing pressing, and with a deadline, is, ugh taxes.
Those four? The Birthday Ball, coming out in April. Here's an upcoming review from ALA Booklist:
Just for the record, I have never thought of myself as an addictive personality. Okay, yeah, there was the cigarette thing, for which I blame my college (in those days, the 50’s, they let cigarette companies give out freebies in the dorms. We all became addicted to Marlboros, along with playing bridge and knitting argyle socks for our boyfriends. Later we wised up and quit it all, even in most cases the boyfriends.)
Booze? Nah, never caught on
with me. I still buy wine by the label rather than the vineyard or the year. A
gold-embossed castle carries a lot of weight for me in terms of wine selection.
Or I go for the whimsical name: Fat Bastard has an appeal, as does Roo’s Leap.
And still, castle, bastard, or roo: I often leave half a glass to be tossed out
by the waiter.
Gambling? Porn? Yawn: don’t think so.
But this week (and presumably
next, as well) I am addicted to the Olympics. And I don’t know why.
I am not an athlete, never
have been. I gave birth to two athletes: (one son: captain of his college baseball
team, the other son: tennis team) but the giving-birth part (and the driving to
lessons and games when they were young) was my only physical involvement. Now I
drag myself to my gym reluctantly twice a week but this morning let a mild
snowstorm cause me to cancel.
Nothing, however, seduces me into canceling my evening in Vancouver. Last night was the Westminster Dog Show---and everyone knows I’m a dog nut---but I flipped the channel over briefly just to watch the Tibetan Terrier and then was right back to Snowboard Cross and Men’s Moguls.
At other, more normal, times
of year, I think a double axel is a car part and a toe pick is a tool for a pedicurist
But now I am obsessively
interested in people with names like Bode and Shani and Pang Qing.
I have sometimes been asked by kids whether I get book ideas in dreams. And the answer has always been no.
But the other night I dreamed a book plot. I think actually, within the dream, I realized it was the plot of a novel, and was excited by what a great idea it was, with such amazing and original possiblities.
Essentially it was this: the main character, the protganist, was a woman in her seventies who though elderly was smart and energetic and interesting. In the dream she reminded me of the actress who used to play Miss Marple on the BBC.
Somehow, though, she had lost all of her money (plot detail to be worked out---how had this happened? She invested with Madoff?) and so was homeless. But she was a church-goer, and the clergyman at her (maybe Episcopal? Anglican?) church had an empty room available at the church and allowed her to move in there....
Well, I finally got around to reading this year's Newbery winner, WHEN YOU REACH ME, and though I enjoyed it, something nagged at me as a possible anachronism. The book is set in 1979, and there are kids using skateboards in it. My own children were teenagers in the 1970s, and I do not remember a single skateboard in our house or garage. There were bikes and skis and all sorts of things that I tripped over, but no skateboard. I do remember a grandson having a skateboard in the early 1990's.
This is hardly an earth-shaking issue but it continued to nag at me now and then. Finally, this morning, looking for yet one more way to procrastinate because I have to do some stuff I don't want to do...I googled the history of skateboarding. And yes indeed...it was around in the 1970's.
My kids grew up in Maine, living on a road with no sidewalks, and I suspect that is why we had no skateboards. They had horses; and maybe it is a truism that people who ride bikes and horses do not also skateboard. I don't know. But I do know that Google makes my life much easier much of the time.
The other night, watching "The Who" at halftime during the Superbowl, the question came up: how old is Paul McCartney? (I know, I know; he wasn't performing. It was just that the conversation meandered into Beatle-land) We all took a guess. Then I googled it on my iPhone. Answer: 68. (I lost. I said 72.)
Yesterday I had an email from a man in Denmark who told me that he had been rescued in 1943, taken to Sweden in a fishing boat, like Ellen Rosen in NUMBER THE STARS. He wanted to know where I found the information about the mixture of rabbit blood and cocaine, because, he said, no one in Denmark, including scientists, knew anything about that.
I gulped, because I wrote the book over 20 years ago. No computer then, and I've moved twice since. So I no longer have the research notes. I became fearful that perhaps I had simply heard the story and accepted it as true, thereby doing what so many other people have done in repeating the myth that the king of Denmark wore a yellow star in sympathy with the Jews. That never happened, and I cringe whenever I hear the false story repeated.
But I started looking, and--whew. Amazingly, I found an obituary for Dr. Ernst Trier Morch, one of the people who concocted the mixture that saved Jewish lives. Then I kept looking and found more details:
Fishing boat captains were paid (sometimes with stolen
Fishing boat captains were paid (sometimes with stolen...
I found myself particularly interested in the work of Maureen Taylor, who has been called "The Photo Detective" because of her investigator —and frequently mystery-solving—work with old photographs. Some years ago I used old photographs as the starting point of my book The Silent Boy...making up the plot because I didn't know any of the "real" story.
This is the 1911 photograph that became the cover of the book, and the boy who became the title character. My grandmother's sister, who took the photograph, died years ago and so I had no way of finding out this boy's story, though his picture had haunted me for years.
Anyway: it was fun being with Anita and the other panelists, and a warm, responsive audience on a very cold night.
I drove down from Maine first thing yesterday morning, after the previous day's storm had ended. About twenty miles into the drive, I thought: I didn't close the garage door. Or did I?
Once you start thinking along those lines (which include Did I turn the iron off? Or Did I leave the coffee pot on?) then you are doomed. But this is where cell phones earn their keep. I called a friend and asked him to go and look. And of course the door was closed. But if I hadn't called....
Snow showers turned to sunshine as I entered Masaschusetts and I got home to find all of our snow cover gone, rained away. So it is briefly mud season here but of course it will snow again...and again...before winter ends.
There is a ton of mail to answer and scheduling to arrange. I have been invited to receive an honorary degree from a college (St. Mary's), in South Bend, Indiana; but I have to get to South Bend the day after a speaking engagement in Wallingford, Connecticut. This is do-able, but requires lots of logistics.
This will be my fourth honorary degree, incidentally, so people will have to call me Doctor Doctor Doctor Doctor Lowry. And I will tell them to take two aspirin and call me in the morning, hah....
Motoko Rich realizes that bookclubs aren't for everyone (NYTimes, Sunday):
....There is a different class of reader, though. They feel that their relationship with a book, its characters and the author is too intimate to share. “The pursuit of reading,” Virginia Woolf wrote, “is carried on by private people.”
Ms. Stead remembers having had especially intense feelings about books when she was young. “For me, as a kid, a book was a very private world,” she said. “I didn’t like talking about books with other people very much because it almost felt like I didn’t want other people to be in that world with me.”
Particularly with the books we adore most, a certain reader wants to preserve the experience for reflection, or even claim the book as hers and hers alone. Lois Lowry, an author of books for children and a two-time winner of the Newbery for “Number the Stars” and “The Giver,” said she recently read that Katherine Paterson, also a two-time Newbery winner and now the national ambassador for young people’s literature, had named “The Yearling,” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, as the most influential book of her childhood. “I felt a twinge of ‘no fair, that’s mine!’ ” Ms. Lowry said. “I hastily backed off from that feeling because I know and love Katherine, and it’s O.K. that we share the same book.” ....
Katherine emailed me gracefully that she felt the same twinge when she saw that I had named "The Yearling" in Anita Silvey's recent book. No, mine! she thought briefly—which just goes to show that both Katherine and I can revert with no warning to the mentality of nine-years-olds: scrappy and self-absorbed. It serves us well, I think; but it is probably a good thing we didn't choose—let me think—psychiatry or the priesthood as a profession....
A friend is here with me in Maine---she's a Harvard professor, working on a paper due Feb 1st. Her dog came with her; and while the dogs play and hang out together, she works on her laptop in one room and I on my laptop in another. Then we get together for dinner. A good workable system.
Yesterday afternoon she took a break and went out on snowshoes. When she came back, she brought with her a chunk of top-layer snow that she had broken off behind my barn in order to show me the animal tracks on it.
Here's a photo:
Just for the record, French lentils are quite small. I had bought some last summer because I had a good recipe for a French lentil salad, actually. But there is a limit to the number of French lentil salads one can eat in a summer, and so I had a supply of French lentils in the pantry here in Maine.
Then they disappeared. Until yesterday when I put on...or TRIED to put on..these boots. The left one fit fine. The right one....
...well, it was full of French lentils....
This is from son Ben, a lawyer in Portland, Maine, who has just returned from a baseball tournament in Orlando
I played for the Boston Wolfpack, a juggernaut of a team that has won this event 5 out of the past 6 years. I have never been on such a dominant team, with players from the Pack being recruited from all over the United States. Needless to say, we won the event, with our closest challenge coming in the finals, which we won 3-0 to secure the crown. It was a great experience for me, playing alongside several ex-major leaguers who really know how to play the game the right way.
And I include it here because it takes my mind off the results of yesterday's senatorial election in Massachusetts, which is a terrible disappointment to many of us (clearly not all) and an insult to the memory of Ted Kennedy....