Tuesday, November 7, 2006

The Higher Power of Lucky - Are Newbery Winners Just Lucky?

image from tumblr.com

I'm now six books into my effort to read at least a healthy chunk of Newbery award-winning books. I'm enjoying the reading, but am starting to feel the repetition - a point I already noted in my last post on Richard Peck's A Year Down Yonder.

I want to be careful that my comments don't come across merely as sour grapes. It isn't interesting to listen to a writer whine how "I can write just as good as they can. Why do they get all the lucky breaks?" I want to make it clear that these books have been, by and large, above average books. I'd rank most of them 4 stars out of 5. That's they thing, though. These are supposed to be the absolute cream of the crop - the best of their given years. I'm not quite seeing it.

The problem is NOT that each book individually is not worth the effort. The problem is that I'm starting to feel like, "Isn't this the same book that won the award the year before?" That's because the stories are remarkably similar. Apparently the Newbery selection committee is quite enamored with stories of tweens and early-tweens thrown into self discovery because of significant family upheaval.

In The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (2006), the protagonist lost her mom and is now in the care of her father's ex-wife. Like some of the other Newbery winners, the setting is a small town - in this case, Hard Pan - a California desert town with a population of 43.

Susan Patron discusses The Higher Power of Lucky

The argument could be made that there is no such thing as a new story, only a new way of telling it. Still, while each of the Newbery winners I've read so far have individual merits and nuances, when taken as a whole, it is hard to escape their similarities.

So what role did luck have to do in these books' successes? Well, luck is often viewed as being in the right place at the right time. However, one doesn't generally just happen to fall into these kind of circumstances. One has worked to put oneself in such circumstances, whether knowingly or not. In the case of Newbery-winning authors, they may have been published in the first place because someone knew someone in the publishing field. The book may have found its way to the Newbery committee members' hearts because of some other connection.

Luck, however one defines it, does play a role in success. However, Newbery-winning authors are not talentless hacks who just knew the right people. These are good authors with solid stories who happened to write the kind of stuff that appealed to the right people. Congrats to them for that - and good luck on their next projects.

Monday, September 4, 2006

The final Narnia book published 50 years ago today

First posted 6/24/2020.

The Chronicles of Narnia Series

C.S. Lewis

First Publication: October 16, 1950 to September 4, 1956

Category: youth fantasy novel

Sales: 120 million (all 7 books)

Accolades for the Entire Sieres (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Books:

The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of fantasy novels…originally published in London between 1950 and 1956.” WK It “is considered a classic of children’s literature” WK and has been translated in 47 languages. WK It “has been adapted for radio, television, the stage, and film.” WK

“The series is set in the fictional realm of Narnia, a fantasy world of magic, mythical beasts, and talking animals. It narrates the adventures of various children who play central roles in the unfolding history of the Narnian world. Except in The Horse and His Boy, the protaganists are all children from the real world who are magically transported to Narnia, where they are sometimes called upon by the lion Aslan to protect Narnia from evil. The books span the entire history of Narnia, from its creation in The Magician’s Nephew to its eventual destruction in The Last Battle.” WK

The books were not written or published in chronological order of the events that happened in the books. Chronoligically, The Magician’s Nephew happens first and The Horse and His Boy happens toward the latter end of the time frame covered in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When Wardrobe was the first to be be published in 1950, Lewis had already completed Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Horse and His Boy. WK

The books in the series are:

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (October 16, 1950)
  • Prince Caspian (October 15, 1951)
  • The Voyage of Dawn Treader (September 15, 1952)
  • The Silver Chair (September 7, 1953)
  • The Horse and His Boy (September 6, 1954)
  • The Magician’s Nephew (May 2, 1955)
  • The Last Battle (September 4, 1956)

Resources and Related Links:

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary published 150 years ago this year

First posted 7/3/2020; last updated 7/5/2020.

Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert

First Publication: 1856

Category: novel with themes of sex and idealized fulfillment

Sales: 1 million

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

“Along with Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Flaubert’s tragic novel stands as a brilliant portrayal of infidelity, an incisive psychological portrait of a woman torn between duty and desire.” BN While it was “acclaimed as a masterpiece upon its publication,” AZ it also “incited a backlash of immorality charges” BN because “its vivid depictions of sex and adultery.” BN

Madame Bovary searingly depicts the human mind in search of transcendence.” AZ Written with acute attention to telling detail, …[it] exposes the emptiness of one woman’s bourgeois existence and failure to fill that void with fantasies, sex, and material objects.” BN

“Unhappily married to a devoted, clumsy provincial doctor,” AZ Emma is “bored and unfulfilled by marriage and motherhood” BN so she “comforts herself with shopping and affairs. It doesn't end well.” TG She “is unable to achieve the splendid life for which she yearns.” BN “Her sensuous and sentimental desires lead her only to suffering corruption and downfall.” AZ Still, her “thirst for life mirrors the universal human impulse for idealized fulfillment.” BN

Resources and Related Links: