Armchair BEA: Dear Marilyn Sachs

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I'm writing to thank you for The Truth About Mary Rose (Doubleday, 1973). That's my childhood copy, the 1977 Dell Yearling edition, illustrated by Louis Glanzman. It was one of the few books (maybe even the only one) I read as a child that had a Hispanic or Latina main character--like me, or close enough (I'm Cuban-American). I loved that Mary Rose's dad, an artist, made her rice pudding when he was worried about her being sick, and that she was surrounded by her extended family in New York City, even if they were mostly on her American mother's side. Speaking of Mary Rose's mother (Veronica Ganz, but I hadn't read that book), I also loved that she was a dentist and kept her maiden name at work. But Mary Rose's grandmother, on the other hand, just made me mad (to be fair, she made Mary Rose's mother mad, too). How could she say such mean things about Mary Rose's dad? And why would everyone let her get away with it? Even, especially, Mary Rose herself.

Rereading The Truth About Mary Rose as an adult, which I did last night, I'm more interested in the representation of the Ramirez (Ganz) and Petronski families than I am in the mystery of the first Mary Rose--after all, I already know how it ends. And I want to congratulate Luis Ramirez on his one-man show at MoMA. Very impressive! It almost makes up for having such an awful mother-in-law.

Book Sale Business

I've started to branch out from the biannual Friends Book Sales at Arlington Central Library--this morning I went all the way to Falls Church (a distance of two and a half miles) to check out the American Association of University Women book sale and came home with a small stack of children's books and a couple of hardcovers for my husband and son, too.

I followed my usual book sale protocol, which is to head straight for the middle grade paperbacks. In this case, there wasn't a lot of pre-sorting--all the children's books were mixed up in boxes, fiction, nonfiction, YA, picture books, everything. The pricing scheme wasn't what I was used to, either: all paperbacks (children's and adult) were $2, hardcovers $3. Fortunately, "thin paperbacks" were only a dollar, which is still twice what one pays at the Friends sales. Also fortunately, the cashier agreed with me on the thinness of my paperbacks. One of my hardcovers  (Folk Toys Around the World and How to Make Them by Joan Joseph, 1972) was thin enough to qualify for a discount, too.

One thing I noticed about my new (old) books is the presence and quality of the interior art: black and white line drawings, mostly, by Erik Blegvad (who died earlier this year), N.M. Bodecker, Alan Cober, Margery Gill. Gill's illustrations are among my favorites, and I'm particularly pleased to have picked up a copy of Dawn of Fear by Susan Cooper because of them (here Gill was informed by her own childhood memories of WWII). But I'm reading A Candle in Her Room by Ruth M. Arthur (also illustrated by Gill) first.

The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder

I had been reading one chapter a night of Jostein Gaarder's The Christmas Mystery (1992; translated from the Norwegian by Elizabeth Rokkan, 1996) aloud to my daughter this advent. Sadly, we only made it to Day 6. The premise of Gaarder's book is good (if structurally familiar to readers of The Solitaire Mystery or even Sophie's World): Joachim discovers a magic advent calendar (yes! a magic advent calendar is good) in an old bookstore. Behind each door is a picture--and a tightly folded piece of paper telling another story, about Elisabet's journey across Europe and back two thousand years, to Bethlehem at the time of the Nativity.

Eventually Joachim's and Elisabet's stories interwine, but we didn't make it that far--Elisabet's story was a lot less interesting (or more philosophical) than Joachim's. Maybe I'll try again on my own, since I can read a lot faster than I can read aloud, although I am probably less patient than my nine-year-old.

Note: We are reading the English edition, illustrated by Rosemary Wells. The illustrations are not as magical as I would like, and other reviewers agree, preferring Stella East's illustrations in the Norwegian edition pictured here (Aschehoug, 1995). Maybe that would help?

Sculptor's Daughter: A Childhood Memoir by Tove Jansson

Books I Want is apparently becoming a regular feature here. This week, I'm wanting Tove Jansson's first book for adults, which is actually a collection of stories called Sculptor's Daughter: A Childhood Memoir. It's been re-released by Sort Of Books in a deluxe edition that includes rare images from the Jansson family archives ("a perfect Christmas gift," says the publisher), such as the one of eight-year-old Tove on the cover. I've not read any of Jansson's adult fiction, but Sculptor's Daughter seems like a good place to start, despite the title. Why do so many books about women identify them as someone else's--usually a man's--daughter or wife? In this case, the sculptor is Jansson's father, Viktor. For the record, her mother, Signe Hammarsten-Jannson, was an illustrator and graphic designer. Also probably just as influential on Tove.

One of the stories in this collection, "The Iceberg," is available to read online (The Independent, November 3, 2013), and it is lovely, keenly observed (lived, really) and true to a child's experiences and emotions. The whole collection, in paperback and with a more anonymous cover photograph of a snowy landscape, will be published in the US by William Morrow in January 2014. If you can wait that long.