Sally Reed, executive director of United for Libraries, a division of the American Library Association (ALA) that represents the interests of advocates such as friends groups and trustees, encouraged librarians at the “Quirky Books for Quirky Librarians” panel to join her organization before introducing six authors with new or upcoming books. The authors, a few of whom were bemused by the term quirky, presented titles that were a little different and that are already getting buzz in the book world. Reed explained that she was filling in as moderator for LJ‘s Prepub Alert Editor, Barbara Hoffert, who was unable to attend but who had provided introductions to the authors speaking that day.
First up was Liz Climo, a cartoonist who explained that her route to her new book, The Little World of Liz Climo, had not been without its twists and turns. The author’s high school art teacher, for example, told her that her work was “too cartoony.” Still, Climo, who had grown up poring over Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons at her grandparents’ house, persevered in drawing comics as she matured. After being rejected from a college animation and illustration program, and feeling intimidated as there were “so many great artists,” she put her dreams of being a cartoonist on the back burner. Luckily, the artist explained, “standards at The Simpsons were much lower,” and she got a job animating for the famed, long-running TV show. On the side, Climo said, she started a Tumblr blog, lizclimo.tumblr.com, and eventually got an agent and a book deal. The result of Climo’s persistence, a book of 100 existing images and 50 new ones that are “childlike but meant for an older audience,” will be published by Running Press in September.
One of the authors who was puzzled by the “quirky” label was Caitlin Doughty, author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (Norton, Sept.), a memoir about working in a crematory that is one of LJ‘s BEA Editors’ Picks. Doughty thinks it’s wrong that we’ve sanitized and deritualized death, a viewpoint that caused her “an existential crisis over the word ‘quirky.’ I try to dequirkify death and make it not niche,” she explained, continuing, “I’m often asked, ‘Isn’t your job weird?’ and I think to myself, ‘Isn’t it weird that you are in denial about the fundamental human experience?'” Among the humor in the book is forthright, euphemism-free information about death and the death industry that Doughty hopes will cause readers to think about what they want for themselves when the time comes.
Next to speak was Jennifer Holland, author of the upcoming Unlikely Heroes (Workman, Sept.), which is part of a series of books about animals that also includes Unlikely Friendships and Unlikely Loves. Holland explained that she grew up in a household in which any animal could have a home, and told the story of she and her mother finding a dog and taking it home. When they were contacted by the very relieved owner and returned the animal, they realized that they had “rescued” the dog from its own yard. (To gales of audience laughter Holland explained that they refused the reward.)
The author spent ten years on staff at National Geographic, where coworkers called her
“The Critter Girl” as she was willing to do any work involving animals. Her stories of creatures that humans can identify with include, for example, a tale of a cow in India whose leopard companion arrived to sleep with it each night. Science, Holland maintained, is catching up with what many have known all along: it is alright to anthropomorphize animals, as they are sentient and deserving of our empathy. Such an approach, the author added, teaches kids about appreciating someone who’s different.
In Andrew Mayne’s debut novel Angel Killer (HarperCollins, Sept.), which Barbara Hoffert refers to as a “brilliant, twisty thriller,” terrible experiences convince a young woman to leave the world of magic behind and become an FBI agent. She returns to sorcery, however, to combat a warlock who makes people do bad things. Mayne won the audience over by opening his presentation with a magic trick: he encased a hapless volunteer’s cell phone in a balloon. It wasn’t a surprise then to hear that the author has loved science, magic, and storytelling since he was a child. In this latest stage of Mayne’s life, which has involved working as a teacher and as a magician on a cruise ship, the author hopes to have created “a female character in a world that’s traditionally male.”
Running out of water is a danger we don’t readily acknowledge, says Ben Parzybok, author of Sherwood Nation (Small Beer Pr., Sept.) and of the 2009 Indie Next pick Couch. His latest novel addresses what happens when water is almost gone and strictly rationed in Portland, OR. As a society, we’re obsessed with apocalypse, remarked Parzybok, but the author is more interested in the slow decline of civilization; he’s spent time studying Rome, for example, which he notes declined over several centuries as those in the outer reaches of the empire became less connected to it, and at the same time reinvented themselves. Similarly, in Sherwood Nation, the main character takes over a neighborhood and runs it as her own country, abandoning the auspices of the United States around it, which is in such peril.
“Star Wars as if written by Shakespeare” is how author Ian Doescher describes his trilogy of titles William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, The Empire Striketh Back, and The Jedi Doth Return, which Quirk Books will release as a box set in October. The books, Doescher points out, have a theme in common with Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: “both discuss what humans inevitably face: death and Star Wars.” Doescher grew up loving George Lucas’s iconic movie, he told the audience, and discovered Shakespeare in high school through the guidance of a passionate teacher. He got the idea to combine his interests a few years ago, when, around the same time, he saw the film Star Wars, read the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and attended a Shakespeare play with his family.
An editor at Quirk Books expressed interest in the idea but warned that “the next step is getting Lucas Film on board.” Accordingly, Doescher said, “I stayed close to [the movie’s] original dialog because I think of George Lucas as someone who’s just a tiny bit protective of his material.” The publisher, however, encouraged the author to play around, and he was faced with how to express each Star Wars character in another milieu entirely. What to do with Yoda was a challenge, for example, because “everyone speaking in Elizabethan English already sounds like Yoda. So [in the books] he speaks in haiku.” Doescher hopes for his work, which features black-and-white Elizabethan-style artwork, to be a way for kids to get into Shakespeare’s world, and comments that “teachers are using it as a gateway drug.”
With that, the program proper ended, but the librarians present formed a long line to get their books signed by the panel’s authors.