I never remember anyone's birthday and really don't care about presents, but I really have received a particularly lovely haul from this year's students. The thing that prompted this post was this morning's gift of Ann Brashares's Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a book I've been meaning to read but haven't got around to getting a hold of. But it was presented to me this morning and it is ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL! In fact, so much so that when I finished reading it late afternoon, I went to the Bank Street Bookstore and got the two subsequent volumes, which I've now read as well (betraying my truly obsessive book-loving nature): The Second Summer of the Sisterhood and Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood. It's a great series--Brashares has an extraordinary gift for characterization, and a very appealing and plain colloquial prose style--though the second and third books aren't quite as magical as the first, partly because they get more boy-girl-y. But Brashares is a genius at characterizing the way that when you're a teenager, knowing that you're behaving badly doesn't actually stop you from being absolutely horrible and destructive in other people's lives. These books are great.
Two trains of thought off this.
One, in my current novel (now in final stages of revision), I also have four girls in a boarding-school situation, only their relationship is rather more vexed than these girls seem to have. Thinking about this makes me feel the Brashares books are more wish-fulfillment-directed than I felt them to be as I read them. Perhaps this is my character flaw? (But Ursula Nordstrom's The Secret Language is the most brilliant novel of small-group girl relationships in a boarding-school situation, and there you see that it's rather tense and complicated.) And they get very boy-girl in a way I don't wholly approve of, that's my intellectual and moralizing side.
On a totally different note, I was struck by the author's comment in a reader interview following the second volume. Asked about why the books take place in the summer, Brashares comments, "Summer feels like a blank slate, a perfect place to begin a new story, whereas the school year feels bogged down by so many social and logistical concerns. Summer has a timeless feel, where the more particular rhythms of school fix you in time and space. I may change my mind about it, but so far I am pretty happy to write in eternal summer." I am struck by this because of something that joins my two novels to each other, the one published and the one finished. In many ways they hardly could be more different. But the strange thing they have in common is that they are both set in a two-month June-July period; the first in a June-July that feels structureless because the novel's protagonist isn't in school, the second in a June-July that is meaningful because it represents the protagonist's finishing-up of a significant school year. Just a strange thing... I don't feel there to be an "eternal summer," but that's because I'm a teacher and former student who feels those rhythms still.
And other presents? Well, I guess I'm boasting (and I really don't care about presents!), but the others include this BEAUTIFUL and decadent Jacques Torres chocolate assortment, very luxe and expensive so you would have to feel particularly depressed to buy it for yourself but I assure you it's worth it, and an excellent party gift, the chocolates are in fact too pretty to eat (especially a pink-and-white one with the logo LOVEBUGS) and that's part of the pleasure plus the irresistable Hermes-style box; and this, which made me feel intelligent without actually having read it yet. And most touching and funny of all, another student gave me a string of pearls with a very pretty gold clasp, with a card that thanked me for my pearls of wisdom! Quite adorable. I must stop giving so much advice, it is bad for my character.