Saturday, November 11, 2006

I am almost tempted

to adopt a blase and world-weary pose, but really it's pretty exciting: I've got a review in the special children's book section of this week's NYTBR. And it was especially nice to get the chance to write about a truly wonderful book, one that you may even have already read if you dabble in young-adult fiction (it's had a lot of buzz among the, you know, grown-ups too): M. T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing.

I had the curious feeling as I was reading (it will have produced this feeling in others also, it's just that kind of book) that the book was uncannily perfectly tailored to my tastes, as though my mind had been psychically MRI'd and my deepest reading desires probed and magically translated into an enchanting book. Smallpox, the eighteenth century, Linnaean racial classifications, sinister and proto-eugenic experiments touching on crypto-eugenic theories of human difference, Shandean devices of various kinds: mmmm....

This didn't fit into the final version of the review, but the book it most reminded me of was John Edgar Wideman's The Cattle Killing, a book I love and now must reread in the near future; also the review prompted me to reread a chunk or two of Elizabeth Anne Fenn's Pox Americana. I do love books about skin diseases, if demented and sinister awards were being given out to contemporary writers M. T. Anderson would be anointed the Bard of Skin....


  1. Your review is extremely readable, Jenny -- glad you decided to confide in your blog visitors so we can read it!

    The book sounds very disturbing, I agree. Not sure if it is the type of thing I could look forward to reading.

    It reminds me slightly of Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin - have you read that? There is an excellent theatre version peformed by the National Theatre which has been very successful so it may make it over to the USA. Pretty gruesome (at least for the children I went with) -- but a very good play, I can highly recommend it, the themes of slavery are similar but the play focuses on music rather than the horrific "science".

  2. It's an excellent review, and congratulations. I'm also excited to learn (from the little byline) that you have a novel coming out.

    You said very nice things about "Alaska" a long time ago, and I've meant to say ever since how much I appreciated it. So, belatedly, thanks.

    John Green

  3. I'd already planned to scarf up a copy of OCTAVIAN NOTHING Wednesday night (after Gwenda raved so much about it) but your review clinched it. Yay to cracking the NYTBR!!!

  4. Looking forward to reading the review tomorrow when the paper lands on my doorstep.