If I Wrote a Book About You was a staff pick at Powell's, arguably the best bookstore in the world.
A thousand years ago, I had an idea for a book devoted to photographs of beloved stuffed animals. Since I'm not a photographer, my idea went nowhere. (I tend to have a lot of good ideas for things I could do if I were a totally different person.)
Today I discovered that not one but two such books were published in 2013, and they both look beautiful: Much Loved and Dirty Wow Wow and Other Love Stories: A Tribute to the Threadbare Companions of Childhood. (Although, I think I prefer the title "Much Loved" to "Dirty Wow Wow," which puts me in mind of a rapper name. Or maybe rappers name themselves after their childhood comfort objects? Hmm, that might explain a lot...)
Take a gander:
More Much Loved photos.
My dear friend (and writer extraordinaire) Sara O'Leary answers some interesting questions about writing over on her blog and also offers a copy of my newly published picture book "If I Wrote a Book About You" to a lucky Canadian winner. To enter the contest, all you have to do is leave a comment on her blog post or tweet something about why you love picture books to @saraoleary using the hashtag #stephka and she will enter your name! Good luck! And thank you so much, Sara!
Karl Ove Knausgaard is a 46-year-old Norwegian writer who has written an unusual six-volume autobiography called My Struggle. It's getting a lot of attention -- apparently one in 10 Norwegians have read at least some of it and he is both adored in that country and abhorred (for revealing so much about the private lives of his friends and family). Critic James Wood has written admiringly about his work and apparently Zadie Smith said, on twitter, that it was "like crack." (That offhand remark is quoted on the Amazon pages for the kindle books. No wonder people as famous and as "serious" as Zadie Smith tend not to use twitter.) The books are weirdly compelling (at the least the two I've read so far) -- they contain long, unadorned yet extremely detailed descriptions of Knausgaard's everyday life that, somehow, still have relentless narrative drive. You want to keep reading to find out what happens next, even though what generally happens next is just more of the same. I enjoy the second book, A Man in Love, more than the first, and this is probably because Knausgaard devotes a large part of it to his family life with three small children, and he happens to be an active parent, like a lot of men of his generation in Europe and North America (although some part of me wonders if his wife Linda would agree with his assessment of his involvement). I also wonder if Knausgaard's work would get as much attention if he looked like, say, Rush Limbaugh, instead of a brooding rock star. Yet that's probably unfair -- it's difficult to put your finger on just why, but his work is really good. Here is an example of his writing about his children, from the first book, A Death in the Family :
As I write, I am filled with tenderness for her. But this is on paper. In reality, when it really counts, and she is standing there in front of me, so early in the morning that the streets outside are still and not a sound can be heard in the house, she, raring to start a new day, I, summoning the will to get to my feet, putting on yesterday's clothes and following her into the kitchen where the promised blueberry-flavoured milk and the sugar-free muesli await her, it is not tenderness I feel, and if she goes beyond my limits, such as when she pesters and pesters me for a film, or tries to get into the room where John is sleeping -- in short, every time she refuses to take no for an answer but drags things out ad infinitum -- it is not uncommon for my irritation to mutate into anger, and when then I speak harshly to her, and her tears flow, and she bows her head and slinks off with slumped shoulders, I feel it serves her right. Not until the evening when they are asleep and I am sitting wondering what I am really doing is there any room for the insight that she is only two years old. But by then I am on the outside looking in. Inside, I don't have a chance. Inside, it is a question of getting through the morning, the three hours of nappies that have to be changed, clothes that have to be put on, breakfast that has to be served, faces that have to be washed, hair that has to be combed and pinned up, teeth that have to be brushed, squabbles that have to be nipped in the bud, slaps that have to be averted, rompers and boots that have to be wriggled into, before I, with the collapsible double pushchair in one hand and nudging the two small girls forward with the other, step into the lift, which as often as not resounds to the noise of shoving and shouting on its descent, and into the hall, where I ease them into the pushchair, put on their hats and mittens and emerge into the street already crowded with people heading for work and deliver them to the nursery ten minutes later, whereupon I have the next five hours for writing until the mandatory routines for the children resume.
I have always had a great need for solitude. I require huge swaths of loneliness, and when I do not have it, which has been the case for the last five years, my frustration can sometimes become almost paniched, or aggressive. And when what has kept me going for the whole of my adult life, the ambition to write something exceptional one day, is threatened in this way my one thought, which gnaws at me like a rat, is that I have to escape. Time is slipping away from me, running through my fingers like sand while I... do what? Clean floors, wash clothes, make dinner, wash up, go shopping, play with the children in the play areas, bring them home, undress them, bath them, look after them until it is bedtime, tuck them in, hang some clothes to dry, fold others and put them away, tidy up, wipe tables, chairs and cupboards. It is a struggle, and even though it is not heroic, I am up against a superior force, for no matter how much housework I do the rooms are littered with mess and junk, and the children, who are taken care of every waking minute, are more stubborn than I have ever known children to be; at times it is nothing less than bedlam here, perhaps we have never managed to find the necessary balance between distance and intimacy, which of course becomes increasingly important the more personality there is involved. And there is quite a bit of that here. When Vanja was around eight months old she began to have violent outbursts, like fits at times, and for a while it was impossible to reach her, she just screamed and screamed. All we could do was hold her until it had subsided. It is not easy to say what caused it, but it often occurred when she had had a great many impressions to absorb, such as when we had driven to her grandmother's in the country outside Stockholm, when she had spent too much time with other children, or we had been in town all day. Then, inconsolable and completely beside herself, she could scream at the top of her voice. Sensitivity and strength of will are not a simple combination. And these matters were not made any easier when Heidi was born. I wish I could say I took everything in my stride but sad to say such was not the case because my anger and my feelings too were aroused in these situations, which then escalated, frequently in full public view: it was not unknown for me in my fury to snatch her up from the floor in one of the Stockholm malls, sling her over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carry her through town kicking and punching and howling as if possessed.
And so on and so on and so on. Sound familiar?
Happy Spring, everyone! Did you check out the Google doodle? If not, go have a look. I'll wait.
As I was walking up the hill after dropping Sylvie off at preschool this morning, I noticed it felt a little warmer than usual, which isn't difficult when the "usual" has been -10 degrees Celsius, and commented to the dad walking beside me, "You can feel spring in the air."
He responded in a voice more fit for a charismatic church than polite chitchat, a kind of joyous bellow: "It's HERE! I can FEEL it!"
I almost shouted " Hallelujah! Amen, brother!" and briefly considered dropping to my knees in the mud but figured that might be going a bit far, so I smiled and got in my car. When I turned it on, Vivaldi's "Spring" was playing on the radio. So all in all, it was a nice start to the day.
And now I've noticed that Amazon has some great deals to celebrate the first day of spring: they're offering five books by Italo Calvino at $1.99 each. And then, you really put you in the spring mood, they're offering The Backyard Homestead: Produce All the Food You Need on Just a Quarter Acre! and The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals: Choose the Best Breeds for Small-Space Farming, Produce Your Own Grass-Fed Meat, Gather Fresh Eggs, ... Rabbits, Goats, Sheep, Pigs, Cattle, & Bees for $1.79 each, as well as some similar gardening/nature books, at similar prices. Don't you just feel like getting out a shovel and going crazy in the mud today? Even if it means having to remove a layer of snow first?
This feels surreal. I just googled If I Wrote a Book About You and discovered that you can preorder it at any one of a number of places! It will be available on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, Chapters, Powells (my beloved Powells!), and Barnes & Noble. It will even be available at Walmart's site.
In my googling, I also discovered that the first result for "If I wrote a book about you" links to the lyrics of one of Beyonce's songs. She sings, "If I wrote a book about where we stand, the title of my book would be 'Life with Superman.'" Clearly, she needs a copy of If I Wrote a Book About You for baby Blue Ivy. Maybe we could make a special gold-plated one.
Four-year-old Sylvie "reads" her current fave, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! I don't know why the colours are so wonky -- something's wrong with my camera.
Sylvie and I have been reading a lot of fairy tales at bedtime lately -- we're particularly fond of James Marshall's versions of them. Last night we read Cinderella.
Sylvie sensibly pointed out to me that things could've been much simpler. While we were gazing at the picture of the prince trying the shoe on one of the stepsisters, she said, "That's why, when you meet someone, you should always tell them your name right away. And you should find out theirs."
See that? That's Simply Read's spring 2014 catalog, with an illustration from my first picture book, called If I Wrote A Book About You, on the cover! I'm so excited!
I can't wait to have this book in my hot little hands. It was illustrated by the talented Denise Holmes -- you can see more of her lovely work over at her blog. Many thanks to my dear, wise friend Sara O'Leary, who held my hand throughout the whole process, and to my lovely editor Kallie George at Simply Read.