Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Book challenge 2015

Since I love challenges (including all those silly Travel challenges on Facebook) I could not resist this list on my daughter's blog.

If I understand the rules correctly, the challenge is to do it within a year. My daughter is a fast reader, and I have recently become a slow reader. I checked Shelfari that told me I have only read six books this year. It cannot be true. I must have failed to register what I have read. I checked Goodreads and added some books. I also checked my Kindle. But I still have a definite feeling that something is missing.

I am not going to read according to this challenge, but I can go back a year, to August 2014. Apparently, you are allowed to list one book in several categories. Anyway, here we go:

A book with more than 500 pages - I have no idea. I read most books on a tablet, and I don't know how many pages there are. I assume that The goldfinch is more than 500 pages. If not, The luminaries is.
A classic romance - What is classic? What is romance? No idea.
A book that became a movie - The remains of the day, Kazuo Ishiguro. I haven't seen the movie
A book published this year – The buried giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
A book with a number in the title Five children on the Western front, by Kate Saunders
A book written by someone under 30 – The royal babysitters, by Clementine Beauvais
A book with nonhuman characters – Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo
A funny book – Britt-Marie var här, by Fredrik Backman
A book by a female author – H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald
A mystery or thriller – The silkworm, by Robert Galbraith, aka J K Rowling
A book with a one-word title – Sapiens, by Yuval Harari
A book of short stories – Suspended sentences, by Patrick Mondiano
A book set in a different country – The new policeman, by Kate Thompson
A nonfiction book – A time of gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
A popular author’s first book – Go set the watchman, by Harper Lee
A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet – The tightrope walkers, by David Almond (also qualifies as book published this year)
A book a friend recommended – The tightrope walkers, by David Almond
A Pulitzer-Prize winning book – The goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
A book based on a true story – Alan Turing, by David Boyle
A book at the bottom of your to-read list - The bunker diary, by Kevin Brooks
A book your mom lovesmy mum is happily dead, and thinking back, I cannot name a book she loved
A book that scares you – Sapiens, by Yuval Harari
A book more than 100 years old - The red and the black, Stendhal. Maybe it qualifies as classic romance?
A book you can finish in a day – Mary Ware's promised land, by Annie Fellows Johnston
A book with antonyms in the title – The white darkness, by Geraldine McCaughean. I re-read it for work
A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to travel – An artist of the floating world, by Kazuo Ishiguro
A book that came out the year you were born + The borrowers, by Mary Norton (I know you expected it to be Charlotte's web, but I really dislike it)
A book with bad reviews + Go set a watchman, by Harper Lee
A trilogy - Chaos walking, by Patrick Ness. Re-reading for work
A book from your childhood - Alice in Wonderland. Inevitably this year
A book with a love triangle – I cannot think of any.
A book set in the future - A book of strange new things, by Michel Faber (very bad)
A book set in high school – The rehearsal, by Eleanor Catton
A book with a color in the title – Red shadow, by Paul Dowswell
A book that made you cry – The buried giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
A book with magic – The wise man's fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
A graphic novel – The adventures of the princess and Mr Whiffle, by Patrick Rothfuss
A book by an author you’ve never read before – The miniaturist, by Jessie Burton
A book you own but have never read – Mini knits for the 1/12 scale dolls' house, by Linda Spratley
A book that takes place in your hometown I re-read The Master and Margarita every year
A book that was originally written in a different language – Suspended sentences, by Patrick Mondiano
A book set during Christmas - A time of gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor. At least some of it
A book written by an author with your same initials – Poetic justice, by Martha Nussbaum
A play. I don't read plays
A banned book - I actually re-read To kill a mockingbird
A book based on or turned into a TV show – Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
A book you started but never finished - The queen of hearts, by Wilkie Collins

Looking at this list, I must say that I have read more than I remembered. And some books I have read I could not place in any category. 

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Conference nostalgia, part 2

Read the beginning of this story here.

I almost didn't go to the 1993 IRSCL conference in Geelong, Australia, because I had just returned home after six months in the USA, but I was younger then, and Australia was enticing, and I was a board member with another term of service possible, and everybody knows that you don't get elected if you aren't there.

But, absolutely honestly, when I went, I was not expecting to be nominated for presidency. I hoped to be re-elected to the board, and I hoped that the new president would be nice to work with. These days, elections are prepared well in advance, and the candidates circulate their CVs and personal statements. Which is the way it should be. But in the old days, board members were recruited on the spot, as late as an hour before voting. As we were finalising the programme, the current president asked whether I would like to stand for election. I was overwhelmed. When I sais, yes, I would, she told me to cherry-pick my board and tell the election committee. I looked around. I cherry-picked my board. It was a great board, and we spent many good days together in various parts of the world.

I was immediately faced with a huge problem. Typically, biennial conferences would be planned far in advance, so that at any conference the next one would be already in progress and the one after that under negotiation. I had no conference bid, and the only solution was to do it myself. Which I did, and it was the worst nightmare of my life. I can say it now, twenty years later, because I know that people who were there remember it as a very successful conference. Only I know about all the small disasters, and in retrospect I shouldn't have done it, not there and then, but did I have a choice, a newly elected president with no conference bid?

Twenty years is a long time ago. I remember the board meetings leading to the conference: deciding on a theme, discussing keynote speakers, sending out call for papers. It was in the stone age before everybody had email - we sent 300 printed copies of the newsletter to forty countries. My department covered the costs.

Selecting papers, compiling the programme, finding session chairs. This was also the first year we gave the IRSCL book award. A lot of work for the board. But the bulk of the conference preparation was in Sweden, and I would have never managed it without the strong children's literature community, not just my university, but the Children's Book Institute, the Writers' Union, the illustrators, the libraries. I could arrange a reception at the City Hall, the venue of the Nobel banquet. There was an evening archipelago cruise with shrimp dinner and dance. There was a post-conference trip to the Astrid Lindgren theme park.

I made tons of mistakes, but I am not telling anyone, and it wouldn't be helpful because no conference is like another one.

I was re-elected for another term, but it was simpler because we had the next venue and theme, and the board meetings were less stressful for me. The 1997 conference was in York, UK, and I stepped down, but stayed on the board as immediate past president to ensure continuity. Almost the whole board stepped down, which is never good, but there was a new bunch of people coming in, and things were changing. In 1999, IRSCL had the first and only joint conference with the rival organisation, the Children's Literature Association. Some people wanted the two organisations to merge, while there was strong opposiiton to this. A one-off joint conference was a compromise. IRSCL had initially been a Euro-centric organisation, even though two presidents has been from the USA. The York conference yielded many British members, and after the 1999 conference in Calgary, which was great fun, a deluge of US members came. I was surprised to learn, at the membership meeting in Worcester last week, that a third of the members today are from the USA. There weren't as many in my days.

But my days are long gone. When I skipped 2001 in South Africa because we had just moved back to Sweden from California, I thought it would be just one time. In 2003, when it was in Norway, just around the corner, I had prepared a panel with my colleagues and students from the Nordic Children's Literature Network (NorChiLNet), but had to cancel at short notice because of severe health problems. I missed Japan in 2005 and Ireland in 2007 for the same reason. I went to Frankfurt in 2009 because it was a reunion: 40 years since the organisation was founded, and all past presidents who were still alive were there.

I missed Brisbane in 2011 and Maastricht in 2013 for various reasons. It was sad, because I once invested so much in this organisation and it meant so much to me. Therefore it felt such an honour and pleasure to be asked to do a keynote in Worcester. How many years after presidency do you need to be in quarantine?

I believe I was the longest-standing member at that conference. The membership meeting asked me for clarification of some history. On the last day, a French colleague arrived. It was the person who asked me a question at my very first conference in Bordeaux in 1983.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Conference nostalgia

Just returned from Worcester and the biennial conference of the International Research Society for Children's Literature (IRSCL), I cannot help drowning in nostalgic memories. I knew I had written a blog post about the Frankfurt conference in 2009, but I didn't remember that I had also written about missing the Brisbane conference, and generally about some fond IRSCL memories. So this post will inevitably have some repetitions, but as a veteran, which I am, I felt weird when people said, proudly: "I have been a member since 1991". OK, I have been a member since 1983, and I participated, as a Jack-of-all-trades, in 1981. It is a very long time. More than half of my life.

In 1981, I wasn't a member and could not even dream of becoming a member because at that time, you were only elected into the Society if you were an established scholar, with at least one published book. By 1983, the rules had changed, and I became a member with my two publications in Russian and a handful of semi-academic articles in Swedish. I was a PhD student. I submitted a paper proposal which was rejected (I would have rejected such a poor proposal today), but I decided to go anyway. The conference was in Bordeaux. When I arrived and collected my programme, I saw my name there. I hadn't even brought my paper, but fortunately the organiser had a copy (it was in the stone age when we made xerox copies of typewritten papers). I was scheduled in the very last session, on the very last day, when half of the delegates had left. I got one question, unrelated to my paper. An old lady from the audience chastised me afterwards because I had read too fast and held the paper in front of my face (she was quite right of course). But because my topic was on fantasy, when the theme of the next conference was discussed, it became fantasy and the fantastic. Of course I had to go to that.

The 1985 conference was in Montreal, the French university, and the organisers pretended that the English part of Canada did not exist. Not one single Anglophone Canadian scholars was invited. My paper was on Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, and I was paired with a German colleague who criticised the novel down to nothingness, and it was hard for me to come with my hugely appreciative analysis.

The 1987 conference was in Cologne, and I have vague memories of it, apart from a boat trip and a visit to a museum where a guide, obviously misjudging the audience, explained the difference between Renaissance and Romanticism.

The 1989 conference was in Salamanca, and half of the sessions were in Spanish without translation. It was the first time I was asked to chair a session, which is a recognition of your scholarly status. There were two famous scholars in the session that I chaired, and they eventually became good friends. This was the conference at which I determined that I would never again find myself in a situation where everybody went off to dinner with their friends and I was left behind. Therefore I said to several people whom I knew and some whom I had just met: "There is a bunch of people going out tonight, would you like to join?" And I ended up with a lovely bunch of people to go out with.

I was asked by the IRSCL board to edit a volume from that conference, but all the best papers had been snatched, and it wasn't an enjoyable task. It was a h-ll of a task. The manuscript had to be camera-ready, no copy-editing, no proof-reading. The publisher was in the USA, and we communicated by fax. I was a very inexperienced editor and not a native speaker. It took weeks to send the proofs back and forth across the Atlantic.

The 1991 conference was in Paris. All papers had to be submitted in full and were printed in a brochure. As people were giving their presentation, the audience was reading the printed paper, turning pages audibly. One brave colleague stood in front of the audience and said: "You have my paper in the brochure so you can read it, therefore I will give another paper".  Which he did, without even having a written text.

At this conference, I was elected to the Board. I was tremendously happy and proud of myself. It was a good board, all female for a change, and we had the first board meeting in Cadiz, in the Spanish colleague's summer house by the ocean. Many meetings were to follow, although I missed the second of that round, in Toulouse, because I was in the USA on my Fulbright at the time. In fact, I had just returned from the USA when the 1993 conference was on, and I had almost decided not to go. But I did, and it changed everything.

To be continued.