Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Words Fail Me.

By Cornelia

Today I had the great pleasure of speaking with four English classes as part of Los Altos High School's annual Writers Week festivities. The charming and inimitable Keith Raffel wrangled me an invite, and I owe him bigtime and forever.

I had a fantastic time chatting with three gangs of freshman and one passel of sophomores. The most challenging question thrown at me was "do you ever smoke pot to help yourself come up with ideas for your writing?" mostly because there were two parents in the room at the time, not to mention the teacher.

I really didn't want to lie, so I answered "no, because getting stoned has always made me hideously self-conscious, so I never figured it would help much, though I have one friend who totally smokes his face off all the time and still manages to write decently, which I find utterly amazing when you get right down to it, because most stoners I've known in my life couldn't write their way out of a wet house of cheap cards."

But other than that I was extremely good and didn't swear or ANYTHING--cross my heart and hope to die--

so I hope they invite me back next year.

Meanwhile, the wonderful Shirley Wetzel (a fellow fan of Arlo Guthrie) wrote today on DorothyL:

“I loved Crazy School and recommended it especially to my friends in the Berkshires. One of them told me she had to get it in the childrens' section - there's where, the librarian explained to her, it belonged."

The mind boggles.

I mean, just imagine the following group of first lines, gathered on a shelf together:

I am Eloise. I am six.

At school, Mrs. Dickens like Paul's picture of the sailboat better than my picture of the invisible castle.

It was breakfast time, and everybody was at the table.

my name is suzuki beane
i have a pad on bleeker street
with hugh and marcia

The night Max wore his wolf suite and made mischief of one kind and another...

Here are Paul and Judy. They can do lots of things.

Halfway to Christmas, Forchetti stated the obvious: "You can't teach for shit."


one of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong, you know?

Frankly, I think that librarian must've been smoking her face off.

What next, slapping this on the old library Victrola for story hour?

Spare me.

I think they should stick to things like H.R. Pufnstuf.

It was good enough for my age cohort.

And we walked to school barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways.

In California, goddamn it.

And on that note, what was the opening line of your favorite story, as a kid?


  1. "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times for smoking your face off."

  2. "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."


  3. Once upon a time there was a beautiful young duck named Ping.

  4. Hey, who broke the blog?

    Jim B

  5. "Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?'"

    And yes,I howled when I read that DorothyL post.

  6. Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away. That is, running away in the heat of anger with a knapsack on her back. She didn't like discomfort; even picnics were untidy and inconvenient: all those insects and the sun melting the icing on the cupcakes. Therefore, she decided that her leaving home would not just be running from somewhere but would be running to somewhere. To a large place, a comfortable place, an indoor place and preferably a beautiful place. And that's why she decided on the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

    And yay for Alexander and the Terrible etc. To this day, when things are going particularly bad, I declare that I am going to move to Australia.

  7. Can't remember the opening lines, but I loved the memoir, "Life With Mother Superior," by Jane Trahey - made me laugh my head off. I read it time and time again. I guess I liked memoir even then. And coming from a fairly irreligious family (my Dad was really into the whole "Was God An Astronaut?" thing, though my mother packed me off to Sunday school - so she could get some peace and quiet, I think), the whole nun thing was fascinating. Mind you, that's not what my husband says of his Catholic education.

    But to the question - here are the opening lines from a couple of my favorite childhood books:

    "Not long ago, there lived in London a young married couple of Dalmatian dogs named Pongo and Misses Pongo." 101 Dalmatians

    "The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it." Black Beauty.

  8. Thank God, fixed the blog.

    Now with my luck that plwb person is going to come spam us again.


    Message to plwb person: I am not going to buy your book or whatever just BECAUSE of your spammy marketing stuff. It is twee and annoying and it does not make me curious, it makes me cranky.

    Unless I actually know you already, in which case I will con someone out of an ARC of your book or whatever and then give you shit for the rest of your life and make you buy the drinks at all future conventions.

    Can you tell I was up until five last night?

    Feh. Double.

  9. And you guys all have WONDERFUL favorites--what a pleasure to read them. They have made me feel far, far less cranky.

    Thank you!

  10. "Where's father going with that axe?" Fern said to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast."
    -- Charlotte's Web.

    Now that I read it, that's a damn good line for a serial killer thriller. No wonder I liked it.

  11. It occurs to me that I grossly abused the "line" part of "favorite opening line". D'oh. Still, I just love the idea of running off to live in the Met.

  12. "Oh bother"

    I know it's not the first line, but as a child I really loved the Pooh books. As an adult, I now realize that he was probably saying, "Oh f---."

  13. Daisy, you made me want to re-read The Mixed-Up Files, so it was a good cheat.

  14. "When Toad found himself immured in a dank and noisome dungeon, and knew that all the grim darkness of a medieval fortress lay between him and the outer world of sunshine and well-metalled high roads where he had lately been so happy, disporting himself as if he had bought up every road in England, he flung himself at full length on the floor, and shed bitter tears, and abandoned himself to dark despair."

    Chapter 8, line 1. THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS

    As a child I was dumbstruck that the author could string sooooo many words together in one sentence. Still am.

  15. "I could have set my watch by the wake-up call from the telephone operator at the Pick-Carter Hotel in Cleveland on the morning of December 27, 1964 ---- the day the Cleveland browns were playing the Baltimore Colts for the grail of every professional player, the World Championship."
    They Call It A Game, Bernie Parrish

    or, in another vien....
    " 'We did that because we didn't like the idea of grass going all patchy on us.' Shirley Temple Black, explaining why she and her husband had dug up 3,000 feet of grass around their Atherton home and replaced it with green cement."

    The Last Days of the Late Great State of California, Curt Gentry

    or a fondly remembered picture book:
    "Once upon a time in a old stone ruin lived a pair of owls.All the year through they were very happy."

    The Happy Owls, Celestino Piatti


  16. Very cool!

    I'm also thinking a lot about S.E. Hinton today. I adored THE OUTSIDERS and THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW.

  17. You already nailed WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, which we own four copies of and which I have read at least 2000 times in the past 12 years to my kids.


    "In the great green room
    There was a telephone
    And a red balloon
    And a picture of--"

    It loses something without a wee bairn perched on your lap, reciting along from memory.

  18. Brett, I almost added that when I had to re-upload the post this morning to repair the blog template.

    I also love the Goodnight Yuppie Moon takeoff:

    "Good night Swiss au pair with the headphones on,
    Good night orthogenic spoon..."

  19. Hey C., when are you gonna come talk to the high school kids over here in Danville??!!! :) I don't know if we even have real librarians here anymore.

  20. Hey C., when are you gonna come talk to the high school kids over here in Danville??!!! :) I don't know if we even have real librarians here anymore.

  21. Danville makes me nervous, but I'd love to do it if you ever run across a stray librarian.

  22. Ahem. The Crazy School would work pretty well in the YA department, which includes books with the following opening lines:

    "The sky was the color of cat vomit." (Uglies by Scott Westerfeld).

    "Kaye took another drag on her cigarette and dropped it into her mother's beer bottle."
    (Tithe by Holly Black).

    and of course the venerable

    "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where i was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going it, if you want to know the truth."

    (Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger).

  23. YA I could totally live with, dearest Ari. In fact it would actually make me pretty happy.

    But PAT THE BUNNY it's not...