This is a guest post by Cristin Stickles. Cristin spent a decade in children’s book publishing and is now the Children’s & Young Adult Buyer at McNally Jackson Books in Manhattan. Her greatest professional accomplishment is writing the marketing tagline “Eat Prey Love” for a teen zombie romance novel. Follow her on Twitter @ThtsWhatSheRead.
Being the lone children’s specialist on a staff of 40 booksellers made me enough of a weirdo out of the gate at my current job, but I didn’t help things by suggesting to every customer who just finished reading Lolita immediately read (or re-read) The Phantom Tollbooth. I stand by this and I haven’t stopped recommending it, despite the weird looks; I can think of no books that are greater love letters to the English language than those two. Sometimes when I can’t sleep at night, I run through my favorite books and try to find their opposite-age spiritual counterpart. It does nothing for my insomnia but makes for good cocktail party conversation in certain very small circles. To wit:
I read each of these for the first time when I was 17; Holes because it had just been released and my job at a kids’ bookstore had me invested in the Newbery race for years after I should have aged out, and Owen Meany was required reading going into AP English at my high school. I have been marveling at their parallels for years, whenever I’m not busy whining about how reading them back to back very efficiently ruined me for novels with less-supreme plotting (which is to say, all of them). All of the Chekovian guns introduced fire simultaneously and perfectly at the close of each of the books. I am actively jealous of anyone who hasn’t read either of these, including all of the children about to grow into Holes, because they get the experience of reading them for the first time.
My two prevailing thoughts while reading Geek Love were “this is so disgusting and beautiful” and also “I would prefer never to meet this author in a dark alley,” the latter of which was affirmed when Dunn, at the age of 64, fought off a mugger using a decade’s worth of boxing training. I had to break my reading of Grasshopper Jungle into a few sittings in order to handle the content (gallons of semen, cannibalistic insects the size of dinosaurs who screw and eat everything in their path) and frequently heard myself announcing to my empty apartment “THIS IS GROSS.” Gross, and amazing.
I am a huge fan of the literary mind-fuck. If anything even remotely approximates M Night Shayamalan’s drawing board, I am one thousand percent all in. I’ve read enough GASP she’s dead GASP they’re time travelers GASP he’s mentally ill GASP she was the murderer all along books that, statistically, you’d think I would either be sick of them, or able to pick them out before the book’s reveal- wrong on both counts. I love the whole lot, and these two are my favorites. I live in fear of accidentally ruining these plots for customers while I’m handselling (“It’s so great! And it turns out her father was trapped inside the cuckoo clock THE ENTIRE TIME! Oops.”)- it’s become an instinct I have to actively suppress while at the bookstore, like forcing myself to pronounce both syllables in “Horror” when people ask for that section so they’re not confused by my New Jersey accent.
Of all the hypothetical dinner parties in the world, I most want to see George Saunders and Louis Sachar interact at mine.
Criticisms that this pairing is a little too on-the-nose are certainly not without merit; when I came up with this one, it was mostly as a punchline. I think it goes beyond the obvious joke, though, if you think about how Jeffrey (the titular Maniac) would have responded to Murakami’s treatise on running and writing. I would pay legit money to see a NYT-style review of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running written in the voice of Maniac Magee.
BONUS ROUND: I’ve asked all of the KidLit people I know what the adult analog is for The Westing Game; the only title I’ve been offered has been The DaVinci Code, and the police are still looking for the bodies of those respondents. And so I put it to you: What is the adult equivalent of The Westing Game?