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March 31, 2011

Big world
Posted by Patrick at 12:44 AM * 22 comments

Onetime Barnes & Noble children’s fiction buyer Joe Monti—later a good editor, now an excellent literary agent—remembers the intricacies of how he used his position at the largest bookseller in the English-speaking world to get the work of Diana Wynne Jones back in print in the US.

Among other things, it’s a useful reminder that book publishing consists of more than the endless theater of Dear Sir Or Madam, Will You Read My Book. There are all kinds of people in the chain who are neither editors nor writers, and what they care about and do matters a great deal. Learn the details.

Remembrances of Diana Wynne Jones: Emma Bull. Farah Mendlesohn. Christopher Priest. Neil Gaiman. We liked her a lot. Farewell.

Comments on Big world:
#1 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2011, 02:08 AM:

Thanks for the links. I so much regret never having met her. She was a wonderful writer.

#2 ::: Geri Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2011, 05:14 AM:

Thanks for the link to Joe Monti's great post. I love the intricacies, especially "...I knew the back alleys of our system and knew that if I put the orders in after Monday, December 20th, it would fall into the 2000 year order bucket, but that the order would transmit to Avon in calendar year 1999."

#3 ::: Kyndra ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2011, 08:04 AM:

Cart and Cwidder and Fire and Hemlock are probably my two favorites. I keep looking at them and thinking what good read aloud books they'll be when the children are a few years older...Then I just give in and reread them myself.

My public library had them when I was young and when they were reissued I bought them.

#4 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2011, 11:50 AM:

Neil Gaiman just made me cry.

#5 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2011, 12:10 PM:

DWJ was one of my absolute favorite authors growing up, and I've probably re-read Witch Week more than any other book, despite only having read it two or three times in the past 20 years. It seems possible I was the only native 8-year-old in Texas who could explain to you what Guy Fawkes Day was. Seeking out the other books in the Chrestomanci universe was the first time I ever used Inter-library loan.

Something about the way she wrote outsider children was much more genuine and resonant than the vast number of other authors who take the subject on. She will be missed.

#7 ::: Persephone ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2011, 01:45 PM:

I only discovered DWJ about a year ago. I loved Howl's Moving Castle and promptly bought the sequel, which was...problematic, to say the least, in its treatment of fat people. The two fat brides are assumed to be thoughtless, silly, and stupid simply due to their fatness. At the end of the book, they're literally treated as less than human: handed off to the (non-human) bad guy to appease him. And every other character is just fine with this. It's horrifying.

I'm sure the rest of her works are wonderful, and the rest of that particular book is fine, but I just couldn't get past this and I'm pretty angry about its gratuitous and deliberate nature. As a fat woman myself, I have enough problems getting people to see me as human.

#8 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2011, 05:20 PM:

I haven't read all that many of her books (certainly not in proportion ;-) ) -- not the Castle books, nor Chrestomanci, but the few I have read have become part of me. I think Dogsbody was the very first of my own books that I passed on to my eldest nephew.

#9 ::: skinnyiain ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2011, 05:34 PM:

@Perspehone, 7:

not to dismiss your point, which is valid - but hell: time, place. We're reading this, literally, with tears in our eyes.

#10 ::: Persephone ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2011, 06:02 PM:

skinnyiain @9: I'm sorry. My intent wasn't to invalidate your or anyone else's feelings.

#11 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2011, 06:15 PM:

skinnyiain, #9: If we're going to talk about things which should not be said, comments of the form "Not to say X, but [says X]" are high on my list.

#12 ::: Pamela Dean ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2011, 10:47 PM:

Andy H. at #6, thanks!

Here's a really nice reminiscence by Patricia Wrede, too:


#13 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2011, 11:03 PM:

Lee, Actually, I don't think skinnyiain's comment fell into that category. however, I'm also of the opinion that getting het up about which comments are or aren't proper is probably worse for the mood and comfort of the reminiscences than talking about the flaws in the oeuvre.

Persephone: I seem to recall the fat brides also *behaved* badly, and were content with their own fate, but it's been a while since I read it and I could be forgetting. It's certainly not universal, though; there's several other places where people who have some usually negative trait (extra weight, other forms of ugliness, dumbness, ill manners, etc) are definitely among the heroes. She's usually sympathetic to those who don't fit in.

I just finished rereading Power of Three, which has one fat character who at first seems like she's going to be treated as less than human, but while not everyone gets along with her, she does her part, and is ultimately seen as a person and an equal. (OTOH, you'd probably have a hard time with Shine in Archer's Goon, because while she's a capable crime boss, she's also fat, and it treads close to conflating the fatness with the evil. I think it stays, barely, on the side of light there, but I'm biased; I love Archer's Goon very very much.)

I certainly had my moments of noticing problematic things in her books. One thing in the denouement of Enchanted Glass made me cringe (Yet it was good up to then). However, while it's not perfect, I still recommend her books overall, and I am deeply upset that there won't be more after June. Few people can keep up with her imagination and wildly confusing plots, and few writers are as overall sympathetic to those who aren't accepted. Hunt for Dogsbody, or Charmed Life, or Witch Week, all of which feature outsiders or damaged people as the heroes.

#14 ::: Persephone ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2011, 11:12 PM:

Lenora Rose @13: Part of the reason the whole thing jarred me so badly was because of how well the previous book had handled a heroine who was old for most of the book. The fat brides weren't part of the plot long enough to do anything for good or evil; they were clearly pawns of the family trying to force the wedding on the main character, and their only sin seemed to be not kicking and screaming to get out of the wedding. Other than that, the failings that were terrible enough to condemn them to being handed off to an immortal bad guy as a consolation prize consisted of wearing bright colors, acting as awkward as anyone would in that situation, and...being fat. It's stated explicitly in the text (along with a couple of obligatory fat jokes).

Either way, I get that this probably isn't appropriate here. If anyone wants to discuss further, I'd be happy to in the open thread.

#15 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2011, 11:17 PM:

Lenora Rose #13: Also Deep Secret, at least for the co-protagonist. Also notable for the main protagonist actually screwing up a spell or two, and generally not getting his own way despite destiny-altering magic. (Basically, he's in deeper waters than he thinks....)

#16 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2011, 11:41 PM:

What I like best about Diana Wynne Jones' books is that they make people talk about them. This gives me a buffer against a weird superpower of mine, which is to approach a shelf of Diana Wynne Jones books and pick up the single one I am least likely to enjoy. Besides, booktalk.

I haven't read everything of hers, but I regret that I won't find anything new once I have. Her best books were so very best.

#17 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 02:04 AM:

My faves are The Spellcoats and Cart and Cwidder. Her funnier works made me laugh till the tears rolled down my face.

I found out about her from A Reader's Guide to Fantasy, by Beth Meacham, Michael Franklin, and Baird Searles, years ago. Um. Decades ago. As I recall, the entry began, "Diana Wynne Jones does not write like Diana Wynne Jones."

#18 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2011, 02:40 AM:

Thank you for the links. I'm about halfway through a screening of Archer's Goon, which is my all-time favorite of her books. I'm sad that it took her death to make aware of it, and sadder still to realize that there will be little or no new DWJ material forthcoming. The world is a lesser place for that.

#19 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 01:09 AM:

The BBC program Last Words has a piece on Jones, with a discussion from Farah Mendelsohn -- starts about 10:45 on the podcast, after a discussion of Geraldine Ferraro. Don't know how long it will be up, but I'm listening to it right now (found via the SMOFs mailing list).

#20 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 01:11 AM:

(oops, Mendlesohn -- and it features some quotes directly from Jones.)

#21 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2011, 05:30 AM:

I hear that a lot of DWJ ebooks have appeared.

Yes, I know we have a thread on unauthorised ebooks.

It's also something a publisher might well do, taking advantage of a back catalogue and the publicity. I shall have to carefully check sources, but there are several of her books I would be tempted by.

#22 ::: Tom Whitmore sees polite spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2011, 01:44 PM:

Hey, at least it's polite!

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