Fan Mail Wednesday #289: About That “Happy/Sad” Thing

 

I enjoyed this letter from Sasha, who does things, like margins (for example) a little bit differently — which is a good thing, btw.

Why are some of us drawn to sadness?

Note: I mistakenly wrote on the back of Sasha’s letter, so some blue marker shows through. Go ahead, sue me.

 

 

I replied . . .

 

Dear Sasha,

Thank you for your spirited letter — so much of your personality came pouring out, like rain through a screen window. My favorite line: “I legit loved the book!” 

The happy/sad feeling? Oh yeah, I know that one very well. I’ve always been drawn to so-called “sad” things. In music, film, art, whatever. It might be my Irish ancestry, I don’t know. People will say, “Oh, I only want to see happy movies.” But to me, a lot of those “happy” movies just strike me as, yawn, really fake and superficial. I get bored. One thing about sadness: like laughter, it’s a true emotion –- and when we share a truth, any truth, it connects us as human beings. And that makes me happy. So, yeah, the happy/sad thing.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the idea of books as mirrors and/or windows. It’s an interesting way of looking at literature and how it functions in our lives, building self-perception and empathy. Some books reflect back upon us –- we see ourselves, perhaps in a new light -– while others help us see into new worlds. I like it.

The beautiful, haunting cover of the Japanese translation of my book, THE FALL.

Another happy/sad book of mine you might like is The Fall. It takes the issue of bullying to a darker place than Bystander, and ends up as a meditation, of sorts, on forgiveness. It’s told from the point of view of a boy, writing in his journal, after a girl’s death. The book won a YALSA award and, strangely, was nominated for some big award in Japan. I suspect they have a misfit/bully problem over there, too. I also have a new book coming out in October, Blood Mountain, a wilderness survival story with a brother, sister, and dog lost in the mountains. Super fast-paced adventure with some good writing, too.

I loved your letter, Sasha. All good things,

James Preller

A Library Is . . .

“A library is a good place to soften solitude; a place where you feel part of a conversation that has gone on for hundreds and hundreds of years even when you’re all alone. The library is a whispering post. You don’t need to take a book off a shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you, and behind that was someone who truly believed that if he or she spoke, someone would listen. It was that affirmation that always amazed me. Even the oddest, most particular book was written with that kind of crazy courage — the writer’s belief that someone would find his or her book important to read. I was struck by how precious and foolish and brave that belief is, and how necessary, and how full of hope it is to collect these books and manuscripts and preserve them. It declares that all these stories matter, and so does every effort to create something that connects us to one another, and to our past and to what is still to come.” — Susan Orlean, THE LIBRARY BOOK.

Fan Mail Wednesday #288: Robbie Follows Up

 

This is from a particularly enthusiastic boy I met on a school visit in Vermont . . .

 

I replied . . .

 

Dear Robbie:

Dude, I totally remember your bright energy and enthusiasm. You had a “lean in” quality, engaged and alert. Why do you think I made sure to give you one of my books? I can’t do that for everyone, but something about you stood out and it felt right. Besides, those books are heavy. You lightened my load.

I hope we do get to meet again. I loved visiting VT and don’t often get invited to speak at Vermont schools. Nobody knows why! Fingers crossed, maybe that changes in the future.

Listen: I don’t often receive thank you notes after the fact. Sad, but true. It’s a good thing to do, to sit down and let someone know that you SEE them, that you appreciate what they do. In life, I’m convinced it’s all most of us ever want. To be seen, to be recognized, to be valued. This is true for everybody. Friends, relatives, teachers, janitors -– the list goes on forever.

You did good, Robbie.

Thank you. Keep reading, keep writing, keep on being the good young man you already are. I predict great things for you!

My best, your friend,

James Preller

P.S. Say “Hi” to Mrs. Moulton for me.

P.P.S. Love the SASE (Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope). I appreciate that!

“Books Have Souls,” A Passage from Susan Orlean’s THE LIBRARY BOOK

You know when you read something so good, you have to immediately reread that section? And then a week later, you go back to it again, and again and, weeks later, again again? Well, I’ve been feeling that awe over Susan Orlean’s The Library Book. There are many passages I could share, but this one in particular just keeps stabbing me in the heart.

I have a similar feeling about music. I don’t play guitar, I don’t play anything, but I love music. I’ve always admired how amateur guitarists — a middle school kid somewhere, or a lawyer home after a grueling day — heading down to the basement to plug in their stratocasters, being able to feel the great songs roll through their bodies like a river. To, you know, channel that original inspiration through their fingertips. That connection.


That’s how I feel about re-typing passages from great writers. I’ve done it quite a few times over the years. It’s a pleasure to feel those words run through me, even if they did not originate here. This section is from pages 55-56, the opening paragraph from Chapter 5.

I hope you enjoy it. Because if you don’t, well, I’m not sure we can continue to be friends:

I decided to burn a book, because I wanted to see and feel what Harry would have seen and felt that day if he had been at the library, if he had started the fire. Burning a book was incredibly hard for me to do. Actually, doing it was a breeze, but preparing to do it was challenging. The problem was that I have never been able to do harm to a book. Even books I don’t want, or books that are so worn out and busted that they can’t be read any longer, cling to me like thistles. I pile them up with the intention of throwing them away, and then, every time, when the time comes, I can’t. I am happy if I can give them away or donate them. But I can’t throw a book in the trash, no matter how hard I try. At the last minute, something glues my hands to my sides, and a sensation close to revulsion rises up in me. Many times, I have stood over a trash can, holding a book with a torn cover and a broken binding, and I have hovered there, dangling the book, and finally, I have let the trash can lid snap shut and I have walked away with the goddamn book — a battered, dog-eared, wounded soldier that has been spared to live another day. The only thing that comes close to this feeling is what I experience when I try to throw out a plant, even if it is the baldest, most aphid-ridden, crooked-stemmed plant in the world. The sensation of dropping a living thing into the trash is what makes me queasy. To have that same feeling about a book might seem strange, but this is why I have come to believe that books have souls — why else would I be so reluctant to throw one away? It doesn’t matter that I know I’m throwing away a bound, printed block of paper that is easily reproduced. It doesn’t feel like that. A book feels like a thing alive in this moment, and also alive on a continuum, from the moment the thoughts about it first percolated in the writer’s mind to the moment it sprang off the printing press — a lifeline that continues as someone sits with it and marvels over it, and it continues on, time after time after time. Once words and thoughts are poured into them, books are no longer just paper and ink and glue: They take on a kind of human vitality. The poet Milton called this quality in books “the potency of life.” I wasn’t sure I had it in me to be a killer.

School Visit Season Comes to a Close

Every year, I go out and visit as many schools as I can. And I guess I always will, so long as I’m invited. I don’t take that for granted. I’m grateful to every librarian, teacher, PTA member, administor, and school that has given me that opportunity and responsibility. I do the best I can, give it all I’ve got, and hope to leave each school just a little bit better than when I arrived. It’s not about me; it’s about books, and literacy, and creativity, and the love of learning. Hopefully I help light that fuse.

Yes, please contact me directly at jamespreller@aol.com (go ahead, make your AOL jokes, I can take it) with your queries about future school visits. It’s helpful to get those dates on the calendar for next year. If your PTA finds itself sitting on a pile of extra money, zing me an email. Maybe we can squeeze in one last visit before the school year ends — launch these kids into summer reading. Discounts available.

The photo below was taken in Gravesend, Brooklyn, on a visit to Magen David Yeshivah on McDonald Ave. So nice to visit a school for a second time. It’s a great treat for me to spend time in Brooklyn, my old stomping grounds. Love it there.

Thank you, all!