The big E

The Wilder Life is coming out as a hardcover book. I was fine with I’m Not the New Me being a trade paperback, but the idea of hardcover thrills me—the smooth jacket, the photo on the back flap, the board binding and stamped spine underneath. I love how you can take off the jacket of any hardcover book, even the Snooki book, and suddenly it looks important and serious, like a Franklin Library Classic.

I keep thinking it’s sort of a weird time to be published in hardcover. I wonder these days, with the book business the way it is, and bookstores closing down, and ebooks as this bright new flickering thing.  It’s a fun time to be working in children’s books—at work our picture books are starting to show up on tablets and we’re starting to think in terms of apps. (I wish there was a better shorthand name for a digitally enhanced picture book than “app,” as long as it’s not something inane like “blingybook” or “schmoopystory” or whatever.)

But when it comes to hardcover books in general, I wonder whether they’re destined to become more precious objects, or just clunkier ones. I wonder what it’ll all be like the next time I have a book out.

I’m definitely not one of those people who thinks ebooks are the end of the world, but I don’t quite know what they’re the beginning of, either, or even if they’re the beginning of anything different. I have an e-reader now (I don’t want to say what kind, but it has a k in its name). It’s great—nice and light and I use it mostly for reading manuscripts, and it’s already pretty life-changing in that respect. I have a few books on there, but I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet, and probably won’t until I do some traveling this spring. I suspect when I do finally start reading this way I am going to love the hell out of not having to stuff books in my carry-on and that there are certain books that I’m going to buy and read this way. But I also know that I’ll still be buying a lot of new books in hardcover for the time being. I’ll keep buying my friends’ books in old-style booky form, and books from people whose readings I go to, and books from bookstores that I want to support so that they don’t go out of business and get turned into Jimmy John’s franchises. I know most people don’t have all of those same reasons I have, but I like to think that when it comes to book formats we’re going to stay omnivorous and consume different books in different ways.

One side effect of having a book published, I’ve found, is that people tend to tell you how they bought or didn’t buy your book, whether or not you want to hear the truth. They’ll tell you that they loved reading the copy that fifteen of their friends are passing around, or that they bought it for ten cents at a library sale, or that they read it at the bookstore because they “just don’t buy books.” And yes, some of these truths make me wince a little, but it’s also true that those people found me and read me and thought enough about what they read to email me about it, or to post something on a place like Goodreads. I will try to remember that next time I hear that someone is reading a pirated PDF of my book on their internet-enabled digital watch or something (but please don’t read a pirated PDF of my book on your internet-enabled digital watch).

I don’t know what the takeaway of all this is: a book in the hand is worth something, even it’s not the kind of book that you can hold in your hand? That sounds right.  Hearing that someone has my book on a Nook or a Kindle or a Kobo or an iPad or a Samsung tablet thingamabob or as an mp3 audio download will be humbling and wonderful, and I hope when the time comes you’ll let me know how you’re reading The Wilder Life.

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Speaking of Goodreads, there’s still time to sign up for a chance to win a free galley. (Just don’t pirate it and stick it on your watch.)

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Wilder!

Laura Ingalls Wilder is 144 years old today.  Her husband, Almanzo Wilder, turns 154 on Saturday, so I’m putting up a picture that includes him, too.

This is one of my very favorite Wilder photos. Laura and Manly are only around 65 and 75 here, and they are standing with their dog, Nero, in front of the little modern cottage where they lived for several years in Mansfield, Missouri. Laura was working on the first Little House books by this point. She sent this photo to a fan, and explained that even though she and Almanzo are both looking down and appear sort of ashamed, they were really just trying to make sure the dog sat still.

I love her whole look here—her dress, her bob, her shoes. And oh God, I love that dog. They brought him along on a car trip from Mansfield to South Dakota (a 2500 mile drive!) in the spring of 1931, and Laura bought him ice cream. (“He loved it,” she said in her travel diary.)

For a long time I couldn’t quite tell Laura Ingalls Wilder apart from her fictional counterpart. While I’ve always loved the Laura of the books, I’ve been less sure about Bessie. (She went by that name throughout most of her adult life.) But this photo is one of the things that helped me know her better.

Happy Birthday to Laura and Bessie and Mama Bess, to Half-Pint and Flutterbudget and Mrs. Wilder.  Thank you for everything.


The Long Winter of 1979

Me during the Blizzard of '79. I still miss that blue plush coat.

*I have this idea that for the rest of the winter I could name blog entries after chapter titles in The Long Winter. Need to find some reason to have a blog post called “ANTELOPE!”

Coming home early on Tuesday afternoon and watching the blizzard begin was an exquisitely giddy experience. I just sat by the big window by my desk and watched the snow come in careening gusts of wind.

No, I didn’t try to make this snowstorm one of my Little House reenactment projects, though I did have lots of Long Winter thoughts, and they swirled around in my head with all my modern neuroses. Like I was thinking that if the power went out I could use my quaint, adorable oil lamp, and then I remembered that my laptop’s battery function was broken, which of course freaked me out because THEN I’d have to make a tiny little generator with the old-fashioned coffee grinder and spend every morning hand-cranking a meager little serving of wireless while Chris twisted Chicago mayoral campaign junk mail into bundles of fuel.

But that didn’t happen. Our power stayed on, though the wind blew so hard I could feel our building shake, and there was lightning and thunder (which in a snowstorm looks and sounds really insane, like the earth is going to break open and fling up Superman’s Fortress of Solitude or something), and we were fine. Our car was stuck in the garage for three days until Chris was finally able to shovel out a narrow passage allowing the car to just barely squeeze through the waist-high snowbanks; the first time we pulled out the snow squeaked, like giant styrofoam wedges.  And if I were to describe the blizzard experience overall, I would say it was almost fun, thanks to this improbably comfy world we live in, with all this home insulation and central heat and horseless-carriage-plows.

And “almost fun” except for the free-floating sensation that’s been lingering these few days after the storm, when everything seems to stand still and sometimes it’s all I can do to complete the simplest tasks, even when the weather has kept me at home and opened up new vistas of spare time. But I guess it’s no coincidence that Laura feels “stupid” so many times during The Long Winter. (And I love that Google Books lets me look that up.) I have so much to do in the next few months between work and the book coming out, but maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself when I find myself wanting to just sit around and stare at the stove fire (or, really, Season 3 of Jersey Shore).

Hope you all are doing okay with your own Long Winters.

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Wedding Planning Question Corner (which will perhaps be an occasionally recurring feature this year): What do you have to do to get to talk to a caterer? We’re still looking for one and I seem to be sending a lot of emails and voicemails into the void lately.

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Book release stuff: my event schedule is being finalized right now, so if you’re in or near Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Iowa City, or Kansas City, I’ll have news for you soon…