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I just--finally--read R.J. Palacio's WONDER. (Here's my dog Lulu with the library copy I read.) Books are like movies or restaurants or anything else--sometimes you've heard so much about something, you start to doubt (or wonder...) how the whatever could possibly be as good as people say. You start to think that maybe you'll be the one person whose eyes DON'T fill when they talk about the whatever. But with WONDER, I had no let-down, only admiration. Auggie is such a charming, believeable main character; the alternating narratives work beautifully to shed different perspectives on characters and scenes; and the teacher's--and students'--precepts are uplifting and true without being preachy. And now my eyes are filling too.

In its heartfelt but not cloying emphasis on kindness, the book reminded me of the wonderful George Saunders commencement speech that was circulating last year. It's every bit as powerful, just boxed up in a different form.



With "best of" season upon us, I wanted to post briefly about the best adult literary fiction I read in 2013: Alice McDermott's SOMEONE. It's a quiet, rich story about one woman's life--realism done so well. Here's Leah Hager Cohen's NYT review, if you'd like to find out more.

Relatedly, in November, I heard Colum McCann read from TRANSATLANTIC at Hopkins. (I haven't yet read this new book, but LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN is another huge favorite of mine.) During Q&A, he named SOMEONE as the best book he'd read in the past few years, which seemed right somehow.

Here's how he signed my book, by the way. He was delightful--full of anecdotes. For instance, he said that being on a book tour was making him so bleary-eyed, he'd almost brushed his teeth with Ben-Gay one morning.

Oh, and if I had to name a favorite short story of 2013, I'd choose the title story from George Saunders' TENTH OF DECEMBER collection. I loved how the old man's story intersected with the boy's.

Happy 2014 to all!


Cort McMeel

I was fortunate enough to go to college with Cort McMeel, a guy for whom the label "force of nature" seemed like no exaggeration. Here's the essay I wrote about him for the winter 2013 issue of the Johns Hopkins Magazine.


The Need for Badminton Pickup Games, and 24 Other Things

Thanks to Me, My Shelf, and I for including me in the always-fun 25 Things series. My set of 25 went up today. I am so very serious about #24, by the way. Let's make it happen.


Giving Tuesday--with First Book and Hope for Henry

So, it turns out that it's Giving Tuesday. I found that out this morning, when I got up earlier than usual to be part of a First Book volunteer effort in a Baltimore warehouse. From 8:30 to 1:00, about thirty volunteers helped a group of First Book staff members organize the sea (or, more aptly, cityscape) of new boxed books that Random House had donated and that First Book would be distributing to needy kids around the country. We labeled and sorted, lifted and stacked. At 1:00, when the shift was over, I had dusty clothes, sore muscles, and a lot of respect for the First Book team members, who made this rather massive undertaking (it will last a week) seem almost manageable. If you're looking to donate funds today--or any day--First Book would be a nonprofit to consider.

Another would be Hope for Henry. Last Tuesday, I saw the good work of this organization firsthand, as I spent time with kids at the Children's National Medical Center, as part of an author visit series that Hope for Henry sponsors. The organization finds great ways to make life better for kids facing chronic health conditions and long-term hospitalization. During my visit, the kids and I talked about stories and writing and what kinds of books appealed to them most. The visit ended as all the best visits do--with cupcakes.