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Shaving-Cream Snow

Today, after way too many days of chill, Baltimore hit a high temperature of 50 degrees. It came as a relief. I'd been starting to almost look forward to more frigid weather, which seems in retrospect to have been a meteorological version of Stockholm Syndrome. Baltimore's not Montreal, or Oslo. We are not built for this.

The old snow still lies on the ground, looking puckered and almost fake, as if someone tilted a can of shaving cream onto lawns and roadsides and hit Spray.

But the frigid winter days have been a good time for reading, and binge watching television. I've been catching up on lots of things. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, for one. Girls, for another. My whole household is falling into the weird dream that is True Detective. But mostly we're just waiting for spring.

In the meantime, here's one photo from a school visit last week at my own alma mater, Roland Park Country. The girls were just so cute--much cuter than I ever remember being.



I happened to read THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER, which won a Newbery honor this week, the day before the ALA awards were announced. I loved it--its structure, its tone, and so many of its lovely sentences. Reading it made me remember how much I'd also loved Kevin Henkes' CHRYSANTHEMUM and WEMBERLY WORRIED. Kevin Henkes has a way of quietly putting his finger on kids' emotional truths.



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.