You might not expect "Santa's Helper" to be a career-altering gig, but for David Sedaris, it changed everything. The writer and humorist spent a season working at Macy's as a department store elf. He described his short tenure as Crumpet the Elf in "The Santaland Diaries," an essay that he read on Morning Edition in 1992.
Instantly, a classic was born. Sedaris' reading has become an NPR holiday tradition. Click the "Listen" link above to hear Sedaris read his tale.
This was a strange and wonderful year for young adult fiction — but also a confused and divisive one. We learned that 55 percent of young adult fiction was read by adults. Debates raged over what constituted a young adult novel versus an adult novel. Apologetic grown-ups sneaked into the teen section of the bookstore, passing subversive teens pattering into the adult paranormal and literature and mystery shelves.
My favorite "best of the year" list is the Bad Sex in Fiction award, even — or perhaps because — it eschews the romance genre. This year's winner was just announced: Nancy Huston's Infrared, whose heroine celebrates the "countless treasures between [her] legs." But I'm not writing a Best Romance of the Year list, because I don't think the idea even works for my genre.
Mean girls and their ingenious female creators top my mysteries and thrillers list this year. Maybe it takes the special discernment of a female writer (who's presumably suffered through the "Queen Bee and Wannabee" cliques of middle school) to really capture the cruel mental machinations that can hide behind a pair of shining eyes and a lip-glossed smile.
They used to call it the "vanity press," and the phrase itself spoke volumes. Self-published authors were considered not good enough to get a real publishing contract. They had to pay to see their book in print. But with the advent of e-books, self-publishing has exploded, and a handful of writers have had huge best-sellers.
If there was a recipe for the best-selling writer Rick Riordan, it would go something like this — start with a love of storytelling, fold in more than a decade of teaching middle school English, combine that with two sons of his own who don't quite share their dad's love of literature, and marinate all of that with a deep passion for mythology.
Riordan has sold tens of millions of kids' books. He hit pay dirt with the Percy Jackson series — it's about an everyday kid who has superhero powers because he's the secret son of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea.
Originally published on Mon December 17, 2012 7:03 am
By Ben H. Winters
Credit Getty Images
According to the adherents of the 2012 apocalypse theory, rooted in a controversial reading of ancient Mayan numerology, Earth is going to break into pieces and/or be consumed by a solar flare and/or disappear into a black hole on Dec. 21, right before Christmas.
2012 has been a very jittery year — what with the presidential election, extreme weather events and the looming "fiscal cliff." In response to these tense times, some readers seek out escape; others look to literature that directly confronts the atmospheric uncertainty of the age. I guess I'm in the latter camp, because many of my favorite books this year told stories, imagined and real, about ordinary people who felt like they didn't have a clue what hit 'em.