NAIBA Acceptance Speech
Given September 20, 2014 for Middle Grade Book of the Year Award
First, there aren’t enough words to thank you for this award. It’s amazing enough to think that anyone is reading my book, let alone voting for it.
I’m assuming, based on the fact that I’m standing here, that most of you read UNDER THE EGG. And you know who Theo and Bodhi are. For those of you who didn’t, Theo’s grandfather left her a painting. She has reason to think it’s valuable, and she has reason to think it’s stolen. With no money for computers or even (on some days) electricity, she depends on trips to museums and her local library to uncover the truth.
Enter Bodhi, a technical whiz with all the latest gadgets. She can search Renaissance artists on the fly, and she tracks down key eyewitnesses at the speed of Google. But Bodhi’s online translator only yields garbled mush, and we all know that not every web hit can be trusted.
Together Theo and Bodhi must merge their smarts and resources to solve this puzzle, and in that way, they reflect the way I solved the puzzle that is this novel. Like Theo, I love to read and dive deeply into a subject, to slow down and look closely at art.
But like Bodhi, I can’t ignore the Internet. It has certain undeniable advantages for pajama-philes like myself. It’s vast, it’s always on, it’s mostly free. As a writer who loves research, it is nothing short of remarkable to pose a question about the flammability of medieval parchment and find a response from an expert in medieval libraries minutes later in your in-box.
But, unlike what we’re seduced into thinking, the Internet is not comprehensive. It’s still, largely sponsored content. The majority of what’s out there is designed to distract you, entice you, keep clicking past the ads. Looking for substantive information on Renaissance art or the Holocaust is like trying to find a good documentary across 2000 cable channels.
Which is what always brought me back to books, just like Bodhi keeps going back to Theo, knocking on her door to come out and play.
Because here’s the thing about books: for the most part, they’re reliable. They’re written and rewritten. They’re edited for clarity and accuracy. They’re published by people who put their reputations on the line and who can’t just “delete” them when someone takes offense. Writing a book requires a lot of time, time needed to work out exactly what you’re trying to say.
And books require time from the reader. I’ve never heard of someone switching back and forth between a great book and their email. And I’ve never heard of someone looking up after an hour on the Internet, feeling refreshed or inspired.
A recent study showed that people who read literature have a greater capacity for empathy and a stronger connection to the people around them. I don't think anyone has ever made that claim about the Internet. And there is no greater place to feel this sense of connection than in a bookstore.
Like the Internet, bookstores too are vast, with even the smallest shop taking you from the ancients to the cosmos. But because of their size, they must be curated. And that’s the human touch. The selection, the handselling, the stacks and the events that draw readers together—that’s what ultimately sets the bookstore apart from anything Silicon Valley can imagine.
And that’s what Theo and Bodhi discover too. They can’t rely on books or computers alone to solve their mystery. They need people. They track down priests who read Latin and street vendors with chemistry degrees. They find content specialists and eyewitnesses to history. They must build a community of people to give advice and collaborate—the same kind of community that guided me as I wrote this book.
I have no doubt—none in my mind—that as booksellers, you are making the world a better place, one community at a time. A community with more empathy, more thoughtfulness, more humanity. You are fighting the good fight. And for that, and for this award, I thank you.