I was living in Colorado and the weather was warm, so that would put the solar eclipse between 1983 and 1987. Near midday, the temperature quickly dipped several degrees, chilling the air. The landscape darkened but not the way it does at dusk. There was no gold-to-copper wash across ground or sky, only a bluish gray shadow. I allowed myself to imagine the fear people must have felt before science revealed the matching of sun and moon in the same arc.
A solar eclipse is awesome. A scientific explanation doesn’t remove its magic or inspiration… especially for writers. Whether or not you’ll be in the viewing path of the August 21st full solar eclipse, you can experience its impact through some wonderful books, both fiction and non-fiction.
Just in time for this year’s rare full eclipse, author David Baron has produced an ambitious non-fiction book, American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World. An extensive list of the best eclipse-related non-fiction books and articles, as judged by members of the American Astronomical Society, can be found at the AAS Solar Eclipse Task Force website.
And then there’s great fiction. How many of these novels involving a solar eclipse have you read?
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Mark Twain (1889) Nightfall – Isaac Asimov (short story 1941; novel 1990) Voyage: a novel of 1896 – Sterling Hayden (1976) Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne – Stephen King (1992)
And for young readers: Every Soul a Star – Wendy Mass (2008)
A solar eclipse lasts only one to three minutes. Reading a great book entertains and informs for a few hours; its impact lasts a lifetime.
We’ve all experienced it but “coming of age” – transitioning from childhood to adulthood — doesn’t happen at the same time or in the same way for everyone. In fact, I’m still waiting for some middle-aged friends to grow up! For most of us, and for most literary characters, “coming of age” occurs sometime during the teen years. In real time, it is usually angst-ridden, yet in later memory, we often find humor in it; not always so for our literary counterparts.
One of the best recent coming-of-age novels is Alex George’s Setting Free the Kites and I’m delighted to announce that the August 27th BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ will host the award-winning, bestselling author and his latest work. The book is already a staff favorite at the Book Bin in Northbrook, IL — voted Make It Better magazine’s Best Book Store on Chicago’s North Shore – where we’re hosting this summer’s events.
Setting Free the Kites strikes the right balance between poignancy and humor, a heart-rending story full of charm and quirkiness that explores the pain, joy, and glories of young friendship. It is a worthy successor to the author’s acclaimed previous novel, A Good American. If you are in the Chicagoland area on August 27th, I hope you will join us for great books, great wines, great people and great times at the Book Bin.
Meanwhile, how many of these other notable coming-of-age novels have you read:
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott (1868) The Yearling – Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith (1943) A Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger (1951) Go Tell It on the Mountain – James Baldwin (1953) To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee (1960) Bless Me, Ultima – Rudolfo Anaya (1972) The House on Mango Street – Sandra Cisneros (1984) Harry Potter (series) – J.K. Rowling (1997-2016) The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri (2003) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie (2007) All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr (2014)
A cousin of mine, Margaret Bergmann Lambert, died on July 25th at the age of 103. The New York Times and Washington Post were two of the many news outlets to write obituaries about this remarkable woman you probably haven’t heard of.
Known to our family by her nickname “Gretel”, Margaret was a Jewish German-born world-class all-around athlete, excelling in the shot-put, the discus and other events as well as the high jump. Having moved to England to avoid increasing antisemitism in her homeland, she won the British high-jump championship in 1935. Hitler’s government pressured her family to bring her back to Germany where she went on to tie a German record for the high jump.
As the 1936 Berlin Olympics approached, Germany needed to avoid an American boycott by appearing unbiased in its Olympic team selection. Threats to Gretel’s family coerced her into Olympic training for propaganda purposes. Despite all likelihood that Gretel would have won Gold for Germany, the Nazi government never intended to send her to the Olympics. Two weeks before the opening of the Olympic Games, she was denied participation. Weeks later, her accomplishments were stricken from German record books.
Gretel immigrated to the U.S. in 1937 with only $10, all the money the Nazi government allowed her to take out of the country. She forged a career for herself outside of athletics, married well, had children, grandchildren and a great-grandchild. Eventually, three stadiums were re-named in her honor: one in New York, one in her birthplace of Laupheim, and one in Berlin, the city where she had been denied her place in Olympic history.
We know it takes a special kind of person to become an Olympic-class athlete. War is one more hurdle the best of the best overcome. In addition to Margaret Bergmann Lambert’s book, other great testimonials to human perseverance of Olympic quality during wartime you should check out include:
Triumph (Jesse Owens) – Jeremy Schaap Unbroken (Louis Zamporini) – Laura Hillenbrand The Boys in the Boat (the University of Washington rowing team) – Daniel James Brown For the Glory (Eric Liddell) – Duncan Hamilton
Okay, we’re in the middle of summer, with its relentless weighty heat, white-washed days, fiery sunsets, rhythmic zing-songs of cicadas, and the call of the coast; the coast at the ocean, the lake or the river. Where terra firma gives way to caressing water, we seek our temporary escape. It’s a good place to bring a book. And when we can’t make it to the real coast, a good book can still take us there.
To get you through the rest of the summer, a handful of acclaimed novels where a coast plays a key role are offered; how many have you read?
The Awakening – Kate Chopin (1899) Death in Venice – Thomas Mann (1912) The Sea, The Sea – Iris Murdoch (1978) The Sea – John Banville (2005) On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan (2007)
Current daily news reports remind us how important words are. Spoken and heard or written and read, good communication depends on clarity of thought and intention. Can Artificial Intelligence improve our writing? And what might that mean for authors?
Sir Harold Evans, distinguished editor and author of Do I Make Myself Clear?, makes a strong case against the evils that have infiltrated much of today’s writing. His greatest angst comes not from errors in grammar and spelling, but from the type of intentional deception too frequently found in political and business statements. His anger is aimed at the lack of moral responsibility for fairness.
Evans is not a fan of Twitter. “Twitter’s wonderful for assertion. It’s absolutely useless for argument. You cannot deploy an argument of even the simplest kind in 140 characters.” On the other hand, Evans doesn’t believe in dithering around with useless verbiage. He observes the sage advice from his wife, editor Tina Brown: “Get to the point. Your point’s down here in paragraph 29. What the hell are you doing with it down there?”
The rules of good writing for articles and essays also apply to books, fiction as well as non-fiction. Readers need to understand what the author intends to convey and they must believe what they’re reading.
San Francisco-based tech firm Grammarly uses machine learning and Artificial Intelligence to improve users’ compositions; not just spelling and grammar but also recommendations on readability and clarity. The free app, available for the Chrome browser, Microsoft Word and Windows desktop is designed for a variety of compositions. Grammarly hopes to expand its capabilities, even to the point of helping users integrate humor.
So far, Grammarly does not suggest it can turn writers into successful book authors. “It’s not for replacing humans,” said Grammarly co-founder Max Lytvyn. “It makes humans more powerful.”
I suppose AI will one day (if not today) be able to figure the story elements and writing styles that appeal to the masses and create best sellers. But the best books, the best stories and the best writing will always need human curiosity, imagination and spirit to reach beyond algorithms. It takes a human mind and a human heart to break the rules.
The appeal of horses dates back to the earliest days of mankind, as evidenced by cave drawings. Humans began to domesticate horses some 6000 years ago and indications are that domestication was widespread by 3000 BC. They have been used in warfare for most of recorded history but they have filled many other roles over the millenia. Unlike other large animals that were tamed for work, horses also became popular for leisure activities and as beloved pets. Admiration for them took on mythic proportions.
Some stats: There are more than 58,000,000 horses in the world; more than 350 breeds. A 2004 “poll” of more than 50,000 viewers from 73 countries of cable TV show “Animal Planet” placed the horse as the world’s 4th favorite animal. The U.S. far outpaces other countries with a horse population of more than 10,000,000.
No wonder that horses have populated some of our favorite books over time. Fiction and non-fiction, from our first children’s picture books to adult novels. We love horses and we love great books about horses. One of the most popular BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ of last season featured author Mitchell Bornstein and his debut non-fiction book, Last Chance Mustang, an Elle magazine’s Reader’s Choice winner.
I couldn’t be more excited to announce that the first of this summer’s special BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ events will welcome the New York Times #1 best-selling author of The Eighty Dollar Champion, Elizabeth Letts and her newest blockbuster, The Perfect Horse. It’s the remarkable true story of the heroic rescue of priceless Lippizan horses in the closing days of World War II, a compelling account for animal lovers and World War II buffs alike.
Elizabeth Letts fans will want to make their reservations for this rare Chicagoland appearance on Monday, July 24th, at the Book Bin in Northbrook. We’ll be uncorking some fabulous wines (and a tasty non-alcoholic beverage) while socializing with the author and other guests, engaging in a group conversation, having books personally signed and participating in a raffle for some goodies. The event takes place from 5:30-6:30 p.m. and reservations can be made by calling (847)498-9999.
You can check out this event and keep up with future event announcements at the Book.ed website.
As we approach Independence Day 2017, Americans find themselves embroiled in a war of words over what it means to be a patriot. With its fuse lit in not-so-distant past elections, we’ve moved from civil discourse to civil war… perhaps uncivil war is more accurate.
Which leads to the question, “What does it mean to be a patriot?” Has the meaning changed over time? Can any group of Americans lay claim to being more patriotic than other groups? Are there common values and aspirations among our diverse demographics that can more closely bind us for the good of our country’s future… which meets the true definition of “patriotism”?
And don’t we owe it to those who sacrificed for our freedom to do more than hold backyard barbecues and light fireworks on the Fourth of July?
Answers to these questions, or at least inspiration to guide us, can be found in many of the excellent books about patriotism that are available from booksellers and libraries. Here’s your starter list of five books for adults and two books for children:
Lincoln – Carl Sandburg A Patriot’s Handbook – Caroline Kennedy 1776 – David McCullough Selected Addresses of Frederick Douglass
The Ethics of Patriotism – John Kleinig, Simon Keller, Igor Primoratz God Bless America – Irving Berlin Liberty – Lynn Curlee
All sorts of things popping as I prepare to leave for an 8-day vacation (means no business, no emails, no social media) in New York City. When I return to Chicago, I’ll be dropped into the middle of preparations for a couple of very special BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES events for July and August (stay tuned for news in future blogs).
Meanwhile, I want to encourage all you writers – published and aspiring – when you feel like no agent or publisher has the wisdom to recognize the brilliance of your manuscript. Keep plugging away. To inspire you, check out “The rejection letters: how publishers snubbed 11 great authors”. Feeling rejected? You’ll be in great company while you laugh out loud!
Like so many modern technological “advances”, Amazon has the capacity to be a boon or a bane. In the book world, it allows us access to hard-to-find or out-of-print books and allows students to rent costly textbooks at a fraction of the cover price. At the same time, it competes with brick-and-mortar bookstores that act as community centers and it strong-arms both authors and publishers to accept its lower prices.
Fortunately, Amazon’s attempt at establishing its own bookstores has been less than stellar while local dedicated independent booksellers are flourishing. You can’t teach an elephant to tap dance and Amazon bookstores can’t cater to booklovers the way community stores can.
I admit to using Amazon for many kinds of purchases when buying locally is problematic due to size, weight or unusually high cost, or when the item I want is not available. But a new, surreptitious move by Amazon should be alarming to anyone who cares about the health of the book business.
Until recently, a visit to the Amazon site for books differentiated between new and used books. Want a new book, click the appropriate button and you’d be sent to the publisher. Now, in select interactions, you could be sent to a third-party seller who is selling you a book that appears new but is actually used. And you won’t know it.
This bait and switch may seem innocuous. After all, if it appears new and you assume it is new, what’s the harm? The harm is that a used book will have previously been recorded as a purchase; the publisher and author will receive no compensation for the sale of your used book.
I am not against the sale of used books, just as I’m not against checking books out of a library. Both practices expand the circulation of books to more readers. I am against misleading sales practices that disrupt the fine balance that sustains the flow of books and supports the people who produce them: writers, publishers, stores. Each needs to earn a fair share of sales to survive and flourish. Amazon’s latest ploy is an unnecessary fraud, simply to further line its own pockets.
It is in your hands to stop Amazon from ripping everyone off. All it takes is to avoid clicking the buy button for a “new” book if it goes to a third-party seller on the Amazon site. Better yet, order the book from your local independent bookstore. You’ll be helping to nurture the garden of literary delights, now and for generations to come.
Note to Readers – Every now and then, I will re-post a blog entry that has withstood the test of time. Whether you missed it the first time ‘round or read it years ago, I feel it’s worth sharing again. I chose Shorts in the Summer from June 23, 2013 (updated, with an expanded book list) to get you ready for cool summer reading.
Summer calls for shorts. Not just the kind you wear. The kind you read. Winter is a good time to pick up a novel, a memoir, a complex text. Something you can sink your teeth into like a thick stew that fills you up with comfort through long, cold nights. But summer is all about brevity. A day at the beach. A cool mouthful of ice cream. Something comfortable you can dip into and out of. This doesn’t mean short stories are flimsy, fly-away and forgettable. Some of our greatest literature is found in the short stories of such authors as Fitzgerald, Poe, O’Connor, Chekhov, du Maurier, Asimov, de Maupissant… and my personal hero, O.Henry. The list could go on well beyond summer. Great writers understand the challenge and power of the short story.
It’s true that a full-length story establishes lasting relationships through details and complexities of plot that a short story lacks. But a well-crafted short story can stay with you far beyond its reading. If you think that fewer words mean less intensity, I offer up what is possibly the shortest story ever written and challenge you to remain unmoved:
“For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” This six-word story is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, although it actually was scripted by someone else into a play about Hemingway. Does it matter? You get the point.
Several acclaimed contemporary novelists have collected short stories into books (check out the shorts of Harry Crews, Bobbie Ann Mason, Stephen King, Lorrie Moore, Jim Shepard, Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman, Joyce Carol Oates, and Annie Proulx). You can also find great short stories in literary journals such as Tin House, Granta, Ploughshares, Crazy Horse, Black Warrior, Prairie Schooner and Glimmer Train.
Note to Readers – Every now and then, I will re-post a blog entry that has withstood the test of time. Whether you missed it the first time ‘round or read it years ago, I feel it’s worth sharing again. I chose How Shall We Remember Them? from May 24, 2015 (with an expanded book list) to honor those who serve and sacrifice on behalf of the rest of us.
Who kept the faith and fought the fight; The glory theirs, the duty ours. – Wallace Bruce
Everyone wants to be on the right side of history but history is still in flux. Regardless of your political leaning, you’ve probably noticed how people’s view of the Iraq war has changed over the years, just as the view of the Vietnam war has evolved. This adjustment of judgment is the psychological nature of all humans, not just politicians, pundits and media personalities.
One opinion that has secured firmed footing, regardless of how we feel about war: soldiers who serve in our name, risking life and limb, are heroes. Literature helps us understand and fully appreciate the lives and sacrifices of those who serve in our military, as well as the heroic families that sacrifice to support them. It also enlightens our understanding of how society (that’s us folks) relates to soldiers … and we can show our appreciation.
Regardless of which war interests you, and whether you prefer non-fiction accounts or novels carrying the theme, great books to enlighten and inspire readers abound. Here are some recommendations:
Non-Fiction Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free — Alexander Jefferson with Lewis Carlson (WWII/Europe) Unbroken — Lauren Hillenbrand (WWII/Pacific) The Ghosts of Hero Street — Carlos Harrison (WW II, Korea) Dispatches — Michael Herr (Vietnam) Jarheadv — Anthony Swofford (Persian Gulf)
vGhost Wars — Steve Coll (Afghanistan) Thank You for Your Service — David Finkel (Iraq) Fobbit — David Abrams (Iraq) Plenty of Time When We Get Home — Kayla Williams (Iraq) The Face of War — Martha Gellhorn (various)
Fiction The Red Badge of Courage — Stephen Crane (Civil War) A Farewell to Arms — Ernest Hemingway (WW I) Catch-22 — Joseph Heller (WWII) The Thin Red Line — James Jones (WW II, Pacific) Johnny Got His Gun — Dalton Trumbo (WW II) Paco’s Story — Larry Heinemann (Vietnam) Tree of Smoke — by Denis Johnson (Vietnam) The Things They Carried — Tim O’Brien (Vietnam) The Valley — John Renehan (Afghanistan) The Yellow Birds — Kevin Powers (Iraq)
How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes! – Maya Angelou
Once upon a time, libraries were categorized collections of shelved books that one could borrow. Period. My how times have changed!
Over recent decades, libraries have added audio and video materials for loan to patrons. They’ve also added programs and services for all ages. Libraries have become full citizens of the communities they serve.
My local library, in fact, hosted its first naturalization ceremony on May 9, welcoming 72 new citizens from 29 countries to the United States. Staff from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Chicago Field Office administered the special service. The Northbrook Public Library ceremony was part of a 2013 partnership between the USCIS and the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, whereby the two national organizations provide support to libraries and museums by disseminating public information and hosting events linked to immigration and citizenship.
“We want to reinforce the library as a welcoming place where community is formed,” said Northbrook Public Library Assistant Director Brodie Austin. “Libraries play a critical role in helping immigrants get the information that allows them to be active, engaged citizens.”
Two days before the naturalization ceremony, I attended the library’s inaugural “Engaged Citizen Unconference”. Registered participants completed surveys that library staff used to guide the Unconference’s breakout sessions, in which attendees’ discussions were facilitated by moderators. A thought-provoking keynote address preceded the breakout sessions. The concept is still finding its way but the first meeting brought people together in genuine civil dialogue to explore important issues that face all of us today.
Instead of musty halls of dead things, today’s libraries are vivid, living entities that deserve our support. If you haven’t been to your local library recently, go check it out. You might be surprised. And I bet you’ll be inspired.
There is a void in the American museum world. We collect in central points the artifacts of civilization and honor politicians and soldiers, athletes and artists, inventors and entrepreneurs, but we neglect our writers. In a country established as an idea explicated in written documents and embellished by generations of poets, novelists, and critics, the case for commemorating the written word is self-evident. After all, what is written describes a people and what is celebrated defines their values. — Jim Leach, former Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities
It’s surprising when you realize that in this innovative nation of creative talent, we have never had a museum dedicated to American writers and their work. Until now.
On May 16, 2017, Chicago will celebrate the debut of the American Writers Museum, whose mission is “to engage the public in celebrating American writers and exploring their influence on our history, our identity, our culture, and our daily lives.”
According to its website The American Writers Museum will:
• Educate the public about American writers – past and present
• Engage visitors to the Museum in exploring the many exciting worlds created by the spoken and written word
• Enrich and deepen appreciation for good writing in all its forms
• Inspire visitors to discover, or rediscover, a love of reading and writing
Through innovative and dynamic state-of-the-art exhibitions, as well as compelling programming, the American Writers Museum will educate, enrich, provoke, and inspire the public.
Note to Readers – Every now and then, I will re-post a blog entry that has withstood the test of time. Whether you missed it the first time ‘round or read it years ago, I feel it’s worth sharing again. I chose Of Coffee Tables and Books from November 20, 2014 because coffee table books make wonderful gifts for special Mothers and Fathers – and the history of coffee table books makes for interesting conversation!
My husband used to chide me when I referred to the low, square-shaped table in our living room as a coffee table. “The (low rectangular) table in our family room is a coffee table,” he would say. “A square table is a cocktail table.” Well, the joke is on him. Purists say that a cocktail table can be square or round; a coffee table is round or oval. Whatever you call the low table you place in front of your sofa, if you keep a large, attractive, illustrated book on it to look at casually or inspire conversation with guests, it is a coffee table book.
The concept of books meant for display dates back to at least the 16th century. An essay by Michel de Montaigne refers to “a book to lay in the parlor window….” This was a putdown of a book that had little literary merit but might impress those who did not take the time to read it.
Some credit David R. Brower with introducing the “modern coffee table book” to the U.S. market in 1960. His first effort in a series published for the Sierra Club was This is the American Earth, a stunning collection of Ansel Adams photos with text by Nancy Newhall. Brower may have been inspired by British tomes using the term “coffee table books”; they appeared there as far back as the 1800s.
Coffee table books have become so popular that some consider them a genre or sub-genre. Most of them feature high quality photography but some highlight art or interesting subjects. They make great gifts for people you care about … including yourself. You’re sure to find a favorite among these:
400 Photographs – Ansel Adams The Family of Man – Edward Steichen Life 70 Years of Extraordinary Photography – Editors of Life The Art Book – Phaedon Press DIGNITY: In Honor of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – Dana Gluckstein At Home with Books – Estelle Ellis, Caroline Seebohm, Christopher Simon Sykes Gnomes – Wil Huygen 1,000 Places to See Before You – Patricia Schultz Star Wars: The Blueprints – J. W. Rinzler Echoes of Earth – L. Sue Baugh Atlas Obscura – Joshua Foes, Dylan Thuras, Ella Morton In Full Flower – Gemma & Andrew Ingalls
Go dust and polish your coffee table (no matter what size or shape it is) and show off your favorite coffee table books.
Note to Readers – Every now and then, I will re-post a blog entry that has withstood the test of time. Whether you missed it the first time ‘round or read it years ago, I feel it’s worth sharing again. I chose When Good Words Go Bad from July 20, 2014 because people are loudly debating the difference between what people are saying and what they really mean. The English language has always been fluid. We know what that is doing to political and public discourse today. Rules are different for authors. Here’s what they need to keep in mind with their writing.
William Shakespeare is considered by most literary historians and critics to be the best writer ever in the English language. The fact that his work has endured for four centuries supports the point. Yet Shakespeare is shunned by many readers once they graduate from school. Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales? Beowulf (author unknown)? Fuggedaboutit! Some of the greatest literature of the English language seems written in a foreign language, with the same effect on readers that garlic breath has on lovers.
Readers don’t like to be stopped midsentence by a word so archaic that a trip to the dictionary becomes necessary. Even trickier is when a word is recognized but misinterpreted and one is left to question the author’s objective. You’ll find an example in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where the troubled prince tells Ophelia, “Get thee to a nunnery!” Most readers interpret “nunnery” as a convent. In Elizabethan parlance, however, “nunnery” could also mean brothel. Shakespeare seems to leave it to the reader to decide Hamlet’s intention.
In today’s vernacular, we find words taking on opposite meanings from their original definitions. One example is “sick”, used to mean “awesome” (“bad” was the stand-in for “awesome” in the ‘80s, but “bad” is now back to being … bad). “The bomb” can be a disaster or a triumph. “Catfish” is something you would rather eat than have one eat you. Hurling “you bitch” is quite different from yelling “you’re my bitch”, although you probably don’t want to be at the receiving end of either phrase, unless you really are a female canine.
You can find more words that have taken on the opposite meaning of their original definition at Mental Floss.
Just as old words change over time, new words are invented every year that may send you to your cyber-dictionary if you haven’t kept up with cultural trends. Have you considered buying a “turducken” with a “bitcoin” lately? Using Twitter to Tweet no longer makes you a twit; now you are a “tweep”. Somehow, “fracking” sounds like an appropriate word for what we are doing to our planet to extract its petroleum resources.
English is an ever-evolving language. That’s its beauty and its challenge, both for authors and for readers. Like interior decorating or clothing fashion, what trends today in language may be outdated or obsolete by next year. Using trendy words to set a period piece is smart. Using trendy words in a timeless piece could end up smarting.
There’s no such thing as bad words; only bad writers (oh, what did she mean by that?).
Note to Readers – Every now and then, I will re-post a blog entry that has withstood the test of time. Whether you missed it the first time ‘round or read it years ago, I feel it’s worth sharing again. I chose to combine Amusing Muses from April 14, 2013 and Pet Projects from March 22, 2015 because social media is increasingly sharing the close relationships people have with their pets. These days, it seems we humans are getting along better with our pets than with people. This combined post is dedicated to that special bond.
Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.— Anatole France
My daughter, Kenna, suggested I write about writers’ pets. The menagerie in our home has included Katje (my calico cat), Oliver (dwarf hotot rabbit), Tidus (betta fish), Arrow (English Pointer), Dusty (mini-lop), Mucki and Rosette (guinea pigs), Sunset and Triangle (goldfish). All have been amusing, but only one has been a muse for me, resulting in my prose poem, Katje Must Be Fed. My niece, Leisa, also has a variety of pets but it was her first pug that inspired her to write the children’s picture book, Pugsley’s Imagination.
Today, only Katje remains. Each pet’s loss was heartbreaking. The hardest were the euthanizations. I wish I could use the euphemism “put to sleep” but there is no awakening and the loss is permanent. Mercifully, holes in the heart eventually fill with memories. This post is dedicated to all our beloved animal companions, the lovely creatures that are the golden threads in the tapestry of our lives.
One is lucky to love an animal. One is lucky also to have limitless access to animals through great literature. We grow up on fairy tales populated by animals and continue to find them in some of the most enduring literature throughout our lives. Among the best and brightest stories involving animals are:
Fiction for All Ages Black Beauty – Anna Sewell Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls The Call of the Wild – Jack London The Black Stallion – Walter Farley
Fiction for Adults Watership Down – Richard Adams Animal Farm – George Orwell The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein
Non-Fiction Marley and Me – John Grogan All Creatures Great & Small – James Herriot Seabiscuit: An American Legend – Laura Hillenbrand Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds – Joy Adamson Never Cry Wolf – Farley Mowat The Eighty Dollar Champion – Elizabeth Letts Last Chance Mustang – Mitchell Bornstein
Written For Young Children, Loved By Adults Charlotte’s Webb – E.B. White The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams The Tale of Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter The Secret of NIMH – Seymour Reit The Story of Ferdinand – Munro Leaf Stellaluna – Janell Cannon Make Way for Ducklings – Robert McCloskey
It’s not surprising that authors are inspired to write about animals. Most of them have had pets. Dogs have been favored by the likes of Steinbeck, Cheever, Doctorow, Vonnegut, Sendak, Wharton, Dorothy Parker, Stephen King, Virginia Wolf and Robert Penn Warren (who saluted Tolkien by naming his dog Frodo). Cats were companions to such literary luminaries as Twain, Dumas, Beckett, Huxley, Kerouac, Collette, Eliot, Plath, Sartre (his cat was Nothing) and Raymond Chandler (whose Persian purred while perched on his manuscripts as Chandler edited). Polar opposites Hemmingway and Capote owned both cats and dogs (the progeny of Hemingway’s famous six-toed cats still roam the Hemingway House & Museum in Key West, FL).
As far as I can tell, authors choose cats more often than dogs to share their lives. This may not be a matter of personalities (authors’ or species’) as much as it is a result of lifestyle. An author living in the countryside might like to take thoughtful walks with a canine companion while a city-dwelling author might view dog walking as stealing writing time. Cats tend to be more independent — or less needy — than dogs, depending on how you feel about felines vs. canines.
Then again, look at which authors have chosen dogs and which have chosen cats. Do you see any trends? And what can we imagine about writers with more “exotic” tastes in pets? Those would include some obvious ones such as Beatrix Potter (rabbit) and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (raccoon). But how do you explain Flannery O’Connor (peacocks) or Lord Byron (peacocks, crocodile, crow, heron, fox and bear — oh my!)?
An Associated Press headline earlier this month caught my eye. It said, “Demand booming on college campuses for creative writing.” Reporter Michael Melia noted that while courses in the humanities have steadily lost students to science and technology, creative writing courses have seen a major jump at colleges across our country.
According to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, an industry group based at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, only three schools offered bachelor’s degrees in creative writing in 1975; today, you can earn this degree at any one of 733 colleges. Between 2008 and 2013, the number of creative writing bachelor’s programs has grown steadily, but spiked from 161 to 592.
Why? Melia’s article offered a few possible explanations. They include a growing need among students for self-expression, both psychological and also cultural. David Galef, director of the creative writing program at Montclair State University in New Jersey, said “They’re interested in doing something they feel is creative.” Yale’s creative writing director, Richard Deming, credited social media which contributing to the interest, saying, “This act of expressing one’s voice in a public way — some people feel that they want to add craft, they want to hone those skills and take it to a place of more intensity.”
Of course, some students enrolled in creative writing courses want to become professional writers – in advertising, public relations or some other career that requires excellent writing skills. Other students view writing as a means for introspection and personal enrichment.
What concerns some professors is that the increase in creative writing programs is diluting what is offered while creating stiffer competition for those who want serious literature-based writing classes in order to further a career in the literary world. Melia stated, “In some English departments, the boom has created tension between creative writing and those who emphasize instruction of literature.”
English Professor Leslie Brisman, who has taught at Yale for nearly five decades, said “All over the country students are more interested in writing about themselves than they are in reading other people. We are in favor of creativity. We are not in favor of ignorance.” Unlike most colleges, Yale’s writing program requires that all courses include reading in contemporary work of the chosen genre. Despite this unusual requirement, the number of course offerings in creative writing has roughly doubled over the last five years at Yale to meet student demand.
Writing and reading are two sides of the same coin. Interest in one is usually echoed by appreciation of the other. Anything that leads people to expand awareness and understanding through literature is a very good thing. Regardless of what motivates students to enroll in creative writing classes and programs, it is encouraging to see an enthusiastic interest in learning to communicate more effectively… because, as becomes more evident daily, words do matter.
What do Shakespeare and Disney have in common? Okay, all you pranksters, April Fool’s Day has passed. But it’s true that nearly every work by Shakespeare and Disney features a fool as an important character. Why?
In history, court jesters were recruited because of their witty foolishness. In literature, the fool became an archetypal character. The fool may be the wisest person in the room. It got me thinking how important fools are to great literature.
Although the fool injects levity into a situation, he or she (in Disney tales, the fool can even be an “it”, like a fish or a carpet) is often the truth teller. Presenting a ridiculous wardrobe and irreverent garbling – sometimes intentional, sometimes not — the fool can often say what others dare not. The fool may appear to be ridiculous or an idiot but represents liberation from the shackles of cultural rules and expectations.
French Renaissance writer François Rabelais’s description of Panurge, a recurring main character in several of his novels, encompasses many of a jester’s characteristics: “Irreverent, libertine, self-indulgent, witty, clever, roguish, he is the fool as court jester, the fool as companion, the fool as goad to the wise and challenge to the virtuous, the fool as critic of the world.”
Shakespeare populated even his heavy dramas, with fools. As Isaac Asimov comments in his Guide to Shakespeare, “That, of course, is the great secret of the successful fool – that he is no fool at all.” Some of Shakespeare’s fools include: Feste (Twelfth Night, or What You Will); Touchstone (As You Like It); The Gravediggers (Hamlet); Nick Bottom (who becomes an actual ass in A Midsummer Night’s Dream); The Fool (King Lear); Trinculo (The Tempest); and Falstaff (The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV).
The fool, in one form or another, has existed throughout the history of global literature. The Bible had its Wise Fool. Literature from Ancient Rome and China had their court jesters. Russia’s Leo Tolstoy wrote a short story titled Ivan the Fool.
In contemporary literature, the fool often has a mental or emotional condition that sets him or her apart from the norm but those differences make them endearing as well as honest. Familiar examples include: John Steinbeck’s Lenny (Of Mice and Men); Jerzy Kosinski’s Chance, the gardener (Being There); Winston Groom’s title character in Forrest Gump; and J.K. Rowling’s Luna Lovegood (the Harry Potter series).
In early literature, the fool always played a supporting role. In contemporary literature, the fool is often elevated to a main character. Either way, the fool is a ubiquitous presence in both classic and contemporary storytelling. The fool possesses some characteristic that evokes laughter, even as he (or she) enlightens. As Oscar Wilde said, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”
Ah, if only the fools we meet in real life would be more like the fools we meet in literature!
Note to Readers – Every now and then, I will re-post a blog entry that has withstood the test of time. Whether you missed it the first time ‘round or read it years ago, I feel it’s worth sharing again. I chose A Feast of Fests from April 20, 2014 – and updated it — because we’re entering a new season of literary celebrations that every booklover should know about.
When the mind is hungry, few things satisfy as well as a good book. Fortunately, there are feasts around the country throughout the year to fulfill every taste. From small block parties to massive convention exhibits, in every size and genre, there is a book event waiting for you. With the long winter finally departing, the number of book fests, fairs, exhibits, conventions and all variety of literary celebrations is growing. This is good for writers, readers and the publishing industry.
In the age of Amazon and other online booksellers, you might feel inclined to lounge in your … whatever you lounge in … and simply connect through the internet to someplace in cyberspace for a book you’ve preselected in your mind. It’s fast. It’s convenient. It’s also impersonal, colorless, bland. When is the last time, ordering online, you discovered a book or spoke with its author, experienced the “bookness” of books with all your senses (yes, a book can even inspire a taste on the tongue), felt exhilarated as if you were a guest at a banquet? Book fests can offer all these rewards and more.
Book fests may simply be large book sales, but most combine presentations, workshops, readings, book signings, exhibits and social gatherings, along with sales.
Here’s a great concept every booklover can participate in: READ AMERICA READ. Read America Read was founded to get America reading again. Free books are left in bus stations, trains, cafes and other locations for anyone to take home. It’s a mini book fest, one book at a time, that has been going strong every month since October, 2015. It happens the last Saturday of every month. The next one will be Saturday, April 29th. Many writers, editors, publishers, and the general public who loves books have been doing this… you can, too!
What do authors Ludwig Bemelmans (Madeleine), Robert McCloskey (Make Way for Ducklings), Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) and Chris Van Allsburg (Polar Express) have in common? They are all recipients of the Caldecott Award for their illustrations in the aforementioned adored children’s books. The annual Caldecott Award is well known. But do you know the man who inspired the award and whose birthday is March 22nd?
Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886) grew up with a passion for drawing. A keen observer of his surroundings, the self-taught Caldecott was often seen sketching animals, people, buildings and landscapes. At the age of 15, his sketch of a disastrous fire at the Queen Railway in Chester appeared in the Illustrated London News together with his account of the blaze.
Despite his son’s obvious gift, Caldecott’s businessman father dissuaded his young son from pursuing his passion, urging him to go into banking. During his seven years as a bank clerk, Caldecott took nighttime art classes at the Manchester School of Art. After his bank job took him to London, Caldecott enrolled in the Slade School.
As his drawings began to be accepted by various publications and he felt he could support himself through his art, Caldecott grew confident enough to quit his banking job at the age of 26. He became a prolific illustrator of novels and accounts of foreign travel. He was tapped to illustrate books of Washington Irving’s and other authors. His sense of humor was evident in cartoons, sketches of politicians and other famous people, and drawings of the fashionable hunting society that appeared in such notable magazines as Punch and London Society. His sculptures and paintings were exhibited in the Royal Academy and galleries. Among well-known admirers of his work were Gaugin and Van Gogh.
In 1877, Caldecott was asked to illustrate two children’s books for Christmas. They were so successful, the partnership continued with two books issued every Christmas until Caldecott’s death. Increasingly, Caldecott illustrations began to populate more children’s books, written by himself or others. By 1884, sales of Caldecott’s Nursery Rhymes had reached 876,000 copies (of twelve books) and he was internationally famous. He became one of the three most influential children’s illustrators in the nineteenth century, along with Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane.
A childhood illness took its toll on Randolph Caldecott. After a difficult voyage to the United States in February 1886, he became sick and died in Florida at the age of 40. He and his wife are buried in St. Augustine.
Fifty-one years after his death, the American Library Association honored Randolph Caldecott for his contributions by naming a prestigious award for “the most distinguished picture book for children” published in the United States, beginning with 1937 publications, and giving that award to the book’s illustrator, for the first time in 1938. All Caldecott Medal winners are listed at the ALA website.
Note to Readers – Every now and then, I will re-post a blog entry that has withstood the test of time. Whether you missed it the first time ‘round or read it years ago, I feel it’s worth sharing again. I chose The (P)luck of the Irish from March 15, 2015 because we’re coming up on St. Patrick’s Day and because some of our most colorful literature are gifts from our Irish brethren (on St. Paddy’s, we are all Irish!).
Whether or not you wear green, eat bangers and mash, lift a pint of Guinness and sport a shamrock pin that says “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” on St. Patrick’s Day, it’s a great day to consider the contributions of Irish literature to the English lexicon.
The Irish language infuses one of the oldest vernacular literatures in western Europe (after Greek and Latin). In fact, its writing includes Latin, as well as Irish and English. The Latin dates back to the 7th century, written by monks. English was introduced in the 13th century with the Norman Conquest of Ireland.
Until the 1800s, the Irish language dominated Irish literature. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, English rapidly became the main language in society and in literature. A Gaelic revival took place at the end of the century but it’s the authors writing in English who have had the widest, most enduring success.
Perhaps the most famous Irish author, certainly the one who had greatest impact on English language literature of the 20th century, was James Joyce. I posted a piece about him, The Joy in Joyce, on this blog site last June. A long list of other notable Irish authors includes Jonathan Swift, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, Edna O’Brien, Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel, Colm Toibin and John Banville. Yeats, Shaw, Beckett and Heaney were recipients of the Nobel Prize. For such a small country, Ireland has attained a high visibility in the literary world.
Many Irish-born authors did not remain in Ireland but they brought the rich cultural heritage and the spirit of the island into their writing. The geography, the history, the very air and water infused the themes and the cadence of the novels, memoirs, poetry and plays produced by Irish writers.
Some authors and books to start your Irish journey might include:
Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray (novel); The Importance of Being Ernest (play).
Bram Stoker: Dracula (Gothic horror novel).
W.B. Yeats: The Collected Poems (poetry).
G.B. Shaw: Pygmalian (play); Candida (play).
James Joyce: Dubliners (short stories); Ulysses (novel).
Maeve Binchy: Circle of Friends (novel); Evening Class (novel.
Seamus Heaney: District and Circle (poetry); Opened Ground (poetry).
Edna O’Brien: Saints and Sinners (short stories); The Country Girls (Trilogy).
There’s an Irish saying, “If you’re enough lucky to be Irish… You’re lucky enough!” I’ll add to that, “Even if you are not Irish… luck will find you when you read Irish literature!”
Ever been involved in a court case? If you have, you know the power and perils inherent in our judicial system. I was summoned for jury duty (again) and was reminded of the drama of trials, the impact of verdicts. It’s a natural platform on which to build great novels.
Actual courtroom procedures, at least in the U.S., tend to move slowly and methodically. The challenge of novelists is to retain the reality of trials while crafting a gripping story. The most successful authors take just the right degree of artistic license in their presentations. Four of our most prolific and reliable contemporary authors of courtroom novel are Scott Turow, Jodi Picoult, John Grisham and Michael Connolly; they’ve produced too many books in this realm to list but you’ll find them in your local bookstore or library.
Not surprisingly, many of the best novels that include trials (usually following a death) as either a focal point or a catalyst have been adapted into successful films. But even if you’ve already seen a novel-turned-movie, it’s worth going back to the writing that spawned the film; it’s some of the most compelling writing in literature.
How many of these great novels with (U.S.-based) trials have you read: An American Tragedy – Theodore Dreiser, 1925 Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston, 1937 Native Son – Richard Wright, 1940 The Caine Mutiny – Herman Wouk, 1951 Anatomy of a Murder – Robert Traver, 1958 To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee, 1960 The Seven Minutes – Irving Wallace, 1969 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood, 1985 The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe, 1987 Compelling Evidence – Steve Martini, 1992 Snow Falling on Cedars – David Guterson, 1995 Defending Jacob – William Landay, 2012
The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. – Dr. Seuss
March 2nd is the 113th birthday of Theodore Seuss Geisel, known worldwide as Dr. Seuss, author of countless beloved children’s books. It’s widely known that Dr. Seuss was not a doctor of anything (although an honorary doctorate was conferred on him by his alma mater, Dartmouth, in 1956). He added the “Dr.” to his penname in 1927 because his father had always wanted him to practice medicine. It’s also common knowledge that the celebrated author of more than 60 children’s books never had children. His standard response was “You make ’em. I’ll amuse ’em.”
What you might not know about the man behind Horton Hears a Who, The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax and other children’s classics that have sold more than 600 million copies, translated into more than 20 languages, is how multifaceted he was. For starters, there were the more than a dozen books Geisel wrote as Theo LeSieg (LeSieg is Geisel spelled backwards) and one as Rosetta Stone.
So, how did Theodore Geisel become Dr. Seuss? He adopted his “Dr. Seuss” pen name during his university studies at Dartmouth College, where he was editor-in-chief of their humor magazine, the Jack-O-Lantern. A drinking infraction while at Dartmouth during the prohibition years nearly derailed his position on the magazine until Geisel surreptitiously wrote under his middle name, Seuss.
Seuss’s professional life began as an illustrator for such publications as Vanity Fair and Life, and for advertising campaigns. His first nationally published cartoon appeared in the July 16, 1927 issue of The Saturday Evening Post — for which he was paid $25. His first ad campaign for Flit, a bug spray, ran sporadically from 1928 to 1941, with its catchphrase, “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” becoming so popular it inspired a song and was used as a punch line for comedians such as Jack Benny and Fred Allen.
At the start of World War II, Geisel became the editorial cartoonist at the New York City newspaper, PM, drawing over 400 political cartoons in two years. Later published in Dr. Seuss Goes to War, Geisel’s political cartoons denounced Hitler and Mussolini, criticized Charles Lindbergh and other “isolationists” who opposed US entry into the war, and strongly supported President Roosevelt’s war efforts while attacking the Republican Party. His cartoons also attacked racism.
In 1942, Geisel’s artistic talents turned to drawing posters for the U.S. Treasury Department and the War Production Board. As a Captain in the U.S. military, he commanded the Animation Department in a Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Forces, writing training and propaganda films. One of his films became the basis for a commercially released film that won an Academy Award for Documentary Feature in 1947. Another film based on an original Seuss story won the 1950 Oscar for Animated Short Film.
After the war, Geisel focused on children’s books. They inspired numerous adaptations, including 11 television specials, four feature films, a Broadway musical and four television series.
Dr. Seuss books may seem very simply written but they evolved to serve a specific purpose. Following a 1954 Life magazine report on illiteracy among school children, which concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring, the director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin compiled a list of 348 words that he felt were important for first-graders to recognize. He asked Geisel to reduce the list to 250 words and to write a book using only those words. Geisel’s challenge was to “bring back a book children can’t put down”. Nine months later, Geisel’s The Cat in the Hat used 236 of the words given to him. It kept Geisel’s drawing style, verse rhythms, and imagination from earlier works but could be read by beginning readers. The success of The Cat in the Hat inspired similar beginner reader books that remain bestsellers to this day.
Geisel’s birthday, March 2, has been adopted as the annual date for National Read Across America Day, an initiative on reading created by the National Education Association. In 2004, U.S. children’s librarians established the annual Theodore Seuss Geisel Award to recognize “the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year”. It should “demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading” during years pre-K to grade two.
One more thing you may not have known about Seuss: how to properly pronounce his name. It rhymes with “voice”, not “juice”. One of his collaborators on the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern set that bit of information to verse:
You’re wrong as the deuce
And you shouldn’t rejoice
If you’re calling him Seuss.
He pronounces it Soice.
Geisel switched to the anglicized pronunciation because it “evoked a figure advantageous for an author of children’s books to be associated with – Mother Goose”.
I’m on my way to West Virginia for my son’s wedding to a wonderful young woman. This will be my entry into mother-of-the-groom and mother-in-law territory. My happiness for my son is tinged with melancholy at the realization that I am officially relinquishing the top spot in my son’s heart. While a wedding is the culmination of a courtship it is also the beginning of a marriage. A wedding affects not only the betrothed but ripples out to others (sometimes with a hidden undertow), in the moment and over time. That makes weddings the perfect catalyst in literature.
Joyful or sad, funny or frightening, even if they are cancelled, weddings offer potent plot devices in literature. How many of these novels with nuptials have you read?
Pride and Prejudice (1813) – Jane Austen Our Mutual Friend (1864) – Charles Dickens Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) – Thomas Hardy The Age of Innocence (1920) – Edith Wharton The Member of the Wedding (1946) – Carson McCullers The Princess Bride (1973) – William Goldman I’ve Got Your Number (2012) – Sophie Kinsella Seating Arrangements (2012) – Maggie Shipstead
I don’t think audiobooks would work for me. Other than music, I don’t think I’m a great listener for an extended period of time, unless words are set to music. I’m a visual person. A voracious reader. Because I spend so much time working on my computer, e-books hold little appeal to me. I’m just an old-fashioned girl who loves the look, feel and (sometimes) smell of print on paper, the choice of book cover design and even the typeface. How do you read?
Start with statistics:
• 72% of American adults have read a book in the past year – in whole or in part, in any format. That’s a 20% decline from 1978.
• Young adults (ages 18 to 29) were the most likely (80%) to have read a book within the past year while adults ages 50-64 were the least likely (68%).
• Women averaged 14 books a year compared to nine books for men.
• In the decade since Kindle, Nook and iPad introduced e-book formats, readership took off like a rocket, reaching 22.5% of book sales in 2012 before settling to a steady near-20% in 2015.
• Audiobooks, which have been around since the 1930s, took off with the ability to download through websites and subscription services. By 2015, audiobooks represented an impressive 38.9% of adult books sales.
• One-third of audiobook listeners fell into the 25-to-34 age bracket, with mysteries/thrillers/suspense being the most popular genre, followed closely by history/biography/memoirs and popular fiction.
• The narrator of an audiobook has a significant impact on sales; some narrators have developed followings that drive sales.
• Print books still dominate, with 77% of all sales.
Why do reading habits matter? If you’re a booklover, learning what others like could coax you to try new formats to increase or improve your reading experiences. For authors – especially self-publishing ones — it’s crucial to understand what formats your target audience gravitates toward to maximize your investment.
Earlier this month, fed up with the increasing hypocritical nonsense streaming out of the political world, I coined a word to describe the purveyors of such commentary: hypocridiots. If you’ve seen my social media posts, you’ve likely seen this term.
Have you ever coined a new word? Hypocridiot is a melding of two existing words. Other ways new words are born are by changing use (from a noun to a verb, from a name to an adjective, etc.), by borrowing from existing words (often found in technical terms) or by approximating in sound the way we imagine something to be (similar to onomatopoeia). My mother often used the term “fershnoricated” (my spelling, since I can’t find this word anywhere) to describe something ridiculously mixed up; it sounds Yiddish but doesn’t appear in the glossary so I assume she or someone else created it. I’ve kept it alive because it works so well.
My recent blog post, “Walking Around the Writer’s Block”, included some of the never-before-seen words in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (a 67-year old book back on the bestseller list) that have particular relevance today. They include: Newspeak — Ambiguous euphemistic language used chiefly in political propaganda. Doublethink — The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them, especially as a result of political indoctrination. Thought Police — (Thinkpol in Newspeak) are those who suppress all dissenting opinion. Prolefeed – “The rubbishy entertainment and spurious news handed out by the Party to the masses.” This word is part of the language Newspeak Big Brother — Used to refer to any ruler or government that invades the privacy of its citizens.
You’d be surprised how many of today’s commonly used words first appeared in literature, out of the imagination of authors. The undisputed king of coinage is William Shakespeare, with more than 2200 new words introduced. They include:
dishearten (Henry the V)
eyeball (The Tempest)
manager (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
obscene (Love’s Labor Lost)
uncomfortable (Romeo & Juliet)
Other authors who have added common words to our lexicon include:
Homer – mentor (The Odyssey)
Sir Walter Scott – freelance (Ivanhoe)
Mark Twain – lunkhead (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)
Dr. Seuss – nerd (If I Ran the Zoo)
If you’ve never coined a word, isn’t it about time that you do?
Author Ron Currie reminds us why books are more important than ever in his Chicago Tribune articleWhy Reading is Essential to Making Sense of Trump’s America. “Many would ask, in this late, distracted age, what importance books can possible have. … Those dusty anachronisms may, in fact, be the only thing that can save us.”
Friendship is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation. – George Washington
In the age of social media, the ferocity of opposing political views throughout the campaign season and election of 2016 tested friendships. Sadly, many relationships fell apart over posts and tweets. It seems fitting to quote America’s first President on the subject of friendship to remind us it is a test.
So many great stories have been written about the trials and triumphs of friendship. They can remind us why it’s worth the effort to work through the differences and how to recognize real friendship from the illusory desire of connection. Here’s to some of the most telling friendships through centuries of great literature; how many of these books have you read?
Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes (1605) Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen (1813) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain (1876) The Folded Leaf – William Maxwell (1945) The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing (1962) Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner (1987) A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry (1995) The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini (2003) The Help – Kathryn Stockett (2009) In Twenty Years – Allison Winn Scotch (2016)
If you lost a friend due to the passions of your politics, you may (in time) reconsider if there is something worth salvaging. Like all good literature, we begin with words.
Good books, good friends, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life. – Mark Twain
Note to Readers – Every now and then, I will re-post a blog entry that has withstood the test of time. Whether you missed it the first time ‘round or read it years ago, I feel it’s worth sharing again. I chosePresidents – Real & Imaginedfrom October 18, 2015 because we’re about to experience an historical shake-up in the White House and it can be comforting to remember how our country and its leaders rose above the fears and challenges of previous eras. Then imagine how our time will be recorded in literature when we are part of the historical tapestry.
The Presidential election is still a year away but one can’t escape the entertainment known as campaign season. Have you tried imagining any of the candidates as President yet? Why not measure your expectations against some former Presidents? Here are a dozen books – both non-fiction and fiction – in which real former Presidents play a featured role:
Non-Fiction Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power – John Meacham Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln – Doris Kearns Goodwin Grant and Twain: The Story of a Friendship that Changed America – Mark Perry The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt – Edmund Morris Eleanor and Franklin – Joseph P. Lash Truman – David McCullough A Thousand Days – Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
Fiction Lincoln – Gore Vidal The Alienist – Caleb Carr The Plot Against America – Philip Roth Primary Colors – Anonymous (Joe Klein) The President’s Shadow – Brad Meltzer
Curious to know which books were the favorites of each of our Presidents? Check out The Favorite Books of All 44 Presidents of the United States.