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)
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.
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!
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.
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 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!)?
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 Taxing Times and Footnotes from April 12, 2015 because it’s nearly tax time and the ranks of self-published authors continues to swell. Here’s what you need to know.
Shakespeare had it wrong. Instead of “Beware the Ides of March,” it should be “Beware the Ides of April.” April showers may bring May flowers but April 15th brings tax time; that dreaded date when fear grips our emotions as Uncle Sam grips our wallets.
If you’re a self-published author, or are considering becoming one, you may be wondering what impact your literary endeavors may have on your income tax liability. Or maybe you haven’t even considered the impact. An oversight could cost you, whether you make money or not with your book.
I am not a tax advisor nor do I pretend to be. Tax laws leave me loopy. But there are some basic tax facts every author should be aware of. The first is that even disappointing sales of self-published writing can mean money in your pocket, instead of Uncle Sam’s, come tax time. That’s because the IRS has shifted its view of what constitutes a business versus just a hobby.
The IRS used to consider income-producing activity as a hobby unless it showed a net profit in three of the five most recent reporting years. Now, it wants you to succeed so it can tax your income later. The U.S. tax code permits entrepreneurs to offset the losses of one business from another income as a way to encourage new business.
As a self-published author, you may pay considerable money to editors, designers, printers, publicists and other services to publish and promote your book. Let’s say you spend $6,000 for those services and earn $2,500 in sales. In addition to offsetting your book income tax by $2,500 worth of your expenses, you could also reduce your other income tax by deducting the remaining $3,500 of expenses against your other job income.
The key is to demonstrate a serious intent to operate the new business at a profit; otherwise, it is a hobby. Steps to establish your business intent include setting up a website, printing business cards and promotional materials as well as marketing yourself and your book through social media. Consider establishing a business name and attending conferences. Learn the basic tax rules and follow them, keep your business records separate from your personal records, and don’t hesitate to hire experts for help; these are also legitimate tax deductions.
Depending on where you file your taxes and how you plan to sell your books, other steps you may decide to take include getting a local business license and applying for a resale certificate. You don’t necessarily need to incorporate but you will want to consult a tax accountant to see if you should establish a sole proprietorship business and obtain a Federal Employer Identification Number.
You don’t have to rush into any of these steps and may choose not to unless you see that your book finances reach $5,000 or more. But knowledge is power and could mean more money in your pocket to continue pursuing your literary dreams.
Your best resource to learn about the tax implications of your self-published book is a tax accountant but other resources include:
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.
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.
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.”
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.
The Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Short Story Contest is accepting submissions. Established more than three decades ago, the award honors the iconic Chicago author best known for The Man With the Goden Arm and Chicago, City on the Make. The award carries a $3,500 prize for the winner and other amounts for the four finalists and five runners-up. Deadline is 11:59 p.m. (CST) January 31st. There is no submission fee. Visit the Chicago Tribune for submissions and rules details.
Writers Resist, founded after the November election by poet and diversity in the arts promoter Erin Belieu, has organized a nationwide series of writers’ readings on the theme “Re-inaugurate Democracy”. The event is scheduled for January 15th to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and to promote “compassion, equality, free speech and the fundamental ideals of democracy”, according to organizers. More than 50 events are planned in the U.S. and other countries, including New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, London, Zurich, Hong Kong and Singapore. Details can be found in a November 30, 2016 AWP posting.
Unit sales of print books rose 3.3% in 2016 over the previous year, making it the third-straight year of print growth according to a report in a January 6, 2017 post by Publishers Weekly.
I love books with well-designed covers. I wrote about them in my April 27, 2013 Blog, The Great Cover-Up. But what’s most important about a book is what’s written on the pages. Once again, I was aghast to come upon a home design article that suggested a cozy look could be easily achieved by purchasing books en masse at garage and estate sales, or other places where “old hard-cover books can be snatched up in dollar bins” in order to “lend your space the collected feel of a library.”
No mention of creating your fashionable home with books carefully chosen and joyfully read. Making your home feel like a library by stacking any old books you have no interest in reading is akin to inviting a group of strangers to live in your home based solely on what they’re wearing, then having no communication with them: a fast track to disappointment.
If your “space” lacks enough handsome hardcover books to feel like a cozy library, here are three suggestions to bring books into your home that will feed your imagination as well as your fashion sense:
1. Put books you’d like to read on your holiday wish list for people to give you.
2. Visit your local independent book store and let them help you select books that fit your interests (these stores are great for that friendly service).
3. If you’re on a tight budget, see if your library sells used books. The selections are usually plentiful and varied, the prices are bargains and the money helps support the library.
With winter starting to settle in and more time being spent indoors, books are just waiting to transport us to other places.
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 Thank-full-ness from November 24, 2013 because we’ve just come out of a long, divisive political campaign season and Thanksgiving will be our first opportunity to remember all the things to be thankful for in this great nation as we start to come together again.
There is one day that is ours. Thanksgiving Day is the one day that is purely American. – O Henry After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives. – Oscar Wilde
As we approach the quintessential American family holiday – Thanksgiving – I started to search for samples of Thanksgiving representations in literature. You’d think that the holiday would be ripe for comedy, drama, poetry, a touch of weirdness perhaps, and certainly a cornucopia of memories. But you’d be challenged to find a bounty of books whose titles or authors you’d recognize.
While there are passing references to Thanksgiving in various novels by such authors as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain and Philip Roth, you have to go back to 1882 and the novella An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott to find a classic story placed in the holiday. It’s a cute story that may remind you of the movie Home Alone, when children are left to fill their parents’ role in the household with comic results. While getting a taste of life in those long-ago times, we can relate to the spirit of the family-oriented holiday.
How authors view Thanksgiving reflects the time in which the author lives and the story is told. Such is the case with Rick Moody’s 1994 novel, The Ice Storm. Set in the 1970s, the dark story reveals the underlying dysfunction of two seemingly attractive upper-class suburban families, breaking apart under the weight of contemporary cultural pressures.
Most of us have Thanksgiving recollections that fall somewhere between Alcott’s version and Moody’s. Those of us “of a certain age” also recall the first verse of a melodic poem called Over the River and Through the Woods, learned in elementary school. Did you know that when you go past the first verse, it turns out to be about Thanksgiving? The original title of the poem (later adapted into a song and a play) by Lydia Maria Child was A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day. Now you have a piece of trivia to pass around with the turkey and stuffing at your Thanksgiving table!
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 Books Will Defeat Terrorism from September 9, 2013 because the world feels especially vulnerable right now, even in the U.S.A. to which other countries turned for reassurance during turbulent times across the globe. As we try to regain our footing, it is helpful to remember the critical role of books in our lives.
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” ― Maya Angelou
Malala Yousafzai was only 12 when she wrote a blog under a pseudonym promoting education for girls. She became a women’s rights activist in a region known for Taliban attempts to ban girls from attending school. By 13, her real name and face were well-known from interviews and a documentary film about her life. On October 9, 2012, the 15-year-old Pakistani student was critically shot in the head and neck by an Islamic extremist as she sat on a school bus, targeted for speaking out against laws that would restrict girls’ access to education.
Miraculously, Malala survived but she continues to face threats of death against her and her father by the Taliban. Giving a face to courage, she refuses to cower to the threats, choosing to defend books and the right of all people to freely read.
This year, Malala Yousafzai was featured on Time magazine’s front cover as one of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World”. She won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize and was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. On her 16th birthday in July, she appeared before the UN, calling for worldwide access to education. Speaking at a ceremony in The Hague where she was awarded the 2013 International Children’s Peace Prize, Malala vowed to continue her campaign for education.
It seems fitting that in England, where Malala has been residing since her medical treatment and recovery, she presided over the opening of Europe’s largest library on September 3rd. During the ceremony at the Library of Birmingham, Malala announced,” I have challenged myself that I will read thousands of books and I will empower myself with knowledge. Pens and books are the weapons that defeat terrorism.” She added, “There is no better way to explain the importance of books than say that even God chose the medium of a book to send his message to his people.”
Perhaps drawing from her own life, Malala observed, “Let us not forget that even one book, one pen, one child and one teacher can change the world.”
Malala, and others like her, are prepared to sacrifice their lives for the right to pick up a book and read. It reminds us of the true value of books are in our lives. Books are life transformed and they have the power to transform life. Even a young child knows this.
“I know what I want, I have a goal, an opinion, I have a religion and love. Let me be myself and then I am satisfied. I know that I’m a woman, a woman with inward strength and plenty of courage.” ― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ is finishing its 2016 season with exciting programs! November is National Adoption Awareness Month and we are honored to welcome award-winning screenwriter Anne Heffron with her recently released memoir, You Don’t Look Adopted.
Our Sunday, November 13th, BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ will be a fundraiser to benefit Gift of Adoption – a 2016 recipient of the Congressional Angel in Adoptions Award — at Sunset Foods in Northbrook, IL, from 4-6 p.m. In addition to a wine tasting and book signing, the fundraiser will offer refreshments, raffles and much more. Our traditional BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ on Monday, November 14th will feature a wine tasting and book signing from 6-8 p.m. at TASTE Food and Wine in Chicago.
Adoption has existed as long as people have. The first story about adoption is in the Bible: the story of Moses, who was adopted into an Egyptian Pharaoh’s family. And didn’t that story have a lot of drama? Every family has its own passions and tumult but adoption is truly born of drama … which makes it ripe for story telling – real or fiction.
Whether written for adults or young readers, such classic stories as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1861), Johanna Spyri’s Heidi (1881) and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (1911) typically portrayed children who became orphaned and fell into terrible circumstances before they were adopted (usually informally) by some kind-hearted relative or stranger.
Contemporary fiction about adoption reflects changing attitudes and practices. Picture books for very young readers like Anne Braff Brodzinsky’s The Mulberry Bird (1986), Janell Cannon’s Stella Luna (1993) and Jamie Lee Curtis’s On the Night You Were Born (1993) literally “paint” stories openly celebrating adoption, even when the “family” is portrayed as animals. The losses that launch adoption journeys are downplayed or omitted.
Today’s adult novels involving adoption propel their stories by delving into the histories and mindsets of the people touched by this life-changing event. Adoptees aren’t necessarily orphaned and characters display a full range of humanity, the good, the bad and the ugly. Loss is faced head on or flows as an undercurrent through the plot. Where the classics tended to be escapist, the moderns tend to be very relatable. They include John Irving’s The Cider House Rules (1985) and Jacquelyn Mitchard’s The Theory of Relativity (2001).
In the past three decades, non-fiction books about adoption have proliferated. Betty Jean Lofton’s Lost and Found (1979) gained a wide audience as the adoptee and psychotherapist advocated change while considering all sides of the adoption triangle: adoptee, birth mother, adoptive parents. Noted sociologist (my cousin) H. David Kirk attained the nickname “the father of adoption sociology” after his groundbreaking book, Shared Fate (1984) brought decades of scientific study about attitudes and outcomes of adoption to the general public. It became a template for many adoption social workers to begin understanding the need for truth in adoption. In the bestselling Adoption Nation (2000), adoptive parent Adam Pertman combined journalistic research and personal anecdotes in an overview of the trends and cultural ramifications of changes sweeping adoption practice. Both disturbing and hopeful, the book’s views come through loud and clear: families should be “out” about their adoptive status, children should be told that they were adopted as early as possible and all members of the adoption “triad” (birth mother, child and parents) should try to stay in close communication.
The person most affected by adoption is the person with no voice: the adoptee. That silence has been shattered by several powerful memoirs by adoptees. These potent accounts can be as hopeful as Marcus Samuelson’s Yes, Chef: A Memoir (2012) or as painful as Ashley Rhodes-Carter’s Three Little Words (2007).
One of the most accessible, well-balanced memoirs of adoption is the recently released You Don’t Look Adopted by award-winning screenwriter Anne Heffron. Five years after her mother died (before finishing the book that would end up favorably reviewed by The New Yorker and The New York Times), three years after getting divorced (for the second time), a year after getting fired (for throwing a pen and crying) and seven months after her daughter left for college (as a D1 athlete), Anne finally had to do what she’d been avoiding her whole life: tell her story. She packed up all her possessions, gave up her life in California, and headed to the place of her birth, New York City, to embark on Write or Die and find out who she really was. What happened in the end was nothing she ever could have predicted.
Book●ed is delighted to celebrate National Adoption Awareness Month by welcoming Anne Heffron with her recently released memoir, You Don’t Look Adopted, to a BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ fundraiser at Sunset Foods in Northbrook, Illinois. Proceeds from the event will benefit Gift of Adoption – a 2016 recipient of the Congressional Angel in Adoptions Award. The fundraiser will offer books, wine and delectable bites, raffles and much more. A traditional free BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ wine tasting and book signing will wrap up the season on Monday, November 14th from 6-8 p.m. at TASTE Food & Wine in Chicago. Books will be available at both events from our favorite book store, the Book Bin.
A special shout-out to The Book Bin, a Northbrook (Illinois) super store (not to be confused with an impersonal superstore) that has handled book sales during the second season of BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ . I’m not the only fan of this venerable independent bookstore, celebrating its 45th year. NPR recently interviewed owner Allison Mengarelli and now The New York Times mentioned the store during an interview with Fredrik Backman, author of the international best seller, A Man Called Ove. Anyone living, working or visiting Chicago’s North Shore will not be disappointed visiting The Book Bin.
November conjures up a lot of rituals from raking leaves to casting votes in elections to celebrating Thanksgiving. A more recent ritual that is really catching on is National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo.
National Novel Writing Month began as an event in 1999, and in 2005, became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. NaNoWriMo’s programs now include National Novel Writing Month in November, Camp NaNoWriMo, the Young Writers Program, Come Write In, and The “Now What?” Months.
On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. NaNoWriMo provides the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.
NaNoWriMo is accessed online. You complete a profile so like-minded writers can connect with you but you don’t write your novel on the site. While the process of writing is a primarily a solitary undertaking, NaNoWriMo sets you up with a regional volunteer “Municipal Liaison” and provides a “Regional Lounge” with online forums. As encouragement, personal achievement badges and writing badges are awarded as you complete specific milestones. Pep talks from published authors, NaNo Prep advice, and other resources are offered to motivate you.
You win NaNoWriMo by writing 50,000 words of your novel between November 1 and November 30. There’s no limit on how many people can win! Just be sure that you’ve defined a novel on their site and validated your novel’s word count at the end of the month. Every year, several generous sponsors offer participant and winner goodies.
All programs for National Novel Writing Month are free. However, they run on (tax-deductible) donations and ask ably-financed participants to contribute towards hosting and administrative costs.
Over 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published. They include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder.
Maybe the next great novel to come out of NaNoWriMo will be yours!
BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ is rounding out its 2016 season with exciting programs!
Our October events celebrate the allure of mystery series, featuring new mystery novels from popular authors: See Also Deception by author Larry D. Sweazy and Death in Cold Water by Patricia Skalka. Get clued in on some wonderful wine as you converse with these authors and get your personally autographed copies of their books.
November is National Adoption Awareness Month and we are honored to welcome award-winning screenwriter Anne Heffron with her recently released memoir, You Don’t Look Adopted. In addition to our traditional BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ at TASTE Food and Wine on November 14th, we are excited to host a BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ fundraiser to benefit Gift of Adoption – a 2016 recipient of the Congressional Angel in Adoptions Award – on November 13th at Sunset Foods. In addition to a wine tasting and book signing, the fundraiser will offer refreshments, raffles and much more.
Mark your calendar for November 13th and 14th when BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ will celebrate National Adoption Awareness Month with two very special events. More details to come! You can stay on top of the latest news by checking the Book●ed website and clicking on BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ or LIKE the Book●ed Facebook page.
One of the most important parts of a non-fiction book is the part readers rarely if ever think about: the Index. It’s just there. But who compiles it? That’s the job of the indexer.
Yes, there are professional indexers, bless ‘em all. I was surprised to learn that most indexers (that’s what they’re called) work freelance and the work can be quite profitable. There’s actually an American Society for Indexing, a non-profit organization that advocates, educates, and provides a central resource for indexing.
In the United States, authors are traditionally responsible for the index of their non-fiction book but most authors don’t actually do it. A few publishers have in-house indexers but most indexing is hired out to freelancers by authors, publishers or book packagers.
While computer software can assist the indexer, indexing requires understanding and organizing the ideas and information in a book’s text to a degree that computers still cannot handle. According to the ASI, “Skills needed to learn indexing include excellent language skills, high clerical aptitude, accuracy, and attention to detail.” (Also)… self-discipline, curiosity, tolerance of isolation and love of books are necessary to keep going.
Although they are typically found in non-fiction books, indexes and indexers populate fiction. Examples are Orson Scott Card’s The Originist and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. Author Barbara Pym includes indexers in many of her works, including No Fond Return of Love while Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes made use of a personal index in several of his cases.
In award-winning author Larry D. Sweazy’s Marjorie Trumaine mystery series, the main character is an indexer. See Also Deception, the newest book in the series, will be one of the featured books when Sweazy is the guest, along with popular mystery writer Patricis Skalka and her hot-off-the-press Death in Cold Water, at the October 24th BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ at TASTE Food and Wine in Chicago. Skalka will also appear at the October 25th BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ at Sunset Foods in Northbrook, IL. You’ll be clued in to great mysteries, fabulous wines and much more at these two free conversation-friendly wine tasting book signing events. As always, books, wine and Bonus Buy packages will be available.
Mark your calendar for November 13th and 14th when BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ will celebrate National Adoption Awareness Month with two very special events. More details to come! You can stay on top of the latest news by checking the Book●ed website and clicking on BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ or LIKE the Book●ed Facebook page.
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 451 Degrees–Parts 1 & 2 from March 2013 because the American Library Association just completed another Banned Books Week with the goal of raising awareness of the censorship that threatens our freedom to read.
During a heated election year that has exposed an ugly, dangerous polarization in the U.S., at a time when words really do matter, it is critical to see how – and why — some forces seek to control what we read.
American classics that have been banned or challenged around the country include The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger; The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; and The Color Purple by Alice Walker. For more about books in the U.S. that have been challenged as well as information about classic novels that have been challenged and/or banned, please seeFrequently Challenged Books.
Banned Books Week began in 1982 as a response to what the ALA said was a drastic increase of challenges to, and removal of, books in libraries, schools and bookstores.The first Banned Book list, in 2001, was topped by JK Rowling’s Harry Potter for “satanism, religious viewpoint, anti-family and violence.” From 2000 to 2009, the top five categories that caused a book to be challenged or banned included: sexually explicit material, offensive language, being considered unsuited for the age group, violence or homosexuality.
“We’re seeing more and more challenges to diverse content, such books about people of color or the LGBT community,” said Deborah Caldwell Stone, deputy director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom. “It reflects concerns of changes in our society.” The list of the10 most challenged books of 2015is based on the frequency a book has been challenged or removed from libraries or schools in the US.
451 Degrees – Part 1
Noted author Judy Blume once said, “Fear is often disguised as moral outrage.” I pondered this concept – one I happen to agree with – as I read about a student-run book club at Chicago’s Lane Tech College Prep High School. The club is called 451 Degrees, the temperature at which book paper burns in Ray Bradbury’s classic 1953 futuristic book about a repressive America that confiscates books and burns them. The Lane Tech book club was created by 16-year-old student Levi Todd with the express purpose of reading banned and controversial books.
Earlier this month, Chicago Public Schools issued a directive that removed all copies of the highly acclaimed, award-winning autobiographical graphic novel* Persepolis from seventh-grade classrooms because of “powerful images of torture.” Author Marjane Satrapi defended her book about her childhood during the 1979 Iranian revolution, noting, “These are not photos of torture. It’s a drawing and it’s one frame… Seventh graders have brains and they see all kinds of things on cinema and the internet.”
As a parent, I am sensitive to the challenges of protecting children from unnecessarily disturbing or inappropriate words, images and values (whatever we deem them to be). The key word is unnecessarily; the concept is very subjective. In reality, we cannot protect our children from disturbing or inappropriate words, images or values. In today’s world, they are all around us, seeping into our everyday lives. If we close our eyes to this reality, we fail our children and our society. Ignorance is not bliss.
We can do better by our children and our society by being vigilant about controversial books – not by jumping the banned book bandwagon, but by reading those books and discussing the aspects that have raised the controversy. We could all learn much about our world and the people in it and the events that shape our lives – and our future.
451 Degrees – Part 2
Ray Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, presents a repressive society of the future where books are illegal and firemen burn any house that contains them. Bradbury titled his most famous book after “the temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns.” The cultural landscape Bradbury created is reminiscent of Nazi Germany and other societies throughout history, from ancient eras to contemporary times, in which censorship of thoughts resulted in mass book destruction.
Lest you think America’s celebrated Constitutionally-protected right to “free speech” has shielded this country from similar attempts at suppression, be aware that in the past dozen years alone, Harry Potter books were burned in several American states, “non-approved” Bibles, books and music were burned in North Carolina, and copies of the Qu’ran were burned in various states.
It doesn’t take burning to threaten books and the treasures they possess. Every year, attempts to ban books abound throughout our country. Thought-provoking expression and concepts are often banished from classrooms, libraries and public discourse simply because someone has taken offense at a word, a phrase or an illustration; isolated fragments are pulled out of context and attacked, often by people who haven’t bothered to read the full text or consider different viewpoints. This is true of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a perennial title on “Most Challenged Books” lists since its publication in 1960, and of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, recently banned in Chicago Public Schools.
Fahrenheit 451 is prescient and worth a read (or re-read) six decades after its first publication. Bradbury envisioned many technical and cultural developments that are common today. The book’s uncanny foresight magnifies the strength of its message: When we ban books, we repress thought; we reduce the ability to think; we diminish what it is to be human. If we do not defend the freedom of books to exist and be read, we could find ourselves fulfilling Bradbury’s dystopian nightmare.
We do not need to endorse books with viewpoints, language or imagery that are at odds with our own — but we should not fear them. Every book eventually stands on its literary merits. Poorly written books, those with gratuitous attempts to shock or titillate, will fall from their own weakness. Every book should be given a chance: to start a dialogue, to teach, to enlighten and to enhance humanity.
It took a full century for a dream to become reality. The ringing of an historic Freedom Bell, echoed by bells throughout our nation’s capital, noted the end of a moving dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History on September 24th. The memorable ceremony was accented by eloquent speeches, glorious music and celebrity appearances. The program brought attention to the innumerable contributions made to the U.S.A. over the centuries by African Americans, including the many thousands of unnamed ones who helped build this country with their slave labor.
Among the contributions to our country is the rich legacy of incredible literature by African American authors. See how many of these remarkable authors you have read:
Zora Neale Hurston
Ernest J. Gaines
Edward P. Jones
Lawrence Otis Graham
Eric Charles May (the September 2015 BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ guest author)
Kudos to author Susanna Calkins who won the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award at the 2016 Boucheron World Mystery Convention, for her 2015 novel, The Masque of a Murderer. BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ is proud to have featured Susanna at our launch events of the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ has a great lineup for the remainder of the 2016 season. You can stay on top of the latest news by checking the Book●ed website and clicking on BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ or LIKE the Book●ed Facebook page.
Since July 2015, booklovers have had a new, fun place to meet authors and buy books – at BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ http://www.bookedwebcast.com/booked_books-n-bottles.html. Now in its second season, the monthly events are held at two venues, one in Chicago and one in suburban Northbrook, IL. Each venue offers a different convivial atmosphere for lovers of books and wines. Guests enjoy conversing with authors while enjoying quality wine tastings. The quality wines are as diverse and delicious as the books and both are available for sale. In season two, we also added the Bonus Buy concept: mementos, merchant discounts and professional photos with the author, among other goodies. For season three, to begin in the spring of 2017, we expect to add a third venue. Three venues, three different settings. Something for every taste. Stay tuned!
This month’s singular BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ will be a national book launch celebration on September 25th at Sunset Foods in Northbrook, IL. Boy, 9, Missing is the debut novel from Chicago author Nic Joseph, to be released by Sourcebooks Landmark on September 20th. In the tradition of Defending Jacob or Drowning Ruth, this suspenseful thriller explores the ramifications of revenge, justice, and the aftermath of a terrible night in the lives of two families. As we enjoy our free wine tasting, we’ll be discussing where inspiration comes from and how this book elevates its theme. As always, audience participation will be encouraged! Books will be available on site from the Book Bin, wine and the ever popular Bonus Buy packages (mementos, merchant discounts, professional photos with the author and more) will also be available for purchase.
October 1st is the deadline for submissions to the Missouri Review’s competition for the 26th Annual Jeffrey E. Smith Editor’s Prize. Prizes of $5,000 each for Fiction, Nonfiction and Poetry. Winners receive publication, invitation to a reception and reading in their honor and a cash prize.
The Unbound Book Festival is looking for hosts to hold fundraising parties for next year’s event. The free Missouri festival aims to bring nationally and internationally recognized authors to Columbia, Missouri to talk about their books, their work, and their lives in interactive activities. Beyond the one-day event, organizers hope to raise funds and awareness to improve literacy standards throughout the State of Missouri.