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.
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 Why Writers Write from September 22, 2013 because I have once again felt compelled to return to my own attempt to complete a book. This post helps explain the compulsion.
I recently chatted with two writer friends about why we write. This is a question I’ve pondered frequently since becoming aware of The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida, recently published in English by Random House. What makes this best-selling book especially intriguing is that the author (only 13 years old at the time of first publication in Japan in 2007) is autistic and his autism built steeps walls over which it seemed impossible to express his thoughts or feelings.
The translator of the book into English is bestselling novelist (Cloud Atlas) David Mitchell, whose son also has autism. Mitchell has noted that the physical and mental challenges Naoki faced in writing a book is a powerful testament to the human need for connection. In a Slate Book Review, Mitchell compared the writing challenge Naoki has to “the act of carrying water in cupped palms across a bustling Times Square or Piccadilly Circus would be to you or me.”
In a Publisher Weekly article, Mitchell said, “Naoki does have autism, and pretty severe autism at that. And yet, he both experiences and analyzes emotions, even if he can’t express these in direct speech, and has to type about them. If we ‘neurotypicals’ don’t think this is possible, I believe it shows the paucity of our imaginations and understanding.”
Naoki Higashida still writes. He keeps a nearly daily blog and has become a respected autism advocate. He continues to face – and overcome – formidable obstacles to writing.
Which brings me back to the question: why do writers write? It is probably for the same reason dancers dance, singers sing, visual artists paint, draw or sculpt, and musicians play instruments. It begins with the need to express our humanness. We say we are compelled to do it; we give birth to a brainchild (or brainchildren), much as one must give birth to physical children once they have formed within us. And though we would likely do it even if no one paid attention, we are most gratified when people do notice, especially if they respond positively.
From the art of prehistoric cave dwellers to Twitter fans today, we need to leave an imprint that claims our moment in time. That says, I was here and I had value.
Ask a writer why he or she writes and you’ll invite any number of answers. I think it comes down to survival. We write in order to connect something within ourselves to something bigger than ourselves. We write to feel a sense of belonging to something beyond ourselves. To belong means to not be alone. To not be alone improves our chance to survive. Finally, to write means to “survive” beyond our mortality; to continue speaking. To hope there will be at least one person listening.
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.
The old year is out, the new one is in. The contrived demarcation of time offers a chance to re-construct and re-construct whatever we want to change in our lives, including ourselves. We usually call these changes “resolutions”. What are yours for 2017?
The attempt to change is a test of fortitude and fate. Even for things we think we want, change upsets routines, at least for awhile. Fortunately, literature can inspire the stick-to-itivness required to overcome obstacles. Stories of people who triumphed over adversity remind us of human spirit and capability. If you’re in need of inspiration and a great read, check out these dozen books (fiction, non-fiction, memoir, graphic novel) about people who started over:
The Awakening – Kate Chopin (1899) Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston (1937) The Alchemist – Paul Coelho (1988) A Bend in the River – V.S. Naipaul (1989) Breath, Eyes, Memory – Edwidge Danticat (1994) The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion (2005) The Arrival – Shaun Tan(2006) What is the What – Dave Eggers (2006) Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert (2006) A Good American – Alex George (2012) Starting Over – Elizabeth Spencer (2014) The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead (2016)
If you’re trying to make changes in your life and need some words of encouragement, here are some notable quotables:
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. – Seneca the Younger
Wherever you are is the entry point. – Kabir
There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk. — Jean-Paul Sartre
The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. – G.K. Chesterton
Rock bottom became the foundation upon which I rebuilt my life. – J.K. Rowling
Like the proverbial half-filled glass, I view my “To Do” lists either as accomplishments or failures: pride in all the checked-off “To Do”s but shame at all the “To Do”s left unchecked. Keeping lists as I do is akin to eating a bowl of oatmeal: for every spoonful eaten, it seems the rest just fills in the briefly empty spot. My list changes but rarely gets shorter. Such a list is always forward-thinking but never-ending.
Then there is my “Naughty or Nice” list, the one that looks at the year just passing. In terms of books, the “naughty” is the massive pileup of books that I can’t read fast enough (unlike newspapers and magazines that I devour, I don’t gulp down books, I slowly chew them to release the full flavors). The “nice” column of my 2016 list is filled with the authors, books and readers I met through the second season of BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™. A feast enjoyed with many a bottle of great wine.
More than ever, words matter. Books matter. As I start to make my lists for 2017, I am reflecting how best to breathe books: the reading, writing and promoting of them. What am I willing to give up in order to gain something else, hopefully something even greater (by my own measurement, at least)? Stay tuned….
Did you miss my blog post last week? With holidays fast approaching, probably not, which was the excuse I gave myself for skipping a week after nearly four years. Like most writers, I wake up every day with a desire to write something but sometimes the “thing” doesn’t become clear enough to commit to paper or post. It’s rare for me but it happens. It did last week.
Because I live to write, rather than write to live, I had the benefit of taking off a week. It gave me time to consider what motivates other writers. Perhaps because we’re in tumultuous political times, I was drawn to George Orwell’s 1946 essay, Why I Write.
Orwell, (born Eric Arthur Blair in 1903), the author of cult classics Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, was largely a political writer whose books are as topical today as when they were written seven decades ago. “Orwellian” became an adjective connoting an attitude and policy of control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth and manipulation of the past. Several words and phrases from Nineteen Eighty-Four (published in 1949) that have entered modern parlance 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.
Drawing on his own life experiences in Why I Write, Orwell lays out four main motives of writing, which he believes are always present but in different proportions that vary from time to time.
The four motives, according to Orwell, are: (1) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money. (2) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations. (3) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity. (4) Political purpose. Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.
Orwell got it right, at least for me. If you’re a writer, too, I suspect you see yourself in this mirror.
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.
We have a lot of books in our house. They are our primary decorative motif-books in piles and on the coffee table, framed book covers, books sorted into stacks on every available surface, and of course books on shelves along most walls. Besides the visible books, there are books waiting in the wings, the basement books, the garage books, the storage locker books…They function as furniture, they prop up sagging fixtures and disguised by quilts function as tables…I can’t imagine a home without an overflow of books. The point of books is to have way too many but to always feel you never have enough, or the right one at the right moment, but then sometimes to find you’d longed to fall asleep reading the Aspern Papers, and there it is. – Louise Erdrich
My books hold between their covers every story I’ve ever known and still remember, or have now forgotten, or may one day read; they fill the space around me with ancient and new voices. — Alberto Manguel
Oxford Dictionaries announced “post-truth” as its 2016 international Word of the Year. Every year, the Oxford Dictionaries team reviews candidates for word of the year, choosing one that captures the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year. “Post-truth,” an adjective, is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
Surprise, surprise! A lot of promises from a Presidential candidate who was known to punctuate his comments with “believe me!” have been quickly dismissed by the President-elect. Kind of like the unreliable narrator in literature.
An unreliable narrator is one whose credibility has been seriously compromised. The term first appears in 1961, in Wayne C. Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction. It’s sometimes immediately evident that a narrator is unreliable with an obviously false or delusional claim. Sometimes the narrator appears as a character whose actions offer clues of unreliability. And sometimes, with great drama, a twist ending to a story reveals the narrator’s unreliability, forcing the reader to reconsider the narrator’s point of view and experience of the story. Finally, there are stories that leave readers wondering about the narrator’s reliability and how the story should be interpreted.
You might recognize unreliable narrators if they are prone to exaggeration or bragging, if they exhibit such mental illness as paranoia or delusions, if they play with truth and expectations, if their view is limited or if they openly misrepresent themselves. Narrators who contradict themselves by memory lapses or lying to other character, or who contradict the reader’s knowledge or logic, are unreliable.
Some notable unreliable narrators you may have encountered include:
• Humbert Humbert (Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov)
• Alex (A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess)
• Unnamed narrator (Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk)
• Patrick Bateman (American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis)
• Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger)
• Huckleberry Finn (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain)
• Screwtape (The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis)
And then there are the politicians… but that’s another story!
Happy Birthday Mark Twain, born on November 30, 1835. Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the legendary wit wrote Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, as well as many short-stories. Twain shares a birthday with Jonathan Swift, the adventure classic author of Gulliver’s Travels, born a mere 168 years ahead of 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 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!
In addition to Thanksgiving, November also marks the end of another BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ season. I wish to express my gratitude to all the booklovers who came to our events and signed up for future program notices. I am so impressed with the lineup of literary talent we featured this season (international and national bestsellers, award winners and debut authors): Susanna Calkins, Rory Flynn, Tim Johnston, Mitch Bornstein, Jessica Chiarella, Nic Joseph, Patricia Skalka and Anne Heffron. Special thanks to those who worked with me to make Season 2 of BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ possible: The Book Bin, TASTE Food & Wine, Sunset Foods and our Bonus Buy sponsors. Thank you, one and all!
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
Booklovers understand how books can change the world for the better. Did you know they can also help us live longer? Researchers at Yale University studied the reading habits of 3,635 people over 50 for a 12-year period and found that bookworms who read books for more than 3½ hours each week (30 minutes a day) were 17 percent less like to die than their non-reading peers. It appears that delving into novels promotes cognitive processes, such as empathy and emotional intelligence, which can boos longevity. It’s believed books have an advantage over magazines and newspapers because, according to researcher Avni Bavishi, “books engage the reader’s mind more, providing more cognitive benefit, and therefore increasing the life span.”
In observance of election week, I will NOT write about great political literature. After all, nothing can compete with the surreal experience or creative story telling that have defined this election season. After November 8th, we’ll need a break from all that. So let’s talk about fairy tales for adults.
Of course, fairy tales don’t automatically contain fairies; the term is ascribed to a collection of French stories by Madame d’Aulnoy in 1697. A more accurate term might be the commonly used “folktales”. Researchers at universities in Durham and Lisbon date this form of stories back thousands of years, some to the Bronze Age more than 6,000 years ago.
Everyone has favorite fairy tales, first told to us by adults, then read by ourselves. They appeared in collections of short stories or fully fleshed out tales. All of them carried life lessons which we absorbed through their ability to entertain and excite our imaginations. Perhaps the best known of the earliest recorded morality tales are Aesop’s fables, written in ancient Greece of the 6th century BC.
The fairy tale form we grew up with has its origins in European tradition, evolved from centuries-old stories that have adapted to multiple cultures worldwide. The largest and best-known collection was gathered by German brothers Jacob and Ludwig Grimm in the early 1800s. They started with 86 folktales, published in 1812 and increased the collection to two volumes comprising 585 tales and legends by 1818. The tales referred to today as Grimm’s Fairy Tales number 209.
The influence of fairy tales infiltrated such adult classics as Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Today’s best fairy tales for adults may not have fairies but they creatively mix folks and fantasy to great effect. They prove you will never grow too old to enjoy fairy tales. How many of these have you read:
The Princess Bride – William Goldman Practical Magic – Alice Hoffman Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey The First 15 Lives of Harry August – Claire North Uprooted – Naomi Novik
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.
Seems like mystery novels have been around forever but in the history of literature this genre is a relative newcomer. Before the mid-1800s, books were read primarily by the upper classes for education rather than entertainment. In the mid-1800s, rising literacy rates, technological advances in publishing that made books more accessible, and more leisure time contributed greatly to the popularity of novels in general and mysteries in particular.
Edgar Allen Poe, who died at the age of 40 on October 7, 1849, is considered the father of mysteries as we know them today. Poe created mystery’s first fictional detective, C. Auguste Dupin in The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841). Dupin proved so popular, that his exploits continued in subsequent Poe mysteries. Poe refocused mysteries from merely situational to the study of the criminal’s mind.
Mystery novels weren’t solely the domain of male authors. In 1878, Anna Katherine Greene’s The Leavenworth Case made her the first woman to write a detective novel. Elements of detection introduced in this novel influenced writers of the “English country house murder” school in the 1920s.
You can’t think “detective” without conjuring up Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, who was introduced to readers in A Study in Scarlet (1887) and became the iconic fictional detective of intelligence and scientific knowledge through a series of books.
With increasing prosperity in England and America, and the evolution to a popular format for mystery novels, the 1920s launched the “Gold Age” of mystery fiction. The queen of the genre was Agatha Christie whose 50-year career yielded more than 80 novels, translated into 103 languages. Making the detective’s character as important as the who-done-it, she created two of the most enduring sleuths in mystery fiction: the Belgiun detective Hercule Poirot and the mystery-solving spinster Jane Marple.
On the heels of the Golden Age featuring English authors, American authors with their sensibilities, characters and locales gained popularity. Mystery novels reached their zenith here in the 1930s and 40s. The most notable characters included Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Earl Derr Bigger’s Charlie Chan and Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason. Then there is Ellery Queen, a pseudonym for the collaboration of American cousins Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay whose detective also went by that name. In all, the two authors wrote 33 Ellery Queen novels spanning over 40 years.
Other types of mystery series that made their mark between the 20s and 40s included Ed McBain’s police procedurals and Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (maligned by critics for its emphasis on sex and violence but popular with readers). Even young readers got hooked on mysteries, following their own sleuths in the popular Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series.
Mystery series featuring sleuths are as popular as ever. Examples include Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, Robert B. Parker‘s Boston-based P.I. Spenser, and P.D. James‘British policeman Adam Dagliesh.
Guests at this month’s BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ will meet popular mystery authors and learn about the latest books in their series. Patricia Skalka, author of the hot-off-the-press Death in Cold Water (a Dave Cubiak mystery), and Larry D. Sweazy, author of the recently released See Also Deception (a Marjorie Trumaine mystery), will share in the conversation-friendly free wine tasting at TASTE Food & Wine in Chicago on Monday, October 24th from 6-8 p.m. Patricia will also hold court from 6-8 p.m. at the October 25th BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ at Sunset Foods in Northbrook, IL. Books and wines, along with Bonus Buy packages will be available for sale at both events.
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.