Here’s a great concept every booklover can participate in: READ AMERICA READ. Read America Read was founded to get America reading again. Free books are left in bus stations, trains, cafes and other locations for anyone to take home. It’s a mini book fest, one book at a time, that has been going strong every month since October, 2015. It happens the last Saturday of every month. The next one will be Saturday, April 29th. Many writers, editors, publishers, and the general public who loves books have been doing this… you can, too!
What do authors Ludwig Bemelmans (Madeleine), Robert McCloskey (Make Way for Ducklings), Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) and Chris Van Allsburg (Polar Express) have in common? They are all recipients of the Caldecott Award for their illustrations in the aforementioned adored children’s books. The annual Caldecott Award is well known. But do you know the man who inspired the award and whose birthday is March 22nd?
Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886) grew up with a passion for drawing. A keen observer of his surroundings, the self-taught Caldecott was often seen sketching animals, people, buildings and landscapes. At the age of 15, his sketch of a disastrous fire at the Queen Railway in Chester appeared in the Illustrated London News together with his account of the blaze.
Despite his son’s obvious gift, Caldecott’s businessman father dissuaded his young son from pursuing his passion, urging him to go into banking. During his seven years as a bank clerk, Caldecott took nighttime art classes at the Manchester School of Art. After his bank job took him to London, Caldecott enrolled in the Slade School.
As his drawings began to be accepted by various publications and he felt he could support himself through his art, Caldecott grew confident enough to quit his banking job at the age of 26. He became a prolific illustrator of novels and accounts of foreign travel. He was tapped to illustrate books of Washington Irving’s and other authors. His sense of humor was evident in cartoons, sketches of politicians and other famous people, and drawings of the fashionable hunting society that appeared in such notable magazines as Punch and London Society. His sculptures and paintings were exhibited in the Royal Academy and galleries. Among well-known admirers of his work were Gaugin and Van Gogh.
In 1877, Caldecott was asked to illustrate two children’s books for Christmas. They were so successful, the partnership continued with two books issued every Christmas until Caldecott’s death. Increasingly, Caldecott illustrations began to populate more children’s books, written by himself or others. By 1884, sales of Caldecott’s Nursery Rhymes had reached 876,000 copies (of twelve books) and he was internationally famous. He became one of the three most influential children’s illustrators in the nineteenth century, along with Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane.
A childhood illness took its toll on Randolph Caldecott. After a difficult voyage to the United States in February 1886, he became sick and died in Florida at the age of 40. He and his wife are buried in St. Augustine.
Fifty-one years after his death, the American Library Association honored Randolph Caldecott for his contributions by naming a prestigious award for “the most distinguished picture book for children” published in the United States, beginning with 1937 publications, and giving that award to the book’s illustrator, for the first time in 1938. All Caldecott Medal winners are listed at the ALA website.
Note to Readers – Every now and then, I will re-post a blog entry that has withstood the test of time. Whether you missed it the first time ‘round or read it years ago, I feel it’s worth sharing again. I chose The (P)luck of the Irish from March 15, 2015 because we’re coming up on St. Patrick’s Day and because some of our most colorful literature are gifts from our Irish brethren (on St. Paddy’s, we are all Irish!).
Whether or not you wear green, eat bangers and mash, lift a pint of Guinness and sport a shamrock pin that says “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” on St. Patrick’s Day, it’s a great day to consider the contributions of Irish literature to the English lexicon.
The Irish language infuses one of the oldest vernacular literatures in western Europe (after Greek and Latin). In fact, its writing includes Latin, as well as Irish and English. The Latin dates back to the 7th century, written by monks. English was introduced in the 13th century with the Norman Conquest of Ireland.
Until the 1800s, the Irish language dominated Irish literature. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, English rapidly became the main language in society and in literature. A Gaelic revival took place at the end of the century but it’s the authors writing in English who have had the widest, most enduring success.
Perhaps the most famous Irish author, certainly the one who had greatest impact on English language literature of the 20th century, was James Joyce. I posted a piece about him, The Joy in Joyce, on this blog site last June. A long list of other notable Irish authors includes Jonathan Swift, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, Edna O’Brien, Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel, Colm Toibin and John Banville. Yeats, Shaw, Beckett and Heaney were recipients of the Nobel Prize. For such a small country, Ireland has attained a high visibility in the literary world.
Many Irish-born authors did not remain in Ireland but they brought the rich cultural heritage and the spirit of the island into their writing. The geography, the history, the very air and water infused the themes and the cadence of the novels, memoirs, poetry and plays produced by Irish writers.
Some authors and books to start your Irish journey might include:
Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray (novel); The Importance of Being Ernest (play).
Bram Stoker: Dracula (Gothic horror novel).
W.B. Yeats: The Collected Poems (poetry).
G.B. Shaw: Pygmalian (play); Candida (play).
James Joyce: Dubliners (short stories); Ulysses (novel).
Maeve Binchy: Circle of Friends (novel); Evening Class (novel.
Seamus Heaney: District and Circle (poetry); Opened Ground (poetry).
Edna O’Brien: Saints and Sinners (short stories); The Country Girls (Trilogy).
There’s an Irish saying, “If you’re enough lucky to be Irish… You’re lucky enough!” I’ll add to that, “Even if you are not Irish… luck will find you when you read Irish literature!”
Ever been involved in a court case? If you have, you know the power and perils inherent in our judicial system. I was summoned for jury duty (again) and was reminded of the drama of trials, the impact of verdicts. It’s a natural platform on which to build great novels.
Actual courtroom procedures, at least in the U.S., tend to move slowly and methodically. The challenge of novelists is to retain the reality of trials while crafting a gripping story. The most successful authors take just the right degree of artistic license in their presentations. Four of our most prolific and reliable contemporary authors of courtroom novel are Scott Turow, Jodi Picoult, John Grisham and Michael Connolly; they’ve produced too many books in this realm to list but you’ll find them in your local bookstore or library.
Not surprisingly, many of the best novels that include trials (usually following a death) as either a focal point or a catalyst have been adapted into successful films. But even if you’ve already seen a novel-turned-movie, it’s worth going back to the writing that spawned the film; it’s some of the most compelling writing in literature.
How many of these great novels with (U.S.-based) trials have you read: An American Tragedy – Theodore Dreiser, 1925 Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston, 1937 Native Son – Richard Wright, 1940 The Caine Mutiny – Herman Wouk, 1951 Anatomy of a Murder – Robert Traver, 1958 To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee, 1960 The Seven Minutes – Irving Wallace, 1969 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood, 1985 The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe, 1987 Compelling Evidence – Steve Martini, 1992 Snow Falling on Cedars – David Guterson, 1995 Defending Jacob – William Landay, 2012
The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. – Dr. Seuss
March 2nd is the 113th birthday of Theodore Seuss Geisel, known worldwide as Dr. Seuss, author of countless beloved children’s books. It’s widely known that Dr. Seuss was not a doctor of anything (although an honorary doctorate was conferred on him by his alma mater, Dartmouth, in 1956). He added the “Dr.” to his penname in 1927 because his father had always wanted him to practice medicine. It’s also common knowledge that the celebrated author of more than 60 children’s books never had children. His standard response was “You make ’em. I’ll amuse ’em.”
What you might not know about the man behind Horton Hears a Who, The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax and other children’s classics that have sold more than 600 million copies, translated into more than 20 languages, is how multifaceted he was. For starters, there were the more than a dozen books Geisel wrote as Theo LeSieg (LeSieg is Geisel spelled backwards) and one as Rosetta Stone.
So, how did Theodore Geisel become Dr. Seuss? He adopted his “Dr. Seuss” pen name during his university studies at Dartmouth College, where he was editor-in-chief of their humor magazine, the Jack-O-Lantern. A drinking infraction while at Dartmouth during the prohibition years nearly derailed his position on the magazine until Geisel surreptitiously wrote under his middle name, Seuss.
Seuss’s professional life began as an illustrator for such publications as Vanity Fair and Life, and for advertising campaigns. His first nationally published cartoon appeared in the July 16, 1927 issue of The Saturday Evening Post — for which he was paid $25. His first ad campaign for Flit, a bug spray, ran sporadically from 1928 to 1941, with its catchphrase, “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” becoming so popular it inspired a song and was used as a punch line for comedians such as Jack Benny and Fred Allen.
At the start of World War II, Geisel became the editorial cartoonist at the New York City newspaper, PM, drawing over 400 political cartoons in two years. Later published in Dr. Seuss Goes to War, Geisel’s political cartoons denounced Hitler and Mussolini, criticized Charles Lindbergh and other “isolationists” who opposed US entry into the war, and strongly supported President Roosevelt’s war efforts while attacking the Republican Party. His cartoons also attacked racism.
In 1942, Geisel’s artistic talents turned to drawing posters for the U.S. Treasury Department and the War Production Board. As a Captain in the U.S. military, he commanded the Animation Department in a Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Forces, writing training and propaganda films. One of his films became the basis for a commercially released film that won an Academy Award for Documentary Feature in 1947. Another film based on an original Seuss story won the 1950 Oscar for Animated Short Film.
After the war, Geisel focused on children’s books. They inspired numerous adaptations, including 11 television specials, four feature films, a Broadway musical and four television series.
Dr. Seuss books may seem very simply written but they evolved to serve a specific purpose. Following a 1954 Life magazine report on illiteracy among school children, which concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring, the director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin compiled a list of 348 words that he felt were important for first-graders to recognize. He asked Geisel to reduce the list to 250 words and to write a book using only those words. Geisel’s challenge was to “bring back a book children can’t put down”. Nine months later, Geisel’s The Cat in the Hat used 236 of the words given to him. It kept Geisel’s drawing style, verse rhythms, and imagination from earlier works but could be read by beginning readers. The success of The Cat in the Hat inspired similar beginner reader books that remain bestsellers to this day.
Geisel’s birthday, March 2, has been adopted as the annual date for National Read Across America Day, an initiative on reading created by the National Education Association. In 2004, U.S. children’s librarians established the annual Theodore Seuss Geisel Award to recognize “the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year”. It should “demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading” during years pre-K to grade two.
One more thing you may not have known about Seuss: how to properly pronounce his name. It rhymes with “voice”, not “juice”. One of his collaborators on the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern set that bit of information to verse:
You’re wrong as the deuce
And you shouldn’t rejoice
If you’re calling him Seuss.
He pronounces it Soice.
Geisel switched to the anglicized pronunciation because it “evoked a figure advantageous for an author of children’s books to be associated with – Mother Goose”.
I’m on my way to West Virginia for my son’s wedding to a wonderful young woman. This will be my entry into mother-of-the-groom and mother-in-law territory. My happiness for my son is tinged with melancholy at the realization that I am officially relinquishing the top spot in my son’s heart. While a wedding is the culmination of a courtship it is also the beginning of a marriage. A wedding affects not only the betrothed but ripples out to others (sometimes with a hidden undertow), in the moment and over time. That makes weddings the perfect catalyst in literature.
Joyful or sad, funny or frightening, even if they are cancelled, weddings offer potent plot devices in literature. How many of these novels with nuptials have you read?
Pride and Prejudice (1813) – Jane Austen Our Mutual Friend (1864) – Charles Dickens Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) – Thomas Hardy The Age of Innocence (1920) – Edith Wharton The Member of the Wedding (1946) – Carson McCullers The Princess Bride (1973) – William Goldman I’ve Got Your Number (2012) – Sophie Kinsella Seating Arrangements (2012) – Maggie Shipstead
“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.” — The Illuminated Rumi by Jalal Al-Din Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks
“You and I, it’s as though we have been taught to kiss in heaven and sent down to earth together, to see if we know what we were taught.” — Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” — The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
I don’t think audiobooks would work for me. Other than music, I don’t think I’m a great listener for an extended period of time, unless words are set to music. I’m a visual person. A voracious reader. Because I spend so much time working on my computer, e-books hold little appeal to me. I’m just an old-fashioned girl who loves the look, feel and (sometimes) smell of print on paper, the choice of book cover design and even the typeface. How do you read?
Start with statistics:
• 72% of American adults have read a book in the past year – in whole or in part, in any format. That’s a 20% decline from 1978.
• Young adults (ages 18 to 29) were the most likely (80%) to have read a book within the past year while adults ages 50-64 were the least likely (68%).
• Women averaged 14 books a year compared to nine books for men.
• In the decade since Kindle, Nook and iPad introduced e-book formats, readership took off like a rocket, reaching 22.5% of book sales in 2012 before settling to a steady near-20% in 2015.
• Audiobooks, which have been around since the 1930s, took off with the ability to download through websites and subscription services. By 2015, audiobooks represented an impressive 38.9% of adult books sales.
• One-third of audiobook listeners fell into the 25-to-34 age bracket, with mysteries/thrillers/suspense being the most popular genre, followed closely by history/biography/memoirs and popular fiction.
• The narrator of an audiobook has a significant impact on sales; some narrators have developed followings that drive sales.
• Print books still dominate, with 77% of all sales.
Why do reading habits matter? If you’re a booklover, learning what others like could coax you to try new formats to increase or improve your reading experiences. For authors – especially self-publishing ones — it’s crucial to understand what formats your target audience gravitates toward to maximize your investment.
Earlier this month, fed up with the increasing hypocritical nonsense streaming out of the political world, I coined a word to describe the purveyors of such commentary: hypocridiots. If you’ve seen my social media posts, you’ve likely seen this term.
Have you ever coined a new word? Hypocridiot is a melding of two existing words. Other ways new words are born are by changing use (from a noun to a verb, from a name to an adjective, etc.), by borrowing from existing words (often found in technical terms) or by approximating in sound the way we imagine something to be (similar to onomatopoeia). My mother often used the term “fershnoricated” (my spelling, since I can’t find this word anywhere) to describe something ridiculously mixed up; it sounds Yiddish but doesn’t appear in the glossary so I assume she or someone else created it. I’ve kept it alive because it works so well.
My recent blog post, “Walking Around the Writer’s Block”, included some of the never-before-seen words in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (a 67-year old book back on the bestseller list) that have particular relevance today. They include: Newspeak — Ambiguous euphemistic language used chiefly in political propaganda. Doublethink — The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them, especially as a result of political indoctrination. Thought Police — (Thinkpol in Newspeak) are those who suppress all dissenting opinion. Prolefeed – “The rubbishy entertainment and spurious news handed out by the Party to the masses.” This word is part of the language Newspeak Big Brother — Used to refer to any ruler or government that invades the privacy of its citizens.
You’d be surprised how many of today’s commonly used words first appeared in literature, out of the imagination of authors. The undisputed king of coinage is William Shakespeare, with more than 2200 new words introduced. They include:
dishearten (Henry the V)
eyeball (The Tempest)
manager (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
obscene (Love’s Labor Lost)
uncomfortable (Romeo & Juliet)
Other authors who have added common words to our lexicon include:
Homer – mentor (The Odyssey)
Sir Walter Scott – freelance (Ivanhoe)
Mark Twain – lunkhead (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)
Dr. Seuss – nerd (If I Ran the Zoo)
If you’ve never coined a word, isn’t it about time that you do?
Author Ron Currie reminds us why books are more important than ever in his Chicago Tribune articleWhy Reading is Essential to Making Sense of Trump’s America. “Many would ask, in this late, distracted age, what importance books can possible have. … Those dusty anachronisms may, in fact, be the only thing that can save us.”
Friendship is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation. – George Washington
In the age of social media, the ferocity of opposing political views throughout the campaign season and election of 2016 tested friendships. Sadly, many relationships fell apart over posts and tweets. It seems fitting to quote America’s first President on the subject of friendship to remind us it is a test.
So many great stories have been written about the trials and triumphs of friendship. They can remind us why it’s worth the effort to work through the differences and how to recognize real friendship from the illusory desire of connection. Here’s to some of the most telling friendships through centuries of great literature; how many of these books have you read?
Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes (1605) Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen (1813) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain (1876) The Folded Leaf – William Maxwell (1945) The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing (1962) Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner (1987) A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry (1995) The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini (2003) The Help – Kathryn Stockett (2009) In Twenty Years – Allison Winn Scotch (2016)
If you lost a friend due to the passions of your politics, you may (in time) reconsider if there is something worth salvaging. Like all good literature, we begin with words.
Good books, good friends, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life. – Mark Twain
Note to Readers – Every now and then, I will re-post a blog entry that has withstood the test of time. Whether you missed it the first time ‘round or read it years ago, I feel it’s worth sharing again. I chosePresidents – Real & Imaginedfrom October 18, 2015 because we’re about to experience an historical shake-up in the White House and it can be comforting to remember how our country and its leaders rose above the fears and challenges of previous eras. Then imagine how our time will be recorded in literature when we are part of the historical tapestry.
The Presidential election is still a year away but one can’t escape the entertainment known as campaign season. Have you tried imagining any of the candidates as President yet? Why not measure your expectations against some former Presidents? Here are a dozen books – both non-fiction and fiction – in which real former Presidents play a featured role:
Non-Fiction Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power – John Meacham Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln – Doris Kearns Goodwin Grant and Twain: The Story of a Friendship that Changed America – Mark Perry The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt – Edmund Morris Eleanor and Franklin – Joseph P. Lash Truman – David McCullough A Thousand Days – Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
Fiction Lincoln – Gore Vidal The Alienist – Caleb Carr The Plot Against America – Philip Roth Primary Colors – Anonymous (Joe Klein) The President’s Shadow – Brad Meltzer
Curious to know which books were the favorites of each of our Presidents? Check out The Favorite Books of All 44 Presidents of the United States.
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.